I started in photography in 1969 with a Nikon F. Not long after, I meet a friend who was a Vietnam veteran. He used the Leica M system. We shot side-by-side and worked together in the darkroom. As good as the Nikon optics were then, and continue to be today, there was an easily identifiable quality of the Leica images. At that point I was sure that I wanted to shoot Leica lenses.
My Leica M System
In the early 1980’s, I purchased a used Leica M4-2 with a 50mm, f2, Summicron lens. I also picked up an earlier version of the 90mm f2.8 Tele-Elmarit. Later, in the early 1990’s, I purchased a then new version of the highly regarded 35mm f2 Summicron. My dream system was complete.
Leica glass is expensive. I had a small, but decent collection of fine lenses, but by 2010, it became impractical to continue shooting film. My dream system was no longer viable.
I had long since gravitated to small, point and shoot digital cameras for snapshots and vacations. In 2012, I bit the bullet and sprang for a new, digital Leica M9P body. It has a full frame sensor and can use all of my Leica optics. From then on, digital photography became interesting.
So, when I set out to write a food blog in December 2013, I had a small Leica M system. While I would never recommend that anyone run out and buy Leica M equipment to photograph an amateur blog food, that is what I had and I set out use it.
Macro Focus Options for the M9
The biggest limitations of the Leica optics I had, is that the closest focus distance for these lenses is just less than 1 meter. This ruled out using the 35 and 50mm lenses, as the field of view was too wide at a 1-meter distance. The 90mm Tele-Elmarit turned out to be a workable lens at this distance, but there was one very significant challenge.
It required working far from the photographic subject. As a result there were limitations on how the subject could be framed in the shot. Also, I often found myself standing precariously on a stepladder to get a view from above. Not being able to work close to the subject was becoming both an inconvenience, a constraint and even a danger in terms of composition. I started looking at macro-focus options for the M9.
The first option I looked at was the 50mm dual range Summicron. Last made in 1968, this lens will focus down to 20” when used with an adapter. However the DR Summicron does not work with the M9 body.
I also looked at the Leica Visoflex, which in certain versions can work on the M9. The Visoflex effectively converts the Leica M to a “primitive” single lens reflex (SLR) camera.
When the Visoflex is used with special lenses and focusing adapters and/or bellows attachments it provides outstanding macro capabilities. However, he Visoflex with its adapters takes time to install on the camera body. In the end, I questioned how much use it would get for a couple of shots of a plate of food.
A little more searching and I found at the bottom of the list of lenses in the current Leica catalog an M lens with macro focusing capability — the Macro-Elmar-M. It is a collapsible, 90mm, f4 optic that when used with an adapter has outstanding macro focusing capabilities. While it is a little slow due to its maximum aperture setting it is highly regarded by those who use it. As used versions are practically non-existent, I set out to get a new copy of the Macro-Elmar.
My first use of this lens was for a quick shot of a plate of Spaghetti Puttanesca. I was amazed with the result. Sharp with great resolution and color.
Here is a blow up that while reduced in size for publishing on this blog illustrates the level of detail that can be captured with the Macro-Elmar. If one were foolish enough to shoot food with a Leica rangefinder, the Macro-Elmar-M is an essential piece of gear.
The Panasonic Lumix (DMC-LF1)
I use this little Lumix for quick shots and as a step up from a smartphone. It has Leica optics, a 12mp sensor, stores images in RAW format and can shoot in aperture priority mode.
It is a good little camera. For about twice the money it can be purchased rebadged as a Leica 3. Alas, it does not produce Leica quality images and I find it hard to reliably focus a subject accurately enough to take advantage of its aperture priority mode.
My Current Tabletop Studio
I shoot mostly at night after my day job, which means using artificial light. My current setup is an inexpensive assemblage of foam core boards, a diffuser made of a canvas stretcher frame with parchment paper glued on and an inexpensive desktop light with an incandescent bulb. I have some planned upgrades for later.