Saturday, July 12, 2014

Living Light with the Leica M2

 The only Leica that I have previously owned was a very old Model A - the first version without a removable lens.  That particular camera had been given to me by a woman in her 90s, and she had used it a lot many years before.  By the time it came into my hands, it was a relict of sorts, and as far as I was concerned, no more useful to me than using an Argus A.  So I sold it for a tidy sum on ebay, and bought a camera and other things with the money.  I have no regrets, as it was around 2001, and the camera I bought - a used Nikon F2 was very useful to me.  Another time someone had a nice Leica IIIf that I tried out, and it was awful for a glasses wearer.  The viewfinder was not any better than my Argus C3.  Mechanically a nice camera, though.  I suppose it was one of those things  that you either love or don't on first sight.  I never bought into the Leica mystique, mostly I suppose because I couldn't BUY into it.  Between the obscene prices paid for (used and new)  lenses  and the bodies, and the fact there there are so many "poor man's Leicas" out there, I knew that I would never be able to afford one.  As far as "poor man's Leicas" I think I have used every one of them - Canon QL17, Konica Auto S2, Yashica rangefinders of various models, Fed 5, Olympus 35 RC, Minolta Hi-Matic 11, Contax G1, Konica Hexar, and I am sure there have been others.  Of those cameras, the only one I believe might actually qualify is the Fed 5.  Why?  Interchangeable lenses and the ability to shoot fully manually without any sort of automation. The Fed 5 has a better VF than the Leica IIIf that I tried, for sure. So, where does the subject of the title of this post come in?

If you have read my previous posts, you'll know that I am selling the photo gear from the estate of a deceased photographer.  There have been some very amazing cameras that I have tried out - (a) to make sure that they work and (b) to satisfy my curiosity.One of the cameras - a Leica M2 with a 35mm f/1.4 Summilux has been in my hands for over a month now.  I have shot 5 rolls of film with it, and have become comfortable using it.  Its value is high due to the fantastic 35mm Summilux attached to it, and that is something I have to try and not think about when carrying it.  To anyone else, it's just an old-looking "obsolete"  film camera.  The M2 body has it share of small dings and signs of use, but it works beautifully.  The lens is clear and also works well.  The more I used the camera, the more I came to want it.  So, in lieu of a 25% commission for the gear I am selling, I'm taking the M2 and lens as partial payment.    I would never be able to buy one outright.

My impression of the  M2 so far is that I now understand why this 57 year old camera has such a following.  Yes, there are newer M models, some even have a sensor instead of film -- and cost as much as 3 month's pay (at least for me.)  The M2's viewfinder is wonderfully bright and sharp, and the frame lines adjust automatically for most of the lenses attached to it. I bought a Fotodiox M39>M adapter so I could use the Industar-61 50mm f/2.8 lens from my Fed 5, and it works very well on the M2.

It takes a little while to feel how a camera works in one's hands, and become less conscious about the controls to the point where making a photo is more about what in in your head than what is in your hands.  I get it.  The M2 does this very quickly.  I bought a new Sekonic light meter - Twinmate L-208 which is lightweight and can be attached to the flash shoe on the the camera.  I tried that, and it makes the camera bulkier, so I use the meter on the lanyard.  For sunny-16 lovers like me, I only need to use the meter in tricky lighting situations, or indoors.  I am getting better at loading the film, which I think has been a sore point with the Leicas, but I understand it now.  No film doors flying open.  Oh, and this camera is soooo quiet!

I have always said that I am not a rangefinder guy.  I much prefer the feedback that I get from an SLR and the ability to change lenses, do macro, etc.  However, there are a lot of things I shoot that a 35mm or 50mm lens is all that is required, and the ergonomics and sharpness of the M2 have convinced me that this is the carry-around camera to go to for road trips, etc.  It fits easily into a small bag, and doesn't need batteries.  A few rolls of film, a filter or two, and the meter, and I am set.  Living light?  I think so.  This camera does make me think about light.

So, to close, here are a few photos thus far.  Some are still waiting to be developed.
Mason, MI

Portland, MI

Mason, MI

Charlotte, MI

Michigan League, Ann Arbor

Portland, MI

Lyons, MI

Ann Arbor, MI

basement of the League, Ann Arbor

rural SE Michigan.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Envoy Joy

I am in the midst of selling a camera estate for an acquaintance, so I have been busy with that and not doing much blogging.  One of the side benefits of doing this is that I often get my hands on cameras that i have never seen or used before.  Sometimes they are expensive high-end tools like the previous post on the Plaubel Makina 670.  Other times, it might be a strange obscure camera, such as this post -- the Envoy.

The Envoy was produced in the 1950s in England.  It is a fixed focus wide-angle box camera that takes 120 film as well as 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 plates.  The wire frame finder is all you need to gauge your composition.  The rear part of the finder has parallax correction for close-ups.  Since it is fixed focus, your closest focus is achieved with the smallest aperture:
  • f/11 -- 10 - 60 ft
  • f/16 -- 6 - 400 ft
  • f/22 -- 4 - ∞ ft
  • f/32 -- 1 - ∞ ft
You can set your shutter speed from B to 1/125 sec, so this camera works best with slower films, and I used Verichrome Pan (expired in 1997) to test out the camera.  Using sunny-16, I was able to get very good images at f/16 and 1/100 sec.

