Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Just to break the monotony... A Leica typology!

Of course, all this is in jest.

For some reason, one evening it occurred to me that each of the different models of Leica M camera reveals its own psychology.  There's something in the design and consequent modifications that tells us what each body is all about.   Hence, without further ado, let me begin with the very first Leica M model.

The Leica M3.  We're in front of a stoic, stern laborer.  This camera exudes discipline, speaks about duty and work, does the job, and doesn't suffer fools too well.  Its lines are straight and direct, and even if there's a very slight ornamentation around the frontal viewfinder window and the rangefinder small eye (see those diminutive frames), this camera commands respect, speaks with a firm, loud voice, and either it doesn't get jokes or has no sense of humor.  But boy… can it work?  Non-stop, 24-hours per day, 7 days a week and all-year around.  And if the M3 takes a break it won't be for a beer, no siree… It may be for a nice, cold glass of mineral water mit Kohlensaure (although this camera will keep it a secret that it's very fond of a good cognac). 

Then, the Leica M2.  This one requires a comparison.  Let's say that, if the M3 had a military rank , it would be one with command, like a captain or lieutenant or anything all the way to general.  The M2, however, would be a corporal, perhaps a sargent.  This one can have a moderate amount of authority, but it doesn't exude it like the M3; it simply has it… because someone else has granted it to the camera.  It's an efficient soldier, a productive worker, an active community member, a fast runner, somebody effective and useful, but nothing that radiates leadership or command.  It's still serious, but, unlike its predecessor, may kick back ocassionally and have a beer… ready to stand on attention.

Let's move onto the Leica M4 and allow ourselves to wonder… What were the Leitz people thinking?  That silly little rewind crank… Why tilt it?  It simply shows irresponsibility, flirtiness, light-headedness, some very irrational and unjustified joie-de-vivre that doesn't belong in a Leitz product.  But let's reconsider… how bad can that little crank be, even tilted?   Horrific!  It looks like a slanted beret.  Heck, it looks terribly… gallic!!  There it is!  Granted, its lines are clean, pure and straight, it has more framelines that both its predecessors, it's easier to load with film, but then, it has… such a shallow attitude.  It's the camera that says "let's go places and have a ball!"  And, indeed, once in place, it'll grab anything ethylic and get itself pretty happy.  Not thoroughly drunk, mind you, but joyfully sloshed nonetheless, but never (and let's not forget this) compromising the high standards of function and design behind it.  In short, this camera is a tool and a pal.

The liveliness of the Leica M4 (and its followers, the M4-2 and the M4-P) offers a stark contrast with the next in the line-up: the Leica M5.  This camera has all the Leicas wanted to have: its own sense of style, a slick layout, a unique design, flawless performance, and a particular brand of seriousness that also suggest some kind of mischiveous streak.  In short, this camera is… James Bond!  Serious at first, very clever, quite surprising, full of tricks, it has the proverbial stern looks of the perfect instrument, but nicely combined with an idea of enjoyment, of some discreet and wholesome fun… not without pushing the limits whenever possible.  Here's a camera to have next to a nice mixed drink, or cocktail.  Not a silly, pink- or fruity-colored drink, but rather something elegant and classy, like a Martini or an Old-Fashioned. And the Leica M5 will be unobtrusive and quiet, sipping its drink modestly and silently.  Think George Clooney here… and that'll give you an idea.

Enough for now... we'll come back soon with our characterization of the rest of the film M-bodies. In case you feel like, leave a note in the comments (whether you agree, for instance, or want to add to this profiling of the Leica Ms). 

BTW, the M3 photograph's is Ken Rockwell's, the second—Leica M2came from Vidarphoto from Flickr. The M4 belongs to La Vida Leica and the M5's is my own.

So long!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Toledo, adventures in light, or what I did with a hand-held meter

Let's begin with a little technical note about my meter. It's nothing fancy, but it's quite reliable: a Sekonic L-86. It was made for about 15 years, and it was only replaced by a less reliable (I speak from experience) but fancier looking: the L-158, a battery dependent thing.

Thus, armed with my M2 and my Zeiss 35mm lens, I proceeded to wander in the Toledo streets, and capture images like the one below. 

As any astute reader will imagine, I metered on the wall (or a similar light-reflecting surface) in order to make the light stand out.  I cannot remember the exact exposure, but I do recall using a lot of small apertures (I was shooting at 1/125th), so it's very likely that I used f5.6-f8 here.  A similar situation came up here.

