Leica "look" real or myth?
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ucphotog
Registered: May 03, 2010
Total Posts: 481
Country: United States

The following comments are from a person who has never held a Leica camera in their hands (excluding the Leica branded Panasonic D-Lux 5). They are based solely on looking at a lot of pictures in the Zeiss and Leica threads. I was trying to see if I thought Zeiss and/or Leica lenses are worth the money. That's a different discussion.

Two things struck me about the Leica photos, in part compared to Zeiss lenses, but not exclusively.

The first thing that struck me was that reflections in the water have a distinct look. No, I can't wrap words around it, but my highest "hit rate" of knowing when a lens was a Leica vs some other lens is when the photo includes a reflection in the water. The water appears ... shinier?

The second thing is that compared to Zeiss, in particular, but other lenses in general, the Leica photos seem to my eyes to have stronger blues and greens. Leica greens are particularly strong. And Leica lenses seem to have an amazing ability to render blues. Someone put up a photo of glacier ice, which can have a lot of subtly different blues, and a similar picture from a Zeiss. I was amazed at how many more shades of blue could be seen.

I said two things, as the following may be an extension of the second. The reds are ... different, especially from Zeiss. Maybe I should just stop at "different", as I am not sure I can really describe the difference. Maybe it is simply because the blues and greens are so strong that the reds seem ... subtler? I would describe the Leica reds as not as bright, but still fairly saturated.

And that's my take as a total outsider.



Mirek Elsner
Registered: Oct 03, 2005
Total Posts: 1023
Country: United States

allstarimaging wrote:
For those of you shooting Leica gear do you feel that there is a special quality to the images delivered by your gear that is unique and unattainable with other setups?

Thank you
Jack


The question is, can the audience see the difference?

There is a "Leica glow" - a character of some older lenses, especially those designed by Walter Mandler.
M8 and M9 have sensors that render color differently from mainstream cameras.
Modern Leica lenses do not have any hallmark, in my opinion, they are very neutral, which makes them distinct.



sebboh
Registered: Nov 02, 2009
Total Posts: 10526
Country: United States

JohnJ wrote:
One possibly interesting aspect that doesn't get much attention these days is the tonal gradation that I used to see (in the film days) in Leica R images but seemed lacking in otherwise identical images shot with Canon L glass (but otherwise just as sharp). I don't really know what has happened to tonal gradation in the digital world as this previously noticeable difference is now almost non existent, or a non-issue, with the typical 8 and 14 bit files we typically use. Maybe you need a 16bit file to get the full benefit that I regularly saw with films such as Velvia. I don't print so maybe the difference is visible there, but not on monitors. I really don't know.

When I shot film the difference between the Leica R images and Canon L was relatively easy to pick yet I would never make that assertion about images shot digitally, I'm not sure I could pick the difference after PP, at least not in my own experience.


this is the main thing i like about my leica lenses and i do notice on digital, though i doubt i would notice after somebody else had post processed the photos from both lenses. my leicas have very good microcontrast and incredible fine tonal gradation that seems to get lost a bit in the high contrast of my zeiss lenses. also, the contrast seems lower in out of focus regions compared to in focus regions, whereas most of my lenses (especially zeiss) seem to maintain the same level of contrast throughout in focus and oof regions of the photo. finally, both my leica and rokkor lenses seem to produce lighter and brighter blues than my other lenses shooting the same subjects (this is most noticeable shooting blue eyed subjects and water). finally, all my experience with leica lenses has been with older lenses, i've never shot more than a few shots with any of their modern lenses.



nixland
Registered: Jun 30, 2011
Total Posts: 593
Country: Indonesia

I have 5 Leica R lenses with all different look or rendering

Summilux-R 50 first version : the rendering is exactly the same with my Contax Zeiss 50/1.4 (I took many comparison shots with both lenses), except that the zeiss has the cooler color while the Leica has warmer color

Summicron-R 50 : looks very different than the lux-R 50, the bokeh is very creamy at f2, while the lux is quite harsh (especially for complex background).

