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A Long Overdue Update

James Joyce, 1922. My favorite pic of Joyce. Maybe Because Sometimes I feel the Same Way.

It’s been some time since my last post. Since then, a lot of things have happened, and I thought it would be appropriate to update readers, if any still exist, about what’s going on and my plans moving forward.

First, I am aware that there are problems with the site – the links to past posts don’t work, so you’re not able to access the site’s history except by sequentially scrolling back from the main page. I’ve had recurring problems with attacks on the site – why anybody would want to screw with an inconsequential blog about photography escapes me – and just haven’t had the time or energy to deal with it. As well, I realized in hindsight that I needed a break. As such, the tech problems gave me a good excuse to step back and give myself a rest.

I turned 60 yesterday. Sobering, even though I’m content and in good health. I’ve found myself wanting to step back from a lifetime interest in photography and just let it be for awhile. A precipitating reason for doing so has been my realization that traditional ‘photography’ as I know and practice it is dead. My photographic tastes and interests are relics of an outdated mindset, the functional equivalent of the old guy still driving his 66 Mustang. In reality, you can’t go back; technology and aesthetics and practice move on, and reflexively criticizing the current state of things – which in proper measure serves as a necessary counter-balance to some of the obvious problems associated with digitization – can become tiresome.

As for the blog, I intend to continue it for so long as I’ve got something to say. Whether anyone listens is not really my concern. I assume there are a few discriminating people out there – both old and new photographers – who my ideas might resonate with. So, expect the blog to be ongoing, and expect that at some point I’ll have the tech issues resolved and the site will be functioning properly and I’ll be adding content on a semi-regular basis.

For the time being, other interests will be taking much of my time. I am about to embark on a new phase of my life. I’m easing my way into self-imposed semi-retirement in my profession, and will be enrolling in a graduate program at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass this Fall. Why? 30 years ago I quit graduate school to go to work. I was recently married and had bills to pay. In the back of my mind, I told myself I could always go back someday, if for no other reason to finish what I had started. Now’s the time to do it, and the opportunity to do it at Harvard fulfills a lifetime dream. The degree, were I to achieve it, wouldn’t be for anything other than the doing of it itself, but that seems to me to be the best reason to do anything.

Waldo Emerson, the 19th century American writer and philosopher, said that the one maxim he lived by was that one should always do the thing that scares you the most. Good advice, I think, getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve tried to follow that rule in my life, sometimes to better effect than at others, but I see no reason why it’s not still applicable as I’ve gotten older and more settled.

So bear with me. I intend to be here for awhile. Check back here occasionally. And feel free to email me at leicaphilia@gmail.com if you’d like to say hi.

Become a PROFESSIONAL LEICA PHOTOGRAPHER!

A Professional Leica Photographer. Now YOU Can Be One Too!


The Professional Leica Photographers here at Leicaphilia are pleased to announce the Leicaphilia Professional Leica Photographer’s Website.***


Welcome to your future in the exciting world of Professional Leica Photography. We here at Leicaphilia have created a new, exclusive website to help you to learn to be a Professional Leica Photographer! At our exclusive website you’ll find some of the most talented photographers in the world, experts you won’t find even in the most expensive subscription magazines. That’s because they only post on our site; you won’t find this information anywhere else! Some of them, famous enough that they must post under an alias, while others disclose their studio name, it’s up to them. In either case you’ll get to read and discover photography techniques from the Pros, highly prized and vigorously protected Leica trade secrets that will make you an expert at taking pictures with a Leica. We have one goal: to turn you into a Professional Leica Photographer.

Unlike other websites, we don’t try to pitch DSLRs, lenses, and other gear while collecting sales commissions. We don’t sell photography tutorials, books, videos and courses while promising that your photography will improve only if you buy what’s being promoted. We promise that your photography will get better. We promise because we are Professional Leica Photographers. We are professional photographers (or serious amateurs), some with decades of experience, who use Leica cameras and will share with you what we’ve learned – what Leica gear we use, which Leica products really work, which techniques work and which don’t (e.g. how to get great bokeh etc).

It’s all completely unbiased. We simply have no reason to lie to you. We have travelled the world, living out of suitcases, taking photos of beautiful and glamorous people who live in villas and/or own yachts, or we are on the front lines of conflict around the globe, risking our lives for the money shot. Many of us have photographed ‘Royalty.’ The one thing we have in common is this: we use Leicas, and we know everything about them.

You’ll discover this information straight from the source, from famous Professional Leica Photographers, not from grumpy self-appointed “experts” in some amateur magazine or rich rock stars who think they know everything because they use a Leica. It’s what makes us different from other photography websites out there – we’re the real deal. We’re Professional Leica Photographers. 

A Woman Professional Leica Photographer. Yep. Believe it or Not – They Exist (and Most of Them are Hot, too!!)

