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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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Q?
Old 07-30-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Q?

I’ve been asked what I think of the Leica Q, a fixed 28mm lens on a 24mg full frame camera with a price of ballpark $4500.

Are you happy with a camera that has a fixed 28mm lens? It has been the focal length of choice for Bruce Gilden, Misha Erwitt and a number of other photographers working on the street. But you are going to have to work in close. Bruce Gilden told me a couple of New Yorkers had taken swings at him. But, then again, he was probably working in close with a flash, and he did say New Yorkers, not folks in general. Nonetheless, as a 35 and 50 person, I have to make a conscious effort to work that close, and I still end up doing a little cropping to many frames.

The Q’s lens relies on computer corrections in processing programs to handle quite strong barrel distortion. You would gain some slight off center sharpness by bypassing these corrections and living with the barrel distortion. Once again, a judgement call… With street work, the built-in correction is fine. With scenics, with or without the built-in correction is a judgement call. If the barrel distortion doesn’t negatively impact the image, and often it doesn’t, go for the definition of an uncorrected frame. But I have a number of corrected shots with relatively fine detail such as fine tree branches near the edge of the frame which in print and outside of the pixel peeping world look fine. Even with the built-in computer correction it turns out to be one of the best wide angles I own.

Autofocus, low light/high iso performance, dynamic range and its kissing cousin, shadow detail are on a par with the competition. The EVF is one of the best. And, it has built in optical stabilization. It has the shutter speed dial and f/stop ring we oldsters love and couples them with setting for shutter and aperture priority auto exposure along with program mode. Where it excels and is somewhat unique is its ability to move from manual focus to a variety of autofocus with a simple turn of the focusing ring which goes from 1 meter to infinity to automatic. As you know from my previous babble, this is a street photographers dream. I think it is also good for immediate family, pets and grandchildren. Oh, and before i forget, it actually comes with a good leather strap rather than a bad cloth one with the manufacturer’s name on it.

Is it worth the price? How is it different from similar cameras that are less expensive? The Q is built like a tank and hopefully will last until its digital technology is totally outmoded. But who cares because if you are a good photographer, it will still be taking good pictures. It’s worth the price only if you want stick with it, live with its limitations, beat the hell out of it and use it for such a long time that it’s operation requires no conscious thought and you can concentrate on the subject. Good long term investment… Bad short term investment… Again, my opinion, and I have certainly been known to be wrong.

Your opinion (especially if you’ve used one)?
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Old 07-30-2018   #2
tajart
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thank you Bill.
Your comments about the barrel distortion and computer correction is helpful.
I've been a fan of 28 fov and really like my 28 asph. With that in hand it has prevented me from going for the Q, but who knows for how much longer?
again, thanks.
Tom
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Old 07-30-2018   #3
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Simply put I just don't see the world the way a 28mm FF camera does.
Whatever the features of the Q may be are (for me) overshadowed by the perspective afforded by a 28mm.
FWIW I've used Leica M cameras for ages and generally gravitate towards a 35 or 50. Now if they came out with a Q+...
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Old 07-30-2018   #4
xayraa33
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Too expensive and too limited.

Just a fancy shmancy FF Ricoh GR II for the "money is no object" crowd, the ones that have that Charlie the Tuna version of good taste embedded in their brain.
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Old 07-30-2018   #5
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Never owned a Q but I do own its Sony "sibling" the RX1Rm2 over 2 years now and I lov it. If/when you can live with a fixed focus camera it is a liberating experience. I don't have to think about / or carry other lenses and I can immediately visualize the image with 35mm angle. For me the marriage of the 35mm Sonnar with Sony's 42MP sensor is perfect. Downside is the user experience. The RX1Rm2 is a image making computer instead of a camera, the Q most probably is. and battery life is downright bad (170 pics/battery) The end result more than compensates these drawbacks.
For my it delivers the best IQ available today in a very small package.
I doubt if I would have bought the RX1Rm2 with a 28mm objective.
If I need more flexibility, I can always grab my A7R3 / 24-105 F4
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Old 07-30-2018   #6
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My experience with the Q: the field sequential finder is far from the best by today's standard. You never get what you'd seen from the finder. The sensor has banding. Dynamic range etc. are even worse than the APS-C Fuji sensor. It's not "built like a tank" - yes the body might be solid, but the innards, the electronics are fragile. All sorts problem could happen and your camera would visit Leica NJ for a you-know-how-long-it-will-take trip.

Aside from these typical hardware culprits seen in digital Leicas, the camera shoots very nicely, especially after the latest firmware update which cured many "software" issues i.e. finally making the menu system usable. The lens is blistering sharp, auto-corrected or not it doesn't matter. The built-in OIS is great. The 49 point autofocus - Panasonic's older technology - works very well and the AF-S speed is even slightly faster than the X100F. Expect the Q2 to focus even faster, with Panasonic's current 225 point system. The manual focus implementation - the best and only in the industry. The entire concept is just plausible, and if you don't change parameters often, is extremely practical in reality as well.

