The Leica 90mm Summilux is a first in such a lightstrong 90mm lens, but it was not made for low light photography. It is the qualities of an f/1.5 design that makes this lens interesting.
I have had a hard time figuring out how this 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.5 fits into the world of photography. On one hand, it is a 90mm lens with Noctilux qualities while on the other it is a lens that is so perfect it competes with one of the best lenses made for the Leica SL2 system, the Leica 90mm APO-Summicron-SL ASPH f/2.0.
This new 90mm lens is a magnificent piece of optics where the lens designers have decided to take the space necessary to implement perfect optics. The size of the lens is the exact same as the Leica 75mm Noctilux f/1.25, which makes these two lenses the largest M lenses.
But, once you design a lens for perfection with little effort to make it as compact as M lenses traditionally are, there are alternatives. There are other perfect lenses, and mainly the Leica 90mm APO-Summicron-SL ASPH f/2.0 (which fits on the Leica SL2) is quite a competitor, as well as the older Leica 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0 (which fits directly on a Leica M camera).
The 90mm f/1.5 on a Leica M body is quite a package - in comparison the 90mm f/2.0 on a Leica SL2 is almost a compact camera. Which makes you wonder, why not go for the 90mm f/2.0 that is of similar design technology and philosophy, but also has APO? (The SL2 camera body with a 90mm APO lens would be $11,690 where the 90mm f/1.5 lens alone is $12,995).
What should justify the Leica 90mm Summilux-M f/1.5 is that it is the latest and greatest in the "Noctilux family". While the numbers (f/1.5 on this one and f/1.25 on the 75mm) are not the traditional f/1.0 or f/0.95 numbers we know from the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux, the behavior of light through the lens' optics, and the extreme narrow depth of field are Noctilux characteristics.
The one thing the 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.5 has going for it is that it is a Noctilux lens. In fact, it is hard to tell the difference between the 75mm Noctilux and the 90mm Summilux in most ways. They have the exact same size and weight.
When people see your photographs made with the 90mm f/1.5, the comment you mostly hear is, "Is that the Noctilux?" by which they refer to the look of the 50mm Noctilux. The 90mm Summilux has a lot of a “Noctilux feel” about the imagery it produces.
Optically, there are differences between the 75mm and 90mm of the Noctilux family, and maybe the 90mm is a winner of the two for portraits. I haven't compared the two in detail, and even I have a hard time seeing how the 75mm and 90mm would fit into the same household. They're so close you should pick one - whichever your heart says is your lens of the two. I simply can't see how they both are necessary to own.
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A dent in the 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4. Not something that can't be fixed at Leiac in Wetlar, but not pretty to look at.
For full disclosure I should mention that I dropped the 90mm on the asphalt just 20 minutes after I put it on the Leica M10-P. The strap lug fell off the left side of the M10-P, and while this was not a first for this camera, it produced a distinct "Klonk" when the 90mm hit the asphalt with the corner of the shade first, before the camera and all rolled over a few times. I experienced the obligatory flashback of my life but then realized that both the lens and I were still alive.
I picked the camera and lens up and kept using it. The shade and front tube (where the filter thread sits) clearly needed to be replaced by Leica in Wetzlar, but apart from that it all behaved like a Leica: You drop it on the concrete or hit a corner of a wall ... and then you keep using it.
A Leica is not indestructible, but it's damn close.
The 90mm Summilux is sharp and incredibly detailed. And it is not sharp in the ugly way where you have sharp edges. It is sharp in the beautiful sense of the word which best translates into clarity. Things are bright and clear, open if you will. You zoom in and it is all there, but with clarity rather than razor sharpness.
The out-of-focus areas are beautiful silky smooth and soft. The silky feel is so visible you cannot do other than to love it. The first lens from Leica that had this distinct silky look was the 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4, and particularly in black and white is it noticeable that these lenses are special. The 90mm Summilux has a beautiful silky feel to out-of-focus areas in color as well, which makes it stand out as very special. Perhaps the most likeable feature of the lens.
The mechanical handling of the 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.5 is excellent. The aperture ring moves easily, but stays at the aperture stop you placed it at. It doesn't slide by itself (which it does if the aperture ring is too soft), and it is easy to click (not too hard). Focusing is soft and elegant, which it must be for you to easily fine-tune the focus of a lens with so narrow a depth of field. A lens with a stiff focusing ring is impossible to fine-tune as the force necessary always makes you turn it too far.
Based on pure memory of use of the two lenses, they seem very much the same. But in comparison (though I never do systematic side-by-side comparisons) the 75mm Noctilux seems to have more of a lively bokeh (the aesthetics of the out-of-focus areas) than the 90mm Summilux. Here are two photos from the same location in New York that Ritu Raj and I did with the 75mm and 90mm. As the 75mm was taken closer focus, the background is softer and more silky. But lively:
The 90mm has some beautiful flare control, by which I mean that the design suppresses any crazy flare-like rings, highlighted bubbles in the middle of the photos, flashes of light, stripes or lines. Fundamentally, the lens is designed to suppress any internal reflections of light between the optical elements and within the optical elements themselves. You look into the front of a lens, and the blacker it is, the better flare control it has.
Yet, it has a beautiful overflow of light in the edges and into some of the image if you provoke it really hard and balance your madness. It can give a really beautiful overflow of light, very smoky and soft, yet controlled.
