Saturday, August 30, 2014


Every once in a while we come across a new accessory and software from other manufacturers that can greatly enhance the versatility of Leica equipment.  One such accessory if the  newly announced LensTRUE System by JOBO.  It promises an alternative to adjustable cameras and offers technically perfect images without distortion and vignetting.

Leica S2 with attached Jobo Lens TRUE

Unlike the equalization or erection perspectively distorted image with the use of mechanical shifts or conventional image editing software the LensTRUE system solves the problem by combining hardware and software. The system consists of an electronic inclinometer, the LensTRUE meter for measuring and storing the angular position of the camera while shooting, and special software with RAW converter to eliminate perspective distortion. 

The prerequisite for the use of LensTRUE is a sensor resolution of eight megapixels. However, the higher the sensor resolution, the more the camera can be angled. The limit of the automatic correction with LensTrue is 35 degrees. In practice, the inclinometer is mounted on a tripod and connected to the camera. The inclinometer records the data of the camera position in every shot. The LensTRUE Software writes the information gained in the metadata of the image file and uses it for the perspective correction. The image information is automatically corrected, however, the correction by LensTRUE leads to a change of the image format. The LensTRUE system is priced at almost 1000 euros and will be presented by Jobo at Photokina.



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Friday, August 29, 2014



From the very beginning, Leica lenses have always had a very high reputation for their sharpness and their special tonal performance.  This was a prerequisite, demanded by Oskar Barnck and realized by Max Berek with even his first lens designs for the Leica.

As a matter of fact, Leitz had been criticized from time to time for not having any good portrait lenses.  Many Leica users thought that the Leica lenses were often too sharp for portrait work.  That gave the impetus for Max Berek to design the Leitz Thambar at the beginning of the 1930s.


The Thambar was a soft focus lens, displaying some rather unique characteristics, which made it one of the premier portrait lenses of the time.  The soft focus effect was the result of the lens having been purposely designed with a considerable amount of residual spherical aberration.  The name Thambar was derived from Greek, meaning “something that inspires wonder”, or wonderful.  The lens was comprised of four elements, with the two central elements cemented to form one group.  A very similar formula was later chosen for the 125mm Hektor for use on the Visoflex.

Leitz Thambar on a Leica IIIc with VIDOM viewfinder

The spherical aberration of the lens was produced primarily at the outer perimeter of the lens.  Stopping it down to smaller apertures would reduce this effect and it was totally eliminated at f/9.  To further enhance the soft focus effect, the lens came supplied with a special, clear filter that had a one centimeter mirrored spot in the center which eliminated the sharp image created by the center of the lens.

Element configuration of the Thambar with installed filter on left

Leitz New York Thambar brochure

The maximum aperture of the lens was f/2.2.  This was reduced to f/2.3 with the center spot filter in place.  For that reason the Thambar had two aperture scales, one in white for the f/stops without the filter and one in red for the stops with the filter installed.  The red scale went from f/2.3 to f/6.3 because above f/6.3 the filter became useless.  The maximum soft focus effect was obtained with the lens wide open and with the filter installed.  Stopping the lens down would diminish this effect, thus giving the photographer full control over the amount of soft focus.  Photographing with back lighting or lighting that produced flare would further increase the soft focus effect.  The distance of the subject also had a significant effect on the softness.

The Thambar actually was relatively difficult to use because the rangefinder of the camera did not allow the soft focus effect of the lens to be seen.  Subsequently a fair amount of experience was necessary to use the lens effectively.

The production of the lens started on 1935 and ended in 1949.  According to company records, about 3000 lenses were produced.  Today the Thambar is one of the most sought after pieces by Leica collectors.  Even though a production of 3000 lenses is not all that rare, it is difficult to find complete sets with the original filter, and sets complete with the filter and the original red boxes are quite rare.  The Thambar is indeed a legendary piece of equipment among Leica enthusiasts.


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Thursday, August 28, 2014


I entered the digital age with a Leica Digilux 2 in 2006, a time when I was still very skeptical of digital photography.  But it had become obvious that traditional film photography was quickly becoming a thing of the past.  Besides, the idea of not having to buy film and pay for processing did appeal to me.  After all, lowering overhead is always a good thing when running a business.

