What exactly makes the Leica look?

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by bertino, Jan 20, 2010.

  1. I want to find out what are the characteristics that make for the famous Leica look.
    I hear people saying "Leica has the best colors" or "this lens gives you Leica colors if you prefer them"... or "the wonderful Leica bokeh". Another thing I don't quite understand is the 3D look thing. Some Leica lenses are said to have it but not all of them. The 3D look champ seems to be Carl Zeiss....
    Anyway, just tell me what are the key rendering qualities of Leica.
    Thanks for your help!
    Bertino Araújo
  2. I'm not convinced there is one. However Leica makes fine lenses with all the usual advantages. Certainly Leica is known for street photography, so one could talk about that as a "leica look".
  3. I believe it's the pixy dust. Just a little bit is sprinkled on each lense before it leaves the factory to send it flying magically out into the world. Residual effects include magic colors, creamy bokeh, and 3D "look". If that's not worth $3000 per lens, I don't know what is.
  4. Modern Leica lenses are amazingly sharp. But then we shoot grainy B&W photos at extremely slow shutter speeds and process the film in Rodinal, making our photos look like they were shot through the bottom of pop bottles! What, are we nuts? ;)
  5. The original Leica look was the "Leica glow," the soft look of uncoated German lenses before the war. I once had a Leica B, from the early 30s, I think, and the pictures had that glow. If you want the 3d look, do the film (not t grain) in pyro.
  6. ... what are the characteristics that make for the famous Leica look.​
    The artist behind a camera, and the artist in the darkroom.
  7. Shallow depth of focus and spherical aberration, mostly.
    Leica lenses since the '60s have been very good at rendering color, though the rest of the world seems to have caught up.
    Perhaps if you could refer us to an example of what you mean, we could give better answers. There are decades of Leica photos by many different photographers.
  8. "Modern Leica lenses are amazingly sharp."
    After owning and extensively testing and using Leica 35mm and Canon lenses for many years, I can say without hesitation that IMO this is not the distinguishing feature of Leica R-series lenses.
    Good R lenses are distinguishable from others on rendition of contrast more than resolution. They tend to "See" more tonal and color variation than do Canon lenses. I can see colors and grays tones with my leica stuff that I could not see with my Canon stuff.
    BUT, in the digital world, this difference is, I believe, less significant/important. This is just my impression though.
    I think one can see the Leica look slightly better than chance when it is drawn to our attention and we are making comparisons of identically made images (Leica vs other). But I'd be very surprised if we could tell a Leica from "Other" in any non-direct comparison situation with real-world images. Cheers, JJ
  9. Perhaps if you could refer us to an example of what you mean, we could give better answers.​
    I was thinking of some sentences of lens reviews I've been reading: "Sometimes when Leica colors and Leica bokeh is preferred I use this lens" or "Bokeh is very Leica-like, quite smooth and natural" or even "Colors are very good as generally with Leicas, if you prefer Leica colors".
    I also read something like this here: "Leica, which is known for developing lenses with probably the most accurate color rendition, did not disappoint here - colors were vivid and images were literally breathing with life."
    Its very interesting to see your opinions. I like to know the facts beyond the myths.
    Thanks everyone for your answers!
  10. One thing different about Leica -- other manufacturers are trying to design excellent lenses that they can sell for reasonable prices. Leica tends to be more of a cost is no object sort of manufacturer. Their lenses are renowned for being optimized for use wide open. A 50/0.95 lens that has to be stopped down is pointless and since leicas have cut their teeth on available darkness photography, if you buy a Leica lens with an aperture of f/whatever, you can pretty much count on it being good wide open. Of course then you can't actually afford to buy the lens ($10000 50/0.95 Noctilux is a case in point).
    But if you take more ordinary pictures like landscapes where you're stopping down anyway, you're paying a lot of money for a capability you aren't really using. That said, I use Leica cameras and lenses and I don't typically shoot wide open -- but I do like the compact design and the reasonably light weight and I like the cameras. But it's not the look of the pictures I go for, it's the look of the camera and the way it works. Their modern lenses in the M line perform as well as anyone else's lenses.
    I've almost come to the conclusion that the best camera for you is the one you are confident in -- comfortable in. If you like Leicas or Canons or Nikons or whatever, then use what you like and you'll probably take better pictures.
  11. I am reasonably sure that the older Leica lenses that were uncoated gave similar results to those of Zeiss or Exakta or other uncoated lenses of the period. It could be that Leica lenses were different in other ways from those other lenses, given that everything in lens design related to curve tracing technques, quite laborious before the computer (some factory offices then had rows upon rows upon rows of lens designers/technicians, working on the same lens design).