Discovering what famous Professional Leica Photographers have to share will help you figure out which Leica gear to use and how to use your existing Leica gear to its fullest potential. So it doesn’t matter if you are only thinking of which Leica to buy or if you already have all your Leica equipment — you’ll still find plenty of solid advice for any situation.

We cater to beginners, intermediate, advanced, and professional photographers. As long as you use a Leica or want to use a Leica. It doesn’t matter whether you are just getting into photography or you have decades of experience — you’ll still find plenty on our secret professional website that will interest you because we cover all bases. We make it simple for the newbies, yet interesting for Professional Leica Photographers who’ve shot hundreds of gigs and would gladly be reminded of things they once knew but forgot. So no matter what your expertise level is — keep reading below.

  • We cover both film and digital Leica photography because film photography, along with digital, is a preferred medium for Professional Leica Photographers.
  •  We talk about Professional Leica Cameras. Professionals agree – the best camera is a Leica. You’ll be one of a select group of Professional Leica Photographers like Ansel Adams, Robert Capa, Amelia Earhart, and Lenny Kravitz who’ve all used the famous Leica Camera.
  • You’ll learn the one reason why Leicas take the best photos (hint: It’s because of a device first discovered by mariners to help chart their course – that’s why Amelia Earhart used a Leica!). You’ll learn that, unlike other cameras, every Leica ever made contains this amazing device…and you’ll learn to use it to make amazing photos.
  • It doesn’t matter if you shoot with an M1 or with the new M10. You need to know how to take great pictures with the Leica you have on you right now, while the shot is still there, not later when you get your Leica out, yet the opportunity to take the the picture is long gone.
  • You’ll learn to take photographs as amazing as Carter Bresson, a Frenchman who used a Leica and invented a type of photography called the Decisive Moment. We’ll teach you the Decisive Moment technique used by Bresson, Eric Kim, Thorsten von Overgaard and other legendary greats – which moments are decisive and which are not and how to use your Leica when you’re presented with a Decisive Moment. It’s all there!

Famous Professional Leica Photographer Eric Kim – Ready For the Decisive Moment!

  • We cover all types of Leica photography from portraits to landscapes to weddings and events to action shots to macro photography. (Which one interests you the most? Stop and ask yourself right now. No matter what you shoot, you’ll get better at just that. Just be decisive. Our Professional Leica Photographers will show you how!)
  • We cover all aspects of Leica photography –  from picking Leica gear to composition to working with models to handling strangers asking you about your Leica, and everything in between. If you are lacking in some aspect, you’ll improve. If you are a total newbie, you’ll learn it all. And through all of it, you’ll be sporting a cool Leica camera which will impress your friends…and the ladies. You’ll gain the confidence to become a Professional Leica Photographer.
  • You’ll be receiving new tips and techniques on how to take the kind of pictures that will make your friends, relatives and peers just stare in amazement, speechless, when they see your work. Yep! That’s how good your photography will become when you own a Leica and take our exclusive Professional Leica Photographer course.
  • If you ever have a question or need help, you can always ask, and a Professional Leica Photographer will cover your question in an Email direct to you.

Famous People Like Eric Clapton (guitarist for Vivian Stanshall Sean Head Showband) use a Leica! Find Out Why!

Trust me, I know the feeling. And you’ll know it too. People telling you “oh wow, it’s like in the magazines! And you took it with a Leica!” when seeing your pictures. (Surprisingly, the most common response you’ll hear from people after you’ve taken our course is “it’s like in the magazines”. Not Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat feed or whatever, but quality magazine. That’s the first association that comes to their mind. The mark of a true Professional Leica Photographer, even if you are an amateur – a dentist or a doctor, even if you work in a saw mill! – and do this just for fun. I love it when people say that while looking at my pictures, even when they are looking at my pictures on a screen. Oh, the irony! Just imagine that feeling. Pretty soon, they will be saying that to you.

You’ll be receiving all original content – tips, tricks, reviews and discussions that you won’t see anywhere else. Not at La Vida Leica, or Thorsten von Overgaard’s, or Ken Rockwell’s. You’ll only see this Professional Leica Photographer information on our website, – not the same old and tired copied and re-copied “tutorials” of fake people who claim to be “professionals” who seem to be flooding all the Leica sites out there.

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A lifetime subscription to our Professional Leica Photographer website is only $2399. Yes, that’s right. Only $2399* for a lifetime of professional photography education with continuing online support**. ( Sign up today and we’ll send you, at no extra cost our supplementary course “Bokeh: What It Is and How To Get It“). That’s less than a 50mm Summarit 2.5. Enroll now. Space is very limited and demand has been high. Act today to assure your participation in this once in a lifetime opportunity.


