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Sunday, 29 August 2010

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I had one for a while; it's a fine camera and in operational terms better than any of its predecessors, but I could never get used to the relative bulk compared to the M4 I still have.

Have fun!

Ugh, I both love and hate to read stuff like this. I just today took photos of my lovely deep rich black M6TTL LHSA camera. Who takes photos of cameras? People considering selling them. And you post this "year with a Leica" You're trying to make me feel bad right? I'm already down to only a 50mm lens, the one I've owned for 32 years. Nearly all my favorite photos were taken with that 50.
Now you've made me rethink everything. Damn. Wonder if my film scanner works.

You had me going there, I'm looking at classic M Leicas, lenses, thinking about Porches, ... came to my senses, sorry, camera, nor car marque, is what's true. Still, the driver.

Always liked the vertical hang strap lugs on that one. Wish more cameras were designed that way. Seriously thinking about fabricating an aluminum plate for my M4-2 to center the tripod tap on the lens axis and provide for a strap attachment point at the bottom of the camera on the advance side.

Mike, you wrote last February that you'd purchased a Mamiya 7--did that not scratch your rangefinder itch? The 7 and 7 II worked for me, but I've never used a Leica.

Mike,

The "Leica Year" is a great idea; it is nice to see so many people took you up on it.

If you do decide on the M5, I think you'll quickly discover for yourself reasons why the design was not a commercial success (and why so few pros took to it), but I'd like to mention one issue in particular that caught me totally by surprise.

The bottom portion of the 35mm frame line on the M5 is just corner ticks, with no line along the actual bottom of the (horizontal) frame. I thought I could eventually get used to the finder, but I continued to find frames (mostly verticals) on my proof sheets where I had obviously composed clear over to the meter stripe, yielding a negative cropped too tightly on that side.

That was over a dozen years ago, but as best I recall, the explanation from a Leica-trained repair person was that with a normal 35mm frameline on the bottom position, even a slight misalignment from parallel between the frame line and meter area would be very noticeable. I could have lived with that, and considered having new frame lines installed, but I had enough other issues with the M5 design to go back to my M2 and M4-2.

The M5 is a wonderful camera on paper, and has a loyal following. Use that lovely old 50 on it, and frame lines won't be an issue.

Quirky it is, I suppose, unless you have huge hands, for the M6 feels a lot better to handle than the M5 — and there's a reason that the latter camera was a commercial failure that almost derailed the Leitz company. I can see using an M3 because of the viewfinder, but otherwise I would go with the M6 with an 0.85x viewfinder because you might as well have a light meter.

I have such an M6 that I haven't used for four years but haven't been able to get myself to sell: originally I kept it with the "excuse" that I might someday go for a two-week trek in New Guinea and needed a camera that could stand up to the wet climate; but, in reality, that is not going to happen. I could see going back to the M6 and Tri-X of I were going to print in a darkroom; but that is also not going to happen. And I hate scanning film and don't really believe in it, in terms rephotographing what I've already photographed. Mike, I assume that you'll be printing in the darkroom and not scanning.

—Mitch/Bangkok

Brian,
I've shot a bit with the Mamiya, but I haven't quite finished my darkroom yet (another update on that coming up).

Mike

I have only just come upon the "Leica for a year" idea. I'm not going to do it :) What I liked about the proposal though was that it got me thinking about what I might get out of doing something focused for a year, not just what are the rules, but what is the result I might achieve. Once I had thought about it I realised I want to learn some specific things so I am going to do a variation that I think will give me what I am after.

The discussion I read on the Leica project got me thinking and into action, thanks for that. I’m going to use September as a warm up month to get some things in place but the transition started last week.

To quote from the great Tod Browning picture, Freaks:

"One of us! One of us! One of us!"

I've noticed something since I started shooting film again- Japanese digital cameras' sensors tend towards very vivid and saturated Fujifilm Velvia-style colors, whereas, for instance, Leica's Kodak sensors tend more towards Portra NC-style colors, occasionally veering into Kodachrome-esque reds. Coincidence?

Go for it. It will go nicely with your new darkroom.

I can't do it, I couldn't do it. I learned a lot in college shooting with my Pentax MX and two lenses, a 35 and a 100mm.

You limit yourself too much by limiting your view to one lens. The world is just too big.

I was fishing yesterday with my father-in-law and he asked me what my most used lens was. I told him i had 3: a 17mm, a 35mm and a 400 mm. Guess I'm a guy of extremes.

Hands down my favorite Leica. My M5 and an old 50 Summilux and I'm in Tri-X heaven. Go for it.

Whatever gets you back into photography is fine with me, Mike. If the M5 is what you want to use, so be it.

