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Friday, 03 September 2010


But I shoot my M9 with a 12mm with a filter adapter and a center filter for falloff and a separate viewfinder on a double shoe mount with a bubble level next to it. And a custom soft release and a thumb rest by the shutter release to simulate the feel of the frame advance lever that isn't there. And a spare lens holder screwed into the tripod socket to hold my Tri Elmar. I hope they make an all-white M9 like the M8. I won't shoot the M8 because APS sensors are for losers. And film is a pain.

Exactly what is the 10% difference between an M6 and say a Nikon FM3a? I have both and I find myself using the FM3a all the time.

Lovely commentary Mike, with a little bit of 90's bite. If I may, and from the perspective of someone who doesn't have a lot of Leica experience, add another "secret"?

My old man had a Leica M4, which he used to let me use a few times as a mid-late teenager. There was never any sense that he'd pass on the camera, because it was his and I would eventually buy my own camera. But I put perhaps a dozen rolls through it.

That camera was just amazingly "slinky" - a tactile feel to pressing the shutter button and winding on the frame. It felt like hot oil working on precision engineering. I've had a few manual SLRs since: a Spotmatic F, Nikon FM2 and FM3, but none felt so good in physical operation. That feel translated itself into a feelgood factor, and confidence in the camera that made me just love to go out and take photographs.

The really sad thing is that after his passing, we never found the camera. He may have sold it, or maybe someone took it from him in his declining months. I'd love to have it, not for the feel or value, but because it was his.

Lenses are like women!
quoting that every chance I get :Ð

Personally I would love a little gem like the Contax G2 to be included in this lineup. I just found one on www.marktplaats.nl for 1000 euro (around 1,5 grand) with three Carl Zeiss lenses. Although I personally schlep the mother of all SLR's around, build like a tank, forged from a solid block of army grade titanium, jep lads, my chiropracter depends on my F5 for his income, but I wouldn't sell it for the world.

Same German aura, works like a charm.

And for that cheap digital Summicron feeling ((c) Gianni Galassi), I would recommend a Panasonic GF1 with a 14-45 or 20 fixed.

Greetings, Ed

I've got an M8 and several lenses, which I'd probably sell but I'm holding out for the M10. If the M10 doesn't have an additional focusing aid of some sort, I'll put my Leica stuff on the market.

Leicas, in my estimation, have a couple of problems. I like sharp photos, and I simply can't focus as accurately with the rangefinder as with a well-adjusted DSLR on autofocus. This has to do with my older eyes. When I try to focus the M8, I find myself staring at the split image line, trying to get it as good as I can, rather than paying attention to the photo. So that's MY problem -- maybe I shouldn't be shooting a Leica at all -- but it's also Leica's problem, because I suspect its base audience is older, and aging causes eye problems.

Leica's other problem is that it's difficult to get all the lenses to focus where the rangefinder says they should. You're not looking through the lens, so you've got two focusing mechanisms going on -- the lens, and the rangefinder mechanism. It's perfectly possible with Leicas to have the rangefinder image sharp, but the lens out-of-focus. For example, using the "fuzzy moire" technique, I've found that my Noctilux needs just a tich of counter-clockwise movement of the focusing ring...just enough to throw the rangefinder slightly OOF...to really be in focus. I don't like that.

To solve the problem, if it can be solved, I'd have to send all my lenses with the body to Germany, and pay a large amount of money, to get everything in sinc...fpr while. Then, because of the mechanical nature of the beast, everything would start to drift again.

I certainly understand the lure of Leicas, but with the choices available today (in both film and digital -- the best film camera ever made is probably the F6) I really think they are more for camera fans than photography fans.


I suppose what you said about single focal lengths was right because it was written before the advent of the Tri-Elmar. Not a zoom, but three ways to look with the same lens.

I would argue with your wide angle assertion. When I bought my M3 new in 1965 there was a ghastly expensive 20mm and eyepiece available for it. Perhaps that does not qualify for your absurd WA eptihet though.I used the M3 for 20 years before it was stolen and could not afford to replace it. Besides I wanted to try out all those other lenses like macros and telephotos. Sometimes I miss it though.

