A Question about the First Leicas

Discussion in 'Rangefinder Forum' started by T42, Dec 25, 2010.

  1. T42

    T42 Member

    Messages:
    121
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2006
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Hello Forum.

    Seems that I have read someplace that marketing for some early Leicas claimed that they were able to resolve one million picture elements, or some words to that effect.

    I am puzzled trying to discern what that first Leica with a 5cm f3.5 Elmar might equate to if translated into terms of a modern camera's image resolving power. I understand this is an issue of optics and film in the Leica.

    But I am wondering how to figure out about what megapixel count would have been required to deliver the images that the Leica's lens could resolve at that time.

    Or to put it into another, simplistic sort of way... How many megapixels was that first Leica? Any way to know this kind of thing?

    Thanks.

    :smile:
     
  2. Hikari

    Hikari Member

    Messages:
    188
    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2010
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    My first question is what are you trying to "prove"?

    The question is in essence unsolvable. Too many variables. Are you talking at all apertures? With modern or contemporary film? With high or low contrast targets? Are you interested in just resolving power or its MTF? Are you interested in a "look"? How do you "translate" an analog image to a digital one (simply thinking in lines/mm and dividing a sensor into an imaginary grid does not tell the whole story)? Are you looking to match a sensor to the lens?

    A simple way to get a feel about how this lens works is by mounting it on an M9 (or an m4/3 or Sony Nex camera and extrapolate an answer for a 35mm-size image plane).

    BTW, in modern terms in purely technical quality, the 5cm Elmar is not such a great lens.
     
  3. Xmas

    Xmas Member

    Messages:
    6,453
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Location:
    UK
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    Hi

    As previous post, MTF for the early Elmar are available, or you can try one with modern mono or color film or even a M9. Lots of people still use them.

    The contemporary film was slow and grainy...

    Even the modern circa 94 Elmar in high refractive glass has a (residual) thin lens triplet signature, but is compact.

    Noel
     
  4. AgX

    AgX Member

    Messages:
    11,936
    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2007
    Location:
    Germany
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Relating image detail of film to pixel-number of digital sensor is a venture, technically speaking.
     
  5. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,392
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2006
    Location:
    Rural NW MO
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    As others imply, comparing traditional film resolution tests with pixel counts isn't valid. However, tests of a later Elmar http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=003PVO indicate at least 40 line pairs per mm resolution, corner to corner. This might be similar to several mp resolution in a digital camera. Of course center resolution is better. The early Elmar might not fare so well, but could make fine images. That's really the most important consideration.
     
  6. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

    Messages:
    7,473
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2007
    Location:
    Midwest USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    As pointed out that lens has resolution less than typical film. In terms of megapixels, film does not have pixels.
     
  7. T42

    T42 Member

    Messages:
    121
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2006
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Thanks Fellows.

    I can see now that I should have framed the thread's question differently. I understand that there are many variables involved. Allow me to key in on Hikari's question: "My first question is what are you trying to "prove"?"

    Okay, here is the collection of basic ideas which I have read, and which precipitated the question I am trying to frame and get answered:

    It has been said that Leitz's introduction of the Leica and its subsequent growing popularity changed photography fundamentally. Pictures which were once made by contact prints could thereafter be made by enlargement more effectively than in previous times. This was attributed in part to the Leica's lens being capable of making reasonably sharp images, sharp enough to enlarge a few times at least and still be "perceived" as sharp.

    That gets to Jim Jones' comment: "The early Elmar might not fare so well, but could make fine images. That's really the most important consideration."

    By the early 1930s, the 35 was becoming accepted for journalism and for magazines like National Geographic, LOOK, LIFE, and such. Zeiss Contax was getting into the 35mm game by then too.

    I read in Morgan and Lester's 1956 edition of The Leica Manual and Data Book that the human eye can only see about 1/30th of a degree in terms of resolving what is perceived as "sharp." It also submits that most people see clearly no closer than about ten inches away. This, they say, works out to an ability of the human eye to resolve at most about 100 lines per inch in the finished print, viewed from 10 inches away. From this the authors add that at 20 inches away, that resolution goes down to 50 lines per inch. 25 lines at 40 inches away, and so on. At 2000 inches a brick wall with 2 inch bricks will begin to look like a solid red wall. A billboard seen from a distance "appears" sharp, because we never get close enough to see those dots. All this because of the eye's 1/30th degree limitation to resolve details.

