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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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Big/Little
Old 09-12-2012   #1
Bill Pierce
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Big/Little

Some professional photographers feel obligated to use large DSLR's because their clients won't take them seriously if they see them with a small camera. Others use the full frame DSLR's because the image quality can be exceptional or because they truly appreciate that particular viewfinder experience. But, as smaller, mirrorless cameras get better, I notice I am using my big DSLRs less and less - and so are a lot of my friends.

Recent smaller, mirrorless cameras can challenge DSLR image quality. Sony just introduced a full frame compact with a fixed 35/2 Zeiss lens. Smaller cameras without the anti-aliasing filter like the Ricoh GXR or the Leica Monochrom can produce spectacular results. The good results from the Fuji X Pro with RPP as the image processor for its non Bayer, no AA sensor really make you wish that Fuji would work more closely with the folks behind the major, mainstream image processors - especially with the smaller, less expensive X-E1 on its way.

When I used to travel, I traveled with a full frame, DSLR system and packed a smaller, less conspicuous camera for personal street photography. Working quickly and not to carefully, I was probably more responsible for for any drop in image quality than the small camera, but it still was not up to what the DSLRs could deliver.

But, now when I travel (I'm traveling now. That's why my entries on this site have been a little slight.), I travel with mirrorless systems. As a matter of fact, if I travel to my back yard to photograph my dog, I use a mirrorless system. For the most part, the full frame DSLRs stay in the studio where I can use them in a way that maximizes their image quality and produces results that amaze me. And I can not tell you how wonderful it is to go through airport security and onto a plane with less bulky gear. I no longer have "professional" gear and less conspicuous "amateur" gear for my personal street shooting. They are one in the same.

I notice a lot of folks on the forum have both DSLRs and small, mirrorless cameras. Fortunately, not everyone has to have a studio and jet lag. I wondered what many of you see as the best use for each of these camera types as the small cameras improve (and the economy makes the large cameras even more difficult to afford). What are you doing?
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small vs. large
Old 09-12-2012   #2
nebraska
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small vs. large

Very good observations by an accomplished and highly respected professional.
I am going on two months European trip with my newly acquired OM-D and four/five lenses. I initially consider taking my 5DIII and several lenses plus the OM-D. After doing some intensive testing (for about two weeks) of the OM-D I decided that the quality output is so good that I didn't need the Canon. My travel experience will be so much more pleasant and relaxed (no big and heavy bag on my back) and I am pretty sure that the OM-D will do more than 90% of what the Canon would have done.
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Old 09-12-2012   #3
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Going to Japan next month... will bring the two Fujis... X100 and X-Pro1. Leica will stay home. Oops, I forgot, I only use small cameras. However, if it was my job and I was making photos for someone elses idea / event, I'd have a DSLR... just more versatile.
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Old 09-14-2012   #4
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I returned (passionately, I should say) to photography about the time the G1 and GXR came out, and those became my primary (and still only) digitals. I learned to trust their EVFs and focusing systems and manual controls, and in that sense, both cameras 'disappeared' as technical presences as Shane writes above of his D3. I still have not tried a DSLR, and am not yet inclined to do so for a number of reasons (including not shooting action or wildlife or much tele/long). But perhaps the most relevant reasons for this thread is that the mirrorless digitals 1/can take my film glass (M, LTM, OM), and 2/I'm increasingly packing film MF--for which the mirrorless provide test exposures before I take the more expensive 6x4.5, 6x6 or 6x9 shot).

Favorite quote from a related field? The painter Paul Klee: "...to adapt oneself to the contents of the paintbox is more important than nature and its study." Klee's paintings, interestingly, tend to be relatively small in scale. They invite intimacy. This also seems to be the genius of smaller cameras, no?
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Old 09-14-2012   #5
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There's certainly a place for both. Just back from a 12 day trip to Germany. Took only the NEX 5, kit zoom, and 50 1.8. Very nice. Light, inconspicuous, all that was needed for the typical vacation snaps.

However, there is no question IMO that it is a poor substitute for the absolute performance of the a850 I picked up in February. That's everything from AF (a big deal) to the certain quality of file the a850 produces. It is easily noticeable.

If you like to photograph a range of things, I still think there's a place for both and I'm going to continue to add to both systems.

For casual/semi-serious stuff I like the NEX. But when I'm heading with something specific in mind there's no question that I would rather work with the a850.

Maybe I'm a weirdo but I've always like big cameras.
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Old 09-14-2012   #6
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I have a D7000 I use for work and I also carry an M3 for street. I had a Sony NEX 5 and I agree for B/W it was just fine but I could never quite tweak the color to my satisfaction. I actually will shot a couple of rolls with the M3 at weddings, etc. I actually get a higher percentage of keepers on the M3 than I do on the D7000.
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Old 09-14-2012   #7
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I love the renaissance in small cameras, and think right now are pretty good times. Smaller bodies were what brought me to film, having had no real photographic background when younger, and just arriving to photography in the last 8/ 9 years. Back then, there were no real small, capable options for digital, and after many, many years banging my head against a brick wall hoping to find one, simply turned to film (& M's), where small bodies were plentiful, if one was prepared to deal with film.

