Thursday, February 8, 2018

Paris and the 35mm Zeiss lens

During the summer of 2017 I had foot surgery, but before going in the hospital I spent some two weeks in Paris, and a few days in Germany afterwards. All that time I had with me two cameras: my Nikon D700 (with my AF 24-120 f4 zoom), and my Leica M4, with a Zeiss 35mm f2 and a 90mm f2.8 lens made by Konica.  For metering, I took a recently (back then) acquired Sekonic L-208 that can be small, discrete and accurate.  Film?  A mixed bag, but mostly Kenmore ISO 100 and Ilford FP4 (exposed at ISO 125).

Here, the photographs...

 Place St Julien Le Pauvre.  Artist setting up his work for sale.

 Place des Vosges.  Girl reading.  For this one, I used a Konica Hexanon 90mm f2.8 lens.

Place des Vosges.  Corridor and man.

The light was at all times intense and bright, but there were exceptions and places in which I was able to get (interesting) exposures with a bit more contrast, and an air definitely French, or at least continental.  Like these ones...

Men conversing in café by Place des Vosges.

Waiter, Ile de St. Louis.

 Photo shoot and model.  Palais Royal. 

Ladies and the cost of living these days.  Passage Jouffroy.

Girls at Café Dome, Rue Lévi. 
Not all the photographs I have show this "slice of life" quality.  Some are deliberately more architectural (or perhaps environmental), because... Paris offers everything everyone may want.  I wanted to do this trip and take a Leica I used to own (an M3), with a collapsible Summicron 50mm, but I sold it before anything happened.  I am now glad that I was able to take this M4 instead, as I have always found the 50mm focal length a bit too narrow for my taste.  Needless to say, I want to return, and I want to do some night photography like I did in Madrid.  But enough of that.  I'll return with some street shots (literally, photos of streets) that I liked because... I think they're a good representation of the charms of Paris.

A bientôt!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Second and last: The Leica Typology

Let's continue with my, shall we say, profiling of Leica M film bodies.  Since I packaged the M4 along with all its variations together, and finished my last installment with the M5, let's continue from there.

Given that the M5 is the best known secret operative, how could Leica improve on it?  Easily: they just dropped it like the proverbial hot potato, and went back to the drawing board to produce the M6.  This is a jolly camera, a jovial, quick to laughter guy, who enjoys work, rolls up the sleeves and gets down and dirty whenever needed, but then, at the end of the day, will go to a pub, a bar, a tavern, a restaurant or a café, or any place of human companionship, and sing a good set of tunes.  Yes, the M6 is one of those who works hard and plays hard.  Nothing in the world is better for this camera than a good work day, then a shower, and then a nice, long evening nursing a drink (or series thereof), belting out a few drinking songs.  Maybe that's why there are so many different editions of the M6: they knew these cameras wouldn't stay in their boxes.  That's probably the explanation for so very few "mint" or "collector-condition" M6 bodies in the market.  They're all out there, having a good time. 

(©Anthony Owen-James, flickr)

One would imagine that if the M6 is a nice party companion, the M7 would have enhanced party features.


(© Yu Xiong, flickr)

The M7 has no nameplate like the previous Leica bodies.  It says only M7, like a secrent agent code, as if that were enough.  Based on this, the M7 is just… an M7, a letter and a number.  It's a bit joyless, bland, robotic body.  Sure, it works and, of course, produces always perfect exposures.  But then, what does it do afterwards?  What does this camera like?  Which songs are its favorites?  Does it have a preferred place to hang out?


This camera is the typical metro-boulot-dodo.  Up with the sun, out to work, clicketty-click and clicketty-clack… job's done, collect paycheck, let's go, see you tomorrow, head back home, make some quick supper, watch the news and hit the sack… And repeat again the following day.  Why does it convey this image to me?  Is it because of its electronic guts?  Is that because of its apparent perfection in terms of metering, gauging film ISO, opening and closing the shutter at perfectly timed intervals?  Frankly, I don't know, but that's the reason I've stayed away from it.  In fact, I barely touched one.  I know… that's extreme.