I would pretty much agree with everything here, Mike. The Leica (and rangefinder) thing has a lot more to do with the process of making pictures than the result. But I think it's important to point out that these major and minor 'secrets' add up to more than that 10% difference would suggest--for me, anyway.

For example, with my M6, it's much easier to make pictures and be in a place at the same time. I don't have to chose between documenting and participating.The viewfinder of an SLR is like looking through a periscope by comparison: accurate, but very distancing. This, combined with the bulk, would cause me to frequently leave my SLR at home when heading to family events because it felt like it got in the way of living life.

For me, this 'feature' of Leicas makes all the difference in the world. How do you quantify that?

And... one question: about being fussy with framing and perspective (which I am sometimes), is it really necessary to go all the way to a view camera? What about a nice Hasselblad?

Talk about distractions ~ One day it is all about a brass-worn Leica; next you're onto plastic fantastic (Pentax K-x); and now - Leica Secrets!

One more thing Mike. Used Leica RF gear is already too expensive for many (most?) of us and the new stuff is so far out of my orbit I don't even bother to look at it. Promoting this kit is counter-productive to the eventual satisfaction of anyone harbouring a Leica Dream.


Entertaining though.

Cheers! Jay

Never shot with a Cosina Zeiss or Voigtlander but can testify that the Olympus OM-1n makes a fine substitute for a Leica. It's jewel of a camera that you can't give away on the big auction site. Add a 50 1.8 and Tri-x and you are ready to go. The lowly Nikon FE comes in second for me because it's louder.(BTW develop that Tri-x in Tmax developer for full box speed, low grain and nice tones. Trust me)

Still like the ZI better. But I'm unusual in other things as well so the M6 is probably better...

It seems like most of the major points are things one would settle into, with or without Leica, if one committed to wearing one's camera everywhere and shooting opportunistically. Once that commitment is made, it pressures one quickly into buying something small and unobtrusive, using non-extreme prime lenses, and only carrying one or two of them. The opportunistic part encourages finding a lens that can be one's personal general-purpose lens, and getting comfortable doing everything with it, since one never knows what one will encounter, and there's an incentive to travel light. (This all assumes one is shooting film - the tiny zooms on super-small-format digital complicate the picture.)

"Lenses are like women: one main one and maybe one on the side are enough for any real man, as long as they're the right ones for you."

Really, Mike? I guess we needed a 1950s comment to go with the recommendation of a basically 1950s camera. Don Draper would be proud of that remark.

But in 2010, I daresay you lost a good part of your readership right there.

I have to say that the two opening paragraphs about distractions really hit home for me, and enhance the whole piece. You have a huge backlog of past articles* Mike, I'd love to see you revisit and republish more of them.

I have really enjoyed working with an Olympus XA. A fixed 35mm lens, and simple controls** really help focus the mind on the image. And I have you, in part, to thank for that. It does work wonders for "seeing" the world through a particular field of view.


*I've looked, here, on the old site, on Luminous Light, and photo.net, and I was thinking I had read about 40% of them. Until I realized how much you had written in the pre-internet days. You don't keep a bibliography online, do you?
**I didn't realize right away that the manual ISO setting is best used as exposure compensation, since you can't set speed directly. It helps me to write the actual ISO of the film on a bit of tape and stick it on the back.

"You don't keep a bibliography online, do you?"

It's far worse than that, I'm afraid, Will. I don't have many of the original publications they appeared in, I don't have a list anywhere, and finally I'm sure I don't even *remember* everything.

Oh well. Gotta give the future scholars something to do. [g]



"Lenses are like men: one main one and maybe one on the side are enough for any real woman, as long as they're the right ones for you."


'The viewfinder of an SLR is like looking through a periscope by comparison: accurate, but very distancing.'

I know what you mean, Chad, but have you ever looked through the viewfinder of a Pentax MX? Being there? It's like you're about to fall over the subject. Largest, brightest view of the world I've ever seen - you almost want to step back to give yourself a sense of detachment

Ken S., I'll trade you my FM3a for your M6.

Hi Mike, love your analogy between lens and women! How true!

I've recently settled on a DSLR with a 24mm and an 85mm lens. So I'd like to think I'm close to close to almost as good.

