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Shooting with the Leica M246, Leica MP-6, and Hasselblad XPan

Shooting with the Leica M246, Leica MP-6, and Hasselblad XPan

Let's take a break from street style photography and models. Thing is, if I didn't start out in fashion, I think I would have wanted to be a candid photographer. There's something very magical when you capture a moment in time of people interacting with one another - especially at close range. It's so much more intimate.

Being in New York for the last couple of weeks, I had the opportunity to sit in on a rehearsal session of a piano trio playing Brahms and Mendelssohn. I've always loved classical music. At an early age, I honestly believed that Paganini was a natural extension of heavy metal guitar virtuosity. It just made sense that way.

Given the opportunity to sit in with talented musicians, the next question was what to do. Up to now, I've been pretty much concentrating on the lens - especially bokeh. So for this project, I decided to focus on the camera. With this being a classical music themed photo shoot, I decided that it should be black and white.

So then, I decided on a Leica M246 Monochrome as a starting point. With that being the case, the natural thing to do is to compare a monochrome sensor with a color sensor. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my Leica MP 240. My Instagram photo is proof that I forgot.

To be honest, I didn't think that a monochrome vs desaturation comparison sounded all that interesting. I think that many have already done that comparison before. So then I reached into my bag and thought, how about switching the comparison to a film camera. It was then I decided to compare my Monochrome with my Leica MP-6 with Tri-X 400.

Why ISO 400? To be frank, I had six roles left. That's why. However, ISO 400 presented a new challenge to me. It meant that I had to shoot at ISO 400 for my M246, which isn't optimal for indoor photography. Mind you, that normally wouldn't be a problem for a Leica shooter, given the fast glass at our disposal. Fast Leica lenses are great at isolating subjects in poor lighting. But I'm not photographing one musician. I have three to deal with on three different focal plane. That meant I would have to stop down in an attempt to get everyone in focus, under bad light.

But how much should I stop down? The answer was simple... so naturally, I had to complicate it.

Thing is, I have seen photographic reviewers compare the Leica M246 Monochrome to black and white film. With that being the case, I didn't think that such a comparison would be all that interesting. What I had to do then was make this comparison a little different. 

Long story short, I included the Hasselblad XPan for this comparison. And since I only have the 45mm f/4, aperture was set at f/4 across the three camera bodies. A simple answer answered complicatedly. With the suboptimal light, shutter speed was set at 1/60th of a second.

So why include the XPan in this comparison? I'd like to say I brought it because of a specific objective in mind. But if the truth be told - it's because I accidentally brought it with me. I thought it was my MP 240 in that camera case.

Set 1 - Warm Up of Shots of the Piano Trio

Leica M246 Monochrome + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, shot at f/4

Leica MP-6 + Kodak Tri-X 400 + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, shot at f/4. Either the film is very old and defective, or there's a light leak somewhere in the XPan.

Hasselblad XPan + Kodak Tri-X 400 + Hasselblad 45mm f/4, shot at f/4. What are those light streaks?

Set 2 - Focus on the Foreground Subject

Leica M246 Monochrome + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, shot at f/4

Leica MP-6 + Kodak Tri-X 400 + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, shot at f/4

Hasselblad XPan + Kodak Tri-X + Hasselblad 45mm f/4

Sometimes, when I do my reviews, comparisons, or challenge, I don't actually have a firm objective in mind. Fundamentally, I do these shoots because I enjoy taking pictures. It gives me an excuse to use my photographic gear - which is always fun. But what I do with the resulting images, that takes a bit of reverse engineering to figure out a suitable narrative.

I might have started this write-up with the intent to compare the Leica monochrome sensor with the Leica color sensor, but looking at what I got back from the lab, the real story is the difference between a regular 35mm 3:2 aspect ratio versus 3:1 aspect ratio, in the digital world.

What clearly surprised me was just how relevant a photographic tool the Hasselblad XPan was for tight-quarter indoor photography. Clearly, this is not something that one would think about. From what I have seen so far online, most XPan photographs are shot outdoors and shot at a generous focusing distance. 

