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Night Photography: Leica 35mm f/1.4 FLE and 35mm f/1.4 AA

Night Photography: Leica 35mm f/1.4 FLE and 35mm f/1.4 AA

Rangefinder photography, shot wide open at night, is not a good idea. I suppose it could be very rewarding, if your focusing technique is solid. But shooting wide open and therefore without the wiggle room from a generous depth of field, getting tack focus is largely up to fate, or your ability to remain in focus after you reframe the image for the sake of composition. But it's more up to fate, because if your subject moves even a little, your image will be out of focus. To be perfectly clear, street photography at night shot wide open is a challenging.

Thankfully, I was able to once again reduce the variables against me by one factor. I'm not shooting random subjects on the street. My subject will stay still and pose for me. But even with that, shooting wide open at night still poses a challenge. For one thing, getting tack focus is reliant on your ability to see details clearly in the focusing screen. At night, when the available light is poor, it's very difficult to do that. And the further the subject is away from you, the more difficult it is to make out details in the focusing screen to optically confirm focus. You would think that the opposite would be true, with subjects further away, but it isn't.

The changes in the light conditions also poses a challenge. You would think that a lack of sunlight casting strong shadows would at the very least make the lighting situation more consistent - in that there won't be an overly dominant light source. But you'd be wrong. The light changes rather dramatically at night, depending on the radiant light source, and the color of the light source. The shadow it casts can be just as unideal as the shadow cast by the noonday sun. 

Despite the challenge, shooting at night does offer a different overall experience. Especially when shooting wide open, the background lights blurs out in a pleasant kaleidoscopic way, isolating the subject in the foreground. However, it should be noted that bokeh is best when the subject is closer to the camera. The further away the subject is from the camera, the less dreamy the bokeh becomes. 

The lenses that I used for this evening photowalk were a mix up of a Leica 35mm f/1.4 FLE and a Leica 35mm f/1.4 Double Aspherical (AA) paired with a Leica MP240 and a Leica MD Typ 262 camera bodies. I selected these two lenses, because of my preference towards the 35mm focal length for street photography, and the fast f/1.4 aperture, which would provide me an extra stop of light and better background bokeh from my preferred 35mm Summicron. As for why I selected two different 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, I just wanted to see if there was a difference between the two lenses.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE -  Here is an example of difficult lighting. The background light was brighter than the foreground, which was largely in shadow. This image is only possible, because of post processing on Lightroom.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE -  This is an example of a very ideal night shot. The subject is well lit, and the background is full of action and light all blurred out by the shallow depth of field. You get both context and isolation of the subject. This would not be as effective on a lens with a larger maximum aperture.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE - Another well lit urban street scene.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE -  This is the point where I decide to change lens. You can make a comparison between this sample image and the next sample image, shot with the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux AA.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux AA -  You can make a comparison between this sample image and the previous image shot with the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux AA -  A whole body image with a deep background of non-competing urban objects blurred out to provide context of the scene.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux AA -  stopped down in order to better freeze the moving bus in the background.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux AA -  I just like this image. It captures the subject just right, the moment the bus passed.

This last group of sample images demonstrate how the background bokeh changes depending on the subjects relative position to the camera. In other words, the closer the subject is to the camera, the more pleasant the bokeh.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE -  The background bokeh isn't all that pleasing, but at the same time enough to isolate subject from the background.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE -  Moving up closer by a couple of feet, and bokeh improves a little.

35mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE -  Up close, bokeh is optimized.

Overall, I found the experience of shooting wide open at night to be tiresome and excessively tedious. Street photography is not suppose to be shot wide open. It defeats the purpose of the decisive moment, because by the time you get focus, and reframe your view finder, you would have already lost it. Honestly, shooting at higher ISO makes so much more sense when street shooting. But I have to admit - the files do look much cleaner at ISO 400 than at ISO 12,500 on my Leica Monochrome.

As for the difference between the two version 35mm Summilux, I find the older double aspherical version to be less contrasty than the newer version. However, it's nothing that cannot be updated artificially in Lightroom. Still, there is a very nice analog quality to the double aspherical version, for a lack of a better way to describe it. Again I think it's a nice luxury to be able to use the older version. But trust me, the latest version is no slouch either. Besides, as I have said before, I think that most would prefer that modern look of the latest version anyway.

Again, special thanks to Nora for helping out.

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