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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 03-25-2012   #26
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Grew up on Panatomic X and Ethol Blue. Waiting on budgetary approval for a pair of D4's and I use digital professionally for work here and abroad in the newspaper environment.

So ironically, I use film because I like the 'forced' limitations placed upon me by 12 or 36 exposures per roll and that which goes with it. Hard to explain really. The look of film (read grain, tones) is not so much a thing for me anymore and the 'slowing down thing' I find is getting too tired to trot out as a reason, for me at least, so ymmv.
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Old 03-25-2012   #27
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I grew up with film and I am only 24... I stared with the high school yearbook with a Nikon N90s then an F100.... Doomsday came in the form of a Nikon D100 and I hated it. It was slow, laggy, and jammed a couple of times in really important moments. I shot my first and last paid wedding with it... It felt like a toy. However, it made it easy to update the website and that is what they wanted.

My father had a camera collection and like a bad stock advisor never saw the digital revolution coming. So I shot through his collection and discovered his Leica's.

The Leica's, specifically the M3, revealed a very simple approach to photography. I mean there were no settings other than aperture, shutter, and focus. No meter, but a beautifully manufactured and incredibly dense 50 mm summicron DR with goggles. I was hooked.

When my graduation college graduation came up, I had shot a lot of film and I was very poor as a college student hell bent on staying as independent as possible. Film is expensive... but upfront digital is way more.

I knew what I wanted, a small, well built, high performance digital camera but they did not exist. Right around graduation came the Olympus Pen series: a revelation. Upon holding with it, I just couldn't fathom composing via an LCD or EVF; Sacrilege!

The Oly Pen series with a good lens and VF was equivalent to an M6 TTL.... I got an M6 TLL... I figured it will last longer, and I'll just bite the bullet and pay for the film till I get a real job and can afford a digital camera that ticks the boxes. Not that I really mind... I could live with Portra and TMAX for the rest of my life...

However, I will never sell the M6. Nothing beats a true optical wet print on real paper. Nothing. Nothing beats the process. Dodging and burning is not like dodging and burning in the darkroom. The immediate gratification of digital is never as good as waiting for those prints from the lab.

It is a hassle to travel with film internationally.... but man nail the exposure and focus, and just wait a couple of days to see the results.

All that being said.... I have serious uncontrollable GAS, in fact flatulence, for the Fujifilm X100, because other than a digital M or some other unobtainable or outdate digital body it is the only digital camera on the market with a shutter speed dial and aperture ring.... A revelation. Can't wait to shoot it as my wide body next to the M6...

I guess I really don't know why I shoot film, but when a student of mine asked me if I knew anything about photography I unleashed my passionate opinion and tried to explain to him why he need not spend $1500 of his hard dollars on the an L series lens and body because the internet told him to do so. He told me he was interested in the "art" of photography, so I suggested KEH.com and a cheap manual SLR with a roll of film. To convince him of my logic, I am even going to let him borrow my FM2 so he can learn how easy the art is when you don't have to worry about sRGB color space, white balance, RAW vs. JPEG, 12500 ISO, lightening speed autofocus, mega zooms, lightroom, photoshop CS 9, and weather sealing.

Exposure, composition, and thought. That is why I like film.
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Old 03-25-2012   #28
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I use film, because I have negative files going back to the mid-60's - and they have never been "re-formatted"- occasionally re-filed, but thats all.
I also started with film, more years ago than I like to think about (50+) and I am used to it.
I tried digital, beta tested RD1 and M8 and however impressive they are, they did not do it for me. Not so much the end result which is quite good, but in the process of "thinking" about a shot. With digital it is too easy to shoot too much - with film you have a natural limit - usually 36-37 frames!
I also like processing and the anticipation of hanging up a batch of films to dry and quickly look at them.
All this works for me - BUT if I had to go back and do this for a living - I would shoot digital, particularly color where I think digital can do an equal or better job than film.
So far I have not found digital bl/w very satisfactory - and printing technology still lags behind a good fiber based prints.
With something like 10 000 ft of film in the freeer, I dont think I will switch soon either.
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Old 03-25-2012   #29
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I use film because (for me) its intuitive & much easier than learning digital camera menus. Most of the time only 2 of 3 variables operate- aperture & shutter speed. Maybe I'm lazy..
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Old 03-25-2012   #30
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I like my film cameras too much to give them up, plus I still haven't gotten this film shooting & developing bit down to a science yet & won't ever switch til I do. Besides digital camera's have too many settings I don't understand or care to fool with.

