Tag Archives: Tim Vanderweert

A Retraction and Apology and a Useless Photo Comparison

Donna and Nicki, Dubrovnik 2021, taken with my M9 CCD Monochrom

In a recent post I claimed that Leica’s Service Department Sucked. I’m taking that back. Let me explain.

Last September, while in Dubrovnik, I dropped my M9 Monochrom from a very low table (2 feet maybe) onto a carpeted floor. Should be nothing to worry about, except that the shutter wouldn’t fire now. I envisioned thousand dollar repairs and 1 year waits via Leica’s New Jersey Service Department. As such, upon arriving home I shelved the camera and forgot about it. I’ve got a bunch of other cameras, an M240 which I really like in particular, and I wasn’t shooting much of anything anyway. When I got my terminal diagnosis recently, I realized I needed to get the Monochrom fixed or it would probably end up in the trash after I died due to my estate assuming it was just an inoperable camera with no inherent value…so I sent it off to Leica USA and waited. They acknowledged receipt on August 23rd and then…crickets.

About 3 weeks ago I sent the Leica Service folks the following email:

Can you give me a timeframe for my repair? Believe it or not, I’m
terminally ill – have a few months left – and I’d love to get my
monochrom back for just a bit before I head off to oblivion.

To which they replied immediately, indicating they were moving my repair to the front of the line. Which they did (my apologies to all those Leicaphiles waiting for their camera to get fixed; I just jumped to the front of the line!) I’ve got my Monochrom back, rangefinder adjusted, sensor cleaned, shutter firing (apparently it was just a loose wire somewhere).

That’s good service. Thank you, Leica.

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Basic Out-of-Camera Monochromed M240 DNG File

Of course, what this calls for in celebration is a totally anecdotal ‘test’ comparing the B&W output of the Leica M240 against the M9 Mono. The M240 has a 24 mp CMOS sensor, the MM an 18 mp CCD sensor. The same lens – a VC 35mm f2.5 (great lens BTW) – was used for both, making for a ballpark oranges to oranges comparison. (Pixel peeping at x400 magnification will have to wait for another post). Above is an M240 DNG file that imported into LR and very basic adjustments made, essentially just playing with the exposure curves a bit. Directly below is a Monochrom DG subjected to the exact same initial treatment as the M240 file above:

Basic Out-of-Camera Monochrom DNG File

Like most Monochrom DNG files, it’s a bit flat. That’s OK. It’s OK, because Monohrom DNG files, as opposed to in-camera jpgs, are meant to be post-processed. Leica even sent purchasers a copy of Silver Efex along wit the camera. And as a dedicated B&W shooter I always run my files through Silver Efex for a final print or something posted digitally. (I’ve made these files big enough so you can click on them and get somewhat of a larger view). It’s there that I notice the increased flexibility of the Monochrom DNG versus the M240 DNG converted to B&W and then worked up.

Above are the M240 and the MM files respectively, again, this time worked up in Silver Efex to emulate an HP5 negative. The changes made varied between the two files; what I was looking to do was get the best end result I could be each file, and this necessarily required different adjustments.

Nothing wrong with the M240 version – it certainly can stand on its own – but the MM print just has a sharpness and pop that the M240 print doesn’t. Of course, I could have jacked up the contrast and sharpness just a bit more in the M240 print after I’d compared it to the MM print. That’s typically what we’d do in the wet darkroom, right? We’d print it again, knowing we wanted more contrast, this time using a more contrasty grade of paper and, for maximum sharpness, a grain focuser.

So what you see below is the M240 file previously edited in LR, now with some added contrast and sharpness:

Still not up to the MM final print. Arguably not as good as the previous M240 file above. Who knows. All of this is subjective and really is arguing over relatively small differences. Does it make any difference in real life? For most photographers, probably not. For those of us dedicated B&W shooters with an eye cultivated through long experience with both film and digital B&W, yes. It does.

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Modern Advertising for a Modern Camera

Leica IIIf

Leica advertising has always been stylish. Here’s two in particular that I admire. The first, above, is an early ’50s Modernist advert. Angular orientation with embedded triangles, sans serif typefaces coupled with old school italic script typeface…and the Piccadilly Circus Eros Statute. Eros is one of the primordial gods that emerged from Chaos when the world began, and is the driving force behind the unions of the primordial gods that initiated creation. Subtle. Well done. Someone was familiar with classic Greek mythology who expected his target audience to be so as well.

As for the camera, this “automatic focusing” Leica is an IIIa with a 50mm Summar. Beautiful.

Leica Monochrom
Leica Advertisement

Sixty years later and this ad for the M Monochrom. Monochrome (as in black and white) design can easily appear dull. But it’s perfect here (it is a Monochrom camera after all). This one cleverly uses font-weight to bold certain letters and make them stand out against the monochrome design. The bold camera and letters give a point of focus, while the small text does two things: It draws the reader in and helps align the bolded text. It’s “edgy”. It works.

