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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shutterbug Magazine makes me somewhat famous

My buddy Jason thanked me in his review of the Leica M8 published in Shutterbug magazine and on Shutterbug's website. Here’s the story about the story.

I met Jason Schneider when I was publishing a small enthusiast motorcycle magazine. A friend at one of the motorcycle companies suggested he call me since he lived near my office. Jason had just retired as Editor in Chief of Popular Photography and was looking for outlets to sell his writing. And he’s also a world class motorcycle and scooter enthusiast. In short order we became good friends.

As a photographer; I’m a Leica enthusiast. I’ve owned more modern Leica models than I care to remember and made great photos with all of them. Budget not withstanding I would have an M6 with the 35mm F2 Aspherical over my shoulder at all times but then again my garage needs a new roof. Perhaps the Lotto numbers will favor me so I can splurge for one of those pimped up models that E. Leitz offers. (See Leica a La Carte) I’m thinking green leather and gold metal (or just tar paper for the new roof). This is my curse; I believe that the best camera ever made, the elusive perfect photographic machine is the Leica M6. I also believe that any photographic story can be told with one prime lens.

So when my buddy Jason called to tell me that he’d just grabbed an M8 for review I jumped at the chance to play with it. Little did I know that what Jason really needed was another high end digital for comparison, enter my newly purchased Canon EOS 5D. He also needed some computer imaging help as Jason is slightly Macintosh-challenged.

I’m slowly accepting digital photography, (About as well as a kicking and screaming two-year old being dragged off to bed).  I bought the Canon 5D because I’m doing more commercial photography work where the image is on-demand, also labs are slowly fading into history.  At least the 12 years as a publisher necessitated daily interface with Photoshop so I have the experience with various digital input devices, cameras and software.

I bought my first digital, a Leica Digilux, over a decade ago. Back then it was made by Fuji. Despite breaking under the abuse of the motorcycle season the camera was cost effective from a business standpoint. I was spending about $300/month on film and processing to cover motorcycle events so a few months of no film expense covered the cost of the camera, and eventually each of its replacements.

I really liked the design of that first Leica digital camera for its functionality and image quality but it was only a 3.1 mega pixel unit, small by today's capture standards. However the files were large enough for our newsprint 85 line screen. I broke that first Leica and instead of repairing it Leitz offered me an upgrade which I took. Since then I’ve owned a half-dozen different digital models by various manufacturers, from a two by three inch Sony 3-mega pixel that hung from a lanyard (to this day my one of my favorite cameras) to a Nikon D100.

So Jason and I met here in Nyack then again up in Catskill to play with the M8 and make some photos.

I had immediate disdain for the M8 when I picked it up. "This is not a Leica," I said to myself. The body is too boxy, too thick. It looks stubby. The camera lacks, for want of another word, the sexy-ness of the M class cameras. Yeah the weight is there, yeah it opens on the bottom, blah-blah-blah, we are NOT impressed.

And I don’t buy the smaller sensor routine. All the years spent squirreling away some coins to eventually buy an E. Leitz super wide lens only to have it become less than normal when mounted on a digital body? That is provided you have the lens mount upgraded so the M8’s computer can read which lens it’s wearing. Sorry Leica that’s rude. Either redesign the entire system from scratch as Canon did or enable all your users to access the technology like Nikon did.

Am I alone in decrying the step back in physical technologies that the step forward to digital has brought? Years of advances in lens design and manufacturing are being scrapped because aberrations can be corrected in the software. Dust management has become tantamount to containing a pandemic with images suffering on the wayside.

Gimme an M6 with a 35mm F2 Summicron and then I’ll drum scan the best negatives…for now.