After much thought and uncertainty, I bit the bullet and bought a used (good condition) Leica M8.2 on Monday 13 December.
Here is one of the first photos taken with it, through the window of a Japanese restaurant on the way back from Red Dot cameras where I bought the camera. It's taken at 320 iso and 1/15th of a second using a Zeiss 28mm Biogon f2.8 lens, wide open at f2.8.
I used to own a Leica M8, and had a love/hate relationship with it. I loved its size and handling, the fact I could use my rangefinder lenses on it, and the colours of the photographs I took. I hated the camera at high iso, found it quite slow to use and didn't like the battery life. It was during a time when I was mistakenly searching for the 'ideal' camera (which of course does not exist). I ended up selling it for a good price, keeping my Leica M film equipment and buying a Canon 5D Mk II.
Two years and many more cameras later, I find that for day to day use my 35mm film rangefinders give me the most pleasure and best results. On the other hand, embarking on this project and sometimes being outside with a black and white film when I wanted colour, or a low speed film when the light ended up being dark, started me wishing again for a digital rangefinder. Not as an alternative to film, but as a back up, or companion. A camera that worked like my film rangefinders, that I could swap lenses between, and use for those occasions when it made sense to use digital, or when I wanted to 'cheat' and check the exposure in camera.
The only real choices were a used M8 or an M9. Unless I was only going to use digital, and sell my film stuff, I couldn't justify the cost of an M9. And anyway, I became quite nostalgic for the look of the M8 files. Now I have accepted the M8 is not the perfect camera, and has the flaws I knew about before, I realised that for what I wanted - a digital rangefinder I would use more like one of my film rangefinders, not a cure all, perfect iso from 100-16000 and as fast as you like camera to take hundreds of photos a day (I can use a 5D for that, when I can be bothered to) - the M8 fitted my needs.
A mint M8.2 cost more, but I thought was a batter investment, and a nicer camera. It maybe in a year that another camera comes along and I will sell the M8.2. I know that I shall be able to get a good price for it so it is not money down the drain.
As my Rangefinder Chronicles entries are just over 2 weeks behind time, I have used the M8.2 quite a lot now. I think every day since buying it. Accepting its flaws and using it in a different way to an all purpose camera, I have grown to love it more than I did before. It shall appear often in these Rangefinder Chronicles in future, and thus breaks one of my original rules (film only) for this blog. But I make sure that nearly every day I take out at least one film camera as well as my M8, and take film every day. And I shall use my M8 like more like a film camera. So film will remain central to these Rangefinder Chronicles.
Above, First self portrait with new M8.2
I recovered quickly from the guilt of spending so much money on a used camera, philosophising that it was 'lucky money' as they say in Buddhist countries. It was my photos taken with my old M8 in Cuba that led to a 12 page profile of my work in Leica Fotografia International magazine in June 2010. just after I bought the M8, later on the same day (Monday 13th) I was invited by someone to have an exhibition of my Cuba photographs in London - which shall be my first exhibition. Details to follow in due course. So I began to think I was having some kind of M8 karma.
On Sunday 12 December I had to be in West London, and took a short walk around the canal at Brentford and the river in Isleworth.
I had with me two cameras, a Leica M6 TTL 35mm rangefinder and a Mamiya 6 6x6 medium format rangefinder. I still have not got around to processing the 35mm film in the Leica M7, so all of these shots by the river and canal are taken with the Mamiya 6.
Although it was pretty cold that Sunday, for most of the day there was a good attractive low winter sun.
I used my favourite lens on the Mamiya 6: the Mamiya 50mm f/4 wide angle lens. On 6x6 format it is similar to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera. It is reputed to be one of the sharpest wide angles lenses for medium format. I also use a Zeiss 50mm lens on a Hasselblad, and I find the Mamiya 50 is just as sharp. The film uses was the super fine grain Kodak Ektar 100
I think medium format film cameras still out perform the best, most expensive digital 35mm cameras (such as the Leica M9 or the Canon 5D Mk II) when it comes to detail on large prints. The 6x6 negative is over 3.5 times larger than the 35mm negative (or an expensive full frame digital sensor), if you use the whole square (as I often prepare to, liking the square format). Even if you crop the negative to a rectangular format you will have over 2.5 the size.
The Mamiya 6 is one of my favourite medium format cameras. I have a few. I like the Hasselblad classic system for its versatility, close up ability and use of filters for landscape photography. But take 3 lenses and the kit is sooo heavy for travel. I have the Mamiya 7, and it's great, especially with the 43mm super wide lens. But again, it's bigger and heavier than the Mamiya 6, and you only get 10 frames per roll of film. For travel the Mamiya 6 is better. My favourite, the Rollei 2.8F, also a 6x6 camera, has the best lens in my opinion but it is a fixed lens. The beauty of the Mamiya 6, mainly as a result of it being a rangefinder, is that it can fold up into a camera back, I can take all 3 lenses (150, 75 and 50) and a couple of 35mm rangefinders and the weight won't kill me.
