September 10, 2008

Albumen Prints: An Overview

For a little background to these overviews, see here.

History: First introduced by Louis-Desiree Blanquart-Evrard in 1850, albumen printing was the dominant photographic process for most of the second half of the nineteenth century.

Negatives: A density range of 2.0 to 2.5 is good.

Preparing the albumen: 500ml of egg whites (no yolk or white stringy bits) + 1ml glacial acetic acid + 15gm ammonium chloride + 15ml distilled water. Stir briskly until it turns into a froth. Cover container and refrigerate for 24 hrs. Remove the froth on the top and filter the liquid through cheesecloth. Age in refrigerator for a week or more.

Coating the paper: Coat by floating for 3 mins and hang to dry. To double coat, the albumen needs to be hardened. This can be done by steaming, heating to about 150F with a hot iron under a protective board, or dipping in a 500ml 70% isopropyl alcohol + 15gm ammonium chloride bath.

Sensitizing the paper: Either float, brush or use glass rod to coat with 12% silver nitrate solution under safelight. Sensitized paper does not keep well. Floating works best but results in albumen contaminating the sensitizer solution. To maintain the silver nitrate solution over a long time, add 1.5 gm kaolin per 100ml of solution. The kaolin is insoluble powder that absorbs the impurities and settles at the bottom. After every use, shake up the kaolin and let it settle overnight. Decant or siphon off clear solution before next use. Replenish the amount of solution used up with a 24% solution of silver nitrate.

Exposure: Expose until the shadows begin to bronze (maximum density) or for thinner negatives, the highlights are 1 to 1.5 stops darker than desired. Direct sun gives less contrast than diffused light.

Processing: (1) Wash 5-10mins until there is no milkiness in the running water. (Can be toned at this point). (2) Fix in 75gm sodium thiosulfate + 1gm sodium carbonate (washing soda) + 500ml water. Two fixing baths of 4mins each is recommended. (3) Immerse in 1% sodium sulfite solution for 3mins as a hypo clearing bath. (4) Wash for 30mins. Squeegee and hang to dry.

July 23, 2008

Using a DSLR as a Shutter-Tester

What good is a DSLR if you can't test the shutter of your Holga with it? Ok, I'm kidding, but there is a fairly simple way to use a DSLR as a shutter speed tester for any lens that has a leaf shutter. In fact, with a little care, this method can be used to test practically any shutter. Don't expect pinpoint accuracy or rush to put your lab equipment on eBay, but this method should be accurate to within at least a third of a stop - certainly good enough for average everyday use.

Think for a moment what a shutter does. It is simply a way to block the path of light falling on the film/sensor and then to remove that blockage for a certain known amount of time to let light fall on the film/sensor. It's a pretty simple concept really - a mechanized and repeatable version of the old hat-on-lens technique. Problem is, shutter speeds go off - they slow down, they speed up and do all sorts of funny things. Often, as in the case of mechanical marvels like the Holga, they are simply unknown, or vary from camera to camera. But if there is one good thing to be said of modern electronically controlled shutters in DSLRs and or other electronic thingamagigs, it is that they are remarkably accurate and consistent. So let's get about measuring a mechanical shutter by directly comparing it to the known shutter speeds of a DSLR.

Our first task would be to mount whatever lens/camera/shutter we want to test in front of a DSLR. Now, we don't need to focus anything or permanently mount anything. We just need to make sure that we can hold our shutter in front of the DSLR in such a way that when the shutter is closed (and the DSLR's shutter is open), no light reaches the sensor. We also, however, need to make sure that nothing sticks into the body of the DSLR so that we don't end up damaging the moving mirror. This can be done in a few ways, but the easiest for me was to use a hollow extension tube (or set of tubes) used for macro photography. I used a Nikon PK-13, mounted a BR-2a reversing ring on it and then used a simple hollow black tube that is available for less than $5 at camerafilters.com. You can use whatever you have handy - the basic idea is to provide a reasonable bit of distance between the shutter and the DSLR's body. Once done, the setup should resemble the picture on the right (I used a film body in the pictures, because I was using the digital body to make the pictures).

