First interviews with the NEX-6

June 17, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Well, I finally did my first video job using the Sony NEX-6.

   Nex-6 video

I normally put a Rode shotgun mic on a stand near the person being interviewed, but as the NEX-6 does not have a mic input I decided to take a chance on the Sony ECM-XYST1M stereo microphone that fits the NEX-6 smart shoe. Results were pretty good, but as with all camera-mounted mics, the further the camera is away from the person being interviewed, the more ambient noise you pick up.

I was hoping to use my 50mm Summilux for the project, but due to space constraints I used a 28mm Summicron, which has an effective fov of 42mm on the NEX-6. I had a large window on the left side of my subject and a 500w softbox on the right side.

Project settings were 1920x1080p, 24fps, f2.8, 1/50s, ISO100.

NEX-6 Video Still

Lighting was good. Sound was good. Motion was good. My only complaint was that having to use a wide angle lens, when people gesticulated, their hands looked very large. Of course, this is why it's generally suggested to use a 75mm or longer lens for portraits -- it flattens the image. I have three interviews left to shoot, so I'm going to attempt to find a room large enough to use at least the 50mm. I'd love to try my 90mm Elmarit, but on the crop sensor that's just not going to happen indoors.

The good news is that the NEX-6 has proved a very capable and portable video solution.

Coding Leica M lenses

May 08, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

One thing has always bugged me about the digital M series. I use vintage or non-Leica lenses, and one morning I might remember to manually set the camera to a 28mm f2 lens, but then I'd shoot all week, switching lenses multiple times, and the EXIF data of all my shots would say 28mm f2 Summicron. I know, it's not THAT big of a deal, and it doesn't affect the RAW file, but I just wanted the same features and benefits someone with a new, coded 50mm Summilux f1.4 would get. However, being cheap, I did not want to send all my lenses off at $150 a pop to get them professionally coded.

At one point I attempted to download a template from the internet, but even when printed on card stock I could not cut the small holes accurately enough to make it work.
 For $75 I could supposedly code every lens I owned. I decided it was worth a shot. When it arrived I was not disappointed.
match technical M-coder

The plastic template snaps onto the M mount making it very easy to use the included marker to color in the spots that should be coded. The D-Coder gives you the best codes to use for Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses. The only downside is that it doesn't list the codes for all Leica lenses. For my 90mm Elmarit and 135mm Elmarit I had to do some googling to find the codes, but it was not hard to procure them.

I coded all seven of my lenses in about ten minutes at a cost of about $11 per lens. You can't beat that. 

Finally developed that roll of film

April 24, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Back in January I popped a roll of Kodak TMAX 400 into the Leica M3 to try it out. I'd had some trouble with TMAX 100 and Ilford Delta 100 being underexposed when shooting indoors and ending up really grainy and losing detail. However, I'd never developed 400 speed film, so I was nervous about how it would react in Caffenol-C.

I don't know why, but I was really slow with finishing this roll. The 24 shots ended up spanning four months, but I finally developed it last night.

The first shot was from a visit to Austin in January.

Austin from the Omni

Then there was a picnic in Herman Park that took place in February.

Picnic in Herman Park

Then there was a trip to Offats Bayou in March.

Offats Bayou, Galveston

Followed by some goofing off around the house.


And finally some sailing in April on our new boat Gimme Shelter.

Mary at the helm

I was very pleased with the TMAX 400 in Caffenol-C. I used the same developing time I use for TMAX 100, but I added almost double the Vitamin C. The extra Vitamin C was just added on a whim after seeing the results some other users posted on the forums, not because of the 400 speed film.


I ended up with much better exposures with only slightly bigger grain than a well-exposed TMAX 100 shot. I'm really happy with them. I also switched to a plastic negative reel, which was so much easier to load than those stainless reels, and for the first time ever I had zero pink spots on my negatives. That made things a double success.

I've got to shoot through two more rolls of TMAX 100 and then a roll of Portra 160 and a roll of Gold 200. Then I think I'm switching to TMAX 400 full time for all my film work.

Leica 135mm shootout: fastest vs slowest

January 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
Long Leica lenses don't seem to get much love. The 135mm is by far the least popular focal length for the M series cameras. The M2 and the M8 didn't even have 135mm frame lines. Some people find them too hard to focus. However, this lack of popularity provides some bargains for those seeking authentic Leica glass in the second-hand market.

The current f3.4 ASPH APO-Telyt is already known to be the sharpest Leica 135mm to date. It retails for $3495 and at the time of this post was back-ordered on every site I checked. I don't have one, and I probably never will. What I do have are copies of both the fastest and the slowest 135mm lenses Leica ever made.

