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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 04-13-2011   #26
furcafe
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I compare my film Leicas w/film SLRs & my M9 w/dSLRs. IMHO, it is perfectly reasonable (as a photographer, maybe not as an electronics engineer) to expect any digital M to compete w/dSLRs because it is used by many, such as me, instead of a dSLR. I don't think the world has gotten darker, it's just that people are shooting available light in places where in years past they would have used flash or not shot @ all. Why should I be forced to buy a big, fat D700 or 5D or be stuck using f/1 & f/1.4 just to shoot digital in low light? It's not that Leica must compete, but it would be nice if they did.

Of course, like any other group of photographers, Leica users come in all types & I know there are plenty of people who are happy w/slow Elmars & low ISOs, just as there were back in the days of film. The problem is there is no Leica-mount camera that excels @ high ISOs. As I've written before, my ideal solution would be for Leica to offer 2 separate models: 1 for daylight shooters (like the current M9) & 1 optimized for available darkness (perhaps w/fewer, but bigger pixels & a native ISO of 400 or higher). Like it or not, in the digital era, camera manufacturers must be "film" suppliers, too. Unfortunately, this is probably beyond the capabilities of the current company & would probably require partnering up w/1 of the Japanese manufacturers (I would vote for Sony, since they make sensors & are the successor to Minolta).

Quote:
Originally Posted by mabelsound View Post
Yes. I don't compare the M9 to DSLRs, I compare it to film Ms. And it compares very favorably. When occasionally I need to shoot in very low light, I use my DSLR. Why must an M compete?

The CCD sensor has a distinctive look. I wouldn't want to sacrifice it for better low light performance.
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Old 04-13-2011   #27
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At short notice I discovered my good friend was delivering his inaugural professorial lecture. I had my M5 with 50 1.5 at work with me, but only 100 ISO film. This is straight out of your chapter in the Leica Manual. The camera on the front rail and lots of shots at 1/4 and even 1/2s and finally he stayed still enough to get this. So I won't be getting the M9 yet either.


Dean's Lecture by Richard GM2, on Flickr
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Old 04-13-2011   #28
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Quote:
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At short notice I discovered my good friend was delivering his inaugural professorial lecture. I had my M5 with 50 1.5 at work with me, but only 100 ISO film. This is straight out of your chapter in the Leica Manual. The camera on the front rail and lots of shots at 1/4 and even 1/2s and finally he stayed still enough to get this. So I won't be getting the M9 yet either.


Dean's Lecture by Richard GM2, on Flickr
I did the same thing on a cruise ship during the evening entertainment, except I had Velvia 50 loaded. The shots were quite good.
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Old 04-13-2011   #29
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I think high ISO has value but whenever I have used a camera that has it, my shots, they always look more like they were taken in daytime. Almost like Army night vision. I dunno, I am swiftly letting the world pass me by.
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Old 04-14-2011   #30
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The bottom line is that high ISO lets people do handheld photography is more situations (some of us don't only photograph in bright sun). How can that be bad? I would never not own a camera that doesn't have great high ISO. I love my M8 and M3, but when high ISO is needed, I'm glad I have a the X1 (and soon the X100). If Leica brings out a digital M with high ISO, I'll be in heaven.
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Old 04-14-2011   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kshapero View Post
I think high ISO has value but whenever I have used a camera that has it, my shots, they always look more like they were taken in daytime. Almost like Army night vision. I dunno, I am swiftly letting the world pass me by.
Do yuo do post processing of the images or rely strictly on in camera?
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Old 04-14-2011   #32
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The bottom line is that high ISO lets people do handheld photography is more situations (some of us don't only photograph in bright sun). How can that be bad? I would never not own a camera that doesn't have great high ISO. I love my M8 and M3, but when high ISO is needed, I'm glad I have a the X1 (and soon the X100). If Leica brings out a digital M with high ISO, I'll be in heaven.

