Bob Swanson took the perfect frontispiece for this post in 1967 with his Leica IIIa. He's not sure of the lens; I believe it could be the 5 cm ƒ/3.5 Elmar. He says, "Moved on. Still have the Leica and lenses (somewhere)."
Once again, I got hundreds of entries for this fortnight's Baker's Dozen (193 emails, many with several pictures), and once again I extend my apologies to all the photographers I was forced to leave out. I'm not sure there was a single "bad" picture submitted, which makes sense. A great many were interesting, or beautiful, or touching. Thanks to everyone who participated, whether you find your picture here today or not. As before, it was certainly a treat for me to see them all (I think I do these "Baker's Dozen" calls for work because they're so much fun for me—they reconnect me with actual photographs, which sometimes seem a little too "up the road and off to the side" during my daily life).
Here we go! —Mike
Photo by Peter Wright
Peter Wright took this wonderful picture with the 90mm Elmarit-M pictured at the right, which he purchased used when he "got back into Leica photography." He says he sent it in for repair because the red dot fell off, and then the replacement red dot fell off too, so he made his own and attached it with super glue! You can see it in the picture. The camera is the M240.
"I discovered that the lens has a slight rear focus of 2–3 inches when the subject is at about 10 ft. and the lens is wide open. However I compensate for this by jogging the focus ring just a smidge clockwise after making focus. (You learn to accept/embrace adaptations like this if you are a regular Leica user.)" He says it's his most-used lens. If he gets other pictures as great as this one, I can see why.
David Burnett, A gathering of NYC citizens at Ground Zero, 9/11/11
And then what would a post about Leica lenses be without a Noctilux? Famed photojournalist David Burnett took this with the famed ƒ/1 lens and a then-new Leica M9 at the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in New York City. His Noctilux had been "sitting in a drawer since late '78," he writes, "since I could never get it synched to my M4 rangefinders...but oh, how great with the M9!" This was shot at either ƒ/1.2 or ƒ/1.4.
David, one of the great American PJs of the past almost 40 years, is currently with Contact Press Images, which he helped found.
Here's another famous Leica lens—the Dual-Range Summicron. For this picture, Lindsay Bach of Fort Washington, Maryland, used the Leica M2 and the DR Summicron shown at left, purchased secondhand in 1984. This shot was made in the close-focusing range. It certainly has that "DR look" that's so familiar.
"I purchased a Beseler copy stand last summer along with a small light box, some old negative carriers from eBay and began camera-scanning medium format negatives using a Sony A7RII fitted with a Sony 90mm G OSS macro lens," Lindsay writes. "The results were immediately superior to anything I had gotten from the scanners—and for the first time, the grain in the image files looked like grain did through the darkroom grain enlarger."
The candid portrait was taken in New Orleans in the 1980s.
Photo by Larry Angier
Jealousy alert: Larry Angier, who lives in the Sierra Nevada in California, got a call from a local contractor who told him to come quick, because they'd found a closet full of old cameras and were going to throw them out. It was all "a day away from the dumpster" as the contractor put it. Larry rescued the orphaned cameras (owner or heir unknown, I gather), none of which, judging from the most recent of the partly-exposed rolls of film he found in them, had been used since the '90s.
The cameras and lenses had seen better days but not a hard life. Of a pair of IIIf bodies, the shutter of one was still working; the other is now a shelf queen. The IIIg and the two M4 bodies needed only CLA (clean-lube-adjust, for you post-film people). The M3 needs a CLA but also a new beam splitter and, Larry says, "my guy can't fix it." But that's not so bad: the black-paint M4 is working well with lenses from the same era. Larry says there were lots of non-Leica items as well, including a Canon 7S with 28mm to 135mm lenses, including two 35mms and two 50mms; a Voigtländer Prominent system with three bodies and six lenses; and so on.
