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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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Once again
Old 09-06-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Once again

It’s a rangefinder forum, and I’ve been asked, once again, what I think of digital Leica M’s, specifically the M10. For me their primary function is to provide a digital body for photographers who used the Leica film cameras, already have a collection of Leica lenses and do the type of shooting that benefits from a bright line viewfinder. Obviously, the expense of going to the store and buying new lenses and, maybe, a back up body is far beyond most folks. And that built-in bright line finder only has a range of frames from 28mm to 90mm - and the ones that are probably most usable are from 35 to 75mm.

Who are the photographers that fit into that 28/90 mold? Henri Cartier Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, Arnold Rothstein, Ralph Gibson, Will McBride, Eva Rubenstein, Robert Doisneau, Alfred Eisenstadt, Ben Shawn and Charlie Gatewood among others. Not an equipment freak among them, indeed many of them often worked with a single camera and a single “normal” lens. But they did pay a lot of attention to what was in front of the camera.

All of them used what was at the time a very small, quiet camera. But, there are smaller and totally silent cameras available today. However, only a few of them of them have a bright line viewfinder where everything, near and far, is sharp and you can see outside of the frame and be aware of alternative framings and action outside of the frame. That to me is incredibly important, more important than the picture preview provided by TTL. (And bright line finders are easier to use in very bright sunlight even if there aren’t a lot of Leica Landscapers.)

Yes, several Fuji cameras have bright line viewfinders. And, while the finders and the information they provide is different, in the long run I really don’t consider either Fuji or Leica viewfinder better than the other. Nor do I think the image quality as seen in larger prints gives one brand the lead. And both have TTL options although the Leica is limited to a Live View rear screen. It is, however, an excellent screen providing a preview of the image whose framing is considerably more accurate than the bright line finder and magnified focusing capabilities that go beyond the rangefinder.

What is the difference then? It’s simple - autofocus vs manual focus. Whether you autofocus with the half press of the shutter button or by assigning focus to another button, photographers with auto focus cameras spend a lot of time checking focus. The rangefinder manual focus shooter tend to set the focus and then deal with refocusing only when they have to. Indeed, some of the best street shooters like Gary Winogrand scale prefocus using the distance scale on the lens, not the rangefinder. They set a distance and stop down the lens to where the depth of field will cover a zone of acceptable focus for what is in front of them. When an instant comes, they shoot - no delay.

What are the other important differences between Fuji bright frames and Leicas? Even though the Fuji has a number of external mechanical controls that eliminate the need to dive into menus when you are shooting, it still offers far more menu options than the Leica and can use a greater range of lenses and does movies. One of the M10 features that is popular with the folks I know is the ability to configure an LCD menu with only 8 items - and most of the folks I know only configure 3 or 4 items. In other words, the Fuji is versatile and can do a great many things. The M10 is simple and limited, but that simplicity and limitations don’t stand in the way of many pictures and can encourage you to spend more time watching your subject and less time playing with your camera.

For me, it’s a good single camera for personal work, not professional. It spends a lot of time with me, recording those things I find interesting or important. I think it is an extremely good camera for that, but, if I did not already have a number of lenses and a zillion years of experience with Leicas, I would probably not buy it even though today’s price at Walmart (only 6 left) is a scant $6,700.39 (or about the price of 4 Fuji X Pro2’s).

While a Nikon D5 or Canon EPS-1D X Mark II are close to that price, a number of RF Forum threads have marked the M10 as overpriced. Still, I don’t believe that’s what I was being asked about. My answer to “what I think about M10’s” would be that as most digital cameras get more complicated, the M10 gets simpler. And for some photography and photographers that can be a real advantage.

As always, your thoughts?
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Old 09-06-2018   #2
Bob Baron
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>>as most digital cameras get more complicated, the M10 gets simpler. And for some photography and photographers that can be a real advantage.<<

You, sir, are correct!

--Carnack (I mean Bob)
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Old 09-06-2018   #3
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My most considered decision involving Leica occurred last year—purchasing the even simpler M-D 262. It fits seamlessly with my other rangefinders (M4/7, Hexar, GF670, RF645) and does *not* let me get bound up in back-screen editorial fussiness like every other digital camera I’ve used.

(Which is not to blame my digital tools; I’m the operator prone to distraction and self-disruption. If it’s not the urge to check a flashing histogram, it’s treating the EVF like an optometrist device, looking for a confirmation beam or focus shimmer. And then there are the subtler cognitive dissonances of manual-reading, menu-diving, the superficial and silly pride in mastering a bunch of buttons and layouts proprietary to this or that manufacturer....)

