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.

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog here.

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.

Tsim sha Tsui at 0.95 in low light

(The back alleyways on Chunking Mansions, great light always) Note: All shots on the Leica M9 with SLR Magic 50mm 0.95 hyperprime.  All processed with VSCO Film Presets in Lightroom 4.

Tsim sha Tsui is one of my favourite places to shoot in Hong Kong, you have the diversity of rich and poor all in a very tight community, with alleyways connecting the designer shop streets the the drug dens and everything in between.

I have been testing the SLR Magic 50mm 0.95 lens for a few weeks now, and am thoroughly enjoying the experience, and again this was my weapon of choice on the M9 for some nice grungy low light portraits and street images around this interesting part of Kowloon for a few hours last night as I tried to escape the mayhem and overspill from the Rugby 7s tournament on Hong Kong Island.

(A very friendly gentleman with his grandson)

The characters around this part of town range from the super rich, shopping along Canton road, laden with bags from Gucci, Dolce & Gabbanna and the the homeless and everything in between.  This is a normal reflection of Hong Kong life in most parts of the city actually, this diversity makes shooting on the street very appealing, I love how I can be shooting a model outside a store, then 10 seconds later I'm haggling with sinister looking characters in a back alleyway over whether they should allow their portrait to be taken (every time I do that, I have so far had no problems at all, I even take these guys prints back and they are actually very friendly towards me - like everything in life, its all about perception, if you act scared or threatened, generally people will react accordingly, reassure them and yourself that you are doing nothing untoward, and you won't go far wrong...just keep a friend close by to keep an eye on you ;-)).

(Becky and Rocco looking for images around Chunking Mansions)

(Practicing fast focus at 0.95 on a passing taxi...this is how I fine tune my focussing speed :-))

Anyway, more about the lens....I am using it almost daily now, and am finding that I can nail the focus even wide open most of the time, this comes about simply by shooting several hours a day, so I am getting plenty of practice, and am out shooting at every available opportunity with my M9.  I have noticed no focus shift on this lens whatsoever, at any aperture, and once stopped down past f2 it is way sharper than my summilux lens was before (i owned a non-asph version), which was sharp, but I cannot compare with the latest version.

(Gentleman in the alleyway doing boxing training, super friendly guy)

The only downside to this lens as people who have seen it will know is the weight, its a big piece of glass, but thats the compromise for 0.95, need a big hole to suck all that light in, and for me its no problem, I would rather carry this lens and have that option.

 (This giant of a man approached looking wary, after a quick chat, he became a new best friend)

These few pictures show how this lens comes into its own territory, shooting in dark alleyways with only the odd small streetlamp to work with, it just sucks up all the light and gives me fast shutter speeds even at low ISO and makes shooting in this low grungy light a simple task.  None of my other lenses even get close, the M9 is renowned for not having great high ISO quality, so for me this is the answer at night.

(Friendly character inside Chunking Mansions spent 10 minutes telling me the best places to shoot in Delhi!)

I have heard some people mention on my blog about 'purple fringing'....If the focus is off, then sure, you will get that with any lens when shooting into light with high contrast subjects around the edges, you can see from the colour samples here, I have done no 'fringe removals' of any kind, I have simply used '1 click' presets from VSCO film presets for lightroom 4 to give me the tones I desired from the M9 RAW files, I have not retouched the images in any other way.

(Nice chaps from Ghana, happy to pose for me inside Chunking Mansions)

Below is a portrait of Becky, one of my friends who was out shooting with us around the area, I just love the way this lens renders, to me it is a classic style, and it really copes well when shooting into the light and gives lovely lens flare effect that I do not find distracting at all, this is my opinion only of course, but from all the lenses I have shot, I really don't see any problem with this effect here.

(Becky posing with her trusty 5D II, her weapon of choice for photography)

The hub of activity around Tsim sha Tsui gives a photographer so many opportunities, I was actively looking for scenes like this one below last night, trying to find something quirky through glass, using the shallow depth of field to my advantage to help separate the subjects from the background and foreground.

(Shooting candids through the windows)

(Shooting candids through the windows)

Even late at night, all the restaurants are busy and full of activity around Hong Kong...I tend to shoot a lot of stuff at night, theres more shadow and contrasty light around, and usually easier to find interesting 'characters' to shoot around town.

(Chef on a break outside his restaurant - he cheered up immensely when I showed him the image)

After a couple of hours round the back alleys, I headed back to the Star Ferry along Nathan Road, which is always full of interesting characters aswell, whether its someone trying to sell you a copy watch or handbag, to the interesting characters just going about their lives, normally I have had no problem with shooting people in this area, just smile if they see you, and I almost always then engage them in conversation, exchange business cards and send them their photographs, makes getting out and shooting a very social and enjoyable experience, this is my therapy, it keeps me sane!