Summicron-R 35 first version : has more saturated color than my Canon 35L

Summilux-R 80 : it has the famous glow like Mirek said (I plan to take some comparison shots with my Contax Zeiss 85/1.4 and new lenses, either Samyang or Sigma)


For me, Leica "look" is not correlated with "best or better" look.
It just gives me more choice to "paint" my photograph









rscheffler
Registered: Aug 23, 2005
Total Posts: 4922
Country: Canada

Apologies in advance for the length of this post...

I've used Canon L glass for the last 20 or so years. A couple years ago I made my first foray from Canon and picked up a used M9 and added a few Zeiss ZM lenses: 21/2.8, 35/2.8, 50/2. I've never used Zeiss's ZE/ZF glass, so don't really know how the ZM lenses compare to those. When I figured I liked the M9 and would stick with it, I started adding some Leica lenses: 21/1.4, 28/2, 50/1.4 ASPH, 90/2.5. BTW, my decision to try the M9 was because I wanted a compact system with high quality lenses, particularly wide angles, which was where I felt Canon was most lacking. I considered getting some ZE lenses, but the size of some of those, and the fact my DSLR kit was already quite heavy, turned me off. So for me, it wasn't about buying a Leica because it was a Leica, but rather, because it was about the only solution that fit my criteria at the time.

Leica glass compared to Zeiss: I would agree with Jim's earlier comment that images with Leica glass seem to be a bit calmer and more relaxed in some respects. The lenses have really good sharpness, but especially wide open, are not brutally sharp. There is a slight smoothness to the sharpness. With the 50 Lux ASPH, at closer distances, there is certainly a trace of some spherical aberration. Since this is about the distance for a nice head and shoulder portrait, I don't consider it a negative. At the same time, global contrast is still quite strong with rich colours, yet not overboard. With the 50 Lux ASPH in particular, the background bokeh is very neutral, without any outlining/rings in out of focus specular light sources, but still has some 'character' to the way it renders scenes. I guess it's pretty sterile compared to some vintage glass, but it's also not completely neutral.

When I only had the Zeiss ZM glass, and maybe it was also because I was new to Lightroom and went a bit overboard learning it, but I found that the contrast/pop of many of those images really made me want to push the contrast and clarity even more. With Leica glass I find there is a softer subtlety to the images, particularly if shot wide open, that is lost by applying clarity, particularly to background rendering because clarity boosts the contrast in those areas to a degree unrepresentative of the lens's character (if that makes sense).

After some time now with the Leica lenses, I find I shoot them generally either wide open, or stopped down a lot for depth of field and to clean up any quirks. For example the 21 Lux has fairly poor calmness to the sharpness character in the image mid zone area at moderate apertures, especially when focused towards infinity. So here, if I can, I'll shoot it at f/8 or 11. In such applications the 21/3.4 should certainly be better at wider apertures. But at close distances, and at wide open, especially with some physical subject/background separation, the 21 Lux has a really nice character. Again, good but not blazingly hard sharpness with a bit of subtle "glowyness." And for a lens this fast, it surprisingly retains really good contrast in wide open backlit situations (though does purple fringe like crazy - thankfully LR4 makes this a one-click fix).

Objectively comparing Leica to Canon is for me more difficult because I'm shooting all my Leica glass on a Leica camera and Canon on Canon. It's difficult to know how much of each system's file characteristics are integral to the way each manufacturer has optimized those qualities for each of their cameras. But I suspect each is optimized to be similar to their results on film. Going back to certain L lenses on film, such as the 200/1.8, I thought Canon's look at the time was high sharpness but lower global contrast for a more subtle, pastel-like look. Compared to that lens, I thought the newer 135/2 had a lot more punch and was somewhat uncharacteristic of the line, at the time. But now with my newer Canon glass, they all seem to have somewhat higher global contrast. But there is still a pretty big difference in look to Canon files vs. Leica files. I would say a bit flatter, lower global contrast. More gray haziness that needs a good tone curve to boost contrast and saturation, along with some clarity to get the image to pop. Back when I used Photoshop a lot more, I would run images through various USM scripts with low amount and high radius passes to boost global contrast. The Leica files definitely have richer blacks and shadow characteristics. I shoot my Canon gear and the M9 side by side on jobs, and it's necessary for me to process each with significantly different settings to get them to a similar final look - generally with more aggressive settings for the Canon files. Is this a bad thing? From a post production and prepress environment (a field I also work in), not necessarily, because the Canon files contain all the info, just need a bit more 'beating' to get to the desired end result. But it also means the need for more operator experience to know how to get there, and also I believe, results in a fair amount more personal interpretation during post production.