And while you’re at it….help us maintain this free site by contributing $25 to us here at Leicaphilia. It costs money to bring you the professional content we’re known for, and your $25 [monthly] contribution will help us defray those costs. So, if you’ve been enjoying the content of Leicaphilia, please Paypal your $25 [monthly]**** payment to leicaphilia@gmail.com, the one site you can trust to give you unbiased Leica information.

Seriously: Who do you trust? Professional Leica Photographers….or some guy named Boudewijn Klop?


*Payable by Bitcoin only.

** Email for details.
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More Flim-Flam From Thorsten von Overgaard

Thorsten Overgaard and his Elephant Skin Camera Bag with Cashmere Lining. Perfect for your Sultan of Brunei Leica While Photographing Danish Royalty.

Luxury Camera Bags and Luxury Bespoke Suitcases for World Travelers
by Thorsten von Overgaard

You want the ideal product that fulfills all of your needs, made to make you happy every time you touch it, and made to last forever

Thorsten von Overgaard travel [sic] to more than 25 countires a year and live [sic] his life in a suitcase. Every bag is put to maximum use.

Thorsten von Overgaard and Matteo Perin joined forces to design luxury travel bags for people who appreciate the best and demands durability for a lifetime.


Thorsten von Overgaard [he’s added the “von” recently – “von” traditionally denoting aristocracy***] has transitioned into the luxury camera bag business. Apparently, when Goyard in Paris wouldn’t fix Thorsten’s Goyard Aplin backpack, damaged while travelling to his Royal Mongolian yurt, Overgaard decided to make his own bags. To do so, he sought “the best artisans […] using best possible materials, based on many years of experience, resulting in a product that could last for generations.” The end result is him “joining forces” with some fellow Scientologist meatball named Matteo Perin to produce crocodile and elephant skin bags. Who he’s partnered with to shoot the elephants to skin for the bespoke bags is not clear. Perin claims he “makes trunks, blankets and all the luxury items you can think of, for private airplanes, villas, cars and yachts.” Right.

It’s always been obvious to me that “von Overgaard” is a transparent huckster, a confidence man preying on  gullible low-hanging fruit, spinning some bullshit narrative about luxury and beautiful people and world travels and Leica, this just being further proof that a sucker is born every minute and some of those suckers will end up buying a Leica and taking a street shooter’s seminar with  “von Overgaard.”


*** Overgaard, who for some reason started referring to himself as “von Overgaard” a year or so ago, took up photography in 2005. Before that he worked in a lumber mill [true]. He seems to have no real gallery or publishing or photographic industry presence other than self-promoted fluff pieces hyped by a marketing agency and some self-published books. A deep dive into the footnotes of his scantily sourced Wiki is hilarious. Here’s some more interesting info on Mr. Overgaard.
Overgaard is married to fellow Scientologist “Princess Joy Villa.” The Princess was born in Orange, California, to the Rev. Joseph Villa, of Italian descent, and Mildred Angela Pierce Villa, of Afro-American and Native American blood. She attended Lompoc Public High School, no University education noted.  According to her Wikipedia page she is an “actress and producer,” “her acting career mostly consists of minor, un-credited appearances on television. These roles include an umbrella-wielding carny in a “Heroes” Season 4 episode.”  As for her claim to be a “producer,” no production experience is referenced. On October 27, 2017, apparently unfamiliar with the residency requirements for elected office, Villa announced that she was considering running for US Congress as a Republican in either Florida, California, or New York.   Her Wikipedia page contains no further update on her political ambitions since that time, nor any further “minor, un-credited” acting gigs, with or without umbrella.

Matteo Perin has been doing bespoke luxury for millionaires and celebrities for years.” [Sure he has.] Apparently, in between hobnobbing with all those aristocrats nobody bothered to teach Monsieur Perin to keep his feet off the Florentine ebony table. Obviously “New Money.” 

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Perin, presumably, modelling a croc duffle bag which apparently has no room for the M4. Someone needs to tell this guy to tie his shoes.

Leica O Series #122 Sells for $2,800,000

A Leica 0 Series No. 122 has sold for 2.4 million euros (2 million hammer price plus surcharge) via Westlicht auction, a new record price for a camera at auction.The Leica 0 series was produced by Leitz in 1923, two years before the commercial launch of the first Leica. Leitz produced 25 test cameras, of which three are left in their original condition.The previous record holder, another Leica O Series, was auctioned by Westlicht in 2012 for 2,160,000 euros. No word on whether Amelia Earhart owned either of them.

Also auctioned were a Leica MP-89  for 456,000 Euros from the collection of Jim Jannard (the founder of Oakley, if that maters), and an Leica MP-2  for 432,000 Euros.

For my money, the most interesting Leica offered was a Leica MP, serial number MP-310 with all original features, (e.g. body without self-timer and with early strap lugs, matching back door, double stroke advance), with matching chrome Leicavit MP and Summarit 5cm 1.5 #1515004, in beautiful condition. Final hammer price 54,000 Euro ($57,000), which in this day and age of astronomical vintage Leica prices, almost seems cheap.

