Strange cameras and equally strange lenses. No "deal-killers" here.

I left the house this morning with an odd camera and lens combination. I brought along the Leica CL and the TTArtisan 50mm f0.95 lens. It's a compact and comfortable combination. Easy to shoot and I almost trust the focus peaking in this camera. I put the camera's color setting on "standard" and  shot entirely in the DNG format. When I read comments about lens reviews of very fast aperture lenses there are always moaning Mikes who go on and on about the futility of shooting a fast lens at anything other than its widest aperture. "After all," they say, "You are paying all that money for the fast aperture, why else would you spend the money???" This is, of course, a very mindless reaction. The lens also has f16 on its engraved aperture ring but no one ever whines and kvetches about the need to shoot everything at that f-stop. 

I might get their argument (but probably not) if we were talking about a $10,000+ (USD) Leica Noctilux but in this case we're going to discuss the my little TTArtisan gem...their 50mm APS-C fast lens which you can buy most days of the week, brand new, for about $220. Both lenses are manual focusing. Both have fast maximum apertures. And that's pretty much where the similarities end. 

My objective this morning was not to go out on a search for images or to test this lens (once again) but to meet a VSL blog reader named Robert R., walk through downtown, have coffee and discuss life and photography. The camera addition was rote habit. Or a pledge from myself to myself never to leave the house without a camera. 

Robert and I agreed to meet at his downtown hotel at 10 a.m. so I drove into the downtown area and figured out a parking place that was a leisurely 45 minute walk away from the hotel. No sense passing up the opportunity for a nice walk on a cool bright morning. And a good excuse to bring along the camera and lens. 

We met up right at 10 and ambled over to the Cookbook Café where we grabbed coffee and a piece of coffee cake ( couldn't pass it up... ) and parked ourselves in the shade at a table outside. Our conversation was fun and lively. R.R. turned out to be interesting and well informed. I probably kept him out longer than he expected but when two photographers get on a roll it's tough to know when to stop. A couple hours later we were back in front of his hotel and I was amazed to find that time had rushed by. The mark of a fun meet up.

I walked back across downtown and stopped at Whole Foods's flagship store ( world H.Q. ) to pick up some small gifts, chocolate and tulips for Valentine's Day but on the way over I stopped now and then to shoot a frame or two. Nearly everything I shot was at either f1.4, f2.0 or f2.8. Nothing higher; nothing lower. This might be the first time I've used the lens as it was intended. Meaning on an actual, APS-C camera. My first forays had always been on a full frame Leica camera set to the 7:6 format to compensate for the trace vignette that shows up when this lens is used on a full frame 3:2 format camera. Each time I've used the lens I've been impressed by its neutral color profile and it's sharp, almost biting contrast at f4.0 and f5.6. I've also found it to be sharp even at max aperture in the center of the frames, regardless of format, but with the proviso that you hit the focus magnification buttons and focus the magnified image carefully when treading into the land of very narrow planes of sharp focus.

When I depended solely on the focus peaking in the CL, or in the larger cameras for that matter, I found variance between what the shimmering colored lines were telling me and where the point of critical focus really resided. So, the fault is with physics rather than with the lens... Use the right tools and the optical system will give you great results but you can't expect great results at f0.95 unless you are willing to put in the effort to make sure you've nailed the technical rigor required for accurate manual focusing. Centimeters count as you break the f-stop barrier between normal and exotic... Heck; get close enough and millimeters count.

The streets were quiet when we walked to the library. But on our return a healthy lunch crowd was out and about. Nothing compared to the swarms of people who worked downtown before Covid but a visible increase all the same. 

With all the wonderful full frame Leicas bouncing around one might wonder why I still keep a couple of CL cameras in the inventory. In their rawest form they aren't the best handling cameras but they still have the Leica digital DNA, the colors are great and the system contrast is ... crispy. If you "kit out" the camera with two additions you can transform the handling from "fussy" to exemplary. Set up right it's a great, smaller and lighter street shooting camera. Or travel camera. Or personal "art" camera.... etc. But you have to add a few attachments to optimize the package.