I've always like rangefinders (only tried a Leica briefly, but I own 2 compact fixed lens RFs) but I really like what you say about distractions as an excellent reason for why I like them so much.

So how are you getting on with the GF1 ?

So why is the M9 not your "cup of tea"? I'd think that all of your arguments apply for digital, as well as film?

Hmm, interesting. If I were to ever get a Leica, it would be for the Noctilux and Biogon 21/2.8. I like my DoFs extremely deep or extremely shallow :-)

"Lenses are like women!"

No wonder I'm addicted. To lenses I mean :-)

Mikey,Mikey,Mikey. You're completely
irrational and have drank the Leica
Kool-Aid. But love too is irrational
so in the end it doesn't matter.

Cameras are like men; I don't care much how they look, as long as they work and don't require me to feign interest in sports.

Spot on

The trouble with Leica is the same as the trouble with Apple: however good the products might be, by buying them you are in danger of either signing up to the cult that surrounds them, or being assumed to have so signed up. That's mostly why I bought a ZI in fact - it was more expensive (new) than a good used M6, it does the same thing, but I don't have to join the cult (or at least I can remain a corresponding member, which considerably reduces my chances of ending up buried in a pit somewhere with all the other members when things go bad, as they always do with cults).

I haven't seen a better description of the Olympus Stylus Epic!

Just delete the parts on cost and longevity, and add Minor Point 5:

Exposure and focus is set automatically so you can concentrate on image composition.
A spot meter and auto-exposure lock
is available for critical lighting situations.

TOP has to be the best read ever first thing in the morning!

"But in 2010, I daresay you lost a good part of your readership right there."

And gained quite a few new keepers, too :)

A few years ago I came close to buying a Leica M6 but when I started adding up all those scary numbers, I remembered the old Pentax MX I had in need of a service and the Takumar 50/1.4 I picked up of Ebay. I spent about 50 quid getting it properly sorted and realised just what an incredibly purposeful little camera it is. The finder is bright and large with the most intuitive of metering indicators (if a little coarse for slide film) and the controls could not be simpler. Together with the 43mm FA Limited, it really invites discipline.

Manual only, no fancy metering (or none at all if you're so inclined), And the shutter/mirror are probably only as loud as a D3.

Mike I Totally agree
In a digital world I put the same thinking into practice with a GF1 or PEN with fixed lenses and save enough to buy a car, have a holiday and eat, yet get exceptional quality.

By the way the LITTLE BOOKS
HCB and Josef Koudelka are the best $9 I have ever spent on books, the HCB insightful and different from all the other books and the Josef Koudelka beautiful reproduction.


I like women with big lenses, with fantastic bokeh.....

In this essay, as usual, you have presented a clear and solid viewpoint demonstrated with concrete evidence, often subtle argument, and always elegant diction. It's too bad that many of your readers are unable to distinguish between main ideas and supporting points! I did appreciate Luke's tongue-in-cheek response.

No, I didn't miss the point--just got sidetracked by the comments! My photographic partner and I are on the same quest to simplify our hobby so that our equipment is precisely that--a mere tool we use to capture our vision.

"Lenses are like women: one main one and maybe one on the side are enough for any real man, as long as they're the right ones for you."

Oops. I'm surprised: from you, Mike, I count that as a real lapse of judgement.

No, David S., reversing the sentiment doesn't make it "better", any more than reversing a racist stereotype or joke makes it "better". In 2010, I'm simply not going to explain why that is the case.



To John Camp and others with eyesight problems. Eight years ago I had laser surgery on my poor near-sighted eyes. Best thing I ever did for my photography! I'm now 61 and while I do need reading glasses, I can still read a histogram well enough. I've had five Leicas, but after the M8 I yelled calf rope. The prices have just gotten stupid.

As an OM-1 user for 35+ years.

If you decide to get an OM-1 or 1n unscrew and stow the hot shoe (RP's don't use on camera flash anyway). You will be amazed at how that little change transforms the feel of the camera in the hands.

Lenses are like women; cameras are like shirts. I need to get this wisdom embroidered on a whoopee cushion.

Mani, Mike isn't recommending his readership to be unfaithful, he's just using an amusing analogy to explain why you don't really need more than two lenses. If he lost the easily offended part of his readership I daresay nothing of value was lost.