    So, the idea goes, that the maximum size print that one would want to hold at ten inches for examination, and perceive as sharp, defines the basic requirement for resolution in a camera/lens/film combination. A ten inch print would need 1000 lines in the 10 inch dimension.

    Okay, I think I got that. Sorta. But whatever does all that translate to in terms of modern nomenclature such as line pairs and pixels?

    What specification of modern pixel-packing camera would reasonably equate to the Leica of 1925 or 1933 or thereabouts? Assume optics and film then available about 1930.

    My guess is that it would only be a few Mpxls at most, as Jim Jones mentioned upthread. But with all the variables and differences in nomenclature involved like lines, line pairs, dots, pixels, ad infinitum, it is difficult for me to come to any reasonable way of getting an answer by calculation.

    Thanks for trying to help.

    HTH..
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 26, 2010
  8. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

    Messages:
    20,584
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2007
    Location:
    Southern California
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Henry, a better try this time. But what does it really matter? Black & white film, even film from the 1920s and 1930s, has "soul". There is a vitality in film which still does not exist in digital. Since it does not exist in digital, who cares, we have it on film. Let the digi-snappers snap away and we will do our thing.

    Legal Disclaimer: I do not own nor have ever owned a Leica camera, but nothing really beats a good piece of glass.

    Steve
     
  9. T42

    T42 Member

    Messages:
    121
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2006
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Hello Steve.

    It only matters inasmuch as I am trying to understand how over-hyped all the megapixel stuff is with those who think digital is the beginning and the end of photography today. The earliest Leicas, in the hands of real photographers, made pictures good enough for LOOK, LIFE, and National Geographic.

    As we all know here, there are many considerations more important than stupid megapixel counts and the length of "feature" lists.

    BTW, I like your tagline. I used to have a 500c with 80mm Planar. Stupendously good images it made in my hands. I miss it still. And 6cm film is so much more fun to me in the darkroom too. That was the only camera I ever sold and which I regretted selling later on.

    Happy day.

    :smile:
     
  10. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,392
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2006
    Location:
    Rural NW MO
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
     
  11. T42

    T42 Member

    Messages:
    121
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2006
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Hello Jim.

    I appreciate your help.

    Good point about LF contacts. Morgan and Lester may not be right. I can't prove what those two Leicaphiles said about 1/30th degree, nor do I see it mentioned elsewhere on the web yet. I agree with the gentlemen above who suggest that there's definitely more to this than a simple digi/film comparison.

    I note that up-thread you wondered if the early Elmar might have had about 40 line pairs per millimeter. That would translate to about 80 pixels per mm. So, then, (24mm X 80 pixels) times (36mm X 80 pixels) would suggest a capability of the camera in the neighborhood of 5.5 Mpxls ... if the film then available could resolve it also, and if all those other variables were not overbearing.

    If so, I am left thinking that it might be that the early Leicas which were thought to be "sharp enough" and "enlargeable enough" to enter the service of National Geographic, LOOK, and LIFE, just might have been capable of what we now think of as 5 or so megapixels.

    Consider Lester and Morgan's idea about 100 lines per inch in the finished print, viewed at no closer than ten inches. At 40 lines per mm in the negative, that implies potential for a 14.4 inch print in the long dimension, and which would be "perceived as sharp" when viewed at ten inches away. I think I would probably view a 14 inch print further away than that. I will guess that is about as large as an image would have appeared in LOOK, National Geographic, or LIFE.

    I'm assuming that the "line" of 1956 is the "line pair" of today, and that a line pair is approximately the same as 2 pixels. The "lines" described by Lester and Morgan have white spaces between them, but they do not use the term "line pair" as we do today.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 28, 2010
  12. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,266
    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2009
    Location:
    Rome, Italy
    Shooter:
    35mm
    The question you raise can be generalized in how many pixels a film camera, with high quality optics and high resolution film, would have if compared with a modern digital camera. It is an interesting question indeed for the technically minded.

