17.7.11

Leica M9 Titanium, the Titan






The first impression when you pick up the Titan is that the M9 is still a handy camera. It feels solid and you cannot miss the metal, yet it is very comfortable to graps.

Finger loop
Part of this is due to the finger loop which is perfectly positioned. Slipping the middle two fingers though the loop, it draws the curved side of the camera snug into the cradle of my palm.

As I lift the camera to my eye, the finger loop rotates to leave my index finger poised above the shutter. It rotates, not on a bearing but actually a butterfly shaped insert that swivels within a slot in the side of the camera.






Cladding
This ergonomic feeling is remarkable because the Titan looks thicker than a chrome M8 or black M9. This may be an aspect of the dark grey titanium. The central body is, in fact, slightly deeper but it's easier on the hand than an M8 plus handgrip.

The titanium cladding is wrapped around the existing shell, from the front right to the back left.


The titanium cladding stops on the front just where your middle fingers grip the body. This allows the body, where it is gripped between the right fingers and thumb, to be just 1mm thicker than the M8 and standard M9.

You can see how the titanium cladding overlays the camera's inner structure, only on this corner of the camera. The base plate follows this line around the whole of the camera. Whereas the base plate on the M8 is narrower than the top plate (which is built out to accommodate the viewfinder) on the Titan the baseplate is 0.5mm deeper than the top plate, giving the camera a more seated design.

You can clearly see the styling from the camera front, the titanium cladding flowing vertically, the leather wrap horizontally.


Body dimensions
I've made these measurements because size always comes up in discussions among Leica aficionados.

Leica measurements given in the technical specifications are not consistent, as the depth given for the Titan and the M7 is clearly measured from the tip of the control wheel to the front of the bayonet mount. The measurements for the M8 and standard M9 are for the top plate only.

My M8 measures 37mm on the top plate and 35.5m on the base plate. The full depth, from the control wheel to the bayonet mount, is 43mm and, if you account for the frame lever, about 45mm. Width 138.

The Titan measures  37.5 on the top plate and 38 on the base plate. The full depth is the 43mm as there is no frame lever. Width 140mm.

My M7 for comparison, measures 33.5mm on the top plate, 31.5mm on the base plate. The full depth is 38mm, from the DIN wheel to the frame selector. Width 143mm. Height 79mm.

Titan:    140 x 38 x 80 mm (width x depth x height)
M9 (P)  139 x 37 x 80 mm (Leica specs)
M8         138 (excl lugs) x 37 x 80 mm
M7         137 (143 inc winder) x 33.5 x 79 mm 

Base plate
This comparison of the baseplates gives a rough idea how far the digital Ms are from their slender forebears.


The M8, M9 baseplate is the one with the handgrip.



Accessorising
The Titan is not suited for much in the way of accessories. The built-in soft release precludes a cable release. The lack of lugs means you won't be carrying it on a traditional neck strap. However Leica does offer a leash, which holds the camera vertically as well as the under shoulder holster.

The Titan cannot take accessory handgrips made for the other digital Ms. They would fit except for the presence of the small lever which controls the socket for the finger loop.












 
On the other hand a standard grip would look pretty silly as it is externally narrower and the Titan’s baseplate is carefully sculpted to match the lens hood.

This is the one area where design has clearly come before functionality. In practice, however, the Titan’s finger loop replaces the need for a handgrip. I use a handgrip to control the weight of the Noctilux on the M8. I do not miss it on the Titan.

Weight.
My measurements except where stated:

Titan with battery, kit lens, hood 960g
Titan with battery, finger loop 598g
Titan without battery or finger loop, 540g
Finger loop 12g
35mm Summilux in Titanium with hood 356g

 M9 585g, M9-P 600g (with battery - Leica)

M8 with battery 544g
M8 with battery, 28mm Summicron, hood 854g
28mm Summicron with hood 304

M7 with 50mm Summicron 890g
M7 650g
35mm Summicron with goggles and hood 262g

Gripe
The only logical argument for splashing out on titanium is that it is lighter and stronger though more brittle than other metals. But the Leica M9 Titan is not made of titanium. It is the standard M9 with titanium wrapped around it. Titanium cladding.