How can that be bad? Easy, there is a reference camera out there. Functionality not covered by the reference camera is bad or not needed. And if you think you need, or even see benefits of the functionality, you probably are not a real photographer
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Old 04-14-2011   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kshapero View Post
I think high ISO has value but whenever I have used a camera that has it, my shots, they always look more like they were taken in daytime. Almost like Army night vision. I dunno, I am swiftly letting the world pass me by.

That's just a metering/exposure issue ... the camera wants everything to look like an 18% grey card shot at ev 15!
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Old 04-14-2011   #34
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How can that be bad? Easy, there is a reference camera out there. Functionality not covered by the reference camera is bad or not needed. And if you think you need, or even see benefits of the functionality, you probably are not a real photographer
Huh? A real photographer uses the tools that are available to him/her to get the photo he/she wants...

and what is this reference camera you speak of?
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Old 04-14-2011   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Quite honestly, even the M9 at 2500 is better than any colour film at 2500, so even though I hope an M10 (or whatever) will deliver better quality at higher speeds, the M9 is still pretty amazing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stuart John View Post
However high the Hi ISO race goes people will always demand more. Photographers are rather spoiled today and seem to be constanly looking for the magic bullet. Better hi ISO performace won't improve most people photos sure the images will be cleaner but the content will remain the same and the quest for the next latest and greatest camera will continue.

Very true. People have been whining (some of them are claiming for, but many are whining) about how "bad" ISO 1250 (or if you'll be reading this in 2014, ISO 64000000000) when during the days of film people who used ISO 800 in color they would have loved to get the "grain" (or from that point of view, lack thereof) you can get at ISO 3200 from a Nikon circa 2007.

More and more barely-trained photographers are meeting the needs of commercial photography. Many have hardly ever used anything other than the P or green square mode.

On the other hand, there are a few specialized photographers who really know what they're doing, and given the current economic and workflow realities you must use digital photography and the "slow and tedious" world of B&W (OMG! lack of color!) silver photography is just not in today's do-you-want-fries-with-that consumer society.

You can never satisfy everyone. If Leica were in the business of selling to sports photographers, I'm sure they would have tended to that a while back. Canon and Nikon, however, are the go-to brands for that market, and of course they will make educated and researched compromises in image quality to try to please everybody.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Harley Davidson had a market for young couples with young kids who need to be weathered from the elements and be given distracting entertainment options, they would have already built a minivan. If you need a minivan, buy it from a minivan seller, and don't bash HD's head for its "myopic offerings".

My twopence.
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Old 04-14-2011   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gabriel M.A. View Post
I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Harley Davidson had a market for young couples with young kids who need to be weathered from the elements and be given distracting entertainment options, they would have already built a minivan. If you need a minivan, buy it from a minivan seller, and don't bash HD's head for its "myopic offerings".

My twopence.
Agree.

Also,

the *need* for high ISO has to be distinguished between professional (shooting for a client) and non-professional (shooting for ourselves).

Those who are professionals can't dictate their preference of standard on which the high ISO performance is based on. They may prefer film, but the digital world has trained the clients to expect "clean" images.

Those who are non-professionals can choose what they compare the high ISO against. I personally like grain and texture, so I compare any digital cameras against film. And so will most of us here on RFF. Good thing that I'm not a wedding photographer.

Now this is not to say that at some point in the future, people will be bored with the clean images and start to appreciate imperfections, at that time, the manufacturers will then start to sell High ISO *with texture*

Just watch.
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Old 04-18-2011   #37
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Quote:
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Now this is not to say that at some point in the future, people will be bored with the clean images and start to appreciate imperfections, at that time, the manufacturers will then start to sell High ISO *with texture*

Of course it will happen. Then people will b & moan "where is the noise function?!" and "remember the good old days of noise and grain?"

During the 20th century there was this insane drive for "sharpness". Then came Lensbaby, Holga and Diana.

