Notes from the field, er street, er . . . alley: A Consideration of the Voigtlander 35 1.4 SC

hexar rf, 50 hex, Adox CHS 100 ART, Xtol
Yes, I do make a habit of looking into dumpsters. You never know where you will find something interesting.

After a couple of months on the shelf, I picked up the Biogon again this week. A couple of observations:

  • The focusing tab on the CV did indeed turn out to be addictive, but only for 35mm lenses. When I’m using the 50 Hex, my fingers naturally find the ring, but going to the Biogon, my fingers start searching for the tab. During my time with the CV a bit of muscle memory must have built up between the 35mm focal length and the focusing tab; eyes see 35mm frame lines, fingers go looking for tab. This wouldn’t be a problem if the Biogon also had a tab. Instead, it’s got something more like a nub, which my fingers don’t interpret as tab at all, but rather as something entirely unrelated to focusing. Stupid brain.
  • Before we leave the subject of focusing tabs for more interesting topics, it occurs to me that tabs in place of knurled rings make using the camera one handed nearly impossible. I can’t reach the tab with my right pinky no matter what I do, but on lenses that have them I can often reach and get enough purchase on the knurled focus ring with my index finger if I stretch, which greatly facilitates shooting without setting down your drink.
  • In another quirk of visual muscle memory, I find that knowing the Biogon is mounted changes the kind of pictures I shoot. With the Biogon on the camera – and I know it’s on the camera because my fingers can’t find the f$%*ing tab – I’m much more likely to square up all the straight lines in the photo. With the CV on the camera, I immediately step to off angle. This cockeyed approach is self-defense against the CV’s incredible barrel distortion; this lens can turn a federalist style post office into a Gehry. I’m not sure what this means for my style long term, but it’s got me thinking about the slightly askew compositions of fellow stills member akikana. I’m finding I have deeper appreciation for his compositions as a result.
  • Looking back through the blog, I’ve remembered that the small size of the CV was one of the reasons I plunked down the $600 for it. What I hadn’t expected was that this small size would become so integral to my appreciation of the lens. The CV really isn’t that much smaller than the Biogon, but the difference in size is enough to change the handling and carrying of the camera for the better. When Zeiss announced the more compact C Biogon, I snorted derisively just once before dismissing it altogether. Now I know better. Compact size can compensate for a variety of other shortcomings in a lens. Leica might be on to the same thing with the new Summarits.
  • Build quality: The CV is just better built than the Biogon, which is funny since the same company builds both lenses. My Biogon has a bit of wobble in the lens barrel and doesn’t mount quite as snuggly as the CV or any of my Hexanons. No big deal, but interesting.

What does all this mean for my future with these two lenses? It’s too soon to tell for sure, but the Biogon has gone back on the shelf for the time being. From a practical perspective, it’s a far superior lens. It’s sharper, more resistant to flare, has less distortion etc etc etc, but the CV just has more character and is more fun to use, and in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

What does that mean? (04720023)

Hexar RF, 50 Hex, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol

Does anyone know what that symbol means? Sometime in the last couple of months, these tags have been nailed to many – but not all – of the utility polls around town. Marked for replacement? Occult symbol? Random street art?

Three Pictures of Cats

Hexar RF, CV 35 1.4 SC, Adox CHS 100 Art
Hexar RF, CV 35 1.4 SC, Adox CHS 100 Art
Hexar RF, CV 35 1.4 SC, Adox CHS 100 Art

When I used to frequent photo.net, Kate and I would often joke that the top photos gallery was all pictures of old men, naked women and cats. With these, I’m a third of the way to internet stardom ;-).

Prognostication (04730027)

Hexar RF, 50 Hex, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol

That vertical streak running parallel to the utility pole in the upper right of the frame is a flaw in the surface of the emulsion. It isn’t a scratch. It’s more like a ridge. I’m assuming it’s a manufacturing flaw of some kind. It runs across 4 frames on this roll. So far, this is the only quality control issue I’ve seen in the 8 rolls of Adox that I’ve developed. I’ve been impressed enough with CHS 100 that I’ve ordered 10 rolls of CHS 50. More on this subject later.

Nikon, looking out for lushes and caffeine addicts since 1957.

