This year, I have taken on the ‘One Camera, One Lens’ Challenge.
I bought a used Leica M240 with a 35mm f2 Summicron lens, the latest version in silver i.e. brass which makes it the heaviest of it’s class. The additional 200g (half a coke can?) actually confer a nice balance on the ensemble and I get used to the weight quite quickly, it’s solid and operable with one hand if need be. I use the square black lens shade that comes with the lens and it does obstruct the view slightly and noticeably; it’s the only protection for the lens and without it, there would be hardly any obstruction of the viewfinder – I will muster up the courage to omit it soon.
This camera is a step up from my Sony A7 with Leica R lenses (50 Summilux and 35 Summicron), by multiples in terms of price, and to get myself to feel unrestrained by this I got it insured. I also feel forced to have it with me at all times on my travels because of this, which is turning out to be a good thing. While similar in weight, it’s more compact and less noticeable, despite the red icon on the front it’s seen as a retro anomaly, a cliché come true.
The 35mm lens angle takes some getting used to, coming from a 50mm Summilux. The latter automatically draws me into a subject and lets me isolate it with a phenomenally shallow depth of field – I almost always get an interesting picture simply as a result of showing off a feature with bokeh. A wider angle changes this proposition.
Suddenly, context becomes more important. With that, lines have to be kept straight, so I have to duck or even kneel, it’s a much more athletic lens. Blurred backgrounds are possible, I have to approach the subject closer as the effect is most noticeable until about 2-3 metres (maybe the Summilux adds another 2 metres to this at the expense of substantial viewfinder blockage?).
The subject will be fully in focus, and I don’t get the ‘fuzzy ear’ effect of a zoomier lens shot wide open for portraits – why would I want the depth of field to be shallower than the subject? I’m now forced to take in the background, even keep it in focus, or choose an f-stop that will result in sufficient distinction but not obliteration of context into a bokeh blur (which can be beautiful; it’s just that I’m moving on..).
35mm first felt like a bit of a compromise, as I was initially still drawn into the 50mm zoom composition and whenever I need a complete picture, I use my iPhone (soon to be Huawei P9) at 28mm. In fact I rarely find that I have to zoom in on my iPhone, I accept its breadth and naturally compose with it, which left me in doubts for the longest time whether I’d chosen the right lens. My last visit trip to the tropics dispelled any ambiguities.
35mm is a wonderful angle, it works for landscapes (note there’s no panorama mode on the Leica, I guess that’s considered too playful); it works for people; it works in more confined spaces like trains and rooms; and it works for scenes. Wider takes courage: bringing in context, painting a picture, seeing the stage, appreciating shapes, finding the angle by moving the body.
Other notes and settings:
- With the f2 aperture I find that at ISO 400 I can isolate in daylight without using an ND filter. For video, to limit fps to 25-50, it would be necessary, and there’s a Heliopan variable ND filter, E55 with adapter for this E39 lens that wouldn’t be too intrusive (that way can use the filter for my Leica R lenses)
- Record RAW+jpg fine simultaneously with jpg in Black&White by setting File Format to DNG+JPEG fine on the SET menu, and on the Menu menu, page 2, Film Mode set to Black-and-white (note this sets video recording to B&W too). The Colour RAW and a fine B&W jpg appear next to each other when uploading to my Mac and this makes it easier to scan and reject images initially, shows the B&W potential of a picture without having to convert first, and on the playback menu the B&W image shown sharpens my appreciation of B&W with every check – colour is in front of me anyway – while probably conserving battery power
- One spare battery – simple does it. One charge lasts over 1,000 pictures or a very full day, I’m generally not further than a day from the nearest charging point (even seemingly remote places cater for this)
- SanDisk 95ms 16GB memory card – this never slows down, unlike my experience with larger formats, where as they fill up, the start-up time increases to several seconds. Nothing could be more annoying. After all, this is why we own a Leica – it clicks when you press the button. Reformat after every download using the inbuilt format function
- Capture One 9 Image Processing software. Hands down. Started with Aperture, which has colour wheels, began transitioning to Lightroom, which is like a relic from the 80s (curves??), and then found this, which is substantially faster at downloading, and just generally seems designed for workflow and photographs. Note it’s B&W editing functionality – filters applicable progressively by colour shade. Lightyears ahead.
- Artist & Artisan leather case with fabric, adjustable strap – here you start falling into the Leica trap of ‘you’ve spent thousands of $s on a camera, why would you go cheap on a case and strap’? Because no one makes cheap things for Leica unfortunately otherwise a case and strap at a fraction of the price would totally do the job and look just fine. This case somewhat disguises the camera and makes it look less expensive; it also provides some buffer for when you bump the camera against something or while resting it on the ground. It also gets in the way when you want to undo the base plate to change the battery, reset the camera (as this machine is not immune to) or take out the memory card. Protecting from scratches upholds the resale value apparently.
- Flash – I’m still looking into an economic alternative to the official Leica one; there are definitely portrait situations where this is useful (against a sunset for example) but doesn’t warrant an extreme expenditure
- Blower and lens pen; disposable sensor cleaning swabs – always with me somewhere in my bag, doing the ‘One camera, One lens’ Challenge reduces the need and a nylon lens cloth is usually enough. Whenever I drool over new lenses and equipment at FotoFile someone takes my camera away from me to give it a clean