Photo Plus notebook: Leica, LightZone and PrintFIX

As I noted previously, Aperture and Lightroom dominated much of this fall’s Photo Plus East show in New York, but that wasn’t the only story. Here are a three other noteworthy products from the show (stay tuned—more updates are on the way):

Leica M8
Leica’s booth was packed with photographers dying to get a look at the M8, the first digital version of the venerable M-series rangefinder cameras (made famous by Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank, among others). Leica had plenty of M8 models available for people to examine, and I can say that it indeed feels unlike just about any digital camera in existence (with the exception of Epson’s RD-1, which was modeled after the M-series cameras). The camera has a metal body, a 10.3-megapixel CCD, a very nice mix of analog and digital controls, and some innovative extras, like a sensor-cleaning feature. The viewfinder was bright, and its mechanical shutter makes a really nice, solid sound. Which is good, because at nearly $5,000 (for the body alone), you’ll want everyone around you to know that you’re shooting with a very expensive camera.

The M8’s biggest assets are its compact size and the fact that it is compatible with nearly every M-series lens made since 1954. (These include some of the finest and sharpest lenses ever made.) As is the case with most digital single-lens reflex cameras, the focal length of lenses used with the M8 are slightly magnified from their 35mm film counterparts. The M8’s magnification factor is 1.33, which means that a 21mm lens is actually a 28mm lens.

While I got a chance to handle the M8 in the Leica booth, I couldn’t view any pictures taken by the camera, so I can’t tell how good the camera’s output will look. (Digital Outback Photo’s Uwe Steinmueller has a Leica M8 diary with some images and observations.)

I don’t own a Leica, but I have shot with them, and they truly are mechanical marvels. Every photographer I know who owns one swears by it as the best camera they’ve ever owned—even while they shoot with more modern, automatic cameras. Leica’s reputation and its installed base of users with M-series cameras and lenses, should guarantee that they’ll sell many M8s, although I heard more than a few people grumbling about the cost, which is about $1,500 more than the cost of a film-based M7.

LightZone 2.0
Adobe Photoshop is the monolith that towers over everything in the image-editing space, and I can’t see losing its perch to Light Craft’s LightZone any time soon, but, like the Lightroom-Aperture face-off, it’s good to see an alternative.

I saw LightZone 1.0 for the first time at in January, at Macworld Expo. Intrigued by an image editor based upon Ansel Adams’ Zone System, I bought a copy at the show, and played with it for a while. There were things to like, but it was a 1.0 product with a few big holes in it (something our reviewer found as well ). In the past 10 months, Light Crafts has continued to refine LightZone, and, at Photo Plus East, I got a demo of Version 2.0, which adds a few new features, increased performance and a cleaner interface than the one in the previous version. I walked away ready to look at it again.

LightZone has a completely different feel than Photoshop—it doesn’t have the array of filters, tools, productivity aids and extras found in Photoshop, but that’s the point. LightZone’s creator, Fabio Riccardi, says that part of his rationale for creating a new image editor is that Photoshop treats “ an image as a bucket of numbers,.” I might call that statement a bit extreme (the Zone System is actually a bucket of numbers, isn’t it?), but Riccardi is working hard to provide an alternative that appeals to a different class of user. It still needs some time to mature, but it has some very intuitive ways for working with images. Version 2.0 should be out in a few weeks, and a free 30-day trial is available; it’s priced at $150 for the full version, and $100 for a special Retouch Edition designed to work in conjunction with asset managers and image browsers like Aperture, Lightroom, Nikon’s Capture NX, and others.

PrintFIX Pro 2.0
I have spent the past three months printing boatloads of images on two new pro-level photo printers, Canon’s ImagePROGRAF iPF5000, and HP’s Photosmart Pro B9180 (reviews of both products should be online soon). Both devices offer specialized black-and-white capabilities, which is the Holy Grail of printing for many digital photographers, and one product I saw at the show, Datacolor’s PrintFIX Pro 2.0, should be looked at by anyone interested in printing fine-art images.

PrintFIX Pro creates custom color profiles for your displays and printers, giving you more accurate color proofing on-screen, and more accurate prints on any media type. Version 1.0, which has been out for a while, offered a good set of profiling tools for color images; Version 2.0 ups the ante by adding support for profiling black-and-white images.

Graphic artists and photographers know that profiling is a big deal if you want accurate, repeatable color when printing. Canon, HP and Epson ship a good set of profiles for their own papers, but if you want to print on a third-party fine-art paper, you often have to play a guessing game when printing: “Which paper type is most like the one I want to print on?” This wastes expensive paper, and doesn’t really give you any predictable sense of what an on-screen image will look like in print. And, with monochrome images, it’s even harder, because most printers built today are really optimized for color images, and the print drivers don’t offer a lot of flexibility over black-and-white printing. PrintFIX Pro looks like it could be a big step forward in this area. It ships later this month for $549, and comes bundled with a Spyder2Pro colorimeter. (At the time this went to press, Datacolor hadn't updated its Web site with information about the new version.)

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