Just a personal observation, perhaps worth nothing.

I'd much rather see someone begin a venture (a "theme") with an objective interest rather than a tool lust. It's like a carpenter declaring he's only going to use a particular hammer all year regardless of the job to be done.

Particularly if the tool is a Leica M. As much as I enjoy mine it would be the last tool I would declare for exclusive use for a year. It's unnecessary and, at least to me, it seems bass-ackwards.

But that's just me.

It's interesting that so many people cannot deal with the size of the M5, yet the M9, which is also appreciably larger than the M3, doesn't seem to be a problem. Ergonomic differences, perhaps. I've never handled an M5, but to me the M9 feels bulky and bricklike in comparison to the perfect dimensions of the M3, so I suspect the M5 would be right out.

I've always wanted an M5 for the strap lugs - it was what sold be on the Canon A2 with it's vertical grip. Carrying a camera on one should with the body lying lengthwise against you is way more comfortable, and practical, for me. I keep hoping to find an affordable M5, it's also the most unique looking Leica, with the different body font - it looks very much like what a 1930's German would think a 1960's camera should look like:)

The M5 s a great camera, Period. Second only to the M3.I know the M2, M4, Blah, Blah Blah.
If you want a metered M, then go for it. You won't be sorry, unless you bow to peer pressure

Back in my Leica era (didn't last too long, actually) I bought a black Leica M4 White Dot. It had a white dot on the front, designating a special adaptation. To wit, a channel machined into the film plane allowing a narrow, transparent "shim" to be slipped in through a special baseplate. Information written on the slip-in device would then be exposed onto the film. For instance, for a doctor to put in identifying information on a picture. Now I find no reference that such a Leica ever existed and it would appear that I owned a rather rare Leica. I should'a kept it, huh?

My $.02 - Skip the ugly Leica entirely. It's not fondly remembered for a reason, after all...

Get a Mamiya 6 (non-mf, so the finder has fewer lines) and shoot with that for awhile. It's a much more enjoyable camera than the Mamiya 7, because though it doesn't seem that much smaller, it actually is.

Or just get another CLE. Darn cool camera.

-Jim in Mexico (Temporarily) ((scuba diving))

Ah, the M5 - Leica's moment of Zorki-envy.

I have both an M3 and M5. I much prefer the M5. It's a "shooters" camera. Once you start using it you will see what I mean.

Craig Hoehne has a nice write up on the M5 at photo.net: http://photo.net/equipment/leica/m5/. I suspect you may be familiar with it.

The odd M's are my favorites - M3, M5, M7. Haven't (and may never) try a 9. The M5 is a jewel - pure mechanical perfection - a worthy object in and of itself. The last of the handbuilds at the peak of Black Forest craftsmanship. I prefer to use a tabbed, 50mm Summilux with built in hood with it. Nice balance.

The Leica M5 is probably the only camera that I won't part with willingly. Well maybe also my F2AS.

Oh, and it takes nice snaps.

It's interesting that so many people cannot deal with the size of the M5, yet the M9, which is also appreciably larger than the M3, doesn't seem to be a problem....

The first time I picked up the M8 I was immediately struck by how much bulkier it felt, which I found strange because it's only 2mm thicker than the M6, I believe. But those 2mm made me feel I needed "Thumbs Up" to hold the M8 (or M9) comfortably and securely. Last week I caught myself actually saying to someone how "much bigger" than the M6 the M9 was. Looks like the 2mm really make a big difference in the feel of holding the camera.

...Particularly if the tool is a Leica M. As much as I enjoy mine it would be the last tool I would declare for exclusive use for a year. It's unnecessary and, at least to me, it seems bass-ackwards...

For someone who wants the "35mm aesthetic" and is not interested in medium format or in macro shooting, which is my case, it makes perfectly good sense to want to shoot exclusively with a Leica-M.

—Mitch/Bangkok

Since the CL was a joint-venture by Leitz, Copal and Minolta, the CLE is not so much a derivative of a Leica but the second generation, with added electronics. Actually the CL was marketed under the Minolta brand in Asian markets, Leica/Leitz was used essentially for the German and US market.

Was one of the bigger mistakes of Leitz to not go through with the CL[E] design, could have gotten them younger customers [it was cheaper].

Did I mention the R-series is based upon a Minolta design as well?

Poagao, just to add, the Leica M9 is 139 × 37 × 80 mm and the the Leica M3 is 138 x 77 x 33.5 mm to the best of my knowledge.

More than height or width, the thickness of the camera body is critical in making it "brick-like" or otherwise, I suspect. Other than that, a 1mm to 3.5mm difference in dimensions is minute. I guess camera ergonomic design (haptics?) is an exacting discipline.

