Photography

Holding a Leica M camera

Self-portrait with Leica M3, 2021. (Leica MP. HP5 Plus)

I’ve used many wonderful film cameras from many different systems: From Nikon F to Hasselblad V to Linhof, Olympus OM, etc.

They are all great in their own ways, but none of them comes close to making me feel the way I feel when picking up a Leica M camera.

Sure, every film camera is essentially “a box for holding a lens and some film” but calling a Leica M “just another film camera” is to me like calling Jesus Christ “just another homeless dude”.

OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get my point. The way a Leica M is built and shaped fits my hand and the way it works fits my brain like no other camera. And no other camera makes me want to just pick it up and hold it, even if there’s no film in it.

The only time that “The best camera is the one you have with you” is when the one you have with you is an M ????.

I mean, just look at this MP! Tell me you don’t want to pick it up and fondle it a little.

Leica MP (Black Paint). Photo by Leica Camera

Sold the Leica SL2-S and bought a Leica M10-R

M10-R for sale

The Leica SL series of cameras are special, but not unique. I had an original SL and then bought the SL2-S when it was released. It’s a capable, well-built, beautiful camera. But, if I’m being honest, it’s just another mirrorless camera system. And it was very expensive. Purchased today, my kit, consisting of the SL2-S and the Leica APO Summicron 35mm and 75mm lenses would run close to $16,000. Um, who do I think I am?

I thought I’d shoot more video with it but haven’t. I thought I’d do more portraits with it, but I haven’t. Hell, I thought I’d use it a lot, but I haven’t.

So, I sold it all.

Leica’s menu systems are wonderfully simple. The SL2-S feels like a tank. Its EVF is far and away the best I’ve ever looked through. The images are terrific. It feels good in my hands. On top of that, the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm lens is the greatest lens I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. I mean it. I’d often unload a card and actually say, “Wow!”.

All that great stuff is great stuff, but I still wasn’t using the camera enough, and I felt guilty having that much money in camera gear just idling in a camera bag. As I said, it’s really just a (very nice) mirrorless system. I could pick up a used Nikon Z or Canon R or Fuji kit for much less and get basically the same features and capabilities, if not the same experience.

The other factor that weighed on me was that I missed the M10-R. I know, I know, I justsold an M10-R to fund the Q2 Monochrom. Here’s what I said about that move only a month ago:

The M is a slow, manual-focus, deliberate camera. It’s not really suited for just having around taking snaps. It only focuses down to like three feet. Manual focus means that every shot requires two hands. It’s very very expensive, so letting it just dangle around my neck while not paying attention to it is a terrible idea.

The M10-R has left the building

All that is still true, but now I have the Q2M for “just dangling around my neck” when I’m out and about. What the M10-R offers is the Leica M shooting experience. It’s a beautiful, iconic, delightful rangefinder camera. The Leica M series of cameras fit perfectly in my hands and my brain, even if they’re “harder” to use.

Plus, I can now focus on one system and use the fantastic M lenses that I’ve loved for so long. And everything works exactly the same on my film Ms, which reduces a lot of mental overhead.

I’ll miss the SL, and maybe one day I’ll end up with an SL3 or whatever, but I have to admit that right now it’s good for my brain to only deal with one camera and lens system again.

Studio self-portraits

I finished a roll in the MP today by taking a bunch of self-portraits in my basement “studio”.

The shots in which you can see both my hands were triggered by stepping on the release bulb. Clever! ????

I really like the look of these. They were shot in my basement with a new canvas backdrop. I used two Profoto strobes. One with a softbox (octogon) to camera left, and a second with a reflector at camera right pointing at the backdrop. I’m learning.

Large Format: Challenges

There are too many things that can go wrong when shooting large format (4×5) film.

I made four exposures of my friends Steve and Bryan this afternoon. Two of the four were ruined right off the bat: The first, because I’d left the shutter open when pulling the dark slide. The second because I didn’t expose it at all and processed as though I had.

Large format is hard.

There are so many opportunities to fail that making a successful image is really quite rewarding. Today wasn’t a rewarding day. Both of the photos that weren’t completely ruined were spoiled in other ways.

The above image was taken while facing into the sun. That was dumb. I was so flustered after accidentally exposing the first negative that I basically ignored the actual subject of the shot.

And the following image shows some blooming/flair around the overexposed decking and table areas. I’m not sure why it’s so severe. The lens may have been dirty.

Linhof Master Technika | Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S 135mm | HP5+ 400 Scanned with Epson V750 D-76 1+1

Oh well, I’ll just need to keep practicing because when it works, it’s awesome.