At that time I was doing a lot of architectural photography, mostly with a Rolleiflex SL66.  Could this relatively small digital camera really be considered a replacement for the medium format Rollei?  There was no doubt that the Rolleiflex was a superior camera in the final analysis.  But I also had to consider that many of my clients began to ask for digital files, and I was more and more in need of having the negs from the Rollei scanned to accommodate them.

I shot my first assignment with the Digilux 2 on a cold, Minnesota January day and evening.  It was about 10 degrees and I was wondering of this all electronic piece of equipment was even able to function properly under those conditions.

Well, it did, not only did it function properly; it rendered results which I had no hesitation to give to my client.  From that day on I did all of my professional work with that camera.  The Rolleiflex has long been sold.  As a matter of fact, I don’t recall when I shot my last roll of film, but I am sure it was around the time of the appearance of the Leica Digilux 2 as part of my camera outfit.  I still have that camera and yes, I still use it.  It still is a fun and extremely well working camera.

One aspect that drew me to this particular camera was the fact that it operated very much like my Leica M6 at that time.  The layout was very similar, and most of the controls were very much the same.  No need to punch a bunch of buttons and to look at LCD displays to set shutter speeds and apertures, this was all done in a very familiar manner.

Of course there was a bit of a learning curve.  Instead of turning a dial for the film speed, I now had to go into the camera menu to set ISO speed and a number of other, formerly unnecessary things like white balance, for instance.  But this was done on the display screen in back of the camera.  

I was actually a bit concerned about that screen.  I had seen a lot of such screens that became difficult to use in bright light.  Not so with the Digilux 2.  To my surprise, It functioned every bit as good, even in direct sunlight, as it did in a darkened environment.  To this day, I consider the Digilux 2 screen one of the best I have ever used, better than even the screen on my Leica M8.

Another aspect of the camera that did require some getting used to was the viewfinder.  Even though it looked outwardly very similar to the viewfinder on my Leica M6, it proved to be entirely different.  The viewfinder on the Leica Digilux 2 was one of the first electronic viewfinders ever used.  It has a bit of a lag when used with rapid camera movements and it is difficult to use under very dark lighting conditions.  But I have never felt that I was missing out on shots because of it.  Once used to it, I was able to use it like most any other viewfinder as well.

The electronic viewfinder incidentally made the Leica Digilux 2 the first mirrorless digital camera, which put it quite a bit ahead of its time when it was introduced in 2004..

Of course there is no rangefinder, but the automatic focusing makes up for that in most situations.  The camera also has manual focusing.  I found it difficult to focus the lens manually at first, which is until I discovered the magnifying feature.  Once activated, it switches the standard viewfinder image to a greatly magnified portion of it.  The moment you are done focusing, the viewfinder image switches back to the full viewing field.  That proved to be highly accurate, with the result that I have never experienced any focusing problems to speak of.

A great part of the rather good performance of this camera is, of course, the lens.  The Leica DC Vario-Summicron ASPH 7-22.5 mm f/2.0-2.4 lens is a gem, a definite Leica lens.  Because of the relatively small sensor of the Digilux 2, the lens could be designed as a 7 – 22.5 mm lens which corresponds to a full frame equivalent of 28 – 90 mm.  Here is actually an example where a smaller sensor does have some definite advantages.  To have a 28 – 90 mm lens with a full frame sensor at a maximum aperture of f/2 would make that lens gigantic in size and weight and, with the same performance level, extremely expensive.

     Full frame image                                          Cropped left eye of the model

But there is another, hidden advantage to the small sensor combination with this lens.  Being of a design that entered the market in 2004, the high ISO sensitivity of the sensor is limited to just ISO 400.  Even so, going beyond the standard ISO 100, the camera does display considerable noise, especially in the dark areas of the image.  This might be considered a definite handicap, but we must not forget that ISO 100 at f/2 is the equivalent of ISO 400 at f/4 or ISO 800 at f/5.6, all aperture setting that are displayed by many of the slower zoom lenses we see in cameras today.  With other words, one would have to go to much more recent and more expensive cameras to gain any advantage.

