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Saturday, 30 May 2009


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I'd like to second variation #1.

I cherish the fact that I learned on an old "MMM" as you call it -- an Olympus OM-1. The fancy feature was a basic needle lightmeter.

The manual camera taught me the basics of exposure better than any modern camera today could.

I think the litmus test for if people "need" this type of training may be to see what gee-whiz camera mode they are most comfortable with. Personally, I love and use "M" on my dSLR.

XP-2 and shop processing/printing... well, that may just make the whole thing palatable...

If you like the look of the 50s, try films by ADOX; if you're looking for cheaper choicses than ilford oder Kodak, you can use Fomapan, a czech manufacturer, that makes great stuff. A source in Germany:


I'm not involved in their business, but they do a good job.

Your comments are great, but if you're going to talk about Delta 400 (a beautiful film, imo), no mention of T-Max 400? :)

Mike, these last few posts have resonated with the readership unlike any others I've read before. And especially myself since I they have inspired me to just get out there and shoot again.

So I'm doing two things:

For one, am signing up for the TOP (re)Training. I did it in Melbourne and Sydney, a while back; but since I've just moved to Paris -- what better place to carry around an M6 and a 50 Summicron?

I hope others who plan to take the TOP Training let Mike know one way or another as either comments or an email. I'm hoping there is enough of us to get a little support in future posts.

And two, I'm signing up for a TOP subscription. After all... support takes effort.


p.s. I have Variation #6 to offer: Modern DSLR + Vintage Lens. When I started shopping for a DSLR, I looked for something that would behave somewhat similarly to the Leica (in terms of restrictive and predictable interface); so I wouldn't have to put up with the burden of film.

I would suggest the following: Pentax DSLR + M series K mount lens (manual focus and manual metered). I'm not sure if Nikon works in a similar way; but this would be a good option too. I only had a *ist DS + 28/2.8 KM and 50/1.4 KM for about 2 years; and only now have added their modern equivalents (21/3.2 D-FA and 50/1.4 FA).

A changing bag, a film tank, some chemicals and you can process your own without a darkroom. I have the negatives to prove it, souped in motel bathrooms and friends kitchens across the US. The last two citys I've lived in have darkroom rentals another alternative to B&W processing. Gosh I'm tempted to get back to basics. Thanks Mike

I remember sitting-in calculus class, freshman year of college, with a foreign instructor scribbling equations, willy-nilly, all over the chalkboard, in no logical order. It wasn't about education at all; it was a way of weeding-out students. Sure, you learn some stuff, but that's not what it's about. If you're a smart student, you end up finding your own way. If you are a truly gifted student, you find your own way and sidestep the educator. Formal education is the domain of the mediocre, and the mediocre needs the teacher. Talent laughs in the face of the educator. And the teacher knows that only the hopeless would follow his teaching.

Bravo, Mike.
Love these variations. Specially #1 to 3. :-)

It is sad (and unfortunate)that you feel the need to expend your energy on this post.
Your original was clear, concise and very well intended. with regard to the diversity of responses on the original. I feel that the only only one who truly understood (including myself) was Charlied. A year spent with a Leica, Tri-x and cats is an honest and valuable learning experience. (I understand they taste like chicken)

A great selection of posts Mike, couldn't agree more.

Another suggestion for the cash strapped is the Holga. I've had one for just under two years, and at first the results from it were rubbish. But over the course of a year or so shooting with it, I learnt what light it would work with (always shooting 400 b+w film), how best to frame, the lens sweetspot, etc.

This cheapo camera has two f stops (apparently f8 and f11, or cloudy and sunny), 1 shutter speed, and barely focuses at all (person to trees to mountain symbols). But learn how to frame with it and use it in the right light, and you can produce wonderful photographs, on a beautiful 6*6 neg. I have half a dozen shots from it going into two exhibitions this summer. Shows what you can do with the one camera, one lens for a year approach.

Mike, the only thing that could have been more dispiriting than the carping and/or hostile responses to your last two generous and insightful posts is what has transpired: that, under the onslaught of ill-considered nitpicking, you've felt compelled to water down your original suggestion.

Hopefully, 3 out of your 30,000 daily visitors will have the courage and humility to do the exercise, exactly as you prescribed. No ifs or buts, just buy the Leica and a single lens and spend a year shooting. For me, it was an M2 plus a 35mm Summicron using Tri-X developed in D-76. Where did the money come from? Like you, from part-time jobs. (At what point in our lives do we begin to echo our parents?)

Consider the (ultimately reimbursable) cost of the Leica as representing a kind of challenge, similar to those encountered and overcome in any hero's journey. In other words, someone says he or she is serious about learning to take good photographs, let's see how serious. (A friend who taught printmaking in an art school was stunned when a student told her he couldn't afford the materials needed to complete an assignment. She said to me in exasperation: "So why doesn't he give up smoking?")

I suspect that much of the resistance is prompted by the fact that, as eloquently as you explained it in your second post, unless one has actually shot with a Leica, it's truly difficult to understand why a Leica is the only tool for this particular job.

Not a metal, manual, mechanical SLR. Not a different brand of 35mm rangefinder. Not a medium-format rangefinder. Not color negative film. And not for 4–6 weeks.

A Leica. One lens. Black-and-white negative film. For a year. Report back at the end of May, 2010.

As the Zen master said, "The further you travel along a narrow path, the wider it becomes."

I got fed up of the cost of having black and white films processed. I also got fed up of how i'd get scratched negatives and (on the last set) blotchy prints, and how the prints were always too contrasty, blocking detail revealed once I scanned the negatives.

So I started developing my own film. I bought a changing bag, a developing tank, some measuring cylinders, thermometer, and the necessary chemicals.

I'd not developed a film for getting on thirty years, but once I'd started I was amazed at how it all came back to me. Loading the film into the tank was simple, and the processing is pretty simple too, so before long I had a strip of negatives hanging over the bath to dry.

Sadly, I don't have room for a darkroom, so I scan the negatives.

So I'd recommend anyone who can scan film and is planning to shoot a lot of black and white develops it themselves. It'll work out cheaper than getting it processed commercially, it doesn't take that much time to do, and all in all it's pretty easy.

Exhausting though it may have been to write and follow up on, that was a storming series. The combination of what you said (which was heartfelt and learned) and what you didn't say (brazenly ignoring the tacit understanding that any article encouraging the use of a Leica has to go on and on about the apparently magical properties of Leica glass) made this my favourite set of articles here for a while.

I might have missed it in the storm of comments but I don't recall someone who's actually done this exact thing with a Leica commenting that it hadn't been worth it. (That's a lazyweb statement; someone will correct it if I've been careless.)

"A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

-- Walter Benjamin.

I don't doubt that any of your prescriptions will yield great results for any photographer -- novice or, perhaps even more, experienced.

My problem has to do with the whole backward looking, anachronistic nature of your recommendations. On their surface they make sense because they rely on the well trod ideology of film basics -- simplify, simplify, simplify. And old tech.

But really, is this the world we live in or will live in going forward? I don't think so.

I think there are principals underlying your recommendations, some of which you've mentioned explicitly, some of which are implicit. I'd have preferred cutting to the principals and abstracting away from the technology. Or at least qualifying the technology (whether film or digital) to tailor for maximum progress. By that I mean highlighting the pros and cons, pitfalls and advantages of film / digital.

