How I Was Won Over to My Leica

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by Hector Ramos

For the last year or so I’ve visited Leicaphilia almost daily‎ looking for interesting reads on analogue and Leica film cameras. I visit other sites, too like Eric Kim’s, Steve Huff’s and Japan Camera Hunter but I like Leicaphilia the best because it helps me discover and remember why I’ve chosen film and Leicas as my medium.

Growing up in the Philippines in the 1970s, one of my fond memories is my dad’s Kodak Instamatic camera and photo albums. Special occasions were recorded and revisited via photo albums. I grew up in a small town without electricity, TV, phone, refrigerator or cars. My dad’s camera was considered a sign of affluence. From 1992 to 2010, I lived and worked between India; the Bay Area in California; Europe; and Australia, and used photography to keep my sanity, doing it mostly as a hobby and part time to earn some money. I had a collection of Nikon bodies, an FM2 (which I still regret selling) , F801, F4s, F5, F3 and D1x, and several lenses.  The F5 in particular was very impressive for its metering. But I remember one day asking myself: ‘This camera is better than me! I wonder how it gets ‘good’ pictures?’  Thus began my search for a more simplified camera that would allow me to make the pictures instead of having the camera do it for me.

I sold all my Nikon gear and ended up with a brand new black Leica MP and a pair of lenses: the 35mm and 75mm Summil‎ux aspherical lenses, bought from B&H. A friend who delivered them to me said ‘I can’t belive how expensive these are!’…. and I thought to myself ‘Is this all I get for selling so many cameras and lenses? What was I thinking?’ Yet, as I began to use the kit  the build quality, simplicity, and concentration required to use the system gave me a photographic rebirth and the greatest satisfaction to date compared to any camera I’ve ever used. I noticed a change in my photos which were hard to explain. But the most important was the taking of a responsibility that when the picture was great it was because of me. And if it was not to my liking it was also because of my skills as a photographer.

Enter the M8. It was convenient and produced film like qualities. I stopped using the MP and my back-up M6. But interestingly the ‘quality’ of my work dipped and I stopped enjoying my photography so much. For important work, like weddings, I always went back to the MP and M6. And always they gave me greater satisfaction than the M8. I eventually sold the M6 and the M8 together with a 28 summicron and a 135 telyt for an M9 a few years back. I tried hard to love digital. But something never clicked. I couldn’t relate to the digital workflow and digital files. I tried to mimic film but in the end I thought,’why not just use film then?’  The M9 gets used by two of my sons when they visit.

I have since tried an M3 and an M4 and have learned to eye exposure. But my current workhorse is the MP and a 50 summilux.  They always accompany me on my work travels to different countries, usually used to record moments for myself.

I am currently going through two big suitcases full of velvia slide boxes,  and Tri-x and HP5 sleeves from the last 24 years of shooting, trying to organize for printing choice images just like what my dad did. Or maybe for a website. But the images which stand out because of a certain ‘feel’ are the ones unmistakably taken with the Leicas.

 

Gear Excess or Minimalism: What Makes You Happy?

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Lately, in a conscious quest to simplify my life, I’ve found myself thinking:

  • Why exactly do I own what I own?
  • What could I sell and not miss, practically speaking?
  • Do I really need that?
  • What is it costing me to own that?

I have way too much stuff. Cameras and lenses to be exact. It’s a first-world problem, no doubt, a function of an affluence we often don’t recognize because it’s become so common. It starts with the best intentions, but usually ends up where I find myself – with a surfeit of beautiful, shiney, pleasing things I never use. Which is a shame, because the mechanical cameras and lenses I’ve collected – whether they be Leicas or Nikons or something else – deserve to be used.

When I hold onto camera I don’t use, even though just the possessing gives me pleasure, (and this is especially true for the mechanical cameras I tend to buy and collect), it does indeed cost me something, if only in the time spent organizing, contemplating, and/or servicing the camera I’ve accumulated. And it costs the larger gearhead community something too – a camera that could be being used by someone as opposed to sitting on a shelf.

So, I’ve decided to start selling off the things I can’t justify sitting on my shelf. It’s difficult, as I can always find a reason to hold onto something. But usually the reason I find is the same reason I bought it – it’s beautiful/cool/iconic/historic etc and I want it. Good enough reasons, I suppose, but not compelling enough to convince my wife, who is currently in desperate need of a shiney, new, large capacity refrigerator.

With this in mind, I’ve started a new page you can reach from my homepage entitled, simply enough, “For Sale.”  Everything you’ll find there is mine. It all works. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. I’m not selling it for any other reason than I just don’t need it.

I’ll be listing further items as current items sell, so feel free to check back in for other items in the future.

A PJ’s Continued Love Affair with his Leicas

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Craig Porter is the former Director of Photography and Video at the Detroit Free Press. Starting as a summer intern in the photo department in 1975, he has worked as staff photographer, sports photographer, assignment editor, day slot editor, night/Nation/World editor, features editor, assistant director of photography/technology, deputy director of photography and director. Since 2000 he has been in charge of the day-to-day running of the photo and video department.

How did you first come to use Leica cameras?

In the mid-70s, we still shot only black and white, and Leica was the photojournalist’s dream camera. As a student, I was heavily influenced by photographers such as Elliott Erwitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson and W. Eugene Smith.

My first Leica was a chrome-body M4. I fell in love with its small size, incredibly quiet shutter release and the way it became an extension of my eye. Subjects weren’t intimidated by it – it didn’t create an obstacle as bigger, louder cameras can do.  For years newspaper photographers shot ISO 400 Kodak Tri-X black and white film. After shooting only one film for a while, you got to know your exposures instinctively and would nudge the aperture ring or the shutter speed dial as you moved through an assignment. So you didn’t really need a meter in your manual exposure camera.

When the M6 came out with an internal light meter, I found that I could integrate light metering into my shooting in a seamless way. And at that time we were starting to mix it up, shooting colour film and black and white film, often on the same assignment. So some precision was in order. Otherwise, the M6 is the same manual focus workhorse I’ve come to love. For professional work I carried two black M6s and an M3 with 21mm f:3.4, 28mm f:2.8, 35mm f:2.0 and 90mm f:2.8 lenses.

