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Tuesday, 18 September 2007

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Great photographers from history shot with a Leica because it was one of the best tools available.

Great photographers of today also shoot with the best tools available. But today, none of the best tools available are made by Leica.

There's nothing cooler and sexier in all photography than gracefully walking about whilst conducting business with rangefinder (Leica) in hand. The ultimate intellectual (manmade) sex object!

I've never used one- a shame the likes I'll carry to my grave (only half kidding).

I agree with Oopsies. Leica makes overpriced toys for the wealthy who wear them like jewlery, while real professionals shoot Canon and Nikon, Hasselblad and Mamiya.

Just ask the trustfunders who crawl over Santa Fe like cockroaches...every damned one of them out here has an M6, M7, or M8 hanging from his shoulder and not one of them has a clue how to actually take pictures with it. Makes me homesick for Indiana, where no one has a Leica, but just about everyone you see with a manual camera over his shoulder is at least a decent photographer.

http://blog.chriscrawfordphoto.com <--my photoblog

A very enjoyable assay. Nevertheless, it made me going to UK Leica web site and... a 400-pound price increase is announced for the M8 body! I always had the illusion of getting one, but this is simply too much.

Now, now now.

There are plenty of professionals still shooting Leicas. Maybe not on a daily basis, but they still are a valuable tool in their arsenal.

>But today, none of the best tools >available are made by Leica. -Oopsies

Not true. Leica still makes the best rangefinder system on the market- film based and digital.

They also happen to make many of the highest performing lenses for the 135 format, for both rangefinders and SLR camera.

There also happen to be plenty of Canon shooters, who are buying wideangle Leica-R (and Zeiss) lenses for their 5D or 1Ds. I certainly was very happy with my 2/50 Summicron-R on my 5D.

And for every dentist who buys a Leica and takes pictures of his kids or peeling paint, there are 100 or even 1000 more who bought a Canon 1D series or Nikon.


Feli

Ofcourse Leica is expensive. That is part of the charm! A new Rolex at the price of 2000 Dollars is ... not a Rolex either. The Leica M6 is perfect, classical design. But the Nikon F100 is a better, more practical camera. That will probably also be the case with the D300 compared to the M8. I like the looks of a Leica M. But I love to hold a Nikon with a proper grib in my hand!

Well-written article, yes; excellent, no. A bit too breathless and too shallow to be excellent. The Leica myth is fine, but it does not need to be puffed up this much.

Also, the article could be more factual: the assertion that the D-Lux 3 could not have taken the picture the author discusses at the end is simply untrue: it could if manual pre-focusing was used, which many people do with this camera because of it's huge depth of field. Similarly, writing that Leica makes some small digital cameras — including the D-Lux 3 — is simply not true. That never would have passed in New Yorker in the days of William Shawn's editorship.

My real problem is the shallowness of the article. A much more interesting article could have written by dealing woth some of the issues of the company in a real way, and still bring across the enthusiam of Leica users. The New Yorker used to be better than this.

—Mitch/Huahin

Leica loathing is as obnoxious as Leica vanity and hubris.
From a documentary-style user of Leicaand other rangefinders, the bit I enjoyed most about the article was where he talked about the camera's discretion:

"You can still buy a right-angled viewfinder for a new Leica, if you’re too shy or sneaky to confront your subjects head-on, although the basic thrust of Leica technique has been to insist that no extra subterfuge is required: the camera can hide itself."

This passage wasn't too far from the truth, either:

"...the simplicity of the design made the Leica an infinitely more friendly proposition, for the novice, than one of the digital monsters from Nikon and Canon. Those need an instruction manual only slightly smaller than the Old Testament, whereas the Leica II sat in my palms like a puppy, begging to be taken out on the streets."


Glimpse

Glimpse, I hope you weren't referring to "moi" when you wrote about the loathesomeness of Leica-loathing: I've shot with two M6 for years and have a gaggle of -lenses, though digital is another matter...

But I prefer truth in my journalism.

—Mitch

I'm not sure I agree with that last statement. AE metering systems have gotten pretty darn sophisticated now. When push comes to shove, most people can just "press the button" and get a half-decently exposed shot.

