Summarit-M 50 mm - Aperture 4
The new range of Summarit lenses is the last word in cutting-edge Leica lens design. What better person to put them through their paces than a pro? Acclaimed photographer Rainer Bültert uses digital ,35 mm and medium format cameras, but his real love is the LEICA M7. He shares his insights with us in our interview.
I love film, but my job requires me to meet the needs of my clients. They choose the medium and it's not in my place to second guess them. Hence the vast majority of my work is created digitally. It's what clients want and expect. In this respect I'm like every other photographer out there: I use a number of DSLRs and also digital medium format cameras. But I also happen to own a Leica M7. My personal little obsession - it's my analogue escape!
I do a lot of black & white street photography and I like to use a 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux-M and hyperfocal technique. In other words, the depth of field is set in advance, which allows me to concentrate fully on the moment. This is standard procedure in rangefinder photography. The Leica M7 is a discreet tool which will take a different kind of portrait than a DSLR. You can get right up there without overwhelming the subject - something no other camera can really offer.
I had the opportunity to test it out. I did some infrared photography and was struck by the colour. But so far I haven't really considered it as a professional option due to its price. The quality is peerless, but it's quite a substantial investment.
I was asked to work with film. It's the only way when you're trying to document the behaviour of a lens's circle of confusion - especially when you're trying to pinpoint the degree of vignetting (peripheral darkening) caused by a lens. The next thing was to put the camera through its paces in the studio. Not exactly M territory, to my mind. But the subject had M written all over it: portrait & people photography. Mr. Koch is a photographer himself and feels a lot more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. Luckily the M system is nice and discreet, which helped a lot. The Summarit lenses proved to be ideal for what I was trying to achieve. They're small and compact, harmonising nicely with the camera's modest look - an ideal combination as far as I'm concerned.
As expected, the high-speed lenses gave me a thin focal plane, perfect for selective focusing. Wide angle shots turned out free of vignetting. For me it was important that the lenses deliver superb focus, clarity and contrast at full aperture. It may sound trivial, but I feel that the results share a close resemblance with the medium format. I was really impressed. Most likely the assignment could have done without the medium format quality. In terms of experience, though, it's good to know how far it can be pushed. The lenses and camera left a lasting impression, fulfilling both the situation and my studio needs to great effect. And it's always good to have reserves. The photos could easily be printed as double page spreads. There are other aspects worth pointing out. Take the viewfinder, for example: clearly not everyone's cup of tea. But in my case it proved invaluable. I was able to keep an eye on the activity outside the viewfinder frame - great for composition! And the lens is so smooth. The coupling is fully mechanical, giving me a very immediate feel for the focus. Other cameras with manual focusing can't match up. I'm also amazed by the close-ups, especially the portraits taken with the 75 and 90 mm focal lengths. The quality is dazzling. The next step was simply to test the Summarit lenses on the M8.
The new Summarit line basically redefines the whole economic side of M photography. It sounds contradictory to what I said earlier, but it isn't. What you get are superb results at a highly competitive price. We're no longer talking unaffordable luxury but no-nonsense equipment for professionals. Now that I've discovered what they can do as far as portraiture is concerned, I intend to involve the LEICA a lot more in the future. It gives me a different kind of relationship with my subjects. I was really surprised by this discovery. Apart from the 35 mm - me and my Summilux are kind of inseparable now - I will be sure to put the entire Summarit family to good digital use at work. The M7 will continue to grace my personal projects.
And one last word on the 35 mm: the Summarit is a little slower than the Summilux, but it holds its own out in the field. If I didn't already own the Summilux, I would have to choose between a highest-performance lens and a high-performance lens - a Bugatti or a Porsche. In the end, my wallet would probably have the final say.