As for colour characteristics, I'm not sure how much this is the programming in the camera vs. the lenses, but with the M9 I definitely find I'm always toning down yellow/green, especially for anything with foliage. Often it could be as much as -20 to -30 points of green saturation, especially in the spring, otherwise everything looks dayglo radioactive.

The new M will be interesting in a couple respects. I hope to eventually get one and it will theoretically mean I'll be able to use my Canon lenses on it, so would be interesting to do some side by side comparisons to see just how much of a difference there is between the two. Additionally, whether all the talk about the new CMOS sensor and how it maybe won't look like the CCD-based files of the past Leica digital cameras, will actually be the case. The Leica reps here seem to like to say it won't be an issue and that CMOS won't restrict the way they optimize the sensor to the look they want to deliver.

As for samples... I don't have any SOOC cat photos to show but have one PP'd 21 Lux image I'm pretty happy with of my cousin's dog. The PP for this was basically exposing for the background and bringing up the foreground about 2 stops in LR, and pulling back the green saturation a bit and tweaking the yellow and orange hue characteristics. It was shot at f/1.4 and I really like the separation I see, yet the background is still fairly defined.







I posted these recently on the M8/M9 thread - a quick ambient light portrait set, shot in order, on the 50 Lux ASPH, 28 Cron, 21 Lux. All wide open, all with fairly similar and minimal PP treatment:

















I posted these images awhile ago in another thread, but thought they might be of interest here to show differences in OOF foreground/background rendering. Various normalish fast M mount lenses on the GXR:






















The order shown above: 50 Lux ASPH, CV50 f/1.5, ZM50 Planar, CV40 f/1.4

WB based on the ZM image, brightness adjusted to match the white in the C of Canon. Of the various LR parameters, contrast was set to zero, black point at 5, clarity at zero.

Here are some Canon 50L f/1.2 images on APS-H sensors... the last one has had a fair amount of PP/retouching to the subject, but not the background rendering.

f/1.2:






f/3.5:






f/1.2:
















f/2:







AhamB
Registered: Jul 11, 2008
Total Posts: 5004
Country: Germany

sebboh wrote:
also, the contrast seems lower in out of focus regions compared to in focus regions, whereas most of my lenses (especially zeiss) seem to maintain the same level of contrast throughout in focus and oof regions of the photo.


That exact same characteristic has been ascribed to Zeiss lenses by others on FM.



sebboh
Registered: Nov 02, 2009
Total Posts: 10526
Country: United States

AhamB wrote:
sebboh wrote:
also, the contrast seems lower in out of focus regions compared to in focus regions, whereas most of my lenses (especially zeiss) seem to maintain the same level of contrast throughout in focus and oof regions of the photo.


That exact same characteristic has been ascribed to Zeiss lenses by others on FM.


i know! i want to know what those people are smoking. it's just like those people who tell me that zeiss lenses have great bokeh (yes, there are some that do but they're exceptions definitely not the rule).

i see the opposite in my zeiss lenses and other people's zeiss pictures.

perhaps it has to do with types of shots we take and settings we shoot at.



AhamB
Registered: Jul 11, 2008
Total Posts: 5004
Country: Germany

allstarimaging wrote:
I'm kind of surprised by the responses that have been posted so far. It seems that many believe that there is not a specific look from Leica that can't be replicated by post processing or other camera lens combos.


