New to Rangefinders. Question about image quality.

Discussion in 'Rangefinder Forum' started by r.benari, Oct 17, 2010.

  1. r.benari

    r.benari Member

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    Hello,

    I'm grateful for your take, guidance, patience. I'm new to Rangefinders. I shoot documentary essays, street portraits and some photojournalism. I'm drawn to rangefinders because they are elegant, gadget-free, fast, accurate, unobtrusive, and one of the few tools that's perfect when making a study of light.

    What I've noticed: that each format and each technology has its own signature, and this is certainly true of rangefinders. Most of the pictures I've studied across most makes, models and films are rich in grain and, with rare exception, print natural light flat. No matter how balanced the contrast, variation of skin tone, say, is fairly even. When I lay these pics side by side with a medium format print, there's a compelling difference. I may be making the wrong comparison. Like I said, I'm new to these cameras and very used to the digital and photoshop world.

    [​IMG]
    The tonality I'm after. Larry Fink, Social Graces, 1976. (Off camera flash helps, yes.)


    [​IMG]
    The tonality I see most. Nomi Baumgartl, Leica M6/Noctilux 50/1. (I believe.) Beautifully rendered, but flatter than what natural light is capable of giving.

    If what I'm seeing is right, I'm wondering if choice of film or (of course) lens makes a difference. I'm just getting to know the importance of base-length to focusing accuracy, and I know the difference between a $600 Nokton and a $5000 Summilux. I also know how much the character of the picture depends on decisions made in the darkroom. What I'm wondering: what are the in-camera techniques, or film choices, that yield the richest tones--the deepest blacks, the truest whites, the sharpest edges?

    Again I appreciate your patience. I know this is a new-to-the-field question. I'm grateful for any discussion, pointers, books, or links to resources.

    Best-

    --Richard

    PS: The camera I'm looking at is entry-level, but downright beautiful: a Voigtlander r2a + 35/1.4
     
  2. Brian Legge

    Brian Legge Member

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    I would be surprised if any 35mm picture can match the look of a medium format camera. If that is your goal, shooting medium format may work better. A TLR or a small folder could be a decent option for quick, low profile shooting.

    A disproportionate number of rangefinder users are street photographers. Street photographers often want as much in focus as possible - often shooting 400 speed film. Tri-X and its grainy look are commonly associated with the style of shooting. I'd wager these photographers often push the film a bit which contributes to the look you're seeing.

    Candid shots would probably have less ideal lighting in general as well as less consistent metering than slower paced shooting styles. Over on rangefinderforum, I've seen debates among street photographers about how much the image quality - proper exposures, etc - even matter.

    Lastly, many rangefinder users are shooting older glass (particularly Leica, etc). These lenses lack modern coating and are often hazy/scratched/etc. The end result is a loss in contrast compared to more modern glass.

    Edit:

    Here is an example of a rangefinder lens with a moderate amount of cleaning marks (an Industar 22 in this case):
    [​IMG]
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelbrae/5035341448/in/set-72157624508315665/

    And here is a more modern Olympus 35DC in much better condition:
    [​IMG]
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelbrae/4529990899/in/set-72157624508367459/

    And lastly a few from a Kiev 4a with a Jupiter 8 from 1968 in reasonably good condition:
    [​IMG]
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelbrae/5077016993/
    [​IMG]
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelbrae/5074063569/
    [​IMG]
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cannelbrae/5074661520/

    With the later cameras/lenses, the biggest problem with tonality is my ability to expose and develop well. I'm still not happy with what I am getting but I know that is all me.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 17, 2010
  3. clayne

    clayne Member

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    To the OP: you're overthinking it.

    Any standard M body, any summicron, and tri-x will get you the tonality and "quality" you desire.

    Noctilux is a joke and not what you need.

    See within the realm of film there aren't set linear standards of quality and metrics that can be compared 1:1 like in digital land. Drop that frame of thinking.
     
  4. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    I don't know why this is a 'rangefinder' issue, unless 'rangefinder' here means 35mm. There are plenty of 120 rangefinders in 6x6, 6x7 and 6x9. And a 35mm SLR's gradation isn't going to be any different from that of a 35mm rangefinder.

    The only way I know of to get medium/large format gradation out of 35mm is Tech Pan developed in Technidol. TMX in Microdol 1:3 comes close in 5x7 prints, but doesn't really maintain the illusion in 8x10 or larger.

