Capture Integration in Carmel – 2nd Annual PIAB Part II and Other Misc. Ramblings

Last week marked the end of the Capture Integration in Carmel workshop, otherwise known as the 2nd Annual Pigs in a Blanket.  As promised in part two of this series, I’ve included some of the images created over the course of several days shooting at Alcatraz, Muir Woods, the Sutro Baths, Carmel Mission, and south towards Big Sur. Many more images are available for viewing at my boutique photography studio in Carmel, and I will also post additional images on my landscape photography website.   As I write this, Don Libby of Iron Creek Photography in Tucson, AZ is just getting home from his extended travels with his new Leica M9, having photographed Yosemite, Lone Pine, Death Valley, Mono Lake, among others following the workshop.  All I can say is that Don is really really pleased with the addition of the Leica M9 to his Cambo RS and Phase One P45+ medium format digital back!

Alcatraz at Night. Phase 645AF, P65+, Mamiya 35mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 at 1/4oth

The CI in Carmel workshop really is a great opportunity to meet other like-minded photographers, socialize, learn, and try some of the latest digital photography gear.

The new Leica M9: the perfect MFDB complement

Phase 645AF with Phase P65+ and the new Leica S2 with 70mm lens

I did get to try out the new Leica S2.  This new offering from Leica is more similar to a DSLR, but with a much larger 37.5 megapixel sensor, placing it much closer in medium format digital territory.  The S2 is self-contained like a DSLR, and the body does not have a removeable digital back like its Phase counterpart.  For those new to the world of medium format digital, the S2 offers yet another platform to consider.  But for those that already have a medium format digital camera platform, the S2 is much less attractive.  And for me, quite bluntly, the S2 just didn’t feel right in my hands, and struck me as being cold and sterile.  Others in the workshop either loved the feel of the camera or disliked it.  Those smaller in stature enjoyed the S2, finding that the camera body was easier to hold than the heavier and thicker Phase One camera platform with a digital back.  And I can see how the S2 fills a niche.  I wasn’t a fan of the S2 menu layout, but then again, I’ve been using Phase One MFDBs for years now.  Compared to the Canon 1Ds Mark III or Nikon D3x, I’m sure that the comparatively spartan rear of the S2 would not be difficult to master.

Big Sur Coastline. Leica S2 with 70mm; ISO 160, f/2.4 at 1/4000th

But what do the images taken with the S2 look like?  That’s what is most important right?  I found that when used in abundant light, the S2 produced absolutely stunning images.  Just simply wow.  Leica is known for its quality lenses, and the big 70mm Leica lens does not disappoint.

Muir Woods with Dave Gallagher. Leica S2 with 70mm; ISO 160, f/2.4 at 1/60th

Cropped section of above image. Leica S2. Amazing clarity and detail with the Leica 70mm lens.

Now the bad news.  Unfortunately, the Leica S2 doesn’t perform as well in low light situations.  And the once stellar performance gets ugly when the light gets dim.  Real ugly.  Maybe I should qualify my comments.  In an age of relatively inexpensive DSLRs such as the Canon 5D Mark II, which are capable of quite respectable images at 1600 and 3200 ISO, it’s rather easy to demand more.  And there certainly haven’t been any exceptions, not even for medium format digital.  And true to form, newly released medium format digital backs such as the Phase One P40+ and P65+ are capable of producing good quality images at higher ISOs.

Leica S2 and 70mm; f/2.4 at 1/90th; ISO 640 equals yuck!

At ISO 640, images produced by the Leica S2 looked mushy. I took a quick photo of fellow photographer Rafael Hernandez  and the lack of detail and mush became even more apparent.  I processed the Leica images in Capture One Pro 5.1.  Alternatively, I also tried processing the images in Adobe Photoshop CS4 ACR, but the images from ACR were noticeably noisier and C1 Pro is simply the better raw processor.  We also noticed weird discolorations or anomaly on the back of the S2 LCD viewing screen.  Rafael later determined that this was caused by a bad JPEG viewing algorithm, but with no apparent effect on the final digital image files generated.  A firmware update should cure this anomaly on the LCD, and maybe Leica can improve high ISO image performance by firmware as well.  A clean 800 ISO image file is not asking for much considering the current high ISO performance of recent  MFDBs offerings from both Phase One (P40+ and P65+) and Hasselblad (H4D)—which are also available for sale at a lower price of entry than the S2.

Leica S2 at ISO 640 mushy!

Crop of above image; Leica S2 at ISO 640 mushy and loss of detail

I don’t doubt that Leica will sell many S2 cameras, for what it does well, it does exceedingly well.  But $28,000+ for the Leica S2 (body and 70mm lens) is quite a bit to invest, and certainly will give pause to many particularly considering that other medium format platforms, such as the Phase one P40+ and H4D40, are actually less expensive, albeit a bit bulkier, and minus that shiny red logo.  If I had money to burn, I might be inclined to buy a Leica S2 myself—just because.  But professionally, the S2 is not suitable for me.  Doctors and dentists are lining up now…..  ; )      [Note:  My comments here are not meant as a pixel-peeping review; rather they are my limited observations with the S2 during the workshop.  Hell, it could be fraught with user-error, so go out and grab an S2 and try it yourself…]  Okay, enough rambling….

Garrapata Beach; Phase P65+, ISO 50, f/32 at 3 secs.

Pfeiffer Beach; Phase P65+, ISO 50, f/32 at .8 secs

Carmel Mission Window; Phase One P65+, ISO 100, f/4 at 1/320, Mamiya 120mm D

Carmel Calla Lilly; Phase P65+, ISO 100, f/4 at 1/180, Mamiya 120mm D

Don and I really enjoyed hosting Capture Integration in Carmel, and working with Dave Gallagher.  It seems quick, but we’re already discussing plans to formalize future medium format digital workshops—keep an eye out!  For more landscape images visit my landscape website,  www.houseoflandscapes.com .  For more information, including future Pigs in  a Blanket endeavors, contact Ken Doo at (831) 626-1844; www.kendoophotography.com

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2 Responses to “Capture Integration in Carmel – 2nd Annual PIAB Part II and Other Misc. Ramblings”

  1. Hi Ken, I thought I’d add my cents worth as well regarding the Leica S2.

    I think there’s going to be a love hate relationship with this camera for those who buy it as they will quickly come to see it has more limitations than they first realize. Speaking strictly from a landscape photographers viewpoint here’s my thoughts. I simply don’t like an in-betweener system that’s neither 35mm nor medium format. I also don’t like what I call a “closed-system” meaning not being able to remove the digital back; this means you can’t use this on a technical camera system such as a Cambo. Seeing as how this is more a DSLR than anything else means more problems when you need to clean the sensor and believe me when I say that you will eventually need to clean the sensor if you switch lens while outdoors. The cleaning might be a non-issue if it has auto cleaning like the newer high-end Canon cameras.

    I like to remind people of a car commercial where the spokesperson asks – when you turn on your car does it return the favor? The same can be true with a camera system. I asked myself that same question with the systems I currently use and can truthfully answer Yes to each one (and that includes the new Leica M9). When I ask myself the same question regarding the S2 the answer is No. Then again that’s just one person’s opinion and if you’re interested in the S2 then you need to see it for yourself.

    Don

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