Last week I attended a workshop at the Leica Akademie in London and not only held a Leica M but also spent an hour walking around Mayfair using it. That is likely to be an unrepeatable experience. And it was just the first part of a very long and rewarding day in London.
So, you are probably wondering, how did I come to be in the privileged position of being loaned a Leica M for an hour? The answer is that I’m a member of the Camera Club for retired fellows at the Royal Society of Medicine, and the club was informed that the Leica Akademie in London (as part of Leica’s centenary celebrations) was offering a limited number of three-hour workshops to experienced photographers wanting to have an opportunity to learn more about, and use, Leica’s unique top-of-the-range digital rangefinder camera.
This was too good an opportunity to be missed. So five of us took up this offer and gathered at the UK’s Leica HQ, discreetly tucked away in a quiet location in London’s Mayfair. As well as being the UK’s flagship store, there is also a café for Leica customers, and first floor facilities offering Akademie courses & workshops and also a small photographic studio. For details of other workshops offered by Leica click here.
Our workshop was led by Robin Sinha – a professional freelance photographer and Tutor at the Akademie. The workshop commenced with a brief history of Leica cameras starting with the Ur-Leica in 1914, through the celebrated M3, and on to the current Leica M (named in full as Leica M typ 240). Leica cameras are world renowned for their build quality, durability and superior optics. The current Leica M (a full-frame camera) should be seen as evolving from previous Leicas and that pedigree is perhaps best illustrated by two facts. Firstly, the Leica M includes backward compatibility with previous Leica lenses; and secondly, like all previous models it has not embraced auto-focus. It remains, unusually in today’s market, a manual focus rangefinder camera.
We moved on to learning how to use the camera. It’s a surprisingly heavy camera when you first pick it up, but once you get used to the weight it can be comfortably cradled in the hand. It has a minimalist appearance: the camera is not studded with an array of buttons and dials. And internally the menu structure – compared with most other digital cameras – is refreshingly sparse.
The principal difficulty for the majority of us who are accustomed to the idea of focusing taking care of itself is having to master manual focus. That takes time, and in action, constant reminding. The manual focus ring conveniently has a projection with a finger indent that with practice allows single finger focusing. Looking through the viewfinder you will find a small central circle within which you will see two ‘images’ out of alignment. To focus, you rotate the focus ring until those two images become one. There is however a simpler way to manage manual focus. Leica lenses feature a depth of field scale for a range of apertures imprinted on the barrel of the lens adjacent to the focus ring (a feature that will be familiar to any of you who once upon a time used manual focus lenses in the film era). A glance at the depth of field scale will show what will be in focus for any given aperture. So, manual focus can be ‘managed’ by selecting an aperture of, for example, F8 or F11 and estimating distances – a technique known as zone focusing. I won’t go into any more detail. If you are interested to learn more, and see more images of the camera, then there is a useful review of the Leica M in Amateur Photographer: click here to read that review.
The introductions over, it was time to venture outside. At this moment, the rain that had been an intermittent feature ever since I left my house earlier, decided it would resume, but fortunately only as very light drizzle. It did, however, make proper street photography difficult. I did not feel happy walking around with the camera fully exposed to the elements, whilst trying some candid shooting-from the-hip photography. However an hour later we all returned, and so did the cameras, from our independent photo walks. The images were uploaded and all reviewed in Lightroom, and finally the best images from each of our shoots were rapidly and efficiently processed by our Tutor in Lightroom. That in itself was a valuable experience for me as a complete stranger to Lightroom.
I shot about 30 images, and the three I judged to be the best on technical quality are shown above. Remember to click on an image to see a higher quality enlargement – it is certainly worth it.
Finally, we have to come to the issue of cost. A Leica M body will set you back 5,100 pounds. The Summilux 35mm F1.4 Lens will cost an additional 3,850. Total cost: 8,950 pounds sterling. The economics tutor on my Business Management course would have said: think of the opportunity cost. In plain English – What else could you buy with that sum? Sadly such an iconic camera will remain beyond my reach, but it was a privilege to try it out.
And that was just Part 1 of that busy day. From Mayfair I hotfooted it to Tate Modern in half an hour to see ‘Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs’.
This was such a refreshingly different exhibition featuring the unique output of Matisse in his twilight years when ill health and reduced mobility meant he was no longer able to paint. But he could still cut painted paper with scissors.
All of us as children cut coloured paper with scissors, and pasted those shapes onto other sheets of paper and made patterns or collages. At one very superficial level this is the appeal of Matisse – it’s child’s play. We’ve all done it. But then you look deeper and longer and you see the beauty, the skill and the creativity that affected every aspect of what he achieved – from pre-visualisation, to colour choice, to cutting, to placement. The works on display ranged from his early, small, folio sized work (especially a book he created called Jazz), his Blue Nudes and finally his monumental canvases that stretched almost across the full width of the exhibition rooms. I emerged from that exhibition, as I do so often from similar events, inspired by the work of a celebrated artist.
By that time it was nearing 4pm and I still hadn’t found time to eat lunch! A brief stop for a sandwich and a coffee and I then set out on the third leg of the day’s journey – walking to Tower Bridge.
This is a walk that I haven’t done for about five or six years, and is so often the case in London, development takes one by surprise. So much has changed on Bankside as that area is called. The whole area is rich in photographic potential. Over the course of the next two hours I shot just over two hundred images.
These included two semi-abstract, geometric, architectural shots; the green algae on the water in the dock surrounding a full-size replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde; a close up of HMS Belfast; an image of one of the fifty ‘Books about Town’ benches that I have just now finished photographing; and finally an image taken at the Tower of London of the poppy fields – a subject I covered in detail in A Sea of Poppies and the Roll of Honour. If you are interested in a very personally orientated commemoration of WW1, then do read that Post.
Enjoy the short gallery below. Click on the first image and then navigate through. There will be other posts from this walk in the weeks to come.