Replicating that Leica photojournalistic look with an OM-D (finally, success!)

Can you use the C Sonnar T* 1,5/50 ZM and OM-D E-M5 for sports photography!?

Yes it sounds like a crazy choice – an old-style manual focus rangefinder lens, plus a micro four-thirds camera, but surprisingly enough the pictures turned out to be quite satisfying once I worked out some details.

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Baseball is a very emotional sport with much tension and human drama. What would normally be considered quirky enthusiast’s photojournalism gear can deliver some beautifully dramatic action images. My long telephoto lens with AF was left at home, so I would be forced to figure out how to adapt with this new setup.

I had to select a few images to post with anonymizing bokeh, but the overall contrasty tone and lens signature in the background blur should be enough to give you an idea of how this combo works.

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It only took me, what, about 2 years to get the perfect lens and some decent settings for film-like OOC B&W photos from the OMD!

The only reason I finally hit the right combination was because I forced myself to shoot film again for a year and a half for inspiration while trying a lot of different approaches with my digital in-camera processing until everything just clicked.

I have to also thank a pro photographer whose comments on micro four-thirds image processing provided the missing ingredient in my own workflow. You can read more about it by clicking through this link to the original post, but here is the critical quote.

With both the em1 and 5 there is a kind of hidden setting curve where you can pull in the highlights, open the shadows and the difference was night and day.

(Russel Rutherford commenting on the LuLa forums)

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These images are monochrome output from the Olympus EM5 using its custom tone curve option to push the shadows down into black, and another tweak to pull the highlights into the mid-tones (longer roll-off).

The curve is just a couple clicks down at both ends. I spun the compensation dial up a notch or two to keep the whites from turning gray, and I also used shadow adjustment as needed to bring back low-key details. NR was turned off, even for high ISO, and in camera sharpening was kept at 0. I did a little level adjusting and subtle sharpening in Aperture before posting, but that’s about it.

For comparison, here is one real film image (see below). It’s a street photo from Chinatown, so it is set in a very different context, but hopefully gets across that Leica/Magnum photojournalism character.

This is Tri-X 400 (pushed a stop), shot through the same Zeiss Sonnar lens (with yellow filter) on a Leica M7. The film grain, especially in the highlights, is still tough to replicate, but otherwise I am pretty satisfied with how the OM-D shots replicate the overall look and feel.

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I always tend to work from raw files for printing, but for posting online, I don’t see much advantage. JPEGs that are approximately 95% of what I want to see with approximately 4-5 clicks beyond the camera settings and that is it. Plus, I don’t have to pay for film developing and scanning anymore.

Cheers, and go Pirates!

omd-sonnar

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