Thinking out loud (about gear, money, and enjoying photography)

I’m a moody kind of person. One day I fancy this, the other day I fancy that. My mood can swap within minutes. This is especially bad when it comes to toys. And with toys I mean cameras. Let me digress.

I bought the Olympus E-P1 when it was relatively fresh on the market, in late 2009. I saw that it was a very capable small camera, and I saw the future in mirrorless systems (and Micro Four Thirds in particular). Also, MFT had a very neat lens to offer that made a perfect match with the E-P1: the Lumix 20mm f/1.7. This kit has served me pretty well since then. It had two major drawbacks, though: AF was awfully slow (due to both the lens and the camera), and the display was only 230k dots and there was no hi-res EVF available (the VF-2 was only introduced with the E-P2). But nonetheless, the combo is capable of taking some very good pictures that would rival contemporary consumer DSLRs.

A little later, I was bitten by the Leica bug. I had seen so many pictures from and read so many stories about the M8, that I wanted one for myself. It was a crazy idea back then, and seems even crazier now. I didn’t really have the money loose, so I decided I would pay it pack to myself (read: to my savings) over time. Which I did. And once I had the M8, I enjoyed it tremendously. It is a wonderful piece of machinery that looks gorgeous, feels absolutely fabulous in your hand, is pure joy to operate and outputs some of the finest images when combined with a good lens.

There is a drawback to the M8 as well, though: it’s expensive. And I don’t mean just expensive to buy. It’s also expensive to maintain. Mine hasn’t failed so far, but chances are that it will, at some point, need a new shutter and/or sensor. Or the rangefinder realigned. Or new circuitry. And this all gets very expensive very quickly.

Fast forward to today. Here I am, proud owner of a lovely Micro Four Thirds system consisting of the E-P1, the Panasonic G1, the 20mm f/1.7, the Noktor 12mm f/1.6 and a couple other stuff, and a Leica M8 with three great lenses. All good and well. I love all my cameras, because — being the moody type I am — each one fits some kind of mood I’m in. I don’t always like the M8, because it’s a primadonna. Sometimes I want to go compact, so I take the E-P1. Then, I want to use a fancy C-mount lens and need the EVF of the G1.

The M8 is the king of the hill in my setup, there’s no question. But the E-P1 and G1 and pretty capable themselves. And they have AF to offer, and much better high ISO than the M8. And if they ever break down, they’re cheap to replace. Which got me thinking. I’m also a father and have a family to feed. We’re getting along well, but there’s never really much left. Which means I can’t really justify to have the M8 around any longer. Because when I have it, I use it, and when I use it, it wears, and when it wears, it will need service. And realistically, I can’t afford a camera that needs money put into it just so I can use it. I already spent a four-figure sum on the camera and lenses. That’s money we could well need to pay for our car’s repair bills.

So, do I really need the M8? Well, that’s a silly question. Of course I do. I mean, it’s an effin’ Leica! You need a Leica! But despite what my heart tries to tell me, I know that the M8 will, in the long term, cost me money that I don’t have. So as much as it hurts me to admit — because I really, really, really love this camera — the M8 has to go.

I had a good time with it. I enjoyed using it. It’s a unique experience to shoot a rangefinder camera. If you want to read the whole story about me falling in love with rangefinder cameras, zip over to Steve Huff’s site. I won’t repeat all of that here. Suffice to say: if you ever hold a Leica and fall in love with it (which is highly probable), you will never want to part with it. It’s like with a classic car: your head keeps telling you it’s a waste of money, but your heart just can’t let go.

I’ve taken many, many great pictures with the M8. And I’ve learned quite a lot about photography in the time I had it. About manual operation, about judging light, about composing with an inaccurate viewfinder, etc. etc. But when I’m honest, it’s not like I couldn’t take similar pictures with a camera less expensive. And it’s not like the M8 really takes better pictures. They have a different, unique quality to them, yes. But I’ve taken stunning pictures with my E-P1 under the right circumstances.

So, if I let go of the M8 — which I am not yet 100% sure I will be able to –, what will I fill that big whole with, that will be left in my soul once it’s gone? That’s a simple one. I’m already invested in another fabulous camera system: Micro Four Thirds. And compared to late 2009, that system has matured by now. Not only are there a number of really really great lenses available for MFT, there are also some very very good cameras out by now — chiefly the new Olympus OM-D E-M5, which trumps pretty much everything else in the mirrorless world today. Save for the Fuji X-Pro 1, maybe, and the Leica M system of course.

So here’s what I’ll do. I will send in my M8 and the lenses for service, so I can sell the stuff with a good conscience. From the revenue, I will get the Olympus OM-D, and probably sell either the E-P1 or the G1, because I don’t really need three cameras of the same system. In addition to my 12mm f/1.6 and 20mm f/1.7 I will get the 45mm f/1.8. The Olympus 12mm f/2 and the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 are both tempting, but too close to the lenses I already have. Though I might just get them at another point.