The 135mm Hektor f4.5 was the first 135mm available in the M-bayonet mount, produced from 1954-1960. However, screw-mount versions were produced from 1933-1959 and can be adapted to M-mount. It has a 15-blade diaphragm and weighs in around 1 pound. It is the slowest 135mm Leica lens ever made. They can be had for around $100. Read more about it here:

The first version of the 135mm Elmarit f2.8 arrived in 1963. There were three versions, all made in Canada, the last going out of production in 1996. This 135mm lens is easily identifiable by the built-in goggles. The lens pulls up the 90mm frame lines and the goggles magnify the focus area. In theory this was to enable the more precise focus needed with the shallow depth of field of f2.8. It seems a bit gimmicky to me, but it does allow for better framing when using the M2 or M8, which don't have 135mm frame lines.

The Elmarit I tested was the second version from 1974, which weighs in at a whopping 1.61 pounds. It has a 9-bladed aperture, a slide out lens hood, and uses those annoying Series VII filters. They can be had for around $500. Read more about it here:

Because of price, the Hektor was the first Leica brand lens I ever owned. It went to Brazil with me and an M8 and did a great job. Sometimes I had to review shots to check framing, but I was not disappointed in it.


However, I'm always tempted by faster lenses, so when a 135mm Elmarit showed up at the right price, I grabbed it too. I wandered the Illinois countryside with it on the M8 and was quite pleased with the results as well.

The old farmhouse

The most obvious downside to fast lenses is the weight. Now that I'm shooting with an NEX-6, if I pack the Elmarit, it will literally double the weight of my bag. I keep asking myself if I really need the extra 3 stops since the NEX-6 can compensate very well by upping the ISO.

At sunrise and sunset, it might be worth it because I can't hand-hold 135mm lenses without blur at shutter speeds less than 1/100s. I'm shaky like that. However, for most daytime shooting, the Elmarit seems like nothing but extra weight. I decided to put the Hektor and the Elmarit head to head to see which one stays in my bag.

Like all my tests, this one was super scientific. For the first part, I set up some props on my kitchen table. I shot the scene with the Elmarit at f2.8, f4.5, and f8. Then I shot the scene with the Hektor at f4.5 and f8. Here's what I got:

Elmarit f2.8
135mm Elmarit at f2.8

Elmarit f4.5
135mm Elmarit at f4.5

Hektor 4.5
135mm Hektor at f4.5

Elmarit f8
135mm Elmarit at f8

Hektor f8
135mm Hektor at f8

Although the renderings are very similar, the Elmarit had the edge in sharpness. I was using live-view on the NEX-6 to focus, so there are no questions of rangefinder calibration. When it comes to detail, the Elmarit wins. If you view the images at 100 percent you'll notice the Hektor has just a tad more fall-off in focus at f4.5, but that seems to be due to the fact that it's overall softer than the Elmarit. Other than that, the contrast and color renderings are very similar between the two lenses.

For the next test I pulled out the Christmas lights to check the out-of-focus areas.

Elmarit bokeh at f2.8
135mm Elmarit bokeh at f2.8

Elmarit bokeh at f4.5
135mm Elmarit bokeh at f4.5

Hektor bokeh at f4.5
135mm Hektor bokeh at f4.5

Elmarit bokeh at f8
135mm Elmarit bokeh at f8

Hektor bokeh at f8
135mm Hektor bokeh at f8

It's easy to see that when it comes to rendering out-of-focus areas, the Hektor wins, hands down. The Hektor bokeh stays a perfect circle and is very soft and pleasant. The 9-bladed diaphragm of the Elmarit creates jagged, harsh shapes.

So how do I pick a winner?

At web sizes, the difference in sharpness is hardly noticeable. For portraits the softness of the Hektor is also more flattering. I may not be able to shoot as late into the night with the Hektor as I can with the Elmarit, but the Hektor is going to render out-of-focus lights and foliage in a nicer manner and neither one is fast enough to do much once the sun is down.

But, if I need to crop into the photo or I need to print at a high-resolution, the sharpness of the Elmarit is going to give me a better print.

Let's face it, technically the Elmarit has a newer and better lens design, but considering the $400 price difference, I'm going to declare the Hektor the winner. However, both lenses are a bargain when you're talking Leica prices. Although I won't be lugging around the Elmarit all the time anymore, I'm not going to get rid of it just yet.

In the media

January 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
I haven't been able to blog much the past few weeks due to work, but I have been taking photos.

Here's a few blogs that have been kind enough to link to my work:

Thank you to all the blogs who have promoted me. The recognition is always appreciated.

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