    I'll jump very quickly over all the obvious stuff about the fact that resolution does not art make and post here some interesting observations that somebody else made on the subject.

    Norman Koren has an extensive essay:
    http://www.normankoren.com/Tutorials/MTF7.html

    Ken Rockwell makes some interesting considerations:
    http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/filmdig.htm

    Another simplified text quoting Ken Rockwell:
    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_megapixels_would_it_take_to_equal_a_35mm_film_maximum_quality

    I find this text by Vitale to be extremely interesting:
    http://cool.conservation-us.org/coo...itale/2007-04-vitale-filmgrain_resolution.pdf

    I would like to add two personal considerations:

    My slides scanned at 4000 dpi with a Nikon Coolscan 5000 ED yield scan files of around 108 MB 16 bit per channel. That equates to 54 MB at 8 bit per channel which corresponds if I get it right to a JPEG obtained with a 18 megapixels camera. I see no "wasted pixels" on my scans. When I view images along diagonal edges at 600% or so on the monitor, so that I can see each scanned pixel as a square on the monitor, I can clearly see no "double pixels", each pixel is different from the ones near to it and they all contribute to the image. I see that each pixel is useful to the definition, there are not pixels which do not contribute to the definition of the image, so my personal take is that 100 modern high-resolution slide film like Astia 100 is certainly capable of deliverying a resolution comparable to a 18mp camera. That's comparing digital to scan, which puts scan at a disadvantage (nobody tried to compare digital and film the other way, by obtaining a slide from a digital image, and comparing it with a film slide).

    On the other hand, stock agencies like Photolibrary which would not accept images below 12 mp go on accepting scanned 35mm images, not necessarily drum scanned. That poses film scans above the 10 mp league.

    So I think the equivalent resolution of film, by my impression and judging by industry practice, is more or less in the 15 - 20 mp range.

    Fabrizio
     
  13. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

    Messages:
    16,824
    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2005
    Location:
    Delta, BC, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Questions like the ones raised here are only meaningful when considering prints. Given how undemanding even the highest resolution monitors are, it seems ironic that the questions are even asked when you consider how (relatively) few digital files ever end up getting printed.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. polka

    polka Member

    Messages:
    65
    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    About eyesight resolution, I found in several astronomy books (concerned with optical instruments) that it went down to 3/4 of one minute arc (one minute arc is 1/60 of a degree) so approximately 1/80 of a degree. This is meant to be the "grain" of the human retina at the spot called the "fovea" - and which is considered to be relatively constant from one person to another, and gives the limit of the best sighting when our eyes are optimally focused.

    Paul
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 29, 2010
  16. T42

    T42 Member

    Messages:
    121
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2006
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Hello Folks.

    @Fabrizio
    Thanks for your experience based insight and for those links. That was very useful reading.

    @Matt
    Good point. I guess I am just a curious person wanting to get a grasp on "how good" the early cameras were which made those first 35mm pictures in LOOK, LIFE, and National Geographic. I suspect that they would not translate into much in terms of megapixel equivalence, but it's just a guess.

    @Paul
    That's very good data which I had not heard about. 1/80th of one degree. The authors of the Leica Manual of 1956 say it's 1/30th of a degree. And they conclude that most folks can only resolve about 100 lines per inch (25.4mm) when viewing a print at ten inches (254mm). 1/80th of a degree seems to turn that idea on its head. I'm assuming that the "lines" in the 1956 Leica Manual are equivalent to today's "line pairs," since the "lines" described had bands of white space between each of them.

    Thanks again for the help.
     
  17. Erik Petersson

    Erik Petersson Subscriber

    Messages:
    683
    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2006
    Location:
    Stockholm, S
    Shooter:
    35mm
    It would be interesting to know how such maximum eyesight translates to the opticians recommendations. In Sweden - and probably elsewhere - they strive for 1.0 eyesight when adjusting eyeglasses. It means that one can resolve the smallest line of letters on that traditional poster on the wall. 0.9 or 0.6 means that one can resolve the next smallest or the sixths smallest line.

    Myself, I can see none of those letters without glasses or contact lenses, but with them I exceed the recommendations considerably (1.5 eyesight they told me.)
     