Hexar RF, 50 Hex, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol

I ran across these great shots of the Nikon SP 2005 while poking around for the rumors post. They are beautiful cameras, and it occurs to me that the focus wheel on the body would let you focus, compose and shoot one handed, which would make these great cameras for working with a drink your hand. No one should ever have to put down their beer or their cup of coffee just because they use a manual camera. Good thinking Nikon.

Nikon Digital RF

04730001.jpg
See all those scratches? That’s the life of a film photographer.

Rumors of a Nikon Digital RF resurfaced this week. The source seems to be an Aussie CV dealer. Details are sketchy – M mount, 6-7 MP, shipping in kit form with a redesigned pancake 45MM 2.8 – but the available details are more interesting than the ridiculous frankenstein-like feature set of last September’s rumor (here and here). At first glance, 6-7 MP seems a bit off the mark, but there may be good reasons for that low MP count. The 45mm 2.8 suggests that this will be a full frame camera; who would ship a kit with a fixed length lens equivalent to anything longer than 50mm? If it is full frame, perhaps lowering the MP count helped them solve the problems of vignetting and color shift in the corners. Maybe micro-lenses are easier to work with when they aren’t quite so micro. A low MP count would certainly give good noise performance, which might mean that you could just handle all the vignetting with software. Or, perhaps the low MP count means it isn’t a bayer pattern sensor. Perhaps it’s a monochrome only sensor, or something foveon like. Or, perhaps it’s a Fuji sensor. That might be interesting, because it might mean that the camera isn’t even a Nikon, but actually a Fuji. Their DSLRs have never really taken off, so maybe Fuji is looking for a different way into the market for higher end digitals. Hey, if they think they can make money on a new 6X7 RF, why not a digital RF?

Setting aside the Fuji angle for a moment, let’s think about why Nikon would bother with a digital rangefinder. Nostalgia? Could be. They did design some pretty kick ass rangefinders back in the day, and they keep reissuing them too. There’s a certain stubbornness in doing this, an insistence that things of quality are worth making, logic be damned. The profits on the SP 2005 can’t have been much, if anything. A digital rf would seem to take that stubbornness to a whole new level. Is Nikon that nuts? Well, they have brought out a new film camera more recently than even Leica (F6=2004, MP=2003). That’s pretty nuts.

Setting aside the general quirkiness of Nikon for a moment, there maybe sound financial reasons for doing something like this, particularly if the camera isn’t really a rangefinder at all. Maybe it’s more like a digital Hexar AF. There would be some logic in this. Canon has shown with the success of the G9 that photographers want a sophisticated compact digital camera. A fixed lens, fixed focal length full frame digital compact might sell, particularly if the low MP count meant that the cost was not stratospheric. Sure, it would cost more than a G9, but a big sensor would let many photographers take it a lot more seriously. Heck, keep the build quality high and the controls simple and put in a good viewfinder and you might even get a few of those folks still hanging onto film.

I’m interested in these rumors of a Nikon digital rf because I’ve nearly decided to buy a digital M after this year’s Photokina. Why wait? If an M9 or, more likely, an M8.2 is coming anytime soon, Photokina seems the logical time for Leica to make the announcement. If they do, and it doesn’t appear to suck, I’ll buy one. If the presumptive successor shows signs of sucking, I’ll buy a used M8 at what will hopefully be somewhat slightly discounted prices. I’m not holding my breath for a digital ZI or the rumored Nikon, but Photokina would seem the likely place to announce either of those as well.

Why am I’m interested? I love film, but there are days when the thought of scanning another negative makes me want curl up in the corner and forget about photography. I don’t expect digital to be any less work or any less frustrating, but it might be time to give myself the opportunity to experience different kinds of frustration. It’s been almost two years since I bought my last digital, so I’m about due. I’d like to be able to take a break from film, and I also have some ideas about working in color. A few project ideas that have been percolating in my head would also benefit from the higher fidelity of digital. I can’t get on with any of the current crop of DSLRs though. The controls give me fits and the viewfinders just aren’t designed for glasses wearers, so it’s gotta be a rangefinder.

Update: Between this interview over at PopPhoto and the Economist article linked in the comments, something like a digital CL sounds more likely than a revamped M8.