lunes, 5 de enero de 2009

TOM ABRAHAMSSON CLASSIC SOFTRELEASES AND MINI SOFTRELEASES: THE LITTLE BIG DIFFERENCE

Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

It´s known the great ability implemented by rangefinder cameras when making pictures under available light without flash, even in very dimly lit locations, taking advantage of the lack of a tilting mirror which brings about a huge reduction in vibration when shooting handheld, in such a way that it usually means to be able to gain two slower shutter speeds in comparison to a slr or dslr camera under the same circumstances. It enables the photographer to avoid trepidation in low or very subdued light levels impossible to tackle with a reflex camera without getting blurred images.

But there are high tech special and tiny devices allowing to stretch handheld top-notch image quality even further, authentic works of art sporting
painstaking thoroughness in the shape of little round buttons made with aerospace alloys which screw into the cable thread of the shutter release socket, letting you fire the shutter with a very smooth squeezing that reduces any camera shake to the minimum feasible, highly increasing chances to save pictures under very faint light with the lowest ISOS in digital rangefinder cameras or using the best colour slides and black and white films in analog RFs, so preserving a very high image quality and sharpness at speeds of 1/8 sec (without any problem) and 1/4 sec (after some hours of learning curve) with most lenses, and up to 1/2 sec with wideangle lenses between 19 mm and 35 mm, something impossible to attain at these so extremely low speeds without these fascinating small gadgets, that broaden the surface area of the shutter button release itself, greatly reducing the vibration created by the photographer at the moment of exposure, improving the sharpness of the pictures taken at full aperture without flash, tripod or monopod, and allowing to use two lower handheld shutter speeds with lenses between 50 and 135 mm and up to three handheld lower shutter speeds with wideangle lenses between 21 mm and 35 mm without any trepidation.

They are the famous and fairly useful Softreleases and MiniSoftreleases, manufactured by the world class Leica expert and great craftsman Tom Abrahamsson.

Tiny great accessories for pros and connoisseurs alike.


Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

ORIGINS OF A BRILLIANT IDEA
Since his idyl with Leica rangefinders cameras during his sixties stage as both industrial designer and photojournalist working for a Swedish newspaper (an epoch when he used a repainted in grey Leica M2), Tom Abrahamsson was progressively getting the hang of available light photography, a domain which can render superb pictures, but very exacting for the photographer, who will be bound to deeply grasp the technique, accumulate experience and using ultraluminous primes.

Therefore, he was always spellbound by the enthralment of taking pictures utterly handheld, without using any artificial light, an environment in which Leicas M have been in their element for ages.

In the beginning, there were a lot of types of Softreleases (made in cast aluminum ones featuring dish shape - which usually broke off in the cable release thread-, small plastic ones with camera names on them, and even one complex specific model made by Leica - loaded by means of a tall spring-), but they sported too much height and most times a concave surface, which prompted directing the index finger towards the middle area of the Softrelease and pushing the camera downwards.

This forced searching for the center of the shutter release button made the photographers wasting very valuable tenths of seconds, as well as turning them fidgety in decisive moments.


Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

This way, Tom Abrahamsson decided to design his own Softrelease, realizing that it was necessary to find a workable solution, kept at it and started to thoroughly study the whys and wherefores of the problem, until it dawned on him that the key factor was changing the concave surface to a convex one, since the quoted dish shaped versions softreleases made by other respected companies required to use the tip of the index finger to squeeze the release.

The aim was firstly to avoid any anxiety to press the center, instead of it using the second joint of the index finger to gently touch the Softrelease on the edge to attain quick shots, simultaneously controlling the pressure on the release, and secondly to counter the problem of very frequent breaking of soft releases made by different brands and the subsequent jamming of the release it brought about.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

From 1998 (year of beginning of production) on, the new convex Abrahamsson Classic Softreleases proved to be highly functional, practical and above all reliable with a very wide variety of rangefinder cameras as to remarkable image quality at very low shutter speeds attained with low and intermediate ISO colour and black and white films, something which has remained unaltered currently with the onslaught of digital photography, because the synergy between the Leicas M8, M8.2 and the great variety of Abrahamsson Softies is really outstanding.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

BUILDING QUALITY
The materials used in the manufacture of Abrahamsson Classic Softies and Minisofties are of the highest quality, to know very special aerospace alloy, which results in maximum strength and durability (preserving a brand new appearance for decades), minimum weight (compared to stainless-steel or other metals) and resistance to scratches, along with a very reduced friction on being screwed around the cable release socket.