It is not as though I made a decision to simplify my practice because I experienced a digital neurosis or breakdown. I value and use an RX1, a Kolarified A7, Sigma Merrills, a Ricoh GR. But I notice a friendly inclination—friendly to myself, to Robert, now retired with nothing more to prove, that is—to simplify the instruments and mechanics of art, to choose certain technical limitations for the sake of durable pleasures, the greatest of which is seeing the world each day as though for the first time, and for the last time. If I can simplify the way I practice that with a camera, then gear gets out of the way of vision and clarity. This feels not only serene but wise.

I appreciate the scrupulous comparison/contrast you did above with Leica/Fuji examples, but the passage that means the most to me is the litany of good and great photographers, “not an equipment freak among them,” tending toward the one camera and the one lens. That is a thought to keep in front of me.
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Old 09-06-2018   #4
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I'm liking simple more and more lately. As for being over priced? The M10 is no consumer model, though it's not a strictly pro model either. I consider it a serious camera, one that doesn't get in the way of what you are trying to capture. But Leitz isn't going to sell enough of them to be able to bring down prices for a long time, if ever. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to get a new one unless I hit the lottery, and hope they don't appreciate in price in the used market. Otherwise I'm stuck with my film Leica's. Not that that's a bad thing.


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Old 09-06-2018   #5
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Another thoughtful thread .
Thank you.
I`m currently cutting back and increasingly relying on my film M bodies .
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Old 09-07-2018   #6
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Excellent thought rant. Other than film which is 80% of my Photo world, I use Fuji's because I can not afford an M10. I am happy. Using my legacy lenses on the M10, right now, is, alas, only a dream. Maybe one day........
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Old 09-07-2018   #7
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Your point about the difference between auto focus and manual focus is well made. The Leica digital Ms also allow zone focusing, something many of us have done for years with our film cameras. There is another advantage for the Leicas - if you shoot film and digital at the same time or just need that capability and want to use the same lenses for both, Leica is the only bright frame viewfinder option. True, you can shoot either Canon or Nikon DSLRs and film cameras, but neither provide the bright line framing option and neither lend themselves to zone focus for quick snap shots. Someday I may buy an M10, but for now my digital/film options are confined to an M8, bought new when they came out, and a film Leica. The cropped format M8 can pose issues on the wider end of the spectrum, but I can live with that better than the cost of an M10.
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Old 09-07-2018   #8
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Thanks for the post Bill.

As I get older, my camera choice gets simpler. While sports and news still require a DSLR, my personal shooting has been drawn down to a couple M bodies and a bevy of old glass. Just feels right. And lately, I've been just carrying a Rollei 35. Gives me more time to think.

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Old 09-07-2018   #9
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Is this about strictly M10? Then AB is using it professionally. And I don't think he is lonely.

Was it about rangefinders and brightlines?

Winogrand and Cohen used external viewfinder, Bresson used external viewfinders before switching to M.

It doesn't have to be Fuji or Leica these days. MFT camera with Olympus 17mm scale focus, DOF scale lens and external brightline viewfinder will do it.

What is professional photography these days?
Some birds and animals, plus cheesy landscapes and cliche portraits of bimbos in articles by so called professionals placed in gear selling media?
Real estate photography? Weddings? It was done with DSLRs.
I'm not finding this professional photography interesting.

Does interesting photography must have "professional" label? I have zero interest in Elliot Erwitt photography he was paid for as professional. He is huge for me with what he did before, after work.
AB goes after work on the street and his photos went on display and in the book. It is interesting photography.
Another AB in St-Petersburg taking product pictures at work and then wondering on the streets or traveling to take pictures.
I like all three after work work and it is done with Leicas.
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Old 09-07-2018   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Baron View Post
>>as most digital cameras get more complicated, the M10 gets simpler. And for some photography and photographers that can be a real advantage.<<

You, sir, are correct!

--Carnack (I mean Bob)
Not really.

It is straightforward to operate some "complicated" digital cameras as though they were simple cameras.

However, it does some effort to understand how to operate a "complicated" digital camera as one would operate a simple camera. Fortunately, this is a one-time investment.

The opposite is not true. Occasionally complicated options (in-frame horizontal level indicator, face detection AF, dual storage card slots, WiFi camera operation for example) are actually useful. Of course, it requires some effort to become familiar with these as well.