What has caused roughly 30% or so of my workshop students go out and buy a $10,500 Noctilux lens after a workshop, not to mention how many readers of my articles and books have been able to persuade themselves to buy one, is the promise of something beyond earthly pleasures. The idea that this is something that reaches beyond the known universe and into something magical.
What makes 10% or so of Noctilux users never really like the lens, I don't know. But for the 90% or so of the Noctilux owners, this lens is easily recognized as something very special. Bending light in ways that seem to defy physical possibilities, and yet it holds the image with such detail and perfection it just makes it all that more mystical. How is this possible? You need not know, you only need $10,500 to be able to behold this ability to make almost anything look magnificently beautiful.
This is a unique thing for the Leica Noctilux lenses. Other brands trying to make f/0.95 lenses or "Nokton", "Speedmaster" or "Noct" lenses have never been able to touch that magic space that makes the Noctilux so special: The extremely high quality of the image coupled with an extreme dreamlike play with light.
The 75mm Noctilux f/1.25 tilted towards the perfected image, which I touched on in my two-page review and article about the 75mm Noctilux, as well as my talk with lens designer Peter Karbe. This, along with the size of the lens, was my reason for continuing to use the 50mm Noctilux f/0.95 rather than the 75mm Noctilux f/1.25.
The 90mm Summilux f/1.5 tilts towards the perfected image as well.
In other words, the attraction of the 50mm Noctilux image - the dreamlike part, or "rock'n'roll lens quality" as I also have called it (and called for more of in lens design) is not there.
Let me be clear: Anyone can make a 90mm f/1.5 lens and achieve paper thin depth of field and the extremely blurred background that comes with it. This is physics. It's as elementary as calculating how much power is needed to get a car of a certain weight to go from 0-100km in 3 seconds.
The excellence of the lens designer is what determines how the out-of-focus area will look. If these will have hard edges of highlights, 'stop-sign shaped highlights' (by which is meant six-sided highlights from the shape of the aperture rings), if the bokeh will be low contrast and silky smooth or high contrast and edgy. There's lots for the lens designer to master and control. The contrast, micro details, color accuracy, tonality, fall-off of contrast, flare control and much more.
The opti-mechanical designer also has his work cut out for him in making the mechanical movements of such a lens work perfectly, accurately and smooth.
But then, there is the magician who must add magic to all this technical perfection. In sending a car from 0-100km in 3 seconds, it's the sound, feel and smell of it that makes it something special and legendary. In lens design, it's the look and feel of the image. The 50mm Noctilux has this magic, and it’s a legendary lens as well. It has this beyond and above of any other lens design. This is what makes it mythical or mystical. The 75mm and 90mm 'Noctilux' lenses do not have that magic as part of them. You can create some of it by the use of long backgrounds and out-of-focus highlights in the background, have bright light sources hit just the right spot in the edge of the frame to create some film-like or maybe even Noctilux-looking magic.
But the 90mm lens was clearly made for perfection rather than unpredictable magic. On the edge of the possible, but with so good a grip of it all that you never really are in real danger.
Here is where we go off subject a bit, though it is highly related. There's a restaurant in Los Angeles that serves their famous Black Magic Lasagna, and it's just as magical as the many reviews promise, though it is not entirely black as some might expect. But some of the ingredients are black.
Black Magic Lasagna as served by the Italian chef at Pure Vita in Los Angeles.
It's a unique lasagna, and even if you have tried it, it would probably be impossible to make it just as magical as they do in that restaurant. It also comes with some bread to die for, just to make the experience more magical.
Things like these don't happen often. It's a mix of competence, luck and ideas that melt into something highly unique and desirable.
In many ways, whenever I open a box with a new lens inside it, I hope to find an experience like that black magic lasagna.
A scene from The Joker movie. Beautiful narrow focus, bokeh and colors. Another serving of Black Magic Lasagna.
The lens that nobody needs to have
I've had a hard time placing this lens. Why would one need it? The 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0 is a great lens, one which I should use a lot more but seldom do. The 75mm Noctilux f/1.25 came before the 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.5 as a natural answer to a dream many had of an exotic portrait lens. So where does that leave the 90mm lens?
I can't find any reason. And perhaps just because this is a lens nobody really dreamed about or wanted to come into existence ... this might be the very reason to get one and use it.
An exclusive choice of lens for you who find a way to use it.
The Leica 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.5 on Leica M10.
The alternative 90mm lens
The obvious 90mm lens to use on a Leica M is the 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0 ($5,095). I've used the f/2.8 ($1,100 second-hand) and the f/2.5 lenses ($2,195), and then I went with the 90mm f/2.0 as the perfect 90mm lens.
If you want excellence and you want 90mm, the 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0 is the optimum lens. If you want to take it further, the 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.5 may be what you need ($12,995).
But don't forget the f/2.0 version in this era of excitement when a new lens was released. In fact, with the fairly little use that a 90mm lens gets by most of us, the f/2.8 is excellent and probably the most bang for your buck (not being produced anymore, they are around $1,100 second-hand). I love the 'soft but detailed' look of this 90mm f/2.8 lens (even the older versions), and it is compact, light-weight and produces great results (more of a Leica look than the f/2.5 and f/2.4 versions, in my opinion).
Once I've said this - and it is all true and makes a lot of sense - we both know that we always dream of wider aperture, and that is how the f/1.5 will remain the ideal and the dream for any 90mm user.