I think it's practically impossible to faithfully replicate the look of any kind of lens with PP. I also don't see the point of it. The lens you use determines the starting point so if you like the look that the lens gives it saves you time that you'd otherwise be spending on PP.

@sebboh: I believe there are some differences among different Zeiss lenses in that regard, for instance between the Planars and Makro-Planars (the latter having more contrast in the bokeh).



kosmoskatten
Registered: Oct 11, 2005
Total Posts: 2980
Country: Sweden

Jeff K (and others) I find that the Summarit 75 and the ZM50 Planar look very much the same to my eyes - disregarding the different focal length. The other lenses I find similar are already covered in the thread.

I also think Leica has gone a little Zeissy as of lately, especially with some of their modern lenses. The one thing Leica has the upper hand on is that they have released some new fast and seemingly awesome glass that the competition, for the most part, lacks. Like some of Ron's samples; a bit of threedee (Like Z) with a bit of creamy background blur and not the Zeissy nervousness that some of the Zeiss glass has.



philber
Registered: May 21, 2008
Total Posts: 7473
Country: France

Jim Schemel wrote:
I have just started shooting with a few Leica lenses.The way i would describe the Leica rendering to me, would be very balanced and relaxed.The images do not look stressed, it that is the right word.The color that i get from the few lenses that i have are superb.Although shooting on a NEX 7
.I would say also that they have less 3D to them than say do the Zeiss.I think that Zeiss is King in that area.
My .02
-Jim


Brilliantly described. My thoughts exactly.



alundeb
Registered: Nov 06, 2005
Total Posts: 4290
Country: Norway

AhamB wrote:
allstarimaging wrote:
I'm kind of surprised by the responses that have been posted so far. It seems that many believe that there is not a specific look from Leica that can't be replicated by post processing or other camera lens combos.


I think it's practically impossible to faithfully replicate the look of any kind of lens with PP. I also don't see the point of it. The lens you use determines the starting point so if you like the look that the lens gives it saves you time that you'd otherwise be spending on PP.



All conversion from RAW to presentation JPG includes a tone curve, and some sharpening. The tone curves that are used as standard were developed with the aim of a sensible "look" of the images. the same can be said about sharpening. What is set as a default sharpening level in software, is supposed to yield a sensible output.

These settings were developed with real images, from real lenses. It is very unlikely that Zeiss lenses with the highest contrast were used for this. When Zeiss lenses are said to have unnaturally high contrast, it is just that the tone curves that are made for lower contrast lenses, enhance the contrast too much. No lens can add contrast compared to reality. it can only reduce it.

I don't agree that using a different default setting for tone curve and sharpening is a problem with respect to time in PP. If you prefer images with moderate contrast, it doesn't make sense to choose a lens with moderate contrast just because of that. It would rather be because the lens with moderate contrast also has nicer bokeh or better APO correction, just examples.



philip_pj
Registered: Apr 03, 2009
Total Posts: 3103
Country: Australia

'IMHO much of the so called "Leica Look" is simply due to images coming from some very talented photographers, who not only are skilled at composition, but also post processing'. 'I think it's practically impossible to faithfully replicate the look of any kind of lens with PP.'

Both my CZ and Leica lenses require (nay, demand) the least PP of all I own, 6-7 brands in all, one of their strengths if you factor in processing time as an overhead. The images are already very 'rich'. And both are closer to each other than either is to any other common brand. Also believe strongly that any 'standard' of photographer benefits greatly from the better L/CZ lenses, in much the same way as putting a newish driver in a 4wd Subaru/Audi - the car/lens looks after them, is safer/better and more encouraging in the pursuit of the activity. How could it be otherwise?

