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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author


“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  


Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 


Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."


I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!


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Old 03-20-2011   #26
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My 1974 Jupiter-8 50/2 is more or less welded to my M4-P and goes from 1935 to 2011 as you stop it down. It's a great lens and it cost me all of $30.00.

My 1959 Summilux hops back and forth between my M2 and my M8 and I've yet to see a lens that renders as nicely as this one. It's got just the right amount of sharpness and character- not too much of either; it's a real Goldilocks lens for me.
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Old 03-20-2011   #27
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nikkor 50/1.8 AiS for my FE2.
50/2.5 color skopar for my R2m.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind ...
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Old 03-20-2011   #28
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Leicaesuqe 50's: I've owned three total. Started with a Canon 50mm f1.8, which I wasn't that fond of so I moved onto a Canon 50 f1.4 ltm. I liked this lens quite a bit, but found the lack close focus (IE- 1m minimum) to be a hindrance. Moved onto a Nikkor-SC 50mm f1.4 ltm. This fits the bill for me.

Canon EOS: I started off with the 50mm f1.8 Mk I, great lens till I dropped it and canon wouldn't fix it. Moved onto to the 50mm f1.8 Mk II, found it to complete POS (cheap). Finally moved onto a 50mm f1.4 which I've loved. I added the 58mm Rokkor f1.2 about 3 years ago in EOS mount. great Bokkah making machine.
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Old 03-20-2011   #29
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After 15 years or so I have reactivate my old Praktica BC1 and was pleasantly surprised by the drawing of the Prakticar 50/1.8.
I think the lens is a successor of the famous CZJ Pancolar.

Pleasant OOF rendering:


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Old 03-20-2011   #30
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50mm(ish) is my most used lens and I have had a few but right now I am really liking the rigid Industar-50. It is slow with its f3.5 max aperture and filters for it are a pain--I use the SOOGZ adapter on it--but I like the photos I get from it, it is small and light. And mine came with a dedicated hood and I think it looks pretty cool on my R2A.


You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
--Mark Twain
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Old 03-20-2011   #31
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Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Nonetheless, I was still surprised when DxOMark rated it slightly higher than my far more expensive f/1.2 in their broad usage tests.
Good value the canon 50mm f1.8 sure is - considering they're about $100 brand new, but I can assure you (despite what dxo say) that the f1.2L is on a different planet to the f1.8 in IQ.

So my favorite 50mm's... The 50mm f1.2L is the best 50 I've ever used bar none. It's ultra dependable, has really special characteristics and a very particular 'look'.
As a value for money 50 the Sigma 50mm f1.4 is 98% the lens that the canon 1.2L is, but with a more neutral characteristic that almost reminds me of the look of a fast 85mm. The best thing about the sigma is that, whilst labeled as a 50mm, the true focal length is closer to around 43mm - which happens to be around my favorite focal length. It does this whilst having maintaining super low distortion.

If I was shooting M mount I'd be all over the Zeiss sonnar 50mm - that looks like a serious little gem.

Last edited by gavinlg : 03-20-2011 at 17:24.
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Old 03-25-2011   #32
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I keep a 1960 Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Super around for one reason: the 50mm f/2.8 Tessar lens. It my favorite 50mm lens. I have hundreds of Kodachromes my Dad took with it and a lot of B&W negatives that I took with it. I just love the look I get with it.
If RD, IIIf RD M3-Mot M4-P Contax IIa BD Nikon SP 2005
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Old 04-01-2011   #33
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Timestep is offline
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currently, nikkor 50mm f/2 for rangefinder
micro-nikkor 55mm. f/2.8; nikkor 50mm. f/1.2, for slr's
ancient nikkor 50mm f/2, non-ais--very good, but expendible

the 55mm micro is as expected; the surprise was the f/1.2, as a general, if heavy lens
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Old 06-10-2011   #34
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I was just telling my friend how easy it was for me to appear to collect 50mm lenses when I stumbled upon this thread. I currently have a Zeiss 50/1.4 Planar, SMC Takumar 50/1.4 and a Helios 58/2 for my SLRs, and a collapsible Summicron 50, Nokton 50/1.1 and a Jupiter 50/2 for my rangefinder.

None of them are ridiculously expensive, and I could not part with any of them.
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Old 06-11-2011   #35
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The 50mm has been and always be the most prominent lens for me..

As for Leicas I have both versions of the DR, also v.3 and v.4 Summicrons.. The DRs have a little less contrast but longer gradation with B&W film, whereas v.3 and v.4 have better sharpness toward corners and a tad more contrast. The latter ones are excellent for color and digital. On screw mounts I have six-blade and 10-blade Summitars, remarkable lenses for their age, the six-blade one appears to be less soft than the other at full aperture, perhaps for being of later production (coating maybe). If you can not afford a collapsible Summicron then this lens is a less expensive alternative if you can do with its weird bokeh.

Nokton 50/1.5 Asp. is great only for f1.5 to 2.0 IMO, in this range sharper than any Summilux (pre) I have used so far; however only this much as it is difficult to think about its signature; not a distinct one. The C-Sonnar is my favorite, if I would be using one lens only then it is this one. The Elmar 2.8 (older M-mount) is the most compact, simply collapse it down and put the camera in your coat pocket.

For the SLRs: Nikon 50/2 (first Nikkor) with rendition is the closest one to the Summicrons, 55/3.5 Auto in the mid-range too is sharpest of all standard Nikkors if you keep aperture below f5.6. FD SSC Canon 50/1.4 is a fine & cheap SLR 50, better than the Nikkor 50/1.4.. FDn 50/1.4 Canon is better than even the 50/1.4 Summilux-R, my favorite short tele on the Nex5, use it f1.4, the bokeh is the best I have seen from a 50mm lens. As for the f1.2 lenses the Fujinon 50/1.2 is as sharp as the FDn at 1.4 however not a smooth bokeh.


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Old 06-11-2011   #36
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I'm a Summar fan. Nothing else looks like it (and I have a Summicron DR and Elmar red scale too, so it's not a question of cost).
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