Jan 7

英文原文:《M8 revisited:The dust has settled》

The first photographs with the digital M camera were made in 2006, 180 years after the taking of the first photograph ever to be taken with chemical means by Niepce in 1826. That is a time span of almost two centuries, in which we saw the birth of the first commercially available Leica camera in 1925 (81 years ago and 99 years after the making of the first photograph), the first M camera model in 1954 (52 years ago) and the acquisition of the Leica company by an Austrian investment firm.

Any film-loading M camera can deliver first-rate state of the art pictures by using one of the current high-resolution emulsions and lenses, like the Spur Orthopan and the Maco Ortho 25 and the recently introduced Zeiss and Leica lenses.

It is doubtful whether we will be able to use the M8 over half a century of use, but switching from solid chemical and mechanical tools to volatile digital and electronic components has a price. The M8 on the other hand embraces the technology of digital image capture with all advantages of direct viewing and immediate image processing. The camera combines exquisite engineering quality with simplicity of use to deliver a camera package that is not only a joy to handle, but also allows pleasure, or even passion to be part of the picture taking process.

The M8 is the third camera design for digital capture originating from the Solms factory over a period of ten years. The Leica S1, now almost forgotten was the first digital product from Solms and was introduced about ten years ago. A period of a decade in the current time frame seems to cover more progress than the 180 years of photographic history did in the previous centuries. The S1 was in fact a mobile flatbed scanning device with a lens attached to it. It had some innovative features like the use of the Lab-colour space, but it did not look, nor did it handle like a camera in the Leica tradition.

The DMR is the second digital product from the Solms factory. This product can be attached to the R8/9 camera, converting the film-loading SLR to a DSLR. The image quality that is being offered by this device is state of the art for small format digital imagery, but the solution still has to impress the photographic world. 'Small format' in this context refers to sensor sizes smaller than the classical area of 24x36mm. Digital backs are a fine solution for the medium format world where image files around 100 Mb are standard requirement (the S1 could cope with that demand), but the R8/9-DMR combo is too closely related to the mainstream DSLR to become convincing competition in the medium format market in transition from emulsion to sensor. For the photographer migrating from the 35mm reflex cameras to the digital APS sized DSLR, the DMR does not offer enough modern features to become a real alternative. Leica has in fact never been good at designing and marketing reflex cameras one could rave about. The Leitz dynasty in their time had never mentally and emotionally adapted themselves to the worldwide predominance of the slr-concept. The Leica SLR lineage from R3 to R9 has always stood in the shadow of that emotion. The optical designs for the reflex line are first class and it would be very important for the photographic world that this quality can be preserved and evolved to a higher level of performance.

With the M8, the Leica company is in a safe area: the rangefinder concept is their core business, honed to perfection over a period of eighty years. With regular intervals, there is that prediction of a rangefinder renaissance, as it is currently en vogue to predict a revival or at least a continuation of the silver halide film emulsion business. This is wishful thinking at best. Silver halide recording and rangefinder cameras are and have always been specialized products, optimized tools for a small set of goals and ambitions. When there was no other choice, the products sold well, even very well, but as soon as better or more versatile equipment became available, the mass market deflected to the new products. It happened to the M3/M4 after the introduction of the Pentax and Nikon SLRs in the late fifties and to filmemulsions around the year 2000, when digital technology delivered superior quality at a lower cost and with greater manipulatory potential.

The M rangefinder camera has from the start been designed as a specialized instrument, as the concept has its inherent limitations: macro photography, long telelenses, fast motordrives, accurate framing, focusing over the whole screen area have not been possible or with quite cumbersome solutions, like the Visoflex housing. Within its natural habitat, the Leica M could thrive with the most accurate rangefinding, the most intuitive and simple handling, the finest engineering and the best lenses in the world. The camera feels like a triumph of mechanical engineering and is indeed one of the best-built cameras. But one should not close one's eyes for the other side of the coin: the M camera has no waterproof sealing like some of the SLR competition. One should avoid using the camera for prolonged periods in heavy rain.

In the past no one objected to the design constraints and worked with or around them.

The currently available M8 has its share of design constraints, different from the past of course, but still there. I have reported on them in my series of articles about the M8. One could start a philosophical debate about the importance of the higher than normal infrared sensitivity of the Leica M solution. It certainly is a nuisance and of a more ubiquitous nature than most observers and many reviewers are willing to accept. By incorporating these constraints into the design, there was room for optimizing the core values of the M system: its optical qualities and its inspirational ease of use. With some historical and evolutionary insights, the first reports about hands-on experience could have been more comprehensive of these roots and heritage of the M line. From the M3 onwards, every Leica M model has offered this blend of outstanding qualities mixed with limitations.

