The courtship of a Leica

Posted on May 11, 2014
The courtship of a Leica

A couple of months ago, I was filing some papers. Well, I call it filing, but jamming even more paper in an already packed cabinet, sounds closer to the truth. When I opened the cabinet, on one of its shelves lay my digital gear.
It made me realise I hadn’t been using it for the longest time. I was either shooting with my Hasselblad 501cm or, when travelling, I’d opt for the compact Contax T2.
So there were a Canon 5D and two beautiful lenses (50mm f/1.4 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 L) just collecting dust. They had served me well, but if I wasn’t using them, I’d better sell them.

“This camera will change my life.”

Shot with Leica M6 on b/w developed CineStill 800T © Martijn Savenije

Shot with Leica M6 on b/w developed CineStill 800T
© Martijn Savenije

The thing was, I had my eye on a beautiful Leica M6. And when I see a fine-looking camera, I want it, start obsessing about it, need it. “This will be the camera. This camera will change my life.”
However, a camera like the M6 and good glass will put a hefty dent in any wallet, so that’s the real reason I sold the 5D. The Contax T2 too, as clearly, it would become redundant as my go-to 35mm cam. It felt like replacing nice supermarket chianti with a sophisticated 1967 Château Latour. But it also felt very different from working on medium format.

Medium format photography

First, let me explain what I love about 6×6. Or more specifically, what I love about shooting with my Hasselblad: It is the pace. The pace of slow progress.
Fidgeting with film. Loading the insert. Focusing the lens while looking through the waist-level finder. Extending the magnifier and fine-tuning focus. Removing the dark slide. The thunderous clack of the mirror when releasing the shutter and then the whirring sound of advancing the film. The deliberate slothful speed and all its limitations force me to think. After all, there are only twelve frames to a roll.

Leica

© Martijn Savenije

Shot with a Leica M6 on Fuji Pro 400H
© Martijn Savenije

So then what is the appeal of the 35mm Leica? In so many ways it’s different from what I’m used to with the Hasselblad. It’s silent, quick and unobtrusive. But in one aspect they’re very similar: they’re sharp as a needle.

I would not have expected any less. Leica (Leitz Camera) have been perfecting their photocameras ever since the very first prototypes were built by Oskar Barnack at Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in 1913. Also, Barnack is responsible for the length of a roll of film. The 36 pictures are a result of how far Barnack could stretch his arms.

So has this camera changed my life? Obviously not. Life – or photographic work – can’t be defined by the gear you use. I’m still grumpy in the morning, I’ve had no epiphanies, nor has my work gotten better overnight. But there is something changing: I’m actually starting to enjoy shooting 35mm. Comparing the camera to my treasured Hasselblad, the Leica feels like a swift sports car.

To be honest, I think I’m more of a medium format kind of guy. I like it when things force me to slow down. However, I’m getting the hang of shooting the Leica and I’m appreciating it more and more. I had read somewhere: “Not using your Leica is like not sleeping with your girlfriend to keep her pristine for the next guy.” So for now, I shall be taking it out more often to get to know it a little better. The courtship has begun.

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