The LEICA Diaries - Part Two

Leica M2, 35mm Summaron, Silvermax developed in Firstcall Superfine.

Leica M: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

First "proper" outing with the M2 and MDA this week after a few days of shooting imaginary subjects around the house and practising handling the rangefinders - a bit like the photography version of air guitar.

Initial reaction is that they make every photograph seem like a snapshot. It's not easy to describe this feeling but it probably has something to do with the rangefinder way of composing a picture as compared to an SLR. With glasses on, I can't really see the framelines using the 35mm Summaron on the M2 so there's not much point in agonising over composition as I would normally do with the OM2n. As long as I can see the main subject in the frame I can always crop later, I suppose. It's an alien concept to me as I like to pay close attention to the edges of the frame as well but there you go.

Oddly, it's much easier using the Summaron on the sightless MDA. The Olympus VF-1 viewfinder I have is nice and clear and the framelines are well delineated. However, although it shows the equivalent field of view for a 35mm lens (supposedly - some think it's nearer 40mm) it's in the 4/3 format so the framelines chop a couple of millimetres off the short ends. That might not be ideal for landscapes but it would hardly matter at all for street photography or general people snapping. The framelines really stand out in low light so this would be a great finder for shooting indoors.

First ever shot with the Summicron @ f8.

Second Summicron shot also @ f8. Directly into the light to test for flare.

Yes, you've guessed it - Summicron number 3. Odd band of light on the right
confirms the shutter needs some attention.

Once I'd thrown the idea of precise composition largely out of the window, I found the M2 to be much quicker in operation than the SLR. Set the exposure on the camera, raise it to my eye, click. And on to the next subject. Just like Garry Winogrand in that video of him on the street. Haha!

The M2 and lenses are really solid in the hand but easy on the shoulder, a seemingly paradoxical combination. Light in weight and with a lightness of touch, the Leica is definitely more Muhammad Ali than Mike Tyson. I'm sure Milan Kundera would approve. My OM2n with the 50mm f2 Zuiko macro seem quite enormous and almost over-the-top by comparison. The OM's instant return mirror is also much noisier than the Leica's kiss. This is purely comparative, though, as the Leica would seem huge and noisy next to, say, an Olympus 35RC rangefinder with fixed 40mm lens and leaf shutter. In a Leica-less world, the OM isn't a noisy camera at all.

The Leica outfit has also brought out the best in my Domke F-803 satchel. It's my favourite bag but all I can get in the internal compartment when using the SLR is the OM2 with the 50mm f2 on board and the 24mm and 70-150 stacked vertically. I've yet to sort out the optimum arrangement of dividers but it looks as though I'd be able to carry all the Leica gear in it, should that be desirable.

And the condition of the Leica outfit from this first roll? The MDA is working well at hand-holdable speeds but the slows ones are sticky. The M2 produces a bright band down the right hand side of the negative at some shutter speeds. I'll need to test to find out which ones. The 35mm produces nice results despite some haze and I can't see much wrong with the Summicron except for that slight tendency to flare shooting into the light which I find quite attractive. The Elmar is probably the poorest performing of the bunch but no doubt would improve with a cleaning.

Some flare from this shot with the lenshood-less 90mm Elmar at f5.6 with the
sun off to the right.

A sectional enlargement from a 90mm Elmar negative. With the SLR, I'd have used
about a 200mm lens for this shot but my Leica maxes out at under half of that.

This initial outing with the rangefinders was just ploughing over some old ground, photographically speaking. If some of the pics seem familiar it's because they should be - I tend to visit the same old places when trying out new gear. By the end of the trip, say after a couple of hours, I was beginning to warm to the Leicas. It was a cold day in the countryside, though, and I found it harder to handle the petite but weighty (for their size) Leica lenses than their SLR equivalents. I was especially careful switching lenses on the cameras in case a careless fumble knocked a few hundred pounds off the value of the Summicron. Food for thought!

Speaking of changing lenses, does the infinity lock on the Summicron and Summaron annoy anyone else or is it just me? I have to remember to lock the lenses on infinity otherwise there's nothing to get hold of. It can also be inconvenient when focusing on something that's just around the distance where the infinity lock would engage but I suppose that's just something else to get used to.

Discussing all of this with my Leica mentor Phil Rogers, he said, "I gave up on trying to be tight compositionally and just went for it. The more I used it the better it became until everything else felt like a clunky noisiness!"

So there's Phil's advice - just go for it. I'll attempt to put that into practise on my next outing.

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  1. I do find the infinity lock annoying on the summicron 50/2 that came with my M2. That's partly why I ended up getting a Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton - that and I didn't like the bokeh in b&w but with colour the summicron is a keeper.

  2. A fascination with legendary engineering I understand but I have to say the degree to which so many photographers are overtaken by Leica lust has always been beyond me. I've always allowed for the possibility this goes the fact that in thirty or so years of serious photography somehow I've never even come to hold a Leica in my hands. Still, while I wouldn't call your experiences so far disappointing all things considered it feels to me a bit more down to earth than legend would have it so my SLR lovin' self is best off with what he's got.

  3. Some great images there straight off the bat. Well done. The quality of the lenses shows immediately. I am sure that with time you will instinctively know where the frame edges are. I have the M4 with the V4 Summicron. Would love to have the Rigid Cron also and a 35mm lens at some point (and a 28mm). The Leica enlargers are sublime also.

  4. Michael Stevens1 March 2015 at 00:45

    I know what you mean by every shot being a snapshot, but try just going with it. You set the exposure and then everything else gets out of the way.

    There's just the rangefinder "window" with everything in focus. The scene isn't distorted or flattered by the wide aperture of an SLR lens so you can just concentrate on the composition.

    The framing may be a little less precise but I've always felt that the plainness of the rangefinder view means I get to choose the picture rather than the camera nudging me in a certain direction.

  5. Following you closely on this one Bruce.Waiting with bated breath for you to experience that eureka moment when you bond with the Leica.(or even in a moment of madness put it on E-bay). I remember well 'bonding' with my first Leica a IIIf. Under Blackpool pier , yes a very romantic spot. I was looking for reflections in the pools the outgoing tide had left. Spotting a good shot I reached for my Leica from my shoulder bag without realizing the Leica was still in my hand from the previous shot. From that point on if I only took one camera with me it was the Leica IIIf but now sadly it has become second choice after being seduced by a bargain Leica M5.Although on a two camera venture into the hills at least they can share the lenses.

  6. Sounds like man and machine in perfect harmony, Andy!