Now, point the whole setup towards something reasonably bright, uniform in color and preferably near middle gray in tone - a wall, the sidewalk, distant trees and the sky all work well. Nothing needs to be in focus - in fact, we want things as blurry as possible. Now the optical path has two shutters obstructing the light - the shutter to be tested, and the focal plane shutter of the DSLR. Light will reach the sensor only when both shutters are open. If we hold open either shutter in bulb mode, the other shutter's speed will be the sole determinant of the amount of light reaching the sensor. Quickly test that the optical path is truly light-tight by keeping the shutter to be tested closed and holding the DSLR's shutter open for a few seconds. If no stray light reaches the sensor, you will get a spike at the far left of the histogram as in the first histogram of the screen-capture to the right.

So now, let's put the DSLR on bulb (having a locking remote release is helpful) and fire the shutter to be tested. If you look at the resulting histogram you will see a sharp localized spike at one point. Adjust the ISO (if the lens you are testing has an aperture iris, you can also adjust that - just make sure nothing changes throughout the test) so that the spike is somewhere along the middle like the second histogram in the illustration and we are all set. Note the position of this histogram and now put the shutter on bulb and make a series of exposures with the DSLR shutter around the speed you are testing. So if you are testing to see whether the speed that says 1/100 on your shutter is accurate, then do the following:

  • Make the first exposure with the DSLR on bulb and with the shutter you are testing fired at the 1/100 setting.
  • Now, put the shutter being tested on bulb and make exposures with the DSLR at 1/200, 1/160, 1/125, 1/100, 1/80, 1/60, 1/50.
Each exposure is a third of a stop more than the previous one. If you observe the histogram, you will notice that the spike gradually travels to the right as you increase exposure. Try to pick out the one that has the spike closest to the one in the first frame - that is your shutter speed. Simple.

A word about RGB histograms. You don't need to bother with them for the test. If your subject is middle gray and your white balance is set correctly, your RGB spikes will be more-or-less at the same point, otherwise just use any of the channels or the combined histogram. In this test we are just comparing exposure times by comparing the amounts of light let in by either shutter, so as long as every other factor is consistent between those two exposures, we should do fine.

So that is it. Once you try it out, it's a pretty simple test and you should be all set to make precise exposures on Velvia with your Holga. Have fun!

May 02, 2008

Where Have All the Flowers Gone, or, Why I Miss Closeups

Every photographer should try shooting nature closeups sometime! Outrageous, I know. Might as well suggest that it is the sacred duty of every budding shutterbug to make portraits of domesticated felines, or shoot oversaturated sunsets. But bear with me for a second. When I started doing photography seriously I had no interest in insects, none! Not even the more conventional interest in pretty flower shots. My foray into macro photography was the result of circumstances. I didn't have a car at the time, and I found that nature's grandeur was somewhat limited on the regular bus routes. But there was a meadow and a small lake nearby with lots of lovely plants ... and butterflies - pretty butterflies. So I tried shooting some pictures with my new zoom, but strangely not much came out. Admittedly I was a beginner all around, and my portraits or street photographs, too, were not likely to be mistaken for undiscovered Karsh or Cartier-Bresson. But y'know, if I took a shot of my friend Jack you could pretty much tell that it was my friend Jack lazing on the sofa. Same with the corner grocery store. But my shots of insects looked like I had sneezed while trying to photograph a Jackson Pollock painting - they were blurry blobs of color.

So I asked some questions on the internet, got a book, and then a couple more. Form-over-content and all that was fine, but this one needed to be cracked. An assortment of lenses and other gizmos followed and the summer saw countless rolls of film before my insects actually looked like the homely winged arthropods without artistic ambition that they were. I eventually found that while shooting at high magnifications isn't that big a deal once you got the basics right, it is nevertheless one of the most technically demanding kinds of photography that you can do with a small format camera. Closeup photography requires you to have good technique and a passing grasp of the theory. As a beginner, this can be a good thing - it's like a crash course in photographic technique. Over my first summer of doing closups, I gradually started to gain an understanding of photographic theory and technique that would perhaps have taken much longer for me to grasp otherwise. Two things in particular helped. Being on a student budget forced me to improvise and use optical gems dredged up from eBay instead of buying the latest greatest macro kit on offer that month. I found that good macro photography can be done with a wide variety of equipment, from old unloved lenses for 8mm and 16mm movie cameras to the latest macro lenses to some astoundingly expensive lenses made for scientific photography. I also made a couple of online friends whose work set the right kind of example to emulate. So, mission accomplished, I was a technically better photographer ready to move on to better things. Later, when I moved to medium and large format cameras, the transition was almost seamless because of the skills I had acquired doing macro photography manually. If you gain nothing else out of macro photography, you will gain a better understanding of photographic technique when you decide to move on. But I hope you will tarry.

