I picked up my Leica M6 after months of neglecting it and was instantly reminded that no other camera gives me “the feels” the way this one does.

Leica M10-D, Digital Body. Analog Soul

Leica-camera.com:

2018 10 24 m10 d

The Leica M10-D brings the unique experience of analog photography back into the digital world. While modern photography encounters an overwhelming number of features and functions, the M10-D is a bold statement of a conscious focus on the essentials of both the philosophy and function of photography.

With no rear display, minimal yet effective controls, and an extremely quiet shutter, the Leica M10-D focuses on the desires of many photographers to concentrate solely on the act of making pictures. In place of the screen, it offers a mechanical on/off switch with dedicated Wi-Fi shortcut and a dial for direct control of exposure compensation.

I know it’s crazy, but I still want one. Hashtag chutzpah.

Ron (2017)

Ron (2017). Leica M6. 50mm Summicron. Tri-X @1250 in Diafine.
From a recent roll, here's my dad sitting in a chair listening to my mom and sister talking. Developing with Diafine is so easy and being able to shoot at 1200+ ISO indoors is so handy that I've convinced myself that the contrasty, grainy look is what I was going for in the first place.

Good Cameras

In my previous post about the X-Pro2 and 56mm I wrote, “I feel like I could actually make some decent images with this combination.” That sounds suspiciously like a belief that specific gear is required to make a “decent image” and could start a whole thing about it’s-the-photographer-not-the-camera or the best-camera-is-the-one-you-have-with-you trope.

To be clear, I of course believe that a good photographer can make good photos with any camera. But other than to prove a point, who would would want to?

On the other hand, I’m not a terribly good photographer. I just don’t have the creative vision for it. I enjoy making photos so this is fine with me. Much of the joy I derive from photography is in playing with various cameras and processes. I can make shitty photos with any old camera, and often do, but I prefer to use good cameras whenever possible.

I love cameras, but what do I mean by a “good” camera? For me, a good camera is about how it looks, feels, and functions. By “feel” I don’t only mean touch. I also mean how the camera makes me feel when I’m using it.

 

Leica M4

Leica film cameras are my idea of the perfect camera. Picking up a vintage Leica M is a tactile experience that no other camera can replicate. The feel of an M is perfect. The size, shape, texture, and weight are all ideal. Beyond that, there’s the emotional “feel” of a Leica. It’s impossible for me to separate Leica from its storied history. I’m sentimental that way, so using a Leica feels good in every way that a camera can.

 

Olympus OM-1n

My old, beat up Olympus OM-1n is a good camera. It had fallen down the side of volcano, so the previous owner gave it to me. It was a mess. The bottom plate literally required a hammer to get it back into shape. It’s tiny and barely works but I always remember where it’s been and I love it.

 

Olympus Stylus Epic

And yes, sometimes, a good camera is the one you have with you. I’ve been carrying a little Stylus Epic, on and off, for years. I paid $10 for the one in the photo. It’s plastic and cheap, but I love how it works. I can reach into my pocket, open the camera, and take a photo with one quick, smooth movement. And I don’t worry about dropping it. It’s a very good camera.

 

Fuji X-Pro2 with Fujinon 56mm f/1.2

And then there’s the camera that got me thinking about all this again. The Fuji X-Pro2. It handles similarly to a Leica M. It feels good in the hand. The controls are designed and arranged the way I like them. Finally, the images are technically very very good.

When I wrote “I feel like I could actually make some decent images with this combination” what I meant was that using the X-Pro2 feels good, works well, and helps me create the kind of photos I enjoy making. Therefore, like the others, it’s a good camera.

 

Jessica and the Animals (2004)

Leica M6, 35mm Summicron ASPH, XP2

This is one of my favorite photos of Jessica. I took it using my newly-bought first Leica (an M6 TTL). That camera made me want to take pictures.

I also love that Jess is using the rangefinder I replaced with the Leica, a Canonet QL17.

 

Leica M6

My first Leica was an M6 TTL. I sold it in the mid-2000s and have since gone through a number of Leica bodies, from an M3 to an M8. For the past several years I’ve used an M3 and M4. I love them, but I sometimes missed having a meter in the camera rather than on the camera.

So I bought an M6

It’s the perfect M6 for me. It is one of the last 10 “Classic” M6 bodies ever produced (1998). It has had the finder optics upgraded to the flare-free “MP” version. The only framelines displayed are 28, 35, and 50mm. This makes for a bright, beautiful, clutter-free viewfinder.