When you touch an Abrahamsson Softrelease or Minisoftrelease for the first time, the experience is unique and even somewhat shocking, since they´re so incredibly light that you can wrongly believe they are made of plastic or average aluminum. But they are truly state-of-the-art aerospace alloy, as thousands of customers all over the world can attest in a body.

On the other hand, the superb quality of the ultralight high resistance metal alloy allows the production of Abrahamsson Softies and Minisofties in a lot of different colours, together with the engraving of all kind of inscriptions, logotypes, drawings, diagrams, letters, etc, a long lasting permanence being achieved through a breakthrough technique based on laser beam.


Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Besides, the polishing of the Classics Softies and Minisofties is absolutely gorgeous, flawless, without any hint of imperfection, paint rugosity or minute metal cranny. A full-fledged masterpiece of miniaturization accuracy, boasting a very beautiful cosmetic look which enhances the charm of the camera, also adding touches of exoticism.

It must also be underlined the impressive perfection of the groovings surrounding the Classic Softies and Minisofties -all of them are knurled- something exceedingly instrumental to easily unscrew them if required and to prevent the finger from slippering, insuring at the same time the decisive lateral pressing so as to get the lowest possible hand and wrist shutter speeds with minimal ISOs in search for top quality.

Exactness is paid superlative attention in Abrahamsson Classic Softies and Minisofties, because the smallest mechanizing inaccuracy could cause either loosening of them or harm to the cable release socket due to undesired rubbing.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

In order to properly understand the huge quality of Abrahamsson Classic Softreleases and Minisoftreleases, it is important to know that they´re made using a CNC machining center located inside this great artisan and photographer´s workshop.

Tom Abrahamsson´s softies are with difference the best in the world, with a high production cost for himself, because his popular ´mushrooms´ are not made with cheap stamped procedures like other models existing in the market, but through state-of-the-art CNC machining of very high end and expensive aerospace alloy.

That´s why they will not bend and break off from your shutter release and will easily endure the elapse of decades working flawlessly and keeping their beautiful original cosmetic appearance.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

TYPES OF ABRAHAMSSON SOFTIES
There are two kinds:
a) Classic Softreleases.- Their production began on July 23rd 2008.

They feature a dome-shaped appearance and sport a diameter of 15 mm. Available in a lot of colours, with the choice of custom built orders, special edition units, etc, always with the added benefit of laser engraving for different organizations, companies, societies, photographic clubs, etc, preferably in batches of 100 with the customers previously supplying the Adobe Illustrator file to fulfil the order according to their specifications and design.

They must be screwed into the regular cable release of the camera (each Abrahamsson Classic Softrelease has a built-in thread coinciding with it vast majority of times).

They are suitable for rangefinder Leicas featuring standard cable release socket:

- Leica M8 digital
- Leica M8.2 digital
- Leica M7
- Leica M6
- Leica M5
- Leica M4P
- Leica M4
- Leica M3
- Leica M2
- Leica M1
- Leica CL

But at the same time, there´s a highly wide assortment of both rangefinders and reflex cameras from other brands which can use the Abrahamsson Classic Softreleases:

- Zeiss Ikon rangefinder with ZM lenses.

- Fuji 645
- Fuji GW 6 x 7
- Fuji GSW 6 x 7
- Fujica G690
- Fuji GW II and III 6 x 9
- Fuji GSW II and III 6 x 9
- Fuji GA 645 Autofocus
- Fuji GA645 Zi Autofocus

- Pentax M42 screw mount and K mount (except Pentax LX).