The Linhof Master Technika

Anyone who’s dabbled in large format photography knows the name “Linhof”. It’s one of those companies with a long history and a reputation for building some of the best 4×5 field cameras available. I’ve always been curious about them. Are they really “the Leica of large format”?

My first 4×5 camera was a beat up Burke & James press camera. Then a beat up Crown Graphic. Then a Speed Graphic, and finally a Wista Field Camera. The first three were super cheap. The Wista was bit more serious, but it was such a beautiful wooden camera.

The problem I have with large format is that I hate tripods. I had the most fun shooting the Speed Graphic hand-held. This is not how large format is done today, though. Maybe back when Weegee was doing his thing, but now it’s for sharp and super-detailed landscape and architectural work, mostly. Maybe studio portraits. Nonsense, I want to do hand-held, informal, environmental portraits. My Speed Graphic has a light leak, though, so I haven’t been shooting much 4×5.

Then one afternoon I spotted a Linhof Master Technika kit in one of the forum classified sections. It was the camera, lenses, grip, viewfinder, cams, and film holders. The camera was recently CLA’d and had the bellows replaced with genuine Linhof replacement bellows. Basically, it was everything I’d need for handheld 4×5 work. Plus, it was the mythical Linhof.

I bought it. The gentleman who sold it to me included a stack of large format photograph books, negative sleeves, a cool Grafmatic film holder and a bunch of hand-written notes with details about many of the items. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase.

And the camera? It was made in 1972 but looks and feels almost new. The short version is that it’s as well-built and smooth as I’ve been told. Everything is solid and tight and moves like butter. Its build quality feels so far beyond that of my old Graphics that it’s hardly fair to compare them.

It came with three lenses: A 90mm Schneider-Kreuznach Super-Angulon f/8, A 135mm Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S f/5.6, and a 240mm Fujinon A f/9. All three lenses have lens-specific custom cams that allow for accurate focusing using the rangefinder. This means I can focus and shoot hand-held with any of them. And just look at that giant grip!

90mm, 135mm, and 240mm

I’ve only had the camera for a week, and shot maybe a dozen sheets so far. It’s a joy to use, and I hope to use it often. Here are a few photos I’ve made while getting used to using the camera.

Linhof Master Technika | Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S | Ilford Delta 100 100Scanned with Epson V750Home developed in D-76 1+1 | 11min at 20C
Linhof Master Technika | Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S | Ilford Delta 100 100Scanned with Epson V750Home developed in D-76 1+1 | 11min at 20C

Which Leica gear to keep?

After a year of buying really nice cameras and lenses, I’ve gotten to a point where I’m feeling the weight of having so much money tied up on photography gear. Some of it has to go. This post is me thinking it through.

I hate selling gear. Dealing with buyers and potential buyers isn’t fun. Shipping is a pain. There’s always a risk of damage, loss, or dissatisfaction. But mostly, the problem with selling is that I no longer have the things I’ve sold. Regret sucks.

Something I’ve learned over the years is “never sell a Leica”. Unfortunately, I’ve amassed too much Leica gear and I love it all, but it’s stressing me out.

The three systems in question are the film M bodies, the SL2-S, and the Q2 Monochrom.

I’d actually sold the Q2M to fund the MP but the buyer returned it. Instead of immediately re-listing it for sale, I started wondering if I’d regret it.

For a minute I thought I’d unload the entire SL2-S system instead. I have two Leica APO-Summicron-SL lenses, which were ungodly expensive. They’re way beyond my abilities. The SL system is the most significant (cost-wise) and probably “sparks the least joy” of all of them. But it’s so versatile and that 35mm APO Summicron is so absolutely outstanding that I am certain I’d regret not having it. The 75mm on the other hand is an odd focal length and by far the least used lens I own. Hmmm.

The MP is wildly unnecessary but is perfect and beautiful and sparks all sorts of joy every time I even think about it, so that’s not going anywhere. 90% of a new film Leica’s depreciation happens the minute I open the box, so there’s no benefit in selling it sooner.

So here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll sell the Q2M and the APO-Summicron-SL 75mm lens. That’s a significant amount of cash tied up in the least useful/versatile kit. And it means I still have the 35mm Summicron. For longer focal lengths (portraits, mostly), I have an Elmarit-M 90mm that focuses much more easily on the SL than the M bodies. I also have the SL Sigma 24-78 f/2.8 which is a fine lens and versatile for when someone asks me to shoot an event. (It happens occasionally, and I hate to say no).