(Sitting on the fence - again, he grinned ear to ear once i showed him the image)

(Interesting outfit - passer by on Nathan Road)

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

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.


EXCLUSIVE: SLR MAGIC 50mm 0.95 on M9/XPro1

(Watch seller - Kowloon - Fuji XPro1, JPEG FINE) UPDATE:  I made some comments about the white balance on the Fuji not being so great later in this post - I retract that statement as I had the camera set to VELVIA mode, so the colours are naturally boosted, making skintones much yellower than the unfair comparison, so please disregard anything about colours in the post for now, updated images coming soon with ASTIA/PROVIA film settings and RAW once available.

Its arrived!  The SLR Magic 50mm 0.95 'stealth' edition of only a few in the world available for testing....and we are lucky enough to be one of the chosen few to put it through its paces.  Unfortunately the M mount version of this lens (featured here) is not available to the public yet, so you will have to wait a few more months to get one, the initial pre-order batch for end of July has already sold out.  I think September 2012 is the next batch so get your pre-orders in quick if you are interested!

Another toy that happened to come along with it was the Kipon M adaptor for the Fuji XPro 1, so we have the exclusive opportunity to be able to show some of the first ever images (if not the first) with this combination.

Effectively on the Fuji (1x5 crop), the hyperprime becomes a 75mm 0.95 lens, great for portraits!..

(My friend Kelly helping out with the lens tests - Fuji XPro1, JPEG FINE)

The shots on this blog post were all taken on day 1, have tested the lens here in Hong Kong on a rainy night only for only about 2 hours, the images will all tell you underneath which camera was used and all are shot wide open at 0.95.  The images shot on the Fuji XPro 1 were in Vivid (Velvia) mode in JPEG FINE setting as we are still awaiting RAW conversion update for Lightroom 4, so is difficult to compare with the excellent RAW files coming out of the M9.

(passer by, Kowloon - Leica M9, processed from RAW)

With the Fuji, there is no focus confirmation, but there is the zoom button which allows very easy focus confirmation at extreme magnification...if anything it zooms too much for my liking.  Personally I found it a lot easier to use just the EVF (i normally hate EVF viewfinders) to focus it and found I could do it quickly and accurately most of the time, even wide open was easier than I thought....this gives a slight advantage over the M9, as with that of course it is always manual rangefinder focus with available light...which is fine during daylight, but much more difficult in low light, the EVF on the Fuji brightened up the scene and made it relatively simple to nail the focus.

(shy laughter, Canton road - Leica M9 processed from RAW)

I noticed Steve Huff did a review yesterday using the lens in bright sunshine with an ND filter, link here, I will be taking his advice and trying something similar myself, although unfortunately the current Hong Kong weather has little requirement for ND filters...its dark by 3pm with this crappy weather! :-(  Maybe in a few days I can get a few images up on the blog with that setup, I have only generally used ND filters either for video work with the 5DII, or with flash to shoot wide open during daylight...perhaps I will try the same with this lens :-)

(shopping, Fuji XPro1 JPEG FINE)

So, heres some more images for now showing both cameras output with the lens.  I must state again as before in all my reviews that I am a 'user' not an analyst, so i don't care much for technical jargon, I just want nice sharp images full of 'pop' coming out the other end of the camera, and both M9 and Fuji are doing that without any hitch whatsoever, I am excited to see the RAW files from the Fuji, as the JPEGs are already amazing....i think in all honesty I am still a slave to Leica though....theres just something magical about what comes out of that camera for me...maybe its the time, effort and money I've invested in the Leica system that hypnotises  me...I have used many many different cameras over the years...but like most M9 users we all agree that when it hits the target...there is nothing quite like it.

(mainland tourists in Nathan Road - Fuji XPro1 JPEG FINE)

(outside Chunking Mansions - Fuji XPro1 JPEG FINE)

(crossing the road - Leica M9 processed from RAW)

(middle of the road - Fuji XPro1 JPEG FINE)

(makeup - Leica M9 processed from RAW)

(man in street - Fuji XPro1 JPEG FINE)

(My friend Kelly again, in the subway - Leica M9 processed from RAW)

(lady in the street - Fuji XPro1 JPEG FINE)

(Kelly full length - Leica M9 processed from RAW)

(lady daydreaming - Leica M9 processed from RAW)

My main observation so far between the two has been colours....of course as stated before, its very difficult to compare RAW files with I'm not going to dwell on it just yet....more tests to come as soon as I can get RAW access from the Fuji.

You can clearly see from these samples that the colours on the Leica M9 are far better, much more natural and muted and representative of the natural light when out shooting, the Fuji images are excellent, just need the white balance tweaked for each one (I haven't touched white balance on any of these samples).

Anyway, hopefully this will show anyone that is interest in either combination of camera that they are both very very capable of producing excellent results with this lens, and I am very excited to try more shots, especially during daytime also with the ND filter.