Why do you continue to use Leicas?

Unfortunately, what’s appealing about them is what makes them less useful in today’s world. But I still find the film Leicas iconically beautiful in this digital era.

It’s true: you can’t see the image immediately. You can’t transmit directly from the camera to a blog or Instagram. You can’t instantly share what you’ve just seen, as you can with digital cameras and smartphones.

But turn that around and you arrive at the need to slow down a bit, contemplate your photography, anticipate the shot and avoid scatter gunning the event. Remember, you only have 36 images on one roll of film and they go pretty quickly when you’re used to unlimited space on an SD card.

How do you see film Leicas cameras being used in a digital age? 

Here’s what I would do: carry the Leica with black and white ISO 400 film. I’d use a 28mm lens with the old optical viewfinder perched on top for the cleanest view of my subjects, then use it in situations with images that I wouldn’t mind waiting to see. I’d still use my iPhone for quickie shots, selfies and my SLR’s for those day-to-day colour shots you want of family and travel.

But the Leica shots? I’d have the film processed and returned to me, from which I’d do a careful edit and select only the ones I’d like to have as 11×14 prints. From there I’d either do my own darkroom work or, more likely, I’d have the negatives scanned so I could print beautiful black and white prints on a digital printer, crossing over to the digital world at that point.

The Leica “Selfie”

kubrickStanley Kubrick 1954

I have a face, but a face is not what I am. Behind it lies a mind, which you do not see but which looks out on you. This face, which you see but I do not, is a medium I own to express something of what I am.  Julian Bell

Everybody these days knows what a ‘selfie’ is: a selfie (/ˈselfiː/) is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand, then often shared on social networks. It’s meant to be flattering and made to appear casual, although it usually is neither. Most selfies are taken with the camera held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by the traditional means of a self-timer. The camera used is irrelevant. The point is the person photographing themselves, the selfie itself the medium used, in the words of Julian Bell above, “to express something of what I am.” “Look at me,” the selfie says; “check out how 1) beautiful, 2) cool, 3) well-built, 4) pretty, 5) sexy 6) happy, 7) rich [or some variation thereof], I am.”

Leica selfie

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I’m intrigued by the phenomenon now known as The Leica Selfie. You see a few of them here, all fairly typical of the genre. The Leica Selfie has been around long before the concept of a selfie existed. That’s because The Leica Selfie is different: the camera must be in the picture in a Leica Selfie. It is an integral part of the selfie, actually the purpose of the selfie. The viewer is not looking at a face, but a camera in front of a face. To show the camera is at least as important as showing the person using it, the face important only to the extent that it identifies this person as using a Leica. The Leica is part of the mask; actually the Leica is the mask, placing the photographer in a historical tradition of use.

There are flikr groups of Leica selfies and Leica women selfies. You don’t find this with other cameras. There are no “Sony NEX Selfies” groups. Why?

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It’s Good To Be King (or Queen For That Matter)

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I’ve shaken hands with Royalty, and it was no big deal. The woman I was with at the time – an Anglophile who had been married in Westminster – informed me I should feel special. I didn’t, even though Prince Charles had sought me out to shake my hand, and not vice versa. [Editor: absolutely true story.]  What, I wondered, should I feel special about? He certainly seemed nice enough, no doubt, maybe a bit peculiar looking the way old money can be, but, had I not known who he was, that knowledge freighting the encounter with a myriad of social, class and political assumptions, he would have been just another middle aged guy exchanging social pleasantries. He spoke to me briefly, idle chat about the Shakespearean production we’d just seen, and then he was whisked away in his Aston Martin. Must be Nice, I thought.

As a good American, I’ve never understood the public fascination with Royalty. It’s a great gig if you can get it, I guess: live in a castle on the government’s dime, your solemn face on the local currency. Have parades in your honor, squat at the Ritz in Paris, meet with important and influential people, all of them deferring to you. Snap your fingers and people instantly appear and cater to your every whim. And you don’t have to work, even though hardworking British taxpayers will subsidize your family to the tune of $50 million pounds a year.  When you strip away the pageantry, it seems little more than a monumentally obscene public-assistance program to one family of inbred layabouts. Makes me wonder about the Brits.

Not that we’re any better. America is a nation of rapaciously selfish, vacuous, violent and ignorant people who think they, as Americans, can do as they want because, when you get down to it, the reality is that God wants it that way. Go to any Donald Trump rally and you will be gobstruck by the complete lunacy of a large portion of our citizenry. Even so, we Americans possess the dignity of free idiots, beholden to no one but our capitalist overlords, able to indulge our endless stupidities without the need to subsidize a Royal Family to legitimate it all. We are above such nonsense.

In their defense, the current generation of Royals – Princes William and Harry – seem stand-up guys, both having served their time on the front with the British military, which is more than I can say of the plutocrats who send American kids off to war for a variety of crazy reasons. With the exception of a few principled Democrats, their kids stay home while average American kids go to be maimed and die doing the country’s dirty work.

But I digress.

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That’s the Queen, above, Prince Charles’ “Mum,” with a beautiful Leica M3 and Summicron. She is, apparently, an avid photographer. For all the useless photographs we have of her, it’s interesting to see the Queen on the other side of a lens – in this instance a 50mm f2 rigid Summicron fastened to her beloved Leica M3. Leitz Wetzlar gave her this particular model, specially engraved, in 1958.

In 1986, when asked to choose a stamp image to commemorate her 60th birthday, she chose a picture of her with her Leica M3, which is sort of weird, if you think about it, unless, of course, the Queen is a hard-core Leicaphile. If so, I’d be interested in knowing why, way back then, she preferred the M3 to an M2 or even a IIIg. Does she still have her M3? Was she ever tempted to trade it in for a newfangled M5 in those crazy 70’s? Still shoot film? And what, pray tell, does she think of this whole new digital thing? Now that, and not some idle chitchat about the latest stuffy production of some long dead playwright, would be an interesting topic of conversation, one I’d be happy to engage in were she to approach me. In any event, I’m not sure what she’s shooting now, but whatever it is, she probably didn’t pay for it.

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Hollywood Gets the M3 All Wrong ( errrr…Possibly Right?)