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Old 03-25-2012   #31
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I will say that the look of film is becoming easier to emulate in post production, so soon that will matter less. Presets, people, presets.

I have several reasons to still use film. I feel my film camera is ergonomically perfect, and all controls are simple and clear. Shooting with my rangefinder is a careful and precise process, probably because I use film (I should learn to be like this all the time though). Finally, spending three hours in the dark in peace and quiet developing film is incredibly calming.
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Old 03-25-2012   #32
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Because nothing consistently does B&W like B&W film...
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Old 03-25-2012   #33
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I grew up with film and have been using it for close to 50 years. I've used and own Leicas, Nikons and Canons, Fuji's, Mamiya's and more recently, a 500c (not crazy about it). I also have a lovely Pentax DSLR with outstanding color fidelity. When I'm shooting a wedding or an event, I'll use the Pentax--it's more economical and I'm not limited to 36 frames. When I'm shooting for the sheer joy of it and self expression,I use film. I process my own B&W and color (C-41) and love my results. I love pressing the shutter on my Leica or Mamiya and it simply works--it doesn't beep at me about focus points, or exposure or anything else. If the shot doesn't come out, I can only blame myself. I love having negatives of my images that do not deteriorate , even after 40 years or so. I wonder if in 2052 whether my digital files (or cameras) will still be around. There is a permanence in film that is inescapable. I sometimes feel sorry for those photographers who have never experienced the singular joy of "reading" a negative without the assistance of a histogram. Basically for me, film with all of it's accoutrements is just plain fun!
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Old 03-25-2012   #34
... likes film.
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Why I still use film ?

... because there is still no satisfying alternative for me.
- Gabor

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Old 03-25-2012   #35
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i like what i get with BW film.
i like the simple cameras i use to shoot film.
digital is good in its own way - with color. but the cameras ain't simple. they are so needy ...
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind ...
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Old 03-25-2012   #36
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Why do I use film? Well first I must say that I have turned to film in the past year or so, in part because I discovered b & w images and realized that film gives me the chance to express feelings about how I see the world that I cannot manage with digital images. I say "chance": I am still learning, which is nice in itself. Film is subtle, film is textural, film is tactile, film is real. Using film is a statement.
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Old 03-25-2012   #37
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I chose film when I was 19 back in '08 out of bitterness from an Ex-girlfriend who cheated on me. She always use a 40D on auto. I vow to be better than her.

One thing I didn't count on was that I would fell in love with Rangefinders
I saved (and oftentimes starved myself :P) to get my current M4-P

Friends who use digital say I could switch to the X100 [M9 and X-Pro 1 is financially out of reach ]. Tempting but the lack of negative, advanced lever, and rangefinder patch is off putting

So I guess I'm sticking with film because I'm used to it until an actual affordable digital rangefinder comes out that is :P
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Old 03-25-2012   #38
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I really don't know. Nostalgia, maybe, and just for a change of pace.

I don't have the best scanning rig (Plustek and V700) so it's not like I can pull all the detail out of a B&W negative, and I don't have any of the feelings associated with film being 'more rounded,' 'deeper,' etc.. Mostly I remember slaving away in a darkroom the night before a project was due and how much washing and drying fiber prints in a gang darkroom sucked.

I've got ~75 rolls of 400-speed B&W and 25-30 rolls of Portra 400 in 120. I aim to shoot them all by mid-summer. After that, I don't know if I'll shoot film again.
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Old 03-25-2012   #39
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Originally Posted by craygc View Post
Because nothing consistently does B&W like B&W film...
+ 1. The main reason for me too.