In order for the Leica to save you from the distraction of too many lenses, you really have to believe "the business [horsesh*t] about how special the lenses are". Otherwise, there is an immense world of lenses, with a wide range of prices, out there to distract you. In fact there are probably more lenses in Leica mounts than any other. These include the great lenses made by Nikon and Canon in the 1950s and the recent Cosina/Voigtlander and Zeiss offerings. There is even an internet forum devoted to distracting photographers with the options: http://www.rangefinderforum.com

Beyond the lenses, there are all kinds of long-discontinued accessories offering distractions, all made with the same precision and beauty as the cameras. For instance, for long lenses, you can add a Visoflex, which will turn the svelte Leica into what is probably the clunkiest SLR you can imagine. There are also all sorts of clever close-up attachments.

It is true, though, that if you actually use the Leica as Mike suggests, with one or two lenses, then it does reduce photography to its basics with minimum distractions. For several years, I used an M3 as my primary camera, and I can attest to exactly the virtues Mike claims. Two years ago, in search of better image quality, I bought a Texas Leica, a Mamiya 7. It lacks the small size and special feel of the Leica, but it has most of the other virtues, and the negatives are fantastic.


I agree with the horsehockey myth about Leica lenses. I never got the "glow" business at all. With my first Leica, I found my brand-new out-of-the-box 90mm Summicron to be distinctly less sharp wide open than my aged Nikkor 85/1.8 with a loose front element. The other Leitz lenses I had were about the same as the comparable Nikkors I also had at the time. What I thought was hilarious was the comments I got on my pictures from the other photographers in the newspaper photo lab. They all praised the sharpness of my photos after I got that Leica. I didn't have the heart to tell them that most of the pictures they praised as being "Leica-sharp" were actually done with my beat-up Nikon gear.

Dear Mike;
is there any chance of posting some of your articles from B/W Photography Magazines on TOP? I can´t buy most of the back issues as they have sold out.
Now that you´ve got quite a crowd of TOP readers converted back to film it would be really cool to finish "cleansing" our souls by writing a little about classic films (TriX-400). Wouldn´t want anyone straying over back to the Dark Side by buying a pentax K-x!
Oh and do you keep anything from "The 37Th Frame", I never managed to read any of those articles.

Good lenses are so not like women: they are so much easier to figure out, need little maintenance, they have no soul, so precise, can't be blamed for taking bad pictures and most importantly they don't change perspective:-)

Right on the money here Mike. I only ever tend to really use my 35 on my M6 (and the others are a distraction). It's also small enough to put in my work sling bag to take with me everywhere.

I'd also add perhaps the dings and damage may also apply to lenses (but your mileage may vary). My 35 has a chip in the corner of the front element (which isn't visible in photos) -- and was much cheaper than the new one.

Who was it who said: I buy Leica because I know the lenses are sufficiently good enough I don't have to worry about it? It really applies here. My gear is good enough.


JC writes "in both film and digital -- the best film camera ever made is probably the F6."

So it's not just me, then. The way the baseplate angles up on the left side to accommodate your hand on the lens, it's ergonomics at its best. It's like the camera disappears in your hands.

Contemplating a year with the F6 and 50mm, Tri-X. Alas, sold my F6 on eBay; regretting that now after so much talk on TOP of a year with one camera and lens.

"By the way the LITTLE BOOKS HCB and Josef Koudelka are the best $9 I have ever spent on books, the HCB insightful and different from all the other books and the Josef Koudelka beautiful reproduction."

EXCELLENT! Really glad you liked them--and that somebody got some good benefit out of those recommendations.


Well, even though I could buy pretty much any camera these days (within reason) I still go back to the advice of my first photography teacher in the 60's. He said:
1. "While good equipment is important, it is dwarfed by good technique"
2. "A Leica will not improve your photographs"
3. "Spend your money on good glass" This also applied to hi-fi - he said "spend your money on a good cartridge (vinyl days) and good speakers before a good amp."
All one has to do is spend a few hours perusing photos posted online and the inevitable conclusion is that, by far, the most significant improvement most people could make is to take a basic photography course. Sheesh, there is a lot of really bad stuff out there...