In between these two are any number of inspired advertising designs. Here are a few more I like, all of them graphically simple while drawing your eye to where it needs to go:

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With the exception of the Monochrom ad (a nice throw back to the glory days), the advertising wonks at Leitz who designed these are long gone, replaced by a new, hip generation of 20 something Parsons Design grads who have no conception of the incredibly rich history of Leitz they could draw on. Who’ve been educated, not with the Greek classics, but via Facebook and social media.

So we get the argument from authority sublimated via the cult of personality: famous people achieving their photographic vision with their newest Leica, Lenny Kravitz stalking his prey in the East Village while rocking his rosta hat and a camera designed by Jackson Pollock.

Photo by Lenny Kravitz. Leica gave This Guy a Show at a NYC Gallery. This was the Photo they Used to Advertise It. Seriously.

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Erik van Straten. Exceptional.

Meanwhile, there are more than a few Leica users quietly producing stunning work. Look hard enough on the net and you’ll find them – not, mind you in some curated corner where money is looking to be made, or amongst the beautiful people of NYC or some self-appointed expert shill man looking to make a buck off the low-hanging Leicaphile fruit – but everyday people who’ve been using Leicas forever, producing bodies of work that should humble the “Leica Photographers” producing the banal shit above. Leica needs to start recognizing them, because they’re why Leica is famous. Leica should think about returning the favor.

Dragan Novakovac. Just a Guy With a Leica.

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Car Sick: The View From the Man on the Street

By Damon Chetson. Mr. Chetson is an Attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Leicaphilia readers know a different Tim from the Tim I know.  Until recently, I didn’t know Tim took photographs with an old German camera and called them art.  Or at least debated about whether they were art, depending on whether he saw a photo he took as a kid 40 years later on a poster advertising an exhibition in Brno, Czech Republic, or assembled them in a book where, as best I can tell, the central complaint, among much praise, was: too grainy. On that point, said critic and I agree. Too grainy.

Since Tim has been sick I’ve made a point of visiting him often. It was the least I could do, fellow criminal defense attorney he is ( I am what the current elected District Attorney in Raleigh claimed in recent campaign against me to be a “Sex Attorney”). Often I bring Peruvian chicken, which Tim likes, and which he says washes down well with whatever beer/whiskey/calvados he happens to be drinking in that moment. In gratitude, Tim has given me a copy of Car Sick.  He also gave me a stack of unreadable books, including James Joyce’s Ulysses. Said they wouldn’t be needed any more and I might learn something from them. My thoughts: 1) No way am I reading Ulysses, and 2) surely a Nikon digital camera takes sharper pictures than the questionable ones that constitute Car Sick;  He needs to get one of those.  

Tim calls me a Philistine.  Tim blames the graininess on the emulsification process.  I tell him that I want the world represented wie es eigentlich gewesen.  Blaming your failure to render the object as the subject viewed it on your inability to mix chemicals just right seems a poor excuse. 

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Picture quality aside, Car Sick is my kind of book.  It tells of a country in decline, where the storefronts are boarded up, where American Jesus will not save you (which is not to say that Jesus will not save you, but that’s for another blog), where looming out of frame is the specter of liberal capitalism that lays waste to whole communities and downtowns and storefronts and other places where people once gathered and communed. I do wish he’d have fixed the crack in his windshield though.


This is why Tim and I get along, and why Tim is the most human type of liberal subject.  He is curious, but not so curious that he doesn’t take stands, whether when he’s taking photos or when he’s taking a testifying cop to task for failing to properly do his job. He’s a guy who recognizes there’s a System, but who knows there are times when you need to kick against the pricks.  Tim is a consuming American who understands what his consumption has wrought, and it’s there in the pages of Car Sick.  


I keep telling Tim we’re all going to die.  Tim says the life-death issue is a little more pressing for him.  Maybe so, but he has and is living a life worth living.  And if you live in our neck of North Carolina, and you bring over some Dogfish 90 Minute IPA (not the 60 minute stuff), he’ll tell you about it, but he’ll also have the patience to listen to your stories and try to understand you.  And maybe he’ll give you a copy of Car Sick.  Because you’re certainly not getting mine, a book of grainy photos I will always treasure.

[Editor’s Note: I’ve asked Mr. Chetson for his book back, as my second run has already sold out].

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‘Leica Pro Photographer’ Mansplains Why You Need a Leica M For Street Photography

Craig Semetko is a “Leica Pro Photographer”, whatever that means. I assume he’s paid by Leica to shill their product. Nothing inherently wrong with that, of course; I’d love it if Leica paid me to shill their products. And I’m sure Mr. Semetko is a fine guy, probably worth sitting down and talking shop with, although, after watching his video I’m taking any advice he wants to give me with a grain of salt.

In the above video, he argues that the Leica M is the perfect camera for ‘achieving your vision’ (oh boy) doing street photography i.e. taking pictures of strangers in public places. IMHO, everything he says to justify that claim is simply wrong, or at best verbal filler, nonsense that makes for banal, self-conscious photos much like the picture above that serves to introduce the video. According to Semetko, there are three camera functions the M simplifies – framing, focusing, and exposure – making it the ideal camera for street work.

