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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 11-14-2017   #1
Bill Pierce
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I wonder why folks choose the specific camera brand that they do? I used film Leicas because they were small and reliable, good for a traveling news photographer who was on the road a lot (and quite often out of the country in places where there was no place to buy a camera or get service in an emergency) - plus the bright line finder was good for news photography.

I used Canon SLR’s for zooms and long lenses because they focused near to far by turning them in the same direction as the Leicas. (Remember manual focus? Eddy Adams was given a Canon as some kind of honor. I picked it up and yelled, “It focuses in the same direction as a Leica.” Nikons focused in the opposite direction. And Eddy gave me the camera.)

So, when news went digital, I purchased Leica M8’s. The first three were faulty and returned to Leitz and I stuck to Canon DSLR’s. But when Fuji came out with cameras that had both bright line finder and TTL finder, I switched over. Although, as a working stiff, I have a variety of tools, my workhorse cameras are the Fuji cameras with bright line finders. No deep research, no scouring websites with camera reviews… just going for the camera with the viewfinder I was used to and staying with it when the durability and image quality proved satisfactory.

I’m curious why people use the cameras they do. Is it that you have always used the same brand since you were an infant? Is it a somewhat specialized camera that suits your somewhat specialized needs? Is it because you think its reliable or because it has a wealth of features? Why do you use the camera that you do????
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Old 11-14-2017   #2
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I started with an Exakta, moved to a Pentax, and then in the mid-1970s switched to the Olympus OM1. I subsequently added an OM4Ti. The reason for the shift to Olympus was the small size, full aperture metering, and wide selection of lenses, much better than that of Pentax at the time. Nikon and Canon bodies and lenses were bigger, clunkier, and more expensive. I've never had a reason to change. Although I got my wife a digital Canon Elph for family snaps, when I went to buy a digital camera a few years ago, I was appalled at the size and weight of the Canon and Nikon offerings, and went with Fuji. I liked that it was small and handled like my film cameras, with the aperture on the lens, and shutter speed and ISO both settable with dials. It is seamless to shift between film and digital, and I never really have to go into the Fuji menus to shoot.
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Old 11-14-2017   #3
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I'm serviced my family FED-2 again. All shutter speeds works, but 1/250/500 are slightly uneven. And I'm servicing another FED-2. Why? Because it is camera I grow with, I guess...

In nineties, after FED-2 became too odd and not fancy and second film P&S broke my wife and I purchased Canon EOS 300. Why? Because it was great camera and most affordable SLR.
Seven years later my wife and I purchased digital EOS Rebel. Why? Also because it was great and most affordable DSLR.
Couple of years later I purchased Canon 5D. Why? Most affordable FF DSLR.
And few year later from 5D purchase I get back FED-2. Why? Because it is simple and elegant film camera.
And four years from getting FED-2 back, I purchased M4-2. Why? Because it is elegant and more advanced than FED-2.
In 2016 I was happy to own M-E. Why? Because it is just like M4-2, but digital.

Oh! Our tiny Lumix is back! This time it was hiding in my ski suit. Why I'm still using 8M digital P&S? They don't make them this small anymore. And it has true Leica lens, it means rendering is pleasing.
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Old 11-14-2017   #4
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Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
Oh! Our tiny Lumix is back! This time it was hiding in my ski suit. Why I'm still using 8M digital P&S? They don't make them this small anymore. And it has true Leica lens, it means rendering is pleasing.
What does it mean to be a "true Leica lens"? Design, manufacture, brand license?
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Old 11-14-2017   #5
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The Lenses. Unfortunately, that is going to likely mean more than one system, for someone partial to film, whereas someone satisfied with digital can use mirrorless and adapters. But, it's always been about the lenses, M42 to Leitz and everything in between that appeals; I can get used to just about any body, and have.
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Old 11-14-2017   #6
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For me, photography is a hobby. I started out using cameras I could afford - a Zenit 3m, then a Praktica LLC. In the late 1990s I started collecting cameras, and I try to put film through each one I aquire, just for the experience. For general photograpy, I use a Canon G12, or a Canon 60D. Why Canon? Early in my collecting days, I repaired a Canon FT, and was impressed by the engineering, and by how the camera felt when I used it.
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Old 11-14-2017   #7
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Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I used Canon SLR’s for zooms and long lenses because they focused near to far by turning them in the same direction as the Leicas.
I would say this to my friends ...well, I'd say Nikon MF focused the wrong way!... and I'd get blank stares. I guess it doesn't bother everyone, but it did me.