Fuck You, Whipnet.org

I’ve taken to scrolling through past posts, because I’ve noticed on more than one occasion posts of mine have been edited by someone without my knowledge, usually to post a link to their site so as to better up their SEO score.

I found this in a recent post, the bold part being what someone added to the post on December 26, 2017:

Early on, I’d started using my iPhone to photograph and, as I went along I realized how easy it made things, no longer requiring a bag full of cameras, lenses, film and ancillary junk toted around everywhere I went. So I made the decision to keep my M4 and Bessa at home while I used my iPhone exclusively to start my art. Speaking of art, I found out that the best way to buy art is at whipnet.org, their collection is amazing.

Like that’s something I’d say in a post.

So, I’m not sure how to fight back except to delete it, attempt to further secure the site against unwanted intrusion, and, anytime I find an intrusion with a link, draft a post and tag it with something like “Whipnet.org Sucks”  which will come up in a Google search. So, if you’ve dropped in on this blog post to see what the deal is with Whipnet.org, they’re scumbags who are probably going to scam you in some way given they had no problem breaking into my little blog and posting their shit without my permission. Sound like stand-up guys you’d want to buy art from, huh?

As for my readership, if you’re paging through past posts and finding links that don’t sound like something I’d put there, please drop me a line and let me know. Thanks!

A Totally Anecdotal – Essentially Worthless – Lens Comparison

The Summilux 50mm f1.4 in LTM. Perfect for my IIIg

My wife claims I suffer from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a type of depression that’s related to the change in the season — symptoms typically start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. It’s why I can’t live in places like Amsterdam where you never see the Sun; I go nuts after a month or two of grey, skuddering skies. To support this she notes that every winter, once the sun gets low, I tend to put on my PJ’s and spend an inordinate amount of time watching dark, depressing Swedish movies with the blinds closed. I’ll occasionally walk the dogs in my bathrobe, which embarrasses her to no end. I’m generally lethargic and slow-witted, and my discretionary bourbon spending tends to increase.

I never really thought about it that way until she mentioned it to me, but I suppose she’s right. I have been feeling uninspired lately, especially in thinking of things to write about here. You can only say the same things so many times before it becomes stale. So, I’ve decided to do a “lens test,” you know, post a bunch of pictures from various lenses under marginally controlled conditions and then make sweeping judgments about them.

What motivated me to do this was this: for some reason, I’ve started feeling an urge to buy a new LTM Summicron for my IIIg, and I thought that maybe this would finally put a stop to my recurring, admittedly irrational desire to own at least one top-flight Leica lens, and a Summicron /lux- either the LTM 35mm ASPH or the LTM 50mm f1.4  Summilux- seemed the natural choice for the IIIg – the ultimate Barnack Leica paired with the ultimate Leica lens.  My sense is it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to my photographs (let me rephrase that – I know it won’t make a bit of difference). My opinion is this: unless you’ve got a really bad copy of a lens – super sloppy tolerances or misaligned elements, uncoated element surfaces, scratched or full of fungus –  most fixed focal length lenses from the 50’s onward give more than acceptable results, and many ostensibly “cheap” lenses can give results comparable to Leica lenses costing 10X- -100X as much. After all is said and done, a $2000 Summicron or Summilux won’t give me anything my Industar or Nikkor or VC can’t.

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What I did was this: I found every 35mm and 50mm lens I had that was capable of being mounted on an M-Mount camera, in this instance a Ricoh GXR with A12 M-Mount, and shot the same photo with it, same lighting, same f4 f-stop, same 1600 ISO. I chose f4 as the demonstrable f-stop because it was the first partial aperture each of them shared and it’s an aperture that’s wide enough to still give some sense of the character of the lens. Too lazy to go outside and find appropriate fence posts (why must every lens test involve fence posts?), I chose a bathroom mirror selfie; it offered a good gradation of tones, the tiled wall behind me, with its straight vertical and horizontal lines, might give some sense of any lens distortion and there’s also enough sparkly stuff in the shower door to highlight bokeh.  Perfect. As for post-processing, they were all shot as RAW and converted to jpegs in LR, where I also applied the exact same levels of marginal structure adjustments and sharpening, which is what I’d do with most any photograph I edit. Of course, all of the above decisions are completely arbitrary and  will affect the results in unknown ways, which is why informal internet lens comparison tests like this one are always problematic.

35mm lenses

The lenses tested were, in order of presentation – a 35mm f2.5 LTM VC Color Skopar Classic; 35mm f2.5 LTM VC Color Skopar Pancake; a W-Nikkor 3.5cm f2.5 for Nikon S;  an AF Nikkor 35mm f2 for Nikon F;  a manual focus Nikkor 35mm f2.8 for Nikon F; and a manual focus Nikon E series 35mm f2.5 for Nikon F.

