The trouble with cameras is . . . . . . (6 months with my M8.2)

Some of you good people may remember a post around 6 months ago about my dirty weekend with a Leica M8. If not then you may wish to go read that before carrying on with this one.

Well the fact of the matter is I never got her out of my system, a few astute folk who follow my work may have already noticed but that camera was rapidly followed by my now precious M8.2.

So why the rapid change of mind? Why the “it just ain’t right” “Oh it’s so right” split?

Perhaps I owe you an explanation. . . . . . .

My dirty little secret.

6 months with my precious.

Some of those you may have seen before, some are “none selects” others are just little pieces of what I see.

 

Warning – This is a long post so maybe go grab a cuppa before continuing . . . . . .

As you can see the Leica has been with me on many a job, I slowly tried it out and instantly realised why I had a need for this little German gem. I just get different photographs when I use the Leica than I do with the Canons, not better just different. Particularly on fashion jobs, I can just calm everything down from the high energy studio work and tuck into the corner creating a very different feel between myself and my subject. It becomes a much more personal process, just my subject, me and a little camera. Simple light & simple gear, leaving all the more room for emotions and feelings. It’s like that feeling of peace you get when slowly breathing out, well to me it is anyway.

I won’t lie, some of the joy in using the Leica is in the fact it’s such a simple tool. It makes you work for the photographs you create with it. That’s an important point, I tend to create photographs with the M, not just take them. Sure i’ve had a little Auto / Auto / f/8 preset focus action but it just isn’t my way of working. If you want a sharp well exposed photograph of something with the M then you better get focusing and thinking about how you want the image to look. Could I have taken the photographs I have with a decent compact? I guess but the fact is I wouldn’t have enjoyed the process as much and that would have probably shown in the final image. Sure the final image is all that counts but if I don’t enjoy and revel in the process then my love isn’t going to come through in that final image. My Canons are almost like extensions of my body in that I know them both inside out and back to front (literally) I don’t have to think about what I want them to do, my fingers know exactly how to translate my minds want into the camera.

“A poor craftsman blames his tools” as the saying goes, so does a good craftsman also accredit his skill to his tools? None that I know of. The best response to the question asked often of photographers is “I use my eyes”. But to a degree it is about the camera. It’s about how that camera (tool) makes you feel when you use it. Much like how a £7000 bespoke suit from Brioni is going to make you feel slighty different than a £35 supermarket version. Both do the same job yet only one is going to make you feel like James Bond (I admit that only one is going to be worth more than your car too but hey). A friend made a good point once, he’s a rather talented carpenter and he himself admits to buying more expensive tools knowing that he will enjoy using them much more. They feel nicer, look a darn sight sexier and more than likely out last the cheaper option.

So that’s one reason for sticking with the Leica, it’s a well crafted, beautiful feeling tool that engages me like no other camera. As a working photographer that’s an important factor when creating my work (provided that those final photographs are of the quality my clients and I demand). Speaking of my clients, they don’t care what I use or how I create the photographs they pay for (well within reason and legal parameters), mostly all they get to see is those final images. So long as those photos blow them away, I’ve done my job and the exchange of currency is finalised.

What about all those negatives I spoke about when first using the M8?

Well let me recap –

Shutter noise

Shutter release feel

ISO performance

40mm f2 cron performance

Colour reproduction & white balance (The UV problem)

Firstly the noise, yes the M8 is a noisy beasty when shooting. I swapped up to an M8.2 (which was Leicas little upgraded model with new shutter box, screen and something else I forget). It’s quieter, not ninja quiet but quiet enough for me. Plus the M8.2 has a natty discreet mode where the shutter doesn’t recock until you release the shutter button, good to dampen the sound a little. Oh yeah and it’s the only digital camera I’ve had that I don’t have a screen protector on (well actually the 1Diii doesn’t have one either but that’s because that thing is a tank anyway) The sapphire crystal glass is somewhat of a bourgeois addition but hey if it means I can sling the thing in my bag without fear of a scratch then count me in.

Next the shutter button feel, still a bit gritty but I’m getting used to it. I’ve heard that one can tinker with it to make it all smooth but I don’t really want to get the screw drivers out just yet.

ISO performance – Right, here’s my honest take. If you’re working in colour then 640 is your maximum working iso (and that is at a push) The work around is to accept that and either use fast lenses (more on this later) or switch to B&W. I’m more than happy shooting ISO 1250 knowing the final image is going to be monochrome. In fact my working settings are DNG (RAW) + JPEG where the JPEG is B&W so when I review my shots I see them in B&W.

