Should I switch to Leica R from N****? : LUSENET : Leica Photography : One Thread

I currently use Leica M series equipment (M5, 35mm/f2 last pre-aspheric, 24, 50 Summicron, and 90 Elmarit) and have been very impressed by the resulting negatives (black and white, particularly on Delta 100), which in 11x17 enlargements are difficult to distingish from medium format (in terms of tonality as well as sharpness). My SLR system is Nikon (specifically the F3HP and AIS manual lenses, the 24/f2.8, 35/f2, 105/f2.5, 200/f4). While the Nikon lenses seem almost as sharp (particularly stopped down), the resulting negatives lack the wonderful tonality (in black and white) produced by the M series glass. My question: will a be able to achieve M-like tonality (and sharpness) from R series lenses? I am interested mostly in (more or less) duplicating the Nikon focal lengths (24/f2.8, 35/f2, 90/f2.8 and 180/f3.4, with the latest version of each lens, bought second-hand, of course) with an R8 (which seems like a great camera to me from the limited amount of time I've handled one.

Studying the MTF charts from leads me to believe that (sharpness-wise) these lenses will be very similar to their Nikon equivalents - at greater cost, of course. MTF tells you nothing about tonality, though, an area which I'm not happy with with the Nikkors, particularly the 35/f2 AIS (admittedly not their best lens, but the stuff I've seen with the 35/f1.4 is not great either, and the AF version is horrible and plastic, although very sharp). Any comments about tonality and the non-MTF qualities of the R lenses mentioned above (admittedly not the best in the R lineup)?

BTW, I already know that the "answer" is to go to medium format (which I already have), but I would be very interested if I can get the results I'm seeing with the M glass in a print up to 13" x 19"...this would tell me that for my (amateur) use, medium format is unnecessary and the equipment too heavy. Thanks.

-- Dan Kreithen (, November 27, 2001


I think you're right - if sharpness is your prime consideration, there isn't much to choose between a Nikkor at f8 and a leica lens at f8 (at least for a large proportion of the fixed lenses). There is a big difference in sharpness at wide apertures however (although maybe that's what you've got m's for?!) and there is a huge difference in tonality and the way the lenses perform in difficult light conditions (I know this from shooting natural light dance/ballet photographs with both systems). The only caveat is in the case of zooms - the f4 zooms, although apparantly very sharp, do not seem to me to have the same tonality as the primes/f2.8 zooms. In other words, my advice would be that if you're really going to stick to the lenses you mention go with R but if you're going to be seduced by zooms maybe think again. BTW, although the 24 2.8 is considered a relatively weak R lens, and the 242.8 afd a relatively strong performer, having used the one and owned the other, I would still say the R is far superior, especially if tonality and not just sharpness are important to you. Finally, and for what it's worth, I always felt the 35 1.4ais lens to be one of the very best of the nikkors - I 've never used the f2 and even more finally, the 902.8's are ALL wonderful - I used to own the old(est) 5 element version and it made mincemeat of the 105 2.5 ais I owned (which nikonians reckon to be one of their all time finest)

-- stephen jones (, November 27, 2001.

Dan, My Nikon setup was almost identical to yours except I went even further to 400mm/f3.5 lens on the upper end. For many of the same reasons you mention, I replaced my F3HP's with Leica R8 plus prime lenses and have been extremely pleased with results. Am not enthusiastic about Leica zooms but the R primes are fantastic. IMO, the R8 is a great camera and is a pleasure to use. The controls are simple yet effective. For me the switch was a terrific success. If you already use and like the M camera/lens, I suspect you will also prefer the R setup to the N. Good luck. LB

-- Luther Berry (, November 27, 2001.

In general my feeling is that Leica R lenses, in general offer better performance at full aperture and one or two stops down then their Nikon counterparts. Whether they differ so much at f8 is always going to be open to debate. Most Leica lenses are also very flare resistant. I can't comment much on tonality which I assume has something to do with bokeh. The wide angles "to get" in the R system are the 19mm and the current 28mm. Both are exceptionally good and as good (plus or minus x) as their M equivalents. The 24mm is not a bad lens by any means but is not as good as the current 28mm. The 35mm Summicron-R is a nice lens, but pricey new considering its age. You can get a great 90mm Elmarit-R (2nd version) and a 180 APO telyt for reasonable prices and these are really top notch lenses by any standards. The even better lens than the 90mm Elmarit is the 100mm APO, but this is really the cream on top. If you want the current 180mm APO then you will be paying a lot ($2,400 s/h) I guess and I doubt you will notice any difference stopped down compared to the earlier APO Telyt.

-- Robin Smith (, November 27, 2001.