On Saturday 11 December, with a heavy head and bad hangover, I went to meet a friend to take some photos and, at the same time, test a lens I was thinking of buying. We met in my favourite cafe in London, Aperture, the Camera cafe.
Top photo, Checking lenses over coffee, Leica M7, Voigtlander 35mm Nokton f1.4 SC, Fuji Neopan 400)
I was testing a lens I was thinking of buying: the classic Leica 35mm pre-aspherical Summilux f1.4. It's a beautiful little lens, in my favourite focal length for film rangefinders - a 35mm. It's one of the smallest and fastest 35s you can find, and it is said to be sharp stopped down but dreamy and soft wide open.
The used lens I had my eye on had a scratch on the rear element, near the edge of the lens, so the shop kindly let me borrow it to shoot a couple of films before deciding whether to buy it. I shot most photos wide open, at f1.4, to see how the lens coped with flare (which can be exaggerated by a scratch on the rear element).
I didn't see a big problem with flare, but I found the lens just too soft for me wide open. I like dreamy, a little, but these looked a very drunk dream. I am not sure if the scratch made it worse, or this is just the common signature of the old summilux 35 wide open, but I decided, as I already have the Nokton 35/1.4, this was not the lens for me.
(Above, Various shots around the cafe with the Summilux, the indoor shot is at f1.4)
At the end of each of the two films, I shot just a few frames with my Voigtlander 35mm Nokton f1.4, again all at f1.4. The photographs were far more usable and attractive to my eyes. They were much sharper yet had enough of that dreamy look, and slight glow, to make them interesting. They were more contrasty, far less soft. The first photo in this blog, above, certainly my favourite, was shot at f1.4, is sharp enough to make a good print, and yet retains an attractive glow and out of focus bokeh to give it just "enough" dreamy look for my eyes.
You might be unable to tell the difference here, but having made prints from the negatives, I am sure the Nokton is a better lens for me.
(Above, 2 photos with the Nokton, both at f1.4)
To see more photos taken the same day, and at different sizes, see my Rangefinder Chronicles archive (for December 2010) here:
On Friday 10 December we had our work Christmas party. It was at the Serpentine gallery in Hyde Park. I only had a film camera with a 400 iso film, so I pushed it to 1600 (hence the grain). Here is a photo of the staff who worked at the venue, serving drinks.
Shot with Zeiss Ikon ZM camera,Leica 50mm Summilux f1.4 and Fuji Neopan 400 pushed to 1600 iso
Work, and if I am honest the freezing temperatures, prevented me from attending. I had about 30 minutes in which, in between working on something that I continued into the night, I could go along and take photos. I only had on me my old, manual Leica M4 camera, with no lens. Luckily it was loaded with some Kodak Portra 400VC film and I had my Leica 50mm summilux f1.4 lens. As these shots were all taken at night they are all at either f1.4 of f1.8, and low shutter speeds. I was surprised, nevertheless, that many came out.
I had next to no time to take a photo on Wednesday 8 December, except a quick 10 minutes snatched to get lunch. I like this sign, painted on the wall, near my work. I took the photo with an old manual Leica M4 with 50mm Summilux f1.4, wide open at f1.4. The film is Kodak Portra 400VC. I like how the lens and the film catch the colour and the difference between those areas sharply in focus and the 'dreamy' background
I often walk up to the British Museum to shoot a few frames before visiting one of the photography shops in the area. I've always been a bit of a column photographer. I like what they do with light. The British Museum has some great ones.
This is a 'student photo' in 2 ways. First, it photographs students preparing for the demonstration against fees at LSE. Secondly, it looks like the kind of handmade car crash of a negative I might have made myself as a student many years ago.
This negative was ruined. All of them from this day were. They were in an old Canon P rangefinder, but the rewind crank broke. So the film got scratched and pulled about. I managed to get it out of the camera and develop it, but as you can see it is in a terrible state. However, as all of the 6 or 7 shots taken that day are in a similar bad way, I had to put one up to represent the day.
On Sunday 5 December, on the way to the darkroom to make some prints, Ripon and I both had to finish some films. We stopped by Southwark tube and I set my tripod up with a Hassleblad Xpan on it and started shooting an office block with interesting architecture: Palestra House, 197 Blackfriars Road.
Within seconds a security guard came out and said 'You can't take photographs here' I asked him why. He said it was private property. I was standing below the over hang of the building on what looks like the pavement, but it had different colour paving stones. So I picked up my tripod and put it on the other side on what was obviously the pavement and continued photographing.