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The above is a still from the new Hollywood “Blockbuster” Kong: Skull Island, the premise of which, apparently, is that King Kong is found running around what appears to be Viet Nam in the 60s/70s wreaking havoc and the people above, among others, are tasked with capturing /wounding /incapacitating /killing him.  The young woman is, apparently, a PJ. She’s shown using a Leica M3 with what looks like a 50mm Elmar (note the indented bevel on the front of the lens) and the close focus attachment for a DR Summicron, which makes absolutely no sense under any imagined scenario. Even were that a DR Summicron, I’d question what a 60’s era PJ in Viet Nam would be doing using macro focusing while on combat assignment in SE Asia.

[Editor’s Note: Within 30 minutes of posting this, I’ve been inundated with smarter, more knowledgeable readers noting that it’s clearly a Summaron 35 3.5 with goggles for the M3. Of course.  One more example of why one shouldn’t drink whiskey and then write things on the internet. In this particular instance, the culprit was a 200ml bottle of Old Malt Cask Unfiltered Single Malt Scotch, bottled at the “preferred Golden Strength of 50% alc. vol” by Blair Athol Distillery, that my wife had just brought me back from Scotland.]

Camera Ergonomics

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By Christopher Moss. Dr. Moss is a family physician in Canada. He has been using film cameras for over forty years as an amateur and still enjoys doing it.

Using a camera in a fluent and efficient fashion is vital if you’re going to get the photograph that suddenly presents itself to you. Camera manufacturers can either help or hinder this, by designing a camera’s controls to be as intuitive and accessible as possible. It would seem to be in their interest to help in this way, but the fact is that it isn’t. How can that be? Well, sadly, only a small subset of photographers are interested in a camera that works with them in this way; most want a camera that will do it all for them, and technology has not yet advanced to a state where this is compatible with taking the best possible photograph in any given situation.

Manufacturers follow the money and make cameras that help the average buyer achieve something most of the time. No camera maker wants a disappointed buyer, so they turn out designs that automate and simplify everything so that an inexperienced user can get something worth posting to their Facebook page. That is as it should be in a capitalist world, and the rest of us really can’t complain if we want camera manufacturers to stay in business and continue to feed our needs. It is true, however, that the automation and simplification has got to the point that a photographer who wants more than a minimal degree of control over a picture has to work against the ergonomics of many modern cameras. This isn’t a new problem, as a few examples will show!

The Pre-Electronic Era

Lots of old cameras tried to make life simpler for not just the amateur, but for the completely ignorant photographer. In the days before any kind of autofocus (beyond the depth of field of a small aperture) or auto-exposure (beyond the latitude inherent in negative films) this didn’t always work so well, but expectations were different too. Remember when a photograph was said have ‘come out well’? And if it didn’t satisfy it was said that ‘it didn’t come out’? There was a kind of black box that an exposed film entered, and it might come out or it might fail to come out, but the workings of the black box were inscrutable. Well, a very little thought tells us that this was a way of excusing a multitude of sins, from inept exposure, failing to hold the camera steady, getting the focus horribly wrong, not taking off the lens cap, all the way through the chain to some error in development and the film ‘being lost’. All happily under the umbrella of ‘it didn’t come out’ which answered any query and was never questioned. My first camera was a Univex AF-4 from the 1930’s that had only one control – the shutter could be set to instant or time. Nothing else at all, which was very convenient for the user, but likely to lead to disappointment when the film came back. Later a Number 2 Kodak Autographic Brownie came along from the mid-1920’s, and it allowed shutter speeds of 1/25 (“Clear”) and 1/50 (“Brilliant”) along with “B” and “T” for those who had confidence in what we now call risk- taking behaviour. Focusing was limited to Portrait, Near View, Average View, Distant View and Clouds/Marine. If you couldn’t quite figure out which to use, you had the ready fall back that the photo didn’t come out, which was probably just as well, all things considered.

ergo2The Univex AF-4: “AF” Does NOT stand for “Auto-Focus”

But not all was so obscure and not every photograph required all fingers and toes be crossed. Miniature photography in the form of the Leica and the Contax cameras during the same era as the models mentioned above had multiple exact shutter speeds, apertures and distances that could be set. The addition of a rangefinder allowed the focusing to be precise, but exposure values were still generally estimated, or at best measured with an extinction meter (my father had a dandy little device that had a wedge of opaque material inside, and he looked through it and tried to read off a scale of numbers. The last number that could be read was entered on a handy slide rule on the outside of the casing and apertures and times could be read off. All this allowed great precision, but wasn’t for the masses of people who wanted to take a snap without being expert in the dark arts of photography. The next stage of affairs for those folk was the invention of the C-22 colour negative film process, which had enough latitude to allow the widespread sale of Instamatic cameras using 126 film. Fifty million cameras were sold between 1963 and 1970, many with no controls beyond a shutter release and a wind-on thumb wheel, and the more sophisticated having two shutter speeds (sunny and cloudy), and two focusing distances (a head and shoulders outline and a mountain). Many of us will remember the dull grainy quality of the prints that came back from these mostly under-exposed films that we took on our holidays. Most of my memories of my early teens have taken on that veiled look as a result – I’m remembering photos of those times! Better latitude came with the C-41 process in 1972, but this was offset by the marketing decision to push 110 size film as a replacement for 126 film. Kodak must take some blame for selling us less film at higher prices and requiring new cameras to be bought. This was probably the lowest point of unskilled consumer photography in history.

Electronics

In the meantime the descendants of the Leicas and the Contaxes had continued to evolve, and the development of the single lens reflex from early Exacta and Kowa models had proceeded to the point where very good SLRs were challenging the dominance of the rangefinders. The addition of electronics was the catalyst that almost destroyed the rangefinders, as Japanese SLR manufacturers adopted these improvements and Leica did not. From the mid-1960’s onwards we saw closed-aperture metering, then open-aperture metering, then auto-exposure quickly develop. Powered film wind on came quickly as a development of motor-drives, until it was available in consumer point and shoot cameras. Despite Leica’s early interest in auto-focus, they let others introduce it into the market and from the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s it became the norm in SLRs and compact cameras. Notice how the term ‘point and shoot’ has crept in there? This was the first time a camera could be used the way my Univex AF-4 was used in the 1930’s, but with auto-focus and auto-exposure to save the day from the ‘it didn’t come out’ problem. Briefly, cameras of this era became easy, simple and reasonably reliable to use. There weren’t a dozen different exposure modes, and while auto-focus quickly diverged into single and continuous forms, there weren’t dozens of AF points to choose between or activate in groups etc. All that nonsense came along soon enough, but it was still mostly manageable until the next big thing.

