I flew into Cuba for my first time in March 2017, armed with the then new Leica M10, a handful of American Dollars and my fedora hat to shade for the sun. It turned out to be a good trip. Seven days made me 690 final images for my archive. Here's the story and some of the photographs.
I did expect some sort of color renaissance. I expected Cuba to be one of the places I would prefer to do in colors. By now, I have already changed my settings on the Leica M10 so I always only photograph DNG files, and then later in Lightroom I change those into black & white, by using my own Leica M10 b&w preset that I designed to give Leica M9-like tonality.
If you have followed my adventures with the Leica M9 and Leica M240, you will know I usually photograph DNG and JPG Fine, and leave the JPG Fine in black & white as my - mostly - "final black and white edition". But not in the case of the Leica M10 where I find the black and white tones to be too muted, and particular the skin tones to be lacking depth. So I made my own Leica M10 Preset to fix this.
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I flew to Cuba from the US, which is supposed to be the most "difficult" or "impossible" way to visit Cuba. In reality it wasn't difficult at all. I simply bought a ticket online from Alaska Airlines and arrived at the Los Angeles Airport in the morning. I checked in my luggage and got a boarding pass, then moved over to the line next to mine, which was for a $100-visa for Cuba.
Tourism is not allowed, so I had to fill out a piece of paper, stating that my visit was in support of the Cuban people, Journalism, Artistic Activities or one of the other 10-12 possible reasons. Nobody ever asked me for any details.
Once I had availed myself of the visa, I took the stairs up to departures where I went through the usual TSA security check. Once through that, the gate with the Havana flight was just one of numerous gates with flights to San Francisco, Brazil and all the other places without embargos.
That's how simple it was - and still is - to travel to Cuba from the United States, despite all you hear and read. You can read more on how to get to Cuba on my Overgaard Cuba Workshop Page.
Outside the airport there were a lot of classic cars acting as taxis, but also - to my surprise - a line of Yellow Cabs of a much newer brand.
I had my driver waiting for me, so I jumped in the backseat and went to the villa. First I had to change my USD to Cuban money. That's done in the Arrivals hall in the airport (or any larger hotel). I went in there and there was a small line, but also a man that offered to change my USD to Cuban money for a smaller fee.
It was clearly something that people knew was going on, even though he pretended to be hiding the transaction. We were standing just next to the ATM (which I would not dare use in Cuba) and the exchange counters.
I was a little nervous if I got the right money. There are two Cuban currencies. One that works, and one that is close to worthless. But it was the right one.
Off I went with my driver. The irony of the American embargo is that if you bring USD, you pay a 10% fee for exchanging. If you bring Euros or Canadian Dollars, there is no fee.
The fee was supposed to have disappeared in 2016, according to the government, but it's still practiced. Next time, I'm bringing Euros (as well as a little left-over of Cuban money so I can pay for the taxi and deal with exchanging money at a later point than the airport).
In many cases, setting the white balance to cloudy will create satisfactory results. But often, the tones are even too cold for Cuba. It may be correct, but it doesn't looke like Cuba. It has to be warmer and slightly more colorful to match the impression I have of Cuba, the emotion I want the photographs to relay.
Almost always, I prefer as close to natural colors as possible. For Cuba, the light is warm in the same way as I find it in other Caribbean islands - as well as India, Nepal and Bangladesh for that matter. Going through the 1,800 photographs I took in Cuba, I wasn't satisfied with the "real colors", so I decided to warm them all up by moving the Kelvin (white balance) slider to warmer. If the actual correct white balance said 5,500 (daylight), I'd go to 6,100 or 6,500 (cloudy).
The typical Cuban scene will have warm tones, but also a tint of cold blue light from the blue sky, showing as reflections in the cobblestone, and in the shadows. This is the type of light you will get in Rome in the early spring before summer comes and it all looks really warm. Other places, too. It may look very clean and all, but I wanted to get rid of the blue and cold look to it. After all, it was really warm being there, and the feeling had to be like that, looking at the photos. Cuba is as warm, colorful and dusty as India, but without the dust.