All for the sake of emphasizing the beautiful Toledo light, I metered on the walls. If I remember well, this is a view of the same street above, which leads to the beautiful Calle Santo Tomé. Now, the street pictured below is behind the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, which is where my students were staying and taking some classes. The man you can see coming up was patient enough to greet me when he reached the corner from which I photographed him.

Since I had been standing at this corner for a while, I managed to take a quick reading on the wall to my left (which isn't a lot brighter than the ground).  This image still needed a bit of correction in Photoshop (levels only), but not a large slide of the indicator.  The figure in the distance gives the photograph an old air, as if this shot had been made decades ago. 

These, now, were a lot easier to meter.

Just the steps did the trick.

A quick read of the light reflected from the ground. 

Customary 1/60 at f2, but since I was using ISO 100 I lowered the speed to 1/30. 

With the sunny 16 I shot this landscape at f11 (or perhaps at an even smaller aperture); I was hoping for a darker sky, but a yellow filter cannot perform miracles.

Lately I've been using my M5 with other types of 35mm lenses (one f2.8 and an f1.4), and despite their being metered bodies, or perhaps because of their meters, it takes me longer to shoot.  The meter in both cameras is a bit distracting, and when metering is added to the whole operation (compose and focus) it definitely adds time and substracts fun. However, as soon as I get the results of my last experiment I'll try to post them here to see what it is to shoot with a Leica metered camera. But it'll take time because I'm not really good at developing. Before I do all of this, I can always offer the results of another trip with my black M5 or my silver M5. Both are decent cameras and I really like using them...

Despite their built-in meters.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Toledo and Avila, sun and shadows

Here are some street shots from Toledo and Avila... or rather streetscapes.  Again, the tools were my Leica M2, a Zeiss 35mm f2 lens and my reliable Sekonic L-86 meter.  Most of these are from July 2016, while we were in Spain with a remarkably nice group of students.

Girls in a swing in the playground of Plaza Juan de Mariana, in front of my favorite café.

Damasquinado (Toledo's exclusive handcraft) demonstrated in a small store.

I seem to remember that this photograph represents an area near the Plaza Tendillas in Toledo.

Calle Santo Tomé was always intensely lit by a strong light. It's an interesting place littered with small stores and eateries, and leads to the church that houses El Greco's Entierro del Conde de Orgaz.

Smaller but just as proud, Avila boasts a singular Jewish neighborhood. This photograph comes from a spot on the way there.

Man entering Avila's Plaza Mayor.

Nuns crossing the Plaza Mayor in Avila.

I still have a series of photographs in the bag.  These are the ones I'd like to share right now mostly because I'm impatient.  However, I'll post another group (mixed bag) and, if I can, I'll explain my metering criteria. BTW, before I forget, my lens was protected with a nice yellow B&W filter.  Not the darkest, but enough to add one stop for exposure compensation. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Madrid at Night

In early August 2016, we were saying good-bye to Spain, we were giving our farewells to Madrid, spending time around the Plaza Mayor, having something to eat in Plaza Santa Ana and then walking back to our hotel. 

That's when I made these photographs. Most of them shot at 1/60 or 1/30, lens wide open.

 Plaza Mayor side street.

 Light effect in Plaza Mayor

 Serenade in Plaza Santa Ana

 Waiter and customers at a restaurant near Plaza Mayor.

The lights of Café de Oriente, right in front of Palacio de Oriente, at dusk.

All these shots were done in relatively slow film (ISO 100, Kentmere stuff).  I was expecting somewhat fuzzy stuff but instead I got these very nice, sharp images. Even with the lens wide open, the sharpness is quite surprising. Look at the very first photograph and the waiter's image to see. 

Coming up soon, more Madrid images (night and day), along with photographs from Toledo and Avila, another medieval city.  These are all images that came from my most recent stay, this summer of 2016. Some of them needed just minimal level adjustment to hike the contrast up.  This means, to me at least, that my meter and my own eye-meter have been working fairly well... which is a reason to be happy.  I will return soon!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Salamanca in Black and White

The beauty Spain offers is its light... Some may call it strong or harsh, but it's also a challenge, and it offers a lot of situations like the one above, in which one wonders where to meter and what to do. Since I wanted to show the contrast and still reveal some detail in the shadow areas, I metered on the sunny spot, then on the dark, and negotiated a comfortable middle ground... only to give it a little more aperture.  The result is this (which still needed a little tweaking with Photoshop): a nice corner in Salamanca, with an unsuspecting pedestrian to offer the human dimension.  