Many of the 1950s lenses had some fogging, but the M lenses, which include a 28mm Elmarit-M, 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm Summicrons, a collapsible "radioactive" 50mm Summicron, and a 90mm Tele-Elmarit, "are now back in use, gladly focusing on good old Tri-X and Fujicolor film." There were also several other M and LTM lenses; three Visoflex finders, bellows and lenses; and all sorts of tubes and adapters. "Needless to say, it was quite a collection," Larry tells us.
And all "just a day from the dumpster." Some guys are just lucky!
Photo by Earl Jamgochian
"I stumbled into Leica to some extent, not planning on buying into the system," writes Earl Jamgochian of Fullerton, California. "Just happened to stop at my local used camera shop to pick up some Tri-X on the day that an estate collection went on the shelf. An M6 TTL and two lenses—35mm Summicron and 90mm Elmarit—came home with me. I added the 50mm Summicron a few months later, to round out the set." Earl used the 50mm to take this picture of his grandson learning to walk.
"To my eye, there's a 'pop,' a richness of color or depth of grayscale range with the Leica images that I don't see with my other 35mm camera/lens systems. I know of the mythological Leica 'glow.' I don't think my eye is good enough to make that determination, at least with color negative film and scanned images; too many variables. I sometimes wish I had had the Leica in the Kodachrome era."
Photo by John Dana
From there, let's move from the old to the new, and from one far corner of the USA (Southern California) to the other—John Dana lives in the State o' Maine. John bought the Panny/Leica Nocticron—full name, Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm ƒ/1.2 ASPH. POWER O.I.S.—specifically for flower shots, and it wasn't easy for him to pull the trigger: "I stewed for months over this lens, from the first rumors, through the early press releases, reviews, and then user experiences. On the one hand it cost a bundle; on the other, it promised to be a legit 'magic' lens for the Micro 4/3 system, only the second after the Olympus 75mm. So, finally, after considerable inner dialogue (picture the angel on my right shoulder, the devil on my left), night after night, the lens (and, as it turns out, the angel) won. I picked this image because it emphasizes the water droplets on the stamen and the petals, while showing off the azalea flower. The lens works great for this. It was taken in the early morning after a night of dense fog. The flower was just in the light, and the lens allowed the background to remain dark, without disappearing. I rarely crop images, believing that what I saw through the viewfinder at the time is important and worth keeping. I picked this image because it emphasizes the water droplets on the stamen and the petals while showing off the azalea flower. The lens works great for this. It was taken in the early morning after a night of dense fog. The flower was just in the light, and the lens allowed the background to remain dark, without disappearing. I rarely crop images, believing that what I saw through the viewfinder at the time is important and worth keeping.
"I like this lens a lot."
Gordon Haddow, Cathedral of San Fernando, San Antonio, Texas
Here we're getting about as far away as we'll go from the old overbuilt golden-age E. Leitz taking lenses. Yet it doesn't look wrong. Gordon Haddow took this graphic detail shot with a Panasonic DMC-ZS20 zoom point-and-shoot. But it has a Leica-branded DC Vario-Elmar 4.3mm to 86mm (24–480mm-e) lens. "Nice little camera for walking around with," Gordon reports. Processed in Lightroom.
I guess cheating from the editor is a hazard of the Baker's Dozen idea, but I just couldn't choose between these two great shots sent in by Ivan Muller of Pretoria, South Africa. The handsome fellow above is a fisherman on the banks of the Sabie river in Mozambique. He caught the two tiger fish, Ivan tells us, with his bare hands! The photo in the inset, which I think is equally excellent, demands a closer look; all the reposing body parts add up to a painterly composition. It's a shot of Ivan's family and friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon at his best friend's holiday house on the banks of the Ebenezer dam, in the Limpopo province.
Both shots were taken with the Leica Elmarit 24mm ƒ/2.8 ASPH as found on the 12-MP Leica X1 camera introduced in 2009. Ivan is a commercial photographer based in Pretoria whose personal work is mainly to document the people and places of Southern Africa. He adds, "I also have a soft spot for street photography and architecture when I'm on vacation in Europe, specifically Italy."
