The LEICA Diaries - Part Four

Garden, Westhaven
Leica M2, 35mm f3.5 Summaron, Tmax 400 developed in Firstcall Superfine.

If you read stuff online about loading a film into an early M you might well come away with the idea that it's difficult. Well, all I can say is that loading a roll of film hasn't been a problem at all - it's getting the bugger out that's the hard bit!

As a lot of readers will know, the base of the camera comes off and the take-up spool is removed. The film is pushed onto a retaining clip on the take-up spool before being pushed back into the camera. It's not hard to do but is a little finicky. I find it more of a challenge removing the film as it seems to butt up against the back of the camera and has to be finessed to freedom.

Overall, though, it's not something to get hung up on and is just one of the quirks associated with using old gear - much the same as it would be driving a 1950s or early '60s car, for instance. The screw mount Leica's are a bit more tricky requiring the film leader to be cut to a certain profile. There are probably one or two more hoops to jump through with them but I've never loaded one.

I'm onto my third film with the Leica now and it's becoming a little easier each time. In a weird way, getting comfortable with a rangefinder after almost 40 years of SLR use is a little like going from a DSLR with its instant confirmation via the LCD screen back to a 35mm SLR. The LCD display was like a security blanket in terms of the reassurance it provided after an exposure and it took a while before I was able to say to myself that I know how to expose and develop film and I don't need to see an advance preview to know I've got the shot.

The Leica's frame lines might not give me the same confirmation of the field of view that I get with an SLR but, to be honest, there have only been one or two frames where that's been an issue. Such a pic is the one above which was taken with the 35mm Summaron. With my glasses on and almost touching the viewfinder eyepiece, I can just about make out the entire frame line for the 50mm focal length. The extreme corners of the frame are chopped off but I can otherwise see enough of the field for that not to be a problem.

It follows, then, that when I put the Summaron on the M2, I'm still only seeing a maximum of the 50mm field in the centre of the 35mm field. To check the edges I have to move my eye around a little but with the camera being hand-held, it's not easy to know if the framing has moved slightly. With this pic, taken out of the car window when I was having a coffee at McDonald's, I didn't see the edge of a building just jutting into the frame.

It doesn't make a huge difference to the image, I suppose, and it could have easily been removed in Photoshop but that would be cheating from my point of view. I just mention it as an example of how, with the 35mm lens, I find it harder to keep track of what's going on around the edges of the frame.

The pics above and below are a couple I shot against a blue-ish sky to see what impact the light yellow and orange filters would have. I was quite surprised by the orange one (above) that has made the sky very dark indeed. The yellow darkens blue skies just a little for a more natural look and I'm inclined to leave it on the Summaron all the time to protect the lens.

It has a filter factor of about a third of a stop which I just ignore. If I've ever metered a scene to within a third of a stop then it's just been an accident so why worry? The pic below was taken on the 90mm Elmar which shows quite decent sharpness given it's slightly cloudy and fungus- affected interior.

Below is another Elmar shot which shows that the lens is fully usable for this type of shot even in its current manky* condition. I was standing near the Lifeboat station at Arbroath harbour for this one, just enjoying the line of the water as it lapped the sand on a little bay. I must be a bit of a "curves" man as I seem to see this sort of composition in a lot of photographs.

A trio of Summicron shots to finish - nothing particularly exciting but OK in their own right I suppose. I was hoping to see some signs that the Leica might free up my fairly rigid composition and lead to some more creativity or at least creativity of a different sort but I can't say I'm noticing it yet. Mind you, re-shooting some scenes I've done to death with the SLR is hardly the best way of finding something new or a different way of capturing it.

What I would say is that I've never thought to take the penultimate and final pics in this post in the past and I've visited this scene many, many times so maybe there is the start of something a little Leica-inspired?

Phil my local Leica guru has expectations, I think, that I will start seeing things a little differently. I mentioned the idea of the Leica freeing up my photography and he said, "Funny you should say that - it did for me, though so did the (Olympus) Trip! It's exciting stuff isn't it - nothing handles quite like one.

"Your photos have a really nice vintage look to them! There's a nice breathing in the greys on the landscapes - how do you feel about them yourself? I actually think you might find that my theory about Leitz lenses is true - they are more optimised as 'people' lenses, in that up to 10-12-odd feet they are superb, and especially close-up."