Above that i prefer the whole workflow: especially not knowing what you have got till development.
As a person who spends most of his working day behind a computer screen i also enjoy shaking some film in the bathroom! Time spend on computer for scanning and applying some curves in PS is minimal compared to the efforts necessary for getting a half way descent looking B&W picture out of a digital fiile.

Last but not least: I enjoy using full mechanical analog camera's like Leica's or Hasselblads much more than digital camera's with all their menu's and buttons. It's a completely different experience for me.
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Why I use film...
Old 03-25-2012   #40
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Why I use film...

No. 1... I'm a lazy thinker.
No. 2... I'm a moron.
No. 3... I don't know why.
No. 4... Gerald Slota is my friend.
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Old 03-25-2012   #41
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The process, look of film and feel of cameras.
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Old 03-25-2012   #42
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Freedom from batteries is one reason, but the main reason I like film is the smell.

Rico Tudor. Leica M4, IIIb, 28, 35, 50, 90, 135, 280. Contax T, RTS; Canon; Nikon; Profoto
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Old 03-25-2012   #43
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I tried to like digital, I really did, and with a Sigma SD15, I almost succeeded.

I enjoy the process of shooting and developing, especially medium format, those big negs have an appeal that an SD card can never match.

I also have a confidence in MF film, if I get a great shot, and want to make a massive print, I can, unless I spend a fortune on digital MF, I can't.

Cost is also a factor, I can get a wonderful film camera like a Rolleiflex, for under £500, in digital world, I get a plasticky piece of c**p.

I could buy an m9 I guess, but for that kind of money I can thing of 10 other things I would rather buy.
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Old 03-26-2012   #44
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It is what my cameras need to take photos......I can't put an SD card in my Leicas (that's a joke)........

I like the look of film and I do not find it difficult to use at all....I develop my own black and white film and make prints in my darkroom and I enjoy that process a lot......for color, I just drop off my kodak pro image 100 rolls at my local lab to get them developed and scanned....

cheers, michael
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Old 03-26-2012   #45
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For me digital cameras seem like an extension of computing, which is my other hobby, and also my job. That means digital seems old hat to me, and also I just see all the silly design problems and gimmicks that are so common in computing now.

Also, I don't like chimping, not just from me, but others, who want to take a look at the back of the camera after each shot, film solves that.

I like the look and feel of film, I like the great colours compared to digital. Sure, you can achieve great colours on digital in post, but I spend enough time on computers as it is.

I find it easy to get all the film/equipment I need buying online, it's vastly easier to get unusual stuff now that it was 15 years ago.

Film camera tend to be so much better designed than digital, I mean, it's common now to have cameras which don't even have a finder! Simplicity of operation came before gimmicks/modes.

I like the slight unpredictability, sometimes I'll take a shot and be surprised/pleased with the results on film. Digital can surprise too of course, but it's short lived, not drawn out over days. Bluntly, I like the delayed gratification.

Medium format. If I had to only shoot one format, it would be 120. You've got to spend $10,000+ to rival a $600 film system in MF, even then you're plagued with noise in long exposure.

The benefit of digital is low ongoing cost (with the downside of high initial cost), and convenience. Neither of those things appeal to me greatly, so I won't bother with digital for the moment.
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Old 03-26-2012   #46
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Because I can tell the difference even if others can't and I don't what to compromise.

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Old 03-26-2012   #47
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I love tech gadgets.. really.. and i love my digital gear..

but film cameras, they have a certain something.. they have soul... not comparing costs per picture.. but film has character.. it's a way to slow yourself down.. I have my gel pens and my ballpens but i am very in love with my fountain pens and for me.. film cameras are the same..

pros and cons.. it doesnt matter.. it's just different.. and irreplaceable!
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Old 03-26-2012   #48
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... and my cameras seem work better with film in them
Regards Stewart

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You’re only young once, but one can always be immature.

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Old 03-26-2012   #49
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Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
... and my cameras seem work better with film in them
I think that's where you're going wring with your GRD Stewart.
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Old 03-26-2012   #50
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Originally Posted by Bobfrance View Post
I think that's where you're going wring with your GRD Stewart.
... yep, that one is particularly difficult to load! mind, it's not as bad as that bloody Minox 35
Regards Stewart

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