- Nikon F3 / T
- Nikon FM
- Nikkormat FTN
- Nikon FE2
- Nikkormat FT2

- Olympus OM-1
- Olympus OM-2
- Olympus OM-3

- Rollei 35

- Kodak Retina IIIc
- Kodak Retina Reflex
- Bessa L
- Early models of Bessa T

- Canon P

- Koni Omega Rapid
- Koni Omega Rapid M
- Koni Omega 100
- Koni Omega 200


Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

b) MiniSoftreleases.- They´re the mini version of Classic Softreleases and another prodigy of thorough miniaturization, mechanical quality and high resistance. They also feature a dome-shaped appearance, but sporting a diameter of 8 mm.

Their production began on February 22nd 2002 as a response to customers wanting to use the Softreleases on other brands of cameras as well as with rangefinder Leicas.

As a rule of thumb, the MiniSoftreleases will work with vast majority of round shutter release buttons sporting a threaded socket for a mechanical cable release.

There´s also a wide choice of rangefinders and reflex cameras which can use the Abrahamsson MiniSoftreleases:

- Leica M8 digital
- Leica M8.2 digital
- Leica M7
- Leica M6
- Leica MP
- Leica M5
- Leica M4P
- Leica M4
- Leica M3
- Leica M2
- Leica M1
- Leica CL


- Zeiss Ikon rangefinder with ZM Lenses

- Nikon FM3A
- Nikon FM2
- Nikon FE2 ( original Nikon FM and FE models are not compatible)

- Voigtländer Bessa L
- Voigtländer Bessa T
- Voigtländer Bessa R
- Voigtländer Bessa R2
- Voigtländer Bessa R2A
- Voigtländer Bessa R3A
- Voigtländer Bessa R2M
- Voigtländer Bessa R3M
- Voigtländer Bessa R4


- Epson RD-1

- Zeiss Super Ikonta III
- Zeiss Super Ikonta C

- Seagull 4a-107

- Rollei 35

- All the Fuji G, GW and GSW medium format rangefinders.
- Fuji GA645 autofocus
- Fuji GA645 Zi Autofocus

- Leica R6, Leica R6.2


- Pentax K1000
- Pentax ME
- Pentax MX
- Most Pentax K mount models

- Zorki 3M

- Rollei Twin Lens Reflex medium format models, including the GX.

- Canon F1
- Canon FTb
- Canon FL
- Canon L1
- Vast majority of manual focusing Canon cameras in FD mount.


- Olympus OM-1
- Olympus OM-2
- Olympus OM-3
- Olympus OM- 4 (Olympus Pen F, FT and rest of Pen half frames are not compatible)
- Olympus 35 SP
- Olympus 35 RC

- Agfa Super Isolette

The classic Contax rangefinders, Nikon Rangefinders, Nikon F, Nikon F2 and screw mount Leicas are not compatible with MiniSoftreleases, because these cameras require a cable release adapter which fits over the shutter release instead of screwing into it.

WAY OF USING ABRAHAMSSON CLASSIC SOFTRELEASES (15 mm diameter) and MINI SOFTRELEASES (8 mm diameter)

There´s a special technique recommended by Tom Abrahamsson to draw the full potential of his softies: hooking the index finger over the Softie, in such a way that you use the second joint to squeeze it down, so attaining the smoothest feasible action of the shutter release tripping.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

It is true that in the beginning you feel a bit strange, after years used to press the shutter release button in the traditional way, id est, with the tip of your index finger on the middle of the release.

But this index finger hooking technique requires a very brief learning curve of a few hours to get the hang of it, and from then on, the trick will greatly pay off : a gaining of one slower speed in handheld shots without any problems and two slower speed after some days of experience. This means in practical terms to be able to shoot hand and wrist at 1/8 sec and 1/4 sec getting sharp high quality results, with the chance of using the highest quality low ISOS black & white and colour films with analog rangefinder cameras and the top quality lowest sensitivity settings with digital cameras like the Leica M8, Epson RD-1, etc, in all sort of available light picture taking contexts, with the manifold advantages it implies for diehard enthusiasts of top-notch handheld image quality, professionals and shutterbugs alike.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Without the Classic Softrelease or the MiniSoft release, chances of getting handheld sharp pictures with a standard 50 mm lens and a shutter speed of 1/15 are approximately of 50%.

But with a Classic Softrelease or Minisoftrelease threaded, the aforementioned handheld speeds of 1/8sec and 1/4 sec can be reached after a little practice, something which stretches to the very remarkable figure of up to handheld 1/2 sec speed when using wideangle 21 mm, 24 mm, 28 mm and 35 mm lenses.