This is a contrast of old and new, very often done and overdone... but I liked it and here it is. I was after the great display of clouds in the sky. 

The odd effect of the sun on old stone appears here on this detail of the cathedral of Salamanca.  Again, a metering challenge (which zone is brighter?).  I ended up taking a reading off the wall in the center of the frame, as I figured it'd be the most prominent in the final image.   

The inside courtyard of the Salamanca cathedral.  There's a number of small chapels and rooms around it, but the light creates a particularly inspiring effect in the corridors. 

Salamanca Plaza Mayor.  We were there a bit too early for the local "marcha", which explains the chairs unused and still piled up.  I like this image simply because it offers a certain geometry in the interplay of straight and curve lines, light and shadow, and an inevitable touristy or post-cardy look to it.  Who cares!  I saw it, liked it, photographed it and now I'm considering printing it and framing it and hanging it. 

I began with the interplay of light and shadow, and so I end.  This is Salamanca, a street on the way to the famous bridge over the Tormes river.  I was walking lost in thought, lifted my head and saw the shape of a house cut on a corner.  "Why not photograph it?" I thought.  So, here it is.

For the next post I may dig some images from previous trips or experiences, whether local or abroad, done with my M4-2 or any other Leica.  There's going to be a theme: metering.  

BTW, even though I don't find it absolutely necessary, these images were all done with my faithful friend, my Leica M4-2 and my Konica Hexanon 35mm f2, on Kodak BW400CN film.  No longer made, alas, but then, I'm switching to other choices and exploring other possibilities. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cartagena in 2010 with a Leica M5

Back in 2010 I went to Cartagena, Colombia, to a conference, and brought back some six rolls of film with a number of images. Here are some of them...

At nights, life doesn't stop, and people get hungry and buy food from street vendors like this lady.

If I remember correctly, this spot is called Plaza Bolívar, and it's one of the many in which dancers of African music gather to display their skills. 

Another view of Plaza Bolívar.

During the day, right after the rain, the streets show a particular brightness... and the air is still as humid as a thick, damp towel.

The Plaza del Reloj is the gathering point for candy makers, some of whose production is weird but delicious and hard to describe. 

My Leica M5 performed great under the circumstances (hot and humid environment). I had a Nokton 35mm f1.4 lens, which together with Arista/Agfa ISO 400 worked wonders in low light.  However, it wasn't skimpy with details.  Look here...

I still have evidence of what this camera and film combination can do under the conditions I was (high temperatures and humidity). Considering the sudden changes it was subjected to every time we returned to our hotel or went to a restaurant (high air conditioned areas), this 1971 body turned to be resilient and tough... and still turned nice exposures. Right now, a few years later, I am concerned about its meter, but otherwise, the camera is still going strong.

Soon enough we'll see some more samples of Cartagena, and perhaps more from Toledo.  Let's see what happens first.  In the meantime, I must go back to work, but the photographic-gear stories never end! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Back home and back here

Here I am, back from another stay in Spain, and ready to post some more images from my 2014 trip. I realized that the longer I wait for "good shots" to post, the less I use this blog, so here we go with the first (see above): a photograph of the "Calle del Arco [de la catedral]" which leads directly to the cathedral and the city hall in Toledo, Spain.

I checked out a few maps and they showed this alley having the suggestive name of "Callejón del Orate" (something like "Madman's Alley").  However, in this last visit I noticed it having a name plate that said "Callejón del Nuncio Viejo"... because it ends in the "Calle del Nuncio Viejo."  Talk about disappointment! I really liked the initial name a whole lot better but facts (and names) are facts.

Street light in the corner of "Plaza Granada" and "Calle de la Sinagoga" in Toledo. Actually, the medium grey of the lower half of the wall is a very vivid red.

Would anyone believe this window is part of the "Callejón del Orate" shown above?  It's part of the wealth of Toledo, in terms of light, and shadow plays that abound in the city, not to mention the contrast between very old structures and relatively new constructions.  