The new Leica M10-P offers a rear touch-screen LCD, permits LCD image zoom with a camera button or via finger-pinch and focus of said LCD screen, one of those horizontal level indicators, and built-in WiFi for image sharing and remote camera operation. These are useful, but are they a complication?
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Old 09-07-2018   #11
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I'm in the simpler camp too. Along with simpler is vision problems, so either autofocus which I don't like but need OR a nice bright rangefinder which I prefer.
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Old 09-07-2018   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
...I would probably not buy it even though today’s price at Walmart (only 6 left) is a scant $6,700.39 (or about the price of 4 Fuji X Pro2’s).
I think Leica raised the price of the M10 a few months ago to $7295, but what is $600 among friends? (A lens for the Fuji?) Actually, for the new Leica shooter, it is not only the cost of the body, but the accompanying lens (say an entry level 35mm Summicron). You simply can't get out of a Leica store for under $10,000. There is something show-stopping about five figures. A similar one lens solution from Fuji is the X100F at $1299. Still, if you want a digital rangefinder (and cache), Leica is the only game in town.
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Old 09-07-2018   #13
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Quote:
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I think Leica raised the price a few months ago to $7295, but what is $600 among friends? (A lens for the Fuji?) Actually, for the new Leica shooter, it is not only the cost of the body, but the accompanying Leica lens. You simply can't get out of a Leica store for under $10,000. There is something show-stopping about five figures. Still, if you want a digital rangefinder, it is the only game in town.
M9 was more than M10 now, back then one dollar was buying more.
Voigtlander, Zeiss and old RF lenses works on any M including M10.
People are buying Panasonic cameras and Olympus lenses. Sony and Zeiss.
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Old 09-07-2018   #14
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I went for the M10 because: N°1 simplicity, iso, aperture, speed and focus. Done!
N°2: I can use the same lenses I already had for the M7 ( I do not need many lenses...)

In fact I use the M10 more or less as I use the M7...even I never used the wifi module and rarely chimp...

Price is high but because I keep (and use) a camera for years before changing it becomes acceptable, my previous digital was the Leica x1 which I used (still use sometimes) for almost 9 years...I have friends who buy cheaper cameras and change them each two years, sometimes ofter, in the long term they spend much more than what I do...

robert, pure amateur :-)
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Old 09-07-2018   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
I think Leica raised the price of the M10 a few months ago to $7295, but what is $600 among friends? (A lens for the Fuji?) Actually, for the new Leica shooter, it is not only the cost of the body, but the accompanying Leica lens. You simply can't get out of a Leica store for under $10,000. There is something show-stopping about five figures. Still, if you want a digital rangefinder, it is the only game in town.
Five figures to purchase a camera and lens is cause for reflection! I can't recall a time where I would consider purchasing a Leica and or Leica lens new, and that is based in large part on the fact that I am not a professional photographer.

Bill, your term "personal work" pretty much hits the nail on the head for me, my activity around making pictures is largely therapeutic. Often if someone asks what I like to shoot, I am at a loss to choose a subject matter because it could be a variety of things but "personal work" is a more apt description of my relationship with photography. Thanks for that!

As for currently produced cameras, I appreciate that Fuji while adding features, pay attention to design making it is easy (easier for sure than Sony) to get to what is needed without much effort. Their cameras are affordable, and they offer OVF (hybrid finder) on two of their models!

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Old 09-07-2018   #16
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The times they are a changin'. I doubt that Leica, even with its current niche luxury goods brand mark-up approach has the resources to compete with the global electronic firms. My take is that it will fold sooner than later. Whatever happens, I hope that a rangefinder camera will survive this process.
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Old 09-07-2018   #17
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Fuji is a coming out with their MF rangefinder soon..something to think about..
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Old 09-07-2018   #18
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the M10 and the even better M10-P are certainly expensive
yet they are by far the most advanced rangefinder cameras ever produced.

They are a great way to go and worth the price,
yet not everyone chooses to spend that much on ANY camera, Leica or not.
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Old 09-07-2018   #19
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For me I bought M-E, MM, M 262 and the M 10 because of not only what they are but what they don't have. I plan on selling my M-E and picking up another M 10 by the end of the year. And I shoot Leica M digital for my professional work as well as my personal work.