For example, there are two (to me) unbeatable characteristics of doing a digital exercise like you recommend: a) immediate feedback in comparing the actual with the captured and b) almost zero marginal cost of the next image and therefore impetus to shoot lots and potentially learn more, more quickly. I suppose each of these can be characterized as a pitfall if you apply the film analog. So the learning challenge is navigating the distinct differences and transcending them.

I guess the basic point is that the key to improvement doesn't lie with what type of equipment is used. But the type of equipment used does shape the learning experience both to good and ill. The key is found in the state of mind and the creative intelligence brought to the whole endeavor.

But that said, who knows? Perhaps a digital exercise might, in the rare instance of high talent, even genius, lead to a new way of seeing. One that transcends in some as yet unknown way what we have been seeing and refining photographically all these past and gone years of film.

Note: I can't believe someone hasn't said something very similar to this. I appreciate your being exhausted in reading; it exhausts me just to think about reading the comments.

Thanks for the push.

I would like to have a digital camera that can have the LCD set to display in mono while the photo is taken in chromo. The idea is to have digital images that can be converted to mono with more flexibility, by working in three channels. But the point is that the photographer gets to preview in mono on the LCD, as the final image is intended to be mono.

Do such beasts exist? The nearest I can think of is some early digital cameras may have used a B&W EVF; but these cameras probably have numerous weaknesses.

I learned photography in the late 60s, at the age of seventeen, shooting three rolls of Tri-X a week in a Spotmatic. So I can identify with what you've been saying in your recent posts.

What I wonder is this: There's a seventeen-year-old kid out there today who is just as crazy about photography as I was in '67. What's he shooting with? What camera does he aspire to? Who's he emulating? And what kind of advice he's going to give in 40 years?

I would say, "Well YOU started it!" to your first sentence, but instead I'll say, "Rest, Brother, rest!"

Actually, I had already derived a variation on your Leica theme that money, energy level and sense of commitment will allow, and using the gear I have.

Thanks for the prod, Mike.

Of all the films easy to process for even fairly rank beginners, 35mm B&W is about the easiest possible. It isn't picky. If you scan and print, it doesn't get easier.

A couple of years back I went to Romania for a few weeks. I did 99% of my shots with a Bessa rangefinder with a 35mm lens (the other 1% was LF colour). I only brought B&W for the 35mm. It was tremendously instructive, and I will give another run I think; I'l do the 4-6 week thing.

Well, over the last 10 months I have been using film almost exclusively. I did buy a Pentax K20d and used it for a week, but sent it back due to high iso noise banding. I sold both my Canon DSLR's 10 months ago and started using mostly 35mm B&W. The developing process makes it more enjoyable. I've primarily used a Pentax 43mm due to unforeseen circumstances and a limited budget. I have to say that it ended up being a good thing. I have become a more selective a considerate photographer. Now I have a Kodak Tourist. A 1948 bellows style folding rangefinder with no rangefinder attached and no light meter. A fixed focal length of 105mm with lens shutter and 620 film. (I re-roll 120 on to 620 spools). I'm still out another 3 to 4 months from purchasing a new DSLR system, so for now my only cameras are this Kodak and a 4x5 Toyo-view with a 150mm lens. Most of my friends think I'm a bit nuts, but so far it's been well worth it.


I have been playing with the chromogenic films (both 35mm and 120) for a few months and I like what I see so far. It is a little pricey where I live though.

One thing I would like to add to your list of film-type advantages/disadvantages is that, if you plan to scan B&W film at home, Digital Ice works with chromogenic film! That is a pretty big, time saving deal for me.

I have enjoyed the last few posts about learning with Leica + B&W film. Very risky for you ya? If we all took your advice to heart, none of us would have any time to read your blog.


Cheers! Jay

You were absolutely correct in laying out "Mike's One-Year Photography Course". As someone who has been shooting for more than sixty years for the best newspapers and magazines world-wide I think your program will improve anyone who is serious about improving their photo skills. Your one year program probably sounds like a lifetime to a young person. But like the man says, "You gotta' pay to play". What are you willing to invest to be the best?

My son is a champion body builder. He is totally dedicated to a champion's "program" of diet and rigorous, consistent training. His commitment to his physical and mental "program" is relentless. You would be surprised at how many people tell him that they wished they had a body like his. But the question is how many people would endure the training process required to get and maintain that kind of body? That sort of fits in with what you are suggesting. How many photo "students' will go the extra mile to be better at their craft?
Finally - stick to your guns on the use of a Leica. Anyone using a Leica has a ten-point advantage over the competition in attitude. And when it all boils down attitude has created more great pictures than we could ever count.

No comments on T-Max 400 (TMY)? I've never liked it much, but it's an obvious 400-speed film that's out there and easy to get, so people would probably appreciate an opinion.

Variation #3a: Substitute a medium-format twin lens reflex.

You left Kodak T-Max 400 (400TMY) off your list of 400 speed B&W films.

I've spent the last year or so shooting a lot of T-Max 400 film (at EI 200) with my Yashica MAT-124G. It's my favorite walk around camera.

Thanks for all the work Mike. You really do a fantastic job dealing with all us cranks.

As a professional photographer I've been feeding my family leftovers since 1972 and am still learning the craft. Many thanks Mike for the great posts. They keep my mind alive.

Ok Mike I'm going to call you on this one. It takes me about 30 minutes from the moment I remove a roll of 35mm B&W film from the camera until the time it gets hung on the dangling clothespin to dry. That's really not a lot and for me enjoyable as well. Folks will need to cough up about $100-$125 for the changing bag, tank, chemicals etc. Using your own advice on scraping up enough money to buy a Leica one can easily find a way to develop their own film by utilizing proper time management. Besides can anyone truly be considered a "real" photographer without having fixer stink finger?

Since it may be convenient for people to go the chromogenic route, especially the dabblers, let me reiterate an important difference between Kodak's BW400CN and Ilford's XP2 Super: While both are processed as if they are color negatives, the BW400CN will come out as a color negative, with an orange mask, while XP2 Super will come out as a black and white negative, on a clear base.

This means that the BW400CN negative will print very well on color printing labs, convincingly black and white with perhaps a warmish or coldish tone. On the other hand, it will be difficult to judge the negative by eye or print it in a black and white darkroom. Meanwhile, the XP2 Super comes out meant for printing in a black and white darkroom. XP2 prints from the color lab can look faintly colored, sometimes resembling hand-tinted photos.

So, if one goes this way, and one has a choice, decide by printing method. For black and white darkroom, choose XP2, for the drugstore, choose BW400CN. (Of course most pro labs can handle either kind of negative equally well.)

I've been reading these latest posts and comments with interest. Since I teach high school photography, I've been reminiscing about our darkroom - now shut down for more than three or four years.

And in that time the most important question for me is: are the students learning as much about photography? Are things really better now?

I'd have to say I don't know the answer for that - but there is a reverse idea: what if some of the greats, for whatever reason, could use some of the digital wonders we have today and trade their stuff in... would they have?

Is it even possible (or heretical) to consider that if they had the technology we have, they would have had taken even BETTER photographs?

For me, that's an interesting question and one worth exploring.

