Auf Wiedersehen, Leica

Honestly, I had never imagined that this day will come, and yet it came to me all of a sudden. The day when I decided to pack it back into its box and say “Auf Wiedersehen” (or goodbye) to it… the day my Leica M-P Typ 240 leaves me and move on to its new owner.

This is the camera that was most hated by the Leica fans. Bulky, heavy, it shoot video, it uses EVF… everything that’s “not Leica” present here, in the iconic body of a Leica M rangefinder. Despite that, I believe this camera is a very important milestone in Leica M history. It marked the transition of a tradition rangefinder camera to a modern one, it served Leica well as a platform to test out a few ideas (like the cost down version of Typ 262, the screen-less M-D and so on) and not to mentioned all the cash cow limited edition Leica managed to release along the years. Without all these, I would argue that the M10 will not be as great of a camera as it is today.

funny bunny photography

“But why?” That’s the question I got from everyone. Nothing major, really. It’s just that I’m currently undergoing some self reflection phase (which I often do once in a while) and decided to make some tweaks and changes to things in my life. Just like with my film photography, I was thinking about having a short break from the M-P as well, at least for now. I had shot some pictures with this camera that I really loved, and despite all the complaints I have on the M-P and Leica Singapore’s customer service, I still enjoyed every moments and frustrations I endured with it. It’s something that I’ll cherish as a part of my journey in photography for the days to come.

So after selling my M-P off, what’s next? M-10P? Well, I don’t know. At least for the short term, it’s unlikely. I still enjoy shooting with rangefinder camera, that’s for sure. Will I ever get back to owning a Leica M? Probably, but no one knows what the future lies. So we’ll just have to wait and see. But for now, I’m only left with a Fujifilm X100F camera with the two conversion lenses. Maybe this will be my pure setup for next year? Or maybe I will buy something else since the market is so on fire with full frame mirrorless camera nowadays? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. Till then.

It’s been a year…

Yup. It’s been a year since the last time I actually touch my Leica M camera. Did I lost my love to it? Well, not really. I bet I will still enjoy using one when I pick it up. Life has been busy and fast paced that I don’t really have time to “slow down” myself. I had been using mainly my Fujifilm X100F for the past one year. Is it a better camera? Well, certainly not. There are so many shortfalls on this camera that drove me nuts at times, but then again, as you worked around its limitations, you will still be able to live with it. Each camera has their pros and cons to begin with.

So why am I not using it more often? For the things I shot for the past one year, they are mainly activities and events surrounding my study, which either was fast paced or require the use of flash. Can a Leica M shoot fast pace subject? Of course it can. Can a Leica M shoot with flash? Of course it can. On the first point, I would probably put the blame on myself for not being able to use the camera fluently. On the second point, I’m still new to using flash, and I don’t think I can juggle between focusing, composing and setting up flash at the same time.

There are limitations on me, and certainly there are limitations as well on the camera. But when it comes to making a decision on which camera to use, I had decided to walk the easier path: go with automation. For my personal stuff I can afford to make mistakes and not getting the shot, but for things that I need to deliver, I will have to use something that I’m more comfortable with in delivering the required result, and in this case, I have chosen to use my X100F over my M.

And then I started to ponder again whether I should still keep my Leica M. For me, what I enjoyed the most is the experience of shooting with a rangefinder, not a Leica. Perhaps I should just use my Zeiss Ikon when I wanted to fiddle with rangefinder camera. But that brings up another question to ponder… should I still continue to shoot film? I sold off my Fujifilm GW690III Medium Format Film camera recently, I had enough fun with medium format, and the problem dealing with medium format film was a pain that overweights the joy of using one. I’ll talk about this more in a separate post.

I still has an affection to analogue photography. I’ll continue to shoot film for the time being, but as my favourite films are being axed from the production one after another, I may stop shooting film eventually. As for my Leica M? I’ll probably need to pick it up for a spin again someday and asked myself what to do next. Till then.

Style vs Spec

Day after day, more and more products are gearing towards “lifestyle” products that are essentially blend into your life, making it apart of your routine, something that you can’t live without, something that resembles you, something in style that fits your personality, look and character. It’s not hard to see these products are getting more attention and sales as compared to “traditional” products that compete with specifications and reliability.