Also, I've also always felt that the Leica M5 design elements strongly resemble some of the old Soviet rangefinders. I wonder why, at the time, that Leica thought that the M5 body look was in sync with 1970s style. It looks very old fashioned by the aesthetic standards of that era, IMHO.

Mike, go for it. It's for fun, isn't it?

BTW, I saw a group of japanese tourists here the other day. They were shooting mostly with compacts, but there was one guy who stuck out. I had to look twice to see he was using a Leica. It's nice when you have enough money to use a Leica as a snapshot camera. No, I didn't see what model, but it was the usuall silver and black one.

Apropos "one year", it would be nice to have... kinda short guidelines... on how to integrate film and digital. That is, no enlarger, just a place to develop your films and then a good film scanner to bring the photos over to the computer. Being quite removed from film, I have to idea whether you need the full light-proofing and so on to develop films.

Do have a Leica year! I use my Leica M8 more and more and my Leica M6 whenever I am in far away places with no electricity - e.g. Northern Mozambique on Lake Niassa. The Leica lenses are just sensational, picking up subtleties of colour and Bokeh that just knock everything else into a hat!
I recently was lucky enough to spend 10 days on a yacht in Greece, going up the Peloponnese coast and and had my M8 with me http://www.stefanlubo.com/agreekcruise/ the colours and light were amazing.

I hate to say it but I think that might be a contender for the ugly camera award.

Stefan,
A beautiful set of vacation pictures. Nicely done.

Mike

Mike,

I can't believe you're going to do the camera-for-a-year and are going to use something as small as that M5. Anything smaller than a delivery-truck-converted-into-a-camera is too miniaturized for any real camera enthusiast, and if your lens isn't a converted periscope lens than you're indulging in needless luxury. A cardboard box should be fine for a shutter.

What, are you bourgeois or something?

Everybody moans about the size of the M5, but it's still smaller than most of the SLRs of its vintage.

In the 70's I had a female acquaintance, a fine photographer, who was about 5' tall and weighed maybe 80 lbs. She shot exclusively with an M5 and a Summaron 35mm. She had switched to it from a Nikon F and said she loved how compact it was.

'Course, she just took pictures with it. There was no internet, so she had no idea that it was a terrible camera.

The one time anybody really commented on lens rendition in my pictures, it was a friend who knew I had the Leitz 90mm Summicron, and figured a photo I was showing a print of must have been taken with it (he had Leicas himself, so he had some experience to judge from).

However, that particularly photo was actually taken with my Tamron 85-205 f/4.5-5.6 (or some such) zoom, on an Adaptall mount on my Pentax Spotmatic.

(That Tamron was arguably better than it had any right to be, but still. The main reason I was excited about the Summicron 90 was that it was f/2; not that there was anything wrong with it, but to me it just delivered "ordinary first-rate images", not something really special.)

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the match needle meter readout of the M5 yet. This is far more preferable to me than the red LEDs in other cameras.

Picking the M5 is easy. So I suppose the toughest decision (once again) comes down to choosing a silver or black body.

I miss my M5. I have big hands. The only Leica I might like better than it could be an M10.

It's funny that with us, and I mean, "people who spend their free time reading and thinking about photography," something like a camera design from the 1970's can elicit the same spectrum of response that it did 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. So let me add my two cents: I like this camera. A lot. It comes from a fit-and-finish era of high-end European machinists. I had never seriously considered one until, in my wife's childhood Kansas neighborhood, I met a private eye who used one professionally. She swore by it. And I found myself thinking, "hmm. Gumshoe with a quiet camera . . . well it can't be all bad." And you know, it isn't.

Ben Marks

"Learning experiences." Yes, precisely. The whole point of the "One-year" challenge, and exactly the reason I find the idea so seductive.

[Mike often says he's the quintessential teacher, and I can appreciate that from my position on the other side of the fence: I'm an eternal student, always looking for new stuff to learn but pretty bad at communicating whatever I manage to find.]

So. I've actually been leaning towards the M5 for my own "One-year" (which I aim to begin on January 1st,) mostly because it is the least expensive Leica-with-a-meter. I'll just slap a Jupiter-8 on it and spend 2011 in rangefinder heaven (or hell. I'll let you know.)

I am always somewhat amused, bemused, and perplexed by those who say that one shouldn't or can't be limited to one lens. What about Henri Cartier-Bresson and his 50mm lens? That's the past and can't be done today? James Whitlow Delano seems to have done pretty well for himself with an M2 and a 35mm f.2 Summicron - check out http://www.jameswhitlowdelano.com/.