I want to plug a custom lab in Los Angeles for Black and White. It's called "Schulman Photo Lab." They are a small custom black and white lab, and the owner is a master printer in his forties. I think the price for processing and proof sheet is in the twelve dollar range, and they are very good. He is one of the few master printers left that do real darkroom work and I know that this economy can be rough on a place like this. I have no affiliation to them other than being a happy customer.

Jonathon and Mike:
Doug Rice

I have recently been taking my Canon G-III QL with me as I run around with my digital and it has been completely refreshing to stop, think, dial in an exposure based off of the sunny16 rule, compose and shoot.
I took it to a David Hobby workshop that I dropped in on recently and it was the star of the show! I bought it for $25 at an antique store in Washington State.
I'm almost at the point of pulling out my darkroom equipment and start making prints again!
Poor man Leica for the win :)

My first camera was a Leica IIIa with an Elmar lens - somewhere around 1968 - SLR's were pretty exotic stuff then - so I suppose I started out doing exactly this exercise.

There is certainly a Zen-like aspect to this which is difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't done it.

I had to shoot with a zoom for about a year - hated it - slowed me up so much because I didn't "know" exactly what was in the frame before lifting the camera.

For years, I shot only film (that's all there was then). And then for years I shot only digital and had no thoughts of looking back. At TOP and elsewhere much is written about film, so I thought (what the heck?) to give it a whirl again with my old OM-1. Personal rule for this project: no shopping. I'm only using what I have on hand.

I started with Kodak BW400CN because the chain drug store sells them in 3 packs. While their development and printing is low quality, the film is pretty neat and the whole process is inexpensive. I'll try Neopan and Tri-X next. I'm fortunate to have good B&W processing available nearby.

I am amazed at the experience. I didn't realize how much I had been thinking about how to outfox my dSLR's automation and stay within the digital exposure happy zone.

I don't know if I'll learn anything, but it really is a surprisingly fun diversion.

for one thing - you are absolutely correct in your recommendations and rationale. Don't let the haters get you down.

I actually started doing much the same thing as you are recommending earlier this year, using a MF rangefinder (mamiya6) and a normal lens. TX400 for low light and Fuji Acros 100 for daytime. I did it because I was missing my "roots" (learned photography on a 1972 pentax spotmatic with just a 50/1.4 and a 135mm lens, wet printed everything) and I love the quality of b/w film, but as I've been using it as a primary camera I've found it is really sharpening my skills back up. Guess I got lazy from shooting digital, got sloppy.

I have been truly enjoying photography more with my mam6 and one lens than all my high-end digital gear etc...

anwyay, there *are* those of us who agree with you out there and we are walkin' the walk :-)

Another good idea for B&W processing is DR5 reversal, especially if people are going to go straight to scan. You'll probably lose some latitude that way, but not as much as with color chromes.

Just theorizing: The low production numbers of Lieca cameras isn't that far off from the norm I think. I mean even before digital, press photographers were shooting SLRs. 35mm has limited uses in commercial. So who was buying them other than the wealthy, artists, and certain pros who could justify the expense?

I do see a lot of Asian tourists here in NYC with them though... Interesting!

One day, a black Leica MP will be mine. One day!!!

"Embracing the future certainly has value. But taking hold of the best of the recent past while it still retains a little currency and viability might be valuable too. Especially for the young, whose life journeys will take them farther away from it than us "old guys" will ever get. Specifically, from the not-so-lofty perch of my modest 52 years, I'm convinced that any 20-year-old who spends a year shooting Tri-X with a Leica now will value that photographic experience more and more as the years of their own lives slip past, and as that method, and the possibility of that experience, slips ever more irretrievably into obscurity. I just can't imagine them regretting it, thirty years from now."

well put: we have seemingly tossed out 50 years of photographic established acumen in the last 5-at least that is how it feels. I suspect the rangefinder still has some legs left, after all, it has really remained a niche camera since the late 60's-and perhaps like 8x10, a niche that will manage to sustain itself despite all the changes.

For what it's worth, Printlab in Chicago does a very good job. Caution, they're kind of pricy for developing + a proof sheet.

And my favorite in NY for Black and White was Alkit Pro Cameras, which is at 18th & Park Ave South. Just a block north of Union Square.

As for me, I'll probably start this fall. So next May will be just past the midway mark for me. But it sounds like a plan.

Holy #@$!. Fer crying out loud people, get a life.

I think that you are confusing a lot of people with the "Leica" thing. A lot of people would be intimidated by the name and it would be another thing in between them and what they ought to be seeing. And that is your point, isn't it? Look at what is before you, not at your equipment.
Back in the day when I was learning photography at art school $12.50 was a lot of money and people who used Leicas were gods and/or demons. We learned to look instead of covering up our eyes with a camera by first going out without the camera. "Dry Shooting", where you went out and just looked, taught us to look at what we wanted to photograph and to visualize a print of the shot. Next we made a composing rectangle, but with a thin border so it emphsized rather than isolated. This taught us to use our feet as well as our eyes. Then we would take the camera with us and frame up the shot - and then put the camera down and look again. And think of the print, and move and then look through the veiwfinder to see if the camera was recording our vision.
I think this is what you are trying to get at - photography is not a hand/eye thing, its a eye/print thing. That a crappy viewfinder on a piece of equipment that for sure will take a good shot if only it is pointed at the right thing from the right distance will teach people to look with their eyes, not their optics. And look at the light, not the meter.
Btw, why not include a mini Speed Graphic in your list of alternatives? Rangefinder? If you want to survey get a theodolite! The sports viewfinder is made to insure that you see beyond the frame. And the viewfinder detaches to make an easy to carry composing rectangle. I'll take the feel of vintage leather on aged cedar over cold aluminum any day.

Everyone says that you can produce just as good, even better results with the new tools. And I havent been in my darkroom for over six years. But the results are different just as surely as driving a nail with a hammer places it in the wood differently than a nail gun, bread baked in a wood burning stove has a different crust and texture than a modern electric one, and driving a car with nothing automatic or power assisted is a total different feel than todays automobiles. Whats disturbing to me about all this is not the new but how fast the old becomes unappreciated for its value and contribution to that new process. And, to me, so completly forgotten and lost. To this point in history it seems to me that there has always been at least some interest and access to the "tools" of the past and the experiences they produced. But now the younger generations and to a great extent those of us who are older are DONE with the past. And thats a huge loss. And thats why so many have such issues with your fine suggestion.

While I haven't quite done exactly your experiment as described, I've done very similar long term projects several times (in my teens, my thirties, and my forties) with Leicas and also two different times with the 8x10 Deardorff.

The experience of really learning to use the Leica is an invaluable aid for learning to use a view camera. Why? It's that aspect you mention of finding the picture without the viewfinder. Once the Leica teaches you to find the picture just your eyes, before looking through the finder, you can do the same while looking for the very different sort of picture you'll make with the view camera. You'll be very happy to be able to "find the shot" with your bare eyes while the 8x10 is still in the back of the truck, or folded in the backpack. The big groundglass is a joy to look at and use to refine your picture, but if you have to use it literally as a view_finder_ you will make very few exposures, so few successful pictures. It gets even more important working with a 12x20 banquet camera....

Whether or not it's a good idea to shoot for a year with a Leica and one lens is an issue for others to comment on. This is advice I've heard and read many times. It's probably very helpful.