An easy example that can be drawn will be Apple. Apple had never produced any products that are superior in terms of specification. However, people used to say “it just work” on Apple products, and that their design aesthetics adhered to what they are looking for: simple and minimalist. Apple has a huge crowd of followers, and I’m one of those who purchase their product, though I don’t classified myself as their cult follower as I don’t appreciate every single thing they produced.

In the world of photography, it has always been a race of superiority in terms of specifications. With every product launch, you will only hear about how many stops of dynamic range, how many frames per second, how large is the buffer, how fast the camera auto focuses and so on. There was once a megapixel war, followed by mirrorless versus DSLR war and so on. Much of it still revolves around the technical aspect of the product. Well, it’s hard to deny that as we are actually talking about a rather technically engineered product here.

However, there were those who seek to breakthrough and go the other way. Leica was one of them. Their camera has never been “the best” in any class of specification that you can think of, unless you are saying highest price is one of the attribute you are looking at. But still, Leica managed to develop a cult of followers that believes in their philosophy and approach in photography, hence they are able to continue to survive until today. Moderate specification that command premium price tag and yet still able to sell. They are selling “feeling” and “lifestyle” more than anything else.

Another company that kind of follow this approach was none other than Fujifilm. Their camera has long been accused of copying Leica’s rangefinder design. Seriously, looking at the X100 series and the X-Pro series, it’s hard for people to say they are not. Fujifilm has never been the “best” in any of their specification. They were late in the digital camera business, they were late in the mirrorless craze, but yet, they managed to develop a group of cult followers that believed in their “passion for photography”.

My point of view is, Fujifilm has been pretty successful is differentiating themselves and building their own group of followers. They started off with retro design on their camera bodies, differentiating their camera with “X-Trans” sensor technology, adding in dials that provide tactile control resembling those from the film cameras and so on. They did gathered quite a lot of interest, but in order to continue to grow further, apparently it’s not enough.

Sony on the other hand has always been a company that focus only on specifications over form and functions. Sony cameras in particular has always been leading the edge in some key development areas, particularly those surrounding the imaging sensor. A7 has revolutionized the mirrorless camera line by bringing full frame sensors with it, followed by the recent launch of A9 which wiped out most of the advantages that DSLR holds against mirrorless. Their camera has never been a looker, but their performance will keep you wanting to go back for more.

It’s been pretty clear that lately Fujifilm has emphasized more on specs lately and started to detour themselves away from their retro-ness. They started to adopt top plate LCD, they talk more about specification than anything else, they started to venture into videography business for their X-series camera line-up and so on. It does make business sense for these decisions. However, the current state of of products from Fujifilm makes me feel that they are not sure where to go. The GFX and X-H1, to some extent are good initiatives from Fujifilm to grow their product lines. But the fact that they tried to innovate but at the same time still kind of afraid to let go of their retro styling, makes the GFX and X-H1 look just weird. I believe they could have just gone all out with both of these camera and ditched all the dials if they were to incorporate the top plate LCD, just make them with futuristic design to differentiate from the existing retro styled offering. I believe they had built a strong enough cult followers for their retro cameras, is time to move on with something more modern that opens up a new market segment for them.

It seems to be that all manufacturer has bowed to specification over style. Even Leica has been busy with a slew of “modernized” camera like the SL, CL, TL and Q. It remains the be seen whether this will be the way moving forward. I would really want to see if any manufacturer can strike the balance of the two (the Hasselblad X1D is pretty close in my opinion, but I have yet to see or try one in person for myself to comment). Anyway, I’m just contemplating on this while I’m thinking about where should I move on next in terms of my photography gear. Style or spec? Let’s wait and see what else 2018 has to offer for us. Till then.

Between the Line of Film and Digital

Dakota Crescent. Shot with Sony A7R Mk II. RAW files edited in Lightroom.

Recently I had noticed something when I switch between shooting film and digital camera. When I shoot on film, usually I will end up with a roll or two rolls of films after each walk, and I will get them developed by a local lab and once done, I’ll scan the pictures, clean some dust spot, follow by minor adjustment on level and curve and that’s about it.