But photographing indoors with the XPan makes a lot of sense. Because the frame of the image is wider, the XPan can shoot wider at closer distance. In fact, it shoots wider and closer with much less distortion. This makes sense, given that the 45mm f/4 lens shoots like a normal lens, but has the scope of a wide angle lens, when shot panoramically. It's like shooting a 24mm lens without the distortion. 

What you lose is some height in the frame, but then you gain a more cinemascopic perspective in the image. Because the frame is wide and short, cropping the subject, even midway through the forehead, appears aesthetically alright, and not a mistake in framing.

Set 3 - Comparison of Panoramic vs Crop in Post

Leica M246 Monochrome + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, shot at f/4 - Cropped to 3:1 Aspect Ratio

Leica MP-6 + Kodak Tri-X 400 + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, shot at f/4, cropped to 3:1 Aspect Ratio.

Hasselblad XPan + Kodak Tri-X 400 + Hasselblad 45mm f/4

Of course alternatively, you could just shoot at 3:2 aspect ratio, and crop to 3:1 aspect ratio. However, that would not be optimizing the frame.

It would also not be optimal with regards to the image resolution, if you're cropping it from a 3:2 aspect ratio film scan to a 3:1 aspect image. In the case of my images, shot at ISO 400, film grain does not appear as fine as digital pixels. Therefore, cropping the image, and then resizing the edited image to be the same as the XPan panoramic image, increases the size of the grain. This makes the image resolution appear less refined.

Aside from resolution optimization, the real benefit of shooting with the XPan versus cropping from 3:2 to 3:1 aspect ratio is the panoramic frame line in the viewfinder. What I've learned from shooting with the XPan is just how different an experience framing panoramically is compared to cropping panoramically in post. Being able to compose panoramically makes you assess your subject and your environment differently, and more precisely for panoramic images.

Set 4 - XPan Close-Up Detail Images

Being able to see with panoramic frame lines, it was natural to frame the violin in this manner.

Being able to frame panoramically, it is easy to be playful in composition. Here, I placed the pianist on the far left, so I could put emphasis on the empty keys on the right.

With a panoramic view, I can zone in on horizontal details. Here I was able to fit the entire cello bow into the frame, while the cellist was playing.

With regards to comparing the image quality between the Leica M246 Monochrome and the Leica MP-6, what I came away with was confirmation that digital image capture is objectively superior to analog image capture. The digital files are better, given cleaner images. However, there is something special about the way in which film renders an image. From a subjective point of view, I cannot say for sure which is better - digital or analog.

With that said, what I believe I can say is that selecting film or digital is a subjective decision, given that both formats more or less results in similar image capture. However, what is also very clear is that the panoramic image capture photographed with the XPan is different from normal full frame digital capture. As such, there is a place for the Hasselblad XPan in the digital world, given that there isn't a good digital panoramic camera in existence.

Although you can shoot 3:2 and crop to 3:1 in post, or you can stitch images together to create a panorama, or you can shoot with an app that pans panoramic images, what you can't do with all those other methods is compose panoramically. It is for this reason that I believe the Hasselblad XPan is still a unique photographic tool.

Set 5 - Parting Shots

Leica M246 + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux

Leica MP-6 + Kodak Tri-X 400 + Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux

Hasselblad XPan + Kodak Tri-X 400 + Hasselblad 45m f/4

As for my original intent to do a Monochrome vs Desaturated vs Black and White film comparison - that will be my next post.

All images have been optimized on Lightroom. Images have not been cropped, unless otherwise stated.

Special thanks to Akiko, Xiao, and Liam.

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Leica M246 Monochrome vs Leica M240 Desaturated vs Leica M6 B+W Film - plus an appearance from the Sony A7rII Hi-Res Desaturated

Leica M246 Monochrome vs Leica M240 Desaturated vs Leica M6 B+W Film - plus an appearance from the Sony A7rII Hi-Res Desaturated

LEGENDARY: Leica 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux Double Aspherical

LEGENDARY: Leica 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux Double Aspherical