The 40mm f2 summicron performance compared to on film – Well I’ve shot this lens with and without a UV/IR cut filter, with and without coded setting. Fact is yeah sometimes the corners are a bit soft wide open, but as a fashion/portrait photographer this doesn’t really bother me so much. I think the reason I’ve never really noticed this before on film is me shooting fast films so the grain covers some of that softness. This being said I’m never going to be the guy who wants clinically sharp and smooth photographs. I pretty much always throw grain over the top of all my digital work to give it the look I desire. Plus another factor of the apparent soft corners is down to how ridiculously sharp the centre is wide open. This is one thing that still amazes me about the M, even having said images sharpness is not the be all and end all, the resolution of the kodak sensor is ridiculous.

Colours – Firstly the magenta blacks problem. Well documented and known about, the easy fix is an UV/IR cut filter. Sometimes I use one, sometimes not, sometimes I wish I had used one but a little desaturation localised brush work sorts out most of the problem. Under good light the colours just sing, I’d say it runs into problems still when under “odd” lighting conditions. So mixed sources normally indoors, Marks simple solution? B&W 🙂

 

So to how the Leica managed to take ahold of my heart. Well for one thing it really does slow me down, so again on a job I can be rocking with the Canons and then just step back and simplify, breathe and zen out. It brings me closer to my subject, in a way it takes me from Fashion photographer to Portrait photographer.

Right, time for something of a 6 month review, in the opposite way of most reviews this is my opinion, no test charts, no tech specs, just how I feel the camera works for me. It isn’t a comparison of DSLR Vs rangefinder, I use both and probably always will, each has a place in my bag.

So to start my little review here are some photographs (seems a good starting point);

On set with the M8.2

A little moment during a fashion shoot. I loved the opposite of the blacks & whites

 

On the nature of daylight - Leica Masters Gallery

Selected for the Leica Masters Gallery – Time out from the studio lights, a moment of calm reflection.

 

Manchester NQ

A quick change of camera and pace during a location shoot.

A quick note on the last shot, see that black suit she’s wearing . . . . . . . . yeah I wasn’t using the IR cut filter and so you can see what the magenta problem can look like. As I say not a massive problem and fairly easy to correct but I wouldn’t want to do a whole shoot of correcting and obviously for fashion true colours are quite the big deal at times . . . . .

6 months down and the Leica is getting more and more shoot time on jobs with me, partly because I’m more confident in what it can give me, plus partly because I’m more able to command gaps within the shoots to step outside the normal shooting approach.

It’s my always and everywhere camera. As such it’s taken a beating, I’ve probably shot over 2000 frames with it (so to those thinking why not shoot a film Leica that’d be over 56 rolls of film which is probably about £300 plus days worth of scanning time). Here are a few more everywhere shots;

Love Your Hair

I did until it threatened to leave me.

Platform 2

The alternative selfie

Elliot Erwitt I am not

Dogs driving cars, what’s not to like

The Exchange

The Exchange – lost in translation

Leon nostalgia

Leon nostalgia

Down the pub

Down the pub

Dodging the raindrops

Dodging the raindrops

Deep in the forest

Deep in the forest

Oxford Street detail

Oxford Street detail

 

So it’s been around a bit. It’s a joy to use and I get a lot out of that enjoyment.

I promised a little review but to be fair this is a 4 year old digital camera. It’s still very expensive and it has it’s problems. I’ve had conversations with people asking how I find it and I feel kind of bad saying yeah I love it, the image quality can be amazing but I wouldn’t recommend they buy one. Fact is if you’re in the market for a new (or new old) digital camera there are much “better” options for you for the amount of money a basic M8.2 set up will cost. For example a decent used M8.2 will be around £1800 for the body, a bog standard no frills 35mm voigtlander lens will be maybe £300 used (a decent 50mm leica summicron £600) So we’re talking over £2000 for one camera and one lens. This is big money in the current camera market. I could go out and buy a used Canon 5Dmk2 and add a 35mm f2, 50mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8 for around the same amount. How can I ever recommend someone go and buy the Leica right. However if that person says “I love shooting with rangefinders and want a digital experience with it.” Well now we’re playing a different game. The field is very very narrow. You can get the Epson r-d1 (very old tech but a lovely looking camera), the M8 or the M8.2 (or I guess you could argue to a point any film rangefinder and a good scanner plus a stack of film but lets not have that discussion). To me the M8.2 is an addition to my bag rather than a replacement. Could the Fuji X-Pro do the same job, to me not really, it isn’t a rangefinder. It’s autofocus for starters and much of the joy of a Leica is it’s simplicity of use, you set the aperture, you set the shutter speed, you focus the lens and you compose the photograph. If it sucks then you only have yourself to blame (it’s a brutal world). Ever tried manually focusing the 50mm f1.2 L lens handheld on any Canon? trust me even that super high tech auto focus system has it’s problems sometimes. Now take the even faster 50mm f/1.1 Voigtlander Nokton, twist it, see it’s focused, take the shot and move on. It really is that simple.