I should spend more time in the Plaza de Zocodover, which is the main hub of commercial, social and human activity in Toledo (at least for those of us non-residents).  Lots of stores prey on tourists and offer overpriced junk, alternating with legitimate businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies. This dress was for sale at a place run by Chinese folks; they offer the noisiest, funkiest, loudest and not necessarily prettiest junk in town... to their own.

This time I will keep posting shots from my Toledo excursion of June-July 2014, done with (as you imagined) Leica M4-2.  I will also alternate them with photographs from other places and other times, while I wait for my newer shots from my most recent trip. Stay put and bookmark this blog if you haven't done it.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mixed Bag

This time we'll go for a few photographs from different rolls, different cameras.  Let's begin with an obvious choice...

If you guessed it's the M4-2 with a Hexanon 35mm lens... you have a good eye!  It also helps that this is the view of the Ayuntamiento de Toledo, during a time there was an art installation in town that was supposed to do precisely what I managed to photograph: a reflection.  I have no idea about the exposure, but I feel kinda proud of it.

Now... let's move onto something else.

This is the street where I live, on a very foggy fall day.  The camera... is a challenge now, but suffice it to say it's not any of my Leicas but the Nikon S2 with its 50mm f1.4 lens.  I no longer do much in color since the only reliable lab (oddly enough, in Walgreen's) closed shop.  I probably would have tried to keep it in business, but the corporate forces chose to remove it from our midst.  However, one never knows... I may try to do some photographs in slower film like Ektar, instead of the usual Kodak or Fuji ISO 400 (used here).

For another challenge, let's take a peek at this one:

Experience has taught me how to meter in cases like the one above: for the effect I wanted (strong contrasts), I metered for the highlights.  And the camera... is one Leica M4, fitted with a Summicron 50mm.  Mimi, one of our cats, likes taking in the sunrays right at the entrance door of the house, and that's what she was doing at the moment of taking this photograph.  Kind of domestic poetry... or prosaic bliss...

BTW, the camera used above is now in California, in the hands of another photographer that will take care of it better than I did.  Now, however, I do have yet another M4, as announced in a post below.  It came in late May, and I used it to make the images below (with a Summilux 35mm or a Summicron 50mm)...

Chairs in Fürther Strasse, Nürnberg (Leica M4, Summicron 50mm)

 Entrance to Metro Station, Nürnberg (Leica M4, Summicron 50mm)

 Splitting Logs, Viking style, Roskilde, Denmark (Leica M4, Summilux 35mm)

 Bärenschance Metro Station Stairs, Nürnberg (Leica M4, Summilux 35mm)

The biggest difference in the way the images right above were made, compared to the earlier ones, is that I decided to change film speed, and use Arista ISO 100 instead.  Now, I did something quite risky, which was take all my stock of new film in a trip, without testing anything first.  Hence, I had no idea about how it would react to my sometimes bad metering, or whether it'd be tolerant to over- or under- exposure.  For all practical purposes, the only ISO 400 film I took with was an old roll of HP5 that I promptly burned in the first stage of our trip, Copenhagen.  All in all, when I saw the results, I was very pleased.  Not only that, I intend to stay with ISO 100 film for as long as I can before I choose something else.

One final note: I didn't develop the last four photographs (something I had intended to do).  Instead, I sent them to a place called The Darkroom, all the way in California.  Judging from the results, I can recommend most enthusiastically.  They do a nice and careful job with your photographs.

Soon enough, some gear porn.  I have now my Leica M2, in addition to a new(ish) Leica M4 (which I had to re-cover, as the leatherette was old enough to crack on me during our trip), and a nice Konica 90mm f2.8 lens.  This will be the last glass I ever buy!  In fact, I'm contemplating a couple of sales... but I won't bore anyone with that.  Stay cool if you're hot, and warm if you're cold!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Trial Shots with the Leica M2

In November 2014, by sheer luck, I won an auction for a Leica M2 in black. I used it briefly to find out whether it was in good shape, whether I'd keep it, have it repainted, and a number of things more. Here are shots from the first roll I burned with it.

Memorial in campus

In between classes (DuSable Hall at NIU)

House in campus town.

Williston Hall, at NIU
I cannot recall whether I used a filter for this series.  It's likely that I did.  In any event, I'm not only happy with the shots themselves (they're not too bad), but also that I was able to scan them without any dust.  That's enough to make one's day.  Soon, coming to a theater near you, some gear porn... Have some harmless fun in the comments section!