The short answer is yes there is a difference in tonality. Also bokeh, color saturation, and flare control. I prefer the Leica-R lenses for ALL these qualities.

Of the lenses you're considering, I've used the current 35mm Summicron-R, first-version 90mm Elmarit-R and the 180mm f/3.4 APO- Telyt-R. You won't be disappointed.

-- Douglas Herr (, November 27, 2001.

I still own (for sentimental reasons) my original set of Nikons, but my AF equipment will soon be going on the block. I have switched to Leica R and am very happy with the feel of the equipment and the results of the images. I would recommend either the 19/2.8 (latest),21/4 or 28/2.8 (latest) over the 24/2.8. The 35/2 is a keeper as is the 90/2.8, but I find the 90/2 gets more use because I have the 35-70/4 and 80-200/4 which are superb lenses...much better than any of the Nikkor zooms I've owned including 35-70/2.8 and 80- 200/2.8. I prefer the 180/2.8 (last pre-APO) to the 180/3.4 based on it's overall performance and the ability to use both 1.4x and 2x APO teleconverters. If I ever return to 35mm AF SLR it will probably be Canon, only for the wide range of IS lenses.

-- Jay (, November 27, 2001.

Just a note in response to Robin Smith's answer as it seems to echo a commonly held misconception - tonality and bokeh are not at all the same - bokeh has to do with the out of focus elements in a picture - imagine a 2 head portrait with one portraitee behind and to the side of the other - at a widish aperture/ longish lens, the more distant subject will be soft....but you may still be able to make the person out: the rendition may be smooth and natural (good bokeh). With espescially bad bokeh, the out of focus elements are cross-eyed (a kind of doubling effect which I think the japanese call "nisen") and this can cause the eye to be drawn toward this element instead of the principle subject - (an otherwise very useful nikon 35-70 2.8 I owned often spoilt pictures by doing this). By tonality I refer 1. to the ability to render a particular shade of e,g. red as that same shade 2. to the abiltiy to render subtle shades and nuances (like changing the setting on a monitor from thousands to millions of colours) and 3. the ability to capture detail in the extreme ranges of light and dark (a bit like dynamic range in a scanner or the gamut of an rgb device). My whole thing as far as photography is concerned is emotional resonance - so why my obsession with tones? Well, it seems that we "believe" in depth because of the gradation of light to dark in a picture - this somehow helps us to connect with the subject in the picture. In any case, I notice that I respond/connect to leica pictures more (in blind tests - try National Geo where you can see which pictures you like and then see what equipment the photographer used by looking at the ngm section of the website.) To top it off, customers (who certainly don't know or care about german v. jap lenses) vote with their wallets... The really interesting point as far as I'm concerned is whether it's the glass and/or coatings that give the tones, or the lens designs - if the latter then I guess the 80-200f4 should be about as good as the 70-180 2.8 (as it shares, more or less the optical configuration (and presumably (?) the coatings...). Unfortunately, the results I've seen aren't in the same league in tonal terms. BTW, lots of e.g. canon and minolta lenses are formulated to give excellent bokeh but certainly do not have the same tonality as the leica lenses. Apologies if this seems lecturing - it's just that this is a subject very close to my heart : )

-- stephen jones (, November 27, 2001.

My whole thing as far as photography is concerned is emotional resonance - so why my obsession with tones? Well, it seems that we "believe" in depth because of the gradation of light to dark in a picture - this somehow helps us to connect with the subject in the picture.

Exactly! My interest in the nuances of how lenses record the image is entirely because these differences, even where subtle, produce different emotional responses in the viewers.

-- Douglas Herr (, November 27, 2001.


Yes, I am confused about tonality. I am not really sure I know what it means. I know what good bokeh is which is hard enough to quantify (probably impossible), but when we get to tonality then it seems to me to become even more subjective. There is something in it, and you are clearly sensitised to it, but there seem to be so many variables and unless you shoot slide so much of the tonality seems to depend on processing and printing regimes which are highly variable. In the sense that tonality is a real issue, then I like the look produced by Leica lenses of the 60s (good resolution/sharpness, but less contrast) in which case getting Leica R lenses from that period might be the thing to do as they show this classic look. Is this "look" the same thing as "tonality"? Is this the look you are after? There is something in all this tonality stuff, but quite what I just do not know. If I am brutally honest I tend to think it is just so much philosophizing after the event.

-- Robin Smith (, November 27, 2001.

Tonality is the gradient between whitest white and blackest black. If your print has all shades of gray between black and white, it has good tonality. If your prints has discrete levels of gray between black and white, the tonality is not as good. In the second case there will be some shades of gray that are not in the print.