So here’s the crux, would I recommend the Leica M8.2? in answer, no & yes. It really depends who is asking and what they want it for. If you’ve never used a rangefinder before and this will be your only camera, I’d be on the no side of the fence. If you like the rangefinder experience but want an all digital experience, maybe. If you have a solid DSLR set-up but want to add a rangefinder for the joy of using one and for a different feeling while shooting, YES.

Using the Leica is like using no other camera, the photographs one creates with it seem more personal simply due to the fact that the photographer makes all the decisions. To me my subject is more closely involved in the process, they see more of my face when I shoot, I’m normally closer to them, the set up is very simple and as such a more intimate feeling is evoked. Not in an odd way just the process becomes (to me) more naturally collaborative. Behind the Canons I direct, behind the Leica I play more of a reactionary roll.

So to me, I love my Leica (as much as one can love material goods). It forces my mind and creative process down a different path and from that I’ve grown as a photographer.

The final take away from this non-review review, only you will know whether or not the M8 / M8.2 is right for you. No amount of reviews and forums and looking at data charts will inform you, sure use those to convince your other half but in reality if that Leica bug bites then there is only one way to find out (on the plus side if you change your mind they do hold their value fairly well 🙂 )

 

I’ll leave you with a few more photographs from the last 6 months;

Down the garden

Such a lovely greenhouse.

Light reading

The vitals for being on the road. Leica, iPad & Vogue Magazine.

No review is complete without a photograph of a cat or dog

No review is complete without a photograph of a cat or dog

Blue doors, blue eyes

Blue doors, blue eyes

A momentary rest

A momentary rest

 

 

James W Blind Swineing some coc

James W Blind Swineing some cocktails

Triptych piece from E&E

My go to for triptychs M8.2 50mm f/1.1

Triptych sereis | EDUCATE&ELEVATE

Triptych sereis | EDUCATE&ELEVATE, originally uploaded by bang*.

web | blog | facebook

Back to the B&W and stepping back in time.

Educate & Elevate shoot, 90’s fly grrrrrrls. www.facebook.com/educateelevateltd

A few peeks up on my facebook too with more to follow this week.

Triptych | Yazi Van Bathory

Triptych | Yazi Van Bathory, originally uploaded by bang*.

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See the rest of the series here – www.flickr.com/photos/bangphoto/sets/72157626960169758/

Bonus Triptych for the Jubilee weekend (If you’re not from the UK then that may not mean a great deal to you).
Rude Britannia, God Save The Queen and all that.

Just a little something from another little shoot with Yazi. Always a pleasure and never (NEVER) a dull moment. We got tourist-ed (ie. other randoms taking photos), Yaz got some new fans, we got hassled by a gang of mean looking geese and to finish it all off a good old photobombing by a small child.

Triptychs | Blind Swine #6



Triptychs | Blind Swine #6, originally uploaded by bang*.

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See the rest of the series here – www.flickr.com/photos/bangphoto/sets/72157626960169758/

Final of an initial six triptychs shot for The Blind Swine (although there are another few in the pipeline already), the soon to be sleaziest (in a good way) place to hang your hat whilst indulging in the finest of eating and drinking pleasure in York.

So the secret to becoming a full on awesome chef is out, all you need is three hands. Mike has indeed gone one step above us all on the evolutionary ladder.
Oh yeah, the boots, they would be GOLD.

Triptychs | Blind Swine #5

Triptychs | Blind Swine #5, originally uploaded by bang*.

