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Tech Details:
Death Valley 2009
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January 2009     More Leica Reviews


THese photos are of the actual gear used to shoot my Death Valley 2009 snaps.



I shot all my 2009 Death Valley shots on Leica M7 (built 2003) and Leica M4-P (built 1980) full-frame cameras.

Leica M7

Leica M7 and 50mm f/2 (1970). enlarge.


Leica M4-P

Leica M4-P (1980, shown without MR-4 meter) and 50mm f/2 (1970). enlarge.

I used the meter built into the M7, or the Leica Meter MR-4 clipped on top of the M4-P. I had a half-dead Varta 625 alkaline battery in the MR-4, which seems to work just great at 1.44V.



I used a Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH (2009), Leica 50mm f/2 (1970), Leica 90mm f/2.8 Tele (1987) and Leica 90mm f/2 ASPH (2000).

The two cameras are shown about life-size, presuming you're viewing on a typical computer monitor.

Leica lenses are tiny. Each of these is shown about 40% larger than life!


Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH

Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH (39mm filter, 6.107 oz./173.18g).

Leica's newest 28mm lens is also their best because its so tiny that it doesn't block the viewfinder, and it has no distortion. Of course it's sharp, even wide open. Compared to SLR lenses, it's superior.

Like all symmetrical, distortion-free wide lenses, the Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH has pleasant falloff at all apertures. This helps keep viewers' eyes inside the image without wandering off in the corners.


Leica 50mm f/2

Leica 50mm f/2 (1970, 39mm filter, 7.080 oz./200.7g). enlarge.

This old German 50mm lens is also superb. Compared to SLR lenses, it's superior. I see no reason to buy the newest version of the 50mm f/2 if you're on a budget.

Leica 90mm f/2.8 Tele

Leica 90mm f/2.8 Tele (1987, 39mm filter, 7.957 oz./225.6g). enlarge.

This is Leica's purest 90mm lens. I love it above all other Leica 90mm lenses because this is their smallest and lightest 90mm lens ever, and it works great.

Leica's other 90mm lenses are too big and heavy, and therefore very un-Leica-like. If I wanted to carry a big lens or SLR camera, I'd shoot my Nikon F6 with its superior metering system and overall handing.

Most people shooting Nikon or Canon would be using a huge 80-200 or 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom to do the same thing as this tiny 90mm f/2.8 lens. Not only do those zooms weigh more than SIX times as much as this lens (or as much as this entire core Leica system), this 90mm lens is sharper and has less distortion and vignetting, hee hee.

In spite of sales literature which tries to scare you away from this bargain used tele lens in favor of buying Leica's newest $2,000 non-tele 90mm f/2.8 or the fat 90mm f/2 APO ASPH below, I see little or no difference in performance. This 90mm Tele-Elmarit-M is super sharp, even wide-open. The only tiny performance difference is barely visible at f/2.8 and f/4, and I'd rather carry this tiny lens with its standard 39mm filter size instead of any of the bigger 90mm Leica lenses.


Leica 90mm f/2 APO ASPH

Leica 90mm f/2 APO ASPH (55mm filter, 16.675 oz./472.77g). enlarge.

I also brought along one of these overweight pigs. The Leica 90mm f/2 APO ASPH is a lab queen. Yes, in a lab shooting flat targets its MTF numbers amaze the innocent, but shooting real 3-D subjects these benefits go away as you deviate away from the theoretical perfection of perfect focus.

I only brought this lens along in the car when I shot it out the window. I didn't want it weighing me down when I hit the trails. It weighs more than any two of the other lenses put together, and requires extra-large filters.



Most shots were made with tiny 39mm 81A or 85C warming filters. I never shoot unfiltered; if I forgot to list a filter it's because I forgot which I used.

I also brought along a Tiffen screw-in 0.6 ND grad and a polarizer in 58mm, which I rarely used. When I did, I used a B+W 39mm to 58mm step-up-ring to avoid vignetting with two filters on the 28mm lens.

I leave the 39mm 81A or 85C warming filter on the lens at the same time as the larger grad or polarizer.



Almost everything was shot hand-held.


Leica M7 on the Mini MagicBall Head.

If the exposures were longer than about a quarter of a second, I used a 15-year old carbon-fibre Gitzo 1228 and a 10-year old Novoflex Mini MagicBall head.

Yes, the French tripod cost $500 in 1995 and the German head costs $280 today, but unlike cameras, these last a lifetime. Never get cheap with tripods.

I love the tripod because it's solid, weightless and easy to use. I got the ball head because it's also weightless, solid and easy and fast to use.

Unlike digital, where I never use tripods, I was shooting RealRaw files, which in my case, were all at ISO 32 to ISO 40. I still need a tripod at night.


File Formats

I shot all this on Fuji Velvia 50 so I could utilize the manifold benefits of shooting in RealRawtm.

I dropped it off at NCPS, and checked the boxes for enhanced scans. I got my film back with two DVDs containing all my scanned images. It was trivial to copy the data into my Mac, and with the DVDs, my files were already backed up. Done.

Most of the images are presented as-shot. I didn't have to do that much fiddling with them. The colors are mostly what I got on the original RealRawtm media, although the original media (film) is even more vivid than can be reproduced on your computer — today.


Why I Did This

I'm tired of carrying big DSLR cameras into the woods. They're too heavy, they don't offer the benefits of the RealRawtm system, and cost more.

RealRawtm cameras just shoot, and you never have to charge their batteries or download from them, or do anything other than just shoot. There are no menus, and no screwing around to waste your time, your money or your shots.

I shot this Leica system because it weighs less than three pounds, wet, when I carry the M7 and the 28mm, 50mm and 90mm tele. The Nikon D3 body alone weighs more than this complete system, and that's not counting the D3's charger!

I bought this entire core Leica system (M7, 28, 50 and 90 tele) for half of what a Nikon D3X (body only) would have cost me. I bought most of the Leica gear used, still in its boxes. Why would I pay more to get less with a D3X?

After shooting this little system and getting results as good or better than a D3X, why would I want to pay more to carry a big, fat D3X and get poorer results? Beats me; digital cameras are perfect for news, action and kid photos, but still not there for serious nature and landscape.

Shooting RealRawtm was a lot easier than screwing with computers and digital cameras in the field, gave me better results, and cost less. I also didn't overshoot like a fool, so it was much faster and easier to edit the results when I returned.




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