The camera does have a built-in flash which pops up at the press of a button.  But unlike most other cameras, this is a two position flash with the first position being for bounce flash.  Here the flash is pointing upwards in about a 45 degree angle.  A second push of the button will position the flash with the reflector facing forward.  There have been numerous instances where the bounce flash enabled me to get very naturally looking results which in no way revealed that on-camera flash was actually used.

The two flash positions

Unfortunately, the camera does not have a PC outlet.  Instead I use a hot shoe adapter to be able to use the Digilux 2 with studio flash, or I use a wireless connector in the hot shoe to trigger the flash.

So Far I have had no reason to eliminate the Digilux 2 from my list of cameras.  I still use it and I still like to use it.  There definitely is little chance that I will ever get rid of it.  Besides, my wife has been using it for a while now, and she likes it just the same.  I guess that makes it her camera now, but I still borrow it from time to time.

More sample images taken with the Lewica Digilux 2:

Weilburg, Germany

Braunfels Castle, Braunfels, Germany

Frankfurt, Germany

At "Josephs Ristorante" Weilburg, Germany


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Tuesday, August 26, 2014



Leica has been busy opening their exclusive Leica stores all over the world.  It is a successful concept that is serving them well.  But as new as this concept might appear, it has been done before.

In 1979, Photo Visuals of Minneapolis was the first camera store in the US to sell exclusively Leica equipment.  Initially the business was planned as a photography studio.  Prior to that, the owners worked at a store that sold more Leica equipment than any other in the area.  The Leica representative at the time called them, saying that he could not afford to lose their expertise and customer base.  Leicas had always been a favorite of the two owners and with the help of Leica, at that time in Rockleigh, New Jersey, they placed an opening order to obtain a Leica franchise.  Once the order arrived, thoughts turned to how best to promote it.  That’s when the thought came up to promote it as the first exclusively Leica dealer in the country.  The concept took off beyond expectations and the studio aspect of the business was soon left behind.

Photo Visuals 1980

The concept apparently had a lot of appeal and soon Alvin’s Photo Supply of Pasadena opened California’s First Exclusively Leica store.  They were followed by The Darkroom “Leica and Leica only” in San Francisco.

But this is not only found in the US.  Germany too has dealers that sell just one brand exclusively.  The German magazine FOTOwirtschaft recently published an article by Klaus Jendrissek with the title LUXUS PROBLEME (Luxury problems) about one of the largest Leica dealers in the country.  That too is an exclusively Leica store.  He wrote:

The Bilderfürst (picture prince) - camera merchant Jan Dittmar from Fürth - has definite problems.  He has a waiting list for photography equipment and many items sell beyond their manufacturer suggested retail price.

For a Leica 50mm f/0.95 customers gladly pay 8,000 euros ($10.500) if it is available.  If not, Jan Dittmer will put their name on a waiting list.  When new deliveries arrive, the customers will be notified.  Customers often wait two years for some Leica products, and they understand.  These cameras and lenses are being made by hand with great care and that takes time.

Dittmar doesn’t need to explain, as a well-known Leica specialist he has the complete confidence of the Leica community.

“You have to make a decision,” he explains.  “Either you offer a selection of different makes.  That means you tie up a lot of capital in your wares.  Then you need at least a representative number of Canons and Nikons, possibly also a few Olympus items and one or two Sony products.  At that point it gets a bit tight for what else the market has to offer.  Or you put all your eggs in one basket and specialize.”

That means, if done right, extreme specialization can even be successful at places where you might not expect it.  Jan Dittmar is concentrating totally on Leica.  In his store of 450 square feet you will only find Leicas and nothing else.

The business concept is relatively simple from one point of view but also difficult from another one.  With such approaches retail prices are not everything.  Most of those who enter the store know that Leicas are often sold at fixed prices.

