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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”  

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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 11-09-2012   #1
Bill Pierce
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Rangefinderless Rangefinder

Does a Leica M camera have to be a rangefinder? The tolerances of the lens cam and the camera body cam feeler and rangefinder mechanism have to be small if a range of lenses and bodies are to give spot on focus with large aperture lenses wide open. It's a tough and expensive standard when folks are looking at images at 100% on their computers. The rangefinder mechanism was one of the most expensive components of the film Leica. I imagine it's still a good portion of the digital bodies.

Live View, unlike the rangefinder, uses the image on the sensor. Normally a magnified Live View should provide very accurate focus with a variety of lenses without being too expensive. Would a Leica be a Leica if it used magnified Live View to focus and its bright line finder for shooting, if it had no rangefinder? It might be a less expensive Leica and more affordable for young photographers just starting out (or old photographers on Social Security).

What do you think? Is this all B.S. or is it something that could work?
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Old 11-09-2012   #2
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For me the rangefinder is what makes the Leica a Leica. Live View is being done by dozens of other manufacturers, and likely better than Leica can do at this point.

But then, what do I know? I am still struggling a bit with a digital Leica that cannot even work at all unless it has charged batteries in it. Maybe a rangefinder that uses a electonic "live view" viewfinder that takes its information from the sensor is the next logical step.
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Old 11-09-2012   #3
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Does a Leica M camera have to be a rangefinder? The tolerances of the lens cam and the camera body cam feeler and rangefinder mechanism have to be small if a range of lenses and bodies are to give spot on focus with large aperture lenses wide open. It's a tough and expensive standard when folks are looking at images at 100% on their computers. The rangefinder mechanism was one of the most expensive components of the film Leica. I imagine it's still a good portion of the digital bodies.

Live View, unlike the rangefinder, uses the image on the sensor. Normally a magnified Live View should provide very accurate focus with a variety of lenses without being too expensive. Would a Leica be a Leica if it used magnified Live View to focus and its bright line finder for shooting, if it had no rangefinder? It might be a less expensive Leica and more affordable for young photographers just starting out (or old photographers on Social Security).

What do you think? Is this all B.S. or is it something that could work?
Does the pope have to be a Catholic?

You can redefine things anyway you like. But as soon as you drop the optical Meßsucher, for most people, including me, it's no longer an M: just another damn' EVF camera. Why not put a mirror behind the lens and redefine an M as a reflex (cf early Alpas)?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 11-09-2012   #4
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I'm curious how a HUD that does focus peeking instead of a rangefinder patch might work. Seems like it could give a very similar feel as current RFs, but I don't know how difficult it would be to implement.
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Old 11-09-2012   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Would a Leica be a Leica if it used magnified Live View to focus and its bright line finder for shooting, if it had no rangefinder? It might be a less expensive Leica and more affordable for young photographers just starting out
Why would a young photographer on a budget buy a digital Leica?
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Old 11-09-2012   #6
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Originally Posted by VTHokiEE View Post
I'm curious how a HUD that does focus peeking instead of a rangefinder patch might work. Seems like it could give a very similar feel as current RFs, but I don't know how difficult it would be to implement.
IMHO it is not the same. There is something visceral about actually seeing your subject not watching a video of it. But that's just me.
And, ah, yes I think the Pope is Catholic. I think it's kinda like a rule or something. My Rabbi told me that he has to be Jewish. Probably like the same thing. So we all kind of know what a Leica is supposed to be , but, you know, the times they are a changing.
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Old 11-09-2012   #7
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What I like in my m7 (or in Leica in general) are the small size and light weight, the quality of the lenses which of course can be reflected on the quality of the photographs. If the correct focus is obtained by a rangefinder or any other mechanism does not interest me very much, so long it works well. Probably a different mechanism is less fragile.
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Old 11-09-2012   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kshapero View Post
IMHO it is not the same. There is something visceral about actually seeing your subject not watching a video of it. But that's just me.
And, ah, yes I think the Pope is Catholic. I think it's kinda like a rule or something. My Rabbi told me that he has to be Jewish. Probably like the same thing. So we all kind of know what a Leica is supposed to be , but, you know, the times they are a changing.
I don't mean remove the optical viewfinder and replace the entire viewfinder with an EVF (maybe the patch becomes an EFV? I'm not certain how HUDs exactly work).
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Old 11-09-2012   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kshapero View Post
IMHO it is not the same. There is something visceral about actually seeing your subject not watching a video of it. But that's just me.
And, ah, yes I think the Pope is Catholic. I think it's kinda like a rule or something. My Rabbi told me that he has to be Jewish. Probably like the same thing. So we all kind of know what a Leica is supposed to be , but, you know, the times they are a changing.
Ah... so we get Orthodox, Reform and Progressive Leica users... I know some jokes along that line, including the one about the Honda and the Bar Mitzvah.