 

ergo3A Contax G2, a High-Point of Electronic Film Camera Design

Digital

Once cameras produced digital images there was a huge change in the way cameras were used and controlled. Manufacturers seemed to feel that endless complexity could be introduced and hid it all in so very many menus that could be accessed through arcane combinations of button pushes that required one of those mythical teenagers who could program your VHS recorder in the days when no one else could. Most buyers of digital cameras don’t explore all the menu options and the thick small print manuals that used to be offered before it was decided that all this was more cheaply put on an optical disk or, better yet, available for download online, were hardly welcoming models of simplicity and clarity. The most byzantine set of menus and controls I have met with so far belong to the Olympus OM-D series. Nice, small, light cameras with decent picture quality – but those menus! Having set it up I shall hope I never have to do so again. In use, I have to try out various wheels and buttons to see what they do, or have been user-programmed to do. That’s neither quick nor efficient.

What Would Be Ideal?

There’s not much point in talking about mechanical only cameras here, as the only ones in production are the Leica M-A and large format cameras, which were probably designed in a world where ergonomics had never been invented. But a modern camera with a light-meter and autofocus? Lots of things that can help or hinder there! I believe the ideal camera could be set to allow all the usual controls to be easily accessed with physical dials and buttons if desired, with each allowing for an ‘Auto’ position if the user wanted the camera to take care of it for him. At a minimum, this means an aperture control, preferably as a ring on the lens, but at the very least as a thumb or finger wheel on the camera body. The same applies to shutter settings, but since more users prefer aperture priority over shutter priority, the setting for this can be a traditional dial on the top plate or a thumb or finger wheel as available.

ISO must also be able to be set outside any menu system, and can even be a dial in an awkward place or a menu setting for a film camera where it is set just once per film, or a wheel, dial on a digital camera that is reasonably easy to access, even if this means taking the camera from the eye. At the very least, a dedicated button and instant access menu on the LCD of a digital camera is needed. Things like the parameters used in setting up auto-ISO on digital cameras can be buried in menus, but switching from the lowest native ISO of a sensor (best quality) to the highest necessary for this particular photograph via Auto-ISO have to be available quickly and easily. Finally, exposure modes ought to be easily changed between spot, centre-weighted and matrix with a physical control.

When we consider focusing, a physical control to change between manual focus, single autofocus and continuous autofocus is by far the fastest way of changing between them. Niceties like how to choose which autofocus point to use, which group of autofocus sensors to use and so on can be relegated to the menus, as far as I’m concerned as I tend to set them once and stick with that setting. I suspect I am not alone in using autofocus in a way that would disappoint the clever engineers who made these devices. I want single autofocus on the centre of the viewfinder. I want to focus on the important part of the scene with a button press, hold that focus and recompose and fire.

Anything else at all is rarely used by me. If I were a sports photographer with fast-moving subjects I would have to get into all sorts of continuous tracking autofocus between various groups of focus sensors, but for goodness sake, keep that stuff out of the way of the majority of us who don’t need it! Talking of focus lock with a button press, it is pretty obvious that a half-press of the shutter button is the easiest way to do this. A separate button for exposure lock would be nice, as focusing on the part of the image desired isn’t always the same thing as getting the exposure right after you recompose.

Some Examples of What We Can Do if We Try

I’m not sure how many cameras I have owned or used over the years, and come to that, I’m not even sure how many I own right now. Some things are best left unsaid. But some stand out more than others and I’m going to describe in detail the cameras that I have found to be the easiest to use from the point of view of ergonomic efficiency. Firstly a purely mechanical camera without no electronics at all. All it needs is an aperture ring, a shutter speed dial, a shutter release and means of winding on the film. It doesn’t get much simpler than this, but even here design considerations can make all the difference. Compare my 1963 Leica M2 with my 1971 Hasselblad 500c. Apart from the slightly awkward film loading system (which I actually like more than that in modern Leicas as the take up spool grips the leader so tightly it is easy to rewind the film and leave the leader out), the Leica just works.

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My left hand controls the aperture ring and focusing tab on the lens, while my right index finger turns the shutter dial, presses the shutter release at which point my right thumb can wind on the next frame. The only pause comes when I have to meter the light and reset the aperture and shutter controls. When I had an M7 and an MP even this obstacle was removed. The Hasselblad is also far easier to use than a present day compact if you want to do anything other than auto-everything. But, it has to be said, it’s not as simple as the Leica. While the controls are different, focusing, shooting and winding on are just as simple. It’s the lenses with their coupled aperture and shutter speed controls that complicate things.

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Hasselblads are not designed for those who want to estimate an exposure, the use of the EV ring on the lens pretty much requires the use of a meter, and once it’s set, the coupled aperture/shutter rings can be turned together to allow some decisions about a suitable combination. Hasselblads have their quirks, and everyone sooner or later makes the mistake of changing the lens with the shutter uncocked (you cannot reattach that lens until the shutter has been cocked by careful use of a strong screwdriver), and who doesn’t forget to remove the darkslide at least once per session? Generally, though, they work pretty smoothly, and are simple enough, like the M2, that it’s hard to mess up from a control point of view.