Hemingway has the famous quote, “Gradually and then suddenly” about how one goes bankrupt. This is in essence the route of 90mm lenses. First you start out cautious with a second-hand 90mm f/2.8, but then you get curious as to what the next one might produce in terms of images. This is how you will move your way through the 90mm range until you end up with the ultimate 90mm, the f/1.5.
If this sounds plausible for how you usually do things, hand over the $12,995 to the Leica dealer right away and go for the sudden bankruptcy rather than the gradual. The choice is that simple: gradually or suddenly.
The 90mm Summilux - along with the 75mm Noctilux – are the bulkiest and heaviest lenses for the Leica M. They both follow a sort of new philosophy, that larger is better. In terms of precision lens design, this is true, because the more space the lens designer has for the glass, the easier it is to make perfect optical results. There are also production advantages when lenses have the same sizes (as the 75mm Noctilux and 90mm do).
I wouldn't say it's a heavy lens to carry around, but it's bigger than any other, and it takes some time to get used to. It's tempting to leave it home for studio work, rather than taking it to the streets. But, once you get used to the size and the weight, which might take some days or weeks, it's just a fact. It’s your lens.
A 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0 is lighter, but still as long, with a result that the lens doesn't feel compact and takes time to get used to.
The 90mm f/2.8 is a very light and compact lens in comparison, and has great optics by the way, though it is still as long.
That a 90mm lens is called 90mm lens is because there is 90mm from sensor plane to the center of focus inside the lens. Hence, most 90mm lenses are the same length (90mm), and most 50mm lenses the same length (50mm), just as a 400mm lens is usually 400mm or longer.
The diameter of a lens is decided by the f-stop in this simple way: f/2.0 means the focal length divided with two, and that is then the diameter of its optical elements. The 'hole through the lens' is the focal length divided by the maximum aperture. A 90mm f/2.0 lens will have a 45mm diameter of optics, and a 90mm f/1.0 would have to be 90mm in diameter. And the 90mm f/1.5 has a diameter of 60mm (plus the metal housing of the lens). There is just no physical way an f/1.5 lens could be less in diameter. The only way to make a lens smaller is to reduce the focal length to say 50mm and the f-stop to f/2.0 (which then makes the lens 25mm in diameter and 50mm in length).
The original 90mm Noctilux prototype
A 90mm lens was made in the 1970's, and as you can see, it's quite a chunky lens. This one was a prototype made for the US military. Some sort of spy tool to get close in the dark. The lenses were made by the Leitz factory in Canada back then and they were called ELCAN when made for specialized uses like this. (Read my article "Leica History" for more about ELCAN and Leitz Canada).
This Elcan-M 90mm f/1.0 was sold at Christie's auction in London for 20.900 £ a few years ago (with a Leica KE-7A from 1972 included). A similar lens was offered for sale by Arsenal Photo in 2008 for 23,000 £.
Why is it called a Summilux?
Summilux refers to the maximum lens aperture of f/1.4, which traditionally in Leica terminology has been named Summilux. The 90mm is an f/1.5 which also is classified as a "Summilux" lens.
There are many guesses how the name came about, a popular one being that the "summi" came from "summit" (summit means the highest point of a hill or mountain; the highest attainable level of achievement) while the "-lux" is added for "light". Highest quality light lens, if you will.
Why the 90mm Summilux-M is an f/1.5 lens and not an f/1.4 proably has size limitations as one of the reasons. The small (image) diffference in aperture would increase the lens diameter with 5mm, which in this context is quite a bit.
Where the 75mm Noctilux has closest focus range of 85cm, the 90mm Summilux has closest focus range of 1 meter. In reality, it will give approximately the same frame of closest focus.
The f/1.25 of the Noctilux vs the f/1.5 of the 90mm will result in a similar depth of field.
The floating element of the 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.50 is kind of magic, though mostly one would use the lens wide open and not use the floating element. The floating element is that when you change f-stop to for example f.4.0, the lens elements move so as to compensate for any change in focusing, so that focusing will be accurately adjusted.
Focusing a 90mm is something that frightens most people. The framelines inside the Leica M viewfinder are so small that it seems one has to have really good eyes to see the focus. But that is an illusion, because the size of the focusing field itself is the same.
My experience with the 75mm Noctilux and 90mm Summilux is that the rangefinder offers better focusing than using an EVF. You have to trust that you can do it, which translates into not being overly concerned about it. Just focus and take your photos. Mostly it will work. Once you try it, you will find that it is true.
Using an EVF is the opposite, because here you have the possibility of putting great concern into focusing. But then there is a delay from your focus until the shutter release goes off (which is part of the electronic delay of using an EVF). In that small span of time, the camera or subject may move enough that the ever-so-precise and carefully orchestrated focus is lost.
The rangefinder offers direct views, fast reaction and no delay. It's just easier and better.
The main lines of new exciting lenses at Leica goes in two directions, sort of: A lineup of APO-lenses in the Leica SL department, and a series of Noctilux lenses in the Leica M department. It seems evident that the research team that make these new lenses are inspired both ways. The APO lenses design overflow to the Noctilux lenses and vice versa.
A portrait lens is generally thought of as a short tele lens, for example a 75mm or a 90mm. To me, the reason 90mm was labeled “a great portrait lens” is due to the advertising back when the first 90mm lenses were made by Leica about 90 years ago.
