It is not really one year yet, but I felt like giving some of my impressions on what my time with this camera has been like and what I feel like this has done for me.
Before I start with this maybe a bit of personal history on how I’ve gotten into photography. I started at around 2004 and originally what really inspired me were the images of the likes of Cartier-Bresson. However, being rather shy and apparently at the time all to willing to give in to that for the longest time I did neither reportage nor street or portrait photography. Instead I focussed on landscape and nature, something where I wouldn’t have to face other people. One of my reasons for getting a rangefinder was that I felt they lend themselves to kind of things I’d like to do in a nice way and thus would make it harder for me to make up excuses. While I can’t say that I’m totally there yet, I can say one thing: this has set me on my way. This is of course more a thing about me then about the camera but it’s relevant to what this has done for me.
Why the M4-2
When I began to consider getting into the M system I quickly came across the M4-2 as being a combination of a few things I wanted to have: it’s relatively affordable, it offers 35mm framelines (unlike the M3) and also I prefer(ed) the design of the film-rewind to the M3 and M2 (yeah, because that’s really important …). So, I found one on ebay and one day I finally succumb to it and was on its way to me.
After almost a year of using this camera I can say that my initial impression of this being a totally pleasant to use and rock-solid photographic tool has been confirmed. I know that rangefinders are I bit of a thing of personal taste: some people love them, and others don’t – it turns out that I like this way of working a lot. The viewfinder that show everything in focus gives me a much more direct outlook on the world out there. Focussing with the rangefinder patch, once you have grown used to it, is a dream. Plus, and this is also a thing about typical rangefinder lenses, the lenses for these cameras often have a focus tab that assists with focussing quite a lot. After a while you develop a feeling for where the tab or infinity lock is in relation to what distance from you is in focus. Also, can I just say that this camera feels like the most solid piece of kit that I’ve ever used? It really does.
50mm collapsible Summicron
When I got the M4-2 I wanted to have an actual Leica lens to go with it and the first generation 50mm Summicron M was what I came across on ebay. It is a pleasant and fun to use piece of 1950 optics best pared with a UV filter to protect its rather fragile front element. In the long run I’d like to get a more current 50mm lens in addition to this one, but that’s not a priority right now for me. Also, it’s not through any fault of this lens – I’m simply curious for the newer ones. All I can say after all is that I am having a lot of fun with this lens and I am happy with its output, even knowing that more modern lenses will deliver a higher optical quality.
For me certainly trying to get a 35mm lens I like and then use that a lot. Something I really like about the Leica system is that I somehow don’t feel like I have to own all the lenses. A 35mm and maybe a 90mm (for some rare occasions) lens and I feel like that would be it.
More importantly: getting people into my pictures. While I’m slowly getting used to shooting in the streets and feeling good with that (seeing that nothing bad happens when you are seen taking a photograph) I’m still shying away from photographing people. I should probably just dive into a tourism-heavy place (like cologne where I’m going every day anyways) and make use of the fact that people there are used to folks taking pictures. So yes: that’s what’s next.
Before the end of ACROS was announced I had ordered two rolls and meant to try it out some time. I since have shot one and I am really loving it. Guess I didn't really pick the best of moments for this ...
I tend to advertise developing your own film as something that’s approachable and at its core quite simple. While that holds true I’ve also learned these days to always mind the basics. In my specific case my fixer became saturated and I must have really blanked when I tested it. It took my several days and films to figure out that I didn’t have any form of light-leakage anywhere but simply had to mix some new fixer.
Of course the great thing about this is that you can fix it afterwards to a great extend: I’m currently retroactively fixing the films that were involved in this and seems like most of the pictures can be saved quite well. So developing your own film is still great.
For a few years I have often watched Ted Forbes youtube channel “The Art of Phtorgaphy” and back when I started this channel was in a bit of a unique place: it really was about the art side of photography. Yes there certainly where tech-focussed videos on the channel: mostly on older analogue camera. But a lot of the content was about things like creative process, developing film (ok, that’s a tech-topic …), on past and present photographers and so on.
I like talking about cameras and lenses as much as the next person and also, I do understand some of the things behind making a living by creating these videos. On only needs to look at the public view-numbers to see that a video on some Sony, Nikon, Fuji or whatever camera gets a lot more views then a great and insightful video about, say mid-century portraiture (just making something up here really). This in and of itself is nobody’s fault particularly: it’s probably all our fault. I’m not sure about the solution right now but I sure hope there is one, because there are way more then enough tech channels, sites etc. out there and way to few about the things that really matter.