    Two things changed everything: modern rare earth (originally via Nikon RF lenses in the early 50s) and other improved glass formulas, and the computer, a decade later. Now, any sizeable lens manufacturer can play around with many different lens designs very rapidly. Leica does have a core lens design philosophy or approach, that has certain lens designs or criteria it prefers, whereas Nikon or Canon or Cosina have other models that they prefer.
    Some Leica lenses are in fact quite unique. One is the middle to later non-aspherical Summicron 35mm made in Canada and Germany between about 1975 and 1990 (very rough dates). it has wonderful Bokeh out of focus rendition that few other lenses achieve, but it has since been replaced by more perfect lenses (higher resolution, improved edge performance at wider apetures, finer micro contrast, and other assets, but with considerably less good Bokeh).
    If there is any Leica look, for me it would be this Bokeh performance, but it is not general enough and is restricted to only a few of their lenses.
    Leica lenses often have higher contrat than many others. My friends would ask if I had used a polarizer on some sunlit shots that they too had taken with other lenses, also without polarizer. One article (review) on the then new Canon 5D compared some photos taken with the OEM lens and a Leica lens fitted to the Canon. The latter showed higher contrast and more saturated colors. The author acknowledged that Canon operating software beat the then existing Leica digital camera software (or "firmware").
    Personally, I don't feel that these examples are enough to provide a Leica look, as the Leica lenses vary from one to another. The lenses and equipment are of course very well manufactured, and better in that respect than many. Whether the much higher prices justify that or not depends upon your needs.
  12. SCL


    Bertino - I don't think the qualities attributed to the Leica lenses are solely a function of the lenses, but rather a function of the characteristics of lenses at the time they were created AND the creative and knowledgible use of shadow and lighting to show off the contrast capabilities of the lenses as well as their optimization to be used at or near full aperture. I remember in some of the Leica literature when I got my first Leica gear (late 1960s), Leica talked about the apparent sharpness of their Summicron lenses as a function of lens design which combined enhanced contrast with high resolution, and they showed examples of other manufacturers' lenses which tended to emphasize either contrast or resolution, but not both to the same degree Leica did. In the end, the most admired characteristics, I think, can be achieved by many modern lenses, by a photographer who is a master of understanding lighting and texture. It goes back to "it isn't the lens or camera which makes the picture, but rather the photographer", but it is nice to have tools which you know are high quality and reliable.
  13. If you're talking about look, and you're "looking" at it in a magazine or catalog, and not seeing one in person, it is the long shape, the distant rangefinder optical components, the smallish shutter speed dial, and on an M4 or later, definitely the angled rewind knob. On some models it is the distinctive red dot of the lens release and logo.
    If you are holding one, it is the gorgeous glass of the rangefinder, the beautiful rich black or chrome finish, the deep engraving, the unique vulcanite, and sweeping film advance lever.
    But for me, it's not about what it looks like, it is how it feels and shoots. It is compact, but solid as a rock. You can pick up just about any Leica, and all the parts are where they are supposed to be. The quick and accurate rangefinder. The smooth film advance, and the way the rewind lever works with the rewind knob. It is the PITA film loading (oh, wait, not that). But more than these, Leica's, like no other camera I've used, let you freely engage with your subject and freely move and interact with your surroundings without feeling incumbered by the mechanics. For example, with an SLR, you enter into its viewfinder, it's world. With a Leica, I shoot with one eye open and even the smallest amount of moving the camera away from my eye, gives me a total sense of the light and scene around me. Add to that the fact there is no temporary blackout of the finder when the shutter fires, and it makes for a very distinctive photographic experience. It is a camera totally at your service, and not the other way around.
  14. I find that the so called Leica look has more to do with the rendering of older Leica glass - i.e mainly the pre ASPH lenses, and it is most visible in B&W. There is a combination of low contrast, high resolution and a special, articulated way of drawing out of focus areas. Some ascribe it to the ability of these Leica lenses, to focus both the visible and infrared rays on the same plane - I would not know, but I can see that in the pictures.
