Canon 50mm 0.95 on Leica M9

Christmas and New Year 2012/2013 was spent in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with a motley crew of other photographer friends from around Asia.  Whilst there my ex-army buddy and fellow Leica shooter Trevor had brought along his old Canon 50mm 0.95 lens to test on the Olympus OMD. Me with the M9P and Canon 50mm 0.95 fitted to the camera

The lens has previously been converted to Leica M Mount so of course I couldn't resist to have a play with it on the M9P despite already having a 50mm summilux with me for this trip.

I have tested a few other fast 50mm lenses in the past on Leica, including the Voigtlander 1.1 and SLR Magic hyperprime 50mm 0.95.

A great portrait lens, dreamy backgrounds and smooth skin tones

This Canon lens is a different beast, as heavy as the Leica Noctilux or SLR Magic lens, but much shorter, almost stubby, which is cool.

Nothing plucks a subject out of the background like a 0.95 lens

The first day I used this lens i wasn't sure about it…the look of the images was so different to the 50 summilux, i almost dismissed it, but I gave it another few days and shot for several hours each day with only this lens and after less than a week have completely fallen in love with it. 

For sure it has a unique look to it...some will love it, others may not care for it....but for sure you won't find it with other lenses

The reasons are shown in a few of the images below.  Like any extremely fast lens, if you misfocus even slightly, you are screwed, it looks terrible, BUT if you get it right, the look is completely unique and like nothing i've shot before.  I'm not saying its better than a Leica Noctilux, but two things for sure….its a damn site cheaper (i.e. you could buy this and a round the world trip for the same price as a Noctilux), and the build quality is amazing.  I have no idea how old this particular lens I'm using is, but its built like a tank, solid, perfect glass, super smooth movement, zero focus shift at any distance as far as I can tell and technically as good as any Leica or Canon L lens build quality I've used.  Shot in very low light, even the summilux would struggle in this light, a breeze for 0.95

The Bokeh is a bit of a 'love/hate' scenario I imagine for many people.  I wasn't sure at first as i said, as its very swirly, almost painterly with some backgrounds, and of course this won't be to everyone tastes.  That said, to try and reproduce these kind of looks with anything other than a 0.95 lens is impossible, so for that alone I think its a very interesting lens for any Leica user that seeks that 'dreamy' look.

I took a few shots with the lens wide open and stopped down to F4 and beyond and found it to be extremely sharp (images below shows this with 100% crops), however for me its pointless to use this kind of lens at anything other than wide open at 0.95.  Its so much heavier and bigger than a 1.4 or F2 lens, it wouldn't make sense to use this instead for those apertures….this lens screams to be shot wide open for those dreamy looks, in fact if the aperture ring happened to jam locked on 0.95 I wouldn't be worried, as thats the only aperture I'm interested in shooting it at.

wide open at 0.95

100% crop at 0.95

stopped down to F4

100% crop at f4, as sharp as any other 50mm I have used at F4

I am looking forward to shoot more with this lens in the dark streets of Hong Kong (we generally have a few stops less light than most cities in asia thanks to the China factories spewing a cloud of pollution over the city that acts like a 30 miles wide ND filter!), it will enable me to get shots in light that is impossible with any other combo that I own.

Here are a few more shots of Trevor that are direct from camera JPEGS set to black and white mode with various contrast settings in camera only on the M9P.

This image below shows perhaps the most random thing I ever expected to see in Cambodia at Christmas....a reindeer!!!!!! lol, shot wide open at 0.95.

Final shot that showcases the bokeh again of this lens

Final thoughts and recommendations:

Do I recommend this lens? YES, 100% if you are looking for a 'dreamy' rendering super fast lens and don't have or want to spend the budget on a Noctilux, then look no further.

Is it sharp enough?  YES, I have posted a few images above then a 100%crop from those images.  I hope anyone viewing them will agree that for a 0.95 shot, its more than sharp enough when you hit the focus right.