The last light from the sunset over Old Havana. I tried to have energy to go to the city late in the afternoons to get the great light. Once the sun went down, I could return to my dinner in the villa and a cozy book. No more light for photography. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
Playing with colors
I generally don’t touch saturation to get more saturated colors. If there is any place where increasing the saturation would be in its place, it would be for photographs from Cuba and India. Steve McCurry is the example of great photographs with increased saturation. His pictures of India are beautiful and saturated - because he bumps up the saturation a lot - but my general ideal is natural colors.
I am making some Lightroom presets for fun, inspired from classic painters. So I have a Van Eyck Preset that creates his muted darker reds and blues, as well as warmer skin tones. The modern camera sensors sometimes have a hard time following that color philosophy, so in some cases the blue sky goes too digital. But for interiors in soft low light they work wonders.
When I flew into Havana, I noticed the square fields on the ground, which usually indicates that there is good agriculture in a country.
For seven days I enjoyed affluent and very aesthetic breakfasts prepared by the chef and served by the maids. I felt as I was in a 1950's time pocket with fresh honey, fresh cows’ milk and "good old organic food".
In the last morning, I decided I would go to the kitchen and do a small photo reportage on the fresh cows’ milk and what other organic miracles I would find in such a kitchen.
When I got to the kitchen and asked to see the milk bottles, I learned that there are two types of milk in Cuba: One is powder to mix into milk, the other is ready-to-use milk made from powder milk!
Needless to say, there went the idea of doing a reportage of how healthy the Cuban agriculture is. Of course it also says something about what the eyes see, what the mind thinks, and what the actual realities are.
I saw this large group of people outside a hole in the wall of an old building. It turned out to be a butcher selling meat. It looked like they had limited supplies, it was almost over by the time I looked into the room. It didn't make much sense to me as all hotels and restaurants seem to have ample supplies of meat. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
For me, that is one of the wonders of Cuba. Trying to figure out what is up and what is down in a country that got isolated back when. Seemingly, Cuba used to be an affluent place with nice cars. But once the embargo stepped in, there was no more car importation. Hence the beautiful old cars of which many have been re-equipped with engines from any other car available.
Havana has magnificent buildings. You can easily envision the Chanel store and the Apple Store being put there in a couple of years. It's ready, somebody just has to do it! Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
Also the grand buildings in the city and the large villas in the local neighbourhoods seemed to tell a story of a once-affluent country. Many of them are ruins, and we half-joked when we walked around the city, that "That's the future Chanel store" and "That's going to be a great Apple Store". The potential is very easy to see, but the reality is that nobody can buy any buildings yet. You can read an article about buying property in Cuba here.
Lots of villas with lots of unused space. In any other economy, these would be expensive private homes, but in Cuba where nobody is allowed to own anything, the government mostly owns these empty shells as a sign of past glory. You can read more on buying real estate in Cuba in this article. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
I stumbled into an exciting location that I returned to a few times with the Leica M10 and the Fuji X-Pro 2: the 1930's building complex, Edificio Arcos. I came across it as I was walking down a street and found that the only way to continue was via the balcony of Edificio Arcos.
Close to where I lived, I found this exotic looking 1930's building complex, Edificio Arcos, where the balcony served as the walkway between two streets. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
It's photogenic, but you should watch out for leaning against the rails. You might fall 2-3 floors down to the ground. The people living there has been requesting the government to renovate it for years, and that opens up for another pocket of understanding of Cuba: The government owns the property, so nobody buys a building or apartment and renovates it. I still have to learn how one would apply for an apartment, but the fact seems to be that once you live there, the only one who could decide to renovate it, is the government.
I kind of wonder why a government would inflict on itself the responsibility of owing and running everything in a country. But that's the idea of Marxism, and I guess that's why it never worked for more than seemingly a few decades anywhere.
In Havana I saw this odd scenery of men having tempered discussions about what could seem the planning of a violent revolution. It turns out to be men who have a license to discuss baseball. One of the things that will never make sense, I guess. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
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Cuba has some of the logics, or the feel, of East Berlin. When I did a workshop in Berlin ten years ago, I was staying in the old West Berlin, and every morning I would set the GPS in the car and drive to the workshop location in East Berlin. The GPS would take me on a route that went under a long tunnel, and when we arrived on the other side it was all grey.
"This must be East Berlin", we joked in the car, and in actual fact, that was what it was. The difference in the mood of the people, the appearance and colors of the buildings, and all is so different between Western and Eastern Berlin - even though the wall disappeared in 1989.
