Category Archives: Cameras

Gear Excess or Minimalism: What Makes You Happy?

stuff

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.

Using a Leica MR4 meter

Leica MR4 2

An excellent tutorial on the use of the attachable Leica MR4 meter by Michael Geschlecht,  from L Camera Forum:

The MR4 meter is a reflected light meter that couples to the shutter speeed dial of many M cameras. It has a sensitivity range of EV +2 to +18. That means with a film of ISO 100 It will give you readings from F1.4 @ 2 seconds to F16 @ 1/1,000th of a second. That covers pretty much of what most people need in many circumstances.

Once you attach it to the M3 it will read an angle of view more or less equal to the angle of view of a 90mm lens. This is the angle of view shown by the frame lines either when you insert a 90mm lens into the camera & attach it or when you push the lever under the large, clear viewfinder window in the front of the camera inward in the direction of the center of the camera. Until that lever stops moving. Regardless of the lens mounted. Unless the lens has permanently attached “goggles”. 

If the lens on the camera has permanently attached “goggles”: Push that same lever outwards until it stops & use the 135mm frame. Sounds silly but it works correctly.

Replacement Wein 1.35 volt zinc-air “button” batteries are available. Just check in any camera store or find them on the net.

M4p7

To mount the meter on the camera & properly couple it to the shutter speed dial:

First set the shutter speed on the camera to “B”.

Then pull out the film advance lever to the “stand off” position.

Then rotate the dial of the MR4 meter to “B”.

Then slightly lift up the shutter speed dial on the meter until it stops.

Then rotate that dial in the direction of longer exposures,ie: 120 seconds..

Then slide the meter into the accessory shoe.

Then rotate the shutter speed wheel on the meter back to “B”.

The wheel should now click down & the pin on the underside of the meter’s shutter speed wheel should drop into the little cutout between the “2” for 1/2 second & the either “4” for 1/4 second or “5” for 1/5 second. Depending on which model of M3 you have.

Look to see if everything engaged properly. If all is right you are ready to go.

A meter coupled to the shutter speed dial means: You only have to set the aperture after you make a reading. Unless the shutter speed set before you took the reading is not appropriate. Very fast & handy.

Alternatively, you can take a meter reading, then rotate the shutter speed dial until the aperture you want to use is aligned with the indicator arm. The shutter speed has also been correctly set for the proper exposure.

MR4

Whichever works in whatever direction is equally fine.

There is also a “battery check” slide on the front of the meter. If the meter arm goes up to or slightly passes the white dot: The battery is OK. The battery currently in the meter may still be OK even if it is years old. If these types of batteries are not used frequently they usually still last for many years.

USING THE MR4 WITHOUT SCRATCHING THE LEICA TOP PLATE

Often the meter will rub against the top of the camera and leave permanent scratches. This can be avoided by turning the appropriate leveling adjustment screws on the bottom of the meter’s mounting shoe. There are 5 screws holding the foot to the meter, 2 small ones & 3 larger ones.

If you look from the back of the camera, as you try to slide the meter into the accessory shoe, you can see if the screws need adjusting. There should be a clearance of about 1&1/2 mm.
The 2 tiny screws lift & balance the meter above the accessory shoe & the 3 larger screws lock the shoe & hold it in place. Like a tripod.

A little fiddling with the 5 screws as per above, if necessary, should set the clearance so the meter clears the top plate by about 1&1/2 mm while still allowing the pin to drop into the slot in the shutter speed dial on the camera when the shutter speed wheel is returned from somewhere in the 4 seconds thru 120 seconds range to the “B” position.

Once the pin drops down at the “B” position the shutter speed dial should be rotated to all positions to make sure that the pin continues to engage the slot & does not slip out between any of the the settings “B” thru “1000”.

Who Knew? Mac Guys Love Old Leicas Too

5529429579_2c107e621b_zWhen I worked on my college paper a million years ago, my buddy Bruno had Leicas. This made him the coolest person in the whole wide world.

The cameras were tiny and had the smoothest-operating lenses I had ever touched. They were a feat of German engineering. For me, it was love at first sight. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t stop lusting for one of those tiny black boxes.

I immediately started my quest to get one. I had to have a Leica. And because this was the mid-’80s, I definitely wanted an M6, which was introduced in 1984. Hell, it was advanced. It had a meter. The first real meter in a Leica, if you disregard the much-maligned M5.

