It’s supposed to be winter here in Germany. But it isn’t quite yet. In fact, I can’t really remember the last time we had a White Christmas. That said, at least it wasn’t raining, so some time for a stroll and some picture taking.
Normally, I only cherry-pick the images I post on this blog, because this is not a travel blog, but rather about photography itself. However, when I went through the pictures I took last year in Los Angeles, in particular the ones I had taken with the Leica MP and a roll of Kodak Portra 160, I thought although they will never win a price, they are still a good reflection of what LA feels like. So here you have it.
All images are untouched (only one is leveled, because as usual I couldn’t hold my camera straight :)).
When I have to stay overnight in Berlin, I usually stay in a very nice hotel close to “Bahnhof Friedrichstraße” train station. I was always fascinated by the architecture and the maze of underpasses and small alleys in that station. It’s extremely confusing. But normally you rush through a train station, you don’t have time to take photographs – or better: you don’t take your time to make them. This time, I was so amazed by the light in the small overpass that crosses Friedrichstraße and connects to the U-Bahn station that I quickly checked into the hotel and went back with my camera and took a few photographs and then edited them right away on my iPad during dinner with Lightroom Mobile. I increasingly like the ability to work on the photographs right away – when they are still fresh in your memory.
Later on today I was then reading a bit about the history of “Bahnhof Friedrichstraße”. I knew a little bit about it, that it was one of the train stations that basically got cut in half and truncated East and West Berlin after the Berlin Wall was built in August 1961. I also faintly remembered that it was one of the biggest gateways for East German Stasi (East German State Police) spies to get into West Berlin. In September 1967 alone 1,700 of those spies crossed the border at Bahnhof Friedrichstraße. That’s a couple dozen per day. One of the reasons why the train station was so heavily frequented was because it was extremely hard to oversee and observe. So it was not only used by Eastern spies but also by Western RAF terrorists to get more or less undiscovered to their Stasi contacts in East Berlin.
When you wander through the train station today you can still see and appreciate why it was such a great place for the Cold War spy business – even I get still lost here sometimes.
The Dresdeners among us know the guy on the left by heart. He is standing in the middle of the busiest pedestrian street in Dresden every day and is promoting his “movement” or “party” or simply his views of life. He seems to be a very smart person, very kind and – I believe – just loves to talk to people. He is not bothering anyone, but whoever he catches he can talk to forever. So beware, you have been warned :).
Taking photographs can be very rewarding. Taking photographs of people can be even more rewarding. But usually you know nothing about the people who you photograph on the street. They are just passers-by. In a best case scenario they are a collection of well exposed and hopefully equally well composed pixels on your camera sensor or film.
The icing on the cake, however, is when you get to know your photographic subject at least a teeny bit and scratch the surface of his or her thoughts and ideas. In a crowded pedestrian street in the middle of the city where everybody is rushing from shop to shop or appointment to appointment that seems highly unlikely to ever happen. And yet, sometimes, fortune is with you. As it was with me today. I was just strolling through the streets trying to kill some time until my next appointment, the weather was extremely nice, although very cold, but the sun had this very winterly glow with harsh shadows and crisp air. So I thought I take my camera out and just try my luck.
And then I saw this guy in my picture leaning against this city-light ad thingie. I was only pointing the camera at him and not even taking a picture yet, and he began speaking to me. So I approached him, and of course the very first question was what I was taking the photographs for. So we engaged in a very nice conversation about my blog, what he does for a living etc. etc. etc. And this, really, is what makes photography such a pleasure. Without my camera I would have never spoken to him, never heard his story, would have never been able to grasp what was on his mind.
After five minutes of conversing he agreed that I may take some photos of him. And he was a natural. No stupid posing, no looking into the camera. Just a very relaxed pose, as if I would not even be there. Perfection.
At the end of the day, a nice photograph can be something beautiful to look at. But sometimes the story behind these photographs can be much more interesting than the surface of what you are looking at – more than a collection of pixels and electric current.
I was always a bit skeptical about using Lightroom Mobile. I couldn’t quite fathom how a mobile application could deliver results that could stand up to what I can achieve with a full blown desktop application on my computer. Until recently I hadn’t even touched Lightroom Mobile although it’s included in my subscription. I just couldn’t be bothered.
But since I got my Leica SL that changed. Because with the SL comes a very nifty mobile application “Leica SL” which (among many other useful things) lets you sync your images via WiFi to your tablet or mobile phone. When you are on the road this is an incredible advantage that I had ocassionally missed on my DSLRs but also on the M Monochrom. Sometimes you just want to immediately share what you encounter during your travel. For Instagram, that’s a huge plus – it’s called “Insta” for a reason :).