A Leica II demands a lot more understanding from the user. I don't know if you can ask the average man on the street to get comfortable eyeballing the exposure. Although most people seem to get the hang of rangefinder focusing ok. Personally I'm not too proud to admit that I'm glad that my modern Bessas come with a meter, the only trick was learning when to ignore it.

To say that Leica makes NONE of the best tools seems to me to be flat out wrong. I am not a Leica owner. If I were and I wished to use film as a starting point for work where auto-focus was unimportant, how could I have a bettter tool than an R9 with say a 15mm Elmarit, a 50mm Summilux, a 90mm Summicron, a 100mm AME, a 180mm Summicron or Apo Elmarit and a 280mm F4. None of these are bargain basement items but they certainly, in my mind, are first class tools given the appropriate work to be done.

(Let me start by saying that the following comment is not a response to any of the comments above.)

I generally enjoyed the article. I agree that there are a few statements in there that seem to indicate the author should have done a little more research, but the writer's enthusiasm doesn't bother me at all. I don't have a Leica and probably never will. But that doesn't keep me from being happy that they exist.

One of the biggest factors keeping me from converting to digital is the fact that I like cameras and believe they have different purposes. My Olympus XA is very different from my Pentax MX which is very different from my Nikon F3 and F90x. The same is true of my various medium and large format cameras. The form of the camera may not matter much to its output (in the strict sense, assuming a constant film format), but it matters in terms of how its used. Before I leave the house, I think about what kind of situations I'm likely to encounter and what I want to shoot and I grab the camera that I think is most appropriate. At some point, I will take the plunge and buy a Nikon D300 and I expect that I won't use my film cameras much after that. Then again, I might.

I recently bought a Pentax *ist DL2 (it was on sale for a ridiculously low price). I thought it would become my most used camera. It's not. I put it on the shelf with the rest of my cameras and grab it when I think it's the most appropriate tool for the job, which isn't as often as I would have expected.^

I can afford to use various specialized film cameras because I buy them on eBay. Buying a D300 will wipe me out (for a while) so I won't have the same variety in digital cameras that I have in film cameras. But even if I did have more money to blow on this hobby, there isn't that much variety in digital in the first place. (I hate shutter lag, so I'm eliminating most of the digital compacts.) I'm happy that the M8 is out there adding to the mix and at some point I might buy an Epson RD-1.

Similarly, I'm happy that Leica film cameras are out there giving pleasure to their users. I can fully understand those who think that Leicas are over-hyped and are not worth the added expense. But I have very little understanding for those who get worked up about the fact that others are willing to pay for Leicas and enjoy them. Why should I care if someone else pays a lot for a camera and enjoys it? More power to them.

The fact that Leica users tend to proclaim Leicas the best cameras in the world and to use language implying that those who don't realize this are jealous and ignorant does not entirely account for the Leica backlash, either. After all, there is plenty of that going on among Nikon and Canon users even without Leica. Just check the DPReview discussion threads.

Long story short: I'm happy someone found the right tool for them, no matter what it is.

Best,
Adam

^ Part of the reason I thought I would use the *ist DL2 more is because I had heard so often (including on TOP) that Pentax dSLRs are fully compatible with older Pentax MF lenses. Turns out that's not even close to true. In fact, I don't understand why people rag on Nikon's compatability exceptions, since Pentax's strike me as worse in some ways. I can use Pentax "A" series lenses without any problem, but "M", "K" and M42 lenses are only compatible insofar as the mount is compatible (through an adapter for M42 lenses). METERING DOES NOT WORK, EVEN IN STOP-DOWN MODE. The mode appears to work as it should, in that the lens briefly stops down, takes a meter reading, sets the shutter speed and returns to an open-aperture view, but the meter readings are both (a) way off and (b) inconsistent, so it is impossible to compensate for them in one direction or the other. As a result, the only way to really use these lenses is in full Manual mode. This isn't what all of the hype around Pentax backward compatability had lead me to expect. Even a cursory search online reveals that this problem is widespread and appears to be common to all Pentax dSLRs. All the more puzzling that I have never seen a review mention it. Oh well, I like using my MX and ME Super better anyway... ;-)

Agree that the article was a bit shallow, especially for Anthony Lane, but let's face it: it's a shallow subject! Leica is pretty much over as a truly serious photographic tool (I'd never pull out my ancient M4 for a once-in-a-lifetime event or opportunity), but nobody buys a Patek Philippe watch because they have a desperate need to know the time. Nobody buys a Lamborghini Murcielago because they need a car. For the most part, no one is offended by these purchases but boy, when it comes to cameras...

