#992. Embracing the Imperfection of a V1 Summilux

By Paul Barclay | Opinion

Apr 17

The first two images below may look familiar to everyone. These are two of the images I submitted to the recent Blurry Image Challenge.

 
 

The paragraph below is what I included with my Blurry Challenge images.

“These images were made a couple of years ago when Dear Susan was publishing a series of “Un-Destination” photographs by several of the contributors. Since where I live is about as un-destination as anywhere, I thought I would try to make a contribution. At the same time I was feeling that I was too hung up on pursuing ultimate sharpness and depth of field as image qualities. And therefore needed to do something else. The something else I decided on was shallow depth of field, using my M9 and 50 Summilux V1 lens exclusively at maximum aperture or stopped down only one stop. I titled the project “Embracing Imperfection” because this lens was not well regarded when it was introduced, and it does not perform the way I expect a Leica lens to perform unless it is stopped down to f4 or more. These images are from my first session walking around the downtown business district of where I live. Both images are of the same sculpture, which is on a street corner. My project stalled a few weeks after these images were made. Though, at times I think about restarting the project, because these images seem to have their own character.”

At the time of the challenge Pascal and I had an e-mail conversation about my project and he encouraged me to restart it. Fortunately for me, and you, I did restart the project and now over one-thousand images later I have some samples to show you.

For the second attempt at this project my rules were simple.

  1. My Leica 50mm F1.4 Summilux V1 lens at f1.4 on my M9.
  2. A 3-stop Neutral Density filter when needed.
  3. My normal street type of images.
  4. Minimal exposure adjustments in Capture One.
  5. No sharpening, only the default applied by Capture One.

The first two images were taken at the Pike Place Market in the south section of Post Alley. The gentleman in the hat was so interested in his phone that he never noticed me. Though the interesting feature of these is in the first image. Look between the man and woman on the right, next to the Ghost Alley Espresso sign.I do not remember that figure being there at the time. The Pike Place Market is reported to be haunted and the date was right before Halloween, so I will let you decide if this figure is an apparition or a projection.

 
 

The following images were taken on the same day in the South Lake Union area of Seattle and they show what this combination is capable of when things come together. I have included some un-edited B&W images direct from the camera.

 
 

These images seem to show that on a digital camera the lens is better than it’s reputation. Though, after reviewing the 1,000+ images I have made with it, on film I think it deserves it’s reputation.

 
 

Why? The first reason is the image circle, or the area of good focus, projected on the sensor at infinity focus is very small. I estimate this is a bit more than 5% of the sensor area.

 
 

Plus, at f1.4 the depth of field is so shallow that you need to be very quick to focus and press the shutter. Otherwise if you have any body movement your plane of focus will move off of your subject; using a tripod would have helped eliminate the body motion. Finally, add in rangefinder focusing with new, mis-aligned, progressive glasses and you have a real challenging photographic experience to master.

 
 

On the other hand, when everything comes together the lens has a unique rendering that makes the effort worthwhile. At least if you can use it when you have plenty of sunlight, which makes rangefinder focusing a bit easier.

 
 

Another factor to consider when using a vintage lens at f1.4 is composition. Composition is quite simple, select your preferred point of view for your subject, place the object you want to be in sharpest focus in the center of the frame and press the shutter. To modify the composition you need to crop the image to remove any undesirable elements. The image above is an example of what cropping can do for you, and it is the only one of this series that is cropped. It is also the only image made in overcast light that survived the editing challenge.

Overall this was a very interesting and enjoyable experience, though the challenges of using a range finder in less than bright light led to a fair amount of disappointment when reviewing the images. Which leads me to a question for those of you reading this. Should I continue project using a rangefinder, or mix it up and add a mirrorless camera with an EVF for focusing.

Any suggestions?

 

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  • Sean says:

    Hi Paul,
    What a wonderful and inspiring post. Your persistence, dedication and determination has reaped you an experience with positive outcomes. You’ve certainly managed to craft images that have a signature look – that has resulted from all contributing factors. However, I see your valid point regarding that lens, how it draws, and how you’ve used that to advantage the final image. Another thing that’s evident is that your work is testament to the fact that it’s ‘imperfection’ that contributes to making things interesting. Well done.

    • Paul Barclay says:

      Sean

      Thank you for your reply. Persistence was definitely a necessary quality to have while working on a project like this. Not only for getting through the review process of images that did not quite work and trying to remember what you were doing to try understand why. But for staying with the concept and not letting something else seduce you and turn your attention elsewhere. Fortunately I had enough success that I was able to look back to see what was possible to continue the effort.

      Thank you for the comment that these images have a signature look. That is a concept I have not give more than a passing thought. As I have always been drawn to images with high sharpness, or clarity, across the frame. Which is partly why I asked the question about continuing the project.

      Paul

  • John W says:

    Interesting exercise and results. Embracing the imperfection of a tool and making it a tool itself can lead to novel and unexpected results. As Sean said, the images do have a distinctive “look”. I would consider repeating the exercise with a mirrorless camera and a modern f1.4 lens. Regardless, your perseverance is commendable. Thank you for sharing.

    • Paul Barclay says:

      John

      Thank you for your reply and suggestion. I have thought doing a comparison of this lens to a modern lens as a follow up to this project.

      Though, this would lead me to make a decision concerning the platform to use. Currently my full frame lenses are film era rangefinder lenses or older D/SLR lenses. So I would need to get through my paralysis by analysis and decide on camera body that will give the rangefinder lenses a chance to shine.