It turns out all my favorite photographers used the Leica. Henri Cartier-Bresson carried a Leica his entire career, using it to make the photographs in the seminal photobook The Decisive Moment,. Robert Frank shot his project The Americans, the one photo book anyone who loves documentary photography should own, with a Leica. And the list goes on and on: Marc Riboud, Eli Reed, Alex Webb, David Alan Harvey.

1382-leica-m6

At the time, I had to settle for an M4-2 but I never stopped coveting an M6. Just as the digital revolution started kicking into full steam, the prices on Leica’s film cameras took a slight dip and I snatched up an all-black M6, slapped some gaffer tape over all the logos and never looked back.

The M6 and I took to the streets every day. It was never an easy camera to use — it requires practice and focused attention — but when everything comes together in a single frame, there is nothing quite like it.

Unlike a single lens reflex camera, where what you see is what you get, the rangefinder of the Leica forces you to embrace the unknown. Because it does not use a mirror like a traditional SLR or DSLR, the lens can sit closer to the film plane, creating what Leica aficionados claim, with some degree of accuracy, are the most beautiful photos in the world. Just google the terms “bokeh” and “Leica.” The results should send you tumbling down an amazing camera-geek rabbit hole.

Maybe it is the amazing lenses, maybe it is journey over destination or maybe it is just my sentimental self playing tricks on me, but no other camera has ever captured my soul quite like the Leica M6.

Machine Crush Monday is Cult of Mac’s weekly riff on #MCM. Read more at http://www.cultofmac.com/276921/machine-crush-monday-leica/#thzomHYPG3pT1KVB.99

Leica M5 Selfie

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I love the M5. I have two of them, black and chrome. It’s the camera I cut my teeth on, photographically, all those years ago. Most leicaphiles dismiss it as a stylistic wrong turn. I disagree. The M5 has a beauty all its own. Personally, I prefer the look of the chrome M5, as the chrome compliments the “boxy” styling.

I also love this photo because of its unmistakable film aesthetic: the grain, the tonality, the character. (Tri-X and HC110 and a Nikkor HC 50mm). Film responds differently to light than does a digital sensor. Sensors have a flat linear response to light.  Film has a curved response, typically in a S curve, whereby both ends of the curve, the shadows and highlights, tend to be richer in tonal value than digital. Its these differences that give the unique look to both.

With the maturation of digital capture, the question of film vs digital resolution really doesn’t make sense anymore. Film and digital are two completely different media. Each has it’s strengths and limitations. Digital files can’t be made to look like this, even with extensive tweaking in Silver Efex or other programs that attempt to replicate the film look.

And certainly, no digital camera has the feel of a mechanical Leica. There’s a tactile quality to mechanical film cameras that simply has not, and cannot, be duplicated with digital.

Call me a Luddite.

 

The Leica IIIg: Pleasure of Use As An Aesthetic Experience

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Above is the camera I probably use more than any other camera I own, and I own a bunch of them. It’s a Leica IIIg 35mm film camera with a Leicavit trigger winder and an external viewfinder to allow the use of the 3.5cm Nikkor lens mounted on it (the native viewfinder only accommodates a 50mm perspective). It needs no batteries because it has no electronics. It is purely mechanical; not even a light meter to suggest proper exposure. Of course, being completely mechanical, it has no automation. You set shutter speed and f-stop, you wind and rewind the film by hand with a knurled knob. To focus you look through one window (the rangefinder) to gain focus and then move your eye to a second window (the viewfinder) to frame your shot.

The question I often ask myself is why? Why do I use this camera so often to the exclusion of newer, “better” cameras (leaving aside the whole issue of why film in a digital age)? Sitting next to it on my shelf is a Nikon F5, the best and most technologically advanced 35mm film camera ever made, or, if it’s a question of preference for a rangefinder camera, a Hexar RF, a metered rangefinder built by Konica in 1999 with auto exposure, auto film wind on and the ability to mount Leica bayonet mount lenses. Yet I rarely use either when I have the choice of picking up the IIIg. And you’ll never find me staring lovingly at the F5 or the Hexar as you will when the IIIg is within my view.

The answer, I presume, is simple, and speaks a lot to part of why I suspect all photographers are drawn to our craft: it is the aesthetic beauty of the photographic instrument itself, and its tactile pleasure in use that I’m drawn to. As a documentary photographer of 40+ years, my mantra has always been that the equipment is irrelevant, simply the means to the end of good photographs. Any camera in the right hands can produce stunning images; the best, most expensive, most technologically advanced camera in the hands of someone without a vision to see will produce inferior photos. But, if I’m honest with myself, that’s really not the full truth. Some cameras CAN make us better at seeing things, and it has nothing to do with what technology they offer. It has to do with how they inspire us to be mindful of what we’re looking at and what we’re trying to do. The IIIg, primitive as it is, is a camera whose very use gives pleasure and is itself aesthetic in nature.