I went digital in 2005 and at that time if Leica had had a FF digital camera I would have jumped on stat that time. I went out of film kicking and screaming but business, clients and a faced downsize 5 years early forced me to digital. Canon had a FF digital so I went that route. Never enjoyed shooting with it but it did get the job done.

I bought the MM in 2012 along with a 35 Lux FLE and it was a perfect fit. In 2015 I went all digital Leica with no regrets because they fit with the way I see and work. I haven't enjoyed the photographic experience as much as I do now since picking up my Hasselblad 500 C/Ms in the 1980s.

I shoot and have shot all manual for over 40 years so cameras without the automation are really good fits for me. A true rangefinder is perfect for the way I see and work. It's quiet and that is good on the streets as well as annual report and candid work. So I prefer a simple less automated approach. Nice to have a real choice in the sea of the one size fits all approach most other camera makers are taking.
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Old 09-07-2018   #20
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Quote:
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the M10 and the even better M10-P are certainly expensive
yet they are by far the most advanced rangefinder cameras ever produced.

They are a great way to go and worth the price,
yet not everyone chooses to spend that much on ANY camera, Leica or not.
Hear, hear! I want an M10-P (would go good with my M4-P), but unless I hit the lottery, I'm not seeing the expendable income necessary to buy one. If I didn't pay any bills for three months, and went on a beans, rice, and Spam diet, I could probably swing it. But I'd be homeless by then. Nowhere to plug the thing in for a recharge puts a crimp in ones enthusiasm for photography.

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Old 09-07-2018   #21
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Fuji is a coming out with their MF rangefinder soon..something to think about..
They are coming out with their MF rangefinder SHAPED camera... a big difference.
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Old 09-07-2018   #22
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This thread is why RFF is still relevant. A considered discussion with willingness to hear alternate points of view, and learning to be had from others’ deep and well reasoned experience.
Thank you.
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Old 09-07-2018   #23
Eric T
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The Leica M10 has the best 80-year-old focusing technology money can buy. How can that be called too expensive? And a near silent shutter to boot.
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Old 09-08-2018   #24
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The Leica M10 has the best 80-year-old focusing technology money can buy. How can that be called too expensive? And a near silent shutter to boot.
Yeah there is nothing faster concerning focus than LEARNING how to use the DoF scales. And Leica lenses have good DoF scales that actual work. But it really takes some time and practice to get good with them. No autofocus in the world is faster than being prefocused or better than real experience. So if it ain't broke. And then there is the size difference.

The 35 1.4 Summilux FLE with hood and the 35L without the hood.
Guess which lens has a more pleasing rendering.
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Old 09-08-2018   #25
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Depth of field or, as I like to call it, approximate focusing.
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Old 09-08-2018   #26
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It's like a sharpshooter who shoots coins out of the air. And all that practice can work for both framing shots extremely quickly and focus. Like you say approx focusing using the scales. With practice you can get really good at it. I learned shooting in dark venues with 500 C/Ms. Even with with the Minolta bright screens and an eye level finder you just couldn't focus so you learned how to use the DoF scales. The really works. Bresson talks about all this discipline and a developed instinct.
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Old 09-08-2018   #27
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The 35 1.4 Summilux FLE with hood and the 35L without the hood.
Guess which lens has a more pleasing rendering.

Well I was using the lens on the right this afternoon and I have to agree there is something about it that doesn`t please and I can`t put my finger on it.
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Old 09-08-2018   #28
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Hi Michael, I agree. I feel the same about the 35LII. I really like the Lux FLE. Some like the non asph some like the AA (never tried that one) and some prefer the rendering from Zeiss but I really like the rendering from the lux FLE. I know a lot of this is subjective but something about the files shot with the Lux FLE I just love.
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Old 09-08-2018   #29
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Hi …. yes I`m not necessarily looking to get my socks knocked off .
I have the Canon 85/1.2 which I do like also the ubiquitous 70-200/2.8 which is a good workhorse.

That 34/1.4 though seems to be so bland ,at least to me , but I don`t really know why .

This thread has made me re evaluate my future direction.
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Old 09-08-2018   #30
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The Leica M10 has the best 80-year-old focusing technology money can buy. How can that be called too expensive? And a near silent shutter to boot.
Id pay 6700 before Id pay 4000 or so for something else. That is sort of interesting to myself.
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Old 09-09-2018   #31
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Hi Micheal,

I had an 85L In the late 1970s I picked up an 85 1.2 Aspherical and both were very good lenses. I still have my 55 1.2 Aspherical and I find that lens far more interesting than any of Canons current so called normal lenses.