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

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.




SLR MAGIC 50mm 0.95 Hyperprime (FIRST LOOK)

(First shots wide open  in Lan Kwai Fong) Anyone that shoots Leica M cameras may have heard the buzz that is going around currently about this new 50mm lens that is due to come out later in 2012.

We were lucky enough to meet Andrew Chan from SLR MAGIC who let us have a play with a prototype lens here in Hong Kong for a few hours.

Something I must state up front is that firstly I am in no way affiliated with SLR MAGIC or Leica, so my opinion is completely unbiased.

Secondly, I have never even touched a Leica Noctilux lens, which of course is the only other lens in this category (unless you consider the Voigtlander 50 1.1), and to which people are comparing this lens, therefore I cannot compare quality, bokeh or any other details.

I am only qualifed to tell you what I think as a working professional and extremely passionate street photographer my views on what I thought about the lens after an hour or so of playing with it.

Please note that none of the pictures here have had any sharpening applied to them, only minor colour and tone adjustments.

We met Andrew in Lan Kwai Fong in Central, a great place to shoot in low light as there is plenty of street lighting, alleyways and of diverse characters to shoot.  Also that night it was raining which added a certain ambience to the light.

I was running a street photography workshop with Eric Kim from LA this last weekend so he joined us and posed as my subject for a few of my first test shots, which have now landed as his profile pic on his website and facebook page:-)

We will be running many more of these street photography and travel workshops regularly by the way for anyone interested, check our website here (apologies for the quick plug to my own business..:-))

(Eric Kim posing for the hyperprime...focussing was perfectly accurate at 0.7 metres)

I do own a Leica 50mm 1.4 pre-asph lens which is extremely sharp and I am very much in love with this lens, so I wanted to compare the two, not really for sharpness but more to see how big the difference in BOKEH (background blur) was between 1.4 and 0.95 and if I thought the difference was substantial enough for me to consider buying the hyperprime when it is available.

So my first thoughts in brief for this first look are as follows:

1.  Its damn heavy (as expected), its a very big piece of glass, so this is no surprise...I don't mind this fact, heavy glass means quality as far as I'm concerned.

2. The build quality feels great, very very solid...I love the smooth 'no click' aperture ring...very very cool, and lovely built in sliding hood and screw on lens cap.

3. Its gonna be expensive...nowhere near as expensive as a Noctilux of course, but its gonna be a lot more expensive than the Voigtlander 50mm 1.1 (I have used that lens, and unfortunately I'm not a big fan of that particular lens although for the price it is still very acceptable for many people).

4.  The BOKEH is AMAZING!!  Yes, I compared it to all I had available...which is a 1.4 and of course there is a big difference between the two.

5.  Its damn SHARP wide open....I took about 100 shots with it, all wide open...and found about 90% of the shots were pin sharp where I focussed, I am sure any mis-focussed shots were only down to me, not the lens.

(Eric Kim  in Lan Kwai Fong)

Please bear in mind that I am not a technical be honest, none of my Leica lenses are coded, I don't notice any problems or differences between other lenses that are coded that I have used, maybe I'm lucky, or just ignorant...I don't look that hard, I just want to make strong images, and I'm more concerned with my subject matter.  I don't get too excited about whether a lens has a very slight vignette effect, MTF charts or slight barrel distortion...I'm a photographer...not a scientist :-)...Most imperfections in my opinion (especially vignette or barrel distortion can be fixed in Lightroom 3 in about 2 seconds, and even quicker if u set up a lens profile preset that if you had any issues, so could easily be fixed on import without ever having to do anything).

Just to note on my previous paragraph, I didn't see any vignette or distortion with this lens, but i didn't test it for these factors either, as I said I tested it as a photographer who shoots low light portraits and street photography.

To summarise, are these very few points that I have addressed enough to make me want to buy one?....the short answer is YES...I want one NOW.

I will be contacting Andrew at SLR Magic to get my name on the list...I will buy one as soon as they are available...not because I'm a gearhead (that's debatable among my friends :-)) but purely because I LOVE to shoot in very low light...I love BOKEH....and I love to save a bit of money where I can...there's no way I can afford a Noctilux...the Voigtlander 50mm 1.1 is not in the same league in my personal this is where SLR MAGIC is going to fill the gap with regards price...but with quality I suspect they may well overtake the Noctilux....I really can't fault this invention and I hope the production copies are as accurately calibrated as the prototype I played with.

The camera world is very exciting at the moment, and I'm very positive about this lens and am sure its going to be a great success.

Here are a few other images shot with the lens, all wide open on the M9.

(Me, photographed by Eric Kim at minimum focussing distance)

(shot wide open from a bit further back..)

(wide open, shooting through my friends with background about 10 metres away.)

(black and white conversion)

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

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.