03 December 2007


To those of you who haven't ever been serious about photography, or had a favorite pair of old shoes, this is going to probably seem silly. Tomorrow morning at 11 am, I am getting rid of my Leica equipment.

I'm not much of a gearhead when it comes to taking pictures, which is why, oddly, since I became serious about it in college I have mostly used one of the most expensive, finely-crafted cameras in the world - a rangefinder Leica M.

For me, a Leica has become the highest quality point and shoot. It is an extension of my eye. It is the means by which my brain freezes visual frames. When I'm using it, I don't think about it. My brain sees something, the Leica captures it. The camera allows for the minimum of interference between what my brain sees and the picture I get.

And when I'm carrying it around, it's like I'm not carrying anything around. It's just another part of my body; part of the brain-eye structure that just happens to hang on a strap around my neck or fit snugly into my hand. It's like that great old pair of shoes that you aren't even aware are on your feet.

For the first 20 or so years that I had Leicas, I didn't even have a light meter. In the way that your eye adjusts to the light, well somehow my camera and I adjusted along with it. For that matter, in spite of the fact that Leicas are probably the most concise focusing cameras ever invented, I rarely bothered focusing, either. I just knew what lens did what and positioned myself accordingly. I never had any problems with exposure or focus.

But film cameras are becoming more of a pain in the ass to use. I no longer have a darkroom, and even if I did, I just don't have the need, time or inclination to spend hours on end working in one. Having used a couple of lower end digital cameras for a while, I can hardly get around to taking film I shoot to the lab, then picking it up, then sorting it, then scanning the slides I want to do something with. I've been using my Leica less and less, and my digital point and shoots more and more.

When I went to Alaska I took both a digital camera and my Leica. It was the first time I'd taken the Leica out for several months. I loaded it with good, slow slide film behind a very wide angle (12mm) lens to capture the immense scenery. I loved using it, as always. Every time I'd hear the snick of the shutter it was like an old dear lover, whispering in my ear.

It took me nearly a month to get around to taking the film to the lab, and another three days to bother picking it back up again. (It had been ready in two hours.) I sorted it on a light table, tossed out about eighty percent of the slides - because of difficult light, I'd bracketed a lot, and have still not got around to running the slides I saved through my film scanner.

I've long since downloaded, edited, filed, posted and made use of the many more photos I took with the digital camera I brought to Alaska.

Since it was announced, last year, I've toyed with the idea of buying the new Leica M8 - the first digital rangefinder Leica. It looks very much like all the other Leicas made since the M3 came out in 1954. It feels almost the same in the hand; a little fatter, a touch taller, no film advance or rewind lever, solidly built - though not quite so much as the film Leicas I've used.

But the M8, well, it just seems like it asserts itself, as if it wants to make sure that you know damn well it's a technical marvel. It requires messing with menus, marking special codes on the lenses, putting special filters on wide angle lenses because of bad digital color shifts; and to get the picture you took in your head seems to require mucking around an awful lot with Photoshop afterwards.

And on top of all that, the M8 costs about five thousand dollars, plus another thousand or more by the time I get all my lenses coded, buy the filters and get ready to use it.

I can buy a new Nikon D300 digital SLR with all the lenses and filters and geegaws and doodads that I could possibly want to use with it, for less than it would cost me to buy an M8 to use with my existing lenses. I like Leica lenses a lot better than Nikon lenses. But Nikon lenses are still excellent. I can sell my current Leica and lenses and related geegaws and doodads for more than enough money to cover the Nikon and everything, as well as a second Nikon body if I want one, and still have money left over - a lot of money left over if I don't spring for the second Nikon body.

So that's what I'm going to do. Tomorrow at 11 am. At a place called PopFlash Photo in Thousand Oaks. They're going to take my Leica equipment on consignment and sell it for me. Even with their twenty percent cut, it's going to work out for the best.

But I'll be losing out on an old and dear friend. I might take some of the money though, and buy an old, used Leica with one lens; an M3 or an M2, like the first Leicas I ever used. Hopefully someone will still make film for at least another dozen years or so.

I do not have photos of all the Leicas that I've personally owned over the years. The photo at the top of this blog is of my current Leica, the M7 that I'm taking to PopFlash tomorrow.

But here, in order, are pictures of the various models of Leica M that I've owned over the years - since 1973 when I bought my first, used M3 for $250 with a 50mm Summicron lens. I think it is a thing of truly great, simple beauty.

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