If you use Photoshop, you can see how good the tonality of your photo is by looking at the histograms. A histogram with all levels of gray between black and white will be some approximation of a distribution curve with no pieces missing. A histogram with pieces missing represents poorer tonality. The same is true of each color channel: missing color levels represent poorer tonality.

To bring this back to the original question, when I compare image files made with N**** glass with image files made with Leica-R glass I see more histograms with missing pieces in the N**** images (assuming identical black points and white points). The prints reflect this as well. The prints of photos made with Leica-R glass seem to have a richer tonality than the non-Leica photos.

-- Douglas Herr (, November 27, 2001.

I have a nice M system, and tried out an R4 and R7 with 3 primes for about a year. My conclusion was that although the lenses were excellent and very well made (and heavy), I did not see any major difference in image quality from my better Nikkors (emphasis on better)and My N90s gives me more accurate exposures and fill flash, has a built in 5 frames per second drive, and has a better focusing screen to my eye and a smoother shutter/mirror dampening. Add to that the ability to use an ED 300mm Nikkor when needed, and the Leica R got sold with no regrets. By the way, anyone who thinks Leica has the market cornered on quality wide aperture images hasn't shot with the current 85mm f1.8 AFD Nikkor. Its not bad at 1.8 and is every bit as good as the 90 Elmarit at f2.8, where I like to use it the most. Lovely bokeh as well. Clients have been amazed at the detail in their children's eyes in tight portraits with that lens.

-- Andrew Schank (, November 27, 2001.

Robin is at least partly correct, in my view, about the older generation R primes - you can go back further if you like - just look at some of those 1940's movies shot with old zeiss lenses- the tones are wonderful. Unfortunately, these older lenses have nothing like the flare control that we (spoilt people) are used to and in the end that stuff counts for quite a lot. You're faced with a bit of a trade off I'm afraid. As for the 851.8d, which I fear I have also owned, yeah it's a good lens with good bokeh but it's not really sharp until f4/5.6 and it's not even in the same ball park as any of the 902.8s. What I found was that it performed well at 10x8 on print film but that the image broke up if you did a sectional enlargement which meant a "real" enlargement of say 16x12. It also flared quite a bit and had a zingy electricy feel (pretentious fool I know) which my wife (it's not just me) noticed and objected to. I really am not exagerating when I say that the difference between that lens and the leica 90's I've used (esp the 90 f2 apo on the M) is enormous. I think that what irritates me a bit about the nikon lenses is the fact that they call lenses e.g. 1.8 when they really mean something like "1.8 for focussing purposes, f4 for taking purposes" - Leica have their faults, god knows..., but at least when they say f2.8 or f2.0 they mean it (even if they do charge accordingly...)

-- stephen jones (, November 27, 2001.

Just read Andrew Shank's posting properly and now seems like my last comment was rude to him. Sorry if it seems like that - I'm afraid I just skim read last time. Perhaps my 85 nikkor was a bit off - I think that there's quite a bit of variation unit to unit. Also, I certainly agree about the F/N90s/x (depending on US/Europe) which I think is a smashing camera and actually preferred to the F100s which I owned. I suppose it boils down to the vain wish to have leica lenses on nikon bodies in the end...

-- stephen jones (, November 27, 2001.


I think that what irritates me a bit about the nikon lenses is the fact that they call lenses e.g. 1.8 when they really mean something like "1.8 for focussing purposes, f4 for taking purposes" - Leica have their faults, god knows..., but at least when they say f2.8 or f2.0 they mean it (even if they do charge accordingly...)

I agree with this very strongly. Not all Leica lenses fall into this category (the 21mm Super-Angulon-R comes to mind) but in general I think this is true. This is what we pay through the nose for.


Hmm...I am not sure I really believe that Nikons cannot produce a full tonal scale like a Leica lens. This defies common sense. If it is different then I would call these differences contrast and resolution issues which certainly do differ lens to lens. If tonality means this then it is a real thing.

-- Robin Smith (, November 27, 2001.

Robin - I reckon most of the advantages can be lost when you use high contrast slide film so maybe you're right about it being to do with contrast ...BUT imagine a gently let italian hill side covered with painted houses and terracota roof tiles - the leica glass records each of the different hues as different whereas with the nikon picture you notice that the houses seem to have used the same paint a couple of times. This probably sounds bogus but you'll have to take it on faith that I got shown a slide show tof this very subject a few days ago by a guy who uses Leica - and that brings me to another key point you made before about the processing/ printing. It strikes me that this guy was projecting his slides through a super colorplan lens which even the local leica rep said was a "bit over-kill". Equally, there doesn't seem to me to be much point in enlarging/ scanning a leica picture using a nikon enlarging lens. Often the differences are lost in e.g. magazine work. National Geo is an exception to the rule - here the differences are very plain (maybe they use higher quality printing?). Anyway, I print my own work and I'm a lazy perfectionist - the leica images require quite a lot less work for me to be happy with them which, for me, is reason enough to value them.