I also had a 200 2L and that is one of Canons real gems. That is a F/L that i really don't miss though. My 90 Summicron APO is almost to long for most of what I shoot.
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Old 09-09-2018   #32
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As one who owns both the X Pro 2 and a M240 this is an interesting thread.

As far as which is the better finder between the Fuji or Leica I tend to think differently. To me Fuji's finder is actually more usable. Only one pair of framelines at a time along with the option to preview all of them. The finder can show framelines for any focal length within its range and its range is wider and more usable than the Leica's due to the two different magnification levels that the camera will switch between depending upon the lens that is mounted. 28mm framing is much easier to see on the Fuji than it is on the Leica and that is without making longer lenses frames too small. With Fuji lenses the framelines not only adjust for parallax but also for frame sizing which the Leica doesn't do.

Along with the bright line preview you can use zoom lenses and the frame automatically adjust while zooming. This is actually an awesome way to shoot, you see the whole image and then just zoom to crop/frame the shot you really want and the framelines adjust real time. Very different than using a zoom on an SLR where your view is limited. Similar idea to looking at a frameline preview and then changing your lens but much much faster in operation.

As far as optics itself I think the Leica finder is a bit clearer edge to edge and it of course has rangefinder focusing.

For those wondering where Leica could go next this would be a really interesting direction if it could be integrated with their rangefinder focusing. Esp. if they could make dual magnification work. Think about a 1:1 viewfinder for 50mm but being able to change magnification to go down to 21mm or so framelines.

Definitely agree about differences in focusing. The Fuji can be zone focused (focus scale in VF or on a few lenses) and it has some interesting MF options (including MFs lenses while using the optical view finder) but I do tend to make sure I nail focus on the Fuji more than on the Leica.

You can configure the My Menu on the Fuji to have your most used options too. And most of the buttons on the body can be assigned to have no function if desired. But having fewer options also means less wanting to explore them and try them out. The Leica has a few interesting options that the Fuji doesn't have. For example, the ability to use Auto ISO when in aperture priority mode but to go back to fixed ISO if you switch to manual shooting.

Shawn
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Old 09-09-2018   #33
semi-ambivalent
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Baloney.
M-A + 50mm Summarit = US$6,490.00. A 35 Summicron pushes that up to only US$7,990.00. And you'd end up with a combo still actually worth something in, oh, ten or 20 years. You can even include the scanner and be well under your 10k.

You can't make an open statement like:
Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
You simply can't get out of a Leica store for under $10,000.
if you include a limiting statement like:
Quote:
Still, if you want a digital rangefinder (and cachet), Leica is the only game in town.
Believe it or not I get what you're saying. It's just that in the ongoing war between those who say Leica is the second coming and those who just want to piss on Wetzlar, it helps clarify things if one avoids broad brush fallacies. Whatever side you're on. And, don't forget the used market; digital takes a real beating there, which is good for the buyer.

Best,
s-a
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Old 09-09-2018   #34
danielsterno
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Bill: Well written and the start of an interesting thread. Being not a "pro" and use M5/M6 with a few 35/50 lens and a x100f for my only digital(ex 0rig x100 user), I am very fortunate to have the best tool for me. Also enjoyed Shawns insight above, this is why I enjoy RFF for some Sunday reading with a good coffee.... peace to all!
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Old 09-09-2018   #35
Michael Markey
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Quote:
Originally Posted by airfrogusmc View Post
Hi Micheal,

I had an 85L In the late 1970s I picked up an 85 1.2 Aspherical and both were very good lenses. I still have my 55 1.2 Aspherical and I find that lens far more interesting than any of Canons current so called normal lenses.

I also had a 200 2L and that is one of Canons real gems. That is a F/L that i really don't miss though. My 90 Summicron APO is almost to long for most of what I shoot.
Hi I do a lot of distance horse stuff at shows and meets, so 90 and 135 are useful minimum lengths.

I`m always trying to reconcile the sports stuff with what I really like, i.e. the more compact M lenses and bodies.
This thread has made me rethink my strategy (again )

I do like the big Canon 90/1.2 though and I have handled the 200/1.8 although never shot one.The motors on those seem to burn out.

I currently get my M body fix with an M3/2 and BP4.

Maybe it is time to try an digital Leica but it would have to have a usable EVF .

Currently use both the Canon and Leica glass on an A7S and A7R2.
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