That winter, I did other kinds of photography, discovering the black and white darkroom for the first time. And though it was exciting, I found I still missed the meadow. I missed waking up in the morning to catch the first bus with a bagful of gear, tripod in hand. I missed crawling on the ground, my clothes all wet and muddied, trying to get close to that dew covered hoverfly resting on the tip of a blade of grass. Making that perfectly composed and focused shot remains a thrill for every photographer, but it was much more than that that I had come to love about closups. Having grown up bang in the middle of the urban jungle, I had never really discovered nature except through the detached eyes of a "tourist." And suddenly, just under my feet, there was this whole microcosm - this whole world of beauty and color, the joy of life and the struggle, oh! the violent struggle to cling on to that life. I who had always had to look at a calendar to tell the seasons could suddenly tell what month it was from the color of the damselflies I found in the meadow! It was partly the thrill of the hunter stalking his prey, and partly the awestruck wonder of the naturalist. I think of photographing insects as wildlife photography in miniature - it requires stealth and tact. I could feel my skills at spotting camouflaged insects improve over time and with practice I managed to get closer and closer to them without causing alarm. But once you are perfectly positioned and have everything lined up, you look through the viewfinder into a vastly different world. Many of my best photographic experiences shooting insects didn't even result in successful photographs - maybe the insect flew off, maybe the breeze was too strong. But you stop caring as you almost start to communicate with that little blob of a creature climbing up a blade of grass, looking around, frantically wiping the dewdrops from its eyes and wings as it waits to catch the first rays of the sun to warm itself. At that point you no longer care about exposure or focus or sharpness or bokeh - you are merely a spectator in this minute but yet so vast theater of life.

So let me end with an old old shot that didn't work out as a photograph but was a once in a lifetime "photographic experience."

I spotted this little fella on a blade of grass and very carefully set up my tripod and got the shot framed. There was a bit of wind, so I waited. The light was also flat and I was hoping the rays of the early morning sun would add just enough punch to the photograph. The sunrays were rapidly advancing across the meadow and would be there in a few seconds, the wind was dying down as well. As I waited, I watched the little chap wipe the dew drops off its eyes as it warmed up and got ready for another day in this beautiful world that was the meadow. His every movement became immensely pronounced on my focusing screen and as I enjoyed the scene, I thought at the back of my mind how many stops might I need to compensate once the sunlight touched that blade of grass.

Soon enough, the light touched his wing and the dew drops on it sparkled, he got ready to move as soon as the light had drunk the droplets dry and I was about to trip the shutter before he did. Suddenly, out of nowhere there was a flutter and a buzz and the image in my viewfinder got blurry. It was a yellow jacket - it had probably caught a glimpse of the same sparkle that I had been waiting for and swooped in for the kill. The butterfly tried to hold on but the savagery of the wasp was indescribable. After a moment's struggle it tore its victim apart and flew away with shreds of wing and leg still sticking to the dewy grass. Even though I had been witness to this struggle I had not managed to trip the shutter.

And so I only have this serene, strangely beautiful portrait of the last moments of a butterfly in the early morning in flat light and slight wind, while waiting to make the perfect photograph. Most of us have watched the awesome fury of nature's predators on the telly - the galloping cheetah or the striking shark, but I am sure few have witnessed such fury on a cold morning in a misty meadow. So, I miss shooting closeups.

Far have I travelled, and long
At great expense, to lands unknown
To gaze across oceans, and mountains to view.

Yet my eyes have not known
But two steps from home
A blade of grass, a drop of dew.
-Rabindranath Tagore [Apologies for my hurried translation from Bengali]

May 01, 2008

Film: A Beginner's Guide

An old friend just asked me for a film recommendation. She got a DSLR recently, made a few nice photographs, converted a few to black and white, got to wondering what real black and white film is like, dug out an old family Minolta SLR - and here we are. I thought that a lot of people who have started out with digital photography and never experienced film might be in a similar position. The terminology surrounding various types of films, formats and processes can be a little confusing and daunting - it was for me when I started, even though it was before digital photography exploded on the scene. So here's a quick rundown for the rank newcomer to film. Any advanced photographer will, of course, find this full of generalizations and simplifications, and the beginner should note that the techniques surrounding film photography are a vast subject. It ranges from the extremely precise to the seemingly mystical but is always fascinating. I hope you will find this little write-up an adequate and reassuring first step into the magical world of film photography.