Given that the MP resembles the M4 so much, and that I only once had a chance to hold one in my hands, I find it unfair to even try to characterize, but I'll try. 

(© Alessandro Bastianello, flickr)

First of all, I must admit that I fell in love with it.  Oh, what a softness to the tact, what a delight to the senses, what a flawless, precise engineering…  It was like an M6 on steroids (and I had already my M6TTL bodies by then).  Then, at the same time, holding the camera feels as if one had an M4 in hand: a reliable, solid instrument that can also understand the whims of the creative mind.

Here I will end.  I have nothing to add about the digital bodies (and there are too many) mostly because I lost interest on them after the M9 storm with the sensor problems.  Hence, I'll return to posting photographs.  In fact, soon enough I will come back with more results of my stay in Spain with my M2, and from my other sojourn in Paris, during the summer of 2017, with my silver M4. 

Take care and leave a comment with your opinion or information about the Leica digital bodies. Who knows... may be one day they'll deserve a typology too!

One very last note: the photographs used in this post came from flickr, and I have acknowledged their authors.  I should add that I am very grateful that they did not block their work from any third-party use, and that is why they appear in this entry, just as illustration.  Thanks, gentlemen!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Digital and Film: Lima, Perú

I am aware that I'm interrupting my intended project of the Leica typology, but these images came to me as a result of a trip to Lima, Perú (professional conference).  I took with me a Fuji X-Pro 1 with a 23mm/f1.4 lens, and my trustworthy Leica M4-P with an Elmarit 28mm f2.8 (third version).  As the TV show says, "these are their stories..."  Let's begin with the digital material.

 A classic, casually parked across the street from my hotel.

 The cathedral steps.

A street off the Plaza de Armas.

Family at Parque Kennedy in Miraflores. 

 Ketchup texting in Parque Kennedy.

Guard change at the Palacio Nacional (in front of the Plaza de Armas).

Facade in Jirón de la Unión (street between Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Martín); mostly commercial, but still may have a few interesting scenes (you will see below).

 Sandwich restaurant near Parque Kennedy.  They have a cute ode to the potato on the board right above the counter, and it's no small matter: Perú has a lot of different potato varieties.

 San Francisco church.  Famous for its catacombs (in which photography is not allowed), the church still has a rich interior and an interesting altar.  Not to mention a painting of the Last Supper that features lots of American foods...  Very odd. 

 Miraflores Church, late at night.  It's in a nice park, always busy with people.  Peruvians live in the streets... a lot!

A very fine, gourmet restaurant called "Haiti," near Parque Kennedy. 

Chess players behind a traditional Peruvian fast food joint ("Salchipapas"), on a cool night in Lima. 

My Leica M4-P was loaded with Ilford FP4, which is contrasty and sharp.  I took a walk down the Jirón de la Unión (again) and took a few snaps along the way to the Plaza de San Martín.  For some reason, I felt more comfortable approaching people with the Leica than with the Fuji.  Here, take a peek at the scenes in this area.

 Ice cream vendor (Jirón de la Unión).

Workers on break (Plaza de San Martín)

 Street seller (candy, snacks, cigarettes) in Jirón de la Unión.

 Money changer.  They are perfectly legal and operate in the streets of Lima.  They're dressed in such a way that they advertise the currencies they handle. 

Young indigenous woman selling traditional candy near San Francisco.  She agreed to pose for me after I purchased three packs of her stuff.  It wasn't bad...  BTW, this is the only shot I made with the Konica 90mm f2.8 I had with.

There we go.  Soon enough, before returning to the Leica typology project, I'll share with you some of the images I managed to make in Europe this last May-June 2017.  In the meanwhile, feel free to comment below!

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!