-- stephen jones (, November 27, 2001.

Hmm...I am not sure I really believe that Nikons cannot produce a full tonal scale like a Leica lens. This defies common sense. If it is different then I would call these differences contrast and resolution issues which certainly do differ lens to lens. If tonality means this then it is a real thing.

When I use the Leica lenses I get deeper shadows and brighter highlights. To get the equivalent blacks and whites with the N**** lenses I have to stretch the tonal scale in Photoshop, equivalent to using a harder grade of paper under the enlarger. Stretching the tonal scale is what causes the loss of tonality.

-- Douglas Herr (, November 27, 2001.

I'm not sure you are on the best site to get unbiased comments :)

I would love if you posted the same question on a Nikon forum and see which answers you get.

-- Xavier (, November 27, 2001.


I was a Nikon and Canon user before I switched completely to Leica M and R cameras and lenses. I had a Nikon N90S with 24, 50/f1.4, 35- 105 and 75-300 lenses. I also had a Canon EOS-1N RS with 28-135 and 50/f1.4 lenses. I now have a Leica M6 TTL outfit with 21, 35, 50 and 90 lenses, and a Leica R8 outfit with 28, 50, 60, 90, 100 APO and 135 lenses. I have decided to shrink the R8 outfit to just 28, 60 and 100 lenses. I have literally thousands of slides in my files, and the ones shot with Leica lenses look better, even on a slide table. When I project them, then the differences are even more obvious. If you want the ultimate color fidelity and saturation in your slides, then Leica lenses are the way to go! In the distant past, I was happy with my Nikon and Canon lenses. But now that I have experienced Leica, nothing else will do! :-)

-- Muhammad Chishty (, November 27, 2001.

two points: 1. lets compare apples to apples: current Leica glass to pro Nikon glass such as the 28mm 1.4 AFD, the 85mm1.4 AFD, the 105mm 2.0 AFD DC the 180 2.8 AFD EDIF -not to golden oldies like the 105mm 2.5 AIS.

2. Lets recognize that the vast majority of top pro shooters, the likes of McCurry, Turnley, Rowell and Maisel, do not use Leica R even though they could well afford to do so. The flexibilty of the huge Nikon and Canon systems may be one reason; but also the quality of the glass is much better than Leica fans want to admit. Do you seriously think McCurry could have made a better picture of that Afghan girl if he had used a Leica? The fact is, many if not most top pros keep a leica M in their kit because there are situations when only an M will get the shot. The great glass is a bonus, but it's not the reason why.

-- david kelly (, November 27, 2001.

Yes, I realize that I am unlikely to get unbiased comments! I'm sure the Nikon users' site would give answers that are different. However, I have a built in bias toward Leitz glass from previous experience of the M series.

I've purposely not compared the latest Nikon glass to the Leica, since I would like to compare what I have to what I may reasonably consider (note that the latest Leica glass does not figure prominently on my list either, the cost being prohibitive). I have no particular need for ultra-fast or exotic lenses, so the AIS Nikkors or slightly older (1980s era design) Leica lenses will have to do (I personally cannot stand the sub-standard build quality of the comparable Nikkor AF optics, nor do I need or want autofocus). I'm sure that the globe-trotting pros use Nikon and Canon for reasons having nothing to do with the available glass: availability of repairs and backups being just one valid reason. I'm not in that situation nor do I plan to be.

Thank you for the insights provided. I may start out with an R8 and the 35mm Summicron-R to see if it's for me. I suspect that it will be.

-- Dan Kreithen (, November 27, 2001.

boy, is my face red....maybe! a fellow Leiconian has just told me thast he thinks McCurry's Afghan girl was shot with an R and the 180 3.4 APO!......... I had assumed that McCurry used a Nikon as usual, but I didn't check it out -anybody know for sure? Meanwhile I'll get to cooking up a mess of crow, just in case...

-- david kelly (, November 27, 2001.

