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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 lenses, new cameras
Old 08-08-2012   #1
Bill Pierce
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Old lenses, new cameras

One of the problems with using wide-angle M mount lenses on digital cameras with conventional APS-C sensors is that steeply angled edge rays going through the relatively “thick” sensor’s color layers can show something that resembles chromatic aberration and a general softness. This is not exactly news to all of us who use old lenses from our film Leicas on our shiny new digital cameras and see our treasured lenses delivering less than stellar performance.

When I’m killing time on the Internet, I’ll often run searches on this subject. Some say their Sonys, Panasonics, Fujis, e.t.c. have no problem with M mount wide angles. Some say the results are atrocious. My feeling, from the relatively few cameras I have tested, is that the off center lens performance can be pretty awful. A lot of times that doesn’t ruin the picture. A lot of times, it does. That makes me uncomfortable.

I rarely see my answer to the “M mount problem” - to use a Ricoh GXR with an M mount and a sensor whose peripheral cels are angled to do a better job with the angled edge rays of the wide-angle M lenses. In the fast changing world of digitals, it’s an “old” camera. There were rumors, almost from the moment it was introduced, that it, a 12 mg camera, would be replaced by a camera with 16mg. It doesn’t have the high ISO performance of recently introduced cameras. But, with short M lenses it still beats the competition when it come to big prints.

Why is this camera being ignored by us old dudes with M lenses? (Young dudes are allowed to criticize their elders in this thread.)
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Old 08-08-2012   #2
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For this old dude, the lack of an integrated eye-level finder makes the GXR completely uninteresting. There is no M lens worth using a body I can't enjoy. The add-on finder just isn't an acceptable solution. So, that's why I don't own the Ricoh.
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Old 08-08-2012   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
For this old dude, the lack of an integrated eye-level finder makes the GXR completely uninteresting. There is no M lens worth using a body I can't enjoy. The add-on finder just isn't an acceptable solution. So, that's why I don't own the Ricoh.
I find the accessory finder imperative. The great majority of my GXR pictures are taken using it. The fact that it hinges and can become something similar to a “waist level” finder pays off in making your shooting a little less obvious in some situations. When I don’t use it is when I replace it with a conventional bright-line finder, an old Leica 50mm finder for the 35mm lens, a 40 for the 28/2 Summicron, e.t.c.. Of course, if I'm shooting without looking through a finder at all, just holding the camera without raising it to my eye, which I do sometimes in candid situations, I remove the finder and the camera becomes even smaller and less attention grabbing. I'd be lost without the accessory finder. Give it a try if you can borrow a GXR with one. It may surprise you.
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Old 08-10-2012   #4
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This was a real issue with older Nikon lenses on digital bodies when I began shooting digitally. Seems film was not as fussy a mistress as digital, with regard to the angle of the light rays hitting it, whereas unless the rays of light were perpendicular to the plane of the sensor, then they would not hit the pixel well as effectively as they would a film plane.

I think the Ricoh solution is a very, very interesting one, and a much better one for most of us, than to be told to buy new digital friendly lenses. All in all, Ricoh must be applauded for their commitment to photographers and in this case legacy lenses, for which there are no digital equivalents.

I know they're committed to the viewfinder-less camera model, from which you can then attach an optional viewfinder, and that is my only issue with the GR-D & GX-R, as unfortunately I seem to have a knack of losing anything not bolted on to the camera.
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Old 08-10-2012   #5
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Leica solved this problem by offsetting the microlenses in the M8, M8.2, and M9. I'm not seeing any problem with my M8.2. A Leica digital camera seems worthy of consideration, not that the Ricoh isn't.
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Old 08-10-2012   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Why is this camera being ignored by us old dudes with M lenses? (Young dudes are allowed to criticize their elders in this thread.)
I think you've already found the answer, it's old. I think many camera users (or computer users) discount some cameras simply because they are not new and shiny. I think people like numbers, higher GHz/MHz, higher megapixels etc. It makes complex issues simple, and people tend to like simple.

I think the GXR looks like a great camera, and 12MP is more than enough for 99% of us, but the 24MP NEX 7 is clearly twice as good, and the OM-D looks like an old Olympus, so it must be great. The XPro is better because it looks like a range finder, and the M8 is also better as it has a red dot on it.