However You did in some part justify the exercise by saying it would be free or almost free due to the resale value of the equipment. Then again your friend who gets $12.50 a roll to process B/W film would add a fairly hefty expense to the fun. Lets see 2 to 6 rolls a week would amount to $1300 to $3900 for processing alone not counting shipping charges. I'm sure most people would just use their own darkroom. As you pointed out most people don't have a darkroom.

A year of shooting with a film camera at the rate of 2-6 rolls a week is not an insignificant expense. My guess is that there is are ways for people to use the digital equipment they already have in some disciplined and controlled manner to derive at least 90% of the benefit you mention at 10% or less of the cost.

Mike, I went back to shooting some film recently, after closing up my darkroom sometime in the 1980s and donating everything. I've struggled to find a lab that will process b/w other than C41, and finally discovered that doing my own processing is still no big deal, once I collected reels, a tank, a changing bag, and a bunch of dusty chemicals that the local camera store keeps "for students." Not a lot of money required, even though the $7 reels that I bought from B&H were junk, and the expensive $12 reels (still made in Japan) were required. But scanning is still a big headache, costly if done for me and not very good with inexpensive flatbeds. I may exhume my old Rolleicord, just to get a negative that scans well.


In a different-but-same kind of way, that's what Sonny Rollins did all those years on the bridge, and I think things worked out just fine for him. Not looking to the past and dipping your toe in those waters would be like thinking you can be a great rock musician without listening to Zep.

Mr. Delacour has said it right -- you shouldn't have backed down.

The reality is this - the Leica is a Hairshirt. It's a pain to use and requires a lot of practice to get it right, but when you do, the magic happens it becomes very fast and very transparent.

It's the Mr. Miyagi of cameras - 'wax on, wax off'- teaching the motions first so that you see beyond them.

All the people whom have commented something like "I have learned more about photography in the last year with a DSLR than in 30 with film" -- I say this; Yes, you have. You have learned about photography. Hooray.

The Leica teaches you about making photographs. And that is what really counts.

If you don't understand the difference, try picking up a Leica, a 35mm lens, and a couple of bricks of Ilford XP2.

In time you will understand.

Can't agree. This exercise can be accomplished with any camera and any 50 mm lens which approximates the angle of view of the human eye. As a slide photographer for may years I always tell people to develop and learn a sense of visual design (the art of seeing) so that you can immediately recognize a scene or sitaution that you want to capture. As you go along you will develop (hopefully) an aesthetic sense and person style and incorparate what you have learned, even unconciously. Even the masters and other great photographers give themselves tasks to do to refresh their way of seeing and retain sharpness in their visual design. This is done in myriad of ways. I have already suggested shooting slides as one way.


Mike, I LOVE these posts. Not because I necessarily agree (or disagree or even plan to take up your exercise) , but because they are interesting, because you have a passionate opinion, and because you're not afraid to put them out there.

That's what makes TOP so damn interesting, and one of my fav blogs of the moment. Reminds me of Paul Graham (re: Hackers and Painters) of Philip Greenspun of photo.net fame. I feel smarter because of TOP, and not because I take what you and your contributors write as gospel, but because it illuminates a facet of photography and art (and culture) that I get almost no where else.

I read the TOP entries regarding using B&W film in a Leica for a year and I thought they were great. I remember using B&W in a Pentax K1000 for a year and a half about 20+ years ago when I first got into photography as a hobby, but I slacked off and put my camera gear away for a long time. I only recently got back into it, and one of my biggest complaints about most digital cameras is that manual anything seems to be sort of an afterthought. I know the cameras are designed that way because that's what people want. Too bad it's not what this people wants. I found my old film tank and reels the other day, and I just recently got a YashicaMat (it even all appears to work!), maybe some 120 B&W film is in my future. If I can find any. And some chemistry. And the time to get in the darkroom.

Thanks for the idea, it's a good one.

Arg: "I would like to have a digital camera that can have the LCD set to display in mono while the photo is taken in chromo."

This is quite easily done. Use a camera that has a monochrome shooting mode, which many do. This affects the LCD display and the JPG output. However, set the camera to shoot RAW not JPG. This preserves all the (colour) content toward an optimally filtered and tone-curved B&W final image; but with the benefit of a B&W preview in-camera and in the image thumbnail. This has the side-benefit of acting as a later reminder of those shots you visualised as B&W rather than colour, at the scene.

"You did in some part justify the exercise by saying it would be free or almost free due to the resale value of the equipment"

I said the CAMERA would be free or close to it. Specifically a camera body. Not the whole project. On the contrary, it's a big commitment, in time, money, and effort.


Arg: you can get exactly what you want (review in B&W, download in colour) in nearly any modern DSLR

Set JPG style to be monocrome, but set the camera to write RAW + JPG. The LCD review will use the monocrome jpg but for post processing, use the (colour) RAW.

"there is a reverse idea: what if some of the greats, for whatever reason, could use some of the digital wonders we have today and trade their stuff in... would they have?

Is it even possible (or heretical) to consider that if they had the technology we have, they would have had taken even BETTER photographs?

For me, that's an interesting question and one worth exploring."

An interesting proposition, and worth exploring. However, the hard rules in college DID make me a better photographer, and many of the digital only togs ask me a lot of questions. (How do you know that? Where did you learn that?)

The Rules: no color, no flash, MMM camera. I bought Tri X 100' rolls, Polycontrast paper, Diafine, D76 and Dektol. I splurged on an EL Nikkor. In fact, the PC was not invented until 9 years after I graduated.

Just my .02...

Wow. This whole discussion -- awesome. I've read the three posts and almost all of the several hundred comments, and simply reading them has got me seriously excited about photography again.

The comment that stuck with me was by David Littlejohn, above, who wrote: "What I wonder is this: There's a seventeen-year-old kid out there today who is just as crazy about photography as I was in '67. What's he shooting with? What camera does he aspire to? Who's he emulating? And what kind of advice he's going to give in 40 years?"

I don't feel worthy to say I'm *that kid*. I don't know if I'm as crazy about photography as he was in '67. I am 17 (soon 18), though, and I'm excited about photography.

When I read the first post, I thought, great, sounds like this would be fun, demanding and one hell of a learning experience, but I can't afford it. Then I saw the part about sacrifice and realized that I actually do have the money, in a saving account where it's slowly accumulated over the past seventeen years. I was planning to use it for my driver's license (you have to be eighteen to get it around here, and the cost is probably a couple of Leicas). It got me seriously considering actually doing it. With the resale argument, I could use the money and, provided I treated the camera well, regain the money in a year's time, or simply save the money up over the year. It would be sacrificing one year of driving, but it'd be a postponement, not a permanent loss. I'm thinking that might be a very economically irresponsible move, and one that wouldn't go over well with my parents, though.

Obviously I can't see forty years into the future, but I can answer what I shoot with now (even if I'm still not *the kid*): an Olympus DSLR, and a recently acquired Yashica-Mat TLR (original, without meter).

Anyway, I'm going to echo several others: this is why I read TOP.

Jim in Denver said, "The reality is this - the Leica is a Hairshirt. It's a pain to use and requires a lot of practice to get it right, but when you do, the magic happens it becomes very fast and very transparent."