Photo by William Schneider
While not meaning to give you an overdose of cute kids, I have to agree with William Schneider that this shot has an odd sense of mystery somehow. I'll let Bill tell us about it: "The photo was made with a 1958 collapsible Leica 5cm ƒ/2.8 Elmar that I had purchased cheaply. I found it in an old camera store that had creaking wooden floors—the best kind of place. The photo shows my nephew as a child. You can't quite tell what sort of trouble he's into. It's a mysterious, quirky moment, and it also presented an opportunity to show the proportions, volume, and roundness of a young child's head. The photo was made in 2002. I was using Tri-X film at the time, and likely exposed at EI 200 instead of the rated film speed. I used very dilute HC110 developer because it was cheap.
"I photographed with the Elmar lens for a short time, then sent it to Sherry Krauter for a CLA. It came back much improved, but I used my other lenses much more often. The Elmar is a bit cumbersome to operate because of the way the aperture dial turns with the front assembly while focusing, and it's optically slower than the others. But the 'look' it produces is very nice. It has 15 aperture blades that create a near-perfect circular opening. The Leica MP body shown with the lens is not the one used for the child's picture. I used a Leica M6TTL, but it's been sold.
"From 1987 through 2003, I taught a darkroom photo class that was required for some majors at Ohio University. I've recently retired from teaching. During that period, I've witnessed a great upheaval not only in the technology of photography, but also in the makeup of the photography student population and how they work. Still, I had one student interested in doing darkroom work, and he purchased the Leica M6TTL mentioned above. I gave him a very good deal knowing that he'd use it.
"I still have the Elmar lens though, and I'll keep it for sentimental reasons."
Photo by Dan Smith
"Photographer Dan Smith here in beautiful Nanson, North Dakota where Winter had not yet hit. Still fall weather and only four or five subzero days so far as we move into Winter." So began Dan's email.
Dan took this at the Mohall Diner, in Mohall, North Dakota, with a Panasonic Lumix LX-7. "As I eat I watch the other folks in these diners and restaurants and when I see something that looks interesting I pull out the little Panasonic. This gentleman and his family were eating two booths from us. Talked with him after we both ate and let him know of the photograph. He was passing through on the way back to where he lived further South.
"The little Panasonic is not threatening to folks like pulling out the Canon 1 series bodies with a lens tends to be."
Photo by Steve Renwick
Steve Renwick is doing retro right if you ask me, and I think all you grizzled old photo-dawgs out there will agree: "Shot on glorious Tri-X with a Leica M3 and collapsible 50mm Summicron in January 2016. This is at the beach at Pillar Point, near Half Moon Bay, California. Exposure was set by sniffing the wind and using the Force.
"The camera is from Dave, my former darkroom teacher, who taught at Skyline Community College starting lo these many years ago and retiring last year. He bought the camera and lens almost new in 1964 in San Francisco. I think he was not entirely convinced that selling it was a good idea, but he fixed me with a gimlet eye and said, 'Well, I know you will use it.' I didn’t exactly experience the scales falling from my eyes and proceed to sell all the other cameras—I won’t let go of my beloved Nikon FM3A—but damn this is a fine piece of machinery. I agreed with Dave that loading anything other than Tri-X in there was inadvisable and probably illegal."
Photo by Millard Maclaughlin, scanned by his grandson, Gordon Coale
"Kodachrome..." writes Gordon Coale. "...That was something. This isn't my picture. It was taken by my grandfather, Lt. Colonel Millard Maclaughlin, in 1949 and 1950. He went to Morioka, in northern Japan, as part of the occupation forces. He took these pictures with a Leica IIIc, a Summitar 50mm ƒ/2 lens, and Kodachrome. The picture of the camera is the one my grandfather used. It's mine now.
"About ten years ago my uncle gave me a slide case of my grandfather's slides. Among them were 44 slides from his stay in Morioka. Four years ago I scanned them for my family members. My grandmother had written titles on the slides. One of those is the picture of a slide that I'm holding.