    In the end, there is no substitute for square inches.
     
  5. r.benari

    r.benari Member

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    This is incredibly helpful feedback and I'm grateful.

    First: Brian, the pictures you posted are terrific and carry in them a lot of what I'm after. It's good work. Also your point about shooting tri-X 400 and the grain that's inherent to that. So I'll follow from Nicholas's suggestion about TMX in Microdol (this is a whole new language to me) about which there's a some long discussion in the ether re tonality. I'm grateful for the clue, and what its led me to at "photography forums."

    Yep, I may be over-thinking, it. And I don't disagree that, coming from "digital land," my references are specific. That'll change, no doubt. But it's a such a shame to learn that the rig I've ordered is "a joke." It was a first-love kind of thing. After years of shooting big-bodied digital full frames, the elegance of this small camera and its way-bright viewfinder really got me. I'll keep my eyes open for a decent-condition M3 and, when my Google stock hit $800, maybe a Summicron.

    Thanks again for the help. It's terrific feedback and a way to flatten the curve a bit. Thanks, more, for the patience.

    Best-
     
  6. phaedrus

    phaedrus Member

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    Had to think of Fujifilm Neopan (Presto) 1600 when I read that!
     
  7. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Time spent tweaking film exposure and processing technique is worth more than expensive lenses or cameras. Most prime lenses from prestige manufacturers will produce stunning results in terms of contrast and sharpness, but only if you've optimised the craft end. When I saw a friend's luminous 16 x 12" prints from his Nikkormat and 50mm back in the 70s I realised it wasn't just about the camera. In fact I'd say don't spend any cash on hardware until you've exhausted everything film and chemistry can tell you about your existing kit.
     
  8. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Just to add that medium format is often associated with studio photography, even when the shot is designed to look naturalistic. A photograph with a few thousand joules of artificial light will look more highly resolved than one taken under an overcast sky on the hoof, whatever format it's taken on.
     
  9. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Are you referring to the Voigtlander R2A? Where did you get the idea that this camera was a joke? It's not. A camera is merely a black box for a lens and some film... it only affects usability, not image quality (generally speaking).
     
  10. r.benari

    r.benari Member

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    Naw. I think the camera and the 35/1.4 are quite good, and a pair I can use. I was responding to clayne, whose comment I may have misread when he warned against Noctilux. If so, apologies all around.
     
  11. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Oh, gotcha. The Noctilux is certainly an impressive lens, but for the quality and speed it produces at that cost, I'd say nearly anyone would be just as happy with a more reasonably priced f/1.2. I mean, afterall, that's 1/2 a stop... c'mon!

    :wink:
     
  12. Brian Legge

    Brian Legge Member

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    There is a lot of snobbery out there surrounding Leica in particular. A subset believe anything beyond what Henri Cartier-Bresson is just in the way of 'pure' work.

    Ignore it. Take good pictures. The results and the pleasure you get using it are all that really matters.

    The R2A is a better camera than any rangefinder I've used. If you find that you don't 'click' with it, sell it and try something else.

    Edit: Opps, I was behind on the thread. lots of clarification in the last few minutes. :smile:
     
  13. r.benari

    r.benari Member

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    Agreed. A bit daunting though, developing a love of chemistry. But that reservation aside, it's sound advice.
     
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  15. clayne

    clayne Member

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    rbenari, I was only referring to the noctilux which is actually just not tha great a lens.

    When you pull your tri-x out of the tank and see the negs everything will come full circle and you'll understand entirely.

    Don't forget the most important aspect of all: the light.
     
  16. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    It is a very specialized lens designed for night shooting in cities. It is optimized for minimum coma when used wide open. By this criteria it is a great lens. For everyday picture taking it is the wrong lens to use and a complete waste of money. Most are bought for snob appeal.

    The Nikon version:

    http://imaging.nikon.com/products/imaging/technology/nikkor/n16_e.htm
     
  17. clayne

    clayne Member

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    Nicholas, the light falloff of the noctilux is what makes it not that great a lens in my opinion. Coma is one thing, but if your lens is f1 in the center only it's just playing number games.

    One could buy a noctilux or they could buy a nikkor 50/1.2 for 300$ and achieve 99% of the same goal. Of course it wouldn't have that "OMG look at the bokeh!" feel that snobs pay the 5k$+ price for, but they aren't photographers anyway.
     
  18. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Touché!
     