I had an M2 and M3 with a few lenses years back and they were OK but nothing special. They didn't bring about a big improvement in my photography. That happened when I started using a Mamiya Press and a tripod. Now that's a real hairshirt camera! My point is that my photography improved not because it was speeded up with a Leica but because it was slowed down with a Mamiya. Taking longer, the process engaged my brain to a greater degree and that helped my photography.

Jim also said, "All the people whom have commented something like "I have learned more about photography in the last year with a DSLR than in 30 with film" -- I say this; Yes, you have. You have learned about photography. Hooray."

Jim, I'm taking your comment above in the pejorative way I believe you intended it and I couldn't disagree with you more. The Mamiya helped my photography but digital has helped it even more, the reason being the instant feedback from the LCD. Now that's a teacher! Maybe you should try picking up a good DSLR and a couple of memory cards and learn how to use it properly. Maybe in time you'll get it, too.

"The Leica teaches you about making photographs. And that is what really counts."

Yes, it's the photograph that counts but suggesting that the Leica is somehow superior at teaching this is just nonsense.

Sheesh-I agree with the previous poster who said "Get a life!" Somehow whenever you mention the word "Leica" on line people go crazy, whether they be Leica-philes or other folks. There must be special receptors in the brain for the word "Leica".

I happen to agree with your suggested exercise, though I know that I could not do it in its entirety (not young enough and not enough time). Strangely, I came to the same conclusion last week when I left for a vacation and grabbed a Yashica T4 Super instead of my digital gear. I think that I have become way too distracted by all the technical stuff that comes with digital and have a desire to go back to shooting without thinking about histograms, RAW files, etc.. At this point I am very smart about all that stuff, but have stopped shooting very much because it has lost its joy.

My alternative choice is going to be shooting with my Minolta CLE with the 40 mm lens as much as possible, and with my Contax T (also 40 mm lens) when I can't carry the Minolta. I'm going to shoot chromogenic because BW processing just presents too much of an obstacle and I suspect that obstacle might stop me. Also, chromogenic film is much easier for me to scan and then make the required prints.

Why don't you take a poll in a few months to see who actually did this? Perhaps people can then post some photographs!

Arg said:

"I would like to have a digital camera that can have the LCD set to display in mono while the photo is taken in chromo."

Arg - you can do this with most (all?) SLRs and compact cameras that can shoot in a RAW format. Set your in camera .jpg settings to mono, then shoot in RAW. Bingo - you see the image in B&W after capture, but the RAW file preserves all the color information. I shoot with my LX3 this way maybe 50% of the time. It's sometimes useful with a SLR too, but you're seeing color through the viewfinder (obviously!).


The camera that turned me into a photographer, was the 4x5 field camera that I walked the streets with starting in 1979 photographing people I would meet. With that, you had to see the image with your eyes before you even set up the camera. From 1986 to 1991 I spent my entire time shooting only with Leica M's doing newspaper and magazine work. I even shot sports with a Visoflex! Fun times, simpler times.

I must say though, this thread is brilliant. I've forwarded these posts to a few friends who truly want to be better photographers, and I may have a few who will take up the challenge.

Thanks for your clarity and this call for a back to basics lesson.

A cautionary tale for those who would change Mike's regime.

I did this 50 years ago with a Voigtlander Vitessa and Kodachrome. I also dabbled with 6x6 B&W, developed and printed it myself but never with the intensity I devoted to color slides. Guess what? I "do" digital color and B&W is a struggle. I still look at my work on screens, they're just a little smaller than when I started. I print more now but its mainly in color. One big change with digital is the freedom to crop.

The details of how you make your photographic journey matter. I guarantee doing Mike's method will serve you better than anything else you can do at the beginning of it.

I'm only 71, maybe I can spend a few months with my 6x6 Zeiss Nettar.

Thanks Mike

If what you were interested in was teaching a student to "see" the luminance of a scene...

Take a pair of 3d goggles (or make them from cereal box cardboard). Replace the blue and red gels with medium yellow gels (or any other medium density color if you like - or make several different colored glasses). This gives you the effect of seeing in monochrome - subject to the color filtering of the gel.

Isn't this what everyone did for B&W in the pre-digital days. Those screw on filters made great monocles! I spent so much time with my 49mm Red #25...I was the first member of the Borg on Earth.

Mike, I'm 37 years old. A serires of events has left me with a lot of free time so I started getting back into photography after delving in it in high school. I bought a DSLR is December and have been pretty immersed in photography.

The more I shot, the more I read the more I realized that using a manual settings would make me a better photographer.

You're post came at a time when I was considering using an old slr more than my dslr. When I read your post that it had to be a Leica, I rolled my eyes and thought, "not again". I nevered shot with a Leica though so I went out and rented a M6 this weekend. After one day of shooting, I completely undestand why it MUST be a Leica.

I've read about working toward visualizing a picture without the camera in hand but completely discarded notion that it would be something that I could do. With the Leica, I realize it's possible.

With my DSLR, I got to the point that I started thinking through metering and thinking through how I wanted to expose a shot. With the Leica, I'm forced to do that but the controls are so intuitive that it's not painful.

So far the experience has taught me how lame I am but it pushes me to become better.

The one lens helps a lot too. Pretty soon you will know exactly how much of your field of view will be in the framelines once you put the camera to your eye.


Mike. One sort of contrarian question. Does a Leica CL count as a Leica?

I kind of have a guess to how you would answer, having read an awful lot of your web oeuvre. "It's a Leica if you think in your heart of hearts it's a Leica and a Minolta, which you don't." (Natch, you got me). But I have half a mind to do this with a 40mm lens; the newish CV kid of appeals to me a little bit.

My other choice is a used M3 and a new Zeiss ZM Planar. Shooting with both eyes open (something I could do with that old FM2n) has a lot of appeal too. I just wanted to pick your brain about it.

One time I was poor and had to sell my camera. Ironically, I worked in a camera store on the chi-chi side of town. One day an old woman came in and sold me her whole Polaroid Model 100 kit with a flash attachment and portrait lens. I spent my year scrounging up packs of 107 and 667 film (it was the new film that year) and, with that camera, took some of the best pictures I have ever taken in my life. I could take only eight pictures at time...so those eight pictures had to matter! What I learned from that experience is that art requires some kind of constraint.

It had the funkiest rangefinder ever. I love rangefinders like a man who loves brunettes over blondes.

So Mike, I really "get" this discussion.

!! holy cow… Mike my condolences lol!!!!! i'm 51(maybe i should set up a custom b&w lab and make money lol!) with oh ten years of Tri-x and, well ok two lens but mostly the only one. an original Canon F1 with an FD 24mm ƒ 2.8 and a FD 50mm ƒ 1.4 the 24 being my prime and dominant lens. To whoever it was this is clearly not about looking back, its about a voluntary discipline to learn to see luminance and an application of the empirical method i.e. learn a variable thouroughly before you add another. Black and white film is great there are no options the distract you you choose a film/iso and your are then constrained until the next roll. This is very helpful for the average option junkie that we all have become. As for the luminance question, even if you only ever shoot colour luminance is central to most of your images (notable exceptions in colour contrast acknowledged) and it is very difficult for many to seperate this from the "colour noise" i.e. all that colour in your image. As with HD video, to me digital is a seperate medium from film (and standard video in the case of movies)not a substitute/replacement, with a great deal of overlap between their respective domains. Ya don't like his suggested discipline, don't do it, but give the guy a break!