Unfortunately the technical specifications on Leica’s website are vague. “External parts made of solid titanium with special coating to protect against fingerprints. Partially covered with slip­resistant calf leather.”

Some of these parts are replacements for the existing brass housing. Others are additional cladding.

The result is that the Titan weighs more than the M8 or M9. However, it's about the same as the M9-P.

Leica declares this in the German and Japanese language versions of its technical specifications though the error on the English has been widely repeated: “Weight approx. 335g.”

Given the lack of detail prior to selling the camera and the distinct impression that the Titan was made of titanium – and the unstated implication that the Titan might be assumed to be lighter than the standard M9 – this is an unfortunate, misleading error.

Even when purchasers of the Titan repeated the supposed 335 g weight in unboxing videos, Leica did not correct the data on their website.

Happily the Titan, naked, still weighs less than an M7.

Soft Release
The soft release is fixed, as far as I can see. I have never used a cable release with a digital M, finding the electronic timer adequate.
While the loss of any feature is a negative for some, I think in this case it is balanced by the far more useful soft release. Taken further, the design could help correct the much discussed lack of weatherproofing on the Ms.

Menu options control the soft release: Standard, soft, discreet, discreet & soft, 

The hot shoe cover is removable though you would not want to lose it. Leica thoughtfully provides a replacement cover for the oval hole on the right side where the finger loop attaches.

Framelines
The absence of a framelines preview lever is no loss to me. Getting rid of unnecessary points of egress at least moves in the direction of making the M more weather proof. However, the only such problem I have encountered in a digital M is dust between the LCD screen and its cover.

The framelines illumination is provided by an integral LED. They are evenly lit and dim instantly in response to changes in ambient light.

I use the LED-illuminated framelines much more than I did the standard framelines. I used to ignore them, estimating a lens's angle of view instead and concentrating on my subject.

Maybe it's something to do with my 50 year-old eyes but a light press of the shutter gives me a nice, contrasty reminder of the framelines and then they disappear, leaving me with an uncluttered view of the subject.

Isn't that just what people say they like about the M3?

As I humorously speculated on the Titan’s launch, the oversize Leica badge does indeed light up. Really. It does. You should always listen to fools.

There is a hole behind the badge that allows just a little of the LED light to reach the hand engraved resin. Close up, in the dark, you can see a faint red glow. Now I mean close up and not across the room!

There is also a red tinge to the focus patch. I wonder if there was some idea to illuminate the focus patch to make it easier to use in dim light. I have tested this and it seems, though counterintuitive, to work.

Firmware

The red light can appear to add contrast; other times the red flares out, rather like the viewfinders prior to the M7 mark ii or MP. You have to keep your eye centred.

The red tint to the focus patch is only present while the frameline illumination is activated.

However the firmware requires a tweak to allow one to determine how long the framelines remain illuminated. The default is 10 seconds. It would be nice to have the following options: Off, 2 secs, 30 secs, for tripod work. Why should this be less important than the LCD review screen?

Speed dial
One advantage of titanium is that milled, it has sharp edges. Both the shutter speed dial and the menu dial are very grippy, well torsioned and easy to use.

Auto review
The Titan shares the LCD screen of the standard M9. As one fellow member of LUF points out in his M9 review, the frustrations of the LCD have more to do with a lack of processing power and the review file itself, rather than the specification of the LCD screen.

Another firmware suggestion: A maximum setting of five seconds is barely enough time for the processor to finish rendering a review image. This should be increased to 7 seconds.


Not a triclops


The Titan is a happy camera. It feels good in the hand. Is as simple as any digital M yet it is stripped down further.

I am disappointed that it is no lighter the standard M8 or M9, but we are talking about cameras which are light by the standards of the competition, and compared with their film counterparts.

Coming up...
The Titan in use and some images with the new 35mm Summilux. Actually it does great stuff with this 1960s 35mm Summicron.

Sweet red dots


All images are copyright of MoneyCircus and may not be reproduced without permission.










16.7.11

Bailout Fraud

It is almost three years since this was published, just as the financial and political crisis was becoming public knowledge. It is even more true in 2011, as the EU and US stumble towards their own default crises. Nothing that the banks or politicians have done has changed this blunt analysis. 
Only the numbers are different. They're now much bigger. Politicians are finally using the default word. And it's not just corporations at risk, but whole countries. 