Not to mention that everybody wants something for nothing: "sharpness" and clean digital images come after years of manpower and hard money, but if you charge the customer for it, they'd balk. Why, technology grows on trees in the magical land of You-sent-your-email-and-you-b-and-moaned-enough-on-Internet-forums...

I don't deride progress; I deride demands with a sense of entitlement, like those spoiled kids on "My Super Sweet 16".
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Old 04-18-2011   #38
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Point taken, but your analogy only goes so far. At one point in the increasing distant past (like the early '60s), Leicas were used for the same purpose as the competition & they have made pretty good SLRs over the years. Leica may have ended up being like Harley-Davidson as a niche manufacturer of old-style motorcycles, but an alternative path would have been for them to emulate BMW & Honda, both of which were able to successfully enter the car business.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gabriel M.A. View Post

On the other hand, there are a few specialized photographers who really know what they're doing, and given the current economic and workflow realities you must use digital photography and the "slow and tedious" world of B&W (OMG! lack of color!) silver photography is just not in today's do-you-want-fries-with-that consumer society.

You can never satisfy everyone. If Leica were in the business of selling to sports photographers, I'm sure they would have tended to that a while back. Canon and Nikon, however, are the go-to brands for that market, and of course they will make educated and researched compromises in image quality to try to please everybody.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Harley Davidson had a market for young couples with young kids who need to be weathered from the elements and be given distracting entertainment options, they would have already built a minivan. If you need a minivan, buy it from a minivan seller, and don't bash HD's head for its "myopic offerings".

My twopence.
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Old 04-19-2011   #39
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My M9 is set to Auto ISO 800, and I rarely go above that unless I want that little bit extra, or I have forgotten a fast lens. But I never use it in situations that demand clean performance at upper levels, anyway. I use the Canon 5D Mark II for that.

I don't think it is unreasonable to want better high ISO performance from any high end camera in this day and age; at the same time, 35mm sensors seem to have the edge over medium format sensors in this area, so perhaps it is a matter of horses for courses. The digital M's images have often been favourably compared with medium format, so perhaps those similarities run to the negatives as well as the positives.

Riccis Valladares tends to shoot very low light using 3200 speed film and a Noctilux. He gets great results, but only for those who like that look. It would be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to get acceptable results with colour film at that speed.
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Old 04-19-2011   #40
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The world's gone all topsy-turvy. It used to be the Leica M that had technological advantages over film SRLs for available light shooting. But now, of course, the reverse is true in the digital age. Clean high-iso capture (not to mention excellent Image Stabilization in bodies and lenses) is today what Tri-X and a Noctiliux were in the golden age of film. In the low-light situations that used to be its forte, the M8 and M9 have no technological advantages over a DSLR.
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Old 04-19-2011   #41
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M9

I do love the m9 at iso 1250 it just cannot do what I need it to in no light situaitions. Mind you I would rather use my leica, then my canon system. The canons I own are because of sports and concert work, that i have to use them for street work pisses me off t no end as they attract an attention i would rather not get at times. To say well we are comparing with film get over it film is we last century technology and I have an investment in leica glass that is way out of proportion to my income. It should be comparable to a canon at iso 6400 and the next camera had better. The m9 is a major step up from the m8 we need to keep bitching and moaning so we get what we want. If Leica kept one camera at ccd technology and made a cmos camera as well for low light I would probably own one of each. Make no apologies the m9 is an excellent camera but not a no light camera. And PS the canon mk 1v does not make night look like daylight but the nikon d3 s does.
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Old 04-19-2011   #42
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My Nikon D70 made me realize how much I loved high iso performance. Less of an issue with b&w than color, but I dont like going about 400-640 with it.

Definitely a problem as I like shooting hand held in low light. Going back to film and Neopan 1600 made me happy. Briefly. I'm still struggling with a good solution on the film side. Need to give Portra a shot I suppose.

Thats the main thing that will eventually drive me back to digital.
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