What about the film Ms? I have the new MP, but I also have an M3, M4, and M6. I have an emotional attachment to the M3 and M4. The M6 is special because it’s one of the last 10 “classic” M6s made. It’s also had the viewfinder upgraded and unnecessary framelines masked out. It’s a damn fine copy and would fetch a crazy price right now, but I don’t think I can let it go. I’m definitely keeping the M3 because it’s, well, an M3. But also because of the .92x mag viewfinder, which is the only way I’m able to accurately focus the 90mm on an M.

That leaves the M4. I love it because it has the M2/M3-style film advance lever and frameline selector. It currently has a broken shutter, but I’m sending it to DAG for repair and a CLA. When it returns, I’ll list it for sale.

I’m hoping that selling the Q2M, M4, and 75mm APO-Summicron frees up enough cash to alleviate the guilt of having spent so much on “unnecessary” gear. I’m happy to also allow myself to keep the SL and 35mm. I won’t regret having them.

So if anyone is interested in any of those items, give me a holler.

Betting long on film with a new Leica MP

I enjoy both film and digital photography, but the pendulum has been swinging toward film recently, and I’ve been having a ball.

Leica MP

I’ve finally dialed in a film processing, scanning, and editing workflow that works and that I don’t hate. What’s more, I’ve been studying my recent film photos and I really like them. I like that they’re not so perfect that zooming in to 100% is useful. I like the defects and unpredictability. I like the process. But most of all, I like the cameras. Specifically, I like Leica rangefinders.

I bought my first Leica M, an M6 TTL back in 2004. From there I’ve had an M3, M4, M6, M7, M8, and M10-P. Eventually, I ended up with a comfortable kit with an M3, M4, and M6 Classic. The M3 is great because it’s the first M, and the .92x finder magnification is perfect for 50mm lenses and makes shooting 90mm lenses feasible. The M4 is a more modern, but still entirely mechanical, non-metered body. And the M6 Classic is newer (still 20+ years old) and is metered.

Each of the M cameras was purchased used (of course). Their resale value has gone through the roof over the past few years. Clean M6 bodies go for twice what I paid for mine. Leica film cameras may not qualify as “investments” but they certainly don’t depreciate. At least they haven’t since I’ve owned them.

What I’ve never done is buy a brand new Leica M film camera, because that would be crazy. Why buy new when I can get something for a third of the price that works great and does basically the same thing? And unlike used bodies, new cameras dodepreciate. At least for a minute.

But I must admit to always dreaming of a brand new Leica M film camera. Leica only makes two: The non-metered M-A and the metered MP .

Leica recently announced a special black-paint version of the digital M10-R and I thought it looked beautiful. It got me thinking about other black paint Leica bodies and how much I love that finish. Several of the older models were available with the gorgeous black paint finish, but they fetch even higher prices than the regular chrome and black chrome models.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it and started poking around and learned that the MP happens to be available in black paint. Whaddaya know? Of course they’re always backordered everywhere and I was told the wait time was in months. So much for an impulse purchase. Whew!

So for a few days I put a few rolls through the M3 and M6 and was reminded how much fun it could be. But wouldn’t it be cool to be the original owner of a new Leica M? I’ve been told by people who know me and have been around me that I should “Never sell a Leica!”. What better way to make sure that happens than to have a new one I can call my own forever?

And the rationalizations continued for a week or so while I absorbed every review, forum post, and YouTube video I could find that contained even a whiff of information about the MP.

I love film. I want to always shoot film. So I called Leica Store Miami and put myself on the waiting list for a black paint MP. I was told they only receive new ones every couple of months, and the waiting list is pretty long, so I should settle in for a long wait. And who knows, maybe I’d lose interest in the meantime. It happens. Of course B&H, Leica, and the other usual outlets were backordered as well.

Then, on a whim, I looked for one at Camera West . I’ve purchased from them before and had good luck. You know what happens next, right? They had 2 new black paint MPs in stock. I bought one immediately.

So that happened.

The camera arrived today and I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s new, warrantied, flawless, and mine. My long bet on film begins today.

Top view of Leica MP

Dusting off the Olympus Stylus Epic

I bought my first Olympus Stylus Epic in 2004 and fell in love. I’ve owned one ever since. That original copy was replaced in 2012 for $10, in the box, from a guy on Craigslist. Those days are gone. These little fellas have grown quite a following and fetch upwards of $300 on eBay. I’m not going to be paying that much once this one dies.

Mine has been collecting dust in a drawer for a year or two, which is a shame, so took it out today and loaded it with a roll of HP5+. No sense trying to preserve it, right?