Thursday, March 05, 2009

Shooting the new Leica 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

Christian asked me on the first day of the show if I’d be interested in taking the 18mm Super-Elmar-M ASPH and 24mm Summilux-M ASPH out for a night to do some testing. I asked if I’d be able to post samples and the answer was, “Absolutely. Go see Justin and he’ll set you up.” This is what we call an offer you can’t refuse. That night was spent blogging on the S2 (see below) and I was leaving Thursday (tonight), so the only night to go out was Wednesday. I cleared my social calendar and headed out to shoot the famed Vegas Strip.

The 18 (left) and 24 Lux on my desk in the hotel

I would have loved to take some shots inside the casinos, with all the lighted slot machines and great colors. But, I figured with the eighty million or so security cameras in the ceiling, I’d only have about 30 seconds before I got a not-so-nice tap on the shoulder and an invitation to leave. So, I braved the cold (and it was really cold and extremely windy) and concentrated my shooting on the outdoor scenes. I popped indoors to thaw out and regain feeling in my hands every so often.

1/30 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 160 hand-held

Okay, now the full disclosure: I do not usually shoot with a 24mm on the M8.2.

Have you ever been driving home from work and know that you need to go to the grocery store to pick up some milk? Somehow, even though you know you are headed to the store, your car magically ends up in your driveway…and you don’t have any milk. We get so automatic with our daily routines that our subconscious patterning takes over our conscious intentions. Well, this is what happened with me and the 24 Lux. I am just such a 35mm shooter that I’d look through the viewfinder and gee, there are my 35mm framelines. Eventually, I explained to myself that I was shooting a 24 and not a 35. I also used the 24mm M finder in the hotshoe. This was convenient as I was testing out both the new 18 and the 24 Lux. The full-frame marks in that finder correspond to the 18 and the inner marks work with the 24 (obviously, it is a 24 finder). After that, everyone was friends.

1/90 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 640 hand-held

Bearing in mind that I’m not much of a 24 shooter, I came to one conclusion after spending a few quality hours with the 24 Lux. This is one amazing optic. If you go purely by MTF charts, you may dismiss its performance wide-open. That would be a big mistake. If you look at some of the pictures here, you can see both the outstanding technical performance and a heavy helping of good ‘ol Leica magic mojo. The bokeh is phenomenal, yet points of focus are crisp without a trace of low-contrast haziness that bugs me so much. What is the point of having an f/1.4 lens that you have to stop down to f/2.8 before you get a truly sharp plane of focus? Well, this new Lux delivers the goods and begged to be used wide-open and close-up, thanks in part to the incorporation of a floating lens element. Take a look at the fence shot (my impromptu brick wall test). I shot this wide-open from about 0.7-1.0 m handheld. I did not straighten it or apply any Photoshop trickery to it. All I can say is “wow.” The vertical lines at the edges are just about dead plumb. The plane of focus is consistent to the corners and the out-of-focus area is nice and creamy. Same with the picture of three flower vases in my hotel lobby. The color palette is rich and the lens draws so beautifully.

1/22 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 640 hand-held

1/45 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 640 hand-held

But, the 24 isn’t a one trick lens. If you examine the vertical shot of the Bellagio’s shopping corridor or the tunnel to Bally's, you can see how sharp small details are rendered at middle-to-long distances wide open with decent depth-of-field.

1/90 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 640 hand-held

1/125 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 640 hand-held

Handling was nice. The size is just right for the M8 and the camera and lens strike a nice balance in the hand together. My only issue was that the focus throw was a bit longer than I had expected and there is no focus tab on the bottom of the focus ring. When I compare the 24 to my 35 Cron ASPH or a 90 Summarit, the lens was just a little slow to focus, especially when going from infinity to close-focus. I do understand the need for having more precision due to the shallow depth of field at the close end and I think this is something that I could get used to with more practice. In fact, I was starting to warm to it by the end of the night.

1/45 sec @ f/1.4 ISO 640 hand-held

I have to admit that I had a hard time giving the lens back to Justin. My heart actually sank when I dismounted the Lux from my M8.2. Is it worth the price? Well, besides the really nice box the lens is a solid and magical performer. Now I want to see if the yet-to-ship 21 Lux puts in the same showing. They share the same optical formula and were designed simultaneously by the same optics designer. So to quote the Magic 8 Ball, “My sources say Yes!” Now the question becomes: 21 or 24? Hmm. Decisions, decisions.

1/60 sec @ f/4 ISO640 hand-held

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At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is your point of vue with the elmarit 24 Asph ?

At 5:27 PM, Blogger Thorsten Overgaard said...

Thanks for this. Would love to see it used in daylight ... or perhaps I would love to see it used in my hands ;-)

It's an impressive lens but I think I would go for the 21mm myself. Have the 21mm f/3.4 and always loved the 90 degree angle and ease of use.

At 11:20 PM, Anonymous kartę r4i said...

Exceptional speed and outstanding imaging performance combined with extremely large angles of view and compact dimensions make this lens unique.


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