The security guard continued to tell me I was 'not allowed" to photograph the building. I told him I was in a public place and of course I could photograph it. This exchange carried on for a few minutes and I started to take some photographs with my Leica M7 of the security guard. He said "don't take my photograph" - so I said, 'fine, get out of the way of my lens'. But he wouldn't move and kept telling me that it was not allowed to take photographs of the office.
He picked on the wrong guy. I'm a barrister as well as a photographer, and I again told him that of course I could photograph it, he had no legal entitlement to tell me otherwise and no right to continue to harass me. I suggested if he was so concerned he could as a policeman.
(Photo 3: Palestra House black and white, Hasselblad XPan, Hasselblad 45mm f4, Neopan 400)
A couple of minutes later a policeman arrived and asked me what I was doing. I told him that although it was clearly no business of his, I was obviously taking photographs of the building and for some strange reason the security guard believed I was not allowed to which was, of course, nonsense. The policeman established I was not on private property and after a brief discussion shrugged and walked off.
That should have been the end of it, but the security guard was adamant and fetched more security people. One of them said, in a very official voice, that I was 'not allowed' to photograph the building. We had the same conversation, and when I asked on what grounds, I was told, ‘because you are not allowed’. Naturally, I told them they were mistaken, and continued to photograph.
(Photo 4: Security guard, tries again in vain to tell me I cannot photograph, Hasselblad XPan, Hasselblad 45mm f4, Neopan 400)
The first security guy then called the police again. And a car, with siren sounding soon pulled up. One police officer came up and asked me what I was doing. I asked the officer why she was so interested. She said they had been called to a disturbance and a 999 call had been made. Of course, I stood my ground again, told them it was nonsense and they should think about questioning the security guard for wasting police time.
Another officer suggested to me that the security guard might be worried because of the "terrorist climate" (that old chestnut, wheeled out when all else fails). I said, 'you look like a sensible man, officer, do you really believe a terrorist would come along in broad daylight with a tripod and a couple of film cameras and take photos, and when challenged instead of going away would suggest the security consult the police as they were mistaken. He accepted this was ridiculous and, in a nutshell, the police must have told the security guys to stop wasting everybody's time.
I share this rather mundane story of low level harassment of photographers simply taking photographs because I get increasingly irritated by people asserting that it is unlawful to take photographs. It's an interference in everyone's civil rights, and as a photographer it is tiresome. Of course it helps to know a little about your rights as a photographer before entering an argument about this, but I strongly advocate every other photographer to stand up for their rights when they can. By doing so, you usually defeat those who think they can stop us photographing. By not doing so they achieve their aim.
When I posted about these experiences on a couple of forums (the Rangefinder Forum and the Leica User Forum) there was much interest, with well over 1,000 views and well over 100 replies. Many people were interested in the story and nearly all agreed with the stand I took. I want to emphasise that I don’t blame the security guard in question. He was clearly following someone else’s misguided orders. But given that these things only change if you take a stand I have decided to now take matters further.
I discovered that Palestra House is the headquarters of the London Development Agency, a public body accountable to the Mayor of London. I have decided to write to the Mayor about this and ask him to confirm that photographers are free to photograph this and other buildings in London. I shall also be contacting the photographic press, and I shall update readers of Rangefinder Chronicles with the results.
I would encourage all photographers to take photos of buildings in London, if they so choose, and not allow anyone to put them off. I shall return to Palestra House and also inside Soutwark tube (apparently some say you cannot photograph in tube stations, but I find them ideal) in the future
On Saturday 4 December 2010 (as well as on the next Sunday in fact) I decided to have some fun with my Hasselblad XPan panoramic camera. I started in Milner Square, Islington, because the type of architecture I thought lent to a panoramic style.
Of course the Xpan can shoot horizontally, like the photo above, or vertically, like the one below.
Here is another long, long shot in the same square:
All of these photographs are taken with the Hasselblad XPan (I) 35mm rangefinder camera with Hasselblad 45mm f4 lens (using Kodak Portra 400VC). The camera is not much taller, or thicker than a Leica M rangefinder, and as it is made from strong plastic it's not too heavy either, but it is nearly twice the length. Nevertheless, very portable. It switches between shooting normally (one frame 35mm film) or 2 frames, as shown here.
When shooting in two frame mode you get about 21 frames per 36 exposure film, and the resolution of the negative seems more than twice as large.
When I said all of these photos are taken with the XPan, I mean all but the one above, as this is a photo of the XPan in Islington on 4 December, fixed to my tripod and ready to shoot. Notice the clip on spirit level (about £2 on ebay), which is a must have for when you use the XPan for tripod shooting.
