A Day at the Leica Akademie

Discussion in 'Other Systems' started by deirdre, Oct 25, 2010.

  1. deirdre

    deirdre Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 9, 2010
    I spent the day at the Leica Akademie in San Francisco along with 19 other camera enthusiasts, a local professional photographer, and two Leica representatives, both named Tom. As with many trips into the city, it began early with a trip on Caltrain.

    The venue was the Hotel Triton, a funky little Kimpton hotel. The small conference room on the second floor was where we met: three large round tables for the class members, the altar of cameras and lenses at the front, and coffee at the back (which I sorely needed). You will see just how funky this place is later....

    About half the people already owned either a Leica M8 (the previous model, Leica's first digital M-series camera) or the current production M9. A couple extra people had owned previous film cameras; the Leica M series has remained essentially similar since the mount changed on the M3 in 1954.

    After a brief introduction to the cameras and the basics of focusing, we filled out forms and then selected a camera and our lenses. Most people, including myself, took a single lens. As I was carrying around someone else's expensive camera, I opted for one of the smallest (and thus least expensive as small generally also equals slow) lenses -- a 28mm Emarit f/2.8, which is a nice wide-angle lens for a city street or general landscape. There were a wide variety to choose from, and there was at least one Noctilux (the most expensive lens currently in production), but I was afraid I'd trip and smash it or something.


    We wandered around the room on a break and I took this photo. Absolutely nothing's in focus, but hey, I was learning and it's "artsy" despite the focus fail:


    I'd been trying to aim at the glitter, but maybe that was the wrong tactic. Perhaps a better one would have been focusing on the strong vertical, tilting artsily (more than I did; it looks like I was drunk rather than merely caffeine-deprived), and then snapping.

    We were taught about focus and hyperfocal photography, and were challenged to try to take photos without looking: to set a distance and learn to work within that limit.

    Then it was time for the local photographer, William Palank, to come talk. His specialty is what he calls "environmental portraiture," and the image he had in mind when he says that is the same one I thought of: Steve McCurry's photo, "Afghan Girl." Palank takes photos in Southeast Asia, primarily, and I would like to point out two in particular: first, the haunting and beautiful Child Monk, taken in Burma, and the comedic Gangs of Phnom Penh, taken in Cambodia.

    Then it was time to play in earnest!

    We all trundled downstairs, picked our directions, and headed off with one of the three instructors. Two of the groups headed north into Chinatown, which is the direction I headed.

    I found a bronze statue of a mermaid (I like mermaids, and this one is a particularly nifty example) and snapped a few photos, of which this one is my favorite:


    Here's a few other photos:


    The best of my street shots of people:


    And other shots:

    And some of the hotel's entrance and lobby. In these (and in some of the other pictures I haven't posted in this thread), you'll note one quirk I found: I kept framing thinking the right edge of the shot stopped short of where it actually did:

    On the last one, in retrospect, I should have focused on the strong vertical elements in the back of the chaise. Oh well.

    When I went, I had the following questions:

    1) Given that an M9 is heavier, is it still something I could comfortably handle for a long day's venturing out? Yes.
    2) Was I able to get over the fear of having an expensive camera? I think so.
    3) Was it something I enjoyed shooting with? Oh, yes.
    4) Was I able to focus quickly and reliably? For the most part, even though I hadn't used a rangefinder for 20 years (and my eyes definitely aren't what they used to be). In fact, I throw away more photos when manually focusing my GF1. Approximately 2/3 of my photos were usable focus-wise. Sometimes I took 2-3 takes of a scene and only kept the best, so I kept about 1/3 of my total photos. Not all would normally be "keepers," but each has a lesson about what I needed to focus on, so they're keepers in that sense.

    My other photos from the day's shoot can be found here.

    At the end of the day, we spent time going over features of Lightroom, which was pretty cool. I have been a combo iPhoto/Photoshop user for so long, I'm not sure I'll switch to it, though. Some of what I liked about the layout in Lightroom I now have in iPhoto '11 and I need to upgrade my laptop before doing any serious change of photo process.
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  2. grebeman

    grebeman Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2010
    South Brent, south Devon (UK)
    Real Name:
    Back in the 1970's I was never very happy with SLR cameras in terms of focusing, I could never get on with porroprisms or split prisms and whatever, it wasn't until I got a Leica M3 and experienced rangefinder focusing that I was happy. That is almost certainly because I suffer from astigmatism (not focusing in the horizontal and vertical planes at the same point in space), however with rangefinder focusing that was not an issue, give me that system any time, far superior. You need some practice in selecting where to focus, then moving to compose the shot, all about being familiar with the equipment. I seem to be able to manually focus my GF1 and G1 reasonably well, presumably because it's the nearest thing to a ground glass screen.

    Lovely smoothness and richness to those photographs by the way, hmm, Leica quality shows through.

  3. jonima

    jonima Mu-43 Regular

    Deirdre, Thanks for sharing this. Looks like you have had an very inspiring day taking the Leica for a spin!!

    Nice colorfull, realistic colors, images.

    I like to take my R Leitz lenses out and enjoy a different way of making pictures manually focussing!! In low lights the G1 EVF is still too noisy compared to a good High Eye Point view finder I had on my old Nikon 801S, but still possible.

    Your right that manual focus takes some practice and feeling, but a good lens with a great focus ring really helps!!

  4. Kosta

    Kosta Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 29, 2010
    i have the same issue with astigmatism barrie, and had the same troubles with old slrs (using them more recently) even though my eyesight is not that bad...i'm only in my early 20s! but working on a computer/fixed distance view all day doesn't help!

    Thank you so much Deirdre for the informative post! If money wasn't an issue, i think i'd give an older leica a go!
  5. grebeman

    grebeman Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2010
    South Brent, south Devon (UK)
    Real Name:
    Hi kosta,
    In the days when I was having trouble with old SLR's I too was in my 20's, bit older now :frown:. On my last eye test I needed a new prescription for my glasses, actually less strong than before but my astigmatism had got worse :frown:, certainly explained my headaches when watching tv or the computer screen.
    Like you if money was no object :smile: , oh well just enjoy my old voigtlander rangefinder lenses on my G1 or GF1, just the rangefinder focusing that's missing.

  6. deirdre

    deirdre Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 9, 2010
    At the time, I had a corneal scratch in my right eye -- just enough to scuff up the vision, but not enough to hurt. I had an appointment with the cornea specialist after the workshop, but I really felt the lack of that dominant eye during it!

    I did set the color setting to "medium high," so this is not the default Leica saturation. That said, I could definitely see the quality of that $2k lens.

    Sometimes the issue isn't getting focus so much as putting focus in a place where the resulting shot actually appears to be in focus. That's what I meant about the chaise: there is a section that's in focus as I intended it, but it wasn't the best artistic choice.
  7. Charles2

    Charles2 Mu-43 Regular

    May 17, 2010
    Concur about rich, smooth images - and a question

    Second that, and it raises a question. Most of the images appear to be darker than the reality. I presume the colors come out richer that way.

    Is my guess correct? And if so, what role did post-processing play?
  8. deirdre

    deirdre Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 9, 2010
    No, they were pretty close to reality but a bit more saturated (the "medium high" color setting). I've already said there was no post-processing: that was kind of the point, to see how pics came out of the camera.