THE CAMERA I HATED FOR 6 YEARS...and then didn't.

For anyone who knows me, they know I love shooting film and LOVE film cameras. I love how they're inexpensive so I can try some of the best that were ever made and, if i don't like them, I can sell them on and not really lose money (now that there's been a resurgence in their popularity). I mostly use my Pentax 67 as a workhorse for my main work and that has been my only real constant..other than one camera that has never left my bag.

Let me take you back to 2011. It was coming up to my 21st birthday and I lived in Edinburgh. That August, My Dad and I bought a Leica M6 on one of my trips back home to London. We researched it together and that's always been something we've done together. We wanted to get a camera that was mechanical that would never need a battery to work so, in theory, it would last. That left us with the choice of an MP, the M6 TTL or the M3. 

We headed down to Richard Caplan, a Leica shop in Green Park, and looked through all their Leica cameras and THERE IT WAS...a Leica and Zeiss lens under 1800£.. yes, that's a shit tonne of money and yes I couldn't get close to affording a Leica lens and yes that's how it will always be with handmade Leicas and final yes that was the cheapest one in store.

I walked away with a mint black TTL M6 and a Zeiss 35mm 2.0 . I put all my summer job money towards it from working on a glorified hot dog stand at Wimbledon Tennis and, very fortunately, the rest was sorted by my Dad and Grandfather for my 21st.  I didn't realise at the time that it was my Dad and Grandad's way of giving me a family heirloom that I could give to my kids one day. I lost my grandfather this year and it is a part of him I keep with me. He loved it and loved talking about it every time we spoke on the phone or when I came home.

In 2011, I was just getting into shooting music, taking shots for the The Student Newspaper and The Skinny magazine, in Scotland, shooting everything on a Canon 50D. The Leica M6 i bought is a 35mm rangefinder film camera. If you've used a rangefinder, it is by no means a quick or easy method of focusing a camera for even the hardiest professional nor necessarily the best format to use in a music photo pit.  It was definitely not the quickest way for me to cut my cloth and make it into the front pages of NME. Furthermore, no one my age at uni really knew what a Leica was...and that's because, not many students in Edinburgh were shooting film as digital cameras were evolving at such a rate and, was at the time, the most exciting thing happening in photography.

I didn't like taking it my Leica out. Fear brewed hatred and It scared the crap out of me even having it in Edinburgh with me. I would think, what if i'd have been mugged and I'd have to tell my Dad it had been stolen. The red dot in the centre of the camera is like a GPS for thieves. 

Being a student, film was a total luxury spend. It was dinner or camera film. Made worse by the slump of film sales and made even worse by it being expensive to get developed. In Edinburgh, there was a Fujifilm place on Newington Road that would charge me £8.99 to get 200KB scans on CD and a set of prints (not actually that bad). But 200KB scans is juseless even more so now. This thing was never going to get off the ground.

So, spin forward over 5 years of growing as a professional photographer and I find myself meeting up with a friend and us shooting on our Leicas. He's excited about it, and i'm happy that i'm shooting for fun rather than a job - I was commissioned out. Even over a day, my abilities to focus got better, I was also vicariously living through my friend's excitement for the camera and maybe wasn't so harsh on my 6 year mal-loved Leica with it's worn through strap. We were photographing our journey to Mr Cad in Victoria and, something clicked.  I got really used to the rangefinder focusing system which is just cumbersome and slower to the point you miss your shot unless you trust your instincts. I started to really see value in range focusing for street photography and i noticed how much more fluent i was getting. Set it to Iso 800-1600, don't shoot it wide open and keep the shutter speed high. Luckily we were shooting black and white TRIX film as i HATED the colours out of this thing.

But, as many of you know, and as i realised as i got more knowledgeable about film cameras, film processes and film stocks,  it became very apparent that it was not the Leica I hated but the lens i owned. A lesson for all is that, on a film camera, the Lens and the film used is what determines your final image. The film camera is just the box that the lens and film interact within. It was time to get rid of my cold, overly sharp 35mm 2.8 Zeiss (I had downgraded my 2.0 in New York when my bank card hit 0 given me just enough dollars to get through the trip)

Last weekend, after my street photography session, I stomped into The Classic Camera, bought the first camera strap i've ever loved and the traded my Zeiss in for a 28mm Leica Elmarit 2.8. On a rangefinder, the lens you use bring up framelines. 35mm ones are mid size, 50 is a smaller square and 90mm is target practice. The square is the area that will be your photo.  A 28mm however is the full width and height of the Rangefinder window. Immediately, i didn't have to do that extra thought process of making sure my story i wanted was inside the image area of the 35mm lens frame-lines. When you have the full width, you just focus and take the photo.

In only a few days of getting the right lens for me (warmer and more classic) and a strap that's comfortable and I like the look of (i'm so fickle) it has completely changed my enjoyment of my images from my Leica and the camera itslef. I haven't left the house without it since. 

I've gone from having a paperweight heirloom that emotionally will always have a place in my bag to something that i can put that time in with with fighting it.  i'm glad i stuck with it, i got to know it, and pushed through with it. It's by far the most complex relationship i've ever had with a camera. 

 If you have a film camera you don't like the photos from, it's probably the lens or the film lens combination you're working with. If you don't like the ergonomics of the film camera, it's time to get a new camera. 

I don't think there's much that would interest people in this article but the thing to take away is, having an emotional connection and excitement about a camera gets you shooting and more likely to take it out. t's not always the best camera, it might just be the one that feels right, suits your eye, looks good etc. Once you find that, you're going to take the best photos you ever will.

Dan X 


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