This is now my fifth consecutive Photokina, but walking up the steps to South Entrance on opening day still give me a little rush of excitement. What goodies await inside these hallowed walls?
Historically, Leica has usually been in Hall 2.1 (downstairs). Only the last two shows were they in Hall 1 – all of Hall 1. This time around, they've moved back to their old stomping grounds, scaled back their booth and focused almost entirely on Professional imaging. On the plus side, the walk was shorter. After getting my press credentials at the ticket desk, I quickly walked through Hall 3 and found myself on the escalator down to 2.1, staring right at the Leica booth. Things were already picking up. By midday, the walled off booth was jammed packed with people having various meetings at the tables arranged throughout the open seating area. Thankfully, in the downsizing they still had the forethought to keep the espresso bar, which you can see on the left hand side. Phew. That was close.
Following the announcement of the 50mm Summilux-SL yesterday, I really wanted to get my hands on one today. Lucky for me, Leica brought several fully functional copies and let me mount one on my SL to take a few snaps. The lens itself is the same diameter as the 24-90mm SL, but slightly shorter and somewhat lighter. In spite of being able to take pictures with the lenses, tech specs are not being made available yet, so I can't say the exact weight difference. But, the lens is certainly comfortable to shoot with and balances nicely on the SL body.
I also got to try the new SL Multifunction Handgrip. The HG-SCL 4 grip is fairly tall. If you set the camera with grip attached on a table, bottom down, be sure to tilt the setup forward and rest the front edge of the lens down gingerly. Otherwise, the lens will topple the camera forward for you, most likely far less gently. The connection with the camera body feels totally solid, with no play or wiggle, which is always appreciated in an add-on grip. Holding the camera vertically felt good and all the usual controls were readily at hand, where you'd expected them to be. As I suspected, with larger lenses, the grip made the whole package just a little more balanced feeling.
For my first test images, I thought a portrait would be a good starting poing. So, I scanned the booth for a willing victim and found just the person. I approached Steffen Skopp, the product manager for the SL System, figuring he'd have a hard time turning down my modeling request, with me shooting with the SL and the latest SL lens. Steffen was kind enough to pose for me. We sat down at one of the many white tables in the Leica booth. Sitting across from him, I dialed the aperture to f/1.4, locked focus on Steffen's leading eye and quickly snapped off a few frames. Even checking the image in playback, the beautiful rendering of the lens was readily apparent, with the busy background of the show floor rendered into pleasing creamy bokeh. The focus plane is tack sharp (check out the crop below – make sure to click the picture to see it pixel-for-pixel), but the falloff is gradual and just lovely. For those looking for a great short portrait lens for the SL, the 50 Lux could be just the ticket.
With the head and shoulders shot out of the way, I wanted to try a wider portrait. So, we grabbed a prop (an SL with 24-90) and went for a more environmental composition from the waist up. Again, focus wide-open was spot on. Here, you can see a little bit of football shaped bokeh from some spot lights in another booth. There are no hard edges or uneven illumination. Perfect circles would have been nice, but this shape is attractive nonetheless.
Next, I figured I'd get some details at different distances. First up was the SanDisk booth right across the aisle. (They were showing the 1TB SDXC card all day. It's an SDXC card, with a 1TB capacity in case you hadn't heard the news.) My goal was to see how the fine text showed up at middle distances wide open. The 50 Lux passed with flying colors here.
Moving my focus further down the hall, I tried to find a more distant subject given the confines of my testing area. Here, a ceiling-mounted sign does nicely to gauge detail at longer distances. Shooting directly into bright light wide-open was a nice bonus and the 50 Lux handled the situation with aplomb.
Lastly, I turned my attention and camera back inside the Leica booth for this close range shot of an SL in a LockCircle Full Metal Jacket cage, with follow focus and a drool-worthy 100mm Summicron-C cine lens. I love the clarity of all the details on this rig and the smoothness of the background.
So far, it seems the 50 Lux SL will be a fantastic addition to the SL lens line up. It's sharp, yet still has character. Flare is well controlled. Like the press release says: stopping down isn't required for perfrormance. It is merely a creative tool for the photographer. Details at f/1.4 are just stunning and crisp.
Mock-ups of the other SL lenses, revealed yesterday in a roadmap, were on display in an illuminated case. The 35, 75 and 90 Summicrons look like the small, light primes that SL users are looking for. The 16-35mm also looks quite a bit more compact than the 24-90. Here, Leica chose to opt for a smaller zoom lens, trading aperture to do so. I'm sure some will balk at the f/3.5-4.5 of the wide angle zoom, but many more would be up in arms if Leica made yet another enormous optic for the SL.
Well, that about wraps up the SL System for now. I'm still looking to interview product manager and my lens test model Steffen Skopp sometime in the next few days, so there still might be more info to share. Check back regularly for more Photokina 2016 coverage.