The most important tip I ever got from my teacher was" "Use ISO 400 film. Handheld you're too shaky with ISO 100" He was right and these days ISO 400 is as clean as 100 on my 5DMKII. I digress..

I love hardware, but it is way overrated towards improving the quality of your photographs. In my experience I have found that, once you find something worth photographing, taking many different shots, varying just about everything, (hey, digital is free...) will usually result in more keepers than stewing over a scene for long periods to get the perfect shot. I know this doesn't apply to photojournalism and the like, but it does for me.

Nah, I think I'll keep my M6. I get moody.

Mike Chisolm,

It's a bit of a rhetorical stretch to equate Mike's joke or the defense thereof, even indirectly, with racism.

Even in 2010.


David S.

The trouble with Leica is the same as the trouble with Apple: however good the products might be, by buying them you are in danger of either signing up to the cult that surrounds them...

Um, no.

...or being assumed to have so signed up.

Only one anser to that one. What do you care what other people think?

I adore my m6 TTL. It's a heavy beast- but I'll tell you it has more snob appeal than any digital camera. Why? Because it shoots FILM.

I never understood why I would want to learn "to see like the lens sees". I wanted to learn to make the lens see like I see.

The Leica glow is a middle class person's satisfaction that they can own one. I own a Voigtlander Bessa and it is great to have a camera everyone ignores. It is also great that you have to experience what you are going to photograph. No super long zooms.

Let me second the gratitude for the pointer at the HCB and Koudelka "little books." They're wonderful! Oh, and the HCB book is ridiculously well-written and designed!

Thanks, Mike!

I bought a beautifully crafted Pentax LX with Pentax A-50/1.2 for this purpose. But the darn GF1/20 won't let me use it ;-)

I love my ME Super, I'm glad you mentioned it!

Nowadays I must recommend to try a Pentax Dslr with a 4o mm pancake. A joy

I bought an M6 with 35 & 90mm lenses in 1998 to take to Europe not wanting to be burdened with my Canon f-1 and several lenses. The leica was absolutely wonderful and I still have 300+ photos on my computer (from cd). The camera and lenses were flawless, functioning perfectly for over 10 years. Expediancy forced a move to digital since I long ago grave up my darkroom work. After using a Canon G5 for awhile, I moved to a Canon 30D and the Leica languished on the shelf thereafter. After another year, With great trepidation, I sold the M6 and lenses for a super price that, in turn, resulted in buying a Canon 5D Mk II. It has proved to be a superb camera and while not as inconspicuous as the Leica, take superior photos. Some will continue to hold out for film cameras just as those who still play LP records for their specific qualities. But, I think the demands of the photo world, whether for profession or just for a hobby, will necessitate a move to the digital world. The Leica was/is the world's best street camera and dead reliable to boot. Alas my little Canon Elph will accomplish the same same surreptitious photography today.

Did this with a Pentax ME Super and 50/2. But I grew up in the digital age, so now I use a very outdated k100d that's taped up, with a 40mm pancake... I make it a point not to chimp though. I go through the day's photos each night instead. Does this count?

"Does this count?"

It sure does if it works for you.


So, I'm thinking, I already have a Zorki 4K with a 50mm f/2 lens, so why not shoot some Tri-X? It would be fun! I'll tell you why: $21 per roll for film and mailer for 4x6 prints, plus $2200 for a Nikon film scanner if I want to do anything with them. Sorry. That's too much to spend to go backwards in time.

My camera has the usual proliferation of "distractions" available, but I couldn't list them. As far as I'm concerned, my camera has "iAuto" mode for my wife, "A" or "M" with center-weighted metering and a central autofocus point (if I'm using an AF lens) for me, and a bunch of other crap that neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. It has one wide-normal lens, one short tele, and some toy lenses that I can play with if I'm not interested in doing serious photography.

Perhaps the best "Mike Johnston" mode is the one you carry in your head; it's available for most any camera without any need for special equipment, adapters, or nostalgia for the first camera you ever loved.

Ronin: I used an M3 from 1973 to about, um, 1979 I think.