Back then, a 50mm lens had typically an f/2.8 or smaller aperture, resulting in a great deal of the background being visible. When the 90mm came out, the background would be out of focus and the subject isolated in the portrait. Hence, a great lens for portraits, providing a different look than what was seen with the eye.
Today, a 50mm lens at f/0.95 or f/1.4 makes it possible to blur out the background and isolate the subject.
Another reason for choosing a short 75mm or 90mm tele for portraits would be to avoid the nose becoming disproportionately big due to distortion (the face changes shape because the nose and things closer to the lens become proportionally bigger than the rest of the face), but that’s really not a concern until you go to wide lenses like the 35mm and 28mm.
So, what are we going to use our 75mm and 90m lenses for? That’s a really good question as I've used my great 90mm APO for 3% or less of my photos, and my “classic” 75mm Summilux for less than 1% of my photos. I know, because I looked through my archive for the last ten years. To my surprise, I’ve seldom used these lenses.
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Leica 90mm Summilux on the Leica M Monochrom camera
I use the Leica M Monochrom camera again, the original "Leica M9 Monochrom" which I found produced stellar pictures. I decided back when that I didn't need a monochrome camera as the Leica M9, Leica M240 and the Leica M10 files can be converted to monochrome images that makes just as much sense. I have used one camera that takes color pictures, which could also be turned into stellar black and white photos.
That was true for a long while ... but then I looked at some of my images made with the Leica MM back in 2010-2011 and decided it was time for it to get put back into action.
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If you ever wondered what made the super low-light lenses like the Noctilux 0.95, the Canon 0.95 (and let’s just include) the Canon 85mm f/1.2, so dreamy; it’s moving the design so close to the edge that it gets really dangerous.
Still, due to the perfection in lens design and assembly, the 50mm Noctilux stands out amongst all the daring low light lenses as superior in clarity, control, details, contrast and “an overall grip of the picture”. All super low-light lenses have the dreamy look that we admire, but only the Noctilux maintains high image quality at the same time. Canon climbed on safer ground with their 85/1.4 which obviously is easier to get to behave, but still offers the 85/1.2.
Traditionally, low light lenses have been made by opening up a lens to more light than the lens (and the lens designer) was able to handle. Back when low-light lenses became extreme and a must-have for any reportage photographer and war photographer about 60-70 years ago, the lenses simply became more light-strong by opening the aperture wider; but the result would mostly be a proportional degrade of quality or lack of “grip of the picture”. Contrast was lost, colors became milky and one could even get a yellow or purple cast. The focus wasn’t exactly optimum. Micro-details were gone in a blur. But you could use it in less light, and that was the mantra back in that period.
The Noctilux 50mm family: From bottom and clockwise, the 50/1.2, the 50/0.95 silver, the 50/1.0 and the 50/0.95 in black on the camera.
The first Leica 50mm Noctilux f/1.2 (1966) was a breakthrough as it was a low-light lens that made extraordinary progress in image quality. Today it’s a collector’s item, which is why it sells for $20,000 - $30,000. It’s certainly not for its sharpness or image control, which was impressive back in 1966 on a film camera, but doesn’t impress much today on a digital sensor. The f/1.2 was a breakthrough lens, but with fuzzy edges and a lack of detail, even non-existent micro-details.
The next Noctilux f/1.0 (1976) was a great improvement not only in more light through the lens, but also in having a grip on image quality to a degree that you didn’t really see the step from the 50mm f/1.4 standard low light lens (1960) to the extreme f/1.0.
With the Noctilux f/1.0, something else happened: We got a lens that performed as a standard lens, but had a look like nothing else. I don’t know what the lens designers thought about it, or what was said inside the factory. I’m sure they must have wondered what people would use this lens for. Such a strange, dreamy look, but a terrific lens for low light!
Only two lenses from Leica have brochures that bear the description, “requires a professional to utilize this lens”. One was the ‘terrible’ 80mm Thambar f/2.2, the other was the 50mm Noctilux. In other words, this is the internal lingo for lenses that are so far away from the traditional ideal that they may become subjects of either eternal love or eternal scrutiny. Still, 80 years after the Thambar came about, nobody seems to be able to decide whether it was genius or terrible.
As history tells us, the Noctilux became “The King of the Night” and has a really unique position: No other lens, from any producer, does what it does, with so much dreaminess or rock’n’roll, and with so much technical control and excellence at the same time.
Nothing exists like it.
With the f/0.95 (2008), the fingerprint of the 50mm Noctilux was unchanged, but the contrast, micro detail, overall clarity, and the color accuracy were improved visibly; even if the lens was made a bit more light-strong.
The daring move to 0.95 (which is an 11% increase of light with a more or less 300% more difficult lens design to control) was likely both an attempt to excite the lens designers themselves, as well as a (successful) attempt to produce a 50mm f/0.95 that is perfect where nobody else has been able to do this (by which I refer to the Canon f/0.95 50mm which could be classified as an ‘exciting disaster’ – daring, funky and fun, but by no means able to produce a high-quality optical result at f/0.95).
The 50mm Noctilux life-line from 1966 through today thus shows an improvement over time, of contrast, color accuracy, details and micro details. At full aperture they all display vignetting (darker corners), light rays traveling seemingly at their own determinism, and a few other odd things – which have all become part of what makes a Noctilux an amazing and unique lens that defies any simple characterization.