Voigtlander Color Skopar Classic 35mm 2.5

35mm f2.5 LTM VC Color Skopar Pancake

W-Nikkor 3.5cm f2.5

AF Nikkor 35mm f2

Nikkor 35mm f2.8

Nikon E series 35mm f2.5

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50mm lenses

Lenses tested were, in order of presentation – a Russian made LTM Industar-22 5c.m f3.5 collapsible; a Russian made LTM Industar-26M 5.2 cm f2.8; a Russian made LTM Jupiter-8 5c.m f2; a manual focus Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8; and finally the current version AF Nikkor 50mm f1.8.

LTM Industar-22 5c.m f3.5 collapsible

LTM Industar-26M 5.2 cm f2.8

LTM Jupiter-8 5c.m f2

Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8

 

AF Nikkor 50mm f1.8

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Conclusions? With the exception of the AF Nikkor, all of the 35’s look pretty much alike. For some reason, the DOF is different on the AF Nikkor than the other lenses, why I have no idea. I see some marginal differences in contrast and how the lens deals with light fall-off behind its plane of focus, but that’s about it. You can easily tweak contrast in LR. Interesting because, while there’s not a Summicron in there for comparison, the VC Color Skopars, which will cost you +/- $350 used,  are considered to be excellent optics, not far removed from  the traditional 35mm Summicron, as is the W-Nikkor 2.5, at about the same price used, made for the Nikon S cameras. The other Nikkors are super cheap (+/- $200) while the E Series Nikon can be found for $30 used. I’ve always thought the Nikon E Series lenses, derided by purists when they first appeared in the 70’s because they contained some plastic parts, are incredible bargains, the entire line being excellent.

As for the 50’s, they all look pretty much alike again, with the exception of the Jupiter-8, which is markedly softer than the others. With all of the FED LTM lenses, sample variation is the norm. Both Industars look great at f4, indistinguishable from the excellent AF Nikkor 1.8 which Nikon enthusiasts rave about. I paid about $20 each for the FED lenses and the Series E and $80 used for the AF Nikkor.

Would a $3500 Summilux be much better? I doubt it. It may have better MTF charts, feel smoother in operation, make you feel special etc etc, but whatever marginal increases in optical performance it might possess mean little or nothing in practice. It sure is a beauty though; no doubt about it. Is the enhanced pleasure you’ll presumably get by toting it around on your IIIg instead of a 20$ Jupiter worth the extra $3475? Only you can answer that, although I don’t begrudge your decision. It’s your money.

The larger conclusion is that “comparison tests” of lenses are gimics, interesting to read, fun as an intellectual exercise, but of no real value if what you’re looking for is an objective evaluation of the critical optical merits of a given lens and its practical implications for use.

Suffice it to say I won’t be buying that Summilux.


  • I’ve posted slightly larger jpegs that you can click on and open for further examination if you’re that sort of person.

A Modest Proposal Going Forward

Selfie, Havana 1998: That was me, I was there, that’s what I remember. Let me show you.

I rarely receive critical or hostile comments about my posts, which is surprising, as I’m excessively, sometimes rudely, opinionated about certain photographic issues. Given past experience trying to debate meaningful topics on internet forums – typically I was thrown off any given forum within a week or two, usually the personal target of a moderator who thought proper forum etiquette required unquestioning allegiance to whatever accepted opinion currently ruled – that opinion usually the desired result of crafty advertising by camera companies constantly pushing the “new and improved” as a means of insuring financial viability – I assumed these same types with the same blinkered views would find their way over here, certainly given the Leica name associated with the blog. It’s why I went the first few years without a comments feature because, frankly, I wasn’t interested in what other people had to say. The whole purpose of the blog was to free myself from the constrictions imposed on a critically thinking person elsewhere. Hence Leicaphilia. It was my extended love letter to the wayward lover that is Leica and a middle finger to those who claimed the right to “mentor” me with facile answers to serious questions, questions they seemed unwilling or incapable of understanding let alone answering.

God knows bourgeois opinion is alive and well in Leica land. It’s inevitable that people who currently find Leica interesting would be bourgeois. It takes money to buy a Leica, and usually a certain mindset to put large amounts of money toward a photographic trinket so as to partake of a certain status. If it were simply a matter of using a camera that fulfilled basic photographic requirements with a minimum of fuss – which is what a lot of us who use Leicas claim to be the draw – then most Leica shooters should be running around with an old manual Pentax and a few lenses, given they remain wonderful cameras that you can buy cheap as dirt, or digital partisans would be content with their well-used Nikon D200, cameras whose evidence of use was legitimately earned and not baked in from the factory.

