Life with Leica: What makes a good lens?

Authors note: because I feel like it, you get a Gear Wednesday today. Rational conformist thought is a sign of a weak mind. Also, I am not mentioning the holiday. I never do. It’s a day of performative patriotism, Lee Greenwood, unnecessary explosions and bad potato salad. If you truly love your country, work to better it every day you wake up, and keep working until the day you don’t.

 

I went through a hysterically minimalist period of my life that ended when I had so few possessions everything fit in the back of a Honda. It freed me from the weight of my past that had held me in one place like a boat anchor. It lead me to a better place and a better life. It was the sort of disruption I needed. But it left me with a lingering reluctance to grow too fond of things, and some things were made to be too fond of.

Defaced aspen trees. Don’t do this. Portra 160 at 100, in my Leica M2, through the TTArtisans 50mm f1.4

More often than not, I reach for my Leica when I leave the house. Sometimes I just have it as ballast while I walk. Sometimes it is the reason I walk. It is always a comforting presence.

It is the only camera I will go back in to the house after if it is on fire.

I’ve enjoyed every click of the shutter, the smoothness of every frame wound on. But beyond that, it is a physical reminder that out of the billions of people on this Earth, I have one who really, truly loves me and wants me to be happy. That knowledge is more than most will ever have. I feel sorry for them and know how lucky and privileged I really am.

Pagosa Springs Resort. Best hot spring in the state. Portra 160 at 100, in my Leica M2, through the TTArtisans 35mm f1.4

I guess my minimalist background made the M2 attractive to me. No electronics, as simple as it can be. Not even a rewind crank. Very robust and easier to use than I had thought.

I get some unsolicited opinions about my lens choices. I have a pair of TTArtisans lenses I use. A 35mm f1.4 and a 50mm f1.4.

Wolf Creek Pass. Portra 160 at 100, in my Leica M2, through the TTArtisans 35mm f1.4

I prefer a 35mm focal length, so that one is on my M2 more than the other. The same could be said about every other camera I own. Bang for buck wise, I don’t think much can beat this lens. About the only thing that would make it better would be if it was lighter. Well, maybe if the hood cap was engraved instead of the huge white logo it would look a little classier but it wouldn’t work any better. The Summicron is a better lens? Yes. But it should be if they are charging ten times more for it.

Denver and Rio Grande RR water tank. Last standard gauge one still standing. Portra 160 at 100, in my Leica M2, through the TTArtisans 50mm f1.4

I’ve seen the 50mm f1.4 TTArtisan lens compared to a Summilux, but that’s not really accurate. The design is more like the Voigtlander lenses for the M mount. I like the results it gives, It’s not perfect, but you are talking about a lens that’s half the price of the Voigtlander 50, and 1/10th the price of the Leica.

These lenses both produce an image with character, the 50 having the look of a much older lens in particular. I like them, and would probably use them even if it wasn’t almost impossible for me to drop $4k or more on a lens.

I was pointed to an article about how TTArtisan made inferior lenses, and how people who thought they were solidly made didn’t know what they were talking about. I didn’t really get past that point. If you start sounding elitist, I’m going to just stop listening to you. I did hear the author went on to post an article to claim he was not a racist. That’s never a good sign.

The narrow gauge DSP&P reaches toward Boreas Pass. Portra 160 at 100, in my Leica M2, through the TTArtisans 35mm f1.4

Honestly, though, what makes a lens a good lens?

Some folks wax poetic about the glow of older Leica lenses. That is actually a defect. It’s spherical aberration or veiling glare, but it has a huge following. Sometimes imperfections are perfect.

That is why I use these lenses. If you are happy with the result, who cares about their pedigree or strict adherence to convention.

Just use what makes you happy.

2 Comments

  1. July 4, 2022
    Reply

    If there’s one important takeaway that I’ve learned in my two-and-a-half years back in film it’s this: People get weird about cameras.

    There seems to be a mindset amongst certain people who get into “marquee” cameras is that you have to go “all-in”. If you try to “get by” by spending less here and there, you are doing it wrong. It’s an interesting identity to wrap oneself in. I’m guessing the “not racist” author of that article is in that mindset: If you aren’t spending additional thousands on Leica lenses, you aren’t getting the “true” experience. They get even more weird when they realize that the results from your lens that costs a tenth of the Summicron is just about as good as the Summicron, so they have to concentrate on “build quality”. If all else fails, they’ll just mumble something about Cartier-Bresson in an attempt to deflect.

    I’ve seen this attitude when it comes to medium format. I’ve been told time and time again that medium format is obviously better because big negatives, but if you aren’t playing around with lo-fi cameras it’s going to cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to get those serious 120 cameras that people lust after. (Compare this to good photos I’ve gotten from cheap-ass 35mm cameras.)

    After a long bit of figuring out what I wanted, I got myself a Ricohflex Dia TLR. I like this camera a lot. It’s no Rollei, but it makes great images. Yet the other day when I was on a film bike ride, another photographer was puzzled, asking me “why would I want a twin-lens reflex?” Well, besides the fact that it looks cool, I didn’t have to pay Hasselblad prices to get photos of a quality I like. Sure, it’s not as sophisticated as a 120 SLR or rangefinder, but I’ll take what I can get.

    • Andrew
      July 17, 2022
      Reply

      I’m not much on TLRs as I always make myself seasick trying to focus, but that’s a good looking camera!

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