I chose the M6 “Classic” version because they are generally less expensive than the newer TTL models, with no real disadvantage. I prefer the direction of the shutter dial to be the same as my older bodies.

I’ve put one roll through it, and it’s just as smooth and solid as the M3 and M4. Don’t let the forum trolls convince you otherwise.

As handy as having a built-in meter is, I found that I spent more time obsessing over the meter’s lights than I did looking at the subject. I didn’t expect that. I also ended up with a few badly-exposed shots due to a backlit subject. I would normally have just guessed the exposure. Instead I listened to the meter. I’ll have to re-learn when to stop trusting it!

Here are a few shots from the first roll. It’s Tri-X, shot at 1250 ISO and developed in Diafine, then scanned on the Pakon.

The back of a Leica M3

Leica M3

This is the back of a Leica M3. Just look at it! Could there be anything simpler? There are no controls; just an ASA indicator and a (world-beating) viewfinder. (There’s also a couple of flash ports but those can be safely ignored since no one uses them.)

I find the whole thing to be a work of art. The only thing better than looking at the back of a Leica M3 is looking through one.

 

 

Leica IIIf shutter capping

I bought a little Leica IIIf on a whim a year ago and have become rather attached to it. It’s tiny, beautiful, and I like how it handles.

I went for a walk with it this morning and after developing the roll I discovered that its shutter has begun “capping”, which means the second curtain isn’t behaving correctly. You can see the results in the examples below. Notice how the right side of the images are darker than the left.

Rental Trailers. Alpine Ave.

Normally, I would just send the camera out for a nice CLA and keep it alive. The problem this time is that I want a “real” IIIf. You see, mine is actually a IIIc converted to a IIIf. That’s not a big deal but this one isn’t quite as “tight” as it should be. It’s also been re-covered and I don’t love the way the replacement covering feels. I may just decide to replace the whole thing instead. Dilemma.

Leica IIIf

I’ve always wanted a “Barnack” Leica, if for no reason other than the nostalgia of using a piece of photographic history dating back to the mid-1930s. I’m not a (deliberate) collector, so condition and rarity weren’t important to me. I ended up with a “user” IIIf.

The camera is not really a IIIf but rather a IIIc built in 1946 then later converted by Leica into a IIIf. It came with a lovely chrome Canon 50mm 1.8 LTM lens, which was a nice bonus, since prices on the Canon LTM lenses keep going up. When this photo was taken, I was trying the 28mm Voigtlander Color-Skopar and 28mm accessory viewfinder. The Leica IIIs were made with a 50mm lens in mind, so I’ll probably keep the Canon on it most of the time. I’m also looking for a nice post-war 50mm collapsible Summicron, since that would be a great fit.

After two or three rolls of film I can say that it’s a delight to use. By “delight” I don’t mean that it’s easy or convenient. It’s neither of those.

To visualize the photo, you look through the left viewfinder for focusing, then you need to switch to the right window for framing. Both are quite tiny and not nearly as bright as the later M cameras that I’m used to. The film is advanced by turning a knob and it is rewound using another knob. No sir,  none of those newfangled levers on this camera. None of this can be done quickly.

Loading the film is even more awkward. The leader must first be trimmed manually with scissors so that it doesn’t get jammed between the shutter curtain and plate. The trimmed leader is then connected to a separate take-up spool. The final assembly is then carefully pushed up into the bottom of the camera, making sure the sprockets on the take-up spool are engaged with the film leader. (I missed that last part with the first roll and ended up shooting the entire roll without the film advancing. Not good.)

There’s of course no meter, so exposure must be set manually. I don’t mind that, since I shoot other meterless cameras.

All of this sounds rather cumbersome, and it is – a little. But the camera feels wonderful in my hand. It’s a precision-engineered mechanical marvel capable of making fantastic images. It just won’t do it quickly. I read somewhere that each camera took 40 man hours to build. A little patience is a good thing.

 

Leica M7

Leica M7

I had a long talk with myself after somehow acquiring no fewer than 4 Leica M bodies. That’s beyond what even I can rationalize. During the talk, I asked myself, “What if you could keep two of them?” The answer was that I would need to buy an M7 in order to keep just two. See how that works? I can explain.