Next, let’s look at something far more complex—a camera from that brief era when auto-exposure and autofocus had yet to be combined with the menus of a digital camera. I’m going to spend more time on this as there is far more to describe, and far more to get right or wrong! The Pentax 645n was a medium format film camera made between 1997 and 2001. It has no rear LCD and thus no menus, so everything that can be changed must be changed with a physical control. It is a large, rather heavy, boxy camera as might be expected from trying to have a medium format camera with a powered wind on and all the batteries needed to drive it (especially as this was made before lithium ion batteries were in common usage). Despite it’s weight and size, it stands out from the crowd in ease and speed of use, simply because the designers thought carefully, and also, I have to say, because they didn’t have the option of hiding settings deep in nested menus!) Let’s go through the available controls:

1. Focusing. The camera can be used with autofocus or manual focus. In a moment of inspiration, all the lenses for this camera (except for the small standard 75mm/f2.8) had their focusing rings made so they could be pushed forwards, revealing the words “Auto Focus” on the lens barrel, or pulled back, covering those words and switching into manual focus mode. So by simply grabbing the focusing ring, pulling back and twisting you have manual focus. Push forwards and a half-press of the shutter button gives you autofocus again. Very nice indeed! On the back of the camera body are two sliding switches, one that selects either ‘Servo’ (which you might call Continuous these days) or ‘Single’ autofocus, and the other which selects either a single or three AF sensors. Autofocusing is triggered with a half-press of the shutter release, and holding the shutter button in this position locks the focus. Easy!

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2. Exposure. There are traditional aperture and shutter controls with a ring on the lens barrel for aperture and a dial on the top plate for shutter speed. Both have an ‘A’ position in which the setting becomes dependent on the setting of the other control. So if the Shutter speed dial is set to ‘A’ you can manually set the aperture and the shutter speed will be automatically set ie aperture priority exposure. Alternatively, the aperture ring can be set to ‘A’ and the shutter speed dial can be manually set, resulting in an automatic aperture selection ie shutter priority exposure. If both controls are set to ‘A’ the camera enters a Program mode, and uses combinations of aperture and shutter speed that it’s designers think best. This cannot be shifted to other combinations, but to be honest if you want to do that you ought to be using one of the priority auto-exposure modes anyway. There is a ‘Memory Lock’ button under the right thumb which can lock exposure for twenty seconds after a single press, or if the shutter button is half-pressed during those twenty seconds the locked exposure will remain in effect until the shutter is finally released. I simply hold it down as long as I want the exposure locked, and release it if I want to re-measure exposure as this is simpler and easier. Three metering modes are available, and a dial under the shutter dial has three positions for Spot, Centre-
weighted and Six-segment (these days: matrix) metering. The other control related to exposure is a dial on the top plate at the left which controls exposure compensation in 1/3 stops from -3 to +3 stops.

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3. ISO. There is a small LCD on the top plate, and this is used in combination with a switch under the exposure compensation dial to set ISO. If the switch is held in the position marked ISO (it is spring loaded and will return to normal as soon as you release it), then ISO may be changed with the up and down buttons on the top plate, the ISO showing in the LCD as you do so. This is the least convenient of the controls, but for a film camera it doesn’t matter as this is set when a film is loaded and not changed until the next film, if a different speed.

4. Drive mode. Around the shutter release is a collar with settings for single, multiple and timer. Pretty obvious.

5. Other controls. Only three more – a power switch which has three positions: Off, On (with sound confirmation of focus) and On with no sound. Secondly there is a multiple exposure switch which lets the shutter cock without the film winding on, and finally a depth of field preview lever to close down the aperture. The only remaining button is the lens release.

For all the fact that this is a large and heavy camera, it is easier to use than most as the controls are easily visible and accessible. It’s a shame that it’s descendants, the Pentax 645D and 645Z have many of these functions accessible only via menus, as there really isn’t any reason other than expense not to have dedicated controls for the important and frequently changed items in addition to a menu system for selecting just whose face gets recognised and sepia toned to what degree! The digital Leica M cameras pretty much get this right, with physical controls for the important stuff, or at least a dedicated button to take you straight to the right menu (eg for ISO). And so far, it has only been Leica that has been eccentric enough to make a digital M with no menus, the M-D, which will appeal strongly to users of film cameras, given that it allows all the same controls that a film M has, and a lot fewer options that would normally be set on a digital camera. There will probably be little opportunity for other manufacturers to show their skills in designing cameras that can be used easily without relying on automatic functions, as the marketplace dictates cameras that can do more than their competitors, not less, and at the same time they have to be idiot-proof. Of the three modern cameras I have (Nikon D810, Nikon F6 and Olympus OM-D E-M5), all have been set up the way I like them and I never touch the menus any more as it took a very long time to get everything just so. It means I can use them as I want to, changing apertures and shutter speeds as I go (though I really don’t like control wheels over traditional controls) and not worrying about stuff I won’t miss. I guess I am trying to use them with the same basic controls that I can use on the M2 and the 500c, and even on the 645n I rarely change the autofocus or metering settings. So it’s possible to use a modern camera the way you used a film camera, but the lack of standardisation across brands still means that when you go back and forth between them there can be confusion about which control wheel does what. I think it’s worthwhile to try to do this, as it saves the confusion of too many choices, speeds up the use of the camera so that you can concentrate on getting the shot, and allows the satisfaction that comes from feeling that you made the photograph, not the camera.

Film Photography’s Alleged Comeback

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By Temoor Iqbal, reprinted from EuropeanCEO, under the Byline “Film Photography Makes a Stunning Comeback”. [Editor’s Note: Not sure “stunning” is the correct word, although it’s gratifying to see the larger culture notice the continued relevance of analogue photography for many of the same reasons having been discussed at length on Leicaphilia.]

In the early 2000s, the world of photography changed forever. Though digital cameras had been widespread since the mid-1990s, the technology did not produce sufficiently high-quality results for professional and serious amateur photographers.

Around 2003, however, this changed, and vast swathes of professionals made the jump from analogue to digital, decimating an entire industry in the process. “Companies went from processing in the region of 5,000 rolls of film per day to 20 percent of that in a six-month period; as you can imagine, there were many casualties”, said Professor Steve Macleod, Director of Metro Imaging, a professional photography lab.

For a decade after this crash, sales of camera film steadily dropped as digital camera technology continued to improve. However, all was not lost for the analogue world. According to Kodak Alaris, a spinoff of legendary film manufacturer Kodak, sales of Kodak Professional film grew more than five percent worldwide between 2013 and 2015. Of course, this figure is not even close to reaching the dizzy heights of yesteryear, when film was the only tool available to photographers, but that might not even matter. Indeed, it seems the future role of analogue photography is not to challenge the dominance of digital, but to rest alongside it in a particular niche.

