Wednesday, March 25, 2020

About the Leica

M J Melneck

I got my first camera out of a box of Nabisco Shredded Wheat—I think I was seven or eight. The camera was smaller than half a deck of cards, and I could take eight pictures on a roll of film smaller than half the size of my thumb, and get them developed for less than a dollar at a drug store. The prints were 2”x3” on glossy paper with a fat wavy border—the image size was about 1-1/2” x 2-1/2”—and I know this because I still have a picture of Sparky, our dog at the time. The print of course hasn’t aged well, but the little camera set a journey I’m still on.

Decades of what is now called “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” (it might be better called “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”) found me shooting Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Rolleiflex (all were film cameras) and probably a few I don’t remember. I knew nothing about everything, and I’m sure there are a zillion life-changing photos out there in the ether because I didn’t know how to edit or archive.

I entered the digital age, peering timidly around a corner, afraid I couldn’t go back. Digital was magic. Digital was instant gratification. Digital made it ok to waste a lot of snaps because you knew there was a keeper in there somewhere. The camera was a Nikon Coolpix 4500—a 4Mpx machine that fit in my pocket. Nirvana—I had arrived…

Until—until disaster struck as I made an 11”x14” print. It was worse than awful! Blurry at best. It seemed to have been taken in a very smoky room. No way to sharpen it. A long afternoon at a camera store (I must have had my cherub costume on) convinced me that the key to huge razor sharp prints…was a new camera, with a bigger sensor and more megapixels. Over the next few years, I shot 10Mp, 16Mp, 18Mp and 24Mp cameras from the “usual suspects.”

Then, in a somewhat epiphanous moment, it occurred to me that the only reason the pictures were getting better had NOTHING to do with the gear, but with my eye, which was becoming more discerning. Slowly I learned to take more interest in what went on before the shot. How’s the light? How’s the composition? What’s the ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed? Does the (proposed) photo tell a story?

Enter the Leica. As of today, for the right combination of body and lens, you can pay over $20,000 for a Leica! Believe me, mine cost about 5% of that. Fiddling around with the guys at a great camera store in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I came home with a Leica D-lux (typ) 109. Rangefinder style. 12.8Mp. Fixed lens (not interchangeable). It’s so simple to operate that I can’t even find some of the “features,” which are tricks I’ll probably not care about anyway. Image quality is stunning—and 99% of my caring is about image quality.

In a group a few days ago, one of the not-so-cognoscenti said, “OOOh, it’s just a compact,” and I was proud to say, “Yes, and a Lamborghini is just a car.

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