I don't know what Canon have against colour tonal gradation, do they design for the lack of it? No idea. Final comment - note how many responses in this post mention the word 'Zeiss'.



philip_pj
Registered: Apr 03, 2009
Total Posts: 3103
Country: Australia

'All conversion from RAW to presentation JPG includes a tone curve, and some sharpening. The tone curves that are used as standard were developed with the aim of a sensible "look" of the images. the same can be said about sharpening. What is set as a default sharpening level in software, is supposed to yield a sensible output.'

Some prefer 'optimised' to canned profile delivery of 'sensible'. And we have not mentioned that each image requires attention, scrutiny at the very least, for image-specific tone moves, which are often accompanied by contrast/colour moves. The Leica and Zeiss images 'come around' to ideal much faster in my experience. It seems self-evident that you cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear. But good to read of the approaches and views of other people.



alundeb
Registered: Nov 06, 2005
Total Posts: 4290
Country: Norway

philip_pj wrote:
But good to read of the approaches and views of other people.


Not sure if that, in this case, is meant as a euphemism for "you have a lot to learn" or not



AhamB
Registered: Jul 11, 2008
Total Posts: 5004
Country: Germany

@alundeb: I'm not sure why you are emphasizing global contrast so much. IMO changing default settings in your RAW developer can never give images taken with a Canon lens (to name one brand) a Leica (or Zeiss) look.



alundeb
Registered: Nov 06, 2005
Total Posts: 4290
Country: Norway

AhamB wrote:
@alundeb: I'm not sure why you are emphasizing global contrast so much. IMO changing default settings in your RAW developer can never give images taken with a Canon lens (to name one brand) a Leica (or Zeiss) look.


I agree to a certain extent. It was more meant the other way around. If you remember the heated debate about how low contrast lenses gave you more shadow detail, and some preferred stray light from the lens all over the image to lift the shadows, instead of adjusting the black level.



kj_vogelius
Registered: Aug 30, 2011
Total Posts: 62
Country: Sweden

Jim Schemel wrote:
I have just started shooting with a few Leica lenses.The way i would describe the Leica rendering to me, would be very balanced and relaxed.The images do not look stressed, it that is the right word.The color that i get from the few lenses that i have are superb.Although shooting on a NEX 7
.I would say also that they have less 3D to them than say do the Zeiss.I think that Zeiss is King in that area.
My .02
-Jim


I too second this. In my (limited) experience with Leica lenses, this is exactly how I would describe the rendering, compared to for instance Zeiss.



timballic
Registered: May 21, 2011
Total Posts: 770
Country: United Kingdom

I seem to remember somewhere on this forum, denoir (?) saying that shooting with his Leica M glass was like having a veil removed from the photos.

In my "analogue" days as a Photo Club member I always felt the Leica offerings stood out for a certain extra clarity and their resistance to flare, especially the lack of any veiling flare.
(The great majority of other users at that time were on Nikon with only a few on Canon or Pentax)



timballic
Registered: May 21, 2011
Total Posts: 770
Country: United Kingdom

rscheffler wrote:

As for samples... I don't have any SOOC cat photos to show but have one PP'd 21 Lux image I'm pretty happy with of my cousin's dog. The PP for this was basically exposing for the background and bringing up the foreground about 2 stops in LR, and pulling back the green saturation a bit and tweaking the yellow and orange hue characteristics. It was shot at f/1.4 and I really like the separation I see, yet the background is still fairly defined.











This is gorgeous, real separation as you say, and clarity, and wow saturation, (pulling "back" the green saturation?!).


Mike Tuomey
Registered: Jul 23, 2005
Total Posts: 2848
Country: United States

Shooting Canon L and Leica M and Zeiss ZM lenses for several years side-by-side, I find that Leica's newer glass retains the extremes better and has a subtle crispness or sparkle (for lack of a better word) that I don't see in or from any of my other lenses. While Canon glass seems comparatively to lose finer distinctions of color and luminance, and Zeiss glass seems to go quickly to black (or white), Leica holds (I almost want to say kisses) the full range of light and color, especially at the extremes, so well. It's indefinable - as I write this I almost want to skip the comment because I can't really say what I see.



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