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test roll with the leica m6.

8 Nov 2010

Well, hello.

Just got the negatives back from my first test roll with a Leica M6, courtesy of my friend Peter.  The camera’s got an amazing Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0 lens, and is built like a tank (a very small, compact one, anyway).  I loaded my usual Portra 160NC into the camera on Saturday morning, and soon after realized that the batteries were running low, so I’d have to rely on (gulp) intuition to make sure everything was exposed properly.  The Leica, as with all rangefinder cameras, has a different focusing mechanism than the Nikon or Pentax that I own, which are SLRs (you can read more about the basic structural differences here).  I own a Minolta Hi-matic 7s, which is also a rangefinder, but I found the metering system on that camera to be much too cumbersome, so I never use the camera all that much.  Turns out I should’ve taken it out for a spin anyway, just as practice for when a Leica came into my life.  But despite some errant focusing moments, the photos turned out, miraculously, and for the most part, quite well, I think (though I think I’m erring generally on the slightly overexposed side; I’ll see if I can start self-correcting until I can get over to B&H for some batteries).

The photographs were taken in a 24-hour period this weekend, from a noontime rendezvous with Daniel, Andrew, and Patrick in Ft. Greene Park, to a wonderful solo dinner at Co. Pizza (where I had an amazing kale, roasted celeriac, and apple salad, and then a sausage, fennel, and mushroom pie — oh yes oh yes!), and finally Sunday brunch at Maialino with Mark, where we struggled with the crossword until our food arrived.  Though the Leica has been used historically as a street photographer’s camera — there’s a great piece in the The Paris Review blog this week about Paul McDonough’s NYC shots from the 60s — I was feeling a wee bit too green with the focusing mechanism to take it out during my various sidewalk jaunts this weekend.   But this week I’ll load it up with some black and white film, maybe get my courage up, and shoot some proper street scenes.    More Leica soon.

Addendum: Going back through this post, and looking over the photos one more time, it occurs to me that maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about hyper-precise focusing with the Leica.  I mean, I’ve got a very nice lens and camera at my disposal, but what the Leica has been known for, within the history of photography, is producing fairly impromptu shots, less studied and more immediately evocative, visceral.  I’m going to think more on this as the next roll goes in.  Thoughts, anyone?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel permalink
    8 Nov 2010 7:23 pm

    I’m no expert here, but if these shots have much off-kilter focus, it seems like it’s really working. I’d be curious to see some that you feel didn’t come out the way you wanted, focus-wise, if only to have a broader idea of the goals. Gorgeous stuff.

  2. 8 Nov 2010 9:21 pm

    Beautiful work, simply beautiful. I tried shooting an M9 this week, I just don’t seem to be able to adjust to the rangefinder the way you have. With regards to the focus I think the images are perfectly sharp, which is to say sharp in the right places.

    In shooting Leica’s I feel it is not about capturing “the” moment (you wouldn’t use it for sports for example) as much as capturing “a” moment, but in a more evocative and romantic way than other cameras.

  3. 8 Nov 2010 10:17 pm

    thanks, guys. the rangefinder focus mechanism really is a tricky thing — as you can tell, most of the better shots posted here are of non-moving subjects — even if one is ok with a little bit of blur. i know of a lot of photographers who have a good sense of distance and spatial parameters, and with the special finger-notch on the summicron lens, automatically know where to situate the focus without even looking through the viewfinder. i suspect that my very poor depth perception will prevent me from trying this out with any success! then again, it’s a Leica, and i’m hoping my batting average will improve with each roll.

  4. 9 Nov 2010 12:43 am

    Congrats on the Fabulous Kit and judging from the first few shots you and that Leica will get along fabulously.
    Leica Glass is Fabulous wide open.. dreamy Bokeh and 3D isolation ..but alot of street is shot stopped down (zone focused )look at McDonogh’s shots.. Good street has layers to the story..
    The Beauty of the Rangefinder for capturing the decisive moment is being able to look through the viewfinder compose and frame as your eye sees naturally.
    Another trick is pulling the focus in from infinity works a bit faster ..though nothing is as fast as Nick with his rig..

  5. 9 Nov 2010 5:45 am

    i enjoy enjoy enjoy (enjoy) all your photographs. i’ve yet to touch a rangefinder, having been using slrs for most of my shooting life, but i’ve read up a lot on it – and have asked friends with rangefinders as well – it is truly about the speed at which you can capture. i know with an slr i spend lots of time composing and focusing and checking light meters and all that, but with an rf i believe you are right on about its spontaneity. i don’t know if i can yet move on to a rangefinder, prob because i like slrs too much but moreso i can’t really afford a leica, but i itch for the day i can get to try one out.

  6. 10 Nov 2010 7:49 pm

    @RN – thanks for the tip re: pulling the focus in from infinity; that’s been helping quite a bit as I try my hand at a black and white roll. i’m also trying to shoot more at f/8 and f/11, well out of my aperture comfort zone, to experiment a bit with the Leica optics.

    @K – you can always find relatively inexpensive rangefinders (like my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s) on ebay; i think the cheaper models are well worth it, just to get a hang of how rangefinder optics work. you never know when a friend might randomly confess to having an unused Leica just collecting dust in his closet!

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