I want to say right up front that your piece of writing at the end of "Variations on a Theme", the last paragraph that starts with "I was shocked to learn....", is some of the hands-down best, most literate, expressive piece of essay on ANYTHING that I've ever read. Like so many others have said, it's your writing that keeps me coming back here every day.

I read of learning about luminance, framing, visualizing, seeing photographically....the "feel of the wheel" experience of shooting with a Leica for a year...and I realize how much I don't know, how little experience I actually have, how much I'm missing. And then you tie it in to the historical connection with an eroding skill set and technology: " and the possibility of that experience, slips ever more irretrievably into obscurity". It makes me want to run out and buy my own Leica just for the life experience, the fading opportunity to be part of something that was once so grand!

I'm nearly 60 years old, and the chance to expand my photography skills for the rest of my life makes me stop and weigh what I would have to forgo in the immediate future. And yet, maybe because of my age, the pull of a last chance to be part of something like this is too much to deny.

Thanks for the provocation! And thanks to all of you who have taken the time to post your comments too; I've read them all. The level of writing in general on TOP is so articulate; I just kind of dork around with these comments like I do my pictures!

Rod G.

I think this is a really bad idea. But then I feel the same way about recommending a manual camera to a beginning photographer.

During the course of the year there will almost certainly be a few occasions where a shot is lost because the camera wasn't set up the right way. And it doesn't take too many of those before photography becomes a chore, not a pleasure.

I guess it depends why you're taking photographs in the first place. But if you miss that "decisive moment" too many times there's a risk that the camera will simply end up on the shelf, unused.

I just want to say: Thank you!

I'm sure it wasn't deliberate, but it's great nonetheless. You build up a community of "commentors" and "spectators" (I know you people are more than that) in the last years.

And with these last three posts you just reaped the fruits (for me at least). I have never seen such focused discussion, guided by your posts and segmented by them.

I'm quite sure, Craig H. (comment to "Why I Has To Be a Leica") got it straight: most people are missing the point regarding the camera (I tried to say the same, but didn't get it across).

But while they are missing it, they bring about other interesting aspects and new ideas. And these are just the comments! I just don't see such things happening anyplace else.

So: thank's a bunch!

ps: especially comments like the one from Robin Harrison on "The Leica as Teacher". Honest, helpful, funny: " I would gladly donate a Leica [..] I won't miss it for a year. I'll be too busy mucking about buying and selling and shopping for gear like the average hobbyist."

I used a little point and shoot till I was about 13. I lost my eye in a freak accident, losing my ability to drive. My father left me $2300 to buy a car, which i would never be able to drive because of my lack of depth perception, so I spent it on an EOS3 and the 17-35 and 80-200 drain pipes. It was amazing, I got tickets to the fashion shows and the nice places that held up to what I had... but I sold it all off for a 10d and the 35mm F/2 to get what I was doing already...I used it for 4 years and do everything I planned to do...and now use a Rebel XT with a 50 and kit lens for the wide angle, and everything works well. I do lust over the leicas and 1Ds MkIII but still, I'm living proof that throwing your 50mm wide open and doing your best works out.

Thanks Mike for giving us our 'daily bread'... I'd have to go back to reading the news paper! But they don't stimulate nearly as much as your musings...

It is sad that you felt the need to respond to all the adverse comments, after all the first post was aimed at aspiring 'young photographers with real ambition'..... lets hope those two or three hopefuls don't convert to colour film!

And the reason you have 30,000 hits is because we you have cult following and we luv ya!

Thanks again for all the effort... it is appreciated.


I'm very seriously considering doing this. I always wanted a rangefinder, and I pretty much only ever shoot with my 35mm f2 on my dslr anyway these days. I do find that I'm fighting the camera more often than not as well.

I'm just having a tough time with the whole film thing though. Maybe I'll get myself a yashica or something and try it out for a while as a backup and see if I can come around to the whole changing bag, chemicals thing. Also the scanning, I get the feeling I'm going to hate the scanning.

Still, I've always wanted a leica ever since I made the mistake of walking into Classic Cameras in London.

Also, I promise absolutely, right here and now, that if someone actually lends me a leica and a lens, however old and banged up they are, I'll do it. I'll lend my digital to a friend for the year and I will immerse myself in vats of fixer. That is how it works right?

I realise this is somewhat avoiding the sacrifice part of the equation, but I do have more than £30,000 of student debt, and even with the resale value remaining the same, I can't justify letting the interest pile up at all. All spare money I earn or acquire needs to go into that.

In any case, thank you for the articles. They were a pleasure to read, and the slow process of attack and concession was fantastic to watch.

I'll give "Variation 1" a go: just purchased a Pentax K1000 and 50mm 1:2 from e-bay. It'll take me a week or two to get the logistics down (I know nothing about purchasing/developing B&W film locally); but I'm going back to Australia on business in 3 weeks and it seems like a good time to officially start.

I'm pretty new to photography, or at least the taking-seriously of it. I've been feeling this kind of exercise was in order, and I'd been making plans to do something similarly drastic even before I read your posts; but I appreciate the impetus.

To clarify, I'm a "20-something". A lot of us are getting back to film, and most of my peers (especially those with some formal education in the subject) have a dual film/digital setup. So don't give up hope on our generation just yet.

Thank you for this series of articles and the following stream of comments it's produced. It's been very interesting and inspiring.

Looking back, I inadvertently started my photographic journey doing something along these lines, albeit with a manual Nikon.

Even if I don’t do it for a whole year, I’m very tempted to "rent" a Leica from eBay for a few months :)

And at the very least it's inspired me to stick a manual 24mm lens on to my D90 and to shoot in black and white for a while.

Hi Mike,

you certainly struck a chord with many of us with these posts. I've been wanting to regain the speed and simplicity of previous setups.

My (digital) version of the great TOP Monochrome Challenge of 2009:

Canon 5D, 35mm lens.

Shooting RAW, but with the Picture style set to Monochrome with a yellow filter, ISO set to 400. Sharpness set to 3 (prints a pretty good A4 without further sharpening).

I've been playing with the settings to try to simplify it - listed here in case any other 5D owners are interested: Single central point AF with one shot AF (Custom Function 4 set to 1 - i.e. autofocus only when the button on the back is pressed, Exposure lock as soon as the shutter button is pressed half way). Shooting Aperture priority only. Metering pattern set to partial (8% in the centre).

I plan to shoot something every day, review the fotos on the screen, and print one print per day for a month - then I'll see where to go from there.

EP wrote, "In any case, thank you for the articles. They were a pleasure to read, and the slow process of attack and concession was fantastic to watch."

I think attack is a bit too strong a word. If Mike posts something on his blog and invites comments he's man enough to publish those for and against. Most people, from what I've read, agree with his view that it must be a Leica. A few, including myself, don't. But that's not an attack: it's a discussion. It would be really boring if everything Mike posted concurred with my own opinions. I love it when he posts something that challenges my views. It's stimulating!