Worth the price (even with the Leica tax!) I say, the competition - the Sony RX1M2 is similarly priced, has a much better sensor but doesn't match the Q in terms of usability. The only concern is the Q is getting long in the tooth, and could very likely be replaced/updated within a year's time. So place your investment wisely.
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Old 07-30-2018   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post

Is it worth the price?
Well, for a FF Leica, it is a great price for a body and a lens. In some ways, when it was released, it was even state of the art for Leica. If they made a 50mm model, I might think it is worth it for me. At 28mm, I`d rather go cheap with a Ricoh GR or Fujifilm XF10.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
How is it different from similar cameras that are less expensive?
Leica build quality and M shape. Very good manual focus implementation. A very good VF.
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Old 07-30-2018   #8
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To me Winogrand comes first for 28mm on Leica.
And 28mm comes first as iPhone camera to me. It means it is millions FOV by now.
Not just for Misha and Brucie .

I never been limited by iPhone FOV, but on M 28mm is not my thing.

I'm more fascinated by X, because it is my 35. The only thing X is missing is EVF comparing to Q, but I don't need such thing. Olympus VF-1 OVF I have will do and my Leica TTL flash will works on X.
I have plenty of 43mm lens caps, huge economy here.

But beauty of Leica - it has everything if you are Leicaholic. Want Fuji like cropper - here is your CL with added in last moment EVF. Want Sony like 7 here is ... I forgot how this Leica knock-off from Sony A7 called.
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Old 07-30-2018   #9
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Is it comig from Q branch? No? Then no... The licence to shoot at $4.5k, really?
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Old 07-30-2018   #10
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I was intrigued by the Q long before I got one. Could be very interesting and useful, I thought. But I already had a full-frame Leica digital RF, and a fast 28mm lens to put on it. Every time I developed a bit of interest in the Q I considered what I had and that interchangeable lenses offered a lot of flexibility. OTOH the Q offered autofocus and image stabilization both more attractive with advancing age. I was not so sure I’d like the electronic viewfinder.

I’ve been trending toward shorter focal length lenses for a while... On a trip to Cuba I had a Leica M-D, 28 Summicron, and 75 Heliar. While there were a couple of occasions that called for the 75 I didn’t bother changing lenses in the field, so all my shots were with the 28. I figured I might as well have been shooting with a Q!

As it turned out I am not so fond of that viewfinder but it’s ok. I’m glad I got the camera, it’s been a good companion. Except that like most digital cameras its buttons can be pressed inadvertently in handling, fortunately here there are few of those. But I shot brief videos all one day thinking they were single shots until the clues became obvious! The on/off switch too easily goes one click too far to the Continuous shooting position. I don’t ever want videos or continuous so it would be nice if those features could be locked out. Of course not wise to get too complacent about autofocus because it’s not smart enough to know what you want to focus on... as usual.

So far so good!
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Old 07-30-2018   #11
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It's a bit of plastic and metal with a 28mm lens that has the ability to take nice images just like all the other brand of cameras out there. $4500?... for some its a lot of money and they desire it and for others it is pocket change and have no interest in it. Anyways, back to my breakfast.
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Old 07-30-2018   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug View Post
As it turned out I am not so fond of that viewfinder but it’s ok. I’m glad I got the camera, it’s been a good companion. So far so good!
I have to confess - I cheat. I have an old Leitz 28mm bright line finder that I sometimes slip into the Q's accessory shoe.
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Old 07-30-2018   #13
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Longtime GR user here, mostly M mode. I occasionally shift to Auto Everything + snap focus @ 1.5 meters /f8 and use an old Nikon 28 brightline. And when I screw on the 21mm goggle, a CV 21 brightline. When I’m using the EVF with a Hoodman loupe, my index/thumb sync pretty effortlessly to tweak aperture/exposure. By itself, the GR hangs from a neck loop light as a Luna Pro without beating my sternum in as I walk.

The RX1 is my fixed lens digital Q-equivalent (barrel distortion too, but a Sonnar).

No doubt I’d enjoy taking the Q for a walk in a city, if someone would lend me theirs and borrow my M7/28 CV. Then we could do some synchronized photomugging of urban innocents ;-).
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Old 07-30-2018   #14
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You get a full frame Leica body AND a summilux (lower case because it's 1.7). For Leica it's actually a bargain. Too bad about the lens distortion; always trade offs, though.
I like 28mm myself, but a 35mm f2 would make for real competition. Not sure if that's part of their marketing strategy.
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Old 07-31-2018   #15
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Quote:
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I have to confess - I cheat. I have an old Leitz 28mm bright line finder that I sometimes slip into the Q's accessory shoe.
Bill thanks for the suggestion. I'll dig out my Zeiss 25/28 finder and see how that does. I think it was Sean Reid's review that mentioned the lens is actually a bit wider than 28mm and he found a 25 finder to be useful.
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Old 07-31-2018   #16
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Software lens correction does not bother me as long as the corrections use an appropriate correction model.