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See the rest of the series here – www.flickr.com/photos/bangphoto/sets/72157626960169758/

Fifth of an initial six triptychs shot for The Blind Swine, the soon to be sleaziest (in a good way) place to hang your hat whilst indulging in the finest of eating and drinking pleasure in York.

 

So other than the above words it’s been a little quiet from me of late, it’s been a busy old time plus I’m on one of those half year review timeouts from it all. You know the ones, I lock myself up inside my own head and have a million conversations with myself. I usually head out on the bike alone into the country lanes just for some time away, no distractions, just me, myself and my thoughts. It’s been a strange old rollercoaster of a year so far, huge ups and some pretty major downs. I’ve had to bail on a couple of really great ideas simply due to my lack of time and then at other times I’ve been scratching around for inspiration with all the time in the world. I’ve dropped some balls along the way but also pulled off some pretty grand last minute jobs. Time to set out the plan for the next 6 months, figure out where my path is right now and quit getting distracted from my main aims for 2012.

Anyway back to the photography, another from the Blind Swine tomorrow and i’ve been particularly mean in holding back this one until last as it’s of the guy who actually got me in on this shoot. Ha! sucker. Honestly though it’s worth waiting for if you’ve ever wondered what the untold secret of top flight chefs is . . . . . . . .

Triptychs | Blind Swine #4

Triptychs | Blind Swine #4, originally uploaded by bang*.

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See the rest of the series here – www.flickr.com/photos/bangphoto/sets/72157626960169758/

Fourth of an initial six triptychs shot for The Blind Swine, the soon to be sleaziest (in a good way) place to hang your hat whilst indulging in the finest of eating and drinking pleasure in York.

Check on the progress here – https://www.facebook.com/theblindswine

Another tomorrow.

Blind Swine | Triptych

Triptych – Blind Swine, originally uploaded by bang*.

web | blog | facebook

See the rest of the series here – www.flickr.com/photos/bangphoto/sets/72157626960169758/

First of six triptychs shot for The Blind Swine, the soon to be sleaziest (in a good way) place to hang your hat whilst indulging in the finest of eating and drinking pleasure in York.

Shot on “that” camera with it’s shiny new bit of glass on the front. Lighting provided by the big ol’ evening sun reflected and diffused by a stinky, filthy, shameful alleyway.

More to follow through the week if you like that kind of thing.

Trip – Tease

Trip – Tease, originally uploaded by bang*.

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Quick tease from this evenings triptych session.
Getting down and dirty in one of Yorks least obvious places to make photographs.

More to come in the next few days, if you like this kind of thing.

The trouble with cameras is . . . . . . . (Never meet your heros) – My weekend with the Leica M8

M8-Selfie

The oh so required self portrait in mirror with new camera.

 

Right, i’ll let you get it out of your systems, go on, tell me you thought I was immune from gear acquisition syndrome.

It’s no secret I have a thing for Leicas. Always have and always will. I’ve been loving shooting my film CL of late, the 40mm f2 is beautiful on that camera (which it was designed for) and with TriX or TMax loaded I’ve got some beautiful photographs. It’s a pleasure to shoot with, makes me think and work for the images I get.

 

Now it’s normally about this time of year that I drop a little cash on something new. A couple of years ago a gained the 5Dmkii, a year later the EF 85L, then last year the X100.

This year I came across a used M8 for sale at a good price. I’ve wanted to get my hands on one of these since they launched and finally thought “I can have the excitement and joy of using my CL but with all the benefits and easy of digital” right?

Well after a couple of days I’m sad to say wrong. 😦

The M8 is a beautiful camera and I’ve seen some lovely images from them, however despite all it’s beauty and heritage the sensor is showing it’s age. Here is the problem with modern digital cameras. Leica M cameras were always cameras for life, this is pretty much shown by the fact the M8 I used was cheaper than a used M7 film body from the same dealer. In fact I’d say my CL will be worth more than the M8 in another 10 years (maybe less). The problem is with producing the body of a camera to last forever in the modern “throw away” world. Digital technology is still in it’s teens and as such moving and changing still. Camera bodies are no longer the investment pieces in a kit.

So the M8,

It’s lovely no doubt. You know it’s a quality camera as soon as it’s in your hands. It’s straight forward and easy to use if you’re used to cameras that require you to do the thinking. Aperture, shutter speed, focus ring and shutter release. Zen like pretty much describes the user experience.