All the previously commented great qualities of Tom Abrahamsson Classic Softreleases and MiniSoftreleases are not exaggerations at all, and very experienced professional photographers like Morris Wolf, Richard Wasserman, Stephen Faust, Alex Shishin, Vieri Botazzini, etc, have been enthusiasts of using them for a long time.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

On the other hand, there are also people using Abrahamsson softies through the traditional technique directly pressing the central area of them with the point of the index finger. Obviously it is not the most advisable one, but so doing we have verified that one slow shutter speed can be gained when shooting hand and wrist, though probably, though probably with a secure limit of 1/8 sec, except with a reduced group of pros and shutterbugs boasting highly steady hands and striving for getting the best possible ´brass guidelines´ (breathe, relax, aim, stop and squeeze) who maybe could reach up to handheld 1/4 sec, though I deem it rather difficult without using the aforementioned ´hook technique´ recommended by Tom Abrahamsson and followed by most of his current softies users.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

CHECKING OF THE SOFTIES
The difference between loose and lock regarding the softies attachment to the thread in the cable release socket is of only 2 1/2 turns.

This way, from a technical viewpoint it is impossible to attain a 100% secure tightening under every condition, movement and transport.

Therefore, though both Classic Softreleases and MiniSoftreleases have proved to be very reliable and made with a highly painstaking accuracy which makes them perfectly fit on their place, whatever it may be, truth is that they have a very little bias to unloose, so it should be rather advisable something so easy as to verify from time to time that the Softie is tightly screwed in.


Anyhow, the great benefits stemming from the use of Softies are utterly worth putting up with these small occasional inconveniences.

CONCLUSION
Tom Abrahamsson Classic Softreleases and Minisoftreleases are undoubtedly formidable weapons to make handheld shots in photographic contexts featuring low or very low light levels, and allow the photographers to significantly increase the quantity and quality of pictures taken under those circumstances.

These little big wonders of thorough CNC mechanizing and well done things, born after years of strenuous research by his author, are handcrafted with the best available aerospace alloy, having proved to be amazingly resistant to the elapse of time, bumps, scratches, etc, and what´s more, they´re practically unbreakable because of its built-in anti shock and temperature changes properties.

But above all, they´re a fairly workable solution to greatly augment the chances of attaining sharp pictures gaining between one and three slower shutter speeds in the handheld shooting realm, depending on the technique used and the personal ability of each person.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

However, I do deem that an average photographer paying a minimum of attention and using Tom Abrahamsson Classic Softreleases or MiniSoftreleases, and using the recommended ´hook technique´ can attain without problems handheld shutter speeds of 1/8 sec and 1/4 sec, above all if using a rangefinder camera (Leica Ms, Bessa R Series, Bessa T series, Konica Hexar, Zeiss Ikon with ZM lenses, Rollei RF, etc) and even up to 1/2 sec with wideangles and extreme wideangles.

We can assure it after having used a Leica M6 with an Abrahamsson ClassicSoftrelease on it (using a Summicron-M 50 mm f/2, Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH, and fourth hand Elmarit-M 21 mm f/2.8 non aspherical with smaller front element from 1984), making indoor pictures inside places with subdued and very subdued available light.

Likewise, we made pictures with a Leica M8 digital and the same previously quoted ClassicSoftrelease on it, and truth is that results were very good but not so stellar as with the analog M6 and probably the rest of analog rangefinder cameras.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

In my viewpoint the Abrahamsson softie allows gaining one slower speed in the handheld shooting scope when used on the digital M8, and my personal standpoint is that the secure limit would be around 1/8 sec, preserving at this hand and wrist shutter speed a remarkable level of sharpness and image quality under dim and very dim available light.

It could be defined like a kind of different feeling, because attaching a Classic Softrelease to the digital M8 seems to somehow enhance the notchiness of its release. Maybe it is a bit of subjective impression, but I think it is this way, though evidently I don´t deem it is a significant hindrance anyway.