Legends of the past
Perhaps the best-known film producer in the world, Kodak is still operating in the aforementioned form of Kodak Alaris. What’s more, the company is continuing to innovate, with new films such as Kodak Portra designed specifically to be scanned, reflecting the preference of many modern film users to have scans rather than prints as an end product.

Kodak’s one-time rival, Fujifilm, is also still producing camera film, but focuses primarily on its Instax line of instant camera paper. This reflects one of the many unexpected trends in analogue photography; sales of Instax cameras have risen steadily since 2013, and are expected to hit five million units this year. This pattern is firmly being fuelled by a young demographic – typically those born and raised in the digital age, for whom a printed photograph is something of a novelty.

UK-based Ilford Photo, another of the few major players to survive the crash, confirmed this trend last year, after a survey found that 30 percent of film users were under 35 years old, and 60 percent had only started using film in the last five years. Such is the enthusiasm among this small but dedicated group that newer companies have even managed to find success in analogue photography – Lomography, born from a bizarre collective of photographers obsessed with low-fi Russian cameras, has also seen film sales rise steadily throughout this decade, with products such as Purple XR (a film that warps the colour spectrum) squarely aimed at the youth demographic.

Creative control
The question that these findings inevitably raises is – why? Why shoot film, when digital cameras are so advanced? In a sense, this line of enquiry is born of a misunderstanding. For many, there is an impression that film is an expensive medium compared to digital, which is ‘free’ in a sense, once the initial equipment has been purchased. “This is a myth. The cost of shooting analogue is immediate and physical: you have to buy film, you have to pay to have it processed and scanned. With these criteria, digital appears less expensive and many wonder why anyone would choose to shoot film. However, people fail to build into their costing how long it takes to edit digital photos. If they were to cost out how long it takes to edit and prepare digital files for production, it would be equivalent or near to the cost of shooting analogue; they balance out in the end”, said Macleod.

Similarly, there is often a lack of understanding of the experience of shooting film; the vast majority of digital camera users nowadays have never actually tried shooting with an analogue camera, just as most music listeners have never handled, played and fully listened to a vinyl record. There is a simplicity to the pared-down experience that can be of genuine creative benefit. “Necessity is the mother of invention; there is no point staring at the back of a film camera after taking a shot – that time and energy is already going into the next one. Not knowing immediately what has been captured is a creative advantage”, said Walter Rothwell, a professional photographer who regularly uses analogue cameras for his work.

Rothwell is not alone is this view, as more and more professional photographers are choosing film for similar reasons. This is particularly apparent in the world of fashion, as photographers seek to take back control of a creative process that is falling ever further into the hands of editors. “In the era of Avedon and Irving Penn, it was the photographers who were leading what the fashion should be. Today it is the fashion editor. It is the editor who is immersed in fashion, so it is the editor’s point of view that is valid…the photographer becomes just the tool to express that point of view”, said art director Fabien Baron, in an interview with Business of Fashion.

Je ne sais quoi
Of course, high-minded ideals about creative control and specific minutiae of costs are primarily professional issues. What inspires the everyday film photographer is something quite different, which is difficult to define, but easy to see.

“Film has a quality that is unique; a beauty and tonal warmth that digital cannot match. Like the vinyl versus MP3 debate, there is something inherently different about a physical process compared to a virtual one”, said Rothwell. While digital camera manufacturers have made photography a question of megapixels, a growing number of people understand that quality cannot be expressed in figures. Ken Rockwell, a prominent advocate of film photography, expressed this point well, writing: “Non-artists misguidedly waste their time comparing meaningless specs like resolution and bit depth, when they really should just stand back and look at the images.”

As well as the choice of medium, such considerations also influence the choice of camera for many photographers. Lomography’s Diana camera has extremely limited controls, uses a deliberately low-sharpness lens, and purposefully allows light to leak through the body and onto the film, and yet it is astonishingly popular, as the final images have a unique, dreamlike quality that simply cannot be recreated with any amount of computer processing.

For related reasons, the Hasselblad Xpan, a panoramic film camera, is one of Rothwell’s favourites for personal work. “The Xpan was a unique moment of madness from a large manufacturer; a comparatively small panoramic camera that shoots across two frames, producing very high quality negatives. Around 10 years ago, I noticed that I was ‘seeing’ panoramic photos, so I got the camera to answer a yen.” Rothwell’s panoramic street photography has earned him international acclaim, and while it would certainly be possible to use the panoramic mode on a digital camera or phone to replicate the effect, there is something about the lack of choice that lends his shots a unique feel. To stitch together a panorama from digital images with would not give the same results in terms of artistic impression, though the scene may be the same.

Self reliance
The most common process when shooting film is the same now as it was before the digital age. A roll of film is shot, rolled up, and taken or posted to a lab for development. The lab will then return prints and/or scans of the images, as well as the original negatives or slides for storage.

However, in this modern world of increased automation, there is a growing trend for manual processes. This has caused a minor boom in home developing, with many amateur photographers processing their own film and even attempting to make prints. Such has been the level of interest in recent years that, in 2014, Ilford launched Localdarkroom.com, a website designed to help photographers find a darkroom that they can work in, as most people lack the appropriate space or resources to do more than basic processing at home.

It is tempting to put this down to a desire to reduce costs, film photography being perceived as an expensive pursuit, but the reality is very different. “If you are developing and printing to save money, you’re barking up the wrong tree. There is no getting around it, film and paper are expensive, then there are the chemicals, negative and print storage costs, enlarging and processing equipment, the list goes on”, said Rothwell. People are keen to do things with their hands, not for reasons of quality or cost, but for the sake of it, and perhaps to satisfy a deeper instinct to produce physical work.

This desire for the physical extends to storage too. True, photographic prints have not seen their popularity rise in parallel with the rebirth of film, but having an exposed negative as a permanent record of a photo is something that speaks to people, especially as our understanding of the limitations of digital data storage increases. “I read an interesting quote recently: ‘nothing digital is truly archival, as it does not survive by accident’. We are taking unprecedented numbers of photos nowadays, but the vast majority are destined to remain as computer code, languishing on hard drives”, said Rothwell.