The M3 I bought recently is perfect. I love it. It’s beautiful, legendary, and built better than any camera I’ve ever seen. It has an amazing viewfinder and is generally awesome. Put a 50mm lens on it and I’m good to go. Good to go until I’m feeling lazy, that is. Sometimes, using a completely manual camera with no built-in meter is discouraging. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I start thinking about digital, and I don’t like when I start thinking about digital.

How might I solve the lazy problem? I solved it by buying an M7. The M7 has aperture-priority auto exposure, quicker loading, and a built-in meter. It makes everything easy.

So, I’ve put the “extra” M3, the M4, and the M6 up for sale, and picked up a beautiful M7 to compliment the remaining M3. You’ve heard it before, but if I’m right, this should take care of the camera problem for quite some time.

Olympus OM – 1 and 2

Leica M7 and Olympus OM-2n

A few months ago I picked up a bag full of beat up Olympus cameras and lenses from a guy on Craigslist. (See http://jackbaty.com/2009/08/olympus-om-1n/”>this post.) I was told that the OM-2n was not repairable, but I continued to use the OM-1n and have become very fond of it. I like it so much I bought a working OM-2n to go with it – and it’s beautiful. I chose the 2n for its automatic exposure option and the ability, to use its off-the-film metered TTL flash.

The above photo shows the OM-2n (with an 85mm f2) next to my black Leica M7. The Olympus looks smaller, because it is. That surprised me too. It also costs about 10 times less. It may be just the novelty, but I’ve been grabbing the OMs on the way out the door more often than the Leicas. This little discovery could end up saving me a lot of money.

To see what an OM can do in capable hands, take a look at http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jane-bown“>Jane Bown’s work. Good stuff.

Leica M8 First Impressions

Leica M8

After 3 years of pretending I didn’t want an M8, I now have one. Much has already been written about Leica’s first digital M so I will stick to a few personal observations based on first impressions using the camera.

I’ve been shooting with Leicas for while now, most recently with a nice M4. I get along well with the way rangefinders work. Leica also makes some damn fine lenses. Having 70 years of lenses by Leica, Zeiss and now Voigtlander to choose from is nice. I went back to film so that I could use a Leica M camera and 50mm Summicron. The size, feel, and build, (also admittedly, even the legend) made the Leica M a perfect camera for me. Too bad it wasn’t digital so I could stop swearing at dust and scratches and the tedium of scanning negatives.

When the M8 was introduced I wanted one, naturally. Unfortunately, $5000 for the body made the notion of buying one unrealistic. But, over the past few years I’ve kept buying gear, a little at a time. I noticed recently that if I sold a few things I might be within range of an M8.

So that’s what I did; sold my M6TTL and all of my Nikon digital gear and bought a nice used M8. I chose the chrome version because I think it’s beautiful that way. I’ve only had the camera for a few days, but here’s what I know so far…

Cons

Size and Sound. It’s bigger and louder than the M4. That doesn’t mean it’s big and loud, but there is a noticeable difference in size and sound. Also, the M8 is more difficult to hold. I think this is due to the lack of a film advance lever and possibly the covering. To compensate, I’ve already ordered a Thumbs Up. That should help.

Sensor Noise at higher ISOs. Image noise at higher ISOs is more prevelant than with the D300 I just sold. Significantly higher at anything above 640. If you’re looking for baby-butt smooth files at IS0 3200, look elsewhere. I convert 90% of my shots to black and white, and I’m used to noisy high speed B&W files, so this isn’t nearly as important to me.

Crop. The M8’s sensor is not quite full-frame, meaning it has a crop factor of 1.33. I tend to like wider rather than longer lenses so the crop factor limits my options. I only have 2 lenses, the 50mm Summicron and the Zeiss Biogon 35mm. With the M8 these are now effectively 66mm and 46mm lenses. I’ll be shopping for something wider soon.

Magenta Shift. Sensitivity to infrared light causes the M8’s sensor to render black fabrics as magenta. I’ve already seen this in a few shots and it’s a problem. Fortunately, it’s easy to fix by putting an IR Cut filter on lenses. Not ideal, but no biggie.

That’s a lot of cons, now for the good stuff.

Pros

It’s digital. That may sound obvious, but if you’re happy with film and prefer rangefinders, there’s no reason to buy an M8. Go grab an M7 or MP and be done with it. I like film just fine, but mostly because it was the only way to shoot with a Leica rangefinder. With the introduction of the M8, that is no longer the case. I now have all the juicy goodness of a Leica M paired with the convenience and flexibility of digital capture. Bliss.