  18. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,392
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2006
    Location:
    Rural NW MO
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The eye constantly moves, and perhaps superimposes image upon image much as video does. If large projections of grainy movies appear reasonable sharp, perhaps our eye and brain accomplishes the same. Just a thought, with no scientific citations to support it.
     
  19. AgX

    AgX Member

    Messages:
    11,936
    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2007
    Location:
    Germany
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    At my age all these numbers have merely academic value...
     
  20. aluncrockford

    aluncrockford Member

    Messages:
    101
    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2008
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    having used a 1938 Leica I can honestly say that the quality is perfectly fine and although not as painfully sharp as a cannon 50D when scanned on an imacon you get a very fine 55meg file, I have no idea about the teccy stuff but I do know that the look of the Leica is perfectly good for most things, and has a fingerprint that is a lot more sesitive than most if not all digital captures to give you an idea of what I mean the files on this link below are all taken with a Leica II

    http://aluncrockford.com/archive2.html
     
  21. polka

    polka Member

    Messages:
    65
    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    just googled this which agrees with what I knew from my astronomy books : see his definition of Blackwell's "critical acuity" as the resolution of a spot as a non-point source (which is the thing that matters most to astronomers).

    ... and a lot of other very interesting related data in this document

    Paul
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 30, 2010
  22. MarkG

    MarkG Member

    Messages:
    33
    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2008
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Seeing What the First Leica Photographers Photographed

    Your question and line of inquiry regarding the first Leicas touches on the larger issue of how we "see." For me, this is an issue of both professional and personal interest . . . I am a Leica shooter and I design visualization software. Allow me to make a couple of observations/points:

    1) "Seeing" is a largely cognitive process that involves, among other things, the subconscious reinterpretation of a two dimensional representation on our retina into a three dimensional spatial scene. "Pixel count" is merely one factor that influences how the brain/mind accomplishes this task.

    2) As another thread contributor guessed (correctly), the mind constructs the image we see by integrating a series of "perceptive passes" over the field of view and knitting them together to form what we perceive as "what we see." As the eye is sweeping a scene, it is constantly adjusting the iris (aperture) to compensate for different light levels (think HDR only biological) as well as INCLUDING and EXCLUDING items that either meet or fail to meet what is of conscious interest to the viewer. You know the phrase: "I looked right at it and just didn't see it." Indeed. Visual cognition at work. (For more info on this process, take a look at this book: http://www.amazon.com/Visual-Intell...9679/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294156047&sr=8-1)

    3) Viewing a photograph is actually done from a perspective that is two degrees removed from objective reality (that is, what a collection of CCTV cameras might record): first, you are seeing what the photographer has chosen to capture, in the manner s/he chose, with the tools s/he had available. Lots of subjectivity and exclusion at work here. Second, you are also bringing cognitive biases to bear on your process of looking at that image. If, for instance, you are looking at one of HCB's images, you might ask: is this a decisive moment? If so, how? Or perhaps you are hyper attentive to the sexual tension that suffuses Helmet Newton's work. Either way, you are subconsciously (and maybe consciously) filtering the scene, emphasizing some elements, while de-emphasizing others. And because of that, the moment of visual cognition and apprehension is ultimately personal and unique.

    So what does this mean for the early Leica shooters? And why was their work considered "great"? The early Leica shooters were using an instrument that was the first of a new genre of photographic tool: light, portable, high quality lens, virtually indestructible. For its time, the Leica was the best of its class. And the images that were produced were, for their time, some of the best.

    Best in what way? Well, the portability of the Leica enabled photographers to take a camera where it previously could not, the quality of the lens (and their speed) enabled them to capture scenes that had eluded earlier generations of photographers, and the ruggedness of the camera enabled them to capture scenes that would have literally destroyed other instruments. Put another way, they captured life in the extreme, on the edge, in the shadows. And before the advent of the portable, small camera (e.g. Leica) that was difficult if not impossible to do.

    And pixel count? However you equate pixels to a particular film's resolving power, the fact remains that the emotive and intellectual power of these images was not compromised by either the optics or the film technology of the time. How can I be sure? We still view those old images with wonder, we still perceive the moments the photographer sought to capture, and we agree --- however much technology has advanced --- that many of those images changed how we look at the world and indeed, how we photograph our world.
     
