A Considered Reply to a Leicaphobe

By Peter Becker

This is in response to the recent Leicaphila article “Who Are You Trying to Fool?

This blog definitely causes a Leica owner to pause, at least for a moment. Am I a poseur? A hapless dilettante trying to be like one of the great photographers of history by using the out-dated equipment that was the best in their day but certainly not what they would choose today? “Salt of the Earth” definitely shows the Salgado of our time using the longest Canon lenses I’ve ever seen, on multiple late-model Canon bodies strapped across his chest as he treks across the farthest reaches of our planet. No thought, apparently, to using a somewhat lightweight “M” to ease the burden.

Is it wise to rely on manual focus when autofocus has been perfected to the point of offering so many weighted alternatives? Every time I aim my Leica M at something on the move or try to capture one magical but fleeting moment, I wonder. Am I sacrificing convenience or perhaps modern necessity in a subconscious (or maybe conscious) attempt to come across as a shirtless Brad Pitt?

camera spy game

Do I fondle the flawless German design and workmanship and swoon over the heft of an object that will last several lifetimes, even though Leica itself will probably try to make it seem obsolete in a year or so.

I’m not sure.

But I wouldn’t trade a modern, less expensive building for my historic office, built in 1913 as dressing rooms for an early movie studio, where all the rooms are en filade and there’s no reception area. The unusual configuration of rooms causes everyone to interact a lot more, encouraging the collaboration that I, at least, believe is an essential part of an architectural practice. And everyone wants to come to my studio and revel in its history and its beauty. Not a bad way to attract and keep clients and associates alike. And its spaces are taller and quieter than the new ones, with exceptionally stout walls that keep the elements out very nicely and grow into parapets that hide more solar collectors than the greenest of new buildings generally receive.


Newer conference tables are bigger and stronger and cheaper, with chairs that provide individual lumbar support and glide around effortlessly, but I wouldn’t exchange these for my Biedermeier set from circa 1820, whose table is a lovely ellipse, the perfect shape for getting everyone involved, and made of inlaid fruitwood veneers that surely tend to make people think a little more seriously before they speak. And the beautiful but slightly fragile chairs tend to keep people’s feet on the ground, holding their attention and providing comfort for only as long as any meeting should last.

I have a Tesla, the latest thing on four wheels by far, just as I have a Nikon 800, huge and heavy, weighed down by countless electronic shortcuts that no one can remember but at least it balances out its oversized lenses with their motors that act like gyros on a spaceship and can autofocus at the speed of light and will, like the Tesla, stop on a dime. But, parked right next to the most innovative automobile on earth is my 1960 TR-3, which seemed to me like a Tesla or a Maserati when I got it in high school and still gives my goosebumps like nothing else, with its top down, its side doors hardly a foot above the pavement and its under-sized engine filling up an entire city block with its signature roar as I double-clutch through the gears with a whine that reverberates through the history of every race course ever made. That is exactly what it was meant to do and it now does it even better than ever, for there is hardly anything like it left on the road. Not every journey in life should be taken in a straight line, as quietly, comfortably and efficiently as possible. And my Leica, though elegantly quiet, is similar to the TR, light and small and nimble – and nothing is automatic. It won’t focus instantly, but it WILL, like nothing else, stop on the date that dime was made.

tr6A Nice TR3, with some guy who isn’t the author. [Editor’s Note: Has it really come to this? Are Leicaphiles now just a bunch of old bald guys who drive vintage cars?]

The Tesla and the Nikon are phenomenally well-designed and well-built pieces of equipment, perfect for a great many of our needs in life. But the TR-3 and the Leica were made to satisfy those other necessities, which are often a lot more important. And the latter two will also turn heads as if a movie star had just passed by, a byproduct that can’t be denied of a time-honored aura that goes beyond their function. But the function remains, irrefutably. The Leica M surely won’t come in first in every category, sports in particular, but in its own very wide niche, in the right hands, it still takes some of the best pictures in the world.

