Wednesday November 24, 2010

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – So today’s post is a tale of a lens. I’m a gear head, perhaps even a gear whore, but I don’t often talk about cameras and lenses here because it’s politically correct to downplay the gear one uses – after all a great photographer can take great pictures with anything. The later statement isn’t actually true – many luminaries in the photo world have selected their gear with great care – often finding the best technical solution for the types of images they take: Ansel Adams and his 8×10 Deardorff, Cartier-Bresson and his Leica and Lee Friedlander (in his later years) and the Hasselblad Superwide. I’ve proven on these pages that I can’t take a decent picture with an iPhone.

Leica has issued a new version of it’s 35mm f1.4 Summilux. It replaces a lens that I owned but sold when the rumor of a replacement circulated – essentially to raise cash to pay for the new lens, which is bizarrely expensive. The lens it replaces is famous for being bitingly sharp and having remarkable contrast corner to corner at all apertures. The former Summicron had “bokeh”, the character of it’s out of focus image, that made it unique. Unfortunately it also had a tendency for the focus point to shift as it was stopped down, resulting in very slightly out of focus images in the range f4.0 to f5.6 or so. This trait, which was not visible with film but is visible in the more demanding digital realm, drove me nuts. The new lens retains the character of the original but has solved to focus shift issue. Here are some links to reviews: Irwin Puts reviews the 35mm Summicron. Steve Huff on focus shift. The new 35mm Summilux has been back ordered for about a year. My copy finally arrived today.

Today I’m posting a picture of a pair of Venini vases (I collect Venini) drying in our kitchen, together with a close up crop to illustrate the character of the out of focus image. This was shot at f1.4. I’m also including a picture of the building that houses the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and a crop, to demonstrate the biting sharpness and contrast. This building was originally built as a residence for George F. Baker Jr. by Delano & Aldrich, the firm that became the ‘society architects” in New York after Stanford White’s murder in 1906. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is a splinter of the Russian Orthodox Church formed after the Bolshevik Revolution – it is now reconciled with the main body of the Russian Church.

The vases:

Drying Venini vases

A crop from the vases illustrating the characteristic “bokeh” of this lens (note the circular highlights):
Venini vase crop

Here’s the Synod:
Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

A crop of the Synod – again illustrating this lens’s special character, but also the Leica’s tendency to blow saturated yellow highlights:

Crop of the Synod of Bishops

On this date one year ago: The day before Thanksgiving near Harlem Fairway.

Riverside Drive from 125th Street