Here's my method.  Since the body is small, rounded and has no front or rear grip the most important first addition is a thumb grip. Leica sells one for ten thousand dollars (or somewhere in that ballpark) but the one I have is made by Match Technica and it is made for the CL out of heavy brass and then black painted. The thumb grip marketed under this name is about $145 but I ordered a Hoage branded thumb grip and the one I received for $45 was branded in very small type as a Match Technical.... I won't argue with them. It's a wonderful thumb grip. I bought one to test and a week later bought another for my back-up CL body. 

Hoage/Match Technical thumb grip. 
It's a great addition that vastly improves all day camera
handling and gives your thumb a place to rest. 

Once you have the rear grip figured out the next thing to do is to add a hand grip to the front so you can really grip the camera well and also shoot one-handed, if needed. I went back to the Hoage brand since I liked their other product so much. Adding the handgrip completes the camera. The addition of these two small, mechanical augmentations transforms the camera into the realm of near perfect.

My only complaint about the hand grip is that the leather texture of
the grip doesn't match the leather on the body. But if you are using the camera 
you obviously don't see this and if you are gripping the camera correctly no one
else can see it either. It's much more obvious in this close, bright image but
in real life?....Not so much. For less than $50 it's a great addition. 

If the texture on the grip bothers you and you "must" have a Leica branded grip 
you better move fast because the cameras have been discontinued and that means the 
inventory of Leica grips is not far behind. Get them now at the bargain price of 
nine thousand USD. A bargain... Or get the Hoage for about $50.

Here's the top view of the camera with both grips attached and ready to 
go out and make photographs. It looks pretty cool to me....

The gratuitous addition of a front view. Just for kicks. 
Big, fast glass on the front... Now it's a comfortable and 
practical street shooting pro tool. No deal killers here.

Now that I've written about the front grip I just reminded myself that I need 
to get a grip...for the Q2. 

Here are some photos I took with the CL and the TTArtian 50 fast lens.

follow on Instagram? https://www.instagram.com/kirktuck/


Rainy Day Bike Ride in Downtown Austin. And Other Fun Images. A Photo Essay in Defense of Cropping...


Walking around with an 85mm when it started to rain. The Sigma DN DG Art is weather sealed. So is the Leica SL2 camera. I just kept wiping rain drops off the top of the camera and lens and kept shooting. It was warm outside so I didn't mind getting wet.  I was having too much fun photographing people in the rain. 

I've shared some of these images a year or so ago but I came across them again and just really liked them. Sometimes a romp through the archives can be rewarding.

Black and white with a Q2. Plus: The Leica 35-70mm goes back to its owner...


the back pathway to Mañana Coffee shop. Over the railroad tracks.

We finally finished cleaning up from last week's giant and very destructive ice storm. Dead and dangerous branches removed, endless stacks of branches and brush chain-sawed into manageable pieces and hauled off. The yard needs a good raking but I'll leave that to the lawn service. 

After biding farewell to the final tree crew I really needed to get out of the house and go for a walk. We'd been hibernating during the cold weather and then I've been sticking around the homestead to find workers/services, supervise and pay them. Now that we have some days of sunshine and temperatures in the 50s it would be a shame not to pepper each day with a long walk. And even more of a shame not to bring along a companion camera.

After a couple days of big cameras and big lenses it seemed like a vacation to go out with just the little Leica Q2. I've posted a lot of stuff in color lately so I was ready for some black and white. I'm enjoying the black and white Jpegs I can get from this camera. Part of it is the high sharpness of both the lens and the high res sensor but additionally the Monochrome HC setting combined with added higher contrast makes the images more fun for me. 