But, of course, we’re not. We’re standing in line to buy the newest Leica M or Q or T or whatever it is at that moment that Leica and their enablers tell us we must have, the latest and most up to date, because only then, we are told, will we finally possess a photographic instrument sufficient for our Promethean creativity. Of course, the logic of consumerism requires the process of technological “progress” never end. The very nature of capitalism admits of no endpoint, no time when we should be able to say “enough, I’ve got enough to do what I need to do. Everything from here on out is superfluous to requirements.” Were we to get to that point, Nikon, Canon and Leica would all go out of business.

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 This reminds me of so many things

Surprisingly, what I’ve found is that there are a lot of really thoughtful, intelligent, experienced people who read the blog and agree with me about most things. I assume it’s because it’s not the same old thing that one finds in most camera/photography blogs, where the emphasis is usually all about gear and the gear discussion is typically weighted towards the next new thing without anyone stopping to think about where the whole thing is heading and why we need it to head that way. It does make sense: internet forums tend to attract the most neurotic and rabid partisans of any given subject; normal people, enthusiasts with a sense of perspective, typically aren’t found on internet forums debating the bokeh of the Aspherical Summicron. They’re more interested in meaningful photographs and the means to create them, which involves discussion and understanding of photographic history and various aesthetic choices. This isn’t to say that a certain level of gear talk isn’t interesting or normal. It is. Appreciation and discussion of the tools we use should be part of that discussion, but it needs to be seen in context.

It seems to me that modern photographers too often confuse means with ends. By this I mean that we’ve become fixated on the tools we use and not on the purposes we’re using the tools for. Of course, this neurotic focus on photographic tools didn’t start with the digital age; film users were, and are, just as fixated on the technical aspects of the craft as today’s digiphiles. What’s changed is the pace of technological change, now so fast it’s almost impossible to keep apace. No sooner has some technological advance been introduced then it’s been made obsolete by the next advance. This hyper-accelerated pace of technological advance, unique to the digital age, seems great in theory, but in practice its only benefit is that camera makers can continue to claim a reason to sell us a new camera every 18 months. Baked into this process is a cynical duplicity on the part of camera manufacturers and their Madison Avenue agents- claim your latest offering to be a necessary advance, something that makes the previous iteration -the one you told us 18 months ago to be the greatest thing ever- obsolete, worthless, of no value. Rinse and repeat every 18 months or so, ad infinitum, then let the dupes and fellow travelers, the “reviewers”, drive the process forward. No one seems to ask “to what end?” As such, there’s no equilibrium to be reached, no point at which we’re allowed to say yes, that’s it, this is all good enough, I don’t need anything else to effectuate my photographic intent, thank you.

*************A couple of years ago I bought a box of glass negatives in an antique store in Orleans. This is one of them, scanned. Tell me that’s not cool.

At least there’s no equilibrium reached without a conscious decision to get off the ever revolving hamster wheel of “technological improvement.” It’s my opinion that you need to get off the technological hamster wheel if you are to develop creatively. Fixation at this superficial level of your photography is a dead end, deflecting you from real creative issues. This is where Leica and Canon and Nikon want you – perpetually dissatisfied, yet holding out hope that the next incremental technological “advance” will finally get you there. At base, if I look back on all I’ve written the last few years, the one consistent theme of the blog is that it’s possible to be happy and creatively fulfilled working within the parameters of basic photographic needs – aperture, shutter and film or equivalent spec-ed sensor. The rest is all optional. It may be fun to collect cameras or own the latest technology or simply find a pleasant diversion in identifying with a particular brand or type of camera, but those things aren’t necessary to be a serious photographer. What’s necessary is a mindfulness of the craft and its history, an understanding of your agency within the process and a consideration of the means by which you can realize your intent.

If I look back on almost a half century of dedicated photography, I’m struck by the obviousness of the fact that the meaningful photos I’ve made during that time have nothing to do with types of cameras or with technological prowess. Relying on technical virtues for visual interest is a cheap parlour trick. One of my favorite photos ever, a print of which hangs in a good friend’s house – which I admire every time I’m there – was taken with a wooden pinhole camera, handheld for a few seconds. Just a wooden box and some light sensitive film – and a user with an aesthetic sense built up over years by reading and looking and studying and thinking. Or they’re products of an individual sensitivity to the ephemeral nature of time and the miraculous nature of photography. You don’t get there by obsessing about cameras; you get there with a broad, liberal understanding of the world and your temporary and precarious place in it.

The most interesting posts I’ve published – interesting for me, at least – are those that involve specific photographs and the photographer’s understanding of the photograph. The history of the photograph. The reason that photograph means something to someone, the role that photograph plays in that person’s consciousness, its emotional and psychological payoff.  I’d like to do more of that going forward, in addition to the usual silliness that helps me keep the gearhead impulses in perspective. I’d like to hear more from others, see the things that a love of photography has helped them articulate and how they’ve thought about it and done it. That, for me, get’s to the heart of the miracle of photography and why its remained a central interest in my life and why I keep at this modest attempt to articulate it.

Sorry ‘Bout That!