Film formats: Film comes in various shapes and sizes. Most people are used to SLR type cameras that use 35mm film but other types of film are quite common as well. Here's a rundown of the most common formats.

35mm: The most common film type often referred to as 135 film in catalogs etc. It usually comes in metal canisters and has sprocket holes on both sides and 35mm cameras make an image on it that is 36mmx24mm in size. This size is also the standard for "full frame" against which "crop factors" of DSLRs are measured. Though this is overwhelmingly the most common size, there is of course no law that says that you have to stick to it. While one is pretty much stuck in terms of the 24mm height, some cameras made images with varying widths on 35mm film. So, there were old "half frame" cameras which produced 24x18mm frames taking up half the size of a 35mm frame. More recently Hasselblad produced the expensive but awesome XPan wide format panoramic camera which produced images 24mmx65mm in size. But for most beginner's purposes 35mm means making 36mmx24mm images with one of the traditional 35mm SLR or rangefinder or point-and-shoot or perhaps even single use cameras.

35mm film most commonly comes in metal canisters in 36, 24 or 12 frame sizes (i.e. how many 36mmx24mm shots you can get on the roll). You can also buy it in "bulk rolls" which have 100 feet or sometimes 50 feet of film. This is then loaded onto small plastic or metal canisters by the user. Of course, film is photosensitive - any light will spoil it - so people do it in absolute darkness or with contraptions called bulk film loaders which allow you to do it in normal light. Bulk film is cheaper but best avoided until you are reasonably comfortable with film.

Medium Format: This film is often referred to as 120 and is 6cm wide and comes wound on a spool and with a paper backing. It is used in many medium format cameras which a lot of serious photographers use (I don't like the term "professional" - it is ambivalent and doesn't really mean anything). Again, the height of the image is physically limited to about 56cm by the film but various cameras make images of various widths on this film. The most common formats you will encounter are 645 (6x4.5 cm approx), 6x6, 6x7, 6x9, 6x12 and even 6x17. How many images you get out of a roll will of course depend on the format. You'll get 18 645 shots on a roll, 12 6x6 shots but only 4 6x17 shots!

There is a variation on 120 film called 220 which, though still available, is becoming increasingly uncommon. It is basically the same film without the paper backing and twice the length of 120 - so you get twice the number of frames per roll. Many cameras can use either type.

Sheet film: The above types of film are called roll films, because they come in rolls - no surprise there! There are cameras called view cameras or large format cameras that use film in individual sheets. One image per sheet of film. The most common sheet size is 4x5 inches, but many many other sizes exist and people sometimes even cut up their sheet film on their own to use in historical formats which are no longer available. 5x7 and 8x10 inch film sheets are quite common but there are people shooting 11x14 or even 20x24 inch sheets of film in huge cameras.

You are probably wondering why all the fuss with larger sized film. The answer is surface area. An 8x10 inch sheet of film is almost 60 times the size of a 35mm film frame! That means it holds much more image detail, gives better tonality and a whole bunch of other stuff that we don't need to discuss now. Suffice it to say that every film format and type of camera has its specific strengths, weaknesses and uses.

Finally, many many other film formats have been produced throughout the history of photography. Some are still produced in small quantities. To get a quick idea take a look at this chart. Photography has a long and rich tradition and these formats have been part of it.

Okay, now that we've had a rundown of formats, let's look at the types of film that we can choose from.

Black and White Film: Traditional black and white film comes in all of the formats discussed above and in many kind of flavors. It can also be very easily developed at home and provides the user with a great degree of control. Advanced photographers will, for example, control the exact degree of contrast in the film by controlling th development process - its time, temperature and the amount of agitation for the chemicals. Once developed, BW film produces negatives which can be printed with an enlarger in a darkroom resulting in prints that you will see referred to as "silver gelatin" or traditional prints. You can also, of course, scan and print it digitally or do a whole bunch of other printing processes from the nineteenth century that we don't really need to worry about right now. One can spend a lifetime just learning new things about traditional black and white photography but for our purposes this much should suffice to begin with. Beside traditional black and white film, the only other thing a beginner might need to be aware of is something called chromogenic film which is discussed below.

Color Negative Film: This is the most common type of color film that produces negatives with an orangish base and can be develped at any neighborhood drugstore or grocery store. This film is sometimes called C-41 film which refers to the process used to develop it.