And there are powerful reasons for it. Though perhaps not being possible to gain two or three handheld slow speeds as with analog rangefinder cameras, the easy chance of gaining one slower shutter speed on shooting handheld even improves to practical effects the results obtained with analog RF models whose limit of professional quality could be around ISO 800
with the best films of this sensitivity (Fuji Xtra 800, Fuji NPH 800, Fuji NPZ 800, etc).

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

It´s important to bear in mind that the digital Leica M8 is a super stellar performer between ISO 160 and ISO 640, yielding top-notch image quality at ISO 1250 and acceptable at ISO 2500 (with a level of grain resembling the one featured by b & w film Kodak-Tri X 400, as proved by Dr Dick Santee with his in-depth research on the M8 performance as a low light camera, using Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH and Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 lenses).

This way, with the Leica M8 it is a cinch working handheld at ISO 1250 preserving professional image quality and lack of grain, something out of the reach of analog RF cameras whose films feature excessive grain beyond the boundary of ISO 800, always taking into account that the image quality delivered by the Leica M8 at ISO 1250 is far better than the one rendered by any analog RF Leica or other rangefinder camera brand with the best ISO 400 (including the excellent Fuji NPH 400, NPH 400 New - which is the same emulsion than the renamed Fuji Pro 400H- and the great Fuji Provia 400F slide) and 800 films and most ISO 100 emulsions with the exception of Fuji Reala 100 and Kodak Ektar 100 with which it is on a par regarding picture excellence at the aforementioned ISO 1250 sensitivity.

Everybody who has had the chance of shooting handheld with the digital Leica M8 without any softie on at ISO 1250 will have realized that it can tackle flawlessly a lot of low light environments producing high quality photographs in spite of the low speed often needed to attain it in such contexts, with a more or less reliable handheld limit without softie around 1/15 sec.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

So, the choice of using a Classic Softrelease on a digital Leica M8 is really something to ponder over, because a gain of a hand and wrist one slower shutter speed available with this camera can be absolutely decisive in ambient light picture taking sphere, saving photographs that without using the softie would very probably be rendered blurred because of trepidation.

The author of this article´s experience (his hands steadiness is rather average) is that shooting with the M8 and the Abrahamsson Classic Softrelease on at a shutter speed of 1/8 sec is often child´s play, and a handheld workable limit of 1/8 sec instead of 1/15 sec or 1/30 sec makes a great difference, since it enables to save a lot of pictures in all kind of low or very low light conditions, specially indoor, something hugely useful during travels (inside famous cathedrals, palaces, temples, churches, museums, etc), without forgetting the dawn or twilight street photography.

On the other hand, I felt curiosity regarding the performance of the softies on a reflex camera. That´s why I made also pictures with a Nikon F3 with an Abrahamsson Classical Softrelease on it and Manual Focusing Nikkor AI-S 28 mm f/2, Manual Focusing Nikkor 35 mm AI-S f/1.4 and Manual Focusing Nikkor-S Pre-Ai 55 mm f/1.2 inside places featuring dim light conditions, and after shooting a full 36 exposure spool of Ilford Delta 400 film, making handheld the same shot firstly with the softie on and then without it, I think that a gain of one available slower speed can be easily gained thanks to the softie, albeit in my viewpoint the slapping mirror inside the slr camera makes difficult to attain two available slower speeds without trepidation on shooting hand and wrist, unlike the rangefinders whose handheld shooting efficiency is optimized to the utmost by the Classic Softreleases and MiniSoftrealeases.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

But once more, truth is that the ability to have one more workable slower speed when shooting handheld makes also a great difference on using a reflex camera, and to put it mildly, it can mean to get the picture or not.

Suffice it to say that most people have a handheld slow speed limit between 1/45 sec and 1/30 sec on using a reflex camera before getting blurred photographs, to understand that the quoted one slower shutter speed when shooting hand and wrist can be of top paramount importance to be able to reach 1/15 sec with considerable margin of security to obtain sharp pictures, though I think that experienced photographers or connoisseurs carrying out a good ´brass technique´ and above all boasting very steady hands (evidently not my case) probably could reach an interesting percentage of sharp pictures at 1/8 sec.

Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Copyright Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Text in Spanish:

http://www.reportajes-jmserrano.com/m_little_big_wonders.htm