Every year is a Leica year! Each time I think about the ascetic appeal of one camera and one lens, I try to remember that I have already done that - for many years. From the age of 15 I used cameras as much as my pocket money would allow. But that meant saving, working odd jobs and eventually buying the meterless Praktica to replace the Trip 35, then the closed aperture metering Praktica, then the (joy!) Pentax K1000, upon which I spent a significant percentage of my student funds the first year in university. I managed to part exchange my old camera each time I upgraded. Each had one lens. A 'standard lens', of course! There were no 'kit zooms' at that time. I lusted after other lenses, but couldn't afford them and did without. It probably did me no harm, and possibly some good. So whilst I shall smile benignly on those who undertake the one-camera-one-lens year, and will smile a little more enthusiastically at those who use a Leica for it, I'm not tempted to repeat the experience just yet. I'll have to get a bit more jaded before that might appeal to me. As it is, I take up my two MPs, generally one with a 35 and one with a 75 and make the lenses fit the situation. I will confess that I have a Bessa III with a fixed lens, and am enjoying not having to worry about which lens to use on it!

Mike,
I agree with Ken Tanaka because I have been trying to learn to be a better photographer but my problem is that I'm not sure what I want to shoot- I need a theme. I'm trying to think what inspires me or would be a good idea to base a long-term project on (I'm going to read your theme post next). My only idea for a theme is to take pictures that will emulate Japanese prints. I have always liked the nature ones but I can't draw or paint so I might try to take pictures of them. Only I think I need a 100mm lens to pull in distant tree limbs against a blank sky and to shorten the depth of field. So I'm going to buy a 100mm f/2.8 breech lock for my Canon Ftbn "ebay special." That will run me about $96 on keh for the lens with hood and caps. I can stomach that even if I never hear anyone using 100mm lenses for anything but portraits. If I can't take good pics with that Canon and the 50mm f1.8 and 100mm lenses then I need to quit lusting after Zeisses and Leicas.

At some point I need to get my Canon CLA'd so I can see enough to focus the 100mm f/2.8 and to set up the meter for silver oxide batteries. Which begs the question, how will you get around the mercury battery requirement of the M5?

Mani: Individually, a 1-4mm difference in one dimension might be able to be described as minute, but when you combine increases in multiple directions, the resulting feel of the camera is quite different. That has been my experience, anyway. The M3 fits in my hands perfectly. The M9 is a brick. A brick I could get used to, however, were I rich, but alas, I am not.

Jona,
Sounds like you would benefit from a class.

I'll tell you a little secret, though, if you promise not to say it was me who told. Photography isn't about cameras and lenses. Technique is a lot more important than what camera and lenses you use, and your taste is a lot more important than technique, and having something to say is a lot more important than having good taste, and working hard and following through is more important than having something to say. Believe me, great work has been done with worse cameras and lenses than you're using now, and absolutely sh***y work has been done with the most highfalutin' expensive collector cameras on the planet. It ain't the cameras.

I wouldn't worry about Zeiss and Leica at all. If you really want one you'll get one someday--it's inevitable. In the meantime it's not important.

Mike

Not only is the match-needle meter very comfortable to read, the semi-spot metering pattern is very fast and accurate in use.

I think you will like this camera.

Instead of a "leica year" I have been doing a "kodachrome year", since this will not be possible in the future.

I've been running rolls through various different cameras just for variety/fun, but keep coming back to the M5 as the one which makes consistently perfect exposures and generally awesome looking slides with 70s era leica glass. I now feel guilty using other cameras -- almost like anything else is just a waste of time!

I don't think you will regret spending some time with an M5. I don't really think it's particularly ugly (especially compared to the average modern DSLR!), but it wouldn't matter if I did, because it seems to be one of those things that just works.

An M5 may bigger than an M3, but it is not bigger than an M3 + a handheld meter, and nothing is uglier than a hotshoe meter!

@Mitch Alland: That 2mm thicker issue with M8 is one of the major issues I dropped it. It really is not as nice as M3.

jkf, I must disagree :) I have both an M5 and an M3 with a hotshoe meter. The M3 with the meter on it to me has a delightful steampunk charm that the M5 lacks. In fact, the M3 is the one camera I own that has people commenting on how good the thing looks - and this is with the meter.

Dear Mike;
that little secret should of been a blog post! This is a good reminder for all of us especially with Photokina round the corner! I have a photo acquaintance who could do with having your secret etched on his credit card!
Paul

Mike, in my mind the M5 is the pinnacle of mechanical camera design. Like the M8, the M5 is a tour de force of "impossibilities" overcome.

Although I think it's the best-looking Leica, the shape makes it harder for me to hand-hold at lower speeds.

But watch out for that 'bourgeois' tag. There were fewer than 200 of the silver chrome version imported to the US.

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