Black & White?

I still can’t make up my mind what to do about my Leica M8. There are occasions when using a rangefinder camera like this just feels right, and you find yourself moving around and taking pictures in a way that feels so fluid and natural, the camera becoming integrated into your seeing and being in a way that just doesn’t happen with an SLR.  It’s hard to put into words but I think photographers who have worked for any length of time with a Leica M or similar camera will recognise what I’m trying to say.

But of course there are so many things a rangefinder simply can’t do, or can’t do well – such as using longer focal lengths or fisheyes or working very close to the subject.

The Leica M8 was such a disappointment to me because although it had a similar feel to film Leicas somehow I didn’t get the same results. I don’t understand some of the problems that I had, while others were only too obvious.

Firstly, many of the results were not as sharp as I’d expected. I think that the digital sensor is rather more demanding on lenses that film, and some of the rather well-used  wide-angle Voigtlander lenses I have are perhaps a little past their best. The 35mm f1.4 Leica lens (one supposedly not compatible with the camera) does rather better, but the smaller sensor makes it into a standard rather than a wideangle lens, and both Konica and Leica 50mm f2 lenses I own are fine as short telephotos.

But to really use the camera the way I want would I think need some new ultra wide-angle lenses, and the Leica lenses are not cheap.  They are also relatively large compared to my existing lenses, presumably meaning that the light path from the rear lens element to the sensor is nearer to the perpendicular, reducing some of the imaging problems.

The big problem with the M8 is of course colour. Although using an IR filter on the front of the lens reduces the problem it is still an issue with wide angle lenses.  Using Leica coded lenses again would help. I tried adding black dots on the lens mounts to code my existing lenses, and it was a partial solution, but with lens changes the dots soon wore off.  Some lenses I never managed to get the dots to work either.

Even with longer lenses where correction is rather easier, the colour produced lacks the quality that comes more or less out of the box with Nikon cameras and lenses.

When I climbed up rather unsteadily up the stairs of a bus on my way home after a little celebration a couple of weeks ago, it was clearly no ordinary bus but full of young people and party spirit. Being full of party spirit myself I joined in with the M8 and I think almost all of us were rather amused by the whole thing.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Fluorescent lighting is always something of a problem, and that on buses seems to be peculiarly deficient, so shooting for black and white seemed a good idea. Buses are not a steady platform and everyone including me was moving quite a bit, and the movement actually made precise focussing tricky. A higher ISO would have helped, but the M8 is rather noisy at high ISO. I was working with the 35mm f1.4, but stopped down to f5.6; probably f4 would have been a better choice.

The M8 is much better as a black and white camera than for colour, but much as I like black and white pictures I can’t see myself going back to taking them as a regular thing. For me I think it’s in the past.

A few more of the pictures on My London Diary.

2 Responses to “Black & White?”

  1. ChrisL says:

    A nice set on the diary. Just wondered if the D700 would have had them just as willing ? It’s often said the DSLR is too intimidating for this kind of work, is that true?
    Personally I just picked an F2 with plain prism and 35mmf2 Non AI for £150 purely because I lusted for that when they came out and my budget was challenged by buying film then.
    One of the kindnesses of Leica has been to price the M9 so it’s not even a consideration, the dilemma of the M8 I agree remains. Perhaps you should try the Nokton 40mm f1.4 ? The frame lines issue goes, none are right :-) I use tight 50 knowing I get a comfort zone. It works as a short tele and a wide if you can step two fwd. or back and is compact to carry. Excellent glass good price.

  2. Thanks. I think that the D700 might have been intimidating, though in the end it is more about behaviour than equipment. I wouldn’t have tried it with either had I been entirely sober!

    I have a 40mm M lens, though it is a f2.8 Minolta rather than the Nokton and also two 50mm f2. The problem with wide apertures is depth of field – basically there isn’t any. The 35mm F1.4 Summilux I used is better from this point of view.

    But I think what I really would like would be a more recent and rather wider Leitz lens with the 6 bit coding, which would make working with colour easier. Just the money that’s the problem.

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