In frustration, I came close to selling all of my Leica equipment a few days ago.
After an ice storm that left this city without power (and some of our fellow citizens still have no heat!), the whole family became ill (and we still are…).
What does this have to do with Leica?
Well, the one day where everything was “normal”, thankfully, was Christmas Day — our power had been restored and we hadn’t yet gotten sick. Naturally, I was looking forward to photographing.
After shooting some frames and reviewing the images, I realized the focus was off! A few key moments were lost (or at least, rendered blurry). I took a few test shots and realized my M9 was back-focusing by about an inch. Enough to mess things up when photographing at f/1.4.
This is one of the charms of rangefinder ownership. The rangefinder focusing mechanism, over time, can spontaneously (or with little provocation) deviate from spec.
No problem, I thought. That’s why I have a back-up M9(P).
So I started photographing with it. But I realized why this camera has been relegated to back-up status. Its buffer chokes up after a few frames and it takes several seconds before I can start photographing again. The outcome: I missed a few more key moments.
A specific charm of Leica ownership is that one M9 can behave in a much different way from another — identical — M9 (with the same SD card and the same firmware!). Leica still hasn’t mastered the whole electronics thing… which may be perceived by some as somewhat of a shortcoming in the digital age.
Back to the story…
Maybe it was because I had spent the weekend and some of the week re-enacting scenes from Pioneer Village, or maybe it was because I was getting sick, but I had had enough!
(I know, I know, these are “First World” problems, and — believe me — I know how fortunate I am. I’m just venting).
I started packing away the M9s.
But what other camera(s) would I now use?
Out of everything currently out there, the only non-Leica camera that will accept my M lenses and give me a full frame sensor is the Sony A7(R). And its CMOS sensor comes the closest to achieving my coveted M9 CCD sensor rendering (the Sony colour signature is another story). But… Leica lenses (especially wide angle ones) don’t necessarily shine on other manufacturers’ platforms. So my pricey Leica Summilux lenses would be worth little on the Sony.
No problem, I thought once more. I’ll just sell my lenses too and start from scratch.
But, but… I used the Sony RX1R earlier this year and the computer-as-camera user interface left me cold. That, and having to rely on the EVF: through it, it didn’t feel like I was watching the world… it felt like I was watching TV.
So I turned my attention to DSLR cameras.
The only contender for me would be the Nikon Df. Small for a DSLR, plenty of external controls for manual shooting, etc. And I was close to purchasing it, despite the downgrade in base ISO image quality it would represent (high ISO functionality is another story).
But I prefer to manually focus. And I’d been-there-done-that with the D3 and D3s, both coupled to a Noct Nikkor 58/1.2 AIS lens. When photographing action wide open, the hit rate with this system is low (even when using the “green dot” focus aid).
Plus, I’ve grown accustomed to the “see the world outside of the frame” view of the rangefinder window. With it, I can see elements outside of what the lens sees, and I can therefore better anticipate how a given moment may unfold.
Finally — believe it or not — I was once more tempted to switch to a new Leica M240. Oh, but the image quality would be… (well, you know). And don’t forget those electronic gremlins, which continue to plague Leica, even with their latest bodies…
In the end, I decided to keep my current gear. Yes, I know… I’ve become predictable.
Which places my photography situation in a precarious position, with respect to any future “upgrade” path.
Hopefully, by the time my current M9 cameras die (or their sensors spontaneously crack — but that’s another story!), there will be other viable options out there for me).
I’m holding out hope for Sony to sort out its user interface, and I’m also closely watching for advances in EVF technology.
Or maybe Leica will finally produce a non-beta version of a camera.
Yes, it’s a love-hate thing.