Let marketing be marketing, folks! You haven't got a choice anyway. :-)

Yes, the article was fluffy. But it was certainly consistent with a publication whose style has been firmly anchored in self-important, pseudo-intellectual pretense. To turn Paul's remark, nobody who really needs to know about a subject would turn to the pages of the New Yorker.

Paul: "Leica is pretty much over as a truly serious photographic tool..."

In my book, Paul, serious IS as serious DOES. While it would be silly to try to defend Leica's breathtaking prices, it's sillier to suggest that anyone toting a Leica camera today is not a "serious" --or skilled-- photographer or that Leica's cameras cannot produce "serious" results. Nothing could be a more misinformed perspective.

Along the same vein, regarding an earlier commenter, to suggest that anyone carrying an M is a "trustfunder" reveals more about you than about Leica owners.

All that aside, Leica has long been a brand buoyed principally by style and heritage rather than by current performance. So a fluffy write-up in the New Yorker seems perfect.

Caveat: Yes, I do frequently use an M8, and sometimes an M7, and enjoy them both. (I don't think I've ever been mistaken for a "cockroach" but maybe that Orkin guy that was following me recently suggests otherwise.) Oop, gotta go now to meet with my trust accountants.

Ta-Ta for now.

I wrote to the NYer explaining that the DMR and the M8 are the only Leica-developed digital cameras.

mcananeya, Maybe there was a problem with your Pentax?
When I had a *istD it was mostly used with a great variety of old K mount (not A) lenses and I never had any trouble with exposure accuracy.... mind you I did always shoot raw.

Cheers, Robin

I think the anti Leica sentiment comes from people thinking that if you buy more expensive cameras they are perceived to be better photographers.

Also why rag on the dentists, they take pictures of people's teeth all day. I'm sure out of all the non photographic professions, a dentist would surely understand photography more so than others.

stereotype babbit camera - that is. Disagree? just venture once into a leica user group - nauseating.

Leica a shallow subject when in a New York minute one can come up with a dozen interesting themes to write about?

• Producton-oriented company that thought it was becoming market-oriented in producing the M5 in 196? — have to look of the year — which almost bankrupted it.

• Change from family ownership to stock market driven company, with successive white knights taking over.

• Can a hidebound company that thinks it has to produce cameras — at least assemble them in Germany rather then China or Thailand — survive in the digital age?

• How does a company enter the digital age — by listening to market research that only tells it what it's current users want or by having vision (from where?) to create new needs for new users?

• Is the market for Leica sexagenerian denstist or hotshot merchant bankers — or, dare we think? — real photographers?

...okay a New York minute is shorter than I thought, but youy get the idea. The trouble an article in the New Yorker tradition would require a lot of thought and research, and a more old fashion editing standard, but this is not the "New Yorker de papa", as de Gaulle would say.

—Mitch/Huahin

"When I had a *istD it was mostly used with a great variety of old K mount (not A) lenses and I never had any trouble with exposure accuracy...."

Ditto my *istDS.

Mike

>In my book, Paul, serious IS as serious DOES.

No argument there; I'm probably never more "serious" than when I shoot my M4 or Canon P because it takes far more effort to get results than with my other, more modern cameras. I find those results to be very rewarding personally, but I'm under no illusions about the impact of the camera on the results. These lovely cameras impact the tactile and visual experience of shooting, nothing more.

I'm certainly aware that there are a hardy few out there earning a living and making art with Leica exclusively. Heck, Henry Wessel's still using the M3 he bought back in the dark ages and there is no one out there today making more interesting stuff.

But...the vast majority of recently manufactured Leicas are sitting still in dresser drawers, on display shelves and in safe deposit boxes. For the VAST majority of photographic applications, it's nobody's idea of a first choice anymore. So what? A choice is a choice, whether it makes perfect sense or none at all.

My point was: if a substantial number of well-heeled folks want to buy Leica simply because it is a fine mechanical instrument and part of a legendary tradition, so be it!

Lane's article is subtitled "The Cult of Leica" and yeah, to me that's a pretty shallow subject for the New Yorker or most any other rag.