    A Summitar bokeh:http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/3764203573/sizes/l/
    A Summaron glow: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/3864245376/sizes/l/
    and bokeh:http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/3739692945/sizes/l/
    A DR Summicron grey palette:http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/3696320529/sizes/l/
    and bokeh:http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/2589030547/sizes/l/
    A Summilux portrait:http://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/3949207913/sizes/l/
    and bokehhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/59177039@N00/4263053250/sizes/l/
  15. I think a lot of the "Leica look" , was the special way the old lenses rendered things.
  16. Kodak HIE lacks an anti-halation layer and as a result the light areas bleed through to the dark areas and you get a bit of a fairie glow (which is one of the things I used to like about infrared photography). Shooting old lenses wide open, especially uncoated lenses, probably produces a similar effect. But I don't think Leica goes for this effect these days.
  17. Undercorrection for spherical aberration.
    The Leica Look is gone now, however it is present in some Cosina Voigtlander lenses which are specifically designed to emulate the look of older lenses.
  18. There are two different effects to discuss:
    First is a glare due to uncoated or hazy lenses that makes highlights glow. You may experiment with ,,Difussion Glow" filter in PS ;) (I attached one picture, mor like a joke, with glow added as an example).
    Second visible effect is that beautiful three-dimensional look. Few months ago I posted a question about that amazing effect that only one of my nice cameras, tiny Minox GT can produce. Reading the answers I found that it's about Microcontrast and lens coatings.
    This is very interesting question.
    Take care, M.S.
  19. Marek, those are fantastic examples of what this thread is addressing.
    Love your images & look of the 1st three lenses...
    The "Summilux bokeh" example in particular, exhibits a very harsh and in my opinion, rather unpleasant bokeh.
    (OOF blobs are too defined and odd shaped)
    In any case, well done!
    Maciek, it seems to me that your effective focus is on the metal pedestal, the cute baby is actually out of focus.
    Maybe the RF was off?
  20. Personally, I believe the Leica look as distinguished from other lens manufactures had a lot to do with glass formulas Leica used to make their lens elements. When I switched from Leica to Nikon in 1968, I noticed in the darkroom that my Nikon prints printed with more contrast than my Leica prints. However, my Leica prints had more dynamic range, (3D?), according to grayscale readings taken with my Kodak densitometer. Nikon prints printed on the same contrast grade of paper had more apparent "snap" which was a buzz word applied to image quality in those days. The additional Nikon contrast gave the impression of sharper images, however focusing a print using an image magnifier on the printing easel disproved this conclusion as simply an illusion.
  21. Yes, the baby is out of focus because the father was walking out and I really didn't have time to focus properly (f/1.7). Tie and collar are quite sharp so it's more about motion blur. This place was very dark for a church... Rangefinder is OK, I CLA'd my Yashica GSN few months before. It's not the best picture from the ceremony but very important for me and I am glad that I press the shutter :)
    Marek's pictures are excellent! One with girls in the train is exactly what I was writing about 3D look and microcontrast.
  22. Marketing, and the people that buy into it and attempt to justify Leica's high cost (bring on the flamers attempting to do just what I described!). However, Leica M lenses often have very pleasing bokeh due to their many aperture blades (often nine or more).
    Leica makes some of the best lenses on the market; however, as for their "look," I would be willing to bet money that on a print, people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a Leica M lens and a high-quality Zeiss/Nikon/Canon/Voigtländer lens.
  23. Thanks to all of you!
    I think maybe we can make a list on the Leica qualities and then see if you agree, want to add or change something.
    Leica lenses qualities:
    1. Since the '60s have been very good at rendering color
    2. Ability to "see" more tonal and color variation than do Canon lenses
    3. Bokeh performance
    4. Under-correction for spherical aberration (which makes for good bokeh?)
    5. Leica prints have more dynamic range according to grayscale readings taken with a Kodak densitometer
    About the microcontrast thing, could someone explain better how it works, what causes it? Also about the 3D thing, no-one seems to know quite well what makes this... maybe it's just "pixy dust" like Hal B said. ;-)
    Thanks again and keep telling us what you think!
    Bertino Araújo
  24. I don't know how an optical quality can be described in words, unless the author and the reader have had a commonality in experience. That means you have to have seen Leica photographs and compare them with other brands.
    I therefore must suggest that you try to get hold of a Leica+lens (borrow, rent or buy cheap second hand) and shoot the same scene with both the Leica and whatever other brand that you are using.
    In respect of the lens, the only thing I would suggest is that it be a coated lens. As long as it's coated, vintage, focal length and whether M or R, does not matter.
    After you've done that, tell us what you think.
  25. My Wife and I do picture framing. It is important, in this business not to be judgmental, in the least. People have different tastes and have things framed for many different reasons, some not aesthetic.
    A gentleman appeared one day bearing two 8 x 12 enlargements in a large envelope. They were pictures of a picnic table from approximately the same angle.
