NEW YORK NEW YORK – It’s time for a picture of cameras. I obviously can’t put all of them in the picture because then I wouldn’t have a camera to take the picture. Actually I took this with my iPhone, which I use quite regularly. So here are four the the six cameras that I’m currently using. The biggest is a Leica S2, a Leica medium format camera. Wonderfully suited for landscape and any thing else you want to render with perfect lenses and a lot of resolution. Sensational huge viewfinder. Downsides: heavy and poor high ISO, s problem endemic to the CCD sensors that all medium format cameras use. Next in size is my Leica Monochrom. A unique camera that shoots digital but only in Black and white. It produces remarkably detailed files and highly nuanced gray scale images. But it’s essentially a 1954 design (albeit a famous one) – it’s like driving a 1954 Porsche. Completely manual. People love it or hate it – I’m in the former category. Next is the highly-praised Fuji X100s – probably the best non-zoom (it has a fixed focal length 35mm equivalent lens) in its price and size category. The Fuji lens is outstanding and the level of intelligence built into the camera is comparable to a much larger SLR. Amazing performance in near darkness. Great for snapshots in situations where you can’t miss. Images are very good but lack the mojo that Leica delivers for much more money. Finally the little Sony RX100 II which some have called the best pocketable point and shoot ever. Images quality is comparable to the Fuji but it’s not quite as reliable in terms of focus and exposure. Not included in the picture is my Leica M which looks like the Monochrom but takes pictures in living color.
I’m a nut on image quality – each of these cameras delivers in its own way.
On this day last year: Dull image in the “take at least some kind of damn immage every day” camp.
PALM DESERT CALIFORNIA – I made the soul-crushing drive up to Palm Desert from Santa Monica this morning to take my medium format Alpa and Phase One gear (a so-called technical camera – probably because you need an engineering degree to set it up and get the most out of it) to Camera West to trade for a Leica S medium format camera. The Alpa just hasn’t been working for me – it requires working from a tripod and my vision suffers when I use a tripod – my work is best when I use a more intuitive and less calculating approach. The Leica S can be hand held elegantly. I traded my technical camera and four lenses for a Leica S and four lenses and got some change back. Nice.
After completing my deal I made the short drive to Sunnylands where I had arranged for a tour through a friend. Sunnylands is the Annenberg estate – it includes a private golf course and a house, grounds and decor that are tributes to mid-century Modern. It’s currently owned by a foundation and used for high-end conferences.
Too much chit-chat here. Let’s move on to some images. The first two with my new camera. The balance are with my Leica Monochrom.
NEW YORK NEW YORK – A bit of repair and maintenance today. The rangefinder on my M9 has been slightly out of alignment for a while which has made it hard to focus in demanding situations. Horizontal alignment is easy, but vertical alignment requires peeling the Leica red dot off and using a special tool through a keyhole that the red dot hides. The special tool arrived from China today, so I peeled the red dot off (making a mess in the process) and fiddled with the tool for 10 minutes or so. Weirdly, unexpectedly, after ome trial and error I got it just right. I ordered a replacement red dot online and covered the hole with a little patch of duct tape as a temporary measure so I’m ready to roll. Most people would have sent their camera to Leica for calibration but I use mine every day and can’t really be without it for the three week round trip to Solms.
The focus issue had prevented me from using my Noctilux .95 but since I’ve fixed it I’ll be shooting a lot with the Nocti. It’s a magical lens, imparting a poetic quality to the most mundane objects. Here’s an example:
This morning I had a chance to get more use out of the Perer 35mm lens. Here’s a picture of it, mounted on my Leica M9, taken with my iPhone.
Lovely sunrise light this morning taken out my window with the Perer 35 and my M9:
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – I’m writing a page on my equipment which I will illustrate with my photos. My pictures of my Alpa TC and Alpa Max, posted on August 9 and August 17, should do for those cameras. I decided to shoot my Leica M9 today, Here it is photographed with my Panasonic GH2 – I’ll be using these images in the the description of my equipment that I’m presently working on. The lens on the camera, by the way, is the pre-asph 35mm Summicron – called the “bokeh king” because of the creamy quality of the out of focus portions of images taken with it. It’s also really compact.
I’be put a Thumbs Up faux rewind lever on the camera – it balances much bette if there is something to catch your thumb on as you hold it. Note also the wear on the edge of the end of the camera. The finish is black paint over brass – “bronzing” on the edges of the camera are considered a mark of honor in the Leica world.
By the way as I was working on the description of the long list of cameras that I’ve owned it seemed to me that it’s odd that I don’t have a film Leica, so I bid on a two-strokr M3 on ebay today. I’ve got some film in the freezer in Connecticut and know a guy here in New York who develops it, and I have a couple of scanners. We’ll se what happens.
On this day last year: Nairobi This is the start of last year’s Africa trip – for the next two weeks “on this day last year” is actually of interest.
NEW YORK NEW YORK – So what’s so technical about a “technical camera”. Here’s a link to last week’s post on my Alpa TC but it just looks unwieldy and it lacks a lot of things (autos focus and automatic exposure) that we take for granted on a pocket point and shoot.
First, what’s so technical about these things? Well last week’s Alpa TC is actually the little brother of the Alpa Max, a camera that permits the back and lens to be shifted relative to each other, and permits the lens to be titled relative to the plane of the sensor with longer focal length lenses. The ability to shift the lens upward to look up while keeping the camera level permits great flexibility in composition while keeping vertical lines properly parallel (if you tilt the camera up they appear to converge). Of course once you move into shifts you are committed to working on a tripod. In my setup composition is done through live view on the IQ 180’s lcd panel (live view is common in consumer cameras but for technical reasons is hard to implement in medium format digital backs). Working with the Alpa Max is fully the digital equivalent of working with a view camera and 4 x 5 film (the debate on the “quality” of film vs. digital ended a long time ago – on a resolution basis the IQ 180 is fully comparable to r=legacy 8 x 10 film, but the look is different).
Here’s the Max with the lens shifted upward relative to the back:
This setup (the tripod and the need to fiddle with a complex camera) forces one to work slowly. It leads to consciously “composed” work. Some of my best work is actually shot off-hand and intuitively. The challenge for me in working with a large camera is to keep the images interesting (getting them to be perfect is not that hard). The following capture with the Max has the character of thousands of other images captured with similar equipment. This bothers me a bit, but I suppose it shouldn’t – it’s really no different that the millions of “mom and pop at the beach” snapshots that all look the same except for who mom and pop are.
I’ve included a grayscale conversion of this image that further emphasizes how this method of capturing images nudges you in the direction of traditional landscape.
On this day last year: A travel day. A travel day last year, on our way to Nairobi and a date with some wildlife.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – You’re probably wondering what this camera, this Alpa TC thing, is. The Alpa is a modular Swiss “technical camera” designed to work with a medium format digital back. Here’s link to the Alpa website. This is exotic stuff – you won’t find it in the B&H cataloque. The digital back that I use is a Phase One IQ 180. Ditto on not finding it at B&H. Using myself a a model I photographed the Alpa to show you what it looks like. It weighs about four pounds. The concept was to assemble an updated digital camera with functionality similar to the Hasselblad Superwide C – one of my all time favorite film cameras.
Today’s images were take with my Panasonic GH2. It’s the Alpa TC with the Phase One IQ 180 back and a 35mm Schneider Digitar XL lens.
On this day last year: Mocoto, a fabulous local restaurant in the outlying suburbs of Sao Paolo.