The truth is that control over those variables is essentially irrelevant in the street photography context. Let me explain.

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Scale focus, Point and Shoot. See What you Get. Pretty Simple, Actually.

I’m not arguing that the M isn’t a good camera for street photography. It is, but just not for the reasons Mr. Semetko says it is. The video is marketing word salad, designed to bypass the viewer’s critical faculties through an argument from authority i.e. ‘famous’ NYC photographer tutors me, camera-bug insurance salesman from Toronto, how I too can become a “street photographer”. Just buy the new M11 and frame, focus and expose. Yup, stand there, point the camera at some guy with funny sunglasses pushing a hot dog cart in Soho, put your $9000 M11 to your face and frame (always looking at what’s outside the frame because, unlike other cameras, you can do that with a Leica), now focus carefully with the focus patch (see details in manual), fiddle with the f-stop and aperture settings in a way that achieves your photographic vision, and press the shutter. Voila! A perfect “street photo.”

Prior to watching this video, I’d not heard of Craig Semetko. I googled some of his photos and they’re not bad. One thing I’m fairly certain of is he wasn’t framing, focusing and exposing as part of his process. Frame, focus and expose is a recipe for the worst type of “street photography”, banal photos of self-conscious subjects mugging for the camera. You might as well ask your subjects to say “Cheese!”

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A Girl With Funny Sunglasses. In This Case, I Achieved My Photographic Vision With a Ratty Old Ricoh That’s Too Cheap to Include a Rangefinder/Viewfinder

Digital rangefinders like Leica are good for street photography, just not the for reasons Mr. Semetko would have you believe. Because they’re manual focus they allow you to scale focus i.e. set a focus point and forget about it. They are full frame and allow a 21 or 28mm optic for tons of DOF. Their sensors are good enough to allow you to set your ISO to 3200, your aperture to f8, and forget about it. They’re small and discreet, not freaking people out when you approach with what looks like a bazooka; you can simply hold it in your hands at waist level and shoot. To hell with framing. Find the good ones on your contact sheet later, because, whatever Craig Semetko, Leica Pro Photographer would have you believe, most of it’s 1) serendipity coupled with 2) an eye trained by years of looking at photos to recognize a good one when you see it.

Of course, you can make the same argument about any number of other cameras, but you’re not going to feel like a famous Leica Pro Photographer walking the mean streets of Akron with your Ricoh GXR ( which, with an M-Mount module and a VC 21mm f4 is the perfect “street photography” camera). But Mr. Semetko isn’t paid by Leica to say that.

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There’s Something about Birds….

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a religious guy and haven’t ever had any spiritual inclinations, in spite of having been raised in a very cloistered, conservative religious community. Not that I’m discounting other’s experience. We all live by narratives that help us make sense of our existence. Historically, those narratives have been religious in nature – the idea of a providential deity that created and sustains us. That’s not my narrative, although I’m not sure what is. I consider myself a rationalist but find scientific materialism to be lacking at its core. It can give us insight into how things are, but not why they are. That’s a question for another discipline. The closest I’ve come to a narrative that makes sense is the questioning of philosophy. It doesn’t give us answers, but gives us the appropriate questions to ask.

That being said, there’s something about birds that I’ve experienced time and time again, some uncanny confluence that happens in what some would consider spiritually charged times.

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A small carving of a bird was recently discovered in a cave in Holhe Fels, Germany. Carbon dating indicates it to be one of the earliest works of art known to us, carved over 30,000 years ago. Something moved a stone-age human to shape a piece of ivory into a new form, that of a bird, and with that opened up the history of human creativity, the transformation of outer experience into the inner vision of one human. Why a bird? Maybe because birds represent a link between earth and heaven, human consciousness and the mysteries of the unconscious, a symbol of soul and matter, all those things that have mystified humans since the evolution of consciousness.

Even for us secular humans, birds retain something uncanny, something that hints at things we can only suspect. Birds have a funny way of appearing in my life, specifically at times of death. My uncle, dying of cancer, had a bird fly into his room and land on his shoulder. Remarkably calm, the bird stayed for a minute of two and then flew out the window and off. My uncle died that day. The morning my father died my mother called me with the news. Walking outside to smoke a cigarette and gather my thoughts, a large crow flew down at my feet – no more that three or four feet away – and just stared at me as if to get my attention. Once done, he flew off to a nearby tree and sat in it and watched me until I went back inside.

I had my last visit with my oncologist Tuesday. He had done some research into the potential for immunology treatment. Unfortunately, all tests indicate it won’t be of any use. His advice: go home and let nature take its course. 3 to 6 months should do it. What does one do with 3 to 6 months? Any ideas?

More than one person, on learning of my impended death, has asked that I send them a sign if I’m around. I’ve told all of them to watch for a bird that comes to visit. That will be “me.” I’m not sure I believe it myself, but what can it hurt?

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