Mason, MI
All of the shots were hand-held, and there is a tripod socket on the camera.  Wide-angle is equivalent to 25mm on a 35mm camera -- which is pretty damn wide on medium format, especially in 6x9 cm.    I think the framing was pretty accurate, given this was my first experience with this camera.  I currently have a roll of expired Panatomic-X in it, so that ought to be interesting.
These cameras are rarely seen here in the US, and are more common in the UK and Europe.  Prices range from $200 on up, depending on condition.  Considering the wide-angle aspect of the camera, it's a relative bargain.

Portland, MI
 I probably won't hang onto this camera, but I am happy to have used it for a while.  I think anyone that wants the simplicity and compactness of the Envoy to shoot wide-angle images would really appreciate the camera.   Stopped down, the lens is very good, and everything will be in focus from at least 10 feet to infinity.  Not too shabby for a "box camera."

Portland, MI

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cameras beyond my budget - The Plaubel Makina 670

Every once in a while, it is fun trying out a camera that I always thought was cool, but could never afford. It usually only happens when I am in the process of selling cameras for someone else.  In this instance, I am readying a lot of cameras for ebay for an acquaintance.  One of the ones that first caught my eye was a Plaubel Makina 670. Made in Japan, the Plaubel 670 is a 6x7 rangefinder with a collapsible lens bellows (think giant Kodak Retina).  This particular model, the 670 is an improvement over the 67, as it can take 120 or 220 film.  With 10 exposures on a roll of 120, 220, sure looks like a better bet for this easily-carried camera.  Also note that this camera has had strips of grip-tack applied so that it is easier to hold.  I think it's a great idea for a camera such as this.  The 670 also has a light meter, and the rangefinder is very clear and easy to focus.  Note that the lens is made by Nikon, and that the maximum aperture is f/2.8 -- a really nice feature for softening the background when doing portraits.  In use, the camera is easy to open and close.  The viewfinder is clear, and the 80mm lens (40mm equivalent for 35mm) gives a slightly wider angle than the typical 105mm focal length one sees for 6x7.  The camera weighs nearly 3 pounds, so its not as heavy as the Pentax 6x7.  With the lens retracted, the camera has a thin profile that easily fits into a large coat pocket or messenger bag.  I shot 2 rolls of B&W plus a roll of color.  The first roll, expired Plus-X, looks very good, but I can't get the film to lie flat enough in the scanner to scan without distortion. I'll have to make some prints, I suppose.
This is obviously not a cheap camera, with used prices on ebay starting around $1400.  I am glad that I had a chance to try it out, but 6x7 isn't my favorite format, so I won't be buying this one!  There isn't a lot on the web about the Plaubel Makina 670, but this link is useful.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Sigma SA-7 - A cleanly designed 35mm SLR

I saw one of these cameras recently, and it piqued my interest.  What's a camera guy do?  Head over to eBay and see what is there.  I bought a clean, like-new SA-7 with the two kit lenses (28-80, 70-300mm) for $60. The camera arrived quickly, and it didn't take me long to figure out the controls.   Like a lot of photographers, I questioned why anyone would buy a camera with a lens mount that was restricted to Sigma lenses.   However, I can see where this camera would appeal to someone that wanted an SLR with a good feature set at a reasonable price. Some people can go a long way with just two AF zoom lenses.  One thing I found while doing a little online searching is that there are M42-SA mount adapters, making the SA-7 easily capable of using my M42 lenses and metering with them.  So, I have one of those ordered for the price of $10.
 About the camera body - The SA-7 is a lightweight 35mm SLR with easily accessed controls, and has PSAM modes, and in manual, the shutter speeds range from B - 4sec - 1/2000 sec. and X is 1/90 sec.  It will use DX codes to set the film speed (25-5000), or the ISO setting can be dialed in manually for a range of 6-6400.   It features a typical TTL phase detection system for the AF, and an AF working range of EV-1 to EV+18.  The camera takes two CR-2 batteries.
The pentamirror gives a 92% field of view, and there is a diopter adjustment on the eyepiece. Metering is TTL 8-segment, average metering, and center area metering. +/- exposure compensation is 3 stops in 1/2 stop increments.  Auto bracketing in 1/2 stop increments; AE lock, Self-timer in 2 or 10 sec delays, built-in flash, mirror-lockup, multiple exposure, and remote control (IR remote) functions.  In short, this camera has mas more features than say, a Nikon N80.  Mirror-lockup and DOF preview is a nice feature, too.

So, I have to wonder -- what if this camera had a Nikon F-mount or a Canon EF mount? I suspect there are licensing issues, but it probably would have sold well.  The camera body is no more plasticky than an EOS Rebel or a Nikon N80, and is has a nice feel to it.  The only downside is that it requires SA-mount lenses for AF.  Some people may be perfectly content with the lens selection, and I should add that since Sigma has been making DSLRs, many of those lenses will fit the SA-7 (and SA-9).
Huron Camera in Dexter has several new in box SA-7 kits, and of course, one can go the ebay route and pick these up quite cheaply.  If you are looking for something that is AF, shoots film, and is full-featured and are not committed to a camera brand, the SA-7 might just be the right fit for you.
All the images that follow were shot on Fujicolor 400 film.