The $700 Bln bailout is not about US cash. The U.S. is a debtor nation. The cash for the bailout has to be borrowed, primarily from the Japanese and Chinese.

According to one person I've spoken to who knows the top Japan and China banking regulators, they are not happy about the U.S. p***ing their money up the wall.

The better informed congressmen have lines of communication to the Chinese & Japanese and know they can't sell it. 

Plain rubbish

Bush in Tuesday's speech insisted the toxic assets could, if held for some years, be sold at a profit.

That's plain rubbish. If that was the case, there would be no need for a bailout. Banks could just sit on their assets until they recover in value. The problem is, they were so wildly overvalued, they are not going to recover in value.

How were they so wildly overvalued. You won't read it in the FT or hear it on the BBC but clearly the answer is lies and fraud. 

A default crisis

This is not a liquidity crisis. On Tuesday night, European banks deposited well over 100 Billion euros at the ECB. The banks were not prepared to leave their money for one night in a retail bank. Perhaps, they know something we don't?

If the banks deposited E100 Bln there is no shortage of cash. The point is they won't lend it. Not to each other, not to companies, not to home buyers, except at rates which make a mockery of the word 'lending'.

This is a default crisis. Banks and large corporations are going to default. The banks know that. The public do not yet.

Several alternatives

Hank Paulson, the dour looking ex-Goldman Sachs trader worth $500 Mln, says there is no alternative to buying the banks failed betting slips.

There are several alternatives. One is to let the Japanese and Chinese buy the US's failed investment banks. They already own large chunks but politically the US cannot stomach Asia buying the Ivy League banks.

Barter their assets. In 1998 the IMF told Russia that it should not bail out its banks. Ten years later the IMF is encouraging the US to do just that. One rule for the emerging markets, another for the Masters of the Universe.

Russia dealt with illiquid banks by knocking their heads together and forcing them to swap assets at knockdown prices. Washington does not have the balls for that. It proposes using taxpayers money to buy assets the banks don't want. It is a recapitalisation of the banks by stealth and lie.

God help us.

A Piece Of Cake




15.7.11

Media Elite Close The Door

The liberal opponents of Murdoch are out in full force, so keen to join the pogrom against their bĂȘte noir that they are willing to destroy press freedom in the process.

No less an authority than Martin Wolf in the Financial Times argues with a straight face:

“Diverse media require diverse ownership. But economic forces may generate a degree of concentration incompatible with desirable diversity… (and one sentence later) At worst, the proprietor may so twist and distort this needed communication as to transform public life. I would argue that the Fox network’s rightwing populism has done just that in the US. This should not happen in the UK.”

There you have it: a liberal journalist arguing against diversity in the media.

Leave aside the fact that Fox is pitted against three incumbent national channels which espouse an identical viewpoint. Look at the shape of UK media before Murdoch came on the scene.

The UK media of the 1970s was a closed shop. Not just in union terms but in outlook. It did not reflect the world I lived in.

I grew up a sceptic, after a childhood that had observed racial war in Nigeria, military dictatorship in Brazil, and playboy revolutionaries in the Caribbean.

Tribal, racist and introverted

I was educated in an England that was fighting a civil war with its Irish kin, and went to university in London where Irish classmates were resigned to their letters arriving opened, and where applicants for jobs at the BBC would later find they had been turned down on the advice of the security services because they had joined the wrong Chinese friendship society in which to test their language skills.

I still recall reading the press of the 1970s. It did not try to tell the story of what was happening on its doorstep. As an outsider myself, I struggled to make sense of reports of bullets and bombs, frontline reports of how Special Branch had arrested men in Birmingham, soldiers had put down riots in Londonderry, and the litany of open and shut cases against Irish sympathizers that would decades later be shown to be a sham.  No context or analysis, let alone an even hand.

The British press was tribal, elitist, racist, and introverted.

Like a know-it-all public schoolboy who had never travelled beyond these shores, the British press was an expert on the world because Britain had once had an empire. A snob who took it as read that Britain was best in everything, corruption was something that happened in India, and leaving nothing to debate or criticize at home.