Talk about being a catalyst for change - these posts have prodded me into starting a "Foto a day" blog - see how long I last on the Great TOP Monochrome challenge of 2009:


I have talked to a couple of 18-20 year-olds who are interested in this idea. They don't have the spare cash for a Leica or the film or the chems and paper. They all have point-and-shoot digitals, so I suggested that they cover the rear LCD with a dark orange or blue gel and learn to see without color. Told them to set the zoom at 50mm equivalent and tape off the zoom lever. Then set up an import recipe in Lightroom that automatically converts to black and white. They won't learn much about exposure, but they will learn how to see, and they're much more likely to do the exercise since they already have all the gear they'll need.

"I think attack is a bit too strong a word. If Mike posts something on his blog and invites comments he's man enough to publish those for and against. " Posted by: Bruce Robbins

Of course you're right. My main point was that on the internet, no matter how much one hedges any opinion about with caveats and warnings that it's only one possible view and is not meant to be taken as a general exhortation, people will read tolerantly until they find with something that needles them personally and fly into a defensive stance.

Swift said that satire was a mirror in which people saw all faces but their own; this set of articles was treated in pretty much the opposite way.

Of course, I didn't mean that these articles were meant to be satirical.

When I went to a photo school (as a hobbyist) I did variation 1 mixed with variation 6. Variation 6 is substitute b&W with colour slide. That made us learn how to really get the exposure nailed.

It was well worth it..


I'd like to echo the other Rod - Rod G.- when he said: "Mike, I want to say right up front that your piece of writing at the end of 'Variations on a Theme', the last paragraph that starts with 'I was shocked to learn....', is some of the hands-down best, most literate, expressive piece of essay on ANYTHING that I've ever read. "

Thank you for your provocative writing. It's clear that many people have been challenged to think and act outside their personal mindset. The benefits extend to other areas of life: accepting an imposed discipline; coming to see value in another's experience; expanding our range of responses to the world. That is a good thing to have achieved at this time...the world needs it.

I thought your original suggestion was straightforward, logical and entirely true. That it provoked such reaction among your readers is amazing...but your latest follow-up essay, together with the italicized addendum - properly gives it CONTEXT. The world has been shaped by the contributions of great photographers who saw the world using simple direct tools; let's appreciate the discipline and achievement those simple tools provided and not let them pass away.

Again, bravo!

Best regards,
Rod S.

I'm hoping to start this later this year.

One question: in the original, non-variant form, does it have to be ISO 400 or is pushing when needed okay? What about always pushing, if staying at a certain speed is part of it? Or is having to use wide apertures or not being able to use anything at all in dark conditions part of the deal?

I have been in love with photography since I was 3 years old. My first camera was a grey & pink Polaroid 600. Then I stepped up to a Pentax 35mm point & shoot w/ a little bit of zoom. I remember that I used to keep a camera with me everywhere I went. I never knew when I might need it!

After I had graduated high school and was still trying to figure out what to do w/my life, I decided to pursue photography. I went to a technical college to learn photography & darkroom. It was a wonderful experience. I tried to start a business doing weddings, but I hated doing weddings and did not posses any business knowledge. I ended up working for a nationwide photography company in the digital lab.

What has happened is that I have lost what I had before I 'learned' what I was doing. Somehow I try too hard to get the perfect picture instead of just going out and shooting for the fun of it.

I've recently been searching for a way to get back the passion I once had for photography. I believe this is just what I need to shake up my old habits! I'm going to search the closet for my old Pentax ME Super & go buy some film (even though I swore I'd never go back to it!).

Thank you so much for sharing this idea.


I almost hate to even stick my nose in here, but why only 400ISO in your listing of the varieties of B&W film? Plus-X, FP-4, Fomapan 100, Pan-F, & etc are all as good, if not better depending upon your desires, as their faster brethren.

Admittedly, I burn lots of FP-4+ and have recently decided to try Pan-F in my Yashica Mat 124G. Still, even in miniature format, there is a fair amount of good film stock is being made at less than 400ISO.

For the record, I use far more 100ISO film than any other speed. Reala & FP-4+, Plus-X when I can find it in 120, but also BW400CN in 135 format.



Will someone here please estimate the expense commitment needed to roll, develop and contact print a 36-exposure cassette of bulk 135 tri-x (or close equivalent) at this late date of 2009?

The $12 figures quoted above may be scaring people off. Similarly, if you can develop, say, 5 rolls at a time and learn to contact print efficiently, this may be a less daunting task than it appears to be from our digital era perspective.

I have feeling from long forgotten experience it can be done for $5-7 a roll and a time commitment (given systematic and efficient technique) of 2 hours per weekend, assuming you shoot a roll a day.

When started working overseas, I brought a 70-200 and 24-60 with a pair of EOS 3 SLRs. I took quite a few images, some of them good and some which I will always be proud of; but there was a problem. Sure, some of the shots taken at 135-200 could not have been taken with a Leica M and they are shots I consider among my best now, but the rest - the vast majority - had one common trait: they were taken from the outside rather than the inside.

Prior to arrival, I had considered a R2A/R3A but eventually abandoned the idea as silly. I would have to get in too close and not be able to take shots as quickly while 'skating through or past.' After a while I realised there was absolutely no substitute for getting in close and as I had been saving I could afford a leica M, so bought one with some ZM lenses (and yes, the MP is worth used a touch more than I paid for it new then). It took a while to get used to the camera and its idiosyncrasies, despite owning a RF645 (used more for landscape work), but the result was dramatic. It forced me to work on my weaknesses, which had little to do with actually firing a shutter with good focus and exposure, but dealing with the subjects and putting myself in the middle of where I needed to be. As a former 'landscape only' shooter, this is perhaps not a surprise....

I took a lot of very bad frames then and still do - who doesn't - but the difference is that I am taking those images from where the best things also happen. Despite shooting this way exclusively since 2006 I am still learning a great deal about integrating myself and the camera seamlessly into the (hopefully benign!) melee. My work is far looser and more visually dynamic than ever before. When I want a greater sense of grandeur or desire larger prints, I use the Mamiya 7II, but it can't do what the M can - that extra size, 500+grams,bulk and 3.6x more frequent film changes alters things somewhat. Its subtle, but unmistakable if you want to get in close. This is not my imagination - I have used both hard since being away - the images are the best evidence.

As always, it depends on what you want to achieve, but there are far worse ways to spend your time - assuming you have it - than working on your personal patter and fluidity with a small innocuous looking M camera.

@William: If you're only going to use one film, a traditional ISO 400 B&W film is by far the most flexible. Tri-X in particular can be used anywhere from EI 100 to 25,600 (or at least that's what I have times for, I've used 100 through 6400 personally) and the faster films are a better choice for a carry camera.

I'm quite fond of 100 speed or slower films, but they are for the most part a deliberate choice for a photography excursion, not an every-day carry film.

@Mani: I'm not sure about printing costs. Development costs are under a dollar a roll depending on developer choice. I scan rather than wet print, so my 'contact printing' costs are around $0.07 a roll in storage right now for B&W, given 700MB in scans for a 24exp roll. Another 50 cents for the negative sheet as well. And film is $3.30 a roll for me (HP5+ in 24ex 10-packs at the local pusher). Even the scanner itself prices out under a dollar a roll (My $400 Minolta Scan Dual III has seen almost 500 rolls of film at this point)

So aggregate costs are around $5/roll before amortizing the scanner.

