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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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How come the difference?
Old 05-30-2011   #1
Bill Pierce
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How come the difference?

In DxO’s tests the Leica M9 came in 23 in sensor ranking and 19th in low light ISO.

http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/eng...r-the-Leica-M9

Ken Rockwell said, “The LEICA M9 is the smallest, lightest, highest-quality digital camera ever created by the hand of Man.”

http://www.kenrockwell.com/leica/m9.htm

How come the difference?
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Old 05-30-2011   #2
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Ken Rockwell got it right because he understands the 'pixie dust' principal described frequently by Pickett in digital M threads. Each sensor gets a liberal sprinkling before being fitted to it's host digital body!

No other digital camera in the world can compete with this sort of technology!
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Old 05-30-2011   #3
damien.murphy
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The difference is, ever camera Ken likes is the greatest camera ever made by the hand of man
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Old 05-30-2011   #4
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Where's the "sitting back, eating popcorn, and enjoying the show" smiley when you need it?
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Old 05-30-2011   #5
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Little more than subjectivity. At least it takes Leica glass.
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Old 05-30-2011   #6
Brian Sweeney
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If they weren't testing raw data directly off of the sensor, they were testing the signal processing algorithms of the respective cameras.

Kodak publishes the long data sheets for their sensors, most other companies do not. It's hard to know the real signal to noise ratio of a camera without the specifications of the detector.
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Old 05-30-2011   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney View Post
If they weren't testing raw data directly off of the sensor, they were testing the signal processing algorithms of the respective cameras.

Kodak publishes the long data sheets for their sensors, most other companies do not. It's hard to know the real signal to noise ratio of a camera without the specifications of the detector.
Well, at first blush that doe not sound too good either. Either the sensor on the M9 does not perform as well as the others in the tests or maybe it does but the algorithms Leica uses are not as good as the others tested. People seem to happy with what the M9 puts out in the real world so it really doesn't matter about bench testing. That may explain the difference between the tests and what KR and a lot of others think. Then again there's that matter of pixie dust too.

Bob
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Old 05-30-2011   #8
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You dont have these problems with an evil Canon.
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Old 05-30-2011   #9
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Signal processing algorithms can be applied outside of the camera. This saves power and size for the electronics in the camera, and allow different algorithms to be selected for post processing in Lightroom or other software platform. Signal processing algorithms generally do better in eliminating artifacts and preserving the image when operating on raw data. Complex signal processing requires more powerful processors, and these generally consume more power and produce more heat than cameras that store unprocessed imagery. There are exceptions. The SCSI drive in my first DSLR sucked a lot of power to store raw output from the sensor.

Last edited by Brian Sweeney : 05-30-2011 at 15:55.
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Old 05-30-2011   #10
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On a more realistic note ... if the M9 had the Nikon or Canon logo on it, it's performance and price would probably stunt it's sales. Leica don't need to be in that top echelon of sensor performance to sell cameras ... thye're doing just fine where they are!
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Old 05-30-2011   #11
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When I read some of the reviews of the M9, ISO 2500 performance, and such- and look at what my M9 produces, I can only conclude that I must have lucked into the best M9 ever made.
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Old 05-30-2011   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney View Post
When I read some of the reviews of the M9, ISO 2500 performance, and such- and look at what my M9 produces, I can only conclude that I must have lucked into the best M9 ever made.
I pretty much feel that way about my M8.2. I especially like how casually I can shoot with it when set to aperture priority. And I find myself not chimping much with the M8.2. I find the menus easy to use. In general, I don't need to pay much attention to the camera. Focus and shoot. These things cannot be evaluated with charts and graphs.
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Old 05-30-2011   #13
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Ken Rockwell's reviews are designed to boost his affiliate marketing commissions, nothing more. nothing less. The M8 and M9 have excellent sharpness due to their lack of an AA filter and top-notch lenses, but Kodak's sensors have distinctly lacklustre high-ISO performance, at least 3 generations behind the state of the art.
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Old 05-30-2011   #14
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Again- High ISO performance comes down to the dark current- the number of electrons produced without light hitting the detector element. Dynamic range is limited by the maximum number of electrons that each element can handle before saturating. Most CMOS sensors have noise reduction processing going on at the sensor and in the camera electronics. I would like to see some numbers listed for system level noise and saturation measured in electron count. Kind of like putting up the "marked" and "measured" F-Stop of a lens, then listing it's T-Stop.
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Old 05-31-2011   #15
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Ken Rockwell's statement is accurate... overall, for the fan of M cameras, the M9 is the "smallest, lightest, highest-quality digital camera ever created by the hand of Man.”

If you like using DSLRs, they are a better value and are at the forefront of tech. However, if you don' like DSLRs, then you have to be happy that the M9 exists.
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Old 05-31-2011   #16
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I disagree that the Kodak sensors are three generations behind the sensors used in the DSLR's. In terms of acquiring the image, the specifications of the Kodak detectors are excellent. Sensor performance include specs for "Dark current", "Quantum Efficiency", "Uniformity". Looking at 2009 spec sheets for the Cypruss Rev D full-frame CMOS sensor and the 2007 spec for the Kodak KAF-10500 used in the M8, the Kodak has better performance for uniformity, dark-current, and quantum efficiency.