David - Steve McCurry is the photographer I most admire ...period. I love his photographs. I am also quite sure that they would, from time to time be better if he used leica lenses. He tends to under expose slightly to increase the saturation of his velvia - check out his awesome web site www. which I feel is a bit of a work around. Compare this with David Alan Harvey's cuba work and you'll see what I mean about tonal range - they use the same film after all. Let's face it, SMcC uses f100's etc because of the reliability, weight etc of these cameras rather than for the outstanding quality of nikon lenses. As far as comparing apples with apples, my experience of using these lenses is that the ais primes (with a few exceptions) give much better tonality than the af/d lenses with only a very small (sometimes non-existent) reduction in sharpness. For what it's worth, I think you'll find that the 282.8 ais lens is far superior to the 281.4afd for example - the latter is more of a "look see what we can do" lens. I'm never sure about the "lots of pro's use nikon and canon" argument - sure they do but then maybe their key selling point may not be how subtle and emotionally involving their pictures are -or they may simply value a reputation for reliability (which Leica has done a good job of blowing with the R8) above anything else - a lot of these guys also enjoy sponsorship - I think I'm correct in saying that Nat Geo hands out cameras to its staff reporters for example.

-- stephen jones (, November 27, 2001.

boy, is my face red....maybe! a fellow Leiconian has just told me thast he thinks McCurry's Afghan girl was shot with an R and the 180 3.4 APO!......... I had assumed that McCurry used a Nikon as usual, but I didn't check it out -anybody know for sure?
<<< As far as I know, he used a 105 f/2.5 Nikkor.

-- Douglas Herr (, November 27, 2001.

Yea, the AF Nikkors are pretty plasticy feeling, but they are nice and light. No offense was taken to the poster above. I just got back about 50 close up portraits of children all taken with the 85 f1.8 all shot at 1.8 and 2.8, auto focus, hand held, in low light with the Agfa 400 speed pro print film. Some of the nicest images I have ever taken. It got me thinking about how much more money a person could spend on a SLR outfit, and all for some percieved advantage that may not even exist. By the way, I was not able to get as good results under the same circumstances with the heavy R7, winder, 90 f2.8 Elmarit kit I used to have. I couldn't hold that rig still for anything under 1/125 second and even then, camera shake was a problem at times, and the R7 was suppoosed to have a better dampened mirror than the earlier R cameras. I also found it difficult to accuratly focus with the R screens, which do not snap in and out of focus like the ones on the Nikon N90s. Love my M3, but I'm afraid I'm not sold on the advantages of Leica SLR's. I don't think they offer a good value for the money, and that's why their sales are always in the toilet.

-- Andrew Schank (, November 27, 2001.

I always thought that Steve McCurry's "portraits" were glorified travel snaps. I laughed when I found out that some people considered him more than just an adequate photographer.

Peter Hughes Photography

-- Peter Hughes (, November 27, 2001.

This may well be the most thought-provoking thread we've ever had. I think we should return to it periodically as we have time to digest all this and respond. My immediate reaction: Stephen Jones noted the quality of 1940's movies and attributed it to the Zeiss lenses. I'm going to suggest that we also look at the difference between older emulsions and current ones. This may be just as great a factor in explaining the tonal richness of old movies. Modern thin emulsions seem to stress image quality, but the pictures don't seem as "rich" to me as the older, thicker emulsion films. My vote for "tonal poverty" would go to T-Max 100. For Tonal Richness: Tri- X; Plus-X; FP-4. The old-fashioned stuff. I think this has as much to do with it as lenses.

This thread raises multiple issues. Leica vs. Nikon. But also, what do we mean by tonality. Can this be defined? It may be what I call "gradation." It seems elusive, as in "I don't know what it is, but I know it when I see it." I think this discussion should be continued.

-- Bob Fleischman (, November 27, 2001.

I agree, Bob. Very thought provoking, indeed.

One of the first thoughts through my head was film's influence on all of the above. True, a lens' ability to render a (more) complete tonal scale is a finite specification, but perhaps the better lens will perform better using a lower contrast film/dev combo, or a tranny film like Astia. Astia has noticably better highlight/shadow detail than that of Velvia or (god forbid) E100VS. I won't get into print films, too many variables.

I think what it boils down to is the quality of glass and coating used in the lens. When we are able to bend light without glass, then it won't matter. Until then.....

I was a bit disturbed at david's comment re: the nikkor 28/1.4, as I know it is not as sharp as the 2.8, or the 24/2.8, which I own. I'll address this in a bit-

Speaking of the 24/2.8, I was shooting with it at Ekutna Lake (near Anch, AK) at sunrise sunday. Quite a bit of fog persisted, and illumination was fairly even.