"Tri-X in particular can be used anywhere from EI 100 to 25,600"

No, it really can't. It's real speed is about E.I. 250, and if you depart from that by more than about a stop in either direction you'll be sorry--film isn't like digital, the "ISO" can't just be dialed in at a whim, or based on need. Pick a speed and stick to it.



While you do need to pick a speed per roll, Tri-X is extremely flexible as to exactly what speed you can choose as I'm sure you're well aware. EI 250 gets you the most from the film in standard developers (widest dynamic range most notably) but it certainly can be shot at widely varying EI's if you're willing to compensate in development and accept the consequences.

Personally, Tri-X at EI 1600 in TMax Dev 1:4 is my preferred choice for Tri-X. But I like more contrast than the nominal ISO rating gives me.

It is the variation that is the theme.

I tried this approach for a while and I think one has understand there are many ways. Different people has to learn visualization differently. Even in the older days, there are people are Leica, Rolleiflex TLR, 8x10, 35mm ... etc. To find your own way is important.

I agree that digital camera is actually too complicated as a learning tool. The LCD is too small and distracting in majority of the case, the software is too "soft" and you really not sure until you do all manipulation of your image is, some shutter lag is too much ...

A slide film will teach you how to expose correctly. A black and white film simplify and help you concentrate on certain aspects of picture. A 8x10 ground glass tells you how a world as it is from a photo point of view. Different people find different way to avoid the burden of immediately feedback and instead more internal fell of photography.

There is no one way but some way is better than the others. And you have find your own way as we are diverse and different.

To repeat, variation is the theme.


I actually did do this several years back when you suggested it in one of your SMP articles. I used an SLR, but everything else was pretty much followed for several months. I am a far better photographer now because of it.

I don't think an explanation is necessary. You're original piece was ON THE MONEY.

Is it for everybody? No. Is it the "gospel?" Maybe not...

But I liken it to raising my daughter and preaching to her about what was right and what was wrong. Was I naive enough to think she never did anything wrong? Of course not. But in the end, she turned out pretty good. :)

Your premise of learning on a Leica was pure, simple and sound. While I'm sure people who try it will deviate, (even my own blog advances a variation to your theme) your fundamental principle of exercising the basics will hauntingly echo in the back of everyone's mind as the go forward with their efforts to improve.

Congratulations again.



This idea of yours is good for more reasons than just photography. It also teaches the value of hard work and money. I have been reading about positive psychology and one of the ways to make yourself happy is to get into what Mike Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow." It involves tasks that provide people with gratification but they cannot quite explain why they are happy. The components of these tasks are: requiring skill and concentration, there are clear goals, you get immediate feedback, you feel effortless involvement and a sense of control, your sense of self vanishes, and time flies by without you noticing it. This exercise can teach aspiring photographers and hobbyists how to achieve flow while working and that will help them decide if the career or hobby is right for them and leads to greater life satisfaction.

As for me it would greatly help because I spend a lot of time reading about photography wishing I could create photos like the ones I see here and elsewhere. I have the strong personality trait of loving to learn new things but because of that I really just read to learn and never participate. I also feel I lack creativity and imagination and I have a fear of failure. This exercise would address numerous questions I have: Can I take photos I am happy with? Will I feel that I failed or succeeded? If I feel I failed, then what does that make me feel (i.e. do I care or am I happy to have put in the work)? Do I really have more creativity and imagination than I give myself credit for?

It's time that I "put up or shut up" with my numerous interests. Rather than continue imagining, it's time to learn one of these skills that I dream about. I am going to take some time to think about the money I can spend on film and development and what camera I want to use. I have a Canon Ftbn and a Rolleicord that needs fixed first or I have considered buying a Bronica RF645 for a rangefinder camera. Those would all work. I would do the Leica but I lost a used M6 and lens worth of money on a company that went bankrupt recently (not GM). You may not make money on a Leica but you probably won't lose any either so it's a much safer bet than a lot of what's out there.

Mike, thanks for the push to finally stop dreaming and start acting!

I'm amazed by the timing of these three articles. I decided to go on a similar zen path about a month ago.

I will be stationed in Korea for two years starting in September and I'm determined to rediscover the Leica MP and love of photography after horsing around with digital over the past two years.

The great thing about a Leica is that it, like Mike says, just does just what I want it to do. When using a digital camera, I just can't remember which damn menu to pull up.

So today, I just received my first 40 rolls of Kodachrome 64 from B&H Photo and I'm ready to go.

Here are the rules:

1. Shoot only with the Leica MP.
2. Shoot only with the 35mm Summicron.
3. Shoot only on Kodachrome 64 film (hope they keep making it!).
4. No tripod.
5. No flash.
6. No camera bag, just pockets to hold film and extra batteries.

And most importantly,
7. Shoot at least one roll of film per day on days I don't work.

As Daido Moriyama once said, "Nothing starts unless I start taking pictures. It is like a sketch for painters, and I think it is necessary to take snaps on the streets. There are some things that come along with taking a bunch of pictures, and also things you don't know. There is no quality without quantity."

I turn 39 this year. I need to start shooting!

And for those who pooh-pooh Leica and their lenses, consider this:

I bought a Nikon FE2 in 1987 and a Nikon F3 in 1995. I had an assortment of Nikkor glass to accompany these two cameras.

I purchased a Leica MP in 2005 along with a 50mm Summicrom (f/2.0) and 35mm Summicron.

I saw the magic of Leica lens quality when I first exposed transparencies on the wall of my office. It jumps right out at you. There is something different about the color rendition and there really is a 3D quality to the image that flatters yourself and your subjects.

When I look back on the snaps taken with my Nikkors, the images - though technically fine - look a little flat.

My biggest regret is that I didn't shoot with a Leica to begin with.

Well, I'm young and poor. But for the past year I've been shooting with a Mamiya 7 and an 80mm lens. I purchased the camera after the my 645 broke down. I went into a new documentary project with this set up. One camera. One lens. I have learned a lot! Keeping it simple and just worry about seeing. All of this was unintentional in a way. I had no spare cash to pick up another lens or a digital body. I wish we shot like this in photo school!

Great post Mike! Thanks!

John Cranford,
You're lucky. That's a superb camera and a great way to do "one camera one lens." Enjoy every minute and don't be too eager to leave your present path behind.


So, I'm 17 and while i haven't done something exactly like this I've done something similar. I've done it using aperture priority mode on my dad's old nikon film camera, with a 50mm prime, as part of a photography class at my school. Shooting around 2-3 rolls a week for a semester. Unfortunately i was unable to take a second semester of this course, and have still been shooting film but far less. Having used a DSLR before and looking back I've improved vastly, i think the darkroom really teaches you how to crop, which i couldn't do at all before for digital photos. But my one issue with your proposal is that going in a full manual mode, you can miss the pictures you want to take, and I think you'll learn nearly the same amount from aperture priority mode. But if people were to implement your suggestion, what would be your reccommendation for learning the rules for setting the shutter setting for these manual cameras/modes?

Just my humble opinion, figured i'd give some of my perspective. Also i now really prefer to shoot B & W and do prints.


Good for you. And it's a great experience to have when you're 17. When you get to be my age, the 17-year-olds at that time will hardly believe it. "You shot with a FILM Nikon? Really? Wow."

We're all just collecting experiences, as Oren says. That's a good one to have under your belt at 17.


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