Monday, September 28, 2009

Leica X1 - a (real) Leica for the masses?

Leica has recently announced a new compact digital camera, the Leica X1, which should be out later this year. There are a few reasons why some (me included) have been paying close attention to this model:
  • It has an APS-C sized 12.2 Mp sensor in a compact body. Only the Sigma DP2 presents such a large sensor on a small body. The Olympus EP-1, and now the Panasonic GF1, both have a smaller micro 4/3 sensor. Larger sensor area should imply higher signal to noise ratio and higher dynamic range (look here for a nice discussion on this issue).
  • It is equipped with a Leica Elmarit 24 mm f/2,8 aspherical lens (equivalent to a 35mm focal length in 35mm film). The "M" version of this lens is supposedely very good.
  • It is able to operate on fully manual mode, having individual speed and aperture dials on the top plate.
  • It has a beautiful, sober, Leica-ish design.
  • It is not a Panasonic compact clone, but a model entirely conceived by Leica and made in Germany (ok, the sensor is by Sony and the electronics must be made in Japan also, but everything else is Leica).
  • It "only" costs 1500 € ($2000). Hey, it's a Leica!...
There a few things that make me skeptical, though:
  • This is not a rangefinder (see M9), it's a compact. Will the performance (autofocus, writing times, etc) be typical of a compact?...
  • The lens is collapsible, which looks plain ugly on this classic looking camera. It is also a fixed lens. Since Panasonic and Olympus introduced compacts with interchangeable lens, the X1 seems to fall behind. But it's a 35mm equivalent, which I find is the most versatile focal length. And I want a camera that is easy to carry, not a new set of lens to take on a bag. Not to mention the cost of a set of Leica lenses!
  • It has no integrated view-finder. There is an external one (optional), with a field of view corresponding to the 24mm lens.
  • It costs 1500 € ($2000). Hey, it's a point and shoot!...
For a while that I long for a small, discrete, highly portable digital camera with high image quality. This would replace my dear Minox 35ML as a carry around camera. Both the Sigma DP2 and the Olly EP-1, mentioned above, have some performance issues that have kept me away.

Concerning cost, some are saying that the 1500 € price tag is not too high, considering that the X1 has a half frame sensor, a nice lens and a Leica logo... Could this actually be a "real" Leica with a reasonable cost/quality ratio? Well, for paying this kind of money for a compact one has to expect flawless performance and irreprehensible image quality. Unfortunately, I've already seen too many reviews on Leica digital cameras ending with the sentence: " this kind of performance worth the cost?"

For 1500 € I could by the new Pentax K-7 plus a grip and there would be some change left for a few SDHC cards. The K-7 has been getting excellent reviews. It is a very nice camera, packed with neat features, but I don't think that its image quality is significantly better than my K10D's. In addition, I can live without those trendy new features. As long as my camera goes on working, I don't think I need a new DSLR.

The X1 will be out only in a few months and there isn't much information out yet. The most complete hands-on preview I've seen so far can be found here (in Spanish)*. I'll wait for the reviews to come out. In the mean time, do you know which is the best "carry around" digital camera in the whole world? That's my Pentax K10D with a Zeiss Distagon 25mm f2.8.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Distagon 25/2.8

* A few days after this post, DPReview presented an interesting Leica X1 preview (see here).

Friday, September 25, 2009


My "Summer Garden" series would not be complete without photos of bees feeding on flowers, of course. These little furry balls with wings are quite patient models, but not quite as spectacular as the butterflies.

I also tried some "action shots": at 1/1000 sec and ISO 800, I focused on the insect, waited, and, as soon as it started flying, I pressed the shutter release, hoping that the trajectory would be parallel to the focus plane. A few shots came out quite nice, but the success rate was not very high. I'm sure I'll be trying again next Summer.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 + extension tube

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I found this strange bug literally digging sideways into the flower. A few minutes later it completely disappeared underneath the stamens.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 + extension tube

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Butterflies are nervous insects that can be photographed best early in the morning, when they move slowly because of the cold. However, I was surprised to find that the members of this particular species are quite complacent towards human presence, at least while feeding on flowers.

The minimum focusing distance for the Planar 85 mm is about 1 m, which is irritatingly long. I had to use a 10mm extension tube in order to get a reasonable magnification. Apart from that detail, stopped down at f8, this lens was perfect for the job.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 + extension tube

Monday, September 14, 2009

Photographing with large apertures: subtle art or shameless exhibitionism?

I've always believed that taking a close-up photo at an f-number below 4 is a more or less conscious form of technical exhibitionism. The photographer is essentially saying: "Look at how crisply I can focus my fast lens!" Often the photo would actually benefit from some additional depth of field, giving more detail to the main subject and still keeping the background sufficiently blurred so as not to disturb the composition and the viewer's attention.

Having said this, I must admit that I frequently drool when looking at large aperture photos crisply focused with my fast lenses!... Especially when taken with the Planar 85/1.4 (did I mention it is the best lens ev... yes, I think I did). So please indulge me for a moment and admire the thin depth of focus and the creamy bokeh of the shots below:

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 + extension tube

Friday, September 11, 2009

Summer garden

This August we stayed at my in-laws house for a few days. Along the next few posts I will report on the enjoyable moments that I and my Planar 85/1.4 spent in their garden.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 + extension tube

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Summer sunset

Summer will soon be over.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

Friday, September 4, 2009

A (frivolous) post-processing exercise

The way how images are perceived and evaluated is, of course, a very subjective issue. For instance, I don't generally appreciate heavily post-processed photos. I don't have anything against photo manipulation, as a principle. After all, the image starts being altered the moment one presses the shutter. It is just a question of personal taste how far one wants to go in digitally transforming the look of an image.

Out of curiosity, I used some basic tools in Silkypix to make the image on the left  look a bit gloomier. I used separate RGB tone curves, color tuning and vignetting control. Unlike some popular raw converters/editors, Silkypix does not allow for masking or localized actions. Nonetheless, I suppose that the result, shown above, can be considered technically reasonable. However, I still prefer a more classic - I would call it "subtler", but you might say I'm being pretentious - approach, like the B&W version below.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Planar 50/1.4

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


An exercise on taking photos of hydrangeas.

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Sonnar 85/2.8 + off-camera flash