I composed a shot near the lake's edge, and consisted of frost- covered foliage and rocks, and was very abundant in highlight values. I bracketed quite a bit (8", 4", 2", 1", and 1/2" @ 22) and processed the Delta 100 in ilfosol 1:14, which has given great high-key detail. It was a very high contrast scene, with dark rocks in shadows underneath the fronst-covered foliage. The results gave me lower contrast in the patches of frost, and I was admittedly disappointed. I haven't finished printing it, so the jury's still out. I think by using the split-filter technique, I can squeeze an acceptable print.

Which makes me wonder what the equivalent Leica glass would have rendered.

OK david, about that glass- The lenses listed are not exactly what I would consider the cream of Nikon's crop. The 28 is a PJ's lens, the 85, yes is nice, the 105 I'm not sure about, but the 180 is near flawless. However, these are some of nikon's fastest- Leading me to wonder if that might be a contributing factor- Yeah, sure the 28/2.8 is sharper, but will it render a more complete scale? I don't know....

Finally, Andrew, I'm glad you enjoy the 85/1.8D. I use this lens on my F3HP and love the combo, esp. for children. A very wonderful lens, I believe it's sharpness is indistinguishable from the R 90/2 APO @f/5.6.

I'm looking forward to further discussion on this topic- very thought- provoking indeed.

-- Mike DeVoue (, November 28, 2001.

I have been using Nikons for ten years and R optics are far superior regardless of generation or how many cams or whether it was made in Japan. You will not be disappointed. If you are even considering medium format I suggest you try to squeeze every drop of quality out of your future R8 first and that is by using a sturdy tripod and slow film. My R8 is for tripod use only and for handheld I have other more capable tools.

That said....I am still keeping my manual Nikons. It is an entirely different beast altogether and the pleasure I get from just holding an F3T/MD4 is beyond my pedestrian prose. Besides when I sold my F4s and F100 the money I got hardly covered my first Summilux. Put your Nikons away in a safe corner and years from now your trusty old friends will be there waiting.

-- ray tai (, November 28, 2001.

I agree completely with Andrew and Mike that the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 AF- D is a surprisingly nice lens, especially for $350. It has a decidedly smoother and more graceful look than my other Nikkors. It's sharp without being harsh. Maybe it has something to do with the internal focus design.

I keep thinking that I want a 75mm or 90mm for my RF system, but then I'll find an occasion to use the 85mm Nikkor on an FM or FM2. And the combination is so easy to use, and the images so rewarding, that I resign myself to keeping a Nikon body just to go with that lens. After all, I would want a 0.85 body to go with a 90mm lens, and an FM2 is not that much bigger than an M, and my FM2 with the 85mm has yet to intimidate a portrait subject....

-- John Morris (, November 28, 2001.

Tonality, etc: like most people here, I have also used other 35mm hardware before finally jumping into the Leica boat. Will not go through all the good and not so good reasons for that personal choice. However, major improvement in imaging performance was not the main one, because, to my eyes, such improvement in jumping from high end of 35mm line 1 to high end of 35mm line 2 , when it is there, is objectively marginal.

I would nevertheles point out that very reliable maximum aperture performance for all current M lenses is a real, MAJOR, optical differenciator on a line wide basis. After that, discussion comes down to Leica XXmm fx.x v Nicaminotax XXmm fx.x, with some winners, some loosers, and mostly ex-aequos. That is visible in the discussion above and throughout the "competing" Internet discussion groups.

Now, you have a nice M setup. Why block large amounts of (presumably) hard earned cash in duplicating focal lengths on a SLR? Unless your funds are illimited (like Mr Jay), why not concentrate your disposable income on upgrading yet further your M setup (with a 35 f1.4 asph and a faster short tele for example)? This would maximise real life versatility.

SLR applications not easily managed through a M system are finally few and far between: macro, longer teles, tilt & shift architectural pics. That is all. And even for those, some M fundamentalists have their idiosyncratic ways... ;-)

Using R instead of N for those applications might bring you marginal advantages in imaging coherence (stability of colour reproduction through the systems being the main one, and identical imaging footprints for those few constructions that have been ported in both systems). You will also have more fun at shooting stage (unique Leica touch&feel, ergonomics, etc), but that has nothing to do with this discussion.

But if tonality is your Graal, real leaps only occur when you go for larger emulsion dimensions. In the 35mm world, differences are incremental (though I agree Nikon's renditions often are "harsher"). Spend you bucks on Hasselblad or Contax 645 systems (and a proper MF projector as well as a proper MF scanner) !

-- Jacques (, November 28, 2001.