These days the situation is quite the opposite, and everywhere I turn, I cannot help but see another small, capable digital camera or system. I still maintain a small nikon dslr system, and many times have contemplated switching to a digital system that is smaller. The one thing that keeps me from doing so though, is the fact I use my nikon dslr system for portraits, and with my preferred shooting style, none of the smaller systems can offer me the same frame rate & more importantly buffer, that my D300 can. Should that change, am not sure there is anything I would need a dslr for, over a smaller digital system, as nearly all else seems to be there.
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Old 09-14-2012   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
...
What are you doing?

Typically I use a Fuji X100 and X-Pro 1 whenever my work does not require a tripod. Otherwise I use Nikon D700s.

It is true that clients expect large DSLRs. Occasionally new clients want to know what cameras and lenses I use. Clients who participate in photo shoots expect a serious DSLR. This is just psychology though. Some of my clients want to impress thir clients, so there is a bit of how business involved. Of course the final results count much more than anything else. Without great results the psychology associated with classic gear would be worthless.

I rarely do action photography or wedding/event photography. I have used the APS-C Fujis for pro-bono, non-ceremony wedding work and I would use them for paying cutomers without hesitation.

I do not think the Fujis are as robust as some DSLRs. I have banged around D200/300/700 bodies and lenses without serious damage. I have also used them in the rain. I would not use the Fujis in the rain. Of course some small, high quality cameras are water/dust resistant; I just don't own one of them.

The Fujis make nice prints. I would use them for medium sized (18 x 12) gallery prints without hesitation. I suspect in many cases larger prints would not be an issue. I should have a few large prints made.

Last weekend I wandered around a large art fair for a couple of days taking candid shots. No one noticed me. A few years back I did this same event with a DSLR and people did notice. I have had the same experience in other public venues. Around here people and private security guards definitely ignore smaller cameras with smaller lenses. The X100 seems to be invisible.

So far I have not been disappointed with the Fuji APS-C sensors. I know more sensor area is an advantage, but ISO 1600 with the Fuji sensors meets my needs. I'm not sure how much more I would pay for a 24 x 36 mm system. The dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio increase would have to be significant... maybe in a couple of years?

One application where I would lways use the D700 is when I need an angle of view wider than 90 degrees (20 mm at 24 x 36 mm). Lens design, performance and cost issues for this sort of application with APS-C sensors makes the larger sensor a better choice for me.

If I was going through airports all the time for work I think I would FedEx my DSLR gear ahead since I would probably FedEx the lighting stuff anyway. Otherwise, the Fuji gear fits in a carry-on back pack or messenger bag with ease.
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Old 09-14-2012   #9
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Bill-

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

I agree with everything you stated. I've gotten my toe in the mirrorless waters with an x100 and xp1 and love them. They ARE limited compared to a full kit of DSLR but that is mostly in the focus area. The upgrades to the x100 helped a lot and I'm sure the upcoming upgrade to the xp1 will be great as well.

The new sony offering is VERY interesting.

One thing these new cameras have done for me is reacquainted me with the beauty of primes - think a bit more, zoom with my feet - consider more carefully the impact of focal length. More challenging than simply zooming to frame.

Of course all of these new beauties have the latest chip technology which means better and better high ISO low noise images ... GREAT !!

I guess embedded in all of it is the fantastic ease of use - transporting - carrying any time with minimal hassle.

All I can say is I feel guilty not using my D3 much any more. It's not been replaced, but it is having one big fight for time in the game :-)

Cheers,

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Old 09-14-2012   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I notice a lot of folks on the forum have both DSLRs and small, mirrorless cameras. Fortunately, not everyone has to have a studio and jet lag. I wondered what many of you see as the best use for each of these camera types as the small cameras improve (and the economy makes the large cameras even more difficult to afford). What are you doing?
For me it is very simple. Usually most of the weight of my bag is made out of light equipment so really I find little to gain to switch to small cameras. As for the price, large cameras are expensive (6,000US$ for a D4 is waaaaay too much for many), the second last models however are not so expensive so I am simply always one model behind and if I really need the latest toy I rent it. Small cameras are of course way nicer as walk around cameras but I don't find them that much cheaper. Ok, maybe the basic models are, but once you get them top quality lenses you are not that far away. Finally, Leicas are cases apart. I would really like to be able to afford an M9 or an M10 when it will be available but not only price is above that of a D4 (or whatever Canon and Sony equivalent exist) but I would use it just as walk-around camera making that even more meaningless than a hypothetical D4. Where small cameras really shine, in my opinion is when you don't want to be recognized as a photographer, I really don't like being somewhere with friends, liking something, deciding that I want a picture (just a picture, probably a bad one of the friends who are with me saying hallo to the camera) and having to pick the DSLR from the bag. For this however the main point is not to look professional and a Leica doesn't work either. In a year or two (after price drop) I might get a Sony DSC-RX100 but for now I like reading about rangefinders, owning a few old and cheap ones just for fun and using large slightly outdated DSLR for almost everything.