For the ages
Herein lies the problem – digital files do not last on their own. File types come and go – even the ubiquitous JPEG format may not be readable by standard hardware in 20 or 30 years – so constant, active conversion is required to ensure the survival of an archive. Properly stored negatives, however, can last almost indefinitely, with no particular action required. They are tangible records that can be passed down through generations.

In 2007, Chicago-based amateur historian John Maloof purchased a box of negatives from the 1960s for $400. They turned out to be the work of the now-revered documentary photographer Vivien Maier. Maloof now owns some 150,000 of Maier’s negatives, many of which have been successfully scanned, and he has been largely responsible for her posthumous fame. Could this have happened with a hard drive of JPEGs? The technology isn’t old enough to say for sure, but there’s cause for doubt.

Ultimately, this is not to say that everyone should immediately discard their digital cameras and switch to film, but rather that film still has a very real and serious place in the world of photography. As a specific tool in the photographer’s arsenal, alongside digital, film photography can continue to survive and thrive, offering something of an antidote to the mentality of snapping each and every passing moment. As Macleod noted: “The way people shoot has changed. Film has become a more considered approach; something people invest time in creating.”

The rebirth, however, is still just that – manufacturers need to continue to respond to the market and innovate as much as they can in order to make it a safe, reliably profitable industry once more. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but for now, film is most definitely alive and well.

Talking Leicas with Astrophysicists

20160701-R1100511-EditParis Observatory telescope. This 60-centimetre telescope, installed in 1890, was designed by French astronomer Maurice Loewy (1833-1907). Loewy was Director of the Paris Observatory from 1896 until his death.

In spite of my obvious critical stance toward many of the fruits of the digital age, it certainly has its benefits, one of which is the ability to connect people of like mind across distances. Prior to the internet, if you wanted to share your interests with others, you did so on a local basis. Now the world is open to you. Through this blog I’ve been lucky to meet interesting, intelligent people from around the world – the Far East, Africa, South America, Europe – and also around the corner where I live in Raleigh, North Carolina.

So I was pleasantly surprised, while travelling recently, to receive an invitation to visit from Dr. Henry Joy McCracken, an Astrophysicist at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris and a dedicated Leica film shooter. Dr. McCracken works in a contemporary building located on the campus of the Observatoire de Paristhe foremost astronomical observatory of France, and one of the largest astronomical centers in the world. Its historic building is located on Boulevard Arago in the 13th Arrondissement in Paris.  Louis XIV started its construction in 1667, completed it in 1671. It thus predates the Royal Greenwich Observatory in England, founded in 1675.

While the Observatory is open to the public on a very limited basis, nobody gets up on the roof and in the cupola where the telescope is found. Dr. McCracken brought me up on the roof and into the cupola. The telescope there is very old, very big and very impressive.

20160701-R1100506-EditOn the Observatory Roof with Dr. McCracken. Behind him is the cupola where the Observatory telescope is housed. And yes, that’s a film Leica Dr. McCracken is sporting.20160701-R1100518-EditInside the Cupola20160701-R1100525-EditGraffiti Scratched into the Stone Wall in a Space Under the Cupola

The irony of our meeting is that, while we connected through Leicaphilia, a site dedicated to the enjoyment of Leica film cameras and film photography as a viable ongoing means of photographic practice, only one of us was sporting a film camera – and it wasn’t me, which, I’m sure, gave Dr. McCracken pause even though he was a gracious enough host not to note the obvious to me. I had with me an M8 with a Amedeo adaptor and vintage Nikkor attached; he had with him a beautiful M6 with 50mm Summicron that someone had given him, loaded with Tri-X. Of course, there was a reason I wasn’t toting a film camera, as I claim I usually do, and it was because I just didn’t feel like dealing with the hassles of film on an international trip – the X-ray scanning and rescanning, the repeated explanations at security about what exactly the bag full of home-rolled film cassettes actually contained, the time spent developing and scanning the developed film once home etc; all of the reasons normal people embrace digital and see the continued use of film as quixotic in the extreme. If you were to accuse me of being a hypocrite, you’d be right. Consistency is not my strong point, although, in my defense, I am in agreement with Ralph Waldo Emerson that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, requiring one to be as ignorant today as one was yesterday.

20160701-L1003744-Edit-2These markers are found throughout the Observatory grounds. Something to do with the Meridian Line

So, did this trip help soften my antagonism toward digital Leicaphiles? Yes, it did, actually. I enjoyed the time spent with my M8 immensely. It’s a wonderful camera, offering the simplified Leica experience digitally. I borrowed a 35mm Summicron from a Parisian photographer friend and shot exclusively with the M8, the Ricoh GXR and the D3s staying in the bag. Along the way I lent it to a photographer who for years used both an M4 and M6 but never saw the use for a digital Leica – always saying “I just don’t see the point” when I’d enquire as to why he no longer used Leicas but now used professional Nikon DSLRs. Sitting on his Paris balcony, a few drinks in us both, I handed him my M8 with his Summicron attached. He picked it up, fired off the photo below and said “feels pretty much like a film Leica.” Yup. Pretty much.20160706-L1004281-Edit

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So, back to my thoroughly enjoyable day at the Paris Observatory, courtesy of Dr. McCracken, who, I should add, is an excellent photographer in addition to being a fine human being and a very intelligent guy dealing daily with issues that most of us simply aren’t smart enough to understand, let alone discuss. He publishes 52 Rolls: One Roll of Film for Fifty Two Weeks, where he shoots a roll a week and posts the photos on his blog.

As part of my tour, Dr. McCracken brought me into the bowels of a building on the Observatory campus where is located the darkroom that was once used to develop the Observatory’s photographs. Down a few flights of steps and behind a locked door stood a perfectly functional darkroom, still stocked with papers and chemicals with expiration dates from the 1990’s. Apparently, it had been locked away and forgotten, a sad commentary on the state of analogue photography. Fortunately, he has rescued it from disuse and it is now, again, being used for its intended purpose, although certainly now not in any official Observatory capacity. At the very least, it made me feel good that it has been resurrected and that maybe, just maybe, this blog might have had some little thing to do with it.

