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Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon: Brilliance and 3D Feel

With the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon, every aperture is excellent. The 15/2.8 Distagon offers a brilliance and contrast just not there with competitors. The expansive view is just right for certain types of outdoor shooting, and the lens offers optical performance no less good than the Leica 18mm f/3.8 SEM, but wider.

I shot extensively for two weeks on my recent trip, and merely labeling folders will take some hours. But randomly poking around, this image caught my attention as something unusual, with a look to me captures the moonscape other-worldly surreal feel of the high altitude White Mountains. 'Straight' conversion here; nothing extra done.

Click for larger image.

  Ancient Bristlecone Pines, White Mountains Nikon D810 + Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon @ f/11
Ancient Bristlecone Pines, White Mountains
Nikon D810 + Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon @ f/11 Zeiss POL

US National Forest Service (NFS) Proposes Restrictive Permits for Still Photography on Public Lands: $1000 Fine for Taking a Picture?

Well, when I read something like this, I almost feel like crying. I hardly recognize my country any more, but this hits home.


From “7 things”:

This isn't just about the media. The policy applies to documentary film crews, nonprofits and private citizens who might use a photo or video to sell something or earned a salary while in the wilderness area. They'd need a special permit first.

Scary stuff. Particularly for me, since I love photographing in the wilderness. This is just the foot in the door; “clarify” is Orwellian doublespeak leading to nastier things later. The NFS can bide its time after all. Moreoever, what is clear to Ranger Rick mighty be unclear to Ranger Jane or Ranger Bob; it gives such personnel the right to harass anyone anytime with a camera (or iPhone or Google Glass or GoPro or whatever). A surefire recipe for abuse and harrassment: traditionally (police) need only a flimsy pretense and this is no different in its ugly risks.

There is simply no need for such regulations; shooting truck commercials with a crew is one thing (to use an example), the other 99.999% is a grotesque power grab.

NFS proposal. Since prose and practice differ and are modified by bureaucrats (“interpreted”) once approved, rules only get tighter and tighter over time unless a public outcry results after enough casualties. The “backing off” was almost certainly a negotiating ploy to force into place rules to start, a trial balloon to see what sticks*, to see just how far the power and authority might be extended on the first effort. The noose can then be steadily tightened over time, incrementally. That’s how it works.

* “We took public input and compromised to address concerns” (standard boilerplate weasel words) = “We made an outrageous proposal so that plenty of leverage remains after the really outrageous stuff was watered down, and thus we are nice guys for compromising”.

The only acceptable answer is to drop the whole inane proposal, and to fire those responsible for allowing such ugly proposals to surface. But only one person I know has that kind of influence. Still, he has a phone.

Who is the press and what is a camera and which pictures are personal and which are news and which are commercial and many more questions arise. Which means that the hapless person taking a picture can be threatened at will by Ranger Rick. Use a tripod, get a fine?

Public lands are not fiefdoms for bureaucrats to wallow in, but a critical public resource for a wide variety of users and uses. Public. The very idea of restricting photography on public lands shows a intellecual disconnect with an activity having arguably not just zero impact but a positive one. But of course these proposed rules are a naked grab for power begetting the need for more money, more personnel, etc. They have nothing to do with protecting lands or public benefit.

The NFS and BLM lands here in the USA offer wide open spaces in which one can wander and enjoy through the outdoors. Where else can one go for such experiences? National Parks are heavily restricted and are surely nice, but do not offer the same opportunities. But to see photography proposed as a restricted activity is deeply disturbing (this is not about ATV usage here!), but it is deeper than that, since the sense of freedom on such lands could quickly become lost as more and more activities require permits. A permit for breathing, peeing, and pooping come next. Don’t laugh.

Note that while I enjoy wilderness areas, I’ve long opposed creation of new ones, because such areas are now used as political bludgeons to further extremist agendas (e.g. to deny access to a wide variety of uses and users not meeting the approval of extremist environmentalists). This is happening right now in the Eastern Sierra, with a proposed patchwork quilt of new wilderness areas designed expressly to deny access to areas containing established critical resources such as tungsten. Areas clearly not wilderness. The Pine Creek area I enjoy is on that list, and I hope the addition fails.

Over the years, I see (in the Eastern Sierra) symptoms of the spreading disease not all of which I can articulate here: steadily increasing closures of long-established roads (including some I’ve enjoyed), labeling roads as “trails” so as to close them, intimidation lawsuits against owners exercising decades-old legal rights to maintain access to private property, forced removal of historically notable mining structures (Pine Creek), blockage of green energy projects (Pine Creek 1.2 MW turbine having no above-ground impact), NFS personnel in full SWAT-team regalia). Talk to locals in the Eastern Sierra; you won’t find many (or any) fans of the NFS or NPS. The NFS now seeks to extend its scope via regulatory processes; such things only grow like kudzu, and never shrink. As I see it, the NFS has become a festering sore on public lands, its mission debased and corrupted from core values long established. These proposed regulations in context are no surprise at all.

NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) note

On September 25, 2014, the U.S. Forest Service issued Proposed Regulation FSH 2709.11, Chapter 40, which would impose the requirement of permits and fees in circumstances that could substantially limit photographers' access to Federal lands under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. Since so many NANPA members photograph on Federal lands, this was particularly troublesome to us.

Today, NANPA, together with the following organizations, joined in sending a letter to Thomas Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, to express their concerns about these new proposed rules.