So, almost a month into Leica ownership and things are definitely getting easier. I'm comfortable with the Summicron and Elmar although the framing of 35mm shots is still a concern. Would I pick up the Leica in preference to my OM2n? Can't say I'm anywhere near that stage yet although the rangefinder is enjoyable in its own right and I really must stop comparing it to an SLR.

* Unclean or gross

You might also like:

The LEICA Diaries - Part One, Part Two, Part Three.


  1. Well, it may just be your selection of what you've chosen to show, but I'd say that in this group, your composition is getting a bit leaner and tighter.
    Might be the camera, might be the camera's chauffeur. Might be that your struggles with the apparatus has allowed your creative mind to slip through and get control of the button while your critical mind is distracted.

  2. Some nice shots there Bruce.

    One of the reasons I went for the M4 rather than the M3 was the additional framelines for 35mm lenses.

    I suspect you would also benefit from chopping in your M3 + MDa for an M4, M4-2, M6, etc. although personally I would recommend the M4 because the viewfinder is clearer than the later models on account of cost savings by Leica and I don't like having an in camera meter such as the one in the M6.

  3. Great set of images Bruce. They have the Leica stamp on them. I think any keen Leica user( as opposed to collector) will know what I mean.Like you I have a wide collection of usable cameras but if it came to pruning down to one camera and a couple of lenses it would be a Leica +35mm and 90mm lenses. A liberating combination to hit the road with. The Firstcall dev and tmax 400 looks a great 35mm combo , what dilution and dev times used for your posted shots?

  4. That First call Superfine developer isn't half bad is it?

  5. Andy,
    The recommended time for Superfine and Tmax at 1+9 is 6m 45s but I give it 7m with 30s continous agitation and one inversion every 30s cos I need a bit more contrast for a lot of the stuff I tackle.

  6. Hi Bruce, you make very beautiful photographs that indeed have some - excuse the cliche - timelessness to them (vintage is so last century). Not only in this post but in all others as well. Would you ever contemplate a post or two on contact sheets? :) I'm thinking that would teach some of us quite a bit on composition.

  7. I really like your crisp and clean photography. I doubt the camera matters much except for your own inspiration.

  8. Fine photographs. Any thoughts on how to ease film unloading which is a real pain? The cassette,and indeed the spool, are almost impossible to grip on any film Leica and the M4 spool conversion is no better.I have to resort to tweezers if at home or a penknife point if out to grip the spool. Problem seems to be close clearances and binding in the narrow body-perhaps Leica cassettes were better.

  9. Can't help you with getting the film out, Paul, I'm afraid. I use the jiggle method which is about as well thought out as it sounds. I put a couple of fingers on the film either side of the film gate and try to work it out that way. Just make sure you don't touch the shutter curtains when you're scratching around in there. :)

  10. Not had any problems unloading - as you are rewinding the film, just listen - you get resistance and then you'll hear (and feel!) the film being pulled out of the take-up spool - slight turn beyond that, unkey the base, remove, lift film gate back and you can easily manouevre the film out by using the leader. It isn't that hard and I've actually done it in the vague and dull light of an indoor aquarium with no problems at all.
    Hope that works for you - it does for me.

    As for 'guru' Bruce . . bloody hardly . . just happy to help -you know me.

  11. Koen,

    Contact sheets? I shouldn't admit to this but I never make them. Maybe I should, though, as it's a great idea. I suppose I'm just a bit lazy.


    You're right, of course. Removing the film is not as difficult as I make out but it's not exactly user friendly. It can be bothersome but it wouldn't be any trouble if I just rewound the film all the way into the cassette. I always try to leave a bit out and it's this tail that sometimes gets caught up around the film gate.

  12. It appears through your description Leica is the Harley-Davidson of cameras. Odd,a bit funky,refined concept over time but does the job in a uniquely satisfying way that's not for everyone. Dammmit now I gotta buy one.

  13. Red Chinagraph on the contact sheet is an essential part of the Leica Experience, surely?
    Might be worth trying for a couple of weeks... Might reveal something. The road can be as interesting as the destination.