Leicaphilia is back up and running after an unforeseen technical problem with my WordPress software. I’ve been getting a lot of malicious visits to the site recently and didn’t quite understand the potential for mischief; apparently someone somewhere got into the administrative end of the site and somehow corrupted the system software. Why someone would take an malignant interest in the site is beyond me. Must be all that “speaking truth to power” (rolls eyes).

In any event, thank’s to the assistance of helpful friends, I’m back and intend to start posting again shortly.

Meanwhile I’m off to NYC for the weekend, taking along a Fuji S5 Pro, which I bought new-in-box on a whim for $225 (how could you not, for that price?) and which I’ve found to take absolutely beautiful film-like b&w jpegs straight from the camera. Why that would be the case? It has to do with its “Super CCD” ‘R’ pixel, which has a lower sensitivity and is designed to capture detail above the saturation point of the its regular ‘S’ pixel; the camera then combines the information from the ‘S’ and ‘R’ pixels to produce an extended dynamic range “shoulder” much like the highlight exposure curve of film (remember, sensors are linear – no exposure curve; that’s partly why digital simply cannot replicate the ‘film-look’ without post-processing, and even then, only partially, for reasons most of you already know and I’ve written about here).

The camera itself was introduced by Fuji in 2007. Fuji took the Nikon d200 body and put their funky SuperCCD sensor in it to produce a camera that offers digital files with pretty impressive dynamic range. Granted, current 2018 sensor technology offers some serious dynamic range as well, but what’s fascinating about the Fuji is that the extended sensitivity is concentrated on the shoulder of the histogram, unlike the standard sensor that, even with greater dynamic range, is still linear in its light sensitivity. Cool camera no doubt, added to the coolness the fact that the camera has a b&w jpg capture mode that gives really nice film-like monochrome images up to  about 1250 ISO, certainly more than enough for those of us used to pushing HP5 for low-light work. And it takes Nikon F mount lenses. And it was $225. And apparently its “vintage” digital, something that’s actually a thing these days, which I’ve written about here. What’s not to love? I’ll be sure to write more about the S5 Pro in the future (and, if past conduct is a predictor of future conduct, I assume I’ll eventually get tired of it, write an impassioned blog post about how I’m selling all my digital cameras because they have no soul, and sell it to a reader; but that’s further down the road).

The de rigueur Leica cat picture. This one a jpg direct from my new toy, the Fuji S5 Pro. Very ‘filmic,’ wouldn’t you agree?

I’ll also be taking with me my IIIg, just back from a necessary CLA from Youxin Ye. While I’ve voiced the opinion elsewhere that the CLA mania which possesses many Leicaphiles is pretty stupid, my IIIg had a stuck shutter, so for about the same price as the purchase price of the S5 Pro, Mr. Ye took it apart and cleaned and lubricated everything and now it feels beautiful, “buttery smooth”, which we all know is the only proper way for any film Leica to feel.

Happy Holidays

A quick note wishing everyone an enjoyable holiday spent with those you love.

I’ve been writing this blog now for 4 years or so, and in that time I’ve had the pleasure to speak to many of you through the site. I’ve also met a few of you along the way, and I’ve sold some gear here and there, and I can honestly say I’ve not had an unpleasant interaction in any of it, even when we disagree.

Readers has been invariably thoughtful and kind, have helped keep the site going by submitting thoughtful content, and many have taught me things I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Thank you to all for following Leicaphilia. I intend to keep it chugging along for a while yet, unless I completely run out of things to say or just one day wake up and kill it. Hopefully I’ll not become boringly repetitious; if I do, please let me know, one friend to another.

And keep submitting things you’d like to see published on the site.

 

 

The Anti-Leica

Christmas Presents to Myself: a Weird Novel About the Death of Roland Barthes (The Guy Who Wrote Camera Lucida) and a Sigma SD Quattro

I love quirky things, whether it be cameras or motorcycles or cars or music. Or people, women in particular. If I were to buy another motorcycle, it would have to be a KTM RC390. Cool little 390cc one cylinder 40 hp “thumper” engine in a dedicated lightweight track bike package that will smoke a liter bike (1000cc) when the roads start to bend a little. Maximum fun in a small, affordable package. Let the 20-somethings with their 180 hp Kawasaki’s and Yamaha’s snicker; I’m happy to leave them for dead when the pace heats up and the road turns twisty.

Likewise with cameras. You’ve probably noticed my penchant for the much-maligned Leica’s in the M series – the M5 and the M8 – and the quirky Ricoh GXR with its modular lens system. Great cameras all. The GXR is my absolute favorite digital camera of all-time. I absolutely love it. It’s the KTM RC390 of digital cameras – small, light, produces beautiful files with a certain character, performs great in the real world as opposed to on the spec sheet, and it’s different in a cool way. I much prefer it to both the D3S and D800 I’ve owned, the D3S too bulky, the D800 with unnecessarily massive files. The GXR hits the sweet spot. Of course, by an iron logic inaccessible to me, this also meant that it would be a commercial failure, which it was (general consensus was that it was a good idea in theory, but in practice just didn’t cut it for some undefined reason). There’s something about the “general consensus” that always gets my contrarian juices flowing. “Common opinion” is just that: common. Look up the definition and get back to me if you think that’s a good thing.

