Sunday, September 27, 2009

Taryn Simon Lecture is Online

Taryn Simon is featured in a lecture she gave this past summer on Simon is a large format, documentary photographer. The talk focuses on two of her projects. The first is called "An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar," which deals with places normally kept hidden from the American public. The other project is "The Innocents," which is a series of portraits of people wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn't do. Simon was recently given the McArthur Award, which is also called the "Genius Award."

Go here to see her talk, which runs about 15 minutes or so. She's a fascinating photographer with a lot to say about the medium.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Actual New Leicas

Over the past several years, Leica has been having a hard time with the changing paradigm of film to digital. Actually, it goes further back than that. When all 35mm cameras went fully automatic exposure and autofocus, they hung back and waited to see if it was all a passing fad. Well, it wasn’t and they were left by the side of the road, becoming increasingly archaic and out of step with the rest of the universe. For more than a decade, it seemed like the only people using Leica cameras were either hard-core, anachronistic pros who used them no matter what or wealthy hobbyists who bought them for their prestige. Fewer and fewer working pros could justify the cost and the lack of ease of use any longer. Well, maybe that is about to change.

What Leica was good at was designing and building compact, ultra high quality cameras aimed at serious photographers. Olympus and Panasonic have recently announced cameras designed to fill that niche, the E-P1 and the GF-1. Well, Leica has just announced a few cameras that also fit that bill. And instead of rebranding cameras made by other companies, they are making these all in-house, just like the old days.

The new M9 could possibly be the worst kept secret in cameras in recent times, but there is now a full-frame, 35mm-sized digital Leica rangefinder and that is no small matter. The real surprise, though, is the X1, a compact fixed lens APS-C digital camera. This camera seems to take the design advantages of a Leica and apply them to a digital camera in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. In a weirdly old-fashioned way, it is an innovative and even fresh approach. It took a while for Leica to get things straight in their heads, but maybe they had it figured out for themselves. Leica can’t compete with Canon and Nikon or even Sony or Panasonic, but they can choose the ground they wage their battles on and I hope this strategy pays off for them. Here’s the run-down of these two new cameras:

Leica X1 • a fixed lens, compact digital camera.
12.2 MP CMOS APS-C sensor; 24mm f/2.8 Elmarit (35mm equivalent); 2.7-inch LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels; SD and SDHC cards, JPEG and DNG formats; 100 – 3200 ISO; optional optical viewfinder; really simple and straightforward controls; around $2000.00.

Leica M9 • full-frame, 35mm digital camera with interchangeable lenses and rangefinder focusing.
18 MP CCD sensor with an infrared filter instead of an anti-alias filter mounted in front of the sensor; micro-lens overlay on the sensor to create perfectly even images in terms of exposure and sharpness; JPEG and DNG formats; 160 – 2500 ISO (with a “pulled” setting of 80 ISO); 2.5-inch LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels; under $7000.00.

The only caveat I have with these cameras is Leica’s choice of rear LCD monitor. Both the M9 and X1 have decently large ones with rather anemic pixel counts of 230,000. The new camera, the Canon 5D Mark II has a 3-inch LCD with 920,000 pixels. Knowing the clarity and sharpness of that LCD, I have to wonder what Leica was thinking. Oh well, I’m still looking forward to checking them out when they are available. Congrats to Leica and best of luck. It's good to see you back in the game.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A New Leica, part 2

Panasonic has recently revealed the Lumix GF-1, which is pictured above. It's a camera in the same vein as the recently announced Olympus E-P1, which I discussed earlier this summer. Both of these cameras seem to be aimed at actual photographers, rather than P&S hobbiests. The lens paired with the GF-1 is a 20mm f/1.8 pancake lens, which will be equivalent to a 40mm semi-normal lens. The body and lens makes a compact set that won't be much bigger than most P&S cameras, but will provide much higher quality images. It has a 12.1 MP sensor and interchangeable lenses, and an enticing one for the near future is the 45mm f/2.8 Leica DG MACRO-ELMARIT with O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer). The GF-1 and 20mm f/1.8 lens should sell for around $900.00, which isn't too bad for such a potentially high quality camera. Like the E-P1, this cameras looks to be one that will neatly fill the niche of the old Leica rangefinders, and should be near about perfect for photojournalists and street shooters. It certainly looks tempting.

Speaking of Leica, tomorrow they will announce several new cameras. Supposedly one of those will be the new M9 digital rangefinder camera. After the announcements, we'll post what they will have to offer.