Chromogenic film is a type of C-41 film - only instead of color, it produces black and white negatives. It's basically a color film without the three red, green and blue layers which combine to give us color images - instead it has just one. Why? That's because the C-41 process is so common and not everyone is able to develop their true black and white film at home or has access to a good lab that can properly develop black and white film. It provides a convenient way for people to shoot black and white images and get it developed at their local drugstore. Many store clerks seem to be unfamiliar with the term "chromogenic" so ask for either Ilford XP-2 or Kodak BW400CN. As far as I know, those are the only chromogenic films currently available. For all other kinds of film a store clerk should know what you are talking about. If not, try to find another store.

Color Slide Film: Less common nowadays is color slide film, also called chrome film, positive film or E-6 film (again a reference to the process used to develop it). This produces a finished positive that you can view directly on a light table. The frames are usually cut up and mounted in slide mounts for 35mm slides. These can be projected using a slide projector or, of course, scanned.

Kodachrome warrants a mention here because of its cultural significance and its place in the history of photography. It is a type of slide film and produces positive images just like other slide films. But unfortunately, it uses a different process than E-6 that is becoming increasingly rare. In fact, there is only one lab left in the US which still develops it, but many local labs including, apparently, those at Walmart will accept Kodachrome film and send it off to that lab.

You might be wondering if it is possible to produce slides from black and white films. A few processes exist but they are best left to the advanced photographer. For our purposes, black and white films will produce black and white negatives.

Prints and Scans: What kind of film you choose depends quite a bit on how you plan to output your images. Traditional black and white film, as I mentioned, can be printed in the darkroom or scanned and then printed. Chromogenic films don't print as well in the darkroom (though it can be done) and so that might be a factor in deciding what film you choose. Color films - both negatives and slides - used to be printed in the darkroom (these are sometimes called "wet" prints because one uses liquid chamicals to make them) - but nowadays wet prints from color film are so rare that the beginner probably won't have ready access to it. There's nothing wrong with printing from scans, though, and digital prints are getting better all the time. But be aware that the quality of printing, and its longevity will differ widely between the average drugstore print and something that a serious photographer will produce or a museum or an art gallery will display. But printing isn't our main concern today.

Other film characteristics: The most important thing is probably ISO. You are probably familiar with the concept from digital cameras and it is exactly the same for film. It indicates the sensitivity to light of a particular film emulsion (or digital sensor). As a rule, the higher the ISO, the grainier the film. Grain is the equivalent of noise in digital sensors but keep in mind two things. Film grain shows up at much lower ISO values than output from good modern DSLRs. So you'll be able to see grain at ISO 400 and quite a lot of grain at 1600 or so while the DSLR will produce relatively less noise at those levels. But the good news is that grain and noise are not really the same thing. The best way I have heard it put is that grain is the actual constituent - as in minute grains of silver - that makes up the image on film, while noise is an unwanted by-product of digital imaging. So grain doesn't look as downright ugly as noise can. In fact, it often adds a lot of character to images. You will see a lot of grain especially in images made with small format (35mm) cameras because naturally, smaller negatives need to be enlarged or magnified more to get to a particular sized print than larger negatives (or slides).

So, now let's try to answer the big question: what film should you buy. The format is of course dictated by your camera - if you have a 35mm SLR, you need 35mm film and so forth. You need to decide if you want to shoot black and white or color. For black and white another decision comes into play - can you develop your own film or do you want to print it in a darkroom? If not, then maybe you can avoid traditional black and white film and go for chromogenic film which is much more convenient as it can be developed at the drugstore and scanned.

For color, I would advice negative film if you are starting out. Slide films have something called a narrow dynamic range which means they are especially sensitive to exposure errors. But then, seeing a slide on a light table is a wonderful experience, and the sensitivity of slide films is much like a DSLR sensor's. So if you think you can handle it, go for it. You will probably need to take it to a proper photo lab rather than a drugstore, though.

Buy the slowest film that will do for your purpose. I.e. the lowest ISO. If you are planning to shoot in broad daylight or with a tripod, ISO 100 should be fine. ISO 400 is great for general purpose handheld photography and higher ISO films like 1600 or 3200 are good for very low light or what is called "available darkness."