"Scanning them was quite an experience. Each time I brought another up in Lightroom I was amazed at the color and detail. Today photographers complain if their camera can't cleanly produce photos at ISO 3200. I think Kodachrome in my grandfather's time ASA 8, maybe 16. It was easy to block up shadows but I was able to pull more detail out than I thought was there by looking at the slide."
Jana and Marta at the Skopje Zoo, Leitz Wetzlar Elmarit 90mm ƒ/2.8. Photo by Darko Hristov.
This next one is tricky, because it violates the bounds of the straight "Baker's Dozen" concept a bit. But it's so interesting in several ways that I decided to share it with you.
First, Darko Hristov of Skopje, Macedonia, sent the above photo of his older daughter Jana with her cousin Marta as his submission for this feature. The camera and lens choice, he said, is telling: "this is a picture shot with the Leica M2 on Ilford Pan 400 using the old Leitz Wetzlar 90mm Elmarit ƒ/2.8. A magical lens, but hard to work with on a rangefinder. Nevertheless, when you get it right, angels start to sing." He continues, "I also have a Leica S with a 75mm CS ƒ/2.5 lens. The fact that I don't include a Leica S photograph but have chosen pictures taken with that old Elmarit should speak volumes."
But if you detect a seriousness on Jana Hristov's face in the portrait, you're not wrong. Far more interesting than the camera information is the backstory of the photograph that Darko shared with me. The picture of Jana and Marta was taken a week after his younger daughter, Elena, was born two months early with severe respiratory problems. "At that time Elena was still in an intensive care unit bound to a respiratory ventilation machine, and we did not know if she would survive. It would remain so for the next three months. The shot of Jana and Marta was taken at the Skopje Zoo, where I took the girls for a day trip in order to project a hint of normality."
Elena, age two
The story has a happy conclusion, though. "After the first three months, luckily everything got better. Elena is six years old now and a healthy and lovely girl."
This last picture, of dad and daughter, was taken two days ago on Monday of this week.
Although just four pictures, they illustrate a story. I hope it's not too much of a stretch to include the supporting pictures and the backstory as a slight nod to the classic photoessay and the old idea of "the concerned photographer," since those things are an element of Leica's history and heritage too.
But lastly, back to cameras and lenses...that fourth picture, of Darko and Elena now, was taken with a Huawei P10 phone that identifies the taking lens as a "Leica Summarit H" on the back! So in the end we're back to pictures taken with Leica lenses.
(My thanks to Darko for his help putting this together, and very best wishes to the Hristov family of Skopje!)
Dave Reichert, Carol on the Pacific Coast Highway, August 1978
And finally, one more for good measure: this is totally cheating too, but as a former custom exhibition printer and darkroom rat I couldn't resist. This picture wasn't taken with a Leica lens...but Dave Reichert used a Leica enlarging lens to print it! The inset JPEG shows the whole neg. Dave made the old print on Kodak Velox, enlarged with a Leitz 100mm ƒ/4 V-Elmar, on his Beseler 45-MCRX with a Beseler Point Light Source. "The oddest of odd-bird enlarger heads," Dave calls it, "used only by certifiable photographic masochists. There's virtually no information about it on the Web except for some user manuals for sale. I gave away my entire darkroom a couple of years ago, but for some reason I kept the point source head. Go figure."
Brett Weston used a point-source enlarger head too, in his darkroom in Hawaii where he printed at night with all the windows open to the humid Pacific Ocean air. The 100mm V-Elmar was a fine old enlarging lens. (The picture was taken with a Nikkor.)
[Ed. Note: Thanks again to everyone who submitted! And sorry again for all the fine pictures I didn't publish, including the portrait of science fiction authors Larry Niven and Robert A. Heinlein, and the picture of Henri Cartier-Bresson out and about.
If you think there are more that 13 choices here, you probably miscounted. But no need to bother counting again. Let's just go with it. :-) ]
Original contents copyright 2017 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Wes Cosand: "Wonderful. The series by Darko Hristov was what I needed tonight."