Once you have the image on your tablet, it’s easy to load it into Lightroom Mobile and start editing it. And – at least to me skeptic – it was quite an eye opener how powerful that small mobile app is. You can use the vast majority of the functions that you are used to on the full-blown desktop application. With one incredible advantage – the touch screen lets you very easily zoom, apply and change radial filters and adjust curves. On a desktop you would need a graphic tablet to accomplish the same.
Of course the smaller screen is a drawback, and you can only work on the JPEGs, not the raw files (at least I haven’t figured out yet how to do that). But I can certainly live with that, since the primary purpose is to quickly edit an image for sharing on social media channels rather than the big screen or even a print. Another plus is that the edits you make are transferred into the desktop version of Lightroom once you are at your computer and load the images into Lightroom. So you can continue to adjust where you left it off and even go back in your editing and undo adjustments you had made on your tablet.
So here you go. The picture below of the altar at the Kölner Dom was taken with the SL and then edited during my waiting time at the Cologne/Bonn airport so I could share it on Instagram. No further editing in the desktop Lightroom version was done. Enjoy and let me know what you think. Oh and of course, feel free to follow me on Instagram :) (https://www.instagram.com/monokuro2k/)
The Leica Store Berlin is currently offering a free-of-charge test of their Leica SL camera. Smart people, they are, at Leica. They know exactly what will happen to people who put their hands on an SL: “It’s a trap!” you want to scream out loud. And of course, I went straight into it, got me an SL for three days to thoroughly and objectively test it, and here I am, completely sold on it.
When I picked up the camera yesterday, the weather forecast was anything but ideal. It was raining, windy, no sunshine whatsoever and everything was grey, no light, no shadows. But I thought, if the camera is able to cope with these conditions, it will probably excel in any other.
I was really skeptical at first. The SL isn’t the first new camera I tested, so I wasn’t expecting any leaps in terms of image quality over the DSLRs I currently own (Nikon D800, D700) or my Leica M Monochrom. The latter in particular, because the M lenses have this very unique rendering that is probably very hard to top. All in all I was expecting a somewhat better performance, noticeable, but worth the hefty price tag?
Included in the test kit was also the new Vario Elmarit SL 2,8-4/24-90mm ASPH. and in particular for this lens I was extremely skeptical. Its sheer weight and size and the fact that it is a zoom lens, to me, this is really a hard sell. I could just keep my Nikon gear if I wanted to keep schlepping a ton of lenses around.
But let’s cut to the chase, here is the verdict in terms of image quality: With my M lenses (Summilux 50mm and Summicron 35mm) the image quality of the SL is simply stunning. The color rendition, the bokeh, micro contrast, sharpness overall and just the way it renders the image left me speechless. When compared to the images of my D800 with excellent prime lenses (like the 1.4/85mm) the Leica SL is miles ahead. And the D800 is probably still one of the best DSLRs in that segment.
I can’t really compare the SL to any other digital M other than my M Monochrom. And these are two completely different approaches to photography. What I did though was a very quick comparison of how monochrome images out of the SL would compare to those from the M Monochrom. And here the M Monochrom takes a slight, but noticeable win home. That said, I didn’t really apply any extensive conversion to the SL images, so I’m sure if done right, you can get close to the image quality of the M Monochrom.
But what about the Vario Elmarit? Well, here I’m a bit uncertain, still. The image quality is not on par with the Leica M prime lenses. The differences are subtle but distinctive. In particular micro contrast and bokeh. Also, the overall look of the M lenses is more pleasing. On the pro side the Vario Elmarit is extremely versatile, because it’s a zoom lens. On my small hike to the Schloss Moritzburg (see picture above) through pretty heavy rain, I only took the Vario lens, because I didn’t want to change lenses while the rain was pouring down. With just one prime lens I probably would have missed a couple shots. Also, the autofocus is excellent and of course makes shooting a lot easier. Which in turn is a bit of a deviation from the way I use to photograph with the M Monochrom. With the Monochrom it just takes much more time for composition. With the SL and the Vario zoom it’s more a DSLR “shoot and forget” experience. Not so sure I like that :).
And of course apart from the image quality the usability of the SL is just outstanding. Autofocus is just one example, but the Eye-Res viewfinder is a pleasure to work with. The ability to “WYSIWYG” is a real benefit. Also, the 4k video mode is in a completely different league compared to what I’m used to from my Nikon D800.
So, with all that said, the odds of me parting with my DSLR equipment and changing over to the SL (with or without the Vario Elmarit) are not exactly slim :). In the end my blog may become a bit more colorful again :).