100% agreement about your post.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 11-09-2012   #10
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Why not? Leica D-Lux (rebranded Panny P&S) is a Leica.
The question is whether it is still a Leica. If it has Leica logo, Leica branding, Leica support and service, it is a Leica.
May not be an M or an S, but still a Leica in my opinion.
Would they have a hard time competing with the likes of Fuji, most probably. But it can still be a Leica and the Optical Viewfinder is most likely superior to that of Fuji.
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Old 11-09-2012   #11
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Originally Posted by digitalintrigue View Post
A true hybrid of electronic and optical is needed. Not done Fuji style...that's a start but what I'm thinking is an electronic RF patch so that focus is indeed @ the sensor and not subject to mechanical tolerance variations.
I agree... this would be excellent. Projected into the finder, simultaneously ovf and evf. Don't know if Leica will do it, though... perhaps we'll have to wait for Fuji. We'll see...
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Old 11-09-2012   #12
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Originally Posted by NeeZee View Post
Why would a young photographer on a budget buy a digital Leica?
...when all new models Leica puts out so blatantly favour the rich and famous of the planet?

I think Leica would be damn fools to create an non-rangefinder Leica M, because the brand would turn into a mass-production company and it would maybe sell them more camera's but the margin on each individual camera would be much less.

As a comparison, not likely we will see:
  • a cheaper Rolex for the masses
  • a budget edition Ferrari
  • a $65 Louis Vutton grocery bag
  • a $80.000 Lear Jet

anytime soon
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Old 11-09-2012   #13
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I think it's just a matter of time before there is a full frame RF less M camera.

There are some things that make EVF focusing with current EVIL cameras inferior to RF focusing that could improved upon:

The trade between framing and focusing is the biggest compromise;
I would like to see a picture in picture magnified view that is brought up when the lens is focused.
This would be easily done using the RF cam on the lens to push a rotary encoder.
Adding contrast peaking as per the GXR to the picture in picture would also be a nice option.

I do find framing <28mm lenses much nicer on the LCD than OVF.
If I get a M-240 the 21mm will live on it.

Perhaps for most of us, an EVIL M would be seen as compliment to a RF M rather than a replacement.
On the other hand Leica is building a large new factory for volume sales. A mini-M could be the perfect first Leica.
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Old 11-09-2012   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
What do you think? Is this all B.S. or is it something that could work?
Of course it would both work and be less expensive to build. It wouldn't however provide the same functionality. There are different types of cameras and they best appeal to different people. Liveview is old news in 2012, although Leica is only now getting there with the M cameras.

The really interesting question is when and how Leica (or some other company) will re-invent the mechanical rangefinder (or provide a completely new alternative). Liveview allows easy and reliable adjustment of the coupling mechanism. It should be implemented such that the user has easy access to the adjustments, and obviously it should not be necessary to remove the lens to perform the adjustment. Removable top plate? I don't know.
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Old 11-09-2012   #15
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Ah... so we get Orthodox, Reform and Progressive Leica users... I know some jokes along that line, including the one about the Honda and the Bar Mitzvah.