After an afternoon of shooting with the Q2 I came home with truly eccentric ideas about pulling out every single piece of photo gear from every nock and cranny and selling every last shred of it. Every camera, lens, microphone, flash, light stand, etc. I'd buy a second Q2 and, in my fantasy, never look back. As I continued along this thought pattern I thought it would be even cooler to make the second Q2 one of the "Ghost" versions in silver and white. I could designate that camera the black and white camera and designate my black version as the color camera. Two cameras. No additional lenses. Nothing in the studio. Just the computer and a small bag with the two Q2 cameras.

Have you ever considered such a crazy move? Would it work? Could it work? 

I think if you decide you don't need to work for clients you might be able to pull it off well. Add clients to the mix and everything goes to hell. An interesting thought exercise nonetheless. Might try it. What could it hurt? 

Late afternoon. 

David Guerrero, Street Photographer par excellence. 

Cranes. The official and perennial "birds" of Austin...

Reflections in a coffee shop window.

I really liked using the 35-70mm Leica R lens but it just doesn't fit anymore into my way of working. It's a great lens for a landscape photographer or a person with fast fingers, young eyes and a predilection for shooting in a totally manual mode. Sadly, that's no longer me...


Walking through Austin with a big, fat Leica SL and a big, fat Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 zoom lens. And I met a young YouTube influencer who is doing extremely interesting work...

So much has changed in photography and yet it still feels vital. Alive. Fun. 

I think about this right now because while out on a blog intensive mission to reacquaint myself with the Panasonic 24-105mm lens for the L mount I happened to run into a young photographer that I've been hearing a lot of buzz about. His name is David Guerrero and he shoots portraits on the street. He's not part of that affected Leica M6, Color film, in your face, grab the shot and try to be sneaky school of photography I see everywhere on YouTube. Instead he cruises around on a motorized skateboard with a Go Pro camera anchored on his chest and a Sony A7xx camera and 85mm f1.4 G Sony lens in his hands. He is not very tall and almost anonymous looking; at the same time he is absolutely fearless about stopping random strangers whom he finds visually interesting on the sidewalks, and asking, cajoling and otherwise guiding people to be photographed right there and right then. Here's his Instagram feed: https://www.instagram.com/dgphotoholic/

He has posted only a few more than 330 images/videos over the last year. He started his Instagram street shooting project just one year ago. The thing that floored me is that David has already racked up over one point one million followers. That's 1,100,000 followers. He has a similar number of followers on YouTube. I looked at the stats and almost had to sit down on a park bench. He's done all this in a year. 

David has an interesting presentation style on Instagram. He's filming his approach and pitch to prospective portrait subjects. The "ask." The Go Pro also records video of the photography being done. As far as I can tell he's not using flash or doing anything out of the ordinary technically but he is pretty darn great at establishing a quick and, most of the time, great rapport with older men, younger women and everyone in between. 

I was walking down Congress Ave. shooting dusk photos with the aforementioned zoom lens and stopped to take a photo of a building facade from the sidewalk at an intersection. David had stopped there to wait to cross the street. He got my attention and asked me about my camera. That's a big deal to me these days since very few people seem to care about cameras. We chatted and I asked what he was shooting with. He told me his name and the kinds of images he shoots and I asked if he was the guy I'd been hearing about here in Austin for his street portraits. It was at that point that he grabbed his phone and showed me his IG feed. I was impressed. It's not my style but it's surely not a bad style at all. In fact, I'm now a fan. 

We traded contact information, shook hands, the light changed and he was off. He headed to the opposite side of the street and we were both heading South on Congress Ave., four lanes apart. I looked ahead on his side of the street and saw a very cute young woman riding an electric bike, wearing a plaid, pleated skirt. I glanced back at David. He was already waiting patiently for the cross walk light to change. He obviously had seen the same woman. He flagged her down as she came by and convinced her to pose. I smiled and kept walking on my route. I was, again, impressed. He's playing the odds. If he asks X number of people to pose he'll get a percentage and, with practice he'll fine tune his approach for even better odds. And he's certainly not shy about it. 