This portrait of the XPan is taken with my Leica M7, Zeiss 50mm Planar f2 lens and Kodak Portra 400VC.
Below, a panorama of Upper Street, Islington. You should be able to just make out Ripon with tripod on the far left of the shot.
I like the XPan a lot. Sure, it is a speciality camera not, in my book, for everyday use. But sometimes this format is the best one, and the resolution of the negative is very high, the Hasselblad lens very good. I have made some black and white prints from XPan prints and they are definitely funky.
I expect to keep using it now and then, not so much for landscapes (the main thing people get it for) but for street photography and urban scapes.
Check my blog for Sunday 5 December too, which will have more XPan shots.
That's what this photos says to me. But in fact, he is probably just having a yawn. I know because the frame before on the film has him looking quite interested whilst reading the free newspaper. Maybe he read something that worried him.
Whatever he was thinking, it was not about being photographed. Anther joy of the rangefinder. A small quite camera meant I was sitting almost opposite him and could photograph him reading and stressing/yawning without drawing too much attention to myself.
Here the camera was a Leica M7 with the wonderful Zeiss Planar 50mm f2 lens and some Kodak Portra 400VC film.
Another cold day. It snowed in London. Even the centre of the city, like here near I work in Middle Temple, was dusted with a sprinkling of snow.
Unfortunately I had very little time to take any photos. Too much work. Then it got dark. And like I said it was cold too. But I snapped this shot just round the corner from my office. I liked the classical composition when I saw it (I scene I pass regularly), the way the bench and stairs are framed by the lampposts. It looked much more striking in snow.
When I looked at the negative I was very impressed with how sharp the Zeiss Planar 50mm f/2 lens was on my Leica M7. I can't remember what aperture I shot at now, but I doubt it was more than f5.6 or f8 as it was low light, and I needed to overexpose because of the snow. Yet the photo looks more like one taken at f/16 on a tripod to me. The 50mm Planar is a great lens - and London is a great city of course.
The day before, coming back from photographing the student demo, I found a very reasonably priced Hasselbad XPan with 45mm lens in perfect working condition but with heavy cosmetic damage. I had always been interested in the XPan (a 'panoramic' rangefinder using 35mm film but shooting the equivalent of 2 x normal 35mm frame) so I added it to my rangefinder collection.
The next day (Wednesday 1 December) I put my first roll of film through it. You have to see differently using the Xpan, because of the panoramic format you are using, and I only had 20 minutes in Old Street on the way to my photo lab to use the film. But I wa very pleased with the first results, and have since used the XPan a little more.
Works with this shot, I think, as the street art itself is arranged in a format best captured panoramically.
Shot with Hasselbald XPan I rangefinder camera, Hasselblad 45mm f/4 lens and Neopan 400 film.
Down the road from my office, on a very cold and snowy afternoon, a student demonstration was taking place at Trafalgar Square. As well as demonstrating against the hike in student fees, students were protesting about the controversial police tactic of 'kettling', where anyone protesting is surrounded by police and held - whether they have committed any wrong or not - until, often many many hours later, the police decide to release them.
The police have used this tactic frequently in recent student demonstrations - indeed they started to do so again shortly after this photograph was taken - leaving students and young people in sub-freezing conditions, without access to food, shelter, or toilet facilities, let alone legal rights, often for 6 or 7 hours.
Here, some protesters show their wit, as well as their determination, with their homemade placard.
Taken with Leica M7, Zeiss 50mm Planar f2 and Kodak Ektar 100 film
On Sunday 28 November, I had a few hours off from a busy week's work, which had overlapped into the weekend. I hoped for sunny weather as I wanted to try out some colour large format photography. The sun shone on me, I was lucky.
I decided to spend my 2 hours shooting mainly around the Naval college, which has some of the most splendid architecture in London - feeling more like Italy than England.
I had with me my Toyo 45AII 5x4 inch large format camera, loaded with fast colour film and some black and white. Setting up and taking each shot takes time, and usual constant negotiation with officials asking you for a license etc. But I took some nice large negatives.
In between setting up the large format camera, I used my Leica M7 rangefinder fitted with the fantastically sharp Zeiss 25mm Biogon f2.8 ZM lens - one of the best Leica-M fitting wide angles there is in my opinion. I used the ultra fine grain Kodak Ektar 100 iso film, which was just right for this sunny winter day
Although I was pleased with the large format photographs, and of course if I want to make huge prints they beat anything on 35mm, I actually had more fun, and got more results with the M7 - another rangefinder victory.
All of the photos on this blog post are taken with the M7 on 35mm film.
In this last one, below, in the foot-tunnell under the Thames, I decided to shoot at f/22 in what was very low light. This is a 16 second exposure on the M7.