Tag Archives: Leica M6

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.

Jorge Fidel Alvarez: Street Photography With a Leica M Film Camera

WHN38-30Jorge Fidel Alvarez, Wuhan, China, 2014. Leica M6 and Tri-X.

Everybody does “street photography” these days. Go to Tumblr or Flicker and you’ll find reams of it posted day after day. Most of it is not very good, nothing but throwaway looks with no internal dynamic to make you look again. Just.people.on.the.street. Really good street photography somehow rises above the pedestrian view, revealing a greater narrative within a sliver of everyday life. There is always something surprising about it, something unexpected that draws your eye and makes you want to look again. It poses a question, draws you in for a second look, gives you a glimpse of something incongruous, something you don’t expect to see in the way you’re seeing it, inviting a unique interpretation for each idiosyncratic viewer.

Take the above photograph by Jorge Fidel Alvarez: A man, presumably, with a bizarre mask stands facing the camera, something decorative hanging over where he stands; his demeanor unreadable, maybe slightly menacing.  The scene radiates something indefinably sinister. An elderly Chinese woman stands in the background, smoking, staring at either the masked man or the western photographer. I wonder: who in her mind is normal, and who is exotic?  The photo fascinates me, but I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at, so I look at it again and fashion a narrative to fit what I think I see. The photo suggests various interpretations; its up to me, the viewer, to work it out for myself. (The masked man is actually a welder using a homemade steel mask, which, after the stories we’ve told ourselves, almost seems irrelevant).

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Good street photographers shoot a lot. The father of modern street photography, Garry Winogrand, using a Leica M4 film camera, shot over 12,000 rolls of film between 1971 and his death in 1984. When he died at the age of 56 he left over 6500 undeveloped rolls of film. Winogrand’s heirs, today’s street photographers, work in a digital age where photographs are cheap and ubiquitous, easier than ever to take, store and share. With the advent of camera phones, public resistance to strangers with cameras in public places has lessened. Yet exceptional street photographs remain as rare in the digital age as in Winogrand’s day. And almost no one shoots the street with film anymore. The ease of digital capture makes street shooting with film a proposition for only the most dedicated and hardcore film fanatics.  So I’m fascinated when I see great street work done on film. Jorge Fidel Alvarez is a great street photographer, and he works with film.

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Alvarez is a French photographer living in Paris. He is a 2004 graduate of SPEOS, Paris, where he studied under Georges Fèvre (master printer for Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Josef Koudelka, among others). The Institut Culturel Français en Chine (The  French Cultural Institute in China) recently invited Alvarez to Wuhan, China to shoot that city’s streets and exhibit the resulting work at the New World International Trade Center in Wuhan. The plan was simple: fly Alvarez to Wuhan for nine days of shooting whatever caught his eye, back to Paris for two weeks to process, select and print his work, and then back to Wuhan to exhibit 20 prints,, opening reception May 29, show to run through June 12. (details)

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Jorge Fidel Alvarez, May 29, 2014, New World International Trade Center, Wuhan, China

Alvarez, who uses digital for his paying work as an architectural photographer, chose to use a Leica M4 and M6, with 25mm and 35mm lenses, while in Wuhan. (At least one Chinese reviewer found his choice of “antique cameras” memorable.) He shot 70 rolls of 36 exposure Tri-X over the course of 9 days.

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Alvarez, who has been shooting the street since the 80’s when he bought his first Leica, took up professional photography comparatively late, after a first career in IT. He has carefully studied the work of other photographers – his Paris flat’s bookshelves are lined with the work of European masters Cartier-Bresson, Boubat, Koudelka, Lartigue, Doisneau, Frank. In 2003, enrolled in the photography curriculum at SPEOS Paris, he discovered the American Garry Winogrand. Alvarez’s mature work can hint at the European formalism of Cartier-Bresson and Boubat, and one see’s as well the more spontaneous elements of Frank, Daido Moriyama and Winogrand- but his vision is unmistakably his own, a fascinating amalgamation fusing the poise and balance of a studied, mannered aesthetic with the arbitrary and instantaneous.

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A Leica M6 and Tri-X v. the Leica Monochrom

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An interesting comparison of 35mm Tri-X shot with an M6 versus the digital Monochrom, identical subjects, identical lenses, by French photographer Alexandre Maller (www.alexandremaller.com) posted on summilux.net. All photographs are by Mr. Maller.

3 lenses used: -. Summicron 35 asph – Summicron 50 V – Apo-Summicron 90 asph. 

Silver images: Tri-X exposed at ISO 400 and developed in Ilford LC 29-1. The negatives were then scanned at 3200 DPI original size with an Epson V700,.

Digital images: 400 ISO DNG , then post processed in Adobe Camera RAW 6.6. 

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In resolution and detail the digital files are superior, but I prefer the rendering and the particular dynamics of the film – the rendering from highlights to shadows and grain distribution over various tones looks more pleasing to the eye, fuller, warmer, less ‘plasticky’ even looking at limited web-sized pictures. After over a decade of rapid development in digital capture the best digital engineers still haven’t mastered the art of digital film emulation. The clinical digital sterility is still there with the Monochrom, especially seen on mid tones and highlights. To achieve the look of film with the Monochrom, which is what Leica purports it to do, you’d need to add digital grain to certain midtones, soften highlights (often impossible with digital files because they’re clipped), and expand the shadows.

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Tri-X (Above). Monochrom (Below)

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Tri-X (Above). Monochrom (Below)

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Tri-X (Above). Monochrom (Below)

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Tri-X (Above). Monochrom (Below)

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Which leads to the obvious question: why spend $7500 on a digital camera that emulates the “film look” when you can just buy a used Leica M film camera for $1000 and a 100′ roll of Tri-X and get the real thing? And another thing to think about: in 50 years that M4 you buy on Ebay for $950 will still be working just fine, no batteries needed, while your Monochrom will have been consigned to the junk heap decades ago.

The M4, all parts made by Leitz, is all mechanical, all parts capable of being replaced without much ado by a competent repairman or machinist. The MM (and all digital ‘cameras’) are consumer electronic commodities meant to be replaced by newer, “better” commodities every three years or so. Your Monochrom employs specialized chips and other parts, not made by Leica and therefore out of their control, which exist in finite supply: a proprietary shape and voltage battery manufactured by a third party, proprietary code to run itself, a proprietary imaging chip. Your Leica MM also depends on a host of other third-party technology (e.g. computers, image processing programs, web browsers) over which neither Leica nor you have any control. In 15 years, while your M4 loaded with Tri-X sits happily on your shelf next to book binders full of sleeved negatives you can touch and manipulate at your leisure, your Monochrom, all electronics and tiny motors, will be unrepairable because there won’t be parts. And good luck finding and/or retrieving all your MM DNG files.

 

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.

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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