Now, it wasn't the wall, but the ideology, that changed one city into two different cities, in the case of Berlin and Germany. For me, it explains to some degree the mystery of Cuba. It explains why a seemingly flourishing culture, seeming affluent society, feels like a third world country in so many ways, without actually being a poor third world country.
Some people say Cuba is poor. It is not. It's just been suppressed for a number of years. Nobody is allowed or encouraged to rise to new heights. Everybody has been encouraged - or forced - to be equal. No initiative, no goals, just a straight vertical line of surviving.
Havana has lots of large, beautiful estates. There are so many of them that you sense there is not enough activities and people to fill them up. Some are empty ruins that seem to wait for a wealthy foreign buyer, others are made into several apartments, either in poor or fairly good condition. An overwhelming number of large villas has a government sign saying they are for elderly, mentally ill, scouts, music schools, or other activities run by the government.Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
That said, East Germany and Cuba are not the same. The culture was and is so different, the climate, location and everything is different. But they have many similarities in what they went through, and to me it means that Cuba in 30 years will likely be very much like Cuba today, even when Havana has three Chanel stores, two Apple Stores and everybody is driving new fancy cars.
For me, this is part of the unique adventure and mystery of Cuba. The history unfolding. It looks like another Caribbean island, but it isn't. It looks poor, but it isn't. There are so many controversies to understand, in order to make Cuba make sense.
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In my opinion, it is not a poor country. The BNP of Cuba is approximately 10,000 a year per citizen, which is more than Jamaica (8,300) and Thailand (8,700) and Cambodia (2,700) but only 1/3 of Italy (30,000) and 1/5th of the USA (47,000).
I learned that no matter what I told a taxi driver, I would always end up at the same square, Plaza de San Francisco. It's the center of tourism in Havana, it's where the cruise ships anchor and send off the tourists and all their cash. It's where there is a massive amount of selfie sticks taking pictures of tourists before some bronze statue in front of the cathedral.
It went like this. The first day I would tell the driver I would like to go to San Cristóbal Paladar (the restaurant that President Obama visited, as well as a Jay-Z and Beyonce). He dropped me off at the Plaza de San Francisco square and pointed to the buildings on the other side of the square, "It's over there", and left. Of course I never found it. It's on San Rafael No 469, E, a twenty-five minute walk from the square.
Next day, I told my driver I would like to go to Hotel Saratoga because that was where I left off the day before. Same thing happened, he dropped me off at Plaza de San Francisco and pointed to the buildings on the other side of the square, "It's over there", and left. This time, however, I had my bearings such that I knew it was a twenty minute walk off the target
Never mind, I'll walk myself! The Plaza de San Francisco is not a terrible location to arrive at. Just a ten minute walk and you are out of the touristy area and in the center of what most of us would agree is the real Havana.
As a vegetarian, I had trouble finding restaurants that would understand what vegetarian meant, much less serve vegetarian dishes. So whenever I asked (and they understood), they would serve a bowl of rice. This of course didn't work, so as to not die of rice poisoning, I retreated to my villa for dinner and breakfast for the rest of my stay. I had a chef that made the most delicious food for me.
That said, the restaurants have ample meat dishes and fish dishes, so unless you are vegetarian or vegan, you'll do just fine.
Be aware that you have no Google Maps on your phone in Cuba. Well, you have Google Maps, but you have no WiFi. So if you plan to visit a certain restaurant, you should print a map and mark it so you would be able to walk there. Good old-school navigation. But once you arrive, it's too late to navigate with the ease you might be used to.
So this was the worst I could tell you about the Cuban people; that the taxi drivers don't care, and that the restaurants serve rice to vegetarians. Apart from that, the Cuban people are friendly, they don't trick you, they don't steal, they don't harass you with t-shirts and stuff. They are genuinely interested in what you are up to, without getting in your hair. They willingly participate in photos. In many ways, they are like the New Yorkers: They know they are in your picture, and they will stay in character so you can get a true photograph of what Cuba is.
You are a tourist, no doubt about it, so you get the tourist treatment. You may wonder that if a worker’s daily salary is $20, then why is wifi $10 an hour, or why is a taxi ride $20. I didn't worry about it, because I didn't feel tricked. It's as if that is the established system; in these instances, you act as the stupid tourist and play along. In most other things, you enjoy sincere and honest treatment.