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Ricoh GXR no update
Old 09-23-2012   #11
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Ricoh GXR no update

I'm sad that Ricoh did not announce anything new at Photokina. Plus the other new products announced did not impress me either.

So I may have to buy a second GXR and M module just in case.....

My 12 mega pixel camera is enough for me. I think a 28mm and 50mm FOV and either a 75 or 90mm lenses are the perfect travel kit.
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Old 10-02-2012   #12
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I'm using Olympus E-Pens a lot while the Canon DSLR stays home or in the bag. The Canon equipment is only getting used nowadays for long or fast lenses. In fact, I've even bought a couple of used Olympus 4/3 DSLRs and I use them in preference to the larger camera equipment. Why the Oly DSLR? The lenses are excellent and reasonably fast as well as lighter weight and smaller than equivalent Canon lenses. If I give up a little in image quality, so be it. I'm old and the lighter weight stuff is a godsend to my arthritic neck and back. Besides, I'm only out to please myself and I'm happy with what I get when printed up to 13x19 inches.
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Old 10-02-2012   #13
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I'm going to Sydney Australia on businss at the end of the week. 2 days of business and 2 days of wandering around taking photos. I will most likely take M9 + 28 Summicron + Fuji GF670 + Velvia. Have recently developed a back problem and can no longer justify a heavy bag so all my DSLR gear is gone. Found on a recent trip I used my 28mm 95% of the time so will leave 50/90 at home and carry a small crumpler bag and my back will love me for it.
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Old 10-03-2012   #14
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Size does matter! And when the size of the camera causes you to not have your camera with you you may miss shots like this:



You may not like this shot of my subject but this is my son and he hates getting his photo taken. I grabbed this shot as we came out of a store getting ice for our cooler. I try to always have my Ricoh GXR with me. I would have never considered that with my DSLR. Never.

I finally opened this file the other day as we're on a 9 week road trip west of the Rockies with our travel trailer and I have not been on the computer other than to empty my SD cards.

I'm a little prejudiced as this is family but this one goes on the wall when we get home.
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Old 10-03-2012   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Duane Pandorf View Post
I'm a little prejudiced as this is family but this one goes on the wall when we get home.
That my friend is a wonderful image. Put it on the wall and years from now when your son is grown and gone, you will remember a this trip and the time spent together.
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Old 10-03-2012   #16
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Size matters. My first small digicam was one of the most effective cameras I ever owned because I had it with me more of the time.

Today, I am very pleased with the image quality of my D300 w/ 50 f/1.8 for portraits indoors with available light. A full-frame setup would be much larger and heavier. What would be the payoff? Yes, better low-light. Worth the weight?
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Old 10-03-2012   #17
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I don't like using or carrying DSLRs. I much prefer the 'flat body' style cameras that are only available in mirrorless options right now (or like the old style SLRs - the nikon F and and the canon f1). I also find DSLR lenses far too heavy and big. Any more than 2 fast primes and a flash and suddenly it's like you're carrying a bag of cement on your shoulder. this ESPECIALLY goes for traveling.

The x100 is so close to being the perfect camera for me - all it needs is a full frame sensor really...
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Old 10-03-2012   #18
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That is an excellent photo Duane !
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Old 10-03-2012   #19
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I have no 'photographic eye', it's just a hobby, most of my pictures are boring and dull, so why should I pay extra for better technical quality dull pictures.
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Old 10-03-2012   #20
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Duane,

This wonderful photo is an example of how a convenient, high-quality camera can really make difference.

Kudos!
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Old 10-04-2012   #21
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Thank you David, Robert, and Willie for your nice comments. Another thing none of you would know is that my son lost all of his hair a couple years ago. No idea why, went to every different specialist. No one had an answer.

But this photo also helps in seeing him with a full head of hair again!
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Old 10-04-2012   #22
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yes, using mirrorless system for work that involves travel can be liberating! two cameras and 4-5 lenses in a tiny little bag...
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Old 10-04-2012   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Duane Pandorf View Post

I'm a little prejudiced as this is family but this one goes on the wall when we get home.
That is what photography is about, IMO. That and nothing else. A wonderful portrait I have to say.
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Old 10-04-2012   #24
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What lens/module on the GXR for that lovely surly solemn portrait of your son, Duane?
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Leica 35 Cron v2
Old 10-06-2012   #25
Duane Pandorf
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Leica 35 Cron v2

Quote:
Originally Posted by rhl-oregon View Post
What lens/module on the GXR for that lovely surly solemn portrait of your son, Duane?
This was shot with a version 2 35mm Cron. I think my optimum GXR-M kit is going to be a pre ASPH 21mm f2.8, my 35 and I plan on selling my Leica 40mm to fund the Leica 50 Cron.

This will give me 30, 50 and 75 FOVs. Plus I'd like to keep the lens manufactured date around the same time frame to keep the same feel across all three lenses.

I also have the 28 module that I will sell too. It's a great lens but I like the look the Leica glass make on the GXR-M.

In fact, I've been shooting my entire road trip we're on with just the 35 Cron.
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