The Leica M10 Box – It’s Elaborate For a Reason
Nuclear weapons may have given us the ability to destroy the entire planet, but it’s things like unboxing videos that will make you want to actually use them. Unboxing videos are the post-human equivalent of a striptease act. They’re an early warning system, broadcasting the fact that the machines have finally won. – C. Donlan
“Unboxing Videos” are an internet phenomenon I will never understand. Rank them up there with eating Tide Pods and finding Kardashian women fascinating. Apparently, I’m in a minority, however. Since 2010, the number of YouTube clips with “unboxing” in the title has increased exponentially. There’s unboxing of every item you can think of, from blenders to live reptiles. If you can buy it, there’s probably a video of it being unboxed, as this attests.
Leicas make great subjects for unboxing videos. They’re expensive and desirable, things whose purchase we eagerly anticipate. Plus, they come in great boxes. Leica, like Apple, understands the symbolic significance of their cameras and the psychological and emotional aura that can be created or enhanced via a product’s presentation.
Recently I ran across an unboxing video of a Leica M6 posted by a Nelson Murray, interesting as a bit of historical documentation re: 1985 Leica presentation . Among other things, what strikes me is the relative simplicity of the packaging, completely utilitarian, functional.
Compare it with the unboxing of an M10.
If you’re familiar with Leica history, you’ll know that the Leica revolutionized photography because it was small and light and allowed photographers to carry it with them wherever they went. Prior to the Leica, cameras were big and heavy and cumbersome, requiring tripods and supporting paraphernalia to laboriously process the results. The Leica conquered the world not because it produced the ‘best’ photos but because it got the shot, technical specifications secondary. Thus the long storied history of the Leica in the documentary tradition.
I’m reminded of this reality while traveling with my M4 and digital Ricohs, both of which I’ve rarely used on my current trip, mostly because I’m sick of lugging them around. I have burned a couple of rolls of film with the M4, but it’s mostly been shots of people dear to me, usually at homes of friends or out to dinner etc. And that’s because those are the photographs I want to last, because those are the photos that ultimately have meaning for me and it’s comforting to know I’ll have a negative, a physical thing to refer back to in the years ahead.
What I love about film is its permanence. In the last year I’ve been bulk scanning a lot of my negatives from when I was young and just learning photography, and what amazes me is how fresh those negatives are even close to 50 years later. Print them up again now, using the latest technology (Lightroom, Photoshop, Silver Effects, archival inkjet printing) and its almost as if I’ve been transported back through time, back again with family, friends and lovers long gone. A while ago I scanned and printed a 40 year old negative of my first dog, a sweet little girl named Shannon I’d rescued from a shelter in Greenwood Lake, New Jersey. While our time together was short – a few years before I moved south and Shannon grew old and happy with a girlfriend’s family – she’s always remained special to me, and that photo, now framed and hanging in my bedroom where I see it every night from my bed, often triggers in me involuntary memories long forgotten, returning me almost palpably to another life and the ones I then loved. Loved ones only truly die when there’s no one to remember them anymore, and that picture, just a casual snap on an uneventful day, keeps her alive for me even though she’s been dead now for 30 years. I’m awed by this power photography possesses, the power to give permanence to these simple moments that mean everything in a life. Would that same photo shot digitally, a file nested somewhere on a hard drive, have survived for 40 years? I’m not sure. Why take the chance?
So I’ve made a conscious decision to continue to shoot film for the reasons above. But I’ve also learned a valuable lesson on this trip, and that is that I don’t really need to lug cameras and bags around with me to document my trip. My iPhone works just fine. In fact, it works better than fine. While I’ve not yet printed any of them, at least insofar as they appear on a computer screen, they look great, at the very least a level of quality equal to that we expected from our 35mm cameras, and the ease of use is incredible, as is the ability to process the results creatively in a way undreamed of 10 years ago. All the photos used to illustrate this post were shot and post-processed with my iphone, all with a few quick easy keystrokes.
Two shots of a fascist era bulding in Naples, both with the iphone. using either Snapseed or Hipstamatic, I post-processed both right there on my phone in a minute or two.
In a real sense, given its convenience and ease of use, the iphone is the legitimate digital heir to the Leica legacy. Quick and easy, always in my pocket, I’ve gotten all sorts of photos I’d normally have missed. I think at this point, the technology having sufficiently matured, the stand-alone camera is obsolete except for specific applications that require non-standard focal lengths or for those willing to do the extra work for increasingly marginal gains. But it will never completely negate the viability of film: When I want a photo I know will last, film it is.
By Michael Rowe. Michael is a Melbourne photographer who teaches to pay the bills. He is currently pursuing his PhD in crowdsourcing [ Editor’s Note: I wasn’t aware you could get a PhD in crowdsourcing. Shows what I know. In any event, I really like his photos]. His images can be found at http://rowefoto.tumblr.com
I love the idea of the M10, and I think I can afford one. As an M9P shooter, unbridled high ISO performance is my dream. The camera as object is sexy as hell. It’s an amazing thing.
But I don’t think I’ll get one.
I shoot mostly at base ISO (160), partly because the images at base are sublime, partly because in the days of film I never went above 400 and mostly shot 125. Pretty much every photo that’s inspired me was shot on film – Tri X or Plus X or their modern equivalents.
I started shooting Leica because I wanted an authentic experience, something more than the usual fare could give me, cameras that took the decisions away from me. Too clinical in their perfection. Where’s the challenge? Leica put control and boundaries in front of me. If I wanted a result I needed to push those boundaries.
After 5 years of shooting an M I focus quickly now, can predict exposures accurately, can coax good results from slow shutter speeds and razor thin DOF in low light. Those things give me a satisfaction that other systems can’t provide. I recently changed the way I hold my hand when I focus…and my hit rate went up. I’m still learning, refining, enjoying. Low ISO is a constraint that forces hard choices. It hones my skills.
A camera that can shoot clean up to 25,000 ISO seems overkill. I’ve bitched about not being able to get ideal shots in low light wide open as much as everyone, and I appreciate the need for a company like Leica to move with the times. But having that latitude in the sensor, while giving me a certain freedom, removes one of the key shapers of my creative work. It removes another source of imperfection, one of the three delicious trade-offs that need to be balanced when selecting exposure.
Mine is a personal perspective, and there are plenty of arguments to the contrary. Why be a stickler? My iPhone 7 makes lovely images – so long as you don’t look at them too closely. Wouldn’t it be great to have true creative flexibility, more choices, better quality images? Yes, I suppose so. But not at the expense of the craft. YMMV.
Joel Meyerowitz’ induction into the Leica Hall of fame coincided with the launch of the M10. Joel, holding the new camera, was everywhere. And why wouldn’t he be. Except for the inescapable fact that every single notable image he had taken, his entire body of work, were shot with outdated, “inferior”cameras. His genius was to do what he did with what he had. Good enough for Joel, good enough for me.
As much as it pains me to say it – not this time, Leica. Let’s see how long I can maintain my resolve…