That is the unproblematic part of the concept which is followed at Dittmar’s Leica Boutique.  The difficulty on the other hand is to be able to obtain certain pieces of equipment.  It’s not that Leica doesn’t care, but with their production methods they currently aren’t able to do more.  Dittmar’s customers can see that for themselves.  Several times a year the Leica man offers invitations for trips/workshops to the Leica factory in Solms.  There they can experience for two days that real specialists are needed to create the optical-mechanical marvels, and people with that kind of experience and such golden hands are rare.  The consequence: the customers will be able to look forward to their orders for longer than they had hoped.

Service and care of the past are part of such a single-brand-boutique as well.  Because the optics from the 70s also fit the digital Leicas of today, they are much sought after.  A used Summilux 80mm f/1.4, which sat on a shelf for 900 euros ($1,185) a while ago, now fetches 4,000 euros ($5,280).  Leica is also updating the analog lenses for use on digital Leica equipment.  For 160 euros ($210) yesterday’s lenses become lenses that can also be “understood” by the digital Leicas.  Thus the used lenses are being offered a new life and increasing prices.

Customers are coming to Fürth from far away.  Since Dittmar always goes by “purchase if something is available, to have it when asked for” he is able to accommodate more customers wishes, even very unusual ones, than his I-have-Leicas-also colleagues.

His store is known all over Europe and even further.  The Japanese, some of the greatest admirers of original Leica technology, order from Dittmar or they come personally for a visit.  The Leica specialist is also delivering Leica lenses to Canon film crews.  Attached to Canon cameras with an adapter, they deliver amazingly good results.

Right now the photo business is a lot more fun than in years past.  Because of floods and other natural disasters equipment is often in short supply.  Therefore customers are more accepting of the prices than in the past.  Many a merchant has seen with disbelief that several items sold for above the manufacturer suggested retail price and that without customer complaints.  When has that ever happened the years past?

Taking the above into consideration, Leica came to the game relatively late.  But they are following a successful concept and their success as well as the successes of other exclusively Leica stores prove them right.


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Monday, August 25, 2014


By J. Cassario

When it comes to choosing the gear I shoot, the name or logo that’s on it usually doesn’t factor in all that much. The gear that I choose to actually own, is the gear that I feel does the best job of creating the images that I want to create. I am very selective and careful about what I spend my money on and the gear I choose to own. If there is something I need for a particular shoot that I don’t already own, I simply rent it. Along with renting what I need, I also rent anything that I am interested in trying. Anything that strikes my interest, whether it be newly released gear or older film gear, I will rent first.


Recently the Leica M9 started to tickle my interest. I’ve been interested in shooting a rangefinder for a while now, and knowing other photographers that love their Leica systems they shoot with, I thought it was time. I rented an M9 from along with a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 lens for a wedding and fell in love. A couple weeks later, I rented it again. This time it was more of a trial run to see if it was something I wanted to spend the money on purchasing. It never went back, and not only did I get it for a great price, but a percentage of the money I spent on renting it went towards the purchase.


Rather than writing a review, I wanted to instead share my experience as a wedding photographer with the M9 and explain a little about why I ultimately chose to not send the rental back. What made my decision even more interesting is that I had a D4S in my possession for reviewing, a camera I had initially thought I would really like. A rangefinder is a completely different beast than a DSLR, and choosing between the Leica M9 and the Nikon D4S was actually not a difficult decision to make once I got to spend a good amount of time shooting both of them. Let me explain why.


Growing tired of my heavy DSLR bodies, shooting with the Nikon DF really made me start to think about smaller and lighter options for my digital work. While the Df is still a DSLR, it is lighter and smaller than my other pro bodies. But it’s not just about the size and weight, it’s about the shooting experience. I simply enjoy shooting the Df better than my other DSLR bodies, both Canon and Nikon. Not only do I enjoy shooting it, but my clients feel a different experience, and are more intrigued by the Df than my other DSLRs, including the Nikon D4S. All of them create a digital image, but it’s about the process of getting there. Not once did I have a client show interest in the $6500 D4S, but bring the Nikon DF out and they almost always become more engaged and interested in what the images look like. The Leica is a similar experience.