100% agreement about your post.

Cheers,

R.
Jokes are good. Can we have a joke sub forum, please?
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Old 11-09-2012   #16
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Originally Posted by buzzardkid View Post

...when all new models Leica puts out so blatantly favour the rich and famous of the planet?

I think Leica would be damn fools to create an non-rangefinder Leica M, because the brand would turn into a mass-production company and it would maybe sell them more camera's but the margin on each individual camera would be much less.

As a comparison, not likely we will see:

[*]a cheaper Rolex for the masses[*]a budget edition Ferrari[*]a $65 Louis Vutton grocery bag[*]a $80.000 Lear Jet


anytime soon
But they do have cheap Leica's. I think they are called over priced Panasonic P&S's.
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Old 11-09-2012   #17
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The optical-mechanical rangefinder coupled with an aesthetically minimalist simplicity in controls and and features, and superb, solid construction ... These are what define a Leica M body to me.

Without the rangefinder, it's not a Leica M body. It may well be a superb camera, but that's a different matter. I'm sure if Leica makes one, it will have many of the same aesthetics as the M in control design, and it will be a fine camera.

(I think Leica did just the right thing with the new M: keep it an M camera and provide the OPTION to use Live View with LCD and EVF when those are the appropriate viewfinder options. It's an expensive solution and not everyone needs or wants it, but isn't it nice that someone is providing these options?)
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Old 11-09-2012   #18
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It can be a Leica, but it won't be a M.
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Old 11-09-2012   #19
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The M1 and MD cameras were rangefinder less : EVIL is just another special application.
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Old 11-09-2012   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Does the pope have to be a Catholic?
R.
Dear Roger

Not always

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20197046

Best

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Old 11-09-2012   #21
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Back on topic though I think its the RF that defines an M.
It wouldn`t surprise me if at some stage Leica moved away from that concept.
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Old 11-09-2012   #22
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The M1 and MD cameras were rangefinder less : EVIL is just another special application.
Hmmm, good point.
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Old 11-09-2012   #23
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I have my doubts that Leica would ever go down this path...

From my perspective, when I got into rf cameras, it was first about the iq from the lenses and the lighter weight overall package. Rf style focusing was easier for me than slr. Seeing outside the frame lines really does help in certain situations compared to your tunnel vision of typical slr.

If u look at the Ricoh gxr m module implementation, it comes the closest to being able to use m lenses w/o a true rf... What it lacks is being able to c outside the frame lines such as the Fuji xpro 1.

Today there are no clear drf competitors out there. There are guys like Fuji, Ricoh and even Sony w/ their Nex line that offer alternatives. It is really a matter of deciding if those alternatives are good enough in the long run.

For me the Ricoh gxr is close enough. I just wish they would come out w/ next generation m module. If I want full frame I will use my Konica rf or my Leica CL.

Gary
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Old 11-09-2012   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
... It might be a less expensive Leica and more affordable for young photographers just starting out (or old photographers on Social Security).
Special "Skid Row" edition. Sounds like a plan
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Old 11-09-2012   #25
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I read a recent anecdote about a Sony Alpha 77 user who was photographing a small group of people who were standing in front of a very large and bright window. The window light was many stops brighter than the people facing the camera who were lit with electronic flash (studio flash). The camera's EVF would default to the window light and wouldn't allow for a video level to focus/compose the group, who were at a lower brightness. The comment made was with an optical finder, the photographer's eye would make the brightness level change easily, going back and forth between focus/composition of the group of people and the bright (balanced light) scene that appeared through the window.

This kind of thing will keep me with optical finders until I have no choice.
I happen to enjoy and prefer using optical finders.

One of the reasons I'm keeping my X100 as a back up camera to my XP-1 is because the XE-1 doesn't have an OVF.

At the same time the problem described above could be trivially solved by manually overriding the EVF gain. While I know of no cameras with this feature, it doesn't seem like an expensive or inelegant solution.
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