He's in his twenties. How is he making a living? Well, having a million followers on YouTube generates some revenue but mostly he finds that people enjoy their mini-sessions and sometimes hire him to make portraits of friends, family or even formal portraits of themselves. He seems happy, curious, unthreatening, totally out in the open about what he's doing...... and very successful at it. And his photos reflect that.

I wish I could do what he does. Not exactly the same style but the same energy and level of engagement. In another year he'll be masterful at this. And with views of his social media feeds growing like crazy he'll not only be successful but he'll no doubt influence a lot of people in his generation (and mine) to work in a certain way. Maybe we'll see a move toward intentional street portraits instead of sneaky grab shots. I think that might be a nice shift. You can only look at photos of people being caught unaware, in demeaning situations or with odd/unintended expressions, for so often before you long for something that is much more a collaboration between photographer and subject. Like David's work. It's a fresh approach to photography and one I think has great value. And he's local. I'm now following his work on Instagram. And I was flattered to see that he's following my IG feed as well. You should too: https://www.instagram.com/kirktuck/


Yesterday my reason to go out and play with yet another lens was to compare, first hand, what I was able to get from the Leica 35-70mm f4.0 R Rom lens my friend Paul is loaning to me versus a lens I've had for two or three years; the Panasonic Lumix 24-105mm f4.0 S zoom lens for the L mount system. I was trying to decide which one to keep. Whether to return the Leica to its owner or to sell off the Panasonic and keep the Leica. My decision? I shot one afternoon last week with the Leica and yesterday is was the Lumix's turn...

While the Leica is snappy and bright the Panasonic is the better all around lens and it's not much bigger than the Leica lens with R to L adapter. I found slower, manual focus zoom lenses a harder to focus quickly (the slow viewing aperture lowers in and out of focus discrimination) and I found myself embracing both the wider and longer focal lengths of the Panasonic lens with gusto. I'll keep the 24-105mm and return the Leica 35-70mm. No sense holding on to both. 

The 24-105mm is as sharp as the Leica everywhere they overlap. It seems a bit less contrasty but at the same time it seems to have a little more resolution. Different fingerprints. You can match the contrast of the Leica lens and the Panasonic with a judicious and quick preset in Lightroom or Photoshop. The Panasonic also delivers, in addition to a wider range of angles of view, autofocus and four or five stops of image stabilization. And that can come in handy on Leica SL and CL bodies that don't have IBIS. All good additions for walking around photographing quickly. For brute force optical performance I've also got the Leica 24-90mm which is wonderful and ponderous at the same time. 

If the Leica R series zoom didn't require a bulky lens adapter it would be a wonderful choice for a playing around and on the camera all the time lens. But it does require the adapter. And that makes it just about the same size and weight of the Panasonic. The Panasonic has more girth but the Leica is just about as long (with the adapter) weighs as much. If we're going to trade off features and performance then I'm solidly in the Lumix camp here.

Here are my quick evaluation shots: click to see them larger.

this young man saw me walking by with my camera and asked me if I wanted to take 
his photo. Sure. Then he grabbed his hands and put them in front of his face. I shot a 
few frames. I still don't know what the concept was. But he was a nice enough subject.

it's important to me to see who lenses also render stuff in black and white.
That's why I spent my time yesterday shooting in Jpeg+DNG. I had the Jpeg set 
to Monochrome HC so all my previews and reviews were in black and white.
I just left it up to the camera to get the color files right. 

All the test shots were done at f4.0 to f5.6. I tried to keep my shutter speed at 
1/250th of a second or higher. Testing the lens not my ability to handhold 
slower shutter speeds. 

Photographer shoots yet another self portrait with his favorite Leica SL
and the Canon 50mm f1.4 FD SSC. Loving that lens for its 

Meet young photographers. They might show you the future.