Is it affordable?  Its not cheap, but when you are looking at 10,000 USD for a Noctilux, it's comparatively extremely good value as another option to Leica.  Of course other options are the Voigtlander 1.1 lens which is about half the price again….but I couldn't fall in love with that lens personally when I tried it a few years ago, it was nice, sure, but for me it lacked character any …..something the Canon 0.95 just oozes.

If you wish to see other images and blog posts from this trip and other Cambodia trips you can see a selection by clicking here.

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F8 Photography provides commercial photography and photography and video training workshops, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.

Guest Post: RJ's Cambodia (F8 Assistant)

Note:  This post is written and all photos by RJ Gurung, assistant photographer/trainee with F8.  He has been training with F8 Photography for approximately 6 months, with little previous knowledge in photography before he started in September 2011.  His enthusiasm and passion for photography drives him and has helped him develop a unique and interesting style.  I felt a trip to Cambodia would help him explore his creativity and push his skills further. - Gary Tyson, Director F8 Photography. (The author and photographer - RJ)(RJ with the street kids)

On the 2nd of March 2012, a small group of us took a direct flight to Cambodia from Hong Kong. Upon arrival in Phnom Penh in the early evening, the light was already gone, therefore we took the time to sample some Khmer food and crashed at our hotel.

Pumped up with the excitement to capture some great shots, the next morning we headed over to the poor areas of the city. Our Tuk Tuk driver advised us to visit these areas as we had told him the type of images we wanted to get, and we felt it portrayed the unfortunate living conditions of many Cambodian people.

(street kids in the railway yard)

Poverty is a big issue in Cambodia, another issue was the traffic which was very chaotic on our travels around the city.  On the roads we could see motorbikes everywhere,  even young children that looked as young as 7 or 8 years old were riding them on busy streets, so I decided to practice some techniques and capture panning shots of the motos and I was happy with the results!

(panning shotwhilst travelling by Tuk Tuk) 

Whilst we were visiting the poor areas of town, we witnessed a lot of interesting characters. There were kids playing around, old folks gathered together for their everyday chats and a humble group of people living their life in a very different way that I am familiar with in Hong Kong. We went further inside the slums and started to take pictures when the kids came over and greeted us with smiles on their faces. I must say I had an incredible time taking pictures of the kids at the same time being mesmerized by their innocence and reminiscing my own childhood.

(the eyes are the window to the soul)

One of the shots of this small kid came out to be pretty strong. I feel like the innocence and shyness of this kid twinkles in his big eyes contrasting with his dirty face reflecting his playfulness. The experience in the slums was very inspiring and it didn't seem  right to just walk away from there after taking the picture so I printed out some of their pictures and gave them a couple of dollars as a sign of respect. Overall, it was a remarkable experience for me to see how humble and lively the people in the slums were despite struggling and living their life in poverty.

(giving a print made a big difference)(RJ likes to shoot wide and close with the street kids)

The next day we went to explore Mekong Island, a short boat trip across the Mekong river.  The island has many old pagodas where the monks live, hence being calm and peaceful in contrast to the city.

(RJ shooting on Mekong Island)

In Cambodia, Buddhism is the main religion, so it was no surprise to see many young monks in the pagodas. We took their pictures and gave quite a lot of prints to them. Unfortunately, our printer ran out of batteries at the end of the day so we decided to go back the next day to give them the remaining prints and they seemed really happy to see us again.

(Young monks on Mekong Island)

We also managed to get the blessings from the monks who prayed for us. As a token of appreciation, we gave them a 50 KG bag of rice.

(Offering rice for the monks at the Pagoda)

The island offered some breathtaking scenery.  Myself and Gary climbed onto the roof of the boat when we were travelling to the island so we could soak up more scenery and sun!

(Gary and myself crossing the river on the roof of the boat)

On the return journey back to the city we were lucky enough to see a stunning sunset which gave me a really good feeling and was the perfect end to the day and the trip before we headed back to Hong Kong the following day.

(Gary & I on the boat during sunset)(Sunset over Phnom Penh)

Gary, the Director of F8 has also written a blog post about his experience, that can be seen by clicking here.

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F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.