Hoping for the magic to return
So Ted, on the off chance you’re reading this: I miss the good old days. And yeah, I’m hoping you might bring some of that back sometime. After all that show (together with “On taking pictures”) is what brought me back into photography some years ago.
This has been going on for a long time and I am certainly as guilty of it as the next person. In the end film and sensor formats are to a large extend arbitrary sizes, often chosen for practical reasons a century ago - reasons that may not be that up to date. Nevertheless the photography world has - quite some years ago - declared fullframe to be the gold standard for many things. I guess of course that a lot of this was (back then) meant to dacle that "now we can do digitally what we could do with film" by keeping up the same standards as with film. There are of course benefits to a larger sensor, like the aesthetics of a more shallow depth of the field, but those may well be answered by asking "why then not medium format?".
Even more so, a shallow depth of the field can be achieved reasonably well (unless you are photographing larger objects like cars etc) on APS-C cameras with lenses that have the required aperture. Do those lenses come at a cost? Yes, but so do fullframe sensors.
My own two cents
Personally what it comes down to for me is to go with APS-C as a nice sweetspot between portability, dof and the available systems for the chosen sensor-size. Would I really want to go beyond that I thing my choise would be mdium format as there really is a lot happening in that space right now with both Hasselblad and Fujifilm putting systems that are affordable (by medium format standards) and way more compact then in the past.
I have tried this lens for a few months and so before having it leave the house I'd like to give a few impressions of it.
First of all: the optics of this lens are really nice and so is the built quality, there is really nothing bad I can say here. The only exception maybe that the aperture-ring on mine was a little too smooth for my taste. The images I took with this lens were absolutely sharp, so there are no complaints on that front.
Of course my comparison was with some of the more recent Fujifilm lenses and so I was somewhat disappointed by the autofocus on this lens: it's clearly audible and not as fast as say my 50/2 or 23/2. Having said that: this lens is quite a bit older then those and also was part of the first line of Zeiss AF lenses. What eventually prompted to sell the lens again was much more that I didn't end up using it as much as I thought I might.
So while this was propably I really great lens when it came out I would now rather consider the 35/1.4 or the 35/2 from Fujifilm if you are looking for an equivalent to the classic 50mm normal lens. Personally I don't think I'll replace it with a new "normal lens" right away as I didn't end up using it as much as say the 50 on my Leica.
When deciding on a camera (starting from scrath) the thing you should be looking at is not so much the camera itself, rather you should be considering what system you want to get into. After all when switching camera-bodies later the camera will be gone, lenses and other accessories however are likely to stick with you for years to come.
When I recently bought a Zeiss Touit 32mm for my Fuji I actually got a really great deal, I paid roughly half-price on a lens in great condition that was almost new. But while that was a great deal, the thing that struck me was that there was maybe a handful of those lenses for my system out on ebay. Now compare this to something like looking for a 50mm lens for your new Nikon system. Their lens-mount has been around for decades and people have been buying and selling those lenses for just as long and if you don't need autofocus you will have even more options then you've had in the first place.
On the other hand systems like those from Fuji or Sony are the new kids on the block, with Sony being at somewhat of an advantage as far as third-party lenses are concerned since the only third-party company producing autofocus lenses for Fuji right now is Zeiss (Those lenses are great, but it's three vs a large assortment for Sony).
There are of course other factors to consider, like APS-C vs. 35mm fullframe, but the availablility of lenses on the used market and the lens-choices you have in general are important ones in my opinion.
There has been this thing about personal growth in any form of creative pursuit (but also life in general) on my mind lately aber moving out of my comfort zone. For the longest time mine had been to photography nature and landscape only. It was great: I didn't have to talk to people and I could be all by myself all the time. And while I love nature and beeing outside I still cannot help but thinking I did all this for all the wrong reasons. After all maybe I didn't do all this because I loved it so much but rather because of my anxieties towards doing something else?
Whenever I did do something else it was great fun and I enyoed it a lot. But that of course really didn't keep me from not trying to do more of it - I might have to get over my anxiety of getting others to collaborate in what I was doing after all. Of course I knew that there was not really anything probelmatic about it: just talk to people about taking some portraits. But then again: someone might say no, of course they can't if you never ask. So there you go, problem solved ...
Obviously this is not the kind of struggle that is resolved once you know about the problem you're having, but that may be a starting-point to get there. So in that spirit I am happy to say that I've taken a few portraits as of late and despite some starting-difficulties I feel like I am imroving and (most importantly) I have fun doing it. I also notice (and that's no surprise) that my issue really isn't the actual shoot but getting people to do them with. So I guess there is my task for the next months.