The problems start once you get shooting, firstly it isn’t as quiet as I’m used to Leicas being. No biggie but worth noting, it sounds kind of mechanical in operation. The shutter release is actually rubbish. Now I’ve never said this about a Leica but seriously it’s all crunchy, if I can really feel the half press points on my shutter release I freak out. Leicas should be smooth like butter, silky and perfect, not jarring and stabby. Again not a deal breaker but another con for me.

These things I could get over as I was finally shooting with a digital M, I enjoyed the experience, well until I started to look through the images. I’ll not go into huge detail but here’s the main issues I had;

White balance is shocking, Forget auto WB unless you like blue tinted shots. Sure I shoot RAW but still I do like my previews to be close to actual colours.

My 40mm f2 ‘cron was appalling wide open on the thing. Crazy soft corners, like lens baby soft. This was a BIG deal to me.

Really rather poor ISO performance once you get above the base of 160. At 160 it’s really great but other than that noise starts to dance everywhere.

I’ll admit I was blown away by the sharpness of the images even when unsharpened in Lightroom but as we all know, sharpness isn’t everything.

Colours, h’eh, nothing to really write home about. Apparently the Kodak sensor in the M8 was designed to replicate Kodachrome colours. I’m no expert on Kodachrome but I’m pretty sure it was better than what I got with the M8.

Here’s a few shots from the weekend to give you an idea of my cons. These we’re edited to make them acceptable to me so you won’t see my issues with colour or white balance;

 

Red checks out

Red wall photographed with Leica M8, 40mm f2. Colour gained by running this through Color Efex and the Kodachrome preset.

Window shot with M8

Window shot with M8. Film (ish) look? yes. Straight from camera? No.

Shadow play

This one shows the stupid soft corners I got using the 40mm f2 on the M8. Never had this on the CL

Just testing for bo-keys 🙂

Blus doors & stone work

A little street detail from the city this morning. Leica M8 40mm f2

Through the looking glass

British institutions, BT phone box and a Red Royal Mail post box.

So after seeing my shots, I thought i’d be fun to compare to those I took last year with the X100 (now don’t get silly on me but I may be about to announce something)

Window details, X100

A window shot from the X100. Creamy and lovely

Shooting the shooter

Cameras a dawn. A little window detail whilst wandering with the X100.

Budapest doorway, Fuji X100

Street / doorway details from Budapest last year. X100. Oh the colours!

X100 bike

Bike in Budapest shot with the Fuji X100

I love this shot, blue hour in Budapest. The X100 excels in low light.

Busking in the rain, York. X100

Singing in the rain York style. Weather testing the X100

River walk details

Love this shot too. A little moment from down by the river last year.

 

Okay, now I know which series of shots I prefer.

Remeber last year when I let the X100 go, I said I loved it but it wasn’t worth what I paid for it. Well the same goes for the M8, I love the thing despite it’s short comings, I’m pretty sure that one day I will invest in some proper Leica lenses and a full frame digital M but for now, I just can’t part with that much money for a camera which doesn’t create what I want it too. So where does that leave me?

Well the CL is staying for all my B&W film work (no doubt on that one). It’s small, light and handy to have in the bag on assignments.

Now coming back to the “the X100 isn’t worth what I paid for it”. Well it wasn’t worth what I paid for it when first released brand new, however . . . . . . it is worth what I may have just found one for used and just serviced with a stack of extras.

I’ll be honest and say I’ve missed the little Fuji, every time I look back through my catalogue of shots from last years 365 the stand out images are normally from the X100, it’s colour reproduction is amazing, I really got to grips with converting my B&W’s with it, plus the thing is sexy as. Why didn’t I go for the new X-Pro 1? simple because HAVE YOU SEEN THE PRICE OF THOSE THINGS?!? I don’t care if it makes coffee for me and drives me to my commissions, I’m not wandering the back streets of eastern european cities casually swinging over two thousand pounds worth of metal and plastic from my wrist. Plus it’s going to get me into the whole lens system problem again.

So the M8 is going back, the Olympus E-P2 20mm combo is going to be leaving my company and all being well the X100 shall be returning. HA! its like a camera yoyo between the Oly E-P system and Fuji X100 around here eh? Stay tuned I’m sure they’ll be more on this subject to be said in a week or so.

 

So as they say sometimes is best not to meet your heros, I’ve admired the M8 from afar for a good while, now sadly I see it as a once was, a classic of old.