The stories about people begging for money and such, I never saw any of it.
There are always a few bad people around. You can get mugged in any country, but you usually knew when you walked into that street that the guys over to the right looked sketchy. Doesn't matter if it's Milano, Munich, Los Angeles or Havana. You should know how to spot bad company, and avoid it. Generally, Cuba is friendly and honest.
One of my goals in visiting Cuba was to capture the real Cuba. I didn't want to come home with colored cars, people with hats and dirt roads.
I had the idea I wanted to see what else there is. I always have a goal in the back of my head to capture some photographs that show, "This is Tokyo", or "This is Hamburg", or in this case, "This is Cuba". I know that I tend to photograph only "my photographs", which are special light and people. I think most photography tends to be a tunnel-vision of what we see as interesting.
We seldom take a wider view, or a more ordinary look at things, so as to capture how a street or city actually looks. We search for special things, exiting things, awesome light, and so on.
My idea of Cuba was that it was a few houses divided with dirt roads, because that was what I had seen in photographs. Of course I could look on a Google Street map, or a satellite map, and I would immediately see that it's more dense than that. But I never did. I actually never "ruin my view" by doing extensive research.
In the case of Cuba, all I researched was where the best coffee places were, when the sun comes up, and when it goes down. The rest, I knew, I would see when I got there.
I did go through the book "Cuba - A Grace of Spirit" by Peter Turnley to make a note of locations he would visit. He's been spending a lot of time in Cuba. I saw that a lot of his photos were from Old Havana, as well as from certain dance schools and boxing studios. So that could be a guide as to places I would seek to visit.
I never got to the dance studios or boxing studios, and I also find it a little "too typical Cuba". I did what I mostly do: I walk from where I am located, and then I follow my instinct for what could look interesting. I simply see what happens.
All year, through day and night, the ocean hits the island. Walking or driving along the main road, a shower is included. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
One of the challenges of being a photographer is that you don't want to miss anything. This is what leads one to photograph a lot, and often too much.
"You can't get them all" as Robert Franks once told Annie Lebovitz when they were on tour with the Rolling Stones.
I very much believe in the moment. You can't plan to go somewhere and get the iconic photo. You can plan to go get some certain photos, but the really iconic ones are the ones that happen almost by accident. Suddenly the right people do the right thing, with the right background, the magic light and all - and you happen to be ready to take the photo.
These iconic photos might just as well happen around the next street corner as they might happen in some exotic, distant, hard-to-get-to country you always wanted to travel to. You never know. But I do know that if I get out, look and I'm ready, something will happen.
A hard challenge for any photographer is to not photograph, but just observe. I really try to look at things to see them, to understand, to figure out what is going on and how I might put that concept into a photo that would communicate that story to somebody else who wasn't there. I also want to add aesthetics, magic light and all, and that's where the tunnel vision comes in. Because on one hand I want to show things as they are, but on the other hand I want to show my vision; and mostly my vision is what seems most worthwhile pursuing and recording.
Taking an evening walk in my neighborhood the first evening to get a sense of what was there. I never found the restaurant I was looking for, but I did get some great photos of "nothing happening". Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
To photograph, you have to see first. You cannot observe and get inspired by the surroundings - be it Exotic Havana or a boring street in Hamburg - if you don't look, and you cannot look if you are photographing. It's a very interesting balance, because it's easier to photograph a lot than it is not to.
Cuba in the evenings is semi-dark, but feels very safe. There are clubs, bars, restaurants hidden in all places, very few of them promoting their existence with large bright signs. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
To look is not a very natural ability, especially not in this day and age where we have become accustomed to looking at our screen whenever we have 10 seconds where "nothing is happening".
For the photographer, the art is to not look at anything other than what is happening. Because there is always something happening in front of you and around the next street corner. But if you don't look, you don't see it.
This 96-year old lady was outside in her garden as the workshop walked by in the suburbs. I asked if I could do a portrait. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
Naturally, as you encounter a street crossing, you are faced with four roads you could walk. No matter which one you choose, you are potentially missing something on the three streets you didn't walk down at. "You can't get them all" as Robert Franks said, is very true.