As far as digital cameras go, you can’t get more “much-maligned” than the Sigma Foveon cameras. They are glacially slow (as a friend says – “slower than a wet fart”), basically useless at any ISO over 400 (just like film), produce huge files and most require proprietary Sigma RAW software that runs at a snail’s pace and frequently crashes. They also, when used correctly, produce stunningly sharp and nuanced Black and White images that rival the best Medium Format. Of course, given the above, I had to have one.

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You might remind me that I’ve spent years denigrating the obsession with photographic “IQ” and wonder about the inconsistency and why I appear to be doing an about-face now. Guilty as charged. As a general rule, I am of the opinion that a 12MP APS-C sensor is sufficient for most any photographic need short of massive prints larger than 20×30 inches that need to hold fine detail. 12MP files from my GXR certainly can hold their own against fine-grained 35mm film negatives (Panatomic-X for instance) carefully shot with Leitz or Zeiss optics, and in most instances,  medium format 21/4 negatives as well. I’ve got a 40×60 inch print of my quirky wife hanging over our bed (the print is hanging over our bed, not the wife), taken with the 16MP GXR APS-C Zoom lens module. It’s stunning, even at that enlargement, the detail even when viewed close up really amazing. Why any general interest photographer would need more is beyond me. I just don’t understand the point of 36 or 42 or 50MP sensors given how people generally view and display their photos; detail in even a ‘middling’ 24MP full frame camera cannot be fully articulated on a 4k monitor or in any reasonable size print. 12MP is more than enough.

Taken with a 16MP APS-C Ricoh GXR and printed at 40×60 inches. Looks Great.

I will admit, however, there are times, very infrequent for me and I suspect for most everyone else, when you simply need the most resolute image you can get. Back in the day, you’d grab a 6×9 MF camera like a Fuji 690, or you’d rent a 4×5 or larger view camera to get what you needed. You certainly wouldn’t use your 35mm Leica, even with the sharpest Summicron. Medium format cameras were often bulky and a pain in the ass to shoot, usually requiring a fine grained film and a tripod, but when you nailed it the results were stunning. The resulting negative could be printed as large as you wanted with minimal loss of quality. That need does still exist today, even more so given the massive print sizes made available to even the most casual happy-snapper with the use of inkjet printing, at least for those absolutely needing to print big. Of course photography is not just about IQ, but it is nice to have maximum IQ in these certain limited instances and for the money, Sigma Foveon cameras offer eye-wateringly sharp images at ISO 100-400 that MF systems costing 10x as much would envy. The SD Quattro, Sigma’s latest Foveon camera, can shoot DNG and thus does away with the need to use Sigma’s abysmal RAW software. Interesting camera, cheap too.

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So, in the spirit of Christmas (i.e. buy a bunch of shiny crap you don’t need) I took the plunge and bought a Sigma SD Quattro with massive 17-50 zoom attached. I bought it for one specific purpose – to shoot very large b&w prints for a documentary series I’m doing about the old Dorothea Dix Hospital grounds here in Raleigh, a beautiful historic state mental hospital complex that’s being bulldozed to make way for a city park. I live directly across the street from its entrance and have watched it transformed from a bustling hospital that treated our most vulnerable citizens to a decaying warren of unoccupied  buildings set amongst pristine grounds full of beautiful huge old oaks. All soon to be uprooted.

Like most good things, I suspect we won’t miss any of it until it’s gone, and then we’ll realize nobody thought to memorialize it. Nobody seems to paying attention to the fact this local landmark, so important in our city and state’s history, soon will be a memory. The few I see sitting in the grass while their dogs run seem too busy looking at their phones to admire the faded beauty of the place and the majestic oaks they’re sitting under. So, given my training as a documentarian, I’ve decided to shoulder the responsibility myself and make a record of the place before its gone, and given current visual culture, nobody is going to pay me any mind if I ultimately propose to exhibit 8×10 B&W silver prints; too small, not sharp enough, simply not cool enough. What they’ll want are huge, hyper tack sharp prints. Hence the Sigma SD Quattro.

It certainly lives up to its reputation: it’s slow, and quirky and produces eye-poppingly sharp photos you can blow up to massive sizes with minimal loss of detail. To my eye, sharper and more pleasing than the files from the D800. Would I use it as I would my Leica or GXR. No, those fit different needs. But when I need big and sharp, while you can’t tell it from a computer screen, it’s about as good as it gets.