How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Circle of Confusion (Pt. 3)
I spent the next couple of months obsessively researching Leica cameras and lenses. I began by downloading the owner’s manual for the M3 rangefinder. Then I practiced composing and focusing with no film in the camera.
I quickly realized that the lens that Joe had given me was impractical: the frame lines were too restrictive, and, even with the M3 viewfinder’s high magnification, it was simply too hard to focus accurately. It was also big (5.019″) and heavy (just shy of 1 lb.)
Later research revealed that the lens, a Hektor 135mm f/4.5 M manufactured ca. 1955, is the least loved lens Leica ever produced.
After a little poking about the dusty corners of the internet, I found Ken Rockwell’s blog. Of particular interest is the section on Leica lenses. These are thorough, detailed, occasionally-biased-but-always-backed-by-measurable-evidence reviews, and required reading for anyone considering shooting with a Leica (or any other rangefinder, for that matter). Also useful were Steve Huff’s reviews and this page at CameraQuest.
My 1st instinct was to go cheap and buy Voigtländer (sometimes called Cosina, after brand’s owner, or abbreviated as CV). Ken quickly changed my mind. But I couldn’t afford the Leica glass, either, especially since the price of used Leica lenses began to inflate after the introduction of the M8 (Leica’s 1st digital rangefinder) in 2006. Fortunately, Zeiss makes lenses comparable in quality to Leica at prices similar to Cosina. More on that later.
I spent a lot of time adding Leica and Zeiss lenses to my eBay watch list after that, thinking I’d buy a couple of lenses, and that would be that. But it was not to be. Remember the Dutchman and his crazy digital Leica? I still lusted for the M9, but the price was pretty scary. Then I stumbled on Thorsten Overgaard’s blog.
Thorsten is a Danish writer and photojournalist who wrote extensively on his experience with the Leica M9 when it was released in 2009. He was one of the 1st professionals to use it, obtaining his camera a mere 2 days after its official release.
I’ve always been one of those people who have to have the very best, and, as you’d expect, I’m rarely happy very long with my personal possessions — something about green grass and fences. So I would be taking an expensive risk if I bought the camera and became disenchanted with it. Thorsten’s review convinced me to take that risk.
I read his entire, multi-page essay on the camera, with particular interest in:
- The camera’s menu & recommended settings
- Deployment (set white balance, set lens wide-open, set aperture priority, shoot only ISO 160 or ISO 800 most of the time)
- Adobe Lightroom workflow
These particular sections of the essay convinced me that the M9 is actually a pretty simple camera to use, unlike most DSLRs and even many point-and-shoots on the market, and that made it easier for me to rationalize the purchase. The overall essay is insightful & persuasive, so if you’re on the fence, go read it now.
M-mount lenses do not provide aperture information to the camera body, either electronically or mechanically. Therefore, f-stop settings are approximate, and are probably wildly inaccurate. For what it’s worth, I usually shoot with my lenses wide open.