At some point I will usually have gotten enough of the suburbs, the sandy beach, the skyscrapers, or whatever I am walking amongst. Then I either call it a day, or relocate to a different setting. In Cuba, I would walk in my neighbourhood of villas and embassies, and then late afternoon I would take a taxi to Old Havana and walk the streets until 20-30 minutes after the sunset. Then call it a day.
I never seek markets, "places to see" or places packed with people or tourists. The trap of many people and "a lot of things happening" is that you forget to look. You get so taken by all the activity that you feel you must get it all. You photograph every second, and you never get time to step back, look at it, and decide what would be a great photo. It's all served to you, like television, and after some hours of it you realize you wasted your time on nothing special.
This is where the truth comes about, the thing I always tell my workshop students: "The less that happens, the more you get into it". And that's why people will find themselves in suburban streets in my workshops, where literally nothing happens, and yet get great photographs they felt really happy doing.
My overall conclusion on the Fuji X-Pro 2 was that's "It's not a Leica", which anyone can hardly disagree with. After all, it's a Fuji.
I like the Fuji as much as I liked having my first semi-pro cameras when I was a teenager. The feeling of having a tool that I can make "real photographs with" was the same with the Fuji, as back then. If it wasn't for owning a Leica, I probably would feel fulfilled having the Fuji X-Pro 2.
I liked the Fuji as much as I liked having my first semi-pro camera when I was a teenager. I got my first Nikon EM (left in the photo above) when I was fifteen, and it was the ultimate camera, all that I needed if I couldn't go to the Moon and fetch the Hasselblad that the Apollo 13 mission had left behind. (Photo: Norbert Michalkes Shop).
The Fuji doesn't have the simplicity of the Leica. As product manager of the Leica M10, Jesko Neuhausen said when the Leica M10 was released (in an even simpler version than the previous Leica M240): "We didn’t want to do everything that’s technically possible for the Leica M10".
By that Jesko Neuhausen was referring to the unlimited number of requests from users, as well as new technical possibilities arriving on the horizon. Just because something is possible doesn't mean it has to be in a camera.
The Fuji doesn't seem to share that philosophy. One early morning in Cuba, while sipping my morning coffee, I wondered about the buttons and the extensive menu of the Fuji. I got curious and decided to count the menus and sub-menus of both the Fuji and the Leica.
The Fuji has what seems an endless menu-structure that allow the photographer to make all sorts of decisions; and a lot of them I don't think a user should ever be faced with deciding on. Other choices have such names that it’s unlikely one could make any intelligent choice. Fuji seem to have the philosophy that if something is possible to change, the option should be there.
16 buttons and 575 menu points to keep track of, vs. 7 button and 88 menu points on the Leica M10.
This is the short comparison, and I threw in a good old Leica M4 film camera for comparison:
I had the idea that the Fuji X-Pro 2 would be a great way to get a camera and start adding Leica lenses one at the time, and then - eventually - get a Leica M body.
What I learned rather soon was that the Fuji X-Pro 2 doesn't take Leica M lenses that well. The 28mm Summilux, the Noctilux f/0.95 and the 50mm APO-Summicron-M f/2.0 simply don't come to right on the Fuji. The corners are blurred (28mm Summilux) despite that it's a cropped sensor, and the purple fringing is extreme on the Noctilux, and just more than acceptable with other Leica M lenses.
Purple fringing occurs with digital sensors and modern, sharp lenses. You can get rid of purple fringing by making the lens or photo less sharp (blurring it), removing the purple fringing in software, or tuning the sensor to the lens.
I wondered about this, after all the Fuji X-Pro 2 is a cropped sensor. It's well known that Leica put a lot of thought and work into making the Leica M full-frame sensor so it could handle the steep angle with which the light enters the sensor (because the M lenses sits so close to the sensor). But that is mainly in the edges and not so much in the center of the frame.
The normal CMOS sensor compared with the Leica M sensor. The light is directed by the micro-lenses on top of the sensor to arrive more precise into the actual sensor.
My conclusion is that it takes more than just that to make a sensor that takes M lenses. The Fuji X-Pro 2 sensor is great when you use Fujinon lenses, because they all come with a software correction file that fixes fringing, distortion and other undesirable lacks of the lens and/or sensor.
