Difference between Leica (Film age) and (Digital age) Lens in digital camera

Started Oct 1, 2011 | Discussions thread
Godfrey Forum Pro • Posts: 29,303
Re: Difference between Leica (Film age) and (Digital age) Lens in digital camera

Joe698 wrote:

Would like to know the difference in image quality when comparing the Leica (film age) and Leica (digital age) lens used in any of the digital cameras ? Please advise.

This sort of question inevitably rolls down the road of "film vs digital" and the biases of folks one way or the other, sadly.

I recently bought a Leica M4-2 out of my nostalgia for one of the fine Leica Ms I enjoyed in the past. Almost simultaneously, I've received the Ricoh A12 Camera Mount for the GXR camera which allows me to use the same lenses on both cameras.

Two things surface immediately:

1 - Film is intrinsically a different capture medium compared to film. Images captured on film look and feel different from images captured digitally, even without considering the difference in format dynamics.

2 - The GXR+A12 Camera Mount (GXR-M for short) is specifically designed to work well with Leica M-bayonet RF lenses. When I make a photo with both the M4-2 and the GXR-M and then crop the film image to portray the GXR-M's 16x24 mm format, I see the same lens characteristics displayed in both images. This is with raw format captures on the GXR-M and scanned film images with the M4-2. The images themselves inevitably look somewhat different (see 1 above), but the lens characteristics are consistent. Whatever they did in the GXR-M to enable M-bayonet lenses to work well is not relevant to my interest in making quality photographs, really ... it is in the realm of "interesting implementation details."

Of course, changing to an M8 or M9 will mean a different sensor and a different capture engine. The images as a whole will look different from either of the above. How different depends on the differences between the capture mediums and the specific lens.

I don't know that Leica has designed their newer lenses in any way that is specific to their use on digital capture bodies. New coatings, new tuning of the coatings, formulations designed keep the ray trace more orthogonal to the capture surface, etc etc ... All of these work fine on film capture and improve things for digital capture, but I don't know one way or another whether they've done any of it.

The good news is that, at least for the lenses I've worked with so far, the qualities of the lens in use seem to be just as well preserved on my digital capture camera as they are on my Leica M4-2.

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