It's cynical, I know, but that's how it looks to me.
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Old 08-10-2012   #7
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Bill,

Thanks for educating me about the external finder. I guess I have to reconsider my opinion after reading your post.
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Old 08-10-2012   #8
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Being a old fart with M lenses from the 60's I have to agree with Bill the GXR is the way to go, I enjoy mine...... I started with a Nex-3 it was ok, but not sharp like I was used to with my M lenses. That is not the problem with the Ricoh.

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Old 08-10-2012   #9
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Well I am a young dude with no M lenses and I definitely ain't going to criticize you when it comes to photography Bill. Use your MP instead it is a new camera!
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Old 08-15-2012   #10
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Hi,
I've been interested in the GXR A12 mount for a long time. The GRD IV is a wonderful camera, as are most of Ricoh's digital cameras - they aren't fiddly or exasperating! The The only thing that has put me off from getting one is that I have heard that it takes some time to focus; since I mainly do street photography, I am contemplating an M8; it has an optical finder and rangefinder focusing. THe GXR is much less expensive, is sturdy, no AA filter and is made especially for Leica lenses. I'd like to know your thoughts on this.
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Old 08-15-2012   #11
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I guess I'd be considered an old fart but my mind thinks otherwise. I'm a Ricoh "GXR-M" shooter and enjoy the camera very much. I've only recently become interested in the Leica name due to this camera.

I too would prefer a built-in viewfinder but I have found the EVF a big plus when I want to get low or shoot from the waist.

As to manual focusing speed using the older or newer Leica lenses with a focusing tab speeds my focusing. With the tab at the 6 o'clock position the lens is focused at 6', at the 7-8 o'clock position I know I'm at about 10-12' and of course a little farther infinity. With this in mind, I can quickly adjust my focus as I bring the camera to my eye. Then having peak focusing activated its just a little tweaking and I'm in focus.

If I have extra time I have fn2 on the back of the camera set to zoom all and can really nail the focus to a knat's ass ; )!

I also shoot raw+jpg with the jpg set for B&W. I find it easier focusing with the peak function this way.
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Old 08-15-2012   #12
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I can't compare the M8 to the GXR b/c I own only the latter. I came to the GXR through the GRDIII--same layout, same logic: if you can shoot one you can shoot the other---and also through the Lumix G1 with its EVF.

I've written elsewhere on RFF that by now my hands (and eyes) know the GXR without much interference from my rational/logical/verbal self. It's not as simple as using a 120 Zeiss folder, okay, but familiarity and diligent use breed confidence. And though I like RF focusing, I get enough of it with RF film cameras (and I don't like it so much that I ignore my film SLRs).

With the 15 Heliar, 25 Skopar and 35 Skopar, I have a nice range of wide to normals--though just now my 50 Planar is spending most of the time on the GXR, so I'm getting used to the 75mm FL. The EVF/focus peaking is simply a different way to read the scene, and if I have time to magnify the subject, I get great focus.

Bottom line: $1150 for the GXR body, EVF and A12 left me the difference between that and a used M8 pricetag to spend on glass. And I have a camera system I know with my fingertips.

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Old 08-15-2012   #13
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Let me add +++ to the positive comments about the waist-level option with the EVF. Sometimes I get down to sidewalk/wormview level, and with the GXR I don't have to stretch out flat to shoot. I like TLR/chimney focusing--I got a VariMagni for my OM4 to be able to use it there as well. The GXR permits variable approaches to focusing, and I appreciate that versatility.
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Old 08-15-2012   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by darya150 View Post
Hi,
I've been interested in the GXR A12 mount for a long time. The GRD IV is a wonderful camera, as are most of Ricoh's digital cameras - they aren't fiddly or exasperating! The The only thing that has put me off from getting one is that I have heard that it takes some time to focus; since I mainly do street photography, I am contemplating an M8; it has an optical finder and rangefinder focusing. THe GXR is much less expensive, is sturdy, no AA filter and is made especially for Leica lenses. I'd like to know your thoughts on this.
Regardless of what camera I’m using on the street, I prefocus. By the time I focus, manual or auto, the moment is gone. With the GXR, you can scale focus or prefocus using the image magnification feature, stop down a bit to give yourself some depth of field and nail the moment without the delay that focusing produces. If you do want to focus and shoot, I find the focus magnification feature works fairly well even with the lens a stop or two down from its maximum aperture. Just leave the camera set so that the image is magnified when you look through the finder and returns to normal when you press on the shutter release. At least for me, that is the quickest way with the Ricoh to focus and shoot.
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Old 10-08-2012   #15
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Bill,

I didn't realize you were a GXR user. I came to the same conclusions as yours and got one about 3 weeks ago.