The 75mm Noctilux and 90mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.5 are a further development towards excellence in lens design. Gone is the vignetting and purple fringing of yesterday, and what remains stands crisper and more detailed.
AF = Auto Focus. The idea is that the camera does the focusing itself (the word auto comes from Greek "self").
Aperture = (also written as f/) = The metal blades inside a camera lens that regulates how much light passes through the lens. On a f/1.4 lens, the lens is "fully open" at f/1.4. At f/2.0 the aperture inside the lens makes the hole through the lens smaller so only half the amount of light at f/1.4 passes through. For each f/-stop (like f/4.0 - f/5.6 - f/8.0 - f/11 - f/16) you halve the light. The f/ fundamentally means "f divided with": The aperture of the lens is basically the focal length divided with the f/-stop = size of the hole (50mm divided with f/2.0 = the hole is 25 mm in diameter, or 50mm at f/1.4 is 50mm divided with 1.4 = the hole through is 36mm. ). ORIGIN: Late Middle English : from Latin apertura, from apert- ‘opened,’ from aperire ‘to open’.
The aperture blades inside the lens is clearly visible in this photo.
The camera in Aperture Priority Mode
Aperture Priority Mode. When the shutter speed dial on top of a Leica camera is set to A, it is short for “Aperture Priority” and allows the user to set a specific aperture value (f-number) while the camera selects a shutter speed to match it that will result in proper exposure based on the lighting conditions as measured by the camera's light meter. In other words, you set the aperture as priority (f/1.4 for example), and the camera calculates a shutter speed (1/250 of a second) that matches that. If you change the aperture to f/2.0 by changing the aperture ring on the lens, the camera will re-calculate the speed to 1/125 so as to get the same amount of light to hit the sensor (f/2.0 is half the light through the lens as f/1.4 and 1/125 if twice the amount of light on the sensor as 1/250).
ASPH = stands for "aspheric design".
Most lenses have a spherical design - that is, the radius
of curvature is constant. These are easy to manufacture by
grinding while "spinning" the glass. This design
however restricts the number of optical corrections that can
be made to the design to render the most realistic image possible.
ASPH lenses, however, involve usually 1 element that does
*not* have a constant radius of curvature. These elements
can be made by 1) expensive manual grinding, 2) molded plastic,
or 3) Leica's patented "press" process, where the element
is pressed into an aspherical ("non-spherical")
shape. This design allows Leica to introduce corrections
into compact lens designs that weren't possible before. Practically,
the lens performs "better" (up to interpretation)
due to increased correction of the image, in a package not
significantly bigger than the spherical version. Sphere: ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French espere, from late Latin sphera, earlier sphaera, from Greek sphaira "ball".
Normal spheric lens (grinded)
ASPH (note the shape of the glass as result of pressing rather than grinding)
Auto- means “self”. The idea is that when a camera has auto-(something), it does that (something) by itself.
Bokeh = The visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens: It's a matter of taste and usually photographers discuss a 'nice' or 'pleasant' bokeh (the out-of-focus area is always unsharp, which is why the quality discussed is if one likes the way it renders or not by a particular lens). The closer you get to something, the 'more' bokeh' you get (in that the focus becomes less for the background and foreground at close distances than at long distances). ORIGIN from Japanese 'bo-ke' which mean 'fuzzines' or 'blur.'.
Camera -is today’s short name for Camera Obscura (meaning “a dark room”). CamerameansChambre and was used only as a Latin or alien word, actually only for Spanish soldiers’ rooms, until popularized in connection with photography in 1727: “Camera Obscura”. In 1793 the slang term “camera” was used by Sterne Tr. Shandy: “Will make drawings of you in the camera” and by Foster (1878), “The eye is a camera”. Camera Obscura was described by Iraqi scientist Ibn-al-Haytham in his book, “Book of Optics” (1021) and by Leonardo da Vinci in 1500; popularized and made widely known in 1589 by Baptista Porta when he mentioned the principle in his book “Natural Magic”. Johannes Kepler mentions Camera Obscura in 1604.
Camera = chambre (room), Obscura = dark (or cover).
Contrast - The degree of difference between tones in a picture. Latin contra- ‘against’ + stare ‘stand.’
Lens distortion looks like this. The lines are not straight. Our eye uses distortion correction. Lens designers can design lenses so they have very little distortion, or they can make less complicated lens designs and "fix" the distortion in software.
Distortion = In photo optics/lenses: When straight lines in a scene don't remain straight because of optical aberration.
Lens designers can correct for distortion to a degree so the whole image field is perfect corrected and all lines remain straight. In modern lens design many designs rely on Software Distortion Correction (SDC).
The eye adjusts for distortion so we always see vertical and horizontal lines straight when we look at things. Even when you get new prescription glasses (if you use such), you will often experience distortion in your new glasses. After a few days they eyes have adjusted for the glasses and the distortion you saw to begin with is now gone. Software Distortion Correction (SDC) is far behind what the human eye can perform of adjustments. (Also see my definition on Perspective for more on the eye and optics)
DNG = Digital Negative, an open standard developed by Adobe. It is a single file that contains the raw image data from the sensor of the camera as well as date, time, GPS, focal length, settings, etc.