Mike: yes my hasty list favored PJ lenses. I'm an editor and have spent years underpaying PJs -also I had just read a comment by Peter Turnley that the 2.8 1.4 and 85 1.4 were now his most used Nikkors, so they were in what passes for my forebrain. Myself I favor the much lighter 24mm 2.8 that was giving you fits and 85mm 1.8. I actually like cheesy plastic; but PJs are buff: those two fast AF Nikkors are built as well and as heavily as the AIS Nikkors of yore or, for that matter, the tank-like f5s and f100s they usually protrude from. And since wide-open performance is so often cited to justify the high cost of Leica glass I think a fair comparison is to go vampire all the way.......

-- david kelly (, November 28, 2001.

Overheard in a camera store: "The problem with Nikon glass is that it has lots of contrast, but in all the wrong places." Possibly putting it a bit strong...

Personally I switched from Zeiss/Contax to Leica when I discovered that I was getting Velvia slides that were overexposed AND underexposed at the same time. Canadian pre-ASPH glass fixed that fast.

The short, SHORT version of my take (leaving out a lot of supporting details) is that Leica glass has LESS macro-contrast than the norm today WITHOUT sacrificing micro-contrast - i.e., the lenses are slightly 'flatter' but still produce extremely sharp crisp edges - especially wide-open. My R experience (mostly trying out the 400/250/ 180/135s from the previous generation) is that they are very similar to the Canadian Ms. I do believe the Leica lenses give TONES, if not sharpness, (and with slow film) that is much closer to 6x6/4x5 than most recent 35mm lenses.

I give you a link to this picture, which has (to my eye) amazing tonal gradations; in skin; in white cloth; in gray cloth; in the varieties of leaves in the background. (21mm f/2.8, Pan F)

I think tonal rendition has an INFLUENCE on 'bokeh', but is not the same thing. Smooth tonalities help decent bokeh look even better. (Another link) (90mm Summicron-M, Pan F).

I've been fighting 'contrast' in lenses since about 1980, when I started replacing 60s-70s era Nikkors with newer Nikon or Canon MF lenses. Those older lenses, albeit somewhat resolution-challenged (try the original 20 f/3.5 Nikkor, e.g.) FLOWED light and color onto snappy slide films (K-chrome) like water.

After 1980 or so it seems like both film manufacturers and lens makers were adding contrast at the same time. I also think the constant search for more MACRO contrast has to do with color negative films taking over the marketplace - they inherently have less contrast and edge sharpness (due to dye clouds) and lens-makers have been trying to compensate by upping the MTF performance rather than classic resolution. Erwin Puts goes on about the Zeiss study re "40 lpp/mm with LOTS of contrast" being the ideal for the sharpest "looking" pictures, which study has probably influenced everybody - even Leica.

-- Andy Piper (, November 28, 2001.

Here in Leicaland we sometimes forget how good Nikons really can be (peace, Canonites, I've no knowledge or experience of Canons outside of a shop). A modern system built around F5s, F100s, an F3 etc. is a hugely competent and versatile toolkit. And the same goes for their optics, let's face it, they are top-notch from any real world perspective.

But you say "My question: will a be able to achieve M-like tonality (and sharpness) from R series lenses?". Sure, but why exactly, when you already have a Nikon system and an M system?

And as for "this would tell me that for my (amateur) use, medium format is unnecessary and the equipment too heavy." the fact is simply, that at 13x19, MF is going to take you places in terms of tonality that no 35mm system will not. And to preclude yourself from doing so merely because you are an amateur, yet to be be willing to shell out money for a Leica R system for a small perceptual difference in making largish prints, is perhaps to make the wrong choice in expanding your frontiers.

If I were you, I would get a used Hasselblad with 1-2 lenses, or even a Mamiya 7 system, check it out for a year making 13x19 prints, and then decide the trade-offs.

Oh, and forget those photodo charts. They really are no practical use unless you want to lose your mind :-)


-- Mani Sitaraman (, November 28, 2001.

Should be "that no 35mm system will.", of course.

-- Mani Sitaraman (, November 28, 2001.

AFAIK Steve McCurry has always used Nikon cameras and lenses.

-- Muhammad Chishty (, November 28, 2001.

I also found it difficult to accuratly focus with the R screens, which do not snap in and out of focus

I've never been fond of the R3 through R7 viewscreens either. The Leicaflex SL and SL2, and the R8, have much better viewscreens than the R3 through R7. I have much better success with the SL, even with fast-moving subjects, like Pete.

-- Douglas Herr (, November 28, 2001.

"This thread raises multiple issues."

I think Bob is right but would suggest that perhaps the current thread should be split into multiple ongoing threads. Each thread could then concentrate on a single subject. Possible threads might be: 1) Nikon vs Leica (original thread) 2) Tonality (what is it, manifestations, examples, etc.) 3) Bokeh (what is it, manifestations, examples, etc.) 4) Factors affecting lens evaluations (which factors do we each use and why) 5) Favorite Leica lenses It seems this thread has touched on all of these issues. LB

-- Luther Berry (, November 28, 2001.