What I will have then is a pretty complete system, spanning focal lengths from 24mm (equivalent to 35mm full frame) to 90mm, in a compact and highly capable package. I will have a system that will last me for quite a while, that I can take anywhere, and that is inexpensive to maintain and/or upgrade. Quality wise, and from the pure bling-factor, it won’t be as posh and as fancy as a Leica M. But cheaper, a lot cheaper, and 95% of the quality probably. And I will be able to sleep a lot better, not having to worry about frighteningly high repair bills …

It’s a difficult decision, because it’s not only a rational one but also a highly emotional one. But it’s one that’s got to be made. And if I’ve learned anything during my recent vacation (where I used the M8 almost exclusively), then it’s that there’s nothing I can do with the M8 that I can’t with a camera which is cheaper, smaller, less posh and above all, less expensive to maintain.

So, here goes nothing …

HOT news!

First, I want to mention that I now have a flickr! account where I will regularly post old and new pictures. Since the scope of this blog is more on general photography info and some selected snippets of my photographic work, I decided to use flickr! as a base to share more of those gazillions (ok, thousands, but still) pictures on my harddisk with a greater audience. You can find my photostream here.

Next up, Noktor are about to release a 50mm f/0.95 lens in M-mount. Yes, you heard right! The same guys (well, not actually since they have been bought by SLR magic) that brought us a rebadged Japanese TV lens for Micro Four Thirds have now developed a completely new lens in Leica M mount that will be a direct competitor to the infamous Noctilus, at a fraction of the price. How coll is that? For more info, check Steve Huff’s website.

News and Articles | May 26th, 2011

Another round of news and articles, this time a little late as I was pretty knocked out for more than a week sind last week, and have only just really recovered.

Noktor is dead! Long live Noktor!
Remember Noktor, a couple of chaps, operating from a shed somewhere in the U.S., retrofitting and rebranding Japanese CCTV lenses for Micro Four Thirds? They made quite a stir last year when they announced a 50mm f/0.95 high-speed lens with native m4/3 mount, but it turned out to be low quality and overpriced. Just recently, Noktor announced their death, just to announce their rebirth a couple of days later. As it seems, they have merged with SLR magic. We’ll see what that is going to bring to the Micro Four Thirds world!

How diffraction limits resolution …
… and what this means for technical implementation as well as actual photography. If you’re fluent in German, here’s an interesting article on the topic by photoscala.

How do instant cameras work?
Ever wondered about the magic behind your dad’s old Polaroid? Well, here’s a simple, easy to grasp explanation of how the Polaroid instant pictures work. Simple and effective, yet fascinating nonetheless!

The Sigma SD1’s Foven sensor analyzed
Here’s another interesting technical article, this time about the new 15 megapixel Foveon X3 sensor of Sigma’s latest DSLR flagship, the SD1. (Which, by the way, will shortly be available!)

Fujifilm X100 giveaway by PhotoRumors and Adorama
Do you want a Fujifilm X100, but don’t have the money to buy one? Well, here’s your chance to get one FOR FREE! Fantastic, isn’t it?

Fujifilm X100 vs. Leica X1
Steve Huff has put both the Leica X1 as well as the Fujifilm X100 through their respective paces, and has now taken the additional effort to compare the two in terms of looks, build quality, usability, fun-factor and — chief of all — image quality.

The challenge of the 24mms
And another one for those fluent in German :-) Photoscala has put together (or is putting together) a big challenge of high-speed 24mm lenses for various systems. The series has only just begun, but in the coming weeks the following lenses will undergo meticulous tests and will be compared to each other:
AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 G ED (for Nikon)
Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG Macro (for Nikon)
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L (for Canon)
Zeiss Distagon T* 24mm f/2 SSM (for Sony)
Leica Summilux-M 24mm f/1.4 ASPH. (for Leica)

That’s it for today!

Random excellence: Noktor shots by Richard Thompson III

New Orleans based photographer Richard Thompson III was among the first to try out the Noktor HyperPrime 50mm f/0.95 Micro Four Thirds lens, and has recently updated his flickr pool with some stunning new captures. The reason for my reporting on this is that when the Noktor was first announced, a lot of people bashed the lens for being a tweaked CCTV lens with mediocre image quality. But as you can see from Richard’s pictures, in the right hands this lens can be made to shine (as is true for virtually any lens).

If you like his work, be sure to also check out his website.

News from Noktor!


Noktor, the company that brought us the first ultra-fast dedicated Micro Four Thrids lens, the Noktor HyperPrime 50mm f/0.95, are now developing yet another ultra-fast lens for Micro Four Thirds. This time, unlike the 50/0.95, it will not be based on an already available C-mount model, but rather be a completely new development. It is not clear yet what focal length the lens will have, nor what its initial aperture will be, but a poll at 43rumors shows the 25mm focal length is clearly in favor!

For those who can’t wait for Noktor to release the new lens (which I guess won’t be before next year), you can already have a fast 25mm f/0.95 – a Noctilux for Micro Four Thirds – in C-mount, from either Senko, Navitron or Yakumo. They sell for around $ 400 and are thus probably more affordable than the new Noktor will be.