The alternative is a RAW file + XLM file where the RAW file contains the image information and the XML contains the rest of information about where, how and when the picture was taken.
A Camera Raw profile (that is specific for that camera) in the computer helps the software program, for example Adobe Lightroom, to translate the RAW data into the image.
A raw file (or DNG) is simply the full recording of digital data (1's and 0's) from the sensor. In the computer, the sensor data is translated into the exact colors, via a camera profile.
The lines on this 28mm lens indicates the DOF. Here the focus is on infinity, and if the lens is stopped down to f/1.6, objects from 1.8 meter to ininity will be 'acceptable sharp'.
DOF = Depth of Field (or Depth of Focus), an expression for how deep the focus is, or (more often use to express) how narrow the area of focus is. This is how much of the image, measured in depth or ditance, will be in focus or "acceptable sharp".
The appearance of the DOF is determined by:
1) aperture (the smaller the aperture hole is, the deeper is the depth of field, and opposite, the wider open a lens you se, the more narrow will the DOF be) and
2) distance to the subject (the farther away, the larger area is sharp; the closer the subject in focus is, the more narrow the DOF gets)..
The DOF scale measurement on top of the Leica lenses shows lines for each f-stop that indicates from which distance to which distance the image will be sharp. Shallow DOF is a generally used term in photography that refer to lenses with very narrow focus tolerance, like f/1.4 and f/0.95 lenses, which can be used to do selective focus; making irrelevant subjects in the foreground and background blurry so only the subjects of essence are in focus and catches the viewers eye).
in modern cameras like the Leica SL2, the camera has a DOF scale inside the viewfinder. As DOF is the same for all lens brands and designs, only depending on focal length, distance and aperture f-stop, the camera can calculate it and show a 'digital DOF scale" in the viewfinder.
Depth Of Field scale from Fujifilm, same lens with different aperture settings from f/2.0 to f/8.0.
Depth - Distance between front and back. Distance from viewer and object.
Dynamic range. The grade of ‘contrast range’ (or number of tones) a film or sensor, or simply a photograph, possess between bright and dark tones. The human eye is said to have a dynamic range of 10-14 ‘stops’ (but because we scan area by area and compile a concept of the overall scene, they eye is often thought to have a much higher dynamic range), Film used to have 7-13 ‘stops’ and some modern sensors have up to 15-17 ‘stops’.
Elmarit = Refers to the maximum lens aperture - here f2.8 . The name is obviously derived from the earlier (and slower) "Elmar" designation. Not every f/2.8 lens is called an "Elmarit" though, the most obvious current exception being the 50mm f2.8 Elmar-M collapsible lens which for nostalgia and marketing reasons has kept the original 1930's Elmar name (the 50mm f3.5 collapsible Elmar, manufactured 1930-59, was one of Leica's most famous and popular lenses). Vario-Elmarit is Leica Camera AG's name for zoom lenses.
EVF = Electronic ViewFinder. The Leica M10/T/TL/TL2 uses the Leica Visoflex model 0020. The Leica M240 and M246 uses the Leica Visoflex EVF-2.
f/ (f-stop, also knwn as aperture).
f- (focal length).
f/1.25 is the size of the "hole through" the lens, the aperture. f/1.25 means focal length divided with 1.25. In the Leica 75mm NoctiluxM ASPH f/1.25, the "hole through" the lens at f/1.25 is 60mm in diameter. At f/1.4 the "the hole through" is 53.5mm in diameter. At f/4 the "hole through" is 18.75mm in diameter.
Each step smaller from f/1.4 to f/2.0 to f/2.8 to f/4.0 and son on is a reduction ofthe light to half for each step. The Noctilux f/1.25 therefore lets 50% more light in through the lens than a 75/1.4 Summilux.
Flare = Burst of light. Internal reflections between (and within) lens elements inside a lens. Mostly, flare has a characteristic "space travel" look to it, making it cool. Particularly in older lenses with less or no coating of the glass surfaces to suppress this, it can be a really cool effect. In newer lens designs, the coatings and overall design try to suppress flare and any reflections to a degree, so that there is seldom any flare to be picked up (moving the lens to pick up a strong sunbeam), but instead a "milking out" (or "ghosting") of a circular area of the frame; meaning simply overexposed without any flare-looking flares.
Sunlight creating flare in the bottom right quadrant of the image.
The camera moved slightly to avoid the flare.
Focus, in - Sharp and clear in appearance. Focus - “The burning point (of a lens or mirror)”. In Latin the word focus meant fireplace or hearth. The word was probably first employed outside of its Latin literal use as “the burning point of a lens or mirror” in optics, and then came to mean any central point. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler first recorded the word in this sense in 1604.
A 28 mm lens has a 74° viewing angle
Focal length = (also written as f-) = On the Leica 35mm Summilux-TL ASPH f/1.4 it is 35mm and originally referred to the distance from the sensor (or film in older days) to the center of focus inside the lens. Nobody uses that measurement, except those who construct lenses! For users of lenses, focal length refers to how wide the lens sees. The viewing angle, which is often given in for example 90° viewing angle for a 21mm lens, 74° viewing angle for a 28mm lens, 6° viewing angle for a 400mm lens, etc.
Each human eye individually has anywhere from a 120° to 200° angle of view, but focuses only in the center.