One thing I noticed when I switched from the Nikon 16-35/4 G to the Fujinon 10-24/4 zoom in 2014 was the Fujinon barrel distortion correction minimized higher-order distortions. This was particularly so when the lenses were at their minimum focal lengths. I assumed Adobe Camera Raw did not include higher-order correction parameters for the Nikon while FUJIFILM's on-board lens corrections did. Perhaps Nikon's raw-rendering software, Capture NX, offered full correction. However at the time, Nikon charged for the software. I just visited the Nikon USA site which reports the most recent version, Capture NX-D is "out of stock" (????). Maybe Nikon no longer charges extra to access their in-house correction profiles?

I ordered the Fujinon 35/2 as early as possible. Its on-board, barrel-distortion corrections seemed incomplete. After a lens firmware update, the problem disappeared.

The correction model matters.

With all lenses I've owned, barrel distortion correction crops the frame by a few percent. The amount of cropping depends on the native distortion level.

When I work on film/negative scans I manually correct for barrel/pin-cushion distortions.
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Old 08-07-2018   #17
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I bought the Q shortly after its introduction and have shot several thousand images without a single problem. The JPG files are excellent, so good, in fact, that I have sent JPGs straight from the camera directly to several magazines for publication. The EVF is one of the best...no lag and barely a blip during exposure. Battery life is OK, build quality is superb. And, don't laugh, I do use the "frame selector" occasionally to preview and shoot in the 35mm and 50mm FOV. The files are large enough to crop at all but the highest ISO settings. As Bill says, the f/1.7 Summilux produces images that rival any 28mm full frame lens.

I do wish the Q had an articulated LCD. But that would make it thicker, so Leica had to make that decision and I can live with it.

Yes, the Q is not for everybody, but perfect for my needs. By the way, I also have an M240 kit which now sits idle most of the time.
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Old 08-07-2018   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Archlich View Post
My experience with the Q: the field sequential finder is far from the best by today's standard. You never get what you'd seen from the finder. The sensor has banding. Dynamic range etc. are even worse than the APS-C Fuji sensor. It's not "built like a tank" - yes the body might be solid, but the innards, the electronics are fragile. All sorts problem could happen and your camera would visit Leica NJ for a you-know-how-long-it-will-take trip.

Aside from these typical hardware culprits seen in digital Leicas, the camera shoots very nicely, especially after the latest firmware update which cured many "software" issues i.e. finally making the menu system usable. The lens is blistering sharp, auto-corrected or not it doesn't matter. The built-in OIS is great. The 49 point autofocus - Panasonic's older technology - works very well and the AF-S speed is even slightly faster than the X100F. Expect the Q2 to focus even faster, with Panasonic's current 225 point system. The manual focus implementation - the best and only in the industry. The entire concept is just plausible, and if you don't change parameters often, is extremely practical in reality as well.

Worth the price (even with the Leica tax!) I say, the competition - the Sony RX1M2 is similarly priced, has a much better sensor but doesn't match the Q in terms of usability. The only concern is the Q is getting long in the tooth, and could very likely be replaced/updated within a year's time. So place your investment wisely.
I was casting lustful eyes on the Q when it first launched, despite the price which is frankly hilarious.

I've been a 28mm fan for a long time, and a big fan of the Ricoh GR range, I already had a GR when the Q launched and I have to admit that even at that point I was doing the sums on the cost of the Q... would it be worth the same as 6 Ricoh GRs.

Then I saw photos from it.

In good light it's fine, the photos look great. In low light it completely falls apart. I already have 6 year old FF cameras with sensors that perform way better than the Q in low light.

There's honestly no excuse for how bad it is, it's built by Panasonic, they're big enough to know if it performs and if not buy in a sensor that does. It was instantly out of consideration for me.

Love the idea, was even considering it despite the Leica tax, but it just doesn't perform.
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Old 08-07-2018   #19
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Personally I'm no fan. If I want to walk around with a camera and just a 28mm lens, I'll just use the 28mm f2.8 ASPH on my MP240 or M262 and I've done that before on a limited basis, but the Q is not one of those "Panasonic" Leica's. It may be 99% made in Portugal, but final assembly is in Germany.
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Old 08-07-2018   #20
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...but final assembly is in Germany.
The placement of the red dot?
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Old 08-07-2018   #21
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I've never found 28mm to be a versatile focal length in the way 35 is. That's just my feelings but it would stop me wanting to own a Q (aside from the price) and it was why I never stuck with my GR1V in spite of the fact that I really liked the camera itself.
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Old 08-07-2018   #22
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I went to look at a Q and discovered the X-113. Not full frame or as high in resolution but the camera is beautifully designed, feels nice and balanced in hand, and it is certainly sufficient for enlargements that serve my purposes. The lens on it is really good. The quibble regarding the camera stopping down at close range is way overblown in my opinion. All cameras have limitations and this is one that is easy to deal with.

I mostly get by with the LCD, and maginification while manual focusing is really nice. The LCD is for me in most instances preferable to using the EVF. I do have the "visoflex" EVF but only very occasionally use it. I also have used and "cheat" using the brightline finder more.

David
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Old 08-07-2018   #23
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I looked at the Q, and messed around with it a fair bit in the shop, but without a native square mode it seemed like too much money. Sure I can crop after the fact, but I shoot 90% squares with the GR, which this would replace. I went with a replacement GR and the X1d.
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