A top of the line Canon or Nikon DSLR in the hands of the average amatuers who make up the largest market for 'pro' cameras is just an overpriced snapshot device. In the hands of a James Natchway or another talented photographer it's a tool to produce serious and compelling work. Same goes for the Leica M film or digital. In the hands of David Alan Harvey, William Eggleston, Ralph Gibson, Constantine Manos, and many others - the Leica M still is used to produce serious work today.

A camera is neither serious or professional it's just a electronic/mechanical device. In the hands of someone with talent a Holga is a pro camera. Whether a Canon/Nikon/Leica is an overpriced toy or a photographic tool is not dependent on the camera its dependent on who's using it and there are still a lot of talented photographers using Leicas.

Hank G.,
While what you say is true, statistically, it really is the case that Leicas have been responsible for far more great work that their market share would predict. In this respect the marque dwarfs some other much larger companies. I would doubt that this trend continues today, of course, and it probably hasn't been true for the past fifteen or twenty years. But Leica earned its place, there's no doubt about that.

Mike

Mike and Robin,

I suppose I should send the camera in to be serviced then. I had assumed there was no point when I read the complaints on some of the message boards. I would dearly like to be able to use my lenses as they were intended. I didn't mean to disparage Pentax, as I am pleased with their recent offerings, but I admit that I was sorely frustrated by the *ist DL2 initially.

Side note: why did they bury so many settings in menus on this camera? If they allowed the buttons next to the LCD to serve double-duty (i.e., with different functions in shooting vs. review/playback mode), similar to Nikon's D70, this camera would be far easier and faster to use. Fortunately, they seem to have remedied this in subsequent cameras.

Best regards,
Adam

Rangefinder, manual focus camera's are never again going to be a mainstream choice but so what? If that is your preference then the latest and greatest DSLR is not likely to float your boat.

Someone who chooses a Canon or a Leica to do work that is worth looking at is not going to care if it happens to be the #1 choice of rich dentists (no knock on that honorable profession). Anyone who is choosing a Canon or a Leica because it's what the "all the pro's use" or what Cartier-Bresson used is probably not going to be doing much more with it then the rich dentist.

I'll make one more point to put this in context. The number of pros using Canon/Nikon outnumber Leica pro users by a huge margin maybe 100,000 to 1. The number of rich amateurs using Canon/Nikon outnumber amateur Leica users by a huge margin maybe 100,000 to 1. But if you look even today at the photographers whose work will be being talked about 50-100 years from now that ratio shrinks dramatically. While not the mainstream product it once was Leica still punches above its weight with a small but talented group of photographers.

Nice link.

The article was worth it for Carter-Bresson's quote about why he turned from painter to photographer:

"..the adventurer in me felt obliged to testify with a quicker instrument than a brush to the scars of the world."

To defend the New Yorker (a bit) for the fluffy-ness of the article, it should be pointed out that this appeared in the annual "Style" issue. (And, of course, Lane is their movie critic). But there's no arguing that the NYer has not been the same since Tina Brown transformed it into a slightly wordier version of Vanity Fair.

"(S)tereotype babbit camera - that is. Disagree? (J)ust venture once into a (L)eica (U)ser (G)roup - nauseating."

Same could be said for the "Canon EOS Forum" on Photo Net--nauseating techie geek psychobabble.

By the way--I use both Leicas and Canons. :-)

Tina Brown may be responsible for the "Style" issue and those dreadful scent strips that come with it, but she did also introduce photography to _The New Yorker_ and hired Richard Avedon as a staff photographer.

I suspect they need the ad revenue too much at this point to get rid of the Style issue, which coincides with Fashion Week in New York, but David Remnick seems to have turned the magazine in a positive direction more in tune with its traditions, while keeping some of the better reforms of the Tina Brown years, like photography.

It's actually less "wordy" than it was before Brown, which I regard as unfortunate. You used to see occasional 40,000 word articles. Now the maximum seems closer to 25,000.

One tradition I wish they would get rid of is those blow cards that fall out when you take the magazine out of the mailbox.

Nice to see an article in the New Yorker about photography - but too many errors to be a true New Yorker article:

1. Does the Canon SD1000 really automatically advance the frame for you? Frame of what?

2. Are (d)SLR shutters really all clunky, or is it just that Lane never heard an OM-1n?

3. Do Leica really make little digicams?

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