The Leica TL2 has a APS-C sensor, which "crops" the traditional focal lengths with 1.5X, reducing the angle of view of view with 1.5X.
Full Frame is "king of photography"
Full Frame (FF) = The size of the sensor is 24 x 36mm which is the format Oskar Barnack and Leica Camera AG invented with the first Leica that was introduced in 1925. Many other formats invented since, such as APS, APS-C and all usually refer to Full Frame ratio, by which it means what size they have compared to Full Frame.
The 24 x 36mm Full Frame format is so "king of photography" that it has continued to be the ideal for all cameras. Besides this, there exists Large Format cameras such as 4x5" (100 x 125 mm) and Medium Format 6x6 (60 x 60mm amongst other sizes in that area).
Ghosting = Secondary light or image from internal reflections between (and within) lens elements inside a lens. The reflected light may not always be in focus, so overall it looks like a "milked out" image. A subject in focus has brightened patches in front of it that come from reflections inside the lens. the most elementary look of ghosting is when you look in a rear-view mirror in a car at night and you see doubles of the headlights behind you (a strong one and a weaker one), because the headlights are reflected in a layer of clear glass on top of the mirror glass.
Degrees of ghosting from strong sunlight entering from outside the frame. To the right the outside light has been shielded with a shade.
ISO = Light sensitivity of the camera sensor is given in ISO (International Organization for Standardization). It's a standard that was used in film and is now used in all digital cameras also. The base ISO for the Leica TL2 sensor is around 100-150 which means that this is what the sensor "sees". All other levels are computer algorithms calculating the effect as if the sensor could "see" more (hence noise at higher ISO levels).
ISO goes in steps of doubling: When the ISO is raised from 100 ISO to 200 ISO, the camera only need half the amount of light to make the same picture. For each step in ISO to 400, 800, 1600, 3200, etc. the light sensitivity is doubled for the sensor (and the camera sensor only need half the light of the previous ISO to record the same image).
JPEG = A standard for picture format made in the 1990's by Joint Photographic Experts Group). Mostly referred to as JPG as in L1003455.JPG which would be the name for a JPG file from the camera.
Leica = A compound word derived from " (Lei)tz" and "(ca)mera". Apparently they were originally going to use "LECA", but another camera company already used a similar name in France, so they inserted the 'i' to prevent any confusion. Before that the brand name was Leitz.
Lens - A piece of glass or similarly transparent material (like water or plastic). It has a shape so that it can direct light rays. The word “Lens” is used both for single piece of glass as well as a camera lens with several lenses that works together. From ‘lentil’ because similar in shape.
Lens hood = A tube or ring attached to the front of a camera lens to prevent unwanted light from reaching the lens and sensor. ORIGIN Old English hod; related to Dutch hoed, German Hut 'hat,' also to hat.
Light = Tiny particles called photons that behaves like both waves and particles. Light makes objects visible by reflecting off of them, and in photography that reflecting off of subjects is what creates textures, shapes, colors and luminance. Light in its natural form (emanating from the sun) also gives life to plants and living things, and makes (most) people happier. So far, nobody has been able to determine exactly what light is. The word photography means “writing with light” (photo = light, -graphy = writing). Read more about light in my book Finding the Magic of Light.
Live View = This is the ability to see the image the sensor see, live, via the screen, or via an electronic viewfinder (EVF).
MACRO = Macro lens. The Leica 60mm APO-Elmarit-Macro ASPH f/2.8 is both a 60mm lens for portraits, landscapes, etc. as well as a near focus macro. The word macro comes from Greek makros ‘long, large.’
Maestro II - A processor developed first as Maestro for the Leica S2 and upgraded to Maestro II for the Leica S (Typ 007). The Leica Q has a Mestro II (Leica Q edition) processor developed by SocioNext Inc. based on Fujitsu's Mibeault architecture.
mm = millimeter(s), as in a 50mm lens. (Earlier in lens history lenses focal length was given in cm = centimeters; as in a 5 cm lens). For anyone used to centimeters and millimeters, it’s no wonder. But if you grew up with inches, feet and yards, you may have had a hard time grasping what a 50mm lens was. But as lenses were designed first in Europe, the metric system with centimeters and millimeters was used to describe lenses.
The reason a 50mm lens is a 50mm lens is that there is 50mm from the focus plane (the film or sensor) to the center of focus inside the lens. When photography was a young subject, it was engineers who made it all, and the users were expected to understand. The engineers were so into the making of the lenses, that it apparently never dawned upon them that today’s users would think of a 21mm lens as a wide angle lens rather than a lens where there is 21mm from the sensor to the center of focus inside the optics.
Noctilux = Also known as "King of the Night" because "Nocti" means Night and "Lux" means Light. The f/1.0 lenes from Leica are named "Noctilux". The first Leica Noctilux lens was the 50mm Noctilux f/1.2 which shortly after it's introduction was improved to the 50mm Noctilux f/1.0. In the current model the f-stop has been improved further to f/0.95.
"Noctilux" refers to the maximum lens aperture - here f1.0 . "Nocti" for nocturnal (occurring or happening at night; ORIGIN late 15th cent.: from late Latin nocturnalis, from Latin nocturnus ‘of the night,’ from nox, noct- ‘night.), "lux" for light. The Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 is famous for enabling the photographer to take photos even there is only candleligts to lit the scene. See the article "Noctilux - King of the Night"
Optic = Eye or vision. From French optique or medieval Latin opticus, from Greek optikos, from optos ‘seen.’