Leica is known for being extremely high priced, and along with the history and “mystique,” as some would call it, it is a system that is either loved or hated. It’s also been considered the Rolex watch of cameras, a more expensive way of simply telling time, and a camera priced more for its name than its actual performance. Leica is expensive, but I can tell you this, there is more to a Leica than just its name. As an artist, the Leica M9 was refreshing to shoot with. Just like my medium format film cameras, it made me slow down. A unique shooting experience that is much different that of a DSLR. It inspires me and ultimately makes me a better photographer.

14571987009_3335ff8fa0_k (1)

The rangefinder is different from the moment you pick it up and put it to your eye, no longer seeing through the lens like you do with an SLR. But for me, it’s not just about the experience, for me it’s also about the images that the M9 produce. The images have a unique look to them that I personally have fallen in love with and so far, my clients have too. The M9 has a full frame sensor, which packs an 18 megapixel CCD sensor made by Kodak, which also lacks an AA-filter like that of the Nikon D800 line-up. The images are crisp and have a lot of character along with pleasing and beautiful colors, providing a look that I find authentic and similar to film. With that being said, it’s these same qualities that leave a lot of photographers scratching their heads and wondering why so many love it.

The M9 does a horrible job in low-light, and the auto-focus is…well, there is none. The sensor doesn’t excel at high ISO and sucks in dynamic range. It has flaws when compared to cameras of newer technology, but Leica makes no attempts to hide from them. It’s part of the whole experience, and for those that understand what character is, the M9 has it. In good light, the image quality shines, but the graininess that comes along with bumping the ISO up resembles that more similar to film from what I’ve noticed, especially when converted to black and white. The Leica M-lenses also have a big part in the unique look and while the prices of the lenses alone are pretty shocking, there are less expensive options.


The thing that is special about the M9 is that Leica stayed true to its older technology from its early days, and while it is in fact all manual, it is very simple to use. The focusing system is the same as it was with their film cameras of old, which is much different than that of an SLR, and takes a little getting used to. There is no top LCD screen to see your settings, and the aperture settings are done on the lenses. The digital features are extremely simple and options are minimal to say the least. There aren’t any menu banks with tons of options to choose from, just one menu. Once set up, it’s a camera that you simply pick up and shoot. It does its job without getting in its own way. It lets the photographer do something that is often lost with all the newer technology, and that’s using their vision, imagination, and ideas to create an image without having technology interfere.


As an artist, I loved being able to use different mediums to push my creativity. Whether it be pencil drawing, oil painting, clay work, charcoal, or watercolor, each requiring unique skills and creating its own experience. Using different mediums in art not only helped make me a better artist, but enhanced my creativity. Photography is no different, and while classical artists may have disagreed for many years, it’s a medium. As a photographer now, pushing my creativity is no different and the gear that I use is not only about the images being created, but the experience that goes into it. Whether it be film or digital, as a photographer, we have never had such a wide selection of equipment to use as we do today. Choosing which to use as a creative tool can be challenging sometimes, especially when the cost of technology isn’t cheap. Leica is one of the most expensive names in the game, with both its cameras and lenses, but the price of them used can make them more affordable to those that don’t want to sell a kidney.


In the end, I chose to keep the M9 and not the D4S because of what it offered my wedding business, a fresh new look along with a whole new shooting experience. It can’t shoot at extremely high ISOs and may not be able to capture every moment as it plays out in front of you, but that’s not what I bought it for. I bought it to use as a tool, a new medium, to help bring a vision or idea to life. The M9 is more about the experience and creating unique images to me. It forces me to slow down. It gives me a chance to see things, feel things, and more importantly be creative in the process. I’m extremely happy with my decision to not only finally try the Leica, but purchasing it has made me truly enjoy photography again. If you’re interested in trying something new, and expanding your creative mind, I highly recommend giving the Leica M9 a try. Here is the exact kit that I rented and ultimately purchased from Lumoid – LEICA M9 + 35mm Voigtlander Nokton Classic

A few more images taken with the Leica M9:

About J. Cassario

Jay Cassario is a photographer from South Jersey, and owner of the wedding, engagement, and portrait photography studio Cass Imaging. His true passion is his portrait work, but his love for landscape and star photography has earned him publications by National Geographic.


This article was published with permission from the author.  It was originally published by SLR Lounge.


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