#356. On location: The Sunny Streets of Marseilles

By pascaljappy | Opinion

May 24

In recent weeks, I have become somewhat obsessed with the idea of a Leica Monochrom (M246). Paired with a Zeiss Distagon 35/1.4 ZM, the most natural, delicate and transparent lens I have ever used, bar none, it is simply mouth-watering for someone who’s main interest in photography is the interplay of light and matter.
DSC09293-ModifierFortunately for me, I can’t afford it. That, and some discussions with co-author Paul about the bad rap the newcomer has been receiving from early buyers has put my mind to relative rest. Peace has returned to casa DS and harmony once again rules my universe.

DSC09283-ModifierBut, then, something unfortunate happened. Nick Devlin recently released a portfolio of Cuban photographs (Cuba No Color) that sent me into total relapse. The way his photographs grabbed to light in very diverse conditions simply sang to me and got my mind back into an M246 spin.

DSC09270-ModifierSo, today, instead of sulking like a teenager, I decided to put the Sony A7r (and myself) to the test and try to produce a set of photographs that said more about light than about the location. Not to replicate Nick Devlin’s style but to let light play a dominant role in depicting the sense of a given place.

DSC09256-ModifierFor the location, I chose a place I’ve been meaning to photograph for a very long time, one that responds to strong sunlight beautifully and which any photographer spending time in Provence would want to visit: the streets of Marseilles around the “old port” (Le Vieux Port). The day was very sunny and I chose to process the files in a slightly harsh manner to emphasise the summer feel.

DSC09204-ModifierAlso, it has been pointed out to me that, over the months, I may have described the OTUS 85 as a big softy. So it was time to show another aspect of its personality : the laser beam sharpness. As an example, the number plate of the car at the bottom of the hill (below) is 671 DK 13. Easy. Behind it, at about 11h o’clock, is a sign that looks like the figure of a man in a toga. Behind that is another tiny sign sticking out horizontally to the right (click to enlarge). That reads “Musée Cantini”.

DSC09279-ModifierThat sharpness is there even at f/1.4 but it is reduced to a plane as thick as fag paper. At f/8, the increased depth of field (and post processing) produce a Vieira da Silva effect on some of these perspective that I really enjoy. Not at all the style chosen by Nick Devlin for Cuba, but it suits Marseilles to a T.

DSC09282-ModifierBut enough about sharpness. Back to more important things: the light.

In this series, I have tried to create the illusion of light falling from a very bright noon to an early evening. Just to see what the files have in them and how easy it is to create a mood.

DSC09218-ModifierIn reality, these photographs probably span 90-120 minutes around lunch time and lighting conditions changed very little in between shots. But it’s the hallmark of great gear to let the photographer decide of the final effect rather than see the mood dictated by the external conditions. Pros are often willing to return to a location until they get the look that sells. But we travel photographers are more interesting in making something interesting of what is available.

DSC09223-ModifierHopefully, the final images in this series will also lay to rest the myth of Golden Hour photography. What may hold for a very specific recipe of (traditional English) landscape (very successful on the forums and 500px) doesn’t have to be an imposition on your creative life, particularly if you crave high contrast, textures and deep shadows. Which I think work very well in street photography.

DSC09217-ModifierSo there you have it, the Sony A7r trying to compete with the most recent B&W pure player from the boys in Wetzlar. What do you think ? Do any of these convey the sense of light like those that started my headache or must I wander in the desert in search of an M246 well ?

DSC09216-ModifierA little extra. Almost a cheat, I suppose, but the sort of overlay I find fascinating in some of Gerhard Richter’s abstracts.

DSC09250-ModifierI’ll try to publish 2 or 3 more monochrome series showing different uses of ambient light, in the near future. But my next post from this area of Marseilles will be all about something the M246 struggles with: crazy colours. Be seing you.



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  • Dave says:

    Very nice photos. Have you considered the Loxia? I’ve read that the ZM does not shine in the A7 although you have shown this not to be the case!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Dave. The ZM has its issues in the corners at infinity but it’s a superbly transparent and subtle lens, even on the A7r (see https://www.dearsusan.net/2015/01/26/317-zeiss-distagon-t-1-435-zm-full-review/). I love the Loxia 50 but have never tried the Loxia 35. But nothing I have ever used from any stable has the nuances of the ZM 35/1.4 😉

      • Dave says:

        I find the Loxia 50 to be absolutely fantastic. Such a joy to use. Perhaps sometime in the future we will be fortunate enough to hear your thoughts on the Loxia 35mm. It seems they are slowly becoming more widely available now.

        • pascaljappy says:

          Absolute joy to use. Couldn’t agree more. Compact, not too small, brilliant to focus and with a lovely image quality. I’ll try to get my hands on a 35mm asap 🙂 Thanks again.

  • Philberphoto says:

    Pascal, I am terribly sorry, but your B&W pictures are, well, they aren’t actually downright bad, but, you know, well, how can I put it? You compare them to an 246??? Come now, you can’t be serious? What, you are serious? My God, he is serious!!! Oh well, what do I know, let alone care…

  • Leonard says:

    Pascal, I can see why Nick Devlin’s Cubana pix stirred you, as they do me. Artistry aside, do you happen to know what camera/lens combo he uses for those shots?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Leonard, Nick Devlin was using the new Monochrom M246. As for lenses, I think they are mainly the Leica Summicron-M 50/2 and the CV 21. He wrote an article on Lula about the trip, and that is what took me to his online portfolio. Cheers.

  • PaulB says:


    I think you have truly achieved you goal of creating high contrast images that show the light of the city. Though, these may not satisfy your lust for the M246 based on Nick Devlin’s images.

    Why? Partly in the vision behind both sets of images. Nick’s images are closer to his subject, lower in contrast, which provides for more tonality and texture in the scene. Your images are more distant, very high contrast, which provides for a very narrow tone and texture range. While both sets are quite pleasing, this can certainly be a case where opposites attract.

    From a technical box to box comparison you are at a slight disadvantage to Nick. The M246 has a sensor that records luminance at every pixel and the A7R only records luminance at half of the pixels. While the M246 provides a 12 bit uncompressed B&W raw file, and the A7R provides an 11 bit compressed color raw file which has to be converted.

    Fortunately, these differences are probably meaningless in terms of real image making. Steve Huff, in his latest series using the M426, has a comparison shot to the Sony A7II and they look identical to me. So your M240 lust is probably a case of the grass on the other side being greener.


    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Paul. You are of course quite right about Nick’s style and mine being very different in this instance. I went for full on high-contrast and would like to do other series with much more subtlety. Because that’s what’s so great about B&W, that ability to alter tones to suit a particular goal, mood or light. Also, this agressive post-processing is about the most extreme I’d subject any file to, thereby calming my mind about the A7r’s ability to match the M246, in spite of specification 😉

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