Leonardo Da Vinci called simplicity “the ultimate sophistication.” Certain environments, modes of life, rules of conduct and designs are more conducive to harmony than others. Simplicity of a tool’s design and function, not to be confused with its automation, fosters creativity by allowing a flow to the creative process. And its non-automated operation encourages engagement, thoughtfulness, mindfulness. An automated camera encourages a lazy eye. And, of course, there is the pure aesthetic pleasure of using a thing well built. The old Barnack screw mount Leicas are mechanical jewels, built to last for generations. The IIIg is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of Leica screw mount design, and hence the best Leica ever built.

My IIIg was made in 1956. I’m sure I’ll be using it till the day I draw my last breath. By contrast, in 2011 I threw away as junk my first DSLR, a Nikon D100 I bought new in 2003. The D100, like almost all cameras produced today, is a consumer item, used and ultimately used up. The IIIg remains a mechanical jewel, a serious tool built for serious use. Even today.

 

 

When Was The Last Time You CLA’d That Thing?

Perusing an online auction site this morning I came across a Leica X1 offered for sale. The seller informed potential buyers that the camera had recently received a “CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust)”. The obvious question in need of asking is this: why would anyone think that a 3 year old fully electronic camera would need a “CLA”? What would you “clean, lubricate and adjust”? I presume the camera could be sent for a sensor cleaning, although the X1 is a fixed lens compact whose sensor is fully sealed and opening it up would seem to be counterproductive if your intent is to shield the sensor from ambient dust. As for “lubrication and adjustment,” well, I’m stumped, which started me thinking, again, about the irrationality of many of us who love Leicas.

A Leica M2...and a Nikon F. A Tale of Two Cameras.

A Leica M2…and a Nikon F. A Tale of Two Cameras.

Pictured above are two of my cameras. They both were manufactured over 50 years ago. Both are fully mechanical; no battery needed. Both are “users” in the parlance of camera collectors, although the M2 looks significantly less worn than the Nikon.  The Nikon started its life as a working camera for a major newspaper. (Somewhere I have a photo, taken with this exact camera, of Muhammad Ali standing victorious over Sonny Liston on May 25, 1965 in Lewiston, Maine, taken by Don Rice for the New York Herald Tribune.)

The Nikon has never been serviced. It probably never will. I can’t see what the purpose would be. The shutter fires; the slow speeds sound right, the film winds on without complaint. The camera has no light leaks. There’s a little dust in the finder, but hey, what SLR doesn’t have a little dust in the finder? With its 50mm 1.4 Nikkor attached it produces beautiful negatives indistinguishable from those from the M2. It’s only stopped working once, a few years back. The shutter jammed. After diagnosing the problem, I gave the camera a sharp whack against my workbench, and the shutter started working again. It’s worked fine since. If I ever sell it (doubtful though that be), no one will ask me if its been “CLA’d”.

My M2 was recently sent out for a “CLA.” The viewfinder front window had some haze on its inside and I wanted it clean and clear. A simple fix. But, while it was in for service, I figured it might as well be “CLA’d”. It still had its L seal, meaning it had probably never been serviced before, so it couldn’t hurt. Plus, I’d have documentation of its bonafides in case I ever wanted to sell it. It came back with a clear window and “buttery smooth” operation and calibrated shutter and official recognition that it had been serviced by Youxin Ye (a wonderfully nice man BTW and, from everything I’ve seen and heard, a superb Leica service technician).

So what if it was “buttery smooth” when I sent it in, right? Cost: $160.

 

 

The Leica M3D

Leica M3D black paint, November 2012 (1955, serial number M3D-2)

david Duncan Camera 2
Only 4 M3D’s (M3D-1 to M3D-4) were produced by Leitz. All were custom made for LIFE magazine photojournalist David Douglas Duncan. Each was mated to a black Leicavit without the standard MP engraving. (Note the auxiliary rewind crank, presumably added by Duncan after the fact.)

If you see one on Ebay at a decent “Buy It Now” price, snap it up quick (don’t expect it to be described as “Minty” however). This M3D, with Leicavit and Summilux, was sold at auction on November 24, 2012 for 1,680,000 Euros.