I agree that the EVF makes the camera shine.

In addition to zone focusing I have been using the focus peaking features, which also work well and are very fast.

I was not deterred by its "old" features like the 12mb sensor. More would be nice, but the sensor is larger physically than my m4/3 cameras, which also are 12mb, and which have taken some fine pictures for me.

I care about high-ISO performance, too, and once again could wish for more--including on my M9! However, my imprinted image of high-speed shooting comes from films like Royal-X and Isopan Record. Being able to capture excellent images at 1250 is still a new frontier for me, and I am not missing the higher speeds too much yet, in either camera.

Basically, the Ricoh is an ideal companion body for the M9, for those of us not willing to invest in a second Leica.

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Old 10-13-2012   #16
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A 21 3.4 is a lost cause. My 21 2.8 pre asph, 28 2.8 ver 3 with 49 mm filters work decently on M9. Corners are soft until 4.0 , but not off color. They are coded.

12 & 15 CV screw mounts work with Leica adapters coded as 16 wate and 21 2.8 respectively. They vignette badly, but the vignette control in ACR is enough to repair it. No filters.

Both of these work fine if you do not mind your shadow in the pix, but then I use content aware fill, awesome fix.

For lenses you do not wish to code or can not code, corner fix is fantastic.
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Old 10-13-2012   #17
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Damn that GXR, I've been considering selling my Nikon D3100, Rolleiflex 2.8f and Tele-Rolleiflex and possibly the whole Leica M shebang to simply get me one of those and have a busload of cash in my miserable unemployed pocket... Slap some fine LTM glass on it and have the Leica II for film...
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Old 10-13-2012   #18
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I've been using the Ricoh GXR since April 2011, and received the first M-lens Camera Mount that Popflash.com received. It does a brilliant job with a wider range of wide lens designs than the M9 works well with (I have one of those too). FAR better, in the case of the 21/4 and 28/3.5 Skopars: with those, I have to use CornerFix to get decent corners and edges with the M9, and almost no color shifting is evident at all on the GXR-M.

Image quality overall with the GXR-M is superb too: the no AA filter sensor produces very sharp and clean images that print to fill 13x19 paper beautifully. I had one photo I made in Dublin, about 2/3 of the frame, made into a 21x35 inch canvas wrap — it looks spectacular.

Yes, some lenses are worth "putting up" with a body that you have to clip the viewfinder onto. I actually like this a lot. When I fit the Skopar 28mm, I usually just fit a nice 35mm OVF, focus quickly with the LCD (and use Zone Focusing a lot), frame and shoot with the OVF. It works very very nicely. With longer lenses, I use the EVF a lot ... but sometimes weeks go by where I haven't used anything but the LCD.

A great camera. Whether they update the A12 Camera Mount with a newer sensor or not is, to me, irrelevant. The gains would be a stop or two of ISO sensitivity, a little bit more resolution, but I'm happy with the GXR-M just as it is.

And fer gosh sake, the camera's ONLY three years old. My E-1 is now nine years old and still makes superb photographs. People these days have a bug up their butts to always have the new new new new new ... ridiculous.
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Old 10-13-2012   #19
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Anyone use it alongside a Leica M camera? Or a Barnack? Or a Rolleiflex?

What made you decide to keep one of those alongside the GXR? Anything those cameras can do that a GXR can't?


Also interested: anyone shooting a Summilux 1.4/50mm Version I on it? Or a Summilux 1.4/35mm pre-asph? How do you (dis)like the combo?
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Old 10-13-2012   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buzzardkid View Post
Anyone use it alongside a Leica M camera? Or a Barnack? Or a Rolleiflex?

What made you decide to keep one of those alongside the GXR? Anything those cameras can do that a GXR can't?


Also interested: anyone shooting a Summilux 1.4/50mm Version I on it? Or a Summilux 1.4/35mm pre-asph? How do you (dis)like the combo?
I'd be more than happy to test your lenses on my GXR-M!!!

However, if you're really really interested in the GXR-M you can rent the kit including EVF from Lensrentals for a few bucks. That way you can test your lenses on one before making such a big decision!
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Old 10-13-2012   #21
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Ha, no LensRentals at my end, I'm in the Netherlands... But thanks anyway!
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Old 10-13-2012   #22
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Johan, I have those cameras (M4, IIIc, 2.8D) and keep them because I can currently afford to do so. Also, each has at least one thing it does better than the others. (In the case of the Rolleiflex, it's the most recent acquisition of these, which gives it precedence, and that Planar has given me 6 or 7 images I cannot imagine I'd get from the M or GXR/M.)

