The Leica M

leicaM4.jpgEver since I really got interested in photography a couple years ago, there has always been the  Excalibur of cameras, the Leica.  Or more specifically, the Leica M series which was introduced in 1954. 

The Leica was the camera of Cartier-Bresson and Capa and Winogrand and a billion other famous photographers.  It's a small, metal, nearly bulletproof 35mm camera which after over 50 years of revision, has undergone little change.

I'll admit, I've always wanted one. I heard one story, that Cartier-Bresson knew he was going to be taken prisoner in  WWII so he buried his Leica (a pre-M model) in a field in France and then dug it up when he was released a couple years later and it still worked. In yet another anecdote, I heard that to impress potential buyers who wondered why they should pay 3 times more than the equivalent Nikon, Leica salesmen, used to remove the lens and throw the body against the nearest brick wall, pick it up, reattach the lens and take a photo. With stories like that, who wouldn't lust after one.

Now, I'm not the kind of photographer who thinks that gear makes the picture.  Most of the photos from 365 Portraits were taken with a Canon 5D and a couple of $400 prime lenses.. certainly not the esoteric stuff some people get into.  That said, there is a mythology surrounding Leica glass that I just had to find out about.

andrea_starbucks1.jpgSo on December 31st I went with some christmas money and bought myself a Leica as a present to myself for finishing a year long project. I didn't want to buy junk, but at the same time I just spent a year working with an empty bank account to show for it, so money was an issue, I'm not going to lie about it.   So I went to a dealer on the 19th floor of a building near Union Square and ended up buying a M4 body.  Then off to a another store near the flat-iron building to buy glass (the first store was all out of 50mm lenses).  There I ended up buying an old collapsable 50 f/2 lens from the late 50's.  All told I was in for about $1300.

Loaded up with a roll of Kodak 400CN film I walked around and shot and processed, and what did I find?  I found that a rangefinder takes a little getting used to.  I liked the lack of blackout when you take a picture. I LOVE the feel of the shutter and the film advance in a way that's inappropriate with an inanimate object, but I'm willing to take that risk.  And as for the 'look' of the images, I'm surprised to report that yes, there is something special about Leica glass, at least in my first roll.  The smooth transition between in focus and out as well as the elusive impressionistic bokeh are delightful.

I'm sure there will be more to say on this subject, but I just wanted to give everybody my first thoughts on my new toy.