In the case of the Leica M lenses, there are no corrections, and the shortcomings of the sensor come to light. This is not meant as a criticism of the Fuji X-Pro 2 sensor; at least not more than any other sensor that wasn't made specifically for Leica M lenses. Even the Leica TL2 and Leica CL have signs of not having been fully optimized for the Leica M lenses, though they are doing a much better job than the Fuji X-Pro 2. On the other side, we have the Leica SL full-frame sensor that seem to make the Leica 50mm APO-Summicron f/2.0 look better than the Leica M sensor does (and handles the rest of the Leica M lenses in a similar way that the Leica M sensor does).
The conclusion in short: Buying a Fuji X-Pro 2 camera body to use Leica M lenses on it won't give you the Leica M result. It's a waste of money and/or Leica M lenses. If you wish to have a compact and competent camera that produces good photographs, the Fuji X-Pro 2 does the job with Fujinon lenses. No point in buying other brands for it. "It's not a Leica", as I said, and that's what I mean by it.
I had brought my Fuji X-Pro 2 for testing it in Cuba. I also brought my Danish made high-quality Bluetooth Dali Katch speaker from Dali Speakers, as well as a non-stop track of Cuban inspired music to make sure I stayed in character as some 1950's eccentric writer. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
The current EVF situation
Another reason I got the Fuji X-Pro 2 - well, actually the reason - was that Stefan Daniel of Leica Camera AG told me that the reason Leica had given up on making an internal EVF, or a combination of electronic viewfinder and optical viewfinder, was that the technology wasn't good enough. An EVF that Leica might find good enough (such as the Leica SL electronic viewfinder) wouldn't fit inside the Leica M body.
Our talk about EVF's back then also centered about the - in my opinion - less than adequate external EVF 0020 which Leica Camera AG had decided to sell as accessory for the Leica M10. Besides denying a prototype existed that I could borrow (but not entirely denying one existed), Stefan Daniel also seemed to subscribe to the opinion that most Leica M photographers prefer to use the classic rangefinder.
All in all, this led me to buy a Fuji X-Pro 2 to explore the current status of digital viewfinders. People have been raving for years that "if Fuji can make it, why can't Leica?" I felt it was time to find out for myself.
After having used the Fuji X-Pro 2 for three months, I had to agree with Stefan Daniel. The EVF of the Fuji X-Pro 2 was by no means impressive. The resolution, the colors, the accuracy of the exposure preview left me unimpressed and annoyed. What made it even less usable for me was the fact that the Fuji X-Pro 2 EVF sits so close to the edge of the camera body that loads of daylight disturbs the view.
When you go to Cuba, bring a good book. WiFi is almost non-existent. Trying to catch up on email with the slow wifi will turn into an all-evening pastime. So better to just get off the grid while you enjoy Cuba and quiet nights with a good book.
All public parks and squares offer "free wifi" which requires a login and password that you can buy in kiosks. It's very slow, and so is the wifi that international hotels offer for $10 or $20 an hour. Considering that is almost the daily salary for a worker in Cuba, you feel ashamed spending that much an hour for slow wifi.
Maybe it isn't that important to be online. Take advantage of it and get off the grid for some days or weeks while in Cuba.
Street life in Cuba: Most squares and public parks in Cuba has wifi. It requires a password and login that can be bought in kiosks. It's very slow and you can forget about logging into online banking and PayPal. Most of those websites do not accept login attempts from Cuba. The international hotel next to this square offers 1 hour internet access for $10, which is just as slow (and has a limit of 512MB, which for most use will be gone in 10 minutes). Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95. Copyright 2017-2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
I went with AirBnb when I looked for a place in Havana. I sort of liked the idea of an old-school hotel, but it didn't appeal that much as staying local. So I found a big villa with security, chef and two maids that was meant for a large family to stay. But in reality, having all that for just one person was about the same price as a hotel.
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Leica M10 Definitions:
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 make 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 throug 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.
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)
Banding = Noise in digital images. Horizontal lines in a horizontal picture (if the camera is in portrait mode/vertical, the lines will be obviously be vertical). It's simply noise; the result of uncontrolled algorithms working overtime with an image the sensor really can't see because it's very dark. (If your image has vertical lines in it, it is more likely that the sensor needs remapping).
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 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).
