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My Leica Year – Reblog

I have reblogged the below post as it is the most honest I have seen someone write about their cameras – especially when a Leica is involved.

There is no doubt in my mind that Leica make stunning cameras – but for US$ 20 on ebay you can buy an SLR from the 70’s from Nikon, Olympus, Yashica and even in my case Mamiya.

I am finding that the good optics versus great optics argument is less important than good film versus great film and also the quality of your processing.

Most of all for me though I am now finding that light is the most important part of photography and the camera less so.

Enjoy the blog below and have a look at the guys Tumblr as he posts some great B/W images.

Nikon FM as Teacher blogged by http://leicayear.tumblr.com/

I think most of you know about the problem I had with my Leica early in the project and how it led me to substitute it for awhile with a Nikon FM. If not, you can read about it here if you’re interested in the details. Now that I’m back on track with the Leica, I wanted to share my thoughts on what I learned from using the Nikon and why I’m glad my Leica had goo on the shutter.

Using the FM taught me some important lessons; for one, that I can produce pictures I’m proud of with a 50 dollar, 30 year old, slightly beat up SLR with a broken meter, dirty viewfinder, sticky shutter wheel, glitchy winder, and sloppy aperture ring.

Now. You might say: “Well, duh. The camera doesn’t take pictures, people take pictures.” Yes, that’s a truism and I would’ve agreed as much with it a year ago as I do now. The problem is, we believe all sorts of crazy things on an emotional level that our rational mind would never accept. That’s cognitive dissonance. Proving something to yourself by doing it, even if you think of it as a foregone conclusion, can be an effective antidote. Specifically, using the FM hasn’t really changed the way I think about camera gear, but it has helped to alter the way I feel about it. I just don’t care about it as much anymore. Which tells me that deep down, there was a part of me that didn’t quite believe what I thought I did about equipment. While the experience hasn’t entirely killed off my gear lust (I’m only human), it has reduced it and made it easier for me to distinguish a bit more clearly between wants and needs when it comes to the shiny stuff.

The second big thing the Nikon taught me was about exposure. Shooting without a meter has been huge for me. Really huge. Not just educational, but very empowering. I bought an M6 for this project because it was the least expensive film M I could get that had a built-in meter. It seems silly to me now, but I was really uneasy about the thought of not having a meter (and using an external one seemed like it would be a nuisance).

Thanks to the FM, I now feel much differently about it. Sunny 16 works and if you look at the technical docs for the film you’re using it can get you even closer to the optimal exposure for various conditions if that’s what you’re after. In a relatively short time, you find yourself being able to express light, indoors or out, in terms of an f-stop and shutter speed combination. Of course, the meter is more accurate, but I can still get within +/- a single stop consistently without one—which is plenty good enough for black and white film. Is this a practical skill these days? I dunno, but it feels damn good. It feelsawesome, actually.

The other upside to learning to shoot without a meter is that, when combined with black and white film, you realize early on through the mistakes you make with exposure how much crazy latitude it has. I’ve unintentionally overexposed Tri-X by 4 stops and been able to salvage pictures. This was a revelation to me. The process of learning also drove home to me that, just like old Ansel wrote, there’s no such thing as a “correct exposure”. Lots of combinations can work, depending on what you’re after. The meter, like any camera automation, is just a tool to use or ignore as you see fit.

Ok, so you may be wondering… how does my Leica M compare to the FM?

Some people have asked me about this, and I had fully planned on writing something that compared them in detail. But the more I thought about it, the more pointless this seemed. There’s already plenty of stuff written about the pros and cons of rangefinders versus SLRs. And Leica rangefinders? Good grief—even more so. Also, my FM is not a pristine example. It’s 30 years old, seen a fair bit of use and abuse before I got it, and is badly in need of a service visit. The Leica is 10 years old and still both looks and operates like new.

They’re just entirely different beasts in so many ways. Though, from my point of view, the differences are largely about process and have less to do with the result. In my hands, both cameras have produced significant (for me) pictures I really like. I can’t say I have more favorites among the Leica group by any means.

Suffice to say I prefer the Leica overall. Still, there are definitely some situations I’d rather have a manual SLR. They’re much easier to focus quickly for one thing and when that’s required, I’d still reach for one. After more practice with the Leica, I may feel differently. I hope so. But that’s really a topic for another post.

Thanks to photojojo for reblogging the above November 1978 Playboy ad from ianjameseatsphotographs awhile back so I could see it and ultimately use it for this post. Although I actually can draw and paint, I like it lots. 🙂

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Posted by simon on November 11, 2010

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