20160701-R1100578-EditThe Paris Observatory Darkroom

After my tour we settled in for a cup of coffee on the terrace of Dr. McCracken’s building, where we were joined by fellow Astrophysicists. We discussed, among other things, Dark Matter, String Theory, whether the Universe is expanding or contracting (its “bouncing” apparently), and, parenthetically, why we still all loved film cameras. We talked about the incredible vistas digitalization has opened to science, but we also discussed the problems that come along with our move from analogue to digital. Someone noted to me that there still existed, somewhere deep in the bowels of the Institute, negatives from more than a hundred years ago that charted the positions and conditions of the cosmos at that time, and that these offered a contemporary scientist the ability to go back and recreate those conditions in light of new theories or data, necessary work if you subscribe to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of how science changes. With digital data, so susceptible to degradation and loss, he noted, scientists 100 years from now might not have access to the same sort of data from our era, so eager are we to embrace new technology without thinking through the full consequences for the ongoing transmission of scientific culture. Who, I asked, is thinking about these issues? No one, he replied.

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20160701-R1100486-Edit-2The Observatory Stairwell

Having thoroughly enjoyed my visit with Dr. McCracken, off I went. Somewhere in the Marais, I lifted my M8 to take a photo of something, and as I did a gentleman walked past me with a curious look on his face, turned around and tapped me on the shoulder. “Are you the Leicaphilia guy?” he asked, to which I replied, yes. That’s me.  A nice enough guy, we spoke some time, him being a reader of the blog. He, of course, had a beautiful Pentax MX film camera with him, although he assured me there was an M2 at home. I, of course, had my digital M8, another slightly uncomfortable situation which he was gracious enough to ignore.

And so now I’m home, having gone through my DNG files and processed the keepers. You’ll notice that they’ve all been processed to emulate the film look. I’m not sure what I should think about this. Is this “cheating,” inauthentic in some way? Even if it is, who cares? Isn’t it the end result that matters? In any event, I feel vaguely like a poseur, someone who advocates one position while acting in accordance with another. Regardless, I think I really like my M8. Will it become my tool of choice? Probably not, and probably for those same archival issues articulated by the Astrophysicist. But who knows.

An SLR Oskar Barnack Would Like

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By Wayne P.

Upon return of my first Pentax AP (the first Pentax M42 screw-mount SLR marketed in US) from Scott Hendrickson’s outstanding CLA service, one of my first thoughts was that this might be very close to what Oskar Barnack would have designed, had he been compelled to design an SLR.  This impression did not come from merely the obvious similarities in the way shutter speed is selected – not to mention the fact that maximum shutter speed is 500 – but comes from the feel of the advance lever, the sensation of the shutter release, the sound of the shutter, the solid feel; the overall gestalt of construction and mechanism. It is as if someone very knowledgeable and satisfied with the design of a rangefinder put it to themselves: “how can I  best design a camera with the advantages of SLR focusing, but retain as much of the rangefinder camera convenience as possible?” And in doing so they rendering a masterpiece.

The chrome finish is very similar in appearance and feel to my Leica IIIc and IIIg. The tension and overall smooth feel of the film advance lever is very similar to the M2…but not nearly as long in stroke.  The shutter, although a bit louder – and I mean “a bit“ –  has the same general sound as an M camera. Nothing rattles; whether cocked or not, it feels and behaves as though chiseled out of a solid block of metal; furthermore, exclusive of the prism hump, the overall size and weight of the camera is about the same as an M2.

The view through the finder is enough to make any nostalgia buff smile: the central region is a large ground glass area surrounded by fresnel rings…that’s it;  reminding very much of the focusing screen of a Hasselblad 500C.…. No lines, needles, LED light; no numbers, lettering or anything else to distract you from the various parts of the scene that magically fades in and out of focus as you compose. Again, to stick with the main comparison, it is as close to the simple magic of a rangefinder patch as is possible with an SLR prism arrangement. The camera is doing nothing for you; you experiment, moving your eye toward and away from finder window, finding what works best for you….making the experience entirely your own. Any improvement in result will come purely from improvement in your skill and effort.

If I may …. an exposition on an aspect of OVF (optical viewfinder) not often expounded upon in the great OVF vs. EVF debate: that being, the EVF robs you of some cherished moments with the unique characteristics of fine old glass – or even, fine new glass. With EVF, you never do actually get an opportunity to view the world through the lens. With Pentax AP, you do get this opportunity, and in the most raw interpretation of the act. Even if the photograph does not turn out exactly as you envisioned, and you walk away without the prized, perfect image, you still have the view, the joy, of that vision in your head. You were there. You saw it through that magical Zeiss 50mm 1.4 Planar….. With an EVF, well, you watched the video.

On the subject of lenses, this is another aspect of the AP that will sit well with those used to rangefinder photography. While not as small as the delightfully tiny and lightweight lenses used on a Barnack Leica, they are small. The AP, packed with Pentax M42 55mm f2, 35mm f4, and and 105mm f2.8 does take up more room than my IIIC with comparable lens set, but can be packed- with IIIC, including comparable lenses- in my Domke F-5XB……a shoulder bag not much larger than my shaving kit.  Oh, and there is still room for the superb, and cheap, M42 Takumar 50mm 1.4 – if you feel the need for a fast lens.

At this point, given the length and breadth of modern comprehensive camera reviews I have read over the past few years, I begin to feel somewhat inadequate to this task. There is not really much, beyond the sensation, i.e. “haptics,” of use to expound upon. it is, quite literally, in substance, nothing more than a metal box to facilitate: storage and advancement of film; manual focus of lens; selection of shutter speed, and activation of shutter. But for a mechanism of that type, it is superb.

There you have it: spartan in feature; elegant and solid in design; able to stand up to the test of time; convenient in size and weight; unobtrusive and fulfilling in operation. I am pretty sure Oskar would have liked it.

OBTW, I own two. One came with a Takumar 58mm f2.4 lens attached, the second came with the Takumar 58mm f2.0. In both cases, camera and lens, together, resulted in a raid on the family treasure of about half the value that either of the lenses, alone, would normally demand.

If you see one for sale, pick it up and give it a fondle.

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