Perspective - The way objects appear to the eye; their relative position and distance. Also, selective focus (foreground and background out of focus) can change the perception of perspective (also see Three-dimensional). A wide angle “widens” the perspective and makes objects further away appear smaller than they are to the eye, and objects nearer, relatively larger than they are to the eye. A tele lens will “flatten” the perspective and often objects further away will appear relatively larger than nearer objects, compared to sizes in real life. A 50mm lens is the one closest to the perspective and enlargement ratio of the human eye.
S = Single image. When the ring by the shutter release on top of the camera (or in the menu of a digital camera in case it does not have this ring on the ourside) is moved from OFF to S, the camera takes only one photo at the time (Single). The other possibility is Continuous (see above).
SDC = Software Distortion Correction. A correction of lens distortion (not straight lines) applied in the camera and which is part of the DNG file. In Lightroom the SDC of the camera file is applied automatically (and cannot be removed), in software like AccuRaw one can open the DNG file without the SDC correction. Sean Reid Reviews have written a good article on what SDC is and does in "Software Distortion Correction".
SDC (Software Distortion Correction): In Lightroom the correction profile for the Fujinon 23mm is applied automatically and cannot be turned off.If you go into Develop mode in Lightroom and look under Lens Correction > Profile, you will see a message in the bottom with an exclamation mark. When you click on that, you get the message above.
Sensor = A device that detects a physical property (like light) and records it. A camera sensor is a plane plate with thousands of small “eyes” with a lens in front of each, which each individually records the amount of red, green and blue light rays that comes through the lens. together Red, Green and Blue form all colors of the spectrum. From Latin sens- ‘perceived’.
Saturation: How colorful, intense or pure the color is. Less saturation would be less colorful, more saturation would be more colorful. In today’s photography, desaturating a photo on the computer will gradually make it less and less colorful; and full desaturation would make it into a black and white photo.
Sharpness - See “Focus”
Shutter speed dial - The dial on top of the Leica M where you can set the shutter speed manually. It can also be set to A which stands for Aperture Priority (where the camera suggests a shutter speed; or when you move the dial away from A, the camera will show arrows in the viewfinder, suggesting which direction to change the Aperture to, to get the correct exposure).
Shutter speed dial set to 1/1000 of a second.
SLR = Abbreviation for Single-Lens Reflex; the lens that forms the image on the film/sensor also provides the image in the viewfinder via a mirror. The Leica Q has no traditional viewfinder and no mirror. the image seen in the EVF is what the sensor sees.
Summicron = Refers to the maximum lens aperture - here f/2.0 . There are many guesses how this name came about, a popular one being that the "summi" came from "summit" (summit means the highest point of a hill or mountain; the highest attainable level of achievement) while the "cron" came from "chroma" (ie. for colour). Not so: The name (Summi)cron was used because the lens used Crown glass for the first time, which Leitz bought from Chance Brothers in England. The first batch of lenses were named Summikron (Crown = Krone in Deutsch). The Summi(cron) is a development from the orignal Summar (the 50mm f2.0 lens anno 1933). Vario-Summicron is Leica Camera AG's name for zoom lenses f/2.0 as the one that is on the Leica Digilux 2.
Summilux = Refers to the maximum lens aperture - here f1.4 , "-lux" added for "light" (ie. the enhanced light gathering abilities). In Leica terminology a Summilux is always a f/1.4 lens and a Summicron is a f/2.0 lens.
Three-dimensional = Having the three dimensions of height, width and depth. In photography and lens design, three-dimensional effect is also the perception of even small micro-details; the texture of skin can appear flat and dead or three-dimensional and alive. Also, selective focus (foreground and background out of focus) can change the perception of depth. Also see Perspective.
Vario- is the Leica Camera AG name for zoom lenses. Vario-Elmarit and Vario-Summicron and so on.
Viewfinder a device on a camera showing the field of view of the lens. Also known as the German word "Messucher" (or Meßsucher).
1) A built-in viewfinder in a camera that simply show the frame you get when you look through the viewfinder.
2) A rangefinder viewfinder which is also used to focus the lens. In Leica M cameras two pictures has to meet and lay 'on top of each other' for the picture to be in focus.
3) An external viewfinder, usually on top of the camera in the flash shoe, so as to show the field of view of lenses vider than what the built-in viewfinder can show (15mm, 21mm, 24mm, 28mm etc viewfinders exist)
4) Very simple "aiming-devices" on top of a camera that is simply a metal frame without any optics. Just a frame, as for example very old cameras (the original Leica), or when using cameras in diving where you can't look through the camera.
LEItz CAmera = LEICA
Founded 1849 in Wetzlar, Germany.
Thorsten von Overgaard by Ritus Raj.
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish born multiple award-winning AP photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops which cater to Leica enthusiasts. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.
I am in constant orbit teaching
Leica and photography workshops.
Most people prefer to explore a
new place when doing my workshop.
30% of my students are women.
35% of my students do
two or more workshops.
95% is Leica users.
Age range is from 16 to 83 years
with the majority in the 30-55 range.
Skill level range from two weeks
to a lifetime of experience.
97% use a digital camera.
100% of my workshop graduates photograph more after a workshop.
1 out of 600 of my students have
asked for a refund.