Leica had a lot to consider in designing the M8 and M9 that Nikon and Canon did not have to deal with. Short lens register meant steep angles for collecting light, and CCD's are better than CMOS for that. Leica wanted a camera that was smaller- which meant a smaller battery, less and lower-power electronics, and smaller storage media. That drove them to using an SD card rather than faster CF, and also in the direction of a CCD. The RAW image quality from a CCD is better than the raw image quality of a CMOS sensor.

I'll start a thread in the "Mad Scientist" forum for detector spec sheets. I've been reading these things for decades.

Last edited by Brian Sweeney : 05-31-2011 at 05:27.
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Old 05-31-2011   #17
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I would base my opinion on "real" world usage. Not lab tests. I must have lucked into the best M9 category as well!
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Old 05-31-2011   #18
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Mr Rockwell reports his opinions and DxO reports measurements. Exactly what it is that DxO mearures I cannot say, but apparently it is important and has a great bearing on "image quality". One day someone will tell me how a DxO mark is reflected in a picture and its image quality. Until then, I give it no importance at all.

BTW, that DxO article is getting old and the M9 must have slid down the table since then.
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Old 05-31-2011   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by damien.murphy View Post
The difference is, every camera Ken likes is the greatest camera ever made by the hand of man

That, and he writes in Truthiness. I believe that opinions are not facts, so I'd believe tests from a methodological means of comparative testing (even if it were a little biased) more as facts rather than for-profit opinionating (new word).
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Old 05-31-2011   #20
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So people do not think that Ken Rockwell researched the relative quantum efficiency and dark current of the detectors used in the cameras and then developed his own signal processing routines for the M9 and based his opinions on that...

This is why people should be happy that I do NOT review cameras.
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Old 05-31-2011   #21
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^------- ;-)

Rockwell knows what he's saying, and if you read his reviews closely he's actually technically competent. But he values different things than DxOmark do. Specifically, he values the lack of an AA filter, and he days so in his review. For him, that trumps being able to shoot at ISO 25000. He also is looking at system-level performance, and he likes the size-performance ratio of the M system vs. say a 5DII.
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Old 05-31-2011   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gabriel M.A. View Post
That, and he writes in Truthiness. I believe that opinions are not facts, so I'd believe tests from a methodological means of comparative testing (even if it were a little biased) more as facts rather than for-profit opinionating (new word).
By the way, Rockwell is not the only well-informed person who takes issue with aspects of DxOlabs' weighting & interpretation of sensor parameters -- specifically, their weighting of pixel-level vs. array-level sensor performance. And don't make the mistake of thinking that DxO are not in it for the Bejamins.
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Old 05-31-2011   #23
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An interesting interview with a Kodak employee back in 2007.

http://pluggedin.kodak.com/pluggedin/post/?id=664294

He talks about CMOS sensors catching up with the CCD. He talks about low dark current pinned photodiodes and a four-transistor pixel architecture, which provide lower noise readout methods among other things. And, interestingly enough, he is talking about small sensors.
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Old 05-31-2011   #24
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One of those things measured a few features of the sensor and software, the other is an opinion about the entire camera - both could be 'true' (for an indefinable value of 'true').
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Old 05-31-2011   #25
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The CMOS/CCD article is an interesting read. New technology for sensors will be interesting to watch.

Kodak has just about gotten out of the CMOS business, and appears to be in the process of selling the unit. They invented digital photography, had a line of innovative professional camera, then appear to have packed it in. Their alliance with Leica at least keeps them in the high-end camera business. This is a company that needs some direction.
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Old 05-31-2011   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney View Post
If they weren't testing raw data directly off of the sensor, they were testing the signal processing algorithms of the respective cameras.

Kodak publishes the long data sheets for their sensors, most other companies do not. It's hard to know the real signal to noise ratio of a camera without the specifications of the detector.
Jeeze I love my MP even though it sadly lacks "signal processing algorithms"...

Best,

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Old 05-31-2011   #27
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DxOmark is measuring things that can be measured objectively. What they don't measure is how photos taken with the measured sensor actually look to humans. That would be subjective, unscientific, and subject to ridicule and scorn on Internet photo forums.

So I might trust DxOmark sensor ratings to tell me that, in the lab, the Nikon D90 used to give the best overall performance (as they define it) of APS-C DSLRs, and the Pentax K5 now has that mantle. Or that if I really want to take photos in the very dark, I should seriously consider a D700. But they don't tell me what kind of noise I'm getting, whether a bit of it makes the picture usable or not, or how well it can be reduced in a good noise reduction program.

They don't tell me how well the camera will work for traditional available light work, as opposed to sports shots with a slow tele-zoom where you need to stop the motion. They don't tell me that by exposing at 640 with the exposure compensation set at -1 stop, my M8 can get an equivalent ISO 1250 that is a bit better than the actual ISO setting.