      From the things I have read on the web the Leica SL series, Panasonic S-1 series, and Nikon Z series, may be worth trying. Since our friends at Lens Rentals are offering discounts for renting gear, now is probably the time to try something to see what may work.

      Paul

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    LOL – the idea of capturing the image of a ghost, with a camera, is an interesting one – I haven’t come across it in decades, although someone suggested it back about 50 years ago. If there isn’t anything there, what is the light going to reflect off? Yet if that is to suggest that you can’t photograph them, how is it possible for us to see them? FYI – I have actually seen a ghost – once! – and I nearly fell over backwards, it startled me so much! In broad daylight, too! – on a nice sunny afternoon!

    You will have to pardon my “dense”, Paul. I am not seeing anything “wrong” with any of these photos. They draw the eye in – a strong indicator of a good image! The studies of the sculptures are intriguing.
    And I love the photos of the boats!

    I’ll leave it to others to advise you on mirrorless cameras. I only have one, and it’s a “fun” toy, which I use mainly for planning more serious photography.

    If I do have a comment (apart from the obvious one about the sun shining from behind you, onto the screen you’re trying to look at, to compose your photo) it’s this – you mention your spectacles. I find it much easier to work with a DSLR than a mirrorless camera, partly because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 60-odd years (64, to be precise), but partly also because it’s much easier to adjust the diopter lens on the viewfinder of the DSLR and use the viewfinder, than to wear spectacles and use the screen on the back of the camera to compose the image.

    And sharpening – sigh – that’s a topic for a whole different article!

    • Paul Barclay says:

      Pete

      That is a very interesting “Ghost” experience. I have had one too. We were staying at our favorite hotel in Oregon and in the middle of the night I heard a voice in the room above me that was distinct enough to wake me up and look to the ceiling. There was no one moving about in the hallway at the time or the room above. The hotel keeps a diary of guest ghost experiences so in the morning I went to the front desk to read it. There were no entries for our room up to then. As, for our friend in the image, I have looked at it again and decided that it is a decoration suspended in that location, Since I don’t think a great ghost would look so cartoony, or cast a shadow.

      Concerning the perceived image quality of the lens, if you look at the first image, at the umbrella, or the first image of the sailboat, at the back of the boat, that soft creamy look is what I was getting throughout every image I would make using this lens at f1.4. It is really by taking on this project and getting images like the above, that told me the lens had potential.

      The boat and sculpture images were the images that convinced me that I really did not understand how to properly focus a rangefinder and the impact progressive lenses can have. Prior to this, I thought that the lens may not positioned at the correct distance from the sensor for the rangefinder to focus properly. This series is when I really slowed down and made sure I could see my subject point clearly in the range finder and then focus the lens. The sailboat is what demonstrated how much body and subject motion mattered as well. The images made on this day became my basis of comparison for the images I would make later; after the new glasses.

      Your description of how easy it is to adjust the diopter on a DSLR viewfinder has been a temptation for me ever since the Nikon D800 was announced. With a rangefinder you need to add a diopter correction lens to the view finder, just like in the film days before the Nikon F4, which reduces the field of view pretty significantly, if you can get the correct diopter for your eye. Which makes glasses necessary. Though, a progressive lens adds its own challenge in that they are also variable focus, so how you look through the view finder matters a lot. This is why Thorsten Overgaard recommends single vision glasses in his running Leica M article. For my vision I find a bifocal to be desirable. When I used a Nikon F4, I tried the glasses on/off process and found that after a while my eyes did not want to shift focus and one would be set for distance and the other for close. Which meant that I would need to stop for a while. This can still happen with any camera, but wearing glasses makes it manageable.

      Ages ago I switched to using a rangefinder exclusively and was usually very pleased with the results. I took an interest in Mirrorless because you are focusing off of the sensor itself and the potential it offered for using my rangefinder lenses. Though you are correct, most viewfinders do leave a lot to be desired; nothing really compares to the eyepiece and viewfinder of a Nikon Professional body.

      My current mirrorless camera is the Panasonic G9, which is a capable camera with native lenses and a good platform for adapting lenses, if the crop factor works for the image. My question about continuing the project is because of focusing and the crop factor. Focusing with an EVF is very good and almost as fast as using a rangefinder, but there are times I do miss the image qualities of an image on a full frame sensor. M43s is not quite the same.

      Unfortunately, I have been working with a certain method and kit for a long time so I am a bit resistant to change. Though I probably will be forced too. Since most mirrorless camera sensors do not play nice with rangefinder lenses, the new 40+ MP Leica sensors may highlight the deficiencies of my lenses, and Leica prices make a lot of alternatives viable.

      Paul

  • Paul Watson says:

    A long while back when I had a canon 350 rebel. I was scratching around in an old box and found 2 X converter. I remember a friend having an old lens and cameras, and went visiting. The amazing thing was the 2 X converter fitted onto my Rebel, and an old manual 200 MM lens fitted onto the 2 X converter. I figured out very quickly a 400 Ml is not all that it’s cooked up to be. And my next lesson was learning how even a “slow” lens like this had some use. I started taking photos of birds in flight. I was able to get the movement of the wings, how they moved.. I also had dust spots, fuzzy photos, pastel backgrounds, no detail.. BUT I loved it.. It was like being an impressionistic painter. This post of yours has stored something up inside of me. I have almost forgotten what it’s like to play with old lens and experiment with movement. Thank you

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