What brands? It doesn't matter that much. You will see advanced photographers endlessly debating which films and even which film and developer combinations (for B&W) they like and when you get to that stage, you will too, but honestly it doesn't matter to begin with. All the major films currently available are more than capable. Go with the above guidelines in mind and buy whatever fits those requirements and is available and/or cheap. Kodak, Fuji and Ilford are perhaps the most well known film brands but there are many others capable of producing good results. So, first decide what kind of, size, type and speed you'd like and then bother with brand.

Finally, welcome to traditional photography. Stay, explore, enjoy!

April 29, 2008

Gearing Up: The Equipment I Use

Anyone who has done photography seriously will tell you that it's not the camera but the photographer that makes pictures. Why bother with a list of gear, then? For one, I have found that the equipment I have used has evolved to reflect the development of my photography. It is not always about the sharpest or the fastest, but often about choosing the most expressive tool for one's photography. I find that even though I have settled on my main kinds of equipment, the entire lot is constantly in a state of gentle flux - constantly being tweaked, having minor changes and adjustments made. In other words, my gear, like my photography, seems to be a work in progress.

So, on this page, I will try to keep a more or less current list of the equipment I use for my photography. Hopefully you will find it interesting beyond the mere specs and the sharpness count.

Over the years, I have tried to do a few distinct kinds of photography seriously. Consequently my equipment has evolved to suit the challenges posed by those genres. For any kind of photography that lends itself to a thoughtful, slow and precise approach - landscape, still life etc - I use a large format camera, whose precision and quality I find to be unmatched:

  • Chamonix 4x5 view camera
  • 90mm f6.8 Schneider Angulon lens
  • 150mm f6.3 Fujinon-W lens
  • 210mm f6.8 Rodenstock Geronar MC lens
  • Sekonic L-558 digital meter
  • F64 backpack
  • Feisol 3442 carbon fiber tripod with ballhead
But my other great interest is street photography which requires a fast, almost instictive approach - almost the diametrical opposite of my large format photography. And for that I find the speed and spontaneity of 35mm rangefinders unmatched.
  • Zeiss Ikon ZM rangefinder camera body
  • Leica M4-P camera body
  • 15mm f4.5 Voigtlander Super-Wide Heliar lens
  • 28mm f1.9 Voigtlander Ultron lens
  • 40mm f1.4 Voigtlander Nokton lens
I finally gave up my Nikon SLR system that I had owned since I started doing serious photography, and got into the Micro Four Thirds format that let's me use my M mount lenses along with some other fine glass. I still have one old Nikon as a keepsake.
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC G1 camera body
  • Canon FD 200mm F4 macro lens
  • Konica geared focussing rail
  • Nikon FG Camera body
  • 50mm f1.8 Nikon Series E lens
  • Nikon SB-28 and SB-18 flash with SC-17 cord
Other cameras:
  • Yashica Mat 124G
  • Holga 120N
  • Holga 120N body modified as an ultra-wideangle pinhole
At present I don't have a darkroom to do silver gelatin prints as I had to give up my 4x5 darkroom. But I use a community darkroom on occasion and do alternative printing at home. I also use a scanner and a densitometer.
  • Epson V700 scanner, with Vuescan software
  • X-Rite densitometer

April 28, 2008

Leica 40mm Summicron-C vs. CV 40mm Nokton

So, I was getting bored working at home but didn't have the time to go out to do any meaningful photography. So I decided to do the next best thing - some meaningless photography! a.k.a. lens tests. Since I had newly acquired a Leitz 40mm f2 Summicron-C, I decided to find out how my usual street lens, a Cosina-Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 Nokton MC, matched up against it. So I drew up a plan and shot off a roll of film and here are my findings.

I tested for the factors that I find important in how I use these lenses - i.e. handheld street photography. Of course, all the standard caveats of informal testing of photographic equipment apply - sample variation, non-objective criteria, do-your-own-testing yada yada - but I hope you still find the review interesting.

Camera was a Bessa-T, with TMax 100 film at EI 64 developed for 6.5 mins in HC110B (.1 - 1.35 density range). Everything scanned with a Nikon Coolscan IV at 2900 dpi. Minimal or no postprocessing applied. Where I have applied even the slightest curve etc, exactly the same processing has been applied to all the shots in a particular test (with recorded actions in PS). Both lenses were used without any hoods or filters. In paired shots, the Summicron is first (left or top) followed by the Nokton. Excuse the water stains - I ran out of photoflo! Remember to click on the photos to see them at full size.