The Leica M will not allow the slightest bit of complacency, something so easy to fall into with today’s automatic wonders, usually set on aperture-priority, turning them into massive point-and-shoots. The Leica forces you, on every shot, to consider all the technical elements that have made up great photos from the beginning of photography and to calculate, from the myriad combinations of f-stops, shutter speeds and ISOs, the best setting for this particular situation; and then you must decide exactly where the focus should be. It absolutely requires that you think, deeply, and the resulting image is very often a reflection of that extra effort.

Also, there is something magical that often only comes from taking a portrait with a Leica. It takes so long to get all the settings right that the subject can no longer hold their made-for-pictures smile and they become more like their real selves. This is especially true when you are shooting wide and going for maximum bokeh and focusing, as only a rangefinder can, on the eyelids, and, because the depth of field is so ridiculously narrow you have to say, “Don’t move!”  The person in the photo not only comes to life, you occasionally get the chance to look into their soul.

And Brad Pitt, himself, has published a great many stunning photographs with this sexy little camera.

Peter Becker is an Architect (and photographer) from Santa Barbara, California.

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12 thoughts on “A Considered Reply to a Leicaphobe

  1. doyle

    Enjoyed this article. At 34 I’m beginning to understand that an appreciation of both “classic” and “cutting edge” is a nice balance.

  2. Raincheck

    Thank you Peter. I may be more relaxed about such issues than some here, but to me it comes down to “who do use it for?” If you carry that Leica to impress someone else, then you are a poseur.

    But if you like it because it’s what it what you grew up with, or because you love the simplicity of of it, or because you really enjoy just how finely made it is and it feels good in hand and makes you want to shoot, or because you really do care about sharp perfection or bokeh from your lens or because this is your job and this is the perfect tool for how you work or because you appreciate classic industrial design…

    If you love it and enjoy it and use it, and if it is vintage film, or a Q or a Monochrome, or whatever, good for you. Even if you are a dentist.

  3. Wayne

    My vintage car is a 1978 911sc. It was the car I dreamed of when I graduated high school that year; it took me 35 years to earn it; it is everything I dreamed it would be….and nothing more. Like with my old film Leica’s- especially Barnacks- I was drawn by elegance, prestige and timelessness; I will stay because every time I experience it I realize, it is enough….perfectly designed and put together for its purpose.

  4. Mitch Zeissler

    I wanted a Leica since the very first time I saw them advertised in the photo mags of the 1970’s. The years flew by and I saw my chance to own one evaporate over time, until I finally figured that it wasn’t meant to be.

    Fast forward to 1997, when my father-in-law hands me a battered paper bag and says that I would probably do more with what was inside than he ever did. And what was in the bag? Two old Leica bodies, several Leica lenses, and all sorts of accessories.

    I’ve been a Leica shooter ever since… no matter what the trolls say.

  5. kodachromeguy

    Using FILM Leica, either new or 50 years old, immediately puts you into a pretty exclusive universe, much like driving an old car with a (horrors!) manual transmission. What, you need to think about focus, exposure, f-stops, and the type of developer you want for the tonality you are trying to achieve? You can only take 36 exposures before reloading? It’s hard to be a poseur with old equipment. I often use a M2 or a Rolleiflex 3.5E. People are typically fascinated and very supportive.

  6. dominic

    …is anyone else missing the reviews by tim, or any of the other contributors to this blog? I AM! and i am definitely not knowledgeable to add anything, but i am definitely a student, a premature jedi of sort, wanting to be educated by all of you.

    hope to hear from any of you soon…i sure miss you guys!

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Hello Folks,

      A quick explanation for having “gone dark” for the last 2 months – somehow, my WordPress site has become non-functional after a system update and what appeared to be some sort of malicious virus that screwed with everything and then locked me out of the site itself.

      I’m now back on the site and hopefully can figure out how to start posting again. Cheers, Tim

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