American Society of Media Photographers
American Society of News Editors
Associated Press
Associated Press Media Editors
Associated Press Photo Managers
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Digital Media Licensing Association
National Newspaper Association
National Press Photographers Association
Radio Television Digital News Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Environmental Journalists

The Forest Service comment period has been extended to November 3, 2014, and we anticipate that further comments will be submitted in an effort to make rules less restrictive for photographers.

DIGLLOYD: a negotiating position that splits the difference is a disastrous approach: “less restrictive” and “for photographers”? That is a fool’s game. The goal should be complete repudiation of the proposed rules and political pressure on the authorities involved at NFS (demand their resignation).

Returning from Trip

  Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon for Leica M  

Heading back after a fruitful trip to (first) Yosemite and then Eastern Sierra and White Mountains areas. I shot the new Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon extensively in the field, along with its two slower Zeiss ZM 35mm siblings and the Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.2 II and the Leica M 35/1.4 and Leica 35mm f/2.

The best weather was Sunday morning, with an ethereal and ephemeral coating of powder snow on the Sierra, and a heavy blanket on the White Mountains. Not rising at dawn after the previous day’s sullen storm due to minor (sinus) illness after the first day of the Everest Challenge, I staved off the sinus issue, but I did miss the best shooting of the year that morning. Alas, weather and body/health do not always cooperate. But I shot some pleasing shots nonetheless, getting going around 8:30 AM.

On this trip, I also shot more material with the Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 APO-Planar, which is a rewarding lens at every aperture and every kind of lighting, clearly the best lens ever produced for a DSLR or rangefinder.

As shown below, the Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 delivers outstanding results wide open at ƒ/1.4. It feels almost Otus-like in its quality, though it is not at Otus level (but this is not to say it falls short of any Leica M offering, nor are any f/1.4 lenses but the two Otii at Otus level!).

  Sunrise Over High Peaks at Pine Creek Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4
Sunrise Over High Peaks at Pine Creek
Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4

The contrast and sharpness at f/1.4 are first class with the ZM 35/1.4 Distagon, and with exceptional sharpness across the field with minimal field curvature. The lens vignetting at f/1.4 dovetailed nicely with the dramatic light and shadow of this early morning image.

  Early Morning Light Drama at Pine Creek Tungsten Mine Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4
Early Morning Light Drama at Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4

Leica M Typ 240: Operational Reliability in the Field

Shooting in the field with the Leica M240 remains an operational chore due to inane menu design and low-res center-focus-only EVF functionality. One need only shoot a Nikon D810 to see so many better characteristics which are so obviously fixable on the M240.

Be that as it may, eighteen months after its introduction the M240 still shows itself to still be an unreliable tool when the camera has to work. It malfunctioned repeatedly every day, including camera lockups requiring power cycling the camera (and loss of the image) and (once) a complete lockup requiring battery removal. On some days, the lockups were every 20th shot or so. It is infuriating to lose shots due to camera malfunction, but 18 months have not fixed the M240 firmware, and this body is the replacement for my 1st lemon.

Carlos V writes:

I've sent my M240 back twice for the lockups and because there were spots in the sensor. Both times it took over a month to get the camera back and to this day (about a year and a half as well) I get lock ups frequently. I lose images because of that too. It is not only frustrating but in a way embarrassing when using this camera in a professional setting and it keeps failing and locking up. Very sad indeed.

DIGLLOYD: for the past two weeks, shooting nearly every day, my M240 locked up regularly, at least 1 in 30 shots, sometimes more frequently, sometimes a bit less. It seems to involve the EVF (I never use the rangefinder any more), and might involve particular operational sequences.

Gary M writes:

Ditto for me as well. It seems to happen when using the EVF. I've narrowed the issue down to pressing the Play button while the just taken image is still being displayed in the EVF.

In other words, using the EVF, an image has been shot and that image preview (or rather "post-view") is displayed on the EVF and while still being displayed, I press the Play button on the back of the camera… total freeze-up and I shut the camera off (actually I turn the switch to Off but it's non-responsive due to the freeze) and then I have to remove the grip and then the battery, reinsert the battery and then turn the camera back on. Then the M240 is ready once again to frustrate in its operation but delight in its images.

The freeze up doesn't happen every time but often enough. If it doesn't happen, the next usual result (in the above sequence) is for the camera to "automatically" switch to LV mode (without my having pressed the LV button).

DIGLLOYD: I’ve had other rather vague emails reporting “no problems” (no specifics on usage), but it seems to me that the common thread is the EVF and perhaps certain operational sequences.

FOR SALE: Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

My Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (black) is for sale. This is the lens with which all my review has been done. $4550 in original box with Leica leather case. Lightly used and in excellent working order with perfect glass.

Contact me. Buyer pays FedEx insured shipping of choice.

Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon In the Field

The new Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon is a joy to focus wide open, and its results at ƒ/1.4 are outstanding. I’ve been shooting it for over a week now, also its two siblings and the Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.2 II and the Leica M 35/1.4 and 35/2.

My emphasis is on covering the ZM 35/1.4, but naturally its place among those other lenses and the relative merits of all of them are a secondary goal. Many lens characteristics matter including sharpness and contrast, flare control, flatness of field and so on.

It’s very hard to cover six 35mm lenses, but I expect to have some good insights shooting on the Leica M240

  Aspen Scrub Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4
Aspen Scrub
Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4
  White Clouds in White Mountains Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4
White Clouds in White Mountains
Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4
  Earth Shadow Rises as Black Horse Grazes  Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4
Earth Shadow Rises as Black Horse Grazes
Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/1.4
  Fading Sunglow over White Mountain Peak Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/5
Fading Sunglow over White Mountain Peak
Leica M Typ 240 + Zeiss ZM 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ ƒ/5

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