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.

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