Central Shutter = Some lenses, for example the Leica S lenses and the Leica Q where a shutter is located in the lens itself. In most cameras there is a shutter curtain just in front of the sensor, and in SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras there is also a mirror in front of the shutter curtain.
In the Leica T/TL/TL2 the shutter is in front of the sensor, but only acts to "refresh" the sensor. In the Leica TL2, there is a mechanical shutter curtain from 30 sec. to 1/4000 shutter times, and digital shutter from 1/4100 to 1/40,000 shutter times. A digital shutter is simply "turning on/off the recording of the sensor.
CMOS sensor (as used in Leica M10, Leica CL, Leica LT/TL/TL2, Leica SL, Leica Q, Leica X, Leica D-Lux, etc.)
= (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) chips use transistors at each pixel to move the charge through traditional wires. This offers flexibility because each pixel is treated individually. Traditional manufacturing processes are used to make CMOS. It's the same as creating microchips. Because they're easier to produce, CMOS sensors are cheaper than CCD sensors. CMOS allow Live View and use less energy than CCD.
Contrast - The degree of difference between tones in a picture. Latin contra- ‘against’ + stare ‘stand.’
Digital Shutter = A digital shutter is simply "turning on/off the recording of the sensor. In the "old days" this had to be done with an actual mechanical shutter curtain; a metal curtain in front of the sensor (or film) that goes up for 1/125th of a second, for example. In the Leica TL2, there is a mechanical shutter curtain from 30 sec. to 1/4000 shutter times, and digital shutter from 1/4100 to 1/40,000 shutter times.
Digital Zoom = In some cameras (but not the Leica TL2), there exist a possibility to enable "digital zoom", which basically means the camera can zoom closer into something than the lens is actually designed to. The way digital zoom works traditionally is that the camera simply crops the picture; so you get closer, but without resolution. In other words, it's the same as if you took a normal photo and then cropped into the center of it.
DIS = Digital Image Stabilization. This is a feature often offered in video recorders and sometimes for tele lens still photography (so as to avoid motion blur when the lens is moving during slow shutter speeds).
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 computert fact
helps the software program, for example Adobe Lightroom, to translate the RAW data into the image.
DOF = Depth of Field. This is how much of the image will be in focus. Shallow DOF is a generally used term in photography that refer to lenses with very narrow focus tolerance (which can be used to do selective focus; for artistic reasons or for specific storytelling, like making irrelevant subjects in the foreground and background blurry so only the subjects of essence are in focus and catches the viewers eye).
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).
EVF = Electronic ViewFinder. The Leica M10 and the Leica T/TL/TL2 uses the Leica Visoflex model 0020.
Exposure Bracketing = The possibility to set the camera to automatically record a series of images where the exposure is above and below what the camera measures. The idea is that at least one of the images will be correctly exposed.
Fn = Short for Function. It's a button you can program. On the Leica M10 has a front button that can be programmed to other Fn (Functions).
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 (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.
Full Frame is "king of photography"
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).
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.
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)
Summilux = Refers to the maximum lens aperture - normally f1.4 , "-lux" added for "light" (ie. the enhanced light gathering abilities). In the Leica Q the lens is a Summilux even it is a f/1.7 and not f/1.4.
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.
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 M10 has a Mestro II (and the Leica Q a Maestro II 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.
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. In the menu of the Leica TL2 you can choose between single image at the time, or Continuous where the Leica TL2 will shoot series of 20-29 pictures per second as long as you hold down the shutter release. In Single mode it takes only one photo, no matter how long you hold down the shutter release.
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”
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.
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.
The "Viewfinder" issue contains user report by Jono Slack, interview on the Leica M10 with Leica Camera AG Global Manager Stefan Daniel and Leica M10 Product Manager Jesko Oeynhausen, and more. Sign up for a print membership or digital membership at lhsa.org (Leica Historial Society International).
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Hat designer Van Huynh from JJ Hat Center in New York made a fedora specially for Thorsten von Overgaard. Photo: Brian Shimansky.
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator.
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 dotwo or more workshops.
95% are Leica users.
Age range is from 15 to 87 years
with the majority in the 30-55 range.
Skill level ranges from two weeks
to a lifetime of experience.
97% use a digital camera.
100% of my workshop graduates photograph more after a workshop.