Just to agree with what A.S. said about the ease of focusing of the 85 1,8 on an e.g. f100 - presumably this is due to focus screen technology (rather than max. aperture contrast?) - a combination of contrast and brightness in the v.f. image - I had to give up with Contax SLRs for exactly the reason that their v/f's were too "dreamy" for my vision and were difficult to use. As for tonality, if that Afghan girl picture was taken with a nikkor (it's on the front of national geo collector's ed vol.1 which they're pushing in the shops for xmas) well, all I can say is that I'm very impressed indeed. I have to say that it's not in line with my experience, particularly with the af nikkors. One theory I toy with is that the af sensors in these cameras required a higher, more abrasive contrast; a greater separation of tones in order to "catch focus". This theory is supported only by anecdotal evidence I'm afraid, but might explain why the new, afs lenses seem gentler (the af sensors are getting more sophisticated...) this is all idle speculation, of course. As far as getting good tones is concerned, I love tri-x too which is fabulous at e.i. 200 in stockler's 2 bath - makes your shots look like they're from the 40's but (hopefully) without the flare. Anyway, it's good to know so many people care about this stuff.

-- stephen jones (, November 28, 2001.

For those interested I have the Summer 1998 edition of the Nikon World Portfolio magazine featuring Steve McCurry.

The famous portrait of the girl was shot with a Nikon FM and a 105/2.5 lens, according to the caption under the picture. Sorry, it doesn't list the film.

Most of his shots in this feature were shot with an FM using a 28, 35, 50 & 105 lens.

-- Jim Tardio (, November 28, 2001.

Sorry, he used an FM2...not an FM.

-- Jim Tardio (, November 28, 2001.

Jim Tardio: Bless you, sir! I have been trying for years to find a definitive answer to which lens captured that Afghan picture. Not that I'm running out to buy one - it's equally clear that McCurry's paying attention to the light and his surroundings were far more important than the actual glass involved.

The film was almost certainly one of the K'chromes, because: 1) that's what he was using most of the time, and 2) the image quality (too crisp/contrasty/rich for early '80s E6 emulsions).

-- Andy Piper (, November 29, 2001.

My pleasure, Andy.

I'm pretty fond of Nikon's 85/1.8. It's nice and small and light. Here's a shot made with it...not quite in McCurry's league:

-- Jim Tardio (, November 29, 2001.

I stumbled onto this Leica thread looking for something else and, as a Nikon user, I was intrigued by the Leica vs. Nikon glass debate.

What I have learned that it's the COMBINATION of several things that affect the tonality of a black and white image. It's the characteristics of the glass you're using WITH the film WITH the film developer.

For instance, I have an older Nikon pre-AI 105mm 2.5 lens (I exclusively use manual focus lenses on Nikon FM2's). This lens has the older, simple 5/3 Sonnar design. As with any lens, I almost always use it at f5.6 or f8 (for sharpness and depth of field - but will occasionally use it at f2.5 for portraits). Since the glass is only single coated, I am careful to use it with a hood and never toward the sun (which is my standard practice anyway, no matter what lens I'm using). I don't know if it's the simple design or what,but images taken with this lens provide wonderful (especially smooth) tonality.

But I attest part of that to using Tri-X, usually shooting in soft, enveloping light, and developing the film for about 30% less time than normal. I also use D-23, 1:1 dilution, which I find really promotes a long, rich tonality with Tri-X.

Now if someone was to shoot that same image with a Leica camera and a 90mm 2.8 Elmarit in harsh noonday light, using T-Max 400, and develop it in TMax developer at 1+4 dilution, would the results be "better". I dunno, but certainly the images would look different. If the image was of a homeless man withering away from AIDS, maybe the Leica combination would be the more appropriate choice. If it were a coastal fishing village with surrounding marshes, perhaps the Nikon combination would be more pleasing.

You can debate cameras and lenses forever, but getting out there and getting the picture is what counts (whether it's documentary, or landscape,or whatever). Within this thread there are numerous references to Steve McCurry's portrait of the Afghan girl. But what if McCurry had not been there at that point and time, or if he would have said to himself I can't take this picture because I don't have my...fill in the and my...fill in the blank...lens. Or because he was back home doing lens testing and comparing his results to MTF charts.

I once read that the motto of National Geographic photographers is "set your camera at f8 and be there". That's something for all of us armchair photographers to think about. You can't bring home the picture when you're debating lenses on the Web!

-- David Vogt (, March 05, 2002.

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