LEICA

Alternative views on the Leica world by Erwin Puts

David Douglas Duncan died on June 7, 2018


DDD as he was known, was one of the last and perhaps greatest photojournalist of the twentieth century. He was the equal of Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Eugene Smith. He died 102 years old and gave away all his possessions a few years before 2008, living in a French villa at a hill overseeing Cannes.
Some of his possessions were a handful of Leica cameras. He became famous within the photographic world because he selected the newly discovered Nikkor lenses above the Leitz designs. He presumably had the Nikkor lens mounts adapted for his Leica cameras. The content of his pictures were less important than this technical detail. He was however a photographer of the old school who was more interested in taking pictures than talking technically or artistically about them. His pictures were grainy and gritty, probably made with Kodak Tri-X pushed to the limit.
His selection of the Nikkor lenses was a topic of high importance. When a working photographer of his standing threw away the Leitz designs, there must be a garin of truth. Crawley claimed that the Japanese optical designers favoured a high contrast at low frequencies, where as the German counterparts favoured the low contrast at high frequencies, because this was better suited to the new colour films with the finely graded colour hues.
Most Zeiss MTF measurements of older Japanese lenses indicate that this conclusion is not correct: the older Japanese lenses show a low contrast at low frequencies and an even lower contrast at high frequencies. It might be the case that Japanese designs had a (relatively) high contrast at the medium frequencies, precisely where the Kodak Tri-X emulsion showed its best performance.
It is an intriguing problem. The historical discussion indicates that the eye is easily fooled and that the MTF values do not show the proper optical performance the human brain appreciates.