It’s simple. Seriously, the value of having analog shutter speed and aperture controls with manual focusing is underrated. Even the M8’s menus are simple. They could be better, but with only a few choices there’s not much to do there anyway. I enjoy not having to choose between 4 metering modes, 9 shooting modes, 42 focus points and so on. I can just pick up the camera, set the important bits, almost by feel, and shoot.

File quality. The files directly out of the M8 appear to be very good, especially at IS0 640 and under.

Handling. It’s an M. It feels great in my hands. Framing and focusing with a rangefinder is terrific. It’s compact, quiet and thinks the way I do. In other words, the M8’s handling is just about perfect. Put an ISO switch on the body and we’re all good.

Conclusion

It’s too early for a real conclusion. I’ll need time to get over recency bias, but my first impression is that the M8 is flawed, but awesome. It handles like an M should, and is capable of producing outstanding images. I can put the camera and some lenses in a very small bag and produce images on par with what the best DSLRs have to offer. And I can do it using a smaller, quieter and prettier package. I’m in.

Light-tight Box My Ass!

A camera is most decidedly not just a light-tight box to hold the film. This one isn’t anyway.

Leica M4 with Gordy’s strap

This is my new Leica M4. It was built in 1966 and looks practically new. You camera nerds might notice that it has been customized with the much cooler M3-style levers. I love everything about this camera. It’s small, built like a tank, and every single thing it does it does with buttery-smoothness. You’ve gotta love buttery-smoothness.

I’m getting used to shooting without a built in meter, which is challenging. One thing I’ve noticed is that I no longer meter every shot. Just once per situation and from then on I just fire away. Gives me goosebumps.

I Shoot Film

In 2005 I sold a nice Leica M6 TTL with a mint Summicron ASPH 35mm to some random stranger on eBay. Last week I corrected that mistake by buying another M6.

Leica M6 TTL with 50mm Summicron

Why would I do that? Hasn’t everyone “gone digital” by now? Sure, I’ve gone digital – twice, at least. Lemme ‘splain.

I went digital, the first time, in 2003. A few months later I became fascinated with rangefinders and bought a Canon Canonet. That chain of events let me to my first Leica in 2004. A year and a half after that I’d gotten frustrated with processing and scanning film, so I sold the film gear and went back to digital. That 20D was just too tempting it seems.

Whew! So where are we now? It turns out I never really got over the Leica. I was hoping for an M8, but at close to $6,000 for just the body, that’s not likely to happen soon. Besides, the M8 is not full-frame, and has certain other issues, not the least of which is impending obsolescence. Maybe the M9, but for now…

Recently I was going through a bunch of old shots and I noticed that many of my favorites were taken with the Leica or the Canonet. Maybe not most but enough to notice. That was all it took. I gave in to another round of Leica Lust and ordered a nice used M6 TTL with a (5th version) Summicron 50mm lens. Guess I’ll just have to deal with the pain of scanning negatives. For that, I ordered a Nikon Coolscan 5000, so at least it will be faster and about as good as it gets, short of a drum scanner, scan-wise.

I’ve put 3 rolls through the M6 this weekend, and processed one (Tri-X in Diafine). Some things just feel right and this camera is one of them. It’s interesting, a week ago I was testing a $300 Photoshop plugin to make digital images look like Tri-X pushed to 1200. Guess I don’t need that anymore.

Leica Lust Revisited

James Russell has a piece at Luminous Landscape called Leica M8 Revisited. The reason I bring it up is that I want one. I mean really want one.

Shooting the Leica is like going out with Pamela Anderson. The camera keeps saying you can make me clean, cook, raise the kids, but I won’t be very good at it., though if you let me do what I’m good at you’ll be very happy.

Even without the Pam Anderson bit, I know what he means. My old film M6 was the most amazing piece of gear I’ve ever fondled held. I miss it. Going through my photos from that period reminds me how much I loved that stupid, expensive, manual-focus beauty.

Mr. Russell knows what I mean…

50% of everything I shoot with it is not in real tack focus, 50% has too much noise, 50% has surprise framing, but no camera I have ever used has touched me so deeply.

So the plan has been to sell the entire Canon kit and shoot with my little GRD II for a while to sort of sweep away the cobwebs. I thought I was going to revisit things later, perhaps with a 5D, but I think maybe deep inside I’ve been missing the Leica, and that can’t go on forever.