Treasure hunting Sonnar

I like to get across a sense of place through pictures. The Treasure Island flea market is a unique place with many characters, and even a bit of magic, but it takes some serious effort to do it justice through photography. 20140227-205453.jpg For me, the best tool for large crowded spaces like this, with lots of nostalgia and human drama, is a classic 50mm lens on a full-frame camera. I’ve tried using a 50mm equivalent on a smaller sensor in this same setting, but the perspective just doesn’t look right to me.

Although I like the 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor I’ve had for several decades, it doesn’t even come close to matching the 80-year-old design that Carl Zeiss uses for the Leica mount C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I learned how to shoot a rangefinder over the last few weeks just for this lens.

The trick was finding a reasonably priced camera to attach to the lens. I got lucky when I recently stumbled on a used M7 in great condition for an incredible price. All the new digital camera releases must be driving down our local film camera market a bit.

This lens’ dreamy rendering of bokeh wide open (examples coming up in another post) explains why it’s been a secret weapon for portrait photographers since 1929.

What isn’t as widely talked about is that it’s also very sharp across the the whole frame stopped down a bit, but still has a signature look that is not the same as other lenses. I was really happy after seeing this roll of 400TX from the Leica/Zeiss combination. It is very capable of capturing a bit of magic.

Since Tri-X film has such a wide exposure range, it made switching between bright sunlight and dark indoor lighting a breeze. I was shooting approximately f/16 outside and f/1.5 inside, with a few 1/3 stop adjustments depending on the situation. After using a pocket gray card for checking incident light levels through the M7’s meter, I kept it in full manual mode the rest of the time. I am not sure a DSLR with matrix metering would do at all better than this.20140227-211354.jpg Not that the latest digital cams can’t do a decent job as well. Here are a couple captures with the Ricoh GR of nearly the same scenes.

They were not bad, and of course in color, but somehow maybe it’s just a bit too jarringly modern coming directly from the classic monochrome film look? I put away the GR and kept shooting the rangefinder until I ran out of film.20140227-211119.jpg 20140227-211131.jpg


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