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Picture Gear

A few words on Leica cameras and lenses, currently featuring LFI article on V-Lux 1 and personal blurb about Leica M8 and paraphernalia.

V-Lux 1 Report in LFI Magazine

... captures without risking an attack of lumbago. Secondly, it can introduce a whole new dimension to people photography: sit on a bus or boat with the camera placed on your lap and the screen flapped open, then zoom right into a passenger's face and perform photographic surgery without the patient ever noticing - the only thing now is to make sure that you don't abuse your new-gained powers by constantly intruding in people's private spheres. Nonetheless, the tilt screen keeps it discreet, and it can help you get away with a lot more than if you were to bring the camera up to your face and cause your subject to act unnaturally or shy away. Thirdly, the tilt screen is gentler on the eyes than the electronic viewfinder. For this reason I use it almost exclusively - but it calls for a fully charged battery before setting off on a sniping spree and, while a spare Li-ion is not necessarily crucial, it won't hurt to have one as...

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V-Lux 1 by Bjorn Vaughn

V-Lux 1

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The original gone digital: Leica M8

This camera is an experience. It's one of those things you'll just have to try. Only then will you understand. Not only is it complete temptation to the likes of satanic perfection, it's also a powerful creative tool. One that needs to be learned and understood.

There is no shutter speed priority; the aperture will not adapt automatically for correct exposure when you adjust the shutter speed setting. There is also no autofocus. Instead, you're working with aperture priority - in which the shutter speed adapts automatically to the aperture setting - or full out manually; and you're working with a split image in the middle of the viewfinder for focus. The rangefinder principle leaves no room for zoom lenses (Vario lenses) - you're basically 'stuck with' fixed focal lengths -, and, unlike SLRs, you're also not looking through the lens directly when framing the shot. There is a slight discrepancy between what you're seeing in the viewfinder and what the lens or sensor is picking up on, an effect which, despite clever parallax compensation mechanism, becomes noticeable in close range.

These are characteristics which could be seen as potential, if not serious, shortcomings. And yet it is these constraints which add to the experience. Not having autofocus. Having to instead work with split images and hyper-focal technique. With fixed lenses and compositional pitfalls. All of this is in fact great. Makes me want to scream hallelujah. It adds a twist to the photographic approach. In a way it's more challenging, having to plant a delicate f/1.4 on a fleeting pinnacle moment with a swift twist of the hip and focusing ring. You will miss, many times, before you succeed. And when you do, you'll want to succeed again and again because the result will be all the more satisfying.

A great part of effective rangefinder photography with wide angle to normal fixed focal lengths is about entering a scene and becoming part of it. Somehow you have to participate. It's almost as though you were forced to become the photograph before you can take it. So the act of taking pictures with a rangefinder camera feels, to me, more intimate or involved than anything else I've tried in the digital past. I imagine I'll write about this in more detail in a blurb soon to come.

The Leica M8 is hardware. It's hard and weighty. You could knock someone out with it. This is part of the attraction. It's a clunky piece of jewelry. Revered by all. Every time I hand the camera to someone, usually an interested photographer, what I observe is always the same: a gleam in the eye and... well, that's about as far as I'll let them take it before I'm overcome by and urge to grab it back. Give me back my precious!

Apart from the obstacles described above, the camera is remarkably straightforward, the guiding philosophy being a focus on what is relevant to the pro photographer. No gimmicks, no bonus modes or unnecessary features. All is immediately accessible. And this too is part of the experience; the fusion between a hardware with a photographic approach which wants to be mastered, and concise, idiot proof control options. The two complement each other nicely.

Finally, there are the lenses. M lenses are known for their compactness and soaring high quality, as is manifested in the manufacture and picture. I'm currently running around with a Tri Elmar Super Wide (a pseudo Vario with three focal length settings: 16, 18, 21mm) in one pocket, a 50 mm Summilux in my other, and a tiny 28 mm Elmarit, my decided favorite, usually mounted on the body. All lenses are multiplied by a 1.33x crop factor. This gives you the effective focal length (hence the 28 mm is more or less a universal 35 mm lens when mounted on the M8).

The sensor boasts 10 megapixels. Other cameras have more, but 10 is plenty for just about anything. More pixels is not synonymous with more quality. For additional camera specs read the official technical data (PDF file).

More camera talk coming soon.


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