The camera plus lens was significantly smaller than a Nikkormat or a Pentax Spotmatic with equivalent lens for the 35mm Summicron and the 50mm Summicron (never mind the Nikon F). The 90mm Summicron was about comparable to the Nikkor 105/2.5 (only most of a stop faster). I'd never seen the Nikkor 85mm until rather later, though it came out in 1964 I think. So, definitely smaller package in your hands than likely alternatives at that time.

In low light, it was considerably faster to work with -- the superimposed image rangefinder was the brightest bit of the viewfinder, and I could focus much faster than with the SLRs and microprism screens.

Smaller and faster are significant contributors to "less intrusive".

The sound it made was very different from an SLR. I don't have scientific measurements, but my subjective impression was that the shutter snap was really about as loud as in an SLR -- but was much shorter. The total amount of sound was less, but the peak sound was about the same. Still, that's less intrusive again.

In the late 1970s, SLRs started getting smaller and quieter and with brighter viewfinders; which is in fact why I stopped using a Leica then (all my equipment was stolen; I replaced the SLR first to test whether I could live without the Leica, and found that with the new generation of SLRs (a Nikon FM for me), I could).

Of course an Olympus 35RC was smaller, and I think quieter. Cheaper, too. Can't claim the Leica as "smallest" 35mm camera, no. But compared to the things people actually considered as alternatives, it was in fact smaller.

Mani Sitaraman: You should maybe look up the term "polyamory".

Mike Johnston: Since I nearly always used the Leica in low-light situations, the fact that I saw the whole frame sharp in the viewfinder was a significant disadvantage. I had to learn to know about how much depth of field I had, and take it into account, and guess how distracting the background would be as actually rendered. With an SLR, what I saw through the viewfinder in low light was closer to what I actually got, since I was working near max aperture.

I do like your point 3. Except for the few people who have adopted the filed-out-negative-carrier religion, the precise framing in the camera is not what gets conveyed into the print. I was taught (by the editor of the college alumni magazine) to compose loosely, to preserve options for page layout. This seemed fair, since the artistic unit that would be judged was the page of the magazine, and the layout that was best for the page might not be the best for one single photo. Also she had me print everything about full-frame, for the same reason. This to some extent encouraged me to compose for the full frame, which was not exactly what she mostly wanted, but was interesting (also saved time in the darkroom, doing everything to the same magnification).

One other thing about Leicas: very few controls. Nice and simple. Doesn't get in the way of the photographer. Love my DSLR, but there's a hell of a lot of buttons and knobs on it, half of which I don't use...

And yes, always basic black. Silver chrome attracts the eye.

Have to disagree with Ronin. M's ARE small. quiet and unobtrusive. Don't know where he gets the idea they're not. Anything smaller would be a point-and-shoot. Note the shutter on my MP is barely audible. Hardly anyone notices if I'm shooting with my MP-they think it's a point and shoot, and don't take me seriously.

Glad you noted the OM-2 as a "substitute Leica" here...

Simple cameras work well for simple, static, shots.

As I've discovered the joys of tracking auto-focus and a wide spread of AF points, I'm getting better and better photos of dogs running, kids playing, animals, any kind of action.

Also, as I've learned to use the AF point selection more fluidly (and gotten away from focus-and-recompose), I've done away with sometimes a half-inch shift in focus plane just from tilting the camera. With fast lenses a 1/2 inch can completely ruin the focus of the shot, so I'm getting better focus (and fewer complete failures) of musicians in dark rooms for example. Similarly, moving the head 1/2 inch can be disastrous, if I focus once and then take a bunch of shots. Continuous AF with an AF point on the eye solves all these problems (lets me use a wider aperture, throw the background further out of focus, use a faster shutter speed).

When I'm old enough and have sold sufficiently many works to afford a Leica, I hope I'll still be wise enough to want a custom 5x4 field-camera made of Lewisian Gneiss instead.

Majored in Photography at The Maryland Institute of Art.Shoot a lot of different cameras over the years. Much later when I could afford it I bought an M6 and MP with 35, 50 and 90 mm Leica lenses,They were well bulit and I was in to the whole Leica thing for about 7 years but for the results it was far to much money invested. Never felt 100% comfortable carrying around $15,000.00 worth of equiptment. Sold it all and bought a couple of mint Pentax MX bodies and a few Pentax M lenses.Don't miss the Leica at all.

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