A Year With the Leica M (Typ 240)

M with Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1, EVF, Arte di mano leather case, and Tap & Dye wrist strap

It’s been a couple years since I blogged about the Leica M8. At that time I boasted about how I was still getting great images from a camera that was deemed problematic and outdated. But cameras come and go, and upgrades happen. I was at the Photokina 2012 press event where Leica unveiled its latest rangefinder, the M (Typ 240), and after just a few minutes with it in my hand I knew it was the next camera for me.

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A Year With the Ricoh GR

GR blogMy day job is reviewing cameras, so over the course of a year I’m shooting with dozens of different cameras, ranging from pocket compacts to digital medium format equipment. Usually I’ve only got a few weeks to familiarize myself with a particular piece of gear, take it out and shoot with it, and condense my opinion into a star rating and a couple thousand words of copy. Once in a great while a camera will speak to me to the point where I decide that it’s worth adding to my personal photographic kit. The Ricoh GR is one that falls into that small category. Continue reading

The Hasselblad V System

Hasselblad 500C with waist-level finder and Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8. (Pentax 645D, Pentax HD D FA 645 90mm Macro f/2.8 ED AW SR)

Hasselblad announced this week the end of production for the 503CW, the last remaining camera in its V system of square-shooting medium format SLRs. The news hit hard; not because I was in the market to buy a new 503CW, but because picking up my dad’s old Hasselblad was my first step in the journey from “the guy who takes a lot of crappy photos” to a more disciplined shooter, who occasionally turns out a shot that’s worth printing. Continue reading

Nikon F3: The Perfect SLR?

Nikon F3 with HP prism.

I shoot with all kinds of cameras, both for work and play. My day job has me reviewing everything from budget digital point-and-shoots to low-fi Lomo film cameras to absurdly expensive medium format digitals. On my own time, I generally reach for a 35mm rangefinder like my M3 as the first option, but there are times when I want to shoot with a TLR or an SLR. There are some things that an SLR just does better than a rangefinder—including close focus, macro, and telephoto shooting.

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Using Pentax 110 Lenses on Sony NEX Cameras

My first camera took 110 film. It was a narrow brick with a lens, a flash, shutter, and film advance. My mom bought it for me at the Dollar General store, and I’ve no idea where the likely-awful photos that young Jim captured have gone to, but it was something. Cheap cameras like that one are what a lot of us associate with 110 film, but they’re not the only cameras made for the film format.

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Leica Summitar 50mm f/2: Classic and Inexpensive

The Leica brand has become synonymous with excessively priced camera gear in recent years. Aside from absurdly priced special editions—like a $50,000 special edition M9-P with four lenses and Hermés leather—a run of the mill M9 will set you back around $7,000, and the least expensive new lens you can buy from the company is the $1,500 50mm Summarit f/2.5.

But you don’t have to buy the latest and greatest camera and lenses. There are bargains to be found in older glass, and if you can mount Leica glass to all kinds of cameras these days—including the $700 Sony Alpha NEX-5N. The Summitar is one of the great bargains of the Leica world. My copy, manufactured in 1951 based on its serial number, set me back a whopping $225 when I bought it in 2010. The lens is actually in a Leica Thread Mount, so you’ll need to use an adapter to mount it on an M-mount camera.

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The Sony Alpha NEX-5N: A Perfect Complement to the Leica M8

NEX-5N with Leica Summicron DR 50mm f/2 mounted.

One of the perks of my day job—I write digital camera reviews for PCMag.com—is getting hands-on time with a lot of gear. Although I shoot a lot of film, there are times when using a digital camera can make life easier. I love my M8, but there are just some things that it can’t do. It isn’t suitable for macro work—the close focus range of the DR Summicron is the best you can get—lacks autofocus, can’t handle low-light situations, and it doesn’t lend itself to telephoto shooting like an SLR does.

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Why I Still Love My Leica M8

Leica M8. Pentax K5, Pentax SMC K 100mm f/4 Macro.

I’ve used this space to write about film cameras before, including my Leica M3, but not about a digital one. I got interested in photography after college, when things were already decidedly digital. I moved from a digital point and shoot to a DSLR and then to a nicer DSLR. My Dad was a pro shooter back in the 80s and he gave me a lot of his old gear, including a set of Pentax K-mount lenses. So when I got my first DSLR, I went Pentax. Continue reading

Getting in Close with a Rangefinder: The Leica Summicron DR 50mm f/2

The DR Summicron with filter and generic vented hood

Rangefinder cameras have many advantages over their much more popular SLR cousins. They are generally smaller and lighter — with optics to match. Because there’ s no mirror box, lenses can sit closer to the film plane — which results in excellent edge-to-edge sharpness and the ability to design compact wide-angle lenses.

But there are drawbacks. You’ll never be able to preview depth of field, zoom lenses aren’t practical, external finders are often required, and learning the terminology associated with them (Leica naming conventions in particular) can be a daunting task unto itself.

Oh, and focusing close? In the words of Tony Soprano — “Fugedaboudit.” Classic Leica lenses are limited to focusing to about 3.3′ (1 meter) — while most newer designs can only get as close as 2.3′ (0.7 meters). In looking to overcome this obstacle, Leica engineers devised the Summicron DR in the 1950s. It can focus as close as 20″ (0.5 meters), but requires some handling to do so.

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A Tale of Two Rolleis

Rolleiflex Automat K4 with Zeiss-Opton Tessar 75mm f/3.5 Lens

An old Armenian man recently prevented me from throwing away three hundred dollars on a bum camera.

I had bought a circa-1951 Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) from a local camera shop. I’d wanted to get a TLR for a while, and found one at what I thought was a pretty good price. I wasn’t able to get a test roll shot immediately after buying the camera. But I wanted to get it looked at by an expert, so I took it to the Krimar Photo Shop in Elmwood Park, NJ.

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