The potential image quality is very high, but one should be careful to define 'quality'. In the area of resolution and sensitivity figures, the sensor size of the M8 sets clear limits compared to the best of the competition. If we add the classical silver halide characteristics into the quality definition, the M8 images show a clarity and crispness that is unequalled in the digital domain. The fact that the images recorded on silicon are as pure and unprocessed as they are on silver halide grains, is a decisive factor. If you develop in black and white (and print with one of the current excellent BW printers, like the Epson R2400 or R3800) the colour cast might even become an advantage.

The role model for M photographers has always been HC-B, but I would like to draw attention to a German photographer, who did not work with a Leica, but whose pictures are better suited as a guide line for current digital M photographers: Albert Renger-Patsch.

His pictures show a very keen perspective, coupled with a highly elaborated technique and mastering of the medium that is now so easy to learn with the M8. It is indeed this combination of learning the craft with the M8 (exploring the medium by shooting spontaneously without any cost and getting immediate response, however unflattering for the person who made the pictures) and transferring this workmanship to the M7/MP world that is such a pleasure to adopt. I am aware that most persons will not return to the wet darkroom, but I have to stress the fact that the results of meticulously processed (slow-speed) negatives are still unsurpassed in its look and feel.

As a sideway I should express my unease with labels like professional and semi-professional and amateur that are now conveniently attached to persons and above all to cameras. I really do not have a clue what a semi-professional camera should be or do. Canon D30 or D5 are referred to as semi-professional, but what does it mean? Is a person who works to high-quality standards with a low cost camera but does not earn money with his pictures an amateur or a semi-professional or a professional? Perhaps we should evade these empty words and fall back on the only really important criterion: it the picture worth looking at.

Using my recently acquired M8, I could do additional experiments. One of my favourite lenses is the Apo-Telyt-M 3.4/135mm and I put in on the M8: the results are excellent and focus is quite accurate (when using the additional 1.25 magnifier loupe). The beauty of the digital capture is the direct viewing possibility. Even without frames, you quickly learn to guess the picture area, by simply looking at the screen. It is quite illogical (Vulcan speak) for Leica to claim that the 0.72 finder on the M7/MP could focus the 135mm lens accurately without 1.25 magnifier, but the 0.68 finder on the M8 could not with that magnifier. The hidden argument is of course the 1.33 crop factor, which requires you to enlarge the image of the M8 by 1.33. The 1.25 plus does not compensate for the 1.33 minus: the net result being a finder of magnification 0.64 or so, adding in the Circle of Confusion equation. Anyway: my 135mm pictures with the M8 are quite good (technically speaking of course!).

There is much discussion about the sensor size, not being equal to the classical 35mm Leica format. You need indeed to adapt to the narrower angle of view that the M8 offers when using the lenses with focal lengths that are meant to give a certain view with 35mm film area. But if you look at your pictures you will notice the fact that on many negatives you do not frame as tightly as is required for the composition. There is that old and almost forgotten remark for Leica users: close in on your subject and exploit the small negative size to the best you can or in other words: do not waste negative area. The same is true for the M8. You can compensate for the 1.33 crop factor and magnification factor by getting as close to your subject as is possible. Here I have to make a negative remark about the M8: the quite generous latitude in accuracy of the frame lines (especially the 50 and 75mm frames) is not helpful: luckily the screen view gives you a direct update of the scene selection. My rule: go closer than the frame lines suggest: picture quality will increase.

I use the M8 with the magnifier attached as a standard. With this equipment I tested the accuracy of the range finder. I used the well-known Siemens star test chart and photographed the chart at a distance of 2.5 meters with the 1.4/50 wide open. On the chart I had drawn a vertical line, one millimetre wide, to assist the focussing. With that vertical line you can exploit the higher accuracy that the vernier acuity allows. The normal human eye can discern details when they are separated by an angle of 1/12 of a degree. I focused on the line and I also shifted focus by the width of that one millimetre line. In terms of viewing angle the difference is 1/40 of a degree, or more than three times as accurate as the human eye can focus. The spoke pattern of the Siemens star is clearly resolved when focusing is accurate and quite soft when the focus is off by that 1/40 of a degree. This is an amazing result: the drop in contrast and definition of fine detail is quite visible and indicates that accurate focusing is really required to exploit the quality of the Leica lenses. We have to admit that a three dimensional object has a certain depth and that a small error in locating the focusing plane might not be visible. But the famous discussion around the bo-ke effects might be influenced by small but significant shifts in the plane of best sharpness.

The M8 is a camera that fits into the entire M line: it is a camera with a strong personality and with clear advantages and clear disadvantages: that is the existential price you have to accept with every instrument that is designed to do some work with outstanding results and by implication cannot comply with all demands. The bottom line is that the M8 is a most pleasurable camera to use that can open your eyes to the basic understanding of the photographic process and can produce extremely high quality images as a result.

Whether the M8 is a milestone camer is the topic of the next article.
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Posted in Leica Camera M分享 at 2007/01/07

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