Leica Owners

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Apollo is the Greek god of many things, poetry, art, knowledge, but mainly for controlling the sun and the light. When the universe ordains itself and the stars align to present you with the gift of holding and using a Leica, you become a God, you are Apollo, master of light and time itself.

Fixing the light becomes second nature, you are everything and nothing at the same time, the world dances to your will, a transcendental orgy of magical omnipresence. Seeing the future and the past during the present to become the oracle of truth enabling you to personify life into a single photograph. Anything is possible with the Leica, even overcoming death itself.

I’m not sure I can keep writing like that for too long, but it is a good example of how the average Leica owner expresses themselves, their language starts to veer away from a definitive quantifiable description of the camera into the realms of flowery and meaningless adjectives. Much like wandering around a commercial art gallery reading the descriptions next to all the paintings.

Let’s be clear, a digital Leica in terms of technical specifications makes no common sense on paper in comparison to literally any other interchangeable lens camera on the market today, it’s far too expensive. If you’re a working photographer it’s a poor business decision to choose a Leica over a top end Canon or Nikon, you can buy whole systems and quality glass for these cameras and not even approach the cost of buying a Leica body. A Leica M doesn’t even have autofocus or a reasonably designed hand grip to hold it for any length of time.

So, why do Leica owners rave about them so much? Why own one and why bother with something that can be considered as technically backward?

Old school film cameras always felt like a reliable tool to hold, a chunky and reliable device designed well for its purpose. It felt mechanical and exactly fit for purpose, there were no other buttons or excessive features that were not essential to the task of taking photographs. You had shutter, aperture and focus settings and that was it. These were typically manually changed, you had to know the technical details of the cameras operation and it required you to think more about the process allowing you to be more engaged in what you were doing.

With the advent of digital cameras came change, building a digital camera required a different set of skills from the manufacturer it changed from mechanical engineering to electrical engineering with that change it brought a whole new set of people with new and different ideas to what a camera was and what it could be. A camera evolved into a piece of consumer electronics, rather than holding a box with a hole in it you were now holding a device that had more in common with a pocket calculator than a traditional film camera.

It also brought with it an even more increased degree of accessibility, releasing you from the limits of 24/36 frames on each film and the chains of repeatedly visiting the laboratory with its associated costs. It became easier for everybody to take a good photograph, with focus, shutter aperture and ISO all becoming automatic.

Next came an abundance of menu options, why did you have to start worrying about white balance and file formats? What’s this film simulation option? Like walking into a coffee shop and having to decide between many different types of coffee, using a modern camera has become a similar experience, having decisions thrust upon you that you never wanted to think about or never even knew existed.

Using a Leica makes ample headway into restoring the experience of using a camera rather than an electronic device. Much like disconnecting yourself from the Internet for a few days, it becomes like a breath of fresh air clearing valuable headspace up for thinking about more important things; taking photographs becomes more about being a photographer and removes the focus completely away from having to worry about what the camera is doing, you’ve taken the artistic decision making process away from the automatic electronics and firmly placed it back into the hands of the artist. It feels like you are holding a camera again, rather than a device.

As a by-product of this, it becomes a very quick camera in the right hands and makes the Leica a perfect street photography tool. The lack of auto focus becomes an advantage, even the faster of auto focus systems has trouble keeping up with the energy that the street gives. Enabling you to pre-setup focus along with the focusing range marks on the lens is perfect for this application. The rangefinder window on the far-left side of the camera helps too, enabling you to use your right eye to frame the image whilst keeping your left eye open to scan the immediate surroundings for moving opportunities coming towards the lens.

A Leica is a very ambiguous object, but there are firm reasons why their owners love them so much, even if perhaps they cannot quite express why without boring you to tears by delivering an explosion of meaningless adjectives that any big corporation or middle manager would be proud of.

Like gambling, owner one could be a very bad idea unless you’ve got spare cash that you won’t miss, which is a rare thing for anybody to have in this day and age. I couldn’t even recommend anybody else to own one, as a logical decision it is a foolish one. However, buying one will not fill you with regret and it may be the last camera brand you ever own.