And they don't tell me how the camera feels in my hand, or whether the menus and buttons are fast/intuitive or slow/fiddly/confusing.

So if I was in the market for a new camera, I'd probably peruse the DxOMark ratings for a general idea of things. But I would rely far more on actual sample pictures, including a bit of dpreview's test shots, and a lot of other people's real pictures. I would also look at actual prints if possible--and if not, I'd view shots not just at screen size and 100%, but also at 50% and 33%, where they give a much better idea of what a print will look like.

I did all this when I was deciding whether to buy my M8. And I decided that it was good enough that, with the lenses I already had, I would be just fine. I sometimes wish I had a stop or two more high-ISO, but not enough to carry a D700 around. Your mileage may vary.

Now, if somebody came out with a camera that DxOMark rated with D700-like high ISO performance, and it had M-lens compatibility and a rangefinder, I'd consider it seriously. But I'd still want to see the pictures.

--Peter

Last edited by Peter Klein : 05-31-2011 at 12:05.
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Old 05-31-2011   #28
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I don't trust Ken.

From his page:
Begin Quote
. I occasionally weave fiction and satire into my stories to keep them interesting. I love a good hoax. Read The Museum of Hoaxes, or see their site. A hoax, like some of the things I do on this website, is done as a goof simply for the heck of it by overactive minds as a practical joke. Even Ansel Adams kidded around when he was just a pup in the 1920s by selling his photos as "Parmelian Prints." I have the energy and sense of humor of a three-year old, so remember, this is a personal website, and never presented as fact. I enjoy making things up for fun, as does The Onion, and I publish them here — even on this page.
End Quote

I understand the above may have been met as a cute disclaimer. I just don't have time to ferret out his "facts".

http://www.kenrockwell.com/about.htm
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Old 05-31-2011   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Sweeney View Post
If they weren't testing raw data directly off of the sensor, they were testing the signal processing algorithms of the respective cameras.

Kodak publishes the long data sheets for their sensors, most other companies do not. It's hard to know the real signal to noise ratio of a camera without the specifications of the detector.
Sony won't supply Sensor Data? Is this correct Brian?
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Old 05-31-2011   #30
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I guess my thought is "who cares what Dxo thinks about the M9?" Works good enough for me.

Reminds of the review I read of the Olympus E-3 some time back, which complained about the "slight softness" of the camera images. And the reviewer was right--once you had blown up a segment of the image by 20x or 30x...but in reality-land....

Sometimes I think we can't see the forest for the pixels....
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Old 06-01-2011   #31
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Sony won't supply Sensor Data? Is this correct Brian?
pkr
They certainly supply full data for their scientific sensors. I don't know about the consumer stuff.
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Old 06-01-2011   #32
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I cannot find the data sheets for the sensors that they use in consumer cameras. You can find the "Glossy Brochure" type stuff, but I have not seen the traditional data sheets.

If you find them, post the links here:
http://www.rangefinderforum.com/foru...d.php?t=106571

Interesting enough: Sony's listed Data Sheets covers their CCD sensors, not the CMOS sensors.

http://www.sony.net/Products/SC-HP/datasheet/index.html

But you cannot just download the spec sheets without printing out and signing a user agreement and returning it to Sony...

I had an NDA with Kodak in the 1980s, but that was for products still in development. Datasheets for released products, you can just download.

Last edited by Brian Sweeney : 06-01-2011 at 11:42.
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Old 06-03-2011   #33
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So, it's an interesting thing that in scientific imaging CCD is king, and has been for a couple of decades due to better pixel-level performance and higher uniformity... but let's just say that this morning I'm going to see a man about testing a newly-developed high-end scientific CMOS array detector...
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Old 06-03-2011   #34
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By the way, Rockwell is not the only well-informed person who takes issue with aspects of DxOlabs' weighting & interpretation of sensor parameters -- specifically, their weighting of pixel-level vs. array-level sensor performance. And don't make the mistake of thinking that DxO are not in it for the Bejamins.

Being well-informed does not make one's opinions factual. Opinions are opinions, and factual research results are factual. Opinions vary, as well as research parameters. You cannot (sorry --should not) be biased against methodology and be biased towards opinion and then believe that one makes one more true than the other.
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Old 06-03-2011   #35
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You cannot (sorry --should not) be biased against methodology and be biased towards opinion and then believe that one makes one more true than the other.
What on earth are you talking about?
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Old 06-04-2011   #36
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Last year, digital was junk; a film Leica was the best camera created on the earth, according to Ken.
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Old 06-04-2011   #37
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^----- 4 days ago, @kenrockwell: "LEICA is the best. There is no substitute, in fact, even LEICA sadly tends to make cheaper and cheaper cameras as time goes on. Although the prices go up, the intrinsic quality and function has been slipping due to a weak market for rangefinder cameras ever ever since the highpoint of the 1954-1967 LEICA M3."

You don't have to agree with him, but Rockwell is not being inconsistent on this point.
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Old 06-08-2011   #38
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I like to read Ken Rockwell when I need a smile or maybe a laugh. He's entertaining. I would put his expertise, however, about on a par with mine, which is to say, none at all.
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