When I shoot digital, I’ll probably start by selecting good pictures from all I have shot, then edit them to taste. I’ll probably spend more time experimenting things like HDR, playing with colours and HSL, deciding whether to convert one to monochrome and so on.

Dakota Crescent. Shot on Fujifilm X-Pro1. Straight out of camera JPEG.

Based on the way I work on film and digital, there are a few notable differences that interest me:

  1. Obviously, I will end up with less picture and, in a way, more keeper when shooting film. Less picture means less to be processed.
  2. There will usually be a gap from the day I took the shot until the day I get the processed film back in my hand. Hence, I’ll have some time to “cool down” myself before processing them. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Usually I will process the digital files very soon.
  3. I’m more lenient when it comes to flaws on my film picture as compared to digital. I can accept some degree of out of focus, or some minor dust or scratches on them. But when shooting digital, I’ll try to strike for “perfection”.

Reflecting on both mediums, it seems that shooting digital is a more “tedious” and time consuming process for me, and it certainly defeats the purpose for those who wanted instant sharing of their works on social media.

Dakota Crescent. Shot with Zeiss Ikon and Ilford Pan 400. Scanned and slight adjustment in Lightroom.

I certainly enjoyed the process of shooting and editing my film pictures more. So does it mean I should shoot more on film instead of digital? The easy answer is yes, as instant sharing isn’t really something that I really need. But why don’t we look at it from another angle, can I simplify the digital process to be as close as the process I have while shooting film?

Perhaps it’s possible, and that’s something I’ll try out and see how things unfold eventually. Shoot with smaller capacity SD card maybe, be more critical on the shot I take, let my pictures sit for awhile before working on them, don’t be too fancy with post editing and so on. Sounds about right. Hopefully by simplifying my digital workflow I will get to focus more on shooting instead. Till then.

The Story Behind The Picture: Sunset at Tokyo Skytree

I took this shot earlier this year in April 2017. It was during my trip to Japan, chasing over full bloom of cherry blossoms. For most part of my trip, the weather was cloudy and overcast throughout the day. The sky finally cleared on my last day in Japan, and I was happened to be in Tokyo. After checking through some recommendations on where to shoot for sunset, I decided to take a shot of the Tokyo Skytree during sunset blue hour.

I took a walk to the Jukken Bashi Bridge, it has a nice stream of river (Kitajukken gawa river) leading towards the Tokyo Skytree Tower. I picked my spot, setup the tripod and camera and waited for the nice light to come. I’m shooting with my Leica M-P Typ 240 with the Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH lens. For the scene, I decided to add ND filters (6 stops if I remembered correctly) and shoot bracketed shots instead. Sadly, 21mm lens simply not wide enough to capture the tower together with it’s reflection in whole. Anyway, I’ll just make do with what I have for now.

While waiting for the sun to set, an elder Japanese man stopped by besides me with his camera, I believe it’s an Olympus E-M5 or E-M1. While we both wait for the sun to set, he started to initiate conversation with me in Japanese. I can speak a little, so I just tried my best to understand him and respond accordingly. Sensing that I’m not local, he asked where I came from, when I told him Malaysia, he smiled and said that his grandfather was in Malaysia during the war, but he had never been there before.

Perhaps he felt a bit awkward for bringing up a rather sensitive part of the history. There was a moment of silence until I break the ice again by asking him whether he shoot often. We chatted a bit on photography and then he showed me some of the images he took. Then came another young man who stood beside us shooting the same scene. The elder man chatted with him as well while waiting for the sun to set.

We took our shots when the light was finally right. Later on, I decided to stay a little longer while the elder man started packing his stuff and prepared to leave. “Here, this is for you.” To my surprise, the elder man actually gave me a few prints he took of Mount Fuji. Lovely indeed. I thanked him for the nice souvenir and greeted him farewell.

Some say “music brings people of different languages and backgrounds together”, I believe “art” does. Music, drawings, sculptures, dance, photography and so on. Its very nice and heart warming to meet up with like minded people, especially locals, while travelling overseas. Hopefully I will get this kind of encounter in the future too.