Imagine my dilemma when I decide to open myself up to new portrait work despite having sold all my professional Canon gear to my work. Faced with the idea of using my existing Leica M rangefinder as a tool for this kind of work, I had to make sure I would be able to pull it off. The fact is that shooting portraits on a rangefinder isn't the most practical method, especially when you need to produce accurate framing and focus. Managing lighting, composition and the subject pose while manually focusing and correcting for framing issues is sure to add a little bit of uncertainty into the mix.
In the end, I decided that I wouldn't spend thousands on a new DSLR system just to shoot head shots, so I ended up buying a used Leica Summarit 75mm f/2.5 lens (original version).
For head shots, 75mm is close enough to the classic 85mm prime lens formula to be comfortable, while also maintaining the beautiful rendering characteristics I've come to love from the 35mm and 50mm Summarit lenses I own as well. It also SMALL to boot, compared to what I'm used to on SLR cameras, measuring only 60.5mm long (when focused at infinity) and 55mm round.
The 11 bladed aperture produces SMOOTH BOKEH, and I've found that f/2.5 at these longer focal lengths is about right for the amount of background blur you might want for head shots and portraits, though this is subjective of course. The focus ring is made out of rubber and is quick but also smooth. A curiousity is that it doesn't have the focusing tab like the shorter lenses, but this turns out to work better especially when shooting in portrait orientation.
FRAMING on the other hand is a little tricky at close distances due not only to rangefinder parallax but also lens breathing. The lens becomes more like an 80mm at the closest 0.9m focus distance. You have to be careful to follow the 75mm frame lines in the viewfinder while compensating by cropping in a little on what you expect. It's not an ideal situation but I think I'll get used to it quick enough and in practice, I didn't find it as big an issue as I expected with portraits in particular.
As for SHARPNESS, when you're dead on with the focus, it's tack sharp and I haven't seen much chromatic aberration at f/2.5, if any. I found that with my particular M body and this 75mm, there may be a small back focusing issue that I will have to investigate more, but I'm guessing it is only out by about a 1cm, if that.
The SIZE is perfect, feeling nice in the hand, solid with great construction, smooth focusing but overall not a heavy combination. The main problem of course with shooting vertical orientation on a Leica M rangefinder is that it's not that comfortable, to be frank. If you've had too much coffee, you'll want to up the shutter speed to counter shaky hands as there is no optical image stabilisation to be found on any of the M cameras. It's far and away not like holding a DSLR with a portrait grip! Take that into account. I am going to make it work, because I love the files out of my M and the rendering of the lens.
Despite all this, I'm very happy with the results, especially when using VSCO Film 04's Kodak Portra 160NC film emulation profile in Lightroom as I normally do. The bokeh, like all original Summarit lenses is beautiful and smooth and with accurate focus, the files are tack sharp with a warm and creamy feel.
The EXAMPLES BELOW are just test shots but they illustrate to me that this was a great choice for this kind of work I want do produce with it, and what's more, I've come to enjoy the way the manual rangefinder experience slows me down.
What's The Verdict?
- Beautiful rendering with smooth creamy bokeh.
- Good compression without being too unwieldy like a 90mm.
- Rubber focus ring is smooth.
- Solid, heavy construction while remaining very lean in size, thread size 46mm.
- A little tricky to frame at the closest focus distances. Frame becomes tighter than the frame lines suggest.
- Vertical shooting on an M is always going to be a stretch if you're being realistic.
See nickbedford.com for all of Nick's work and photo blog.