Healthy disrespect

That changed with, but not only because, of Murdoch.

His battle to free newspapers from union domination was unpopular but necessary – and more newspapers are alive today because Murdoch won that battle.

But more than technology, more than money, great newspapers require social mobility.

Murdoch brought an outsider’s healthy disrespect for deference. Clearly that went too far in the News of The World scandal. But any honest journalist knows that the Daily Mail used the same techniques, that the Observer used private investigators along with many newspapers that had nothing to do with Murdoch.

Any student of business knows that competition will spread practices throughout an industry until it becomes common practice, in banking just as in newspapers.

Wolf states that, “the BBC.. defines the notion of a public weal; and we should consider whether the public good of high-quality news gathering and analysis deserves public support”. 

Break the mold

Good for the BBC but is that an argument for further strengthening an already dominant state broadcaster?

If the media is too important to be left to dominant proprietors, who in the future will break the mold?

Now would be the worst time to draw up the drawbridge, at a time when social mobility has been in reverse for two decades.

The mobility that allowed Britain’s greatest editor of the past half century, Harold Evans to rise through grammar school to edit the Sunday Times is in retreat.

And the media elite, who played the same tricks in the same playground, are happy to push out an outsider, and to close the door to anyone, foreign or home bred, who can challenge the dominance of the entrenched providers they control.

8.7.11

News Of The World


Why did Rupert Murdoch chose to close a 168-year old British newspaper that was one of his most profitable?
Caught up in a wire-tap scandal, News Corporation, the owner of Fox, the Wall Street Journal, Sky and numerous Asian, American and European newspapers took a dramatic move which, NC hopes, will draw a line under its problems.

Here are some facts on which the UK media remain silent.

1) Rupert Murdoch penetrates the establishment in every country in which he operates. He seeks political influence and strikes alliances, hedging his bets with both sides of the political fence. The police are implicated in the NOTW hacking scandal. Pollice lied to MPs. Police may have taken money from NOTW journalists. Police are the most likely source of the phone numbers of victims which were passed to journalists.

Murdoch did not want to confront the police or the establishment. His business and the influence it buys is worth much more.

2) Rebekah Brooks, the head of Murdoch's UK newspaper operation, would have been intimately involved in the phone hacking scandal. As Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor wrote, no editor would publish a story without asking where the evidence came from.

No editor or senior staff member would be unaware where their highly-paid reporters were – and what they were covering 

Just as another Murdoch outfit, Sky News would have known exactly where their reporter James Furlong was, when he made a report in which he falsely claimed to be on a submarine firing missiles in the Gulf. Sky producers and news editors abandoned Furlong, claiming to have no knowledge of his whereabouts when he made his false report – blaming, just like the NOTW, “one bad apple”. Furlong later committed suicide.

3) The NOTW was not the only newspaper involved in hacking phones or employing private investigators.  Steve Whittamore was one. “Newspapers who used Whittamore included the News of the World and many other titles. A report by the information commissioner said more than 50 Daily Mail journalists bought material from Whittamore on 952 occasions. Other customers included the Daily Mirror (681 transactions), News of the World (228), Sunday Times (4) and Observer (103). The Observer is owned by the Guardian's parent company Guardian Media Group.” 
Source: The Guardian.

4) Politicians of both main parties are closely linked to senior NI staff like Rebekah Brooks and have hired individuals like former NOTW Andy Coulson who was briefly a Conservative Party adviser.

5) Newspaper editors now suggest that the press was scared of Murdoch and went silent for two years while the phone hacking scandal brewed. Except for the Guardian, which pursued the story, although it was the police, afraid of the mounting evidence of complicity with NOTW, who eventually forced NC to go public. 

However the press may not have been scared  of Murdoch, but rather of the revelations that almost all newspapers practice hacking. Standard practice spreads throughout an industry – the press is no different to banking.

6) Closing the NOTW is another act of Murdoch family vandalism. As the Independent’s founder Andreas Whittam Smith told Sky, the moral crisis is not in the 168 year-old newspaper but in its ownership. The newspaper has survived many different owners, though none like this.