    He placed them on the counter before me and asked me if I could see any difference. I could not see anything other than one was a little more saturated and the other perhaps just a tad over exposed. I pointed this out to him.
    He glared at me, very imperiously, jabbed his finger to one of the images and told me it was taken with a Leica R4 and the other was taken with "another camera". "If you know these things" he said " it is very very apparent." then he turned away and looked at some frame samples.
    I stared at the pictures, really bloody hard for a while. My eyes could detect nothing about either picture that would indicate anything except one of the pictures had "R4" written carefully in one corner on the back in pencil. Other than this, my enfeebled proletariat senses detected not a damned thing.
    We are blessed in this world that we have people, unlike myself, whose senses are so attuned they see what others cannot.
  26. Sounds like you certailnly offended that "Leica shooter". I think people worry way too much about the brand thinking that it makes them better photographers. It's all in their heads.
  27. "it is very very apparent."
    If it actually is that apparent, why did he have to write it on the back?
    But anyway, judging from all the responses, it sounds wise to first of all establish if there is any Leica look at all. Except for the red dot off course.
  28. "About the microcontrast thing, could someone explain better how it works, what causes it?"
    Micro contrast is more commonly refered to as local contrast these days. Google "local contrast" and you will find a lot more informative articles than googling "micro contrast".
  29. When people talk about Nikon or Canon, they talk about features, or possibly MP or high ISO performance. When they talk about Leica they talk about mysticism. But even when you strip away all that, you still get an exceptional camera with a classic minimalistic user interface, small size, and exceptional lenses.
    If Leica wished to market the Leica merely by the results it could achieve, the M8 would probably be a tough polycarbonate and would be priced a bit cheaper. But they're caught between trying to please their fan base who love the old world charm of the M's and people who actually have the temerity to want to take pictures with their cameras. I don't know what I'd do if I were running Leica. I'm glad they're still around even if I can't afford to buy their cameras new. But much as I enjoy using the Leica M's, any mystical qualities are too subtle for me to see.
  30. I can easily tell the difference between a Leica shot and one taken on a plebeian's camera especially on photo.net as the photographer will insist on placing text below such as "Leica M2 35mm 1:2.8 Summaron" just so we all gasp in amazement at it.
  31. The answer is obvious from the image above, "PS Glow", which is spoiled because the baby is out of focus. While the Leica lens may have a very slight edge in quality, and I'm not willing to agree that it does, PS Glow would have turned out a lot better if the photographer had used an auto focus SLR.
    There have been numerous discussions such as this on this forum. In many cases, people say they can easily spot a Leica image while other say they can see no difference. I recall one discussion where a man posted a picture of a sign over a tavern that he took with his M7 ($5,000 or so with lens) and another taken by his wife with an Olympus Epic ($89?). He wondered what he was doing wrong since he couldn't see any difference in the images. I still have on my desktop two images of a brick chimney; one taken through a Nikon 50mm lens the other through a Zeiss. To my eyes they are almost identical. I would not say one is superior to the other.
    There can be visually obvious differences between lenses, however. I once compared my Nikon 45p with a Nikon 50/1.8. I put the camera on a tripod with the 45p, took a picture, then replaced the lens with the 50/1.8 and took another picture of the same scene. The camera was loaded with Astia 100. I took about a dozen of these shot pairs then scanned and enlarged the slides. The 45p was obviously superior in color and contrast. The two lenses were about the same in resolution. Both lenses are Nikon's although I have heard rumors the 45p is actually made by Cosina. The reason the 45p is superior is, I suspect, it is a simpler lens design with fewer elements and fewer surfaces to scatter light internally.
  32. The fact is, that unless you try the lenses for yourself, you will not know what you like and what works for you. Sometimes a brand name can influence you when you buy a lens, but once you develop the negatives and print them, the truth has to emerge. I am not a lens fanatic, but in the 50mm FL I probably use at least a dozen different lenses, and each has particular merits. Overall, the rangefinder lenses tend to be of a very good quality, especially the modern glass, so it is difficult to find a bad lens. As to the glow, it is more of a thing of the past (uncoated or single coated lenses), while the 3D effect is so subjective, that no two people will agree about it. I find it more evident among the Zeiss glass anyway.
    3D, what 3D ?
  33. Sharp and soft.
  34. The Leica glow and Bokeh thing is just stuff that only Leica users can see. Others just see regular pictures. However the M camera's are pretty neat and durable.
