Becoming a Leica Apostate

One day, in college, I got into a conversation with a friend, who started telling me the relative merits of Canon and Nikon cameras. This was the late 1980’s, so we were talking about film SLRs. My friend was a Canon fan, and was lamenting the bad press Canon’s F1 got, although it was better in many ways than the Nikon F3. He wasn’t speaking as a Canon fanboy; he believed that Nikons were better in terms of durability and optical performance. His point was that such reviews relied on blind prejudice, rather than real-life data.

A few days later, I walked into a camera store, and asked the owner’s opinions about Canons vs. Nikons. I was becoming enamored of the then-new Canon T90, with its sculpted shape, built-in motor, and many exposure modes. I really appreciated the brochure, which illustrated the photographic principles that I was just starting to learn. I was also intrigued by the all-mechanical Nikon FM2. Anyway, the conversation went something like this.

These could have been the contenders. I seem to have lost the T90 brochure.

“So, which do you think is the best, Canons or Nikon?” I showed him the T90 and FM2 brochures I was looking at.

He snickered contemptuously. “Neither, actually. What do you like to shoot?”

“Portraits, landscapes, art…”

He scoffed, since I was basically saying “everything”.

“And, animals.” I had a Canon 514XL Super-8 camera with which I shot stills of other people’s cats. It had great macro for shooting household insects, and film price was fantastic, since you could get hundreds of shots per roll. The grain and motion blur were, of course, horrible.

He brightened up. “So, you’d want to be quiet. Unobtrusive.”

I shrugged. I had no idea what he was getting at.

“Then, this is the camera you want. Solid German engineering.”

He pulled out a Leica M6. I looked at it suspiciously. I had never heard of this brand, and the word “Leica” sounded like some third-rate knock-off. I had many times dealt with New York City salespeople pushing garbage brands as being better than the name brands that they advertised in the windows with impossibly low prices; the name brand versions were never in stock, of course. The old-fashioned body style and the antiquated lettering did not help. I didn’t even know that Germans were in the camera business.

The Leica brochures he gave me this day.

“This is the only camera for which you can get an f/1 lens, because it holds the film flatter. Of course, if you want an SLR, there is this one.”

He pulled out a Leica R4s.

“Leicas have the best optics, and they are built like a tank.”

I played with the camera. It was pretty impressively solid, but the price tag surprised me. I was working very few hours a week at minimum wage. “I should get my dad to buy me one.”

He frowned. “Speaking as a parent, I would prefer if my kids ask me nicely.”

“Well, asking is, like, how we get our parents to do things, isn’t it?”

And, so, I was hooked. No, I didn’t ask my father. It wasn’t until after graduation and a few months into a real job that I could afford a used Leica R3MOT, with a Summicron-R 2/50, all for $600. The package arrived smelling of cigarette smoke, as cameras often did those days. At the time, used Leica lenses, R or M, were basically the same price as brand-new Nikkors. Getting a new FM2 with a 50/1.8 would have cost me the same, but why not get better quality glass that was more solidly built? I could have also gotten an M3 and a Summicron for the same-ish price, but I liked the idea of having a light meter.

After that, I was able to afford another lens every few years, and ended up with a quite a stable from 19mm to 500mm. I mostly shot slides, because I could develop them myself and didn’t need to print them. Once I got an enlarger, I’ve done a lot of black and white, but slides were always my favorite.

Some prices from this era.

Then, fast forward a few decades, Kodak discontinued their professional slide films. It was time to switch to digital, but Leica had abandoned their R10 project, and I hadn’t found a camera that I thought would be worthy of the Leica glass. Leica M was way beyond my price range although I have vigorously defended Leica’s pricing, and not all of my lenses would work with DSLRs, because of mirror interference. My eye sight was also fading, making it difficult to focus without some assistance. I needed a mirrorless, and there were no full-frames, yet, except for the Sony NEX-VG900 camcorder, which felt awkward in my hand. Sony a99 was a possibility, but I would have had to give Leitax a lot of money for all the mounts, plus pay for all the chips for focus assist.

So, I decided to go down-market as an interim solution, until someone came to their senses and put out a full-frame mirrorless that was reasonably priced. I found a used Olympus E-PM1 for under $200.

Equivalents?

And, so, I was hooked. I’ve since sold off most of my Leica R gear, and been giving Micro Four Thirds a serious try. I’ve even started a Flickr group for fans of 4/3 Rumors, which I seem to be frequenting the most these days.

Now that I am liberated from Leica brand loyalty, I am free to explore every possibility there is, but not being rich, I can’t just try every camera that comes out. That means I read a lot of camera reviews and do a lot of research, although I rarely buy anything. That makes me a “pageant judge,” by my typology. So, I figured, why not share what I find out? I’ve written a few articles on-line, published as guest posts on other blogs, but I started coming up with research projects that were too large for guest posts. It seemed it was best to have my own blog now, and, so, here it is.

In keeping with my friend’s thoughts, I will try to back up all my claims as thoroughly and objectively as possible. I hope you enjoy my thoughts, and feel free to express whatever response you have. I will be “policing” the comments some, but I would like to ask, futile as it may be, for some degree of civility toward one another.

Thank you!

P.S. The name “Leica Apostate” comes from a Tweet by Dan K responding to my article “Why I Am Leaving Leica for Micro Four thirds”. I didn’t like it at first, but I’ve definitely warmed to it. So, thank you, Dan K! Many thanks, also, to Admin at Leica Rumors and Photo Rumors for publishing my previous articles!