I stand by the propositions I put forward in that article. I still don’t see the world in bright, crisp colors like a hi-def TV screen. I still run in to Leica owners who are condescending. And yet, here I am, a Leica owner. Do I contradict myself? No. Have I learned a few things? Yes.
That article was reprinted on the Leicaphila website. Tim, who owns that site, has always been a thoughtful photographer. He writes philosophical articles on photography, as well as poking at the absurdities of it, and does the same for Leica ownership. I was dismayed to hear that he has been diagnosed with stage three stomach cancer, and may not have much longer. He’s been organizing his photography, and he leaves a prodigious amount of it from a well-lived life. I hope he is around longer than the doctors think he will be, and I feel relieved his photographs, his legacy, will live on after.
When Tim asked to republish the article, something he said stuck with me. He said that while the digital Leica users can, in fact, be wankers, the film Leica crowd was made up of interesting people. I was skeptical, but it turned out Tim was right.
How I came by this camera was unplanned, but welcome. If you read my most recent review, the Voigtlander Bessaflex TM, you know I’ve been thinking about the longevity of my film cameras. I’ve owned two of my first dream camera, the Nikon F3. Both of them have had their electronics die. Once that happens, the metering is gone, the modes don’t work, and the shutter will only fire at a not very useful 1/90th of a second. I have one dead one in my collection that I may have repaired, but I have not decided. I may get something else like a FM3a to use the Nikon glass I have.
I know this sounds odd from a person who has two Contax RX SLRs, battery dependent heavily automated cameras made by a long dead company with little to no hope of repair if they die, especially given their price. All of that is correct, but those cameras are still relatively easily replaced and if all else fails I’ll buy a S2.
I saw a post about a Leica M2 up for sale. Of the M mount cameras, the M2 is suited to my style. If I own a camera, it probably has a 35mm focal length lens on it. Moderately wide and good for landscapes and atmospheric portraits, that focal length is my go to. The M2 has frame lines for it, and is better for shooting that width than the M3, which requires the goggle mount. The M2 is said to be inferior to the M3, but I am not phased by having to manually reset my film counter. I mean, I hand re-roll the film for my Kodak Medalist I on to 620 spools, rolling a wheel with my thumb is no big deal.
The thing for me though was the recent CLA by the highly respected Youxin Ye. I commented to my wife on an afternoon walk that his CLA skills were well known and that the M2 would outlast my time left on this earth.
My wife bought the M2 to give me for Xmas, and was so excited she didn’t wait and just wrapped the box it was delivered in and gave it to me straight away. I was floored. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I have screwed up many things in my life, but I married well. I am the luckiest, most undeserving bastard who ever drew breath, and I still don’t know why she fell in love with me, but I am glad she did.
There ensued a short interval while I obsessively shopped for lenses. I bought a janky adapter for my Nippon Kogaku 35mm f3.5 in the mean time and went out to shoot. I eventually purchased a TTartisan 35mm f1.4 in M mount, as well as the much better Urth brand M39 to M mount adapters for the LTM lenses I have. Thus equipped, and having watched a few YouTube videos on how to properly load a Leica M, I ventured out to shoot.
If you believe the Leica mythos, when I first raised the camera to my eye I was transformed. The clouds parted and the light softened to a perfect Sunny 16 as I focused. An angelic choir accompanied the first stroke of the winder. I framed the shot and tripped the release, producing the most melodic sound ever produced by humans: the sound of a Leica shutter. As the sound reached my ears, shaming the entire catalogs of the works of Mozart, Bach and Hayden combined I transcended from mere mortal to something infinitely better: a Leica photographer.
OK, not really.
I still had to double check and make sure my horizon wasn’t so skewed that it looked like I was mid way though a three day bender. I’d slightly duffed the metering and the sky was blown. Turns out, I’m the same lousy photographer I’ve always been, no matter what camera I use.
But the Leica was what it had been represented to be: a beautiful, well made machine that performed precisely. When I developed the roll, I was amazed. My old 35mm Tessar performed far better than it ever had, loose fitting adapter not withstanding. I had to go back and make sure I hadn’t got the wrong roll. The level of precision of the rangefinder was a huge improvement over any other camera. The advance was as sooth as I have ever used. And the shutter, well, that is a mighty sexy sound. Have I joined the cult and started looking down on you mere mortals who don’t own a Leica? No. But I am very aware of my privilege owning one, and I am striving to be a worker worthy of the tool I have.
I’ve already taken to forcing work to give me lunch breaks so I can walk my old neighborhood and shoot. I’ve enjoyed every single frame I have taken with it. I’ve gotten a half case for it, a new strap, and am shopping for a soft release. Who am I kidding, I’ll get one of Drew’s creations at Artisan Obscura. Denver folks should support each other.
I’m still not claiming to be a Leica shooter. I’m not buying in to the cult, and I’m definitely not going to spend time being a condescending jerk, or thinking myself superior just because of a camera I own. It’s a shame that there’s so much baggage attached to this brand. It is a wonderful tool that I’m using to be what I’ve always wanted to be: a better photographer.