  19. Luc More

    Luc More Member

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    And if you want more contrast without developing/pushing mainstream film yourself then try some alternatives. Fomapan can be very contrasty (too much sometimes) even with normal development times. You'll get more contrast out of that film than by spoiling $$$ into Leitz glass IMHO. At least you'll get it cheaper :smile:
     
  20. yeknom02

    yeknom02 Member

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    Personally, I am a total newbie, but I find that a using a compensating developer (HC-110) and a mild agitation scheme (10 seconds every minute) on a film stock like Tri-X 400 or HP5+ give me great contrast. Depending on the grain size you want (which will be relatively larger on a 35mm frame) you may want to try a slower film like Acros 100, which is my personal favorite.

    And I'm shooting primarily through a Konica Auto S2, so a f/1.8 Hexanon 45mm lens. I love it.
     
  21. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    HC-110 isn't really a compensating developer as I understand it. Are you using it strongly diluted?
     
  22. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Most of the pictures I've studied across most makes, models and films are rich in grain and, with rare exception, print natural light flat.

    These qualities have more to do with format, lighting, exposure, film choice, and printing, than a particular camera or lens.
     
  23. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I am lost, and dumbfounded by your post. It seems to me that you are technically obsessing over extremely basic concepts, and putting the burden on your equipment and supplies, when it needs to be put on yourself – your own understanding of basic concepts of photography.

    You need to just learn light. That is all photography is. All the other stuffs (cameras, films, etc.) are secondary. If you cannot learn light, you are not going to get what you want, period, with any camera.

    I suggest enrolling at a community college and taking a basic photography class...and holding onto your money until you learn how to work with light and control your negatives and prints. And for God's sake, quit making general statements about things such as natural light and rangefinders! The "signatures" and characteristics you are generally and aphoristically attributing to natural light and to rangefinders are very far off the mark.
     
  24. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    So far in this thread only Clayne is on the mark.

    There's camera lenses and there's German camera lenses, it' subtle, but Leica lenses are not built to the same optical design criteria as Nikons, Canons etc.

    I guess an anolgy is it's like the differences between Tmaxr Delta films and conventional emulsions like FP4, Plus X or Tri X and HP5.

    I never believed the hype about Leica lenses, then I used a Summicron and saw it for myself, later I shot a wedding with one and when I handed over the prints was asked what new camear had I just bought :D That was late 1980's and the camera and lens were both early 50's :smile:

    It's not just Leica, Zeiss designs have the same feel, so do Schneider & Rodenstock.

    However most of the the very best lens designs can only be made for Rangefinder & LF cameras because the mirror on SLR's gets in the way so designs are compromised to allow some retro focus on SLR's.

    Ian
     
  25. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    IMO I disagree, (not not about the quality of rangefinder lenses or that there are very subtle differences between lenses from certain manufacturers) But I'd bet you a print that I can match the "look" on a print as far as a rangefinder beyond minor signatures that few would notice, using my Canon or Exacta SLR. The "look" the OP describes is in my opinion mostly film, focal length, aperture, and circumstance. Of course lens construction and coatings contribute qualities, but the idea that someone could look at a print and say categorically that it came from rangefinder is hooey.

    That's just my opinion. The only thing I think that is really off the mark here is saying everyone else is wrong. It generally isn't smart to speak in absolutes when discussing qualities that carry as much subjectivity as a "look".

    There are great reasons to use a rangefinder and it sounds like the OP has discovered them, but ascribing skin tones to a particular kind of camera isn't something that I personally consider valid beyond the most nuanced of nuance.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 18, 2010
  26. stevebrot

    stevebrot Member

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    Here are a few from my ca 1962 Yashica Lynx 1000 (Yashinon 45/1.8) that are not particularly grainy, have good contrast, and are sharp enough for a cheap camera (less than $100 new)...

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    All using Rollei Retro 100 rated at EI 160 and souped in Edwal FG-7 1:15 w/o sulphite.

    As noted above, much depends on technique, film, processing, quality of light, and yes, the lens used. All-in-all, I got the image I was after without a heavy outlay for equipment. Yes, medium format might have yielded less apparent grain and better tonality, but that is the trade-off for the convenience of a smaller and lighter camera. So, the answer might be (as suggested above) a medium format folder or rangefinder kit. If you have money burning a hole in your pocket, a Bessa II might be just your cup of tea.


    Steve

    BTW...the apparent grain on these scans is artifact of the scanning process. The negatives have very fine grain when examined directly.