  23. T42

    T42 Member

    Messages:
    121
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2006
    Location:
    Georgia, USA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Thanks, Mark.

    That is a very thoughtful and articulate explanation of how the early Leica photographers saw and used their new, simple, rugged, sharp photo instrument.

    I understand your points about perception, and how it is that we are still awestruck by images from that time. I thank you for sharing all that.

    But the question remains open. What is the least capable digital photographic instrument of this time that would have served those purposes to the satisfaction of those imagemakers of the time when the first Leicas began to capture images for LOOK, LIFE, and National Geographic?

    I'm guessing there is no way to know, and maybe the question cannot have an answer.

    :smile:
     
  24. MarkG

    MarkG Member

    Messages:
    33
    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2008
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    T42,

    Here's another way to approach your question. I've selected an image (attached) of the first man walking on the moon, a pretty significant event in the annals of human history. This still image was captured from a video stream broadcast by the LEM to Houston, and then re-broadcast over network TV. As you can read in the accompanying wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_11_missing_tapes), this retransmission resulted in a severely degraded image. Nonetheless, this video was seen as meaningful . . . and still frame grabs from this transmission were printed in all of the magazines you mention in your original post.

    Now, what was the resolution of this final transmitted and printed image? It is 640 x 479 pixels, about VGA resolution. That translates to 1/3 megapixel.

    If you say, "well, that's all they had", I would offer two responses: 1) Yup, and the context of the image . . . the event it captured . . . shaped the viewer's perception of what is good, publishable, and meaningful. In photojournalism, megapixels and resolution are important ONLY when the meaning of the event is not successfully communicated. But even at this low resolution, the meaning of the event is both clear and powerful. 2) The astronauts had Hasselblads on board, used them, and those photos were later published too. But unless you have a book of those images (and I do), most don't remember those much higher resolution/quality images. The landing event had long passed by the time that film was developed and the impact had already been felt, communicated in part, by the grainy re-broadcast image.

    I would argue, at least anecdotally, that 1/3 megapixel is good enough . . .
     

    Attached Files:

  25. MarkG

    MarkG Member

    Messages:
    33
    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2008
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Another "bad" image printed in Life magazine . . . :smile:

    One more example where I believe context and viewer perceptions trumps pixels and resolution: Robert Capa, the famous Leica photographer and co-founder of the Magnum Photo Agency, exposed 106 frames on Normandy's beach on D-Day. All but 10 were ruined by the developer (tech) in the lab back in England. Those remaining frames, blurry and distorted, were printed by Life magazine.

    The "net information" content of the attached frame is probably no more than a 1/3 to 1/2 a mega-pixel. The tonal range is compressed and the contrast is low. Yet this image endures as one of the most powerful of its time.

    Why? Megapixels, resolution, or tonal range? I don't think so . . . which is why I honestly believe your question, while informed by the technical orientation of our day, misses the larger perceptual and cognitive issues that are at the heart of human perception of images.
     

    Attached Files:

  26. Xmas

    Xmas Member

    Messages:
    6,453
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Location:
    UK
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    Hi

    Early Leicas were used to expand the environment that photos could be taken in not to do better quality photos.

    Barnack did the prototype in 1913 beause he was not able to carry a large plate camera hill walking, and take more then a few shots...

    Capa's 1944 photo of the Tommy wading for the beach had been badly damaged but still sold. (I suspect he used a ContaxII?).

    Photo quality was better before Leicas, but it was not as immediate, more like the war between the states photos post the battle, - v the shot of the US destroyer losing forward magazine in Pearl Harbour the latter brought the attack home.

    Six double dark slides and a Speed graphic limited one a little compared with a Leica II. Kodachrome was 10 ISO (or slower), the fast mono had grain sized like gulf balls...

    Digital today is more immediate the PJ can snap, sit down on pavement (sidewalk) and email his shot and short typescript to editor, with film he needs a motobike dispatch rider even in the centre of a metropolis. The editor is not gonna to worry about pixel peeping, he can get it in an earlier edition.

    Noel