But the GXR still spends far more time in the bag than the others. My decades away from film have something to do with this--I make no more errors shooting film than digital, but the exposures that have to be thrown away are more costly than hitting the Delete button. The GXR teaches me my errors more swiftly and continuously, so I'm a little better the next time I take along the M4 or Rollei.

The other simple reason I keep those 3 cameras you named is their being utterly mechanical. I'm as skeptical as anyone about the durability/ repairability of computerized instruments....
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Old 10-13-2012   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buzzardkid View Post
Anyone use it alongside a Leica M camera? Or a Barnack? Or a Rolleiflex?

What made you decide to keep one of those alongside the GXR? Anything those cameras can do that a GXR can't?


Also interested: anyone shooting a Summilux 1.4/50mm Version I on it? Or a Summilux 1.4/35mm pre-asph? How do you (dis)like the combo?
I use my GXR alongside a CL, M4-2, M9, Balda Baldix, Voigtländer Perkeo II, and Voigtländer Bessa III now, as well as an Olympus E-1. The GXR is the most versatile camera of the bunch, but no GXR can present the look that a full frame digital does, or a full frame film camera does, and certainly not what a medium format does.

- The Olympus E-1 I keep around specifically to use for longer focal length, narrower field of view hand-held. That is what an SLR's forte is. Its smaller format and responsiveness makes it a natural for shooting subjects in motion at a distance. I fit it most of the time with either an Olympus 35mm Macro lens (70mm eq) or a Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 (170mm eq) which do just what I like with it.

- The Ms and CL are rangefinder cameras, not TTL viewing cameras. They work differently, and that is useful to me a good bit of the time. They're also FF 35mm film format.

- 6x6 medium format film is unto itself a totally different seeing and shooting experience.

But the GXR can do a lot all by itself. It's compact, quiet, very adaptable, and produces image quality that for my purposes is right on par with the M9. It is a smaller format, so that nets a smaller, lighter, faster system with more DoF.

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Old 10-14-2012   #24
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Dear Bill,

after reading all the posts in the thread I am leaning towards getting myself a GXR.

About a year ago I went the way of the Nikon D3100, with legacy glass and all-manual workflow. Got myself the 18-55 VR kit lens for reportage work that needs AF. But, I'm bothered by having to carry two systems since I generally do not leave my Leica + 1 or 2 lenses at home. Getting a GXR would eliminate that, I would be able to carry a single set of lenses and two small bodies, possibly one AF lens to the GXR.

What is your opinion on using the GXR for professional work? I'll hopefully launch myself as a (semi-)professional photographer and editorial writer early next year and would love to hear what you think of using the GXR as a sole digital body for professional work.
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Old 10-14-2012   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buzzardkid View Post
Anyone use it alongside a Leica M camera? Or a Barnack? Or a Rolleiflex?

What made you decide to keep one of those alongside the GXR? Anything those cameras can do that a GXR can't?


Also interested: anyone shooting a Summilux 1.4/50mm Version I on it? Or a Summilux 1.4/35mm pre-asph? How do you (dis)like the combo?
I usually don't go out on the same day with the GXR and my Leica M6TTL, but I have and use both. I'm not selling my M6 any time soon, although I worry that film may disappear sooner that I thought it would! (And, it'll get a lot more expensive before it disappears, I suppose.)

I do not have the particular lenses you ask about, but I do use a 35mm Summicron and 50mm Summicron. I'm very happy and feel that the GXR gets the quality out of them that I expect. I also use a 21mm Voigtlander on it, giving the equivalent of about a 32mm. It's great, too, although I find myself wishing I had a faster 21mm. As the title of this thread suggests, it's a new camera that does justice to old lenses!

Maybe I'm stating the obvious, but your Leica M will give you less depth of field with your Summiluxes, which you may like. With good film it would have the edge in pure image quality, too, since we're comparing an APS-C sensor with a full frame. I also own a 6x6 twin-lens reflex that I hardly ever use, because I don't love the quality improvement enough to put up with the extra hassle of dealing with 6x6 film. Mine isn't worth as much as your Rolleis, but if it were, I'd sell the 6x6 equipment and keep the Leica.

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