  35. O.K. Picture from a tram, no tripod, avaliable light, lousy focusing.... Which camera I used for this snapshot?
  36. to me, the question is not whether it's a leica or not. it's whether it's a leica and you know how to use it to achieve that for which it was made (it's still, clearly, quite easy to take mediocre or poor images with a leica. it's when you know how to push a leica to show it's potential that the differences become clear). maybe others know how to get an image like the one above in natural light with another camera, i don't. so, for me, that's the leica mystique.
  37. I like the subtlety of tones that I get from the leica-r lenses that I occasionally use on my canon digital camera. In particular, I notice that the leica 50mm f/2 that I have outperforms my canon 50mm 1.4 - albeit by a small margin, both in sharpness and in terms of contrast, color, and etc. I guess you could say it has a 3-d look. Then again, the leica is a pain in the ... to use when stopped down and since i also like the canon quite a bit I use that lens much more often.
    I also like the 180 elmar-r when used on a canon, but I find that the 100mm canon f/2 to be a slightly better performer, especially when stopped down on a tripod. Both are top notch stopped down a little, which is almost always how I use lenses of this focal length.
    I do not think that Leica lenses are any sort of magic bullet but I do like the ones I have, and since there are a few that are not too expensive why not try one for yourself. For example, I paid about $200 for a leica 50mm summicron-r about four years ago. That being said, as you are sure to know, many other leica lenses are priced out of this world. But the used market tends to be cheaper for leica-r gear than you, and perhaps others reading this posting may expect. While you are at it, why not pick up a leicaflex SL to use r lenses as they were intended...
  38. I think people's negative emotions about Leicas are very strange. There quite obviously is a difference between almost any lens and any other. Personal preference always comes into play. Some prefer a biogon lens over a summicron. They are different. A Canon 50L is different from a Noctilux. Not necessarily "better", but different. If you can see the difference, and you have a preference, and you have the money, buy what you like.
    Personally, I have used all kinds of lenses on all kinds of formats. The Leicas are special, and I will pay to have them. When I browse through my images over the years, one thing is certain: I can pick out the Canon glass from the Leica glass from the xxxxx glass in many, many cases.
    Image quality aside, I also prefer the hardware. The build quality is excellent on M lenses, the rangefinder system is life changing, and a 50L on a 5D2 feels like heavy artillery compared to the M equivalent.
    As for the Leica look, with the M8 and M9, I would say it comes to me as deep colors and tones that have a large "gamut" for lack of a better term. The tones are contrasty, yet complete and smooth. Add this to the gentle bokeh, and the look is very appealing to me.
    Perhaps the glass formula allows for a more continuous spectrum of color than most. In that area, I feel the Zeiss lenses are similar.
  39. I've owned Leica Ms and Nikon F2s for over 30 years now. I use them quite regularly, the Nikon for shooting critters with a telephoto from the car and the Leicas for hiking in the backcountry. I've had the pleasure of trying to compare slides from both cameras and in truth I have found no difference.
    The newest lens a 50mm f2 Summicron is a very nice lens, but so is my crusty old Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AI. The images from either lens are indistinguishable.
    These days I believe all lenses are likely state of the art, comparisons are usually unconvincing in most cases.
    Believe me, I'd love to believe my Leica lenses are superior, but I cannot.
    I use my old Leicas (M2 and M4-P) because they are simple, lightweight, I own them, I like to take my time, they use film and I trust my light meter.
  40. For me, the Leica look is the glow of the images on Kodachrome. I use the best glass there is in Nikon, Hasselblad and Leica and the latter has a 3D glow that is distinctly different than any other lens. I used to think it was marketing / pixie dust, then I get back images that oooze off of the projector screen.
  41. >Anyway, just tell me what are the key rendering qualities of Leica.
    Bottomless sharpness, high contrast, accurate color rendition, and superb wide open performance. Here is a photo taken with an R9 with Digital Modul-R behind an f4/280 APO Telyt, handheld with shoulder stock, wide open at 1/4000th sec. ISO 200....cropped to 3% of the original frame. Yup! Three (3) percent.
  42. Leica's are known for their colour accuracy. I have a 1937 90/4 Elmar, uncoated. The colours from this lens, even when using retail processing, is so accurate (I simply put the photo alongside the real object) that I felt I really didn't need any of the modern 90mm's. In fact, I felt the modern lenses were too saturated. I have since sold all coated Leica 90mm's and kept this 1937 lens as my only 90mm.
    I tend to use older lenses because I found generally the post-1970 lenses to be too sharp and contrasty. The earlier lenses are far more "gentlemanly".

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