A word on build. Both lenses look very well made - metal construction and smooth focus etc - although the Summicron-C would come out slightly ahead in build quality. Not that much of a concern for me, though. The Summicron-C is surprisingly compact but the Nokton isn't much larger - it sticks out perhaps 3-5mm more from the body than the Leica. The Nokton takes 43mm filters while the Summicron-C takes the ridiculous and difficult to find series 5.5 filters.

So, sharpness is up first. I mainly use a 40mm-ish lens on the street at medium to long distances and for some not too tight portraits, so those are the average distances I tested for. Here's the full frame test shot I used for average street distances, showing the areas I used for center and corner sharpness comparisons:Center sharpness first. The Nokton at f1.4 looks quite soft, but hey, it's 1.4!
Let's put them head on at f2. The Summicron-C is very slightly sharper an contrastier:
F4 and the difference is still prominent:And at f8, leading me to conclude that the Leica is very slightly but perceptably sharper in the center at relatively far distances:How about corner sharpness? Here's the Nokton at f1.4. Not pin sharp but looks pretty darn good for a corner at f1.4, IMO!:At f2 it's neck and neck, but the Nokton might just have its nose in front:By f4 the difference is quite clear and the Nokton is noticeably better than the Summicron-C:But at f8 the Summicron seems to edge ahead. But both lenses turned in performances in the corner above my expectations - overall I felt the Nokton was better:For near distances, I used this shot to test for sharpness - shows 100% center and corner crops:The Nokton at f1.4 at the center, again quite soft but acceptable at f1.4:At f2 the Summicron-C is sharp enough, but the Nokton disappoints:By f4 the Summicron-C is very sharp indeed while the Nokton lags far behind:At f8, the Nokton closes the gap a little bit, and about time, too. Overall, the Summicron appears quite a bit better for portrait distances:So with bated breath, I move on to the corner. A look at the Nokton at f1.4:Both are so-so at f2:Very hard to tell at f4 as well:By f8, I am slightly mad at both lenses but it looks like the Nokton might just be doing a little better. But overall, it's the Summicron-C that is sharper at closer distances, mainly because of its superior center performance over the Nokton:Okay, now let's move beyond sharpness to the religious debates on fuzzines, out of focus rendition, bokeh, what you will. It remains an important element of my photography, so let's test for it. I chose two kinds of situations - one with a busy and difficult background in the daytime and another with the kind of specular highlights one encounters so often, shooting on the streets at night. The first lot only show the top 2/3rd or so of the frame where the OOF action is. At f1.4, only the Nokton showed up with an entry. The famed hard edged bokeh that the Nokton has taken much stick for - people read about it and run away from this lens. I have always insisted that it has 'character' rather than just harshness, and I stand by that. The bokeh isn't creamy smooth, but it isn't really harsh. In fact, this kind of bokeh might work very well in gritty street shooting:F2 springs a surprise as the Nokton bokeh is much better than the Summicron-C which disappoints quite a bit with downright harsh out-of-focus renditions:Closer at f4, but I still think the Nokton is noticeably better than the Summicron-C. BTW, the Summicron-C continues to be contrastier in these shots and I think the Nokton shows a hint of veiling glare from shooting into the light - but nothing major at all, barely noticeable and then if you are looking hard:Okay, how about specular OOF highlights at night. These are quite important to me. I tested with both the lenses focused at 1m. Plenty of hard edges/character from the Nokton at 1m and f1.4 and even some of the more problematic flare. But it is the only lens that showed up, and when you need f1.4 at night, you need f1.4. I do think that if one is aware of how this lens renders highlights wide open, it can be used to great effect as an element in the photograph:At f2, both have more or less hard edges, but the Nokton looks much better to my eyes than the Summicron-C:Finally, I put them through a stress-test for flare. This is my desk with the table lamp turned up, shining into the lens (remember, no shades or filters) and both are surprisingly good at f2, although the Summicron is starting to show signs of flare at both the top right and bottom left corners. As before the Nokton shows just a hint of veiling glare but none of the problematic specular flaring that is so difficult to handle. In fact, the veiling glare seems to lower the contrast a tad bit in such very contrasty scenes:The Summicron-C turns out to be slightly sharper but the Nokton turned in better performances in the corners. The Nokton also has better bokeh all around and is more resistant to flare. But most importantly the Nokton is a stop faster and that seals it for me. I felt the Summicron-C's slightly better build and sharpness weren't enough to sacrifice the advantages of an f1.4 lens. So, there you have it. The best part of a day wasted and I am still keeping the Nokton!