As for why I use Fuji... I was always a Leica fan, but decided I preferred AF about 10 years ago. I feel the Fuji is closest to Leica in spirit while having the AF and stuff that I want in a camera.
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Old 11-14-2017   #8
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Started out with the Canon FD system in 1976. Don't remember Nikon being an option at the store where I purchased. Shot with that system until 1995, when I started thinking I was missing shots without having Auto-Focus. Never liked the EOS system (partially because I felt Canon screwed us FD folks over by not making things compatible). So I sold all my Canon FD gear and bought Nikon AF. Been collecting Nikon SLR lenses and bodies ever since, and is still my go to kit. Have a few rangefinders, but for some reason, I'm more comfortable shooting reflex. I like the sense of "what you see is what you get", and I can usually focus closer with my SLR/DSLR than I can with a rangefinder.

Not the most exciting story, but there you are.

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Old 11-14-2017   #9
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I used Olympus then Nikon for film photography. When I went digital I stuck with the Nikons but they and their lenses were getting so big there was no space in my back pack for anything else. Finally I decided to go back to smaller film cameras and remembered the Leica M6 I had seen as a student. Thinking I might get one eventually, I bought my first Leica lens - a 35 Summicron Mk4. On its arrival, I couldn't believe how small it was. Then I bought a 90 Summicron followed by my first Leica film body. I immediately felt at home, and noticed that the photos I was taking had horizontal horizons. For some reason, rangefinders are the only cameras I hold level. I've never looked back.
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Old 11-14-2017   #10
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I bought my first Pentax SLR (an MX) in 1977 after having travelled with screw mount SLRs and finding lens changing to be a challenge. I moved on to LX bodies, then Pentax digital. I am still using some lenses I bought almost 40 years ago on my current Pentax K3 digital cameras, and they hold up well against much newer lenses. For film, I mostly shoot my Contax III and IIIa RFs, although I still look longingly at my Rollei TLRs and 4x5 Toyo at times.
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Old 11-14-2017   #11
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Medium Format RF. Mamiya 6 and the Bessa III 667w. There is something special about the 6x6 image. Properly framing it with bright line finders is a pleasure. Sometimes I need to crop to 8x10 for a more balanced composition, but I always prefer the square.
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Old 11-14-2017   #12
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I've always liked compact cameras, although in 1969 my first "good" camera was a Minolta Hi-Matic 9. Soon I discovered a used Olympus Pen VF type camera (the original all manual version, not the very limited EE) and I loved the compact size. That naturally lead to a couple of Pen F bodies and when Oly came out with the OM system it was for me a no brainer.
It's all just personal preference and getting the camera that checks the most boxes of what is important to you.
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Old 11-14-2017   #13
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My father had a Nikon, and as a boy i believed that they were the best because my dad had one. Boys are easily brainwashed, so Nikon it was and still is.
Digital is another story. Not easily brainwashed nowadays, i choose wisely

"No place is boring, if you've had a good night's sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film."
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Old 11-14-2017   #14
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leica= the lens. on the digital side the fuji x100 then x100f is the only digital I've owned, for me its the closest user interaction/enjoyment to analog with immediate results...
imperfection is beauty,
madness is genius,
and its better to be absolutely ridiculous,
than absolutely boring.

pencil/paint/M6/M5/Fuji x100F

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Old 11-14-2017   #15
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I grew up in the (US) Midwest in the 50s-60s when there was a choice of tractors... the dealerships were run by local community members of different persuasion, and you could tell which church the farmer attended by the tractor he was using ; )
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Old 11-14-2017   #16
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Photography is just a hobby, so I've never been faced with the extreme reliability requirement that photojournalists must have, and generally not had multiple bodies of anything. First SLR's were Canon, but for no special reason. Later, I sold my Canon gear (A1 - never really liked it) and bought a Nikon FM2. The size and feel are much better than the Cannons, so now I have two other Nikon bodies (FM3a and F2) just for pleasure.

My first digital camera had more thought put into its selection. I bought the Olympus E1 when it first came out as I needed the weather sealing for work photos in dusty humid environments (underground mines), and it was also relatively compact. I still have that body, but now also have the OM-D EM-1 II. It is very compact & lightweight, and I don't worry using it in harsh environments. So, the Olympus line was planned because of work needs, but film cameras were chosen just for pleasure. The camera I have had longest from new is a Rollei 35 SE, a brilliantly small, beautifully made idiosyncratic masterpiece that my hands know their way around. Tactile familiarity is important.

35mm: Rollei 35 SE, Leica M4-P, Nikon FM2n, FM3a, F2

MF : Bronica RF645, Ercona II, Franka Solida IIIe
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Old 11-14-2017   #17
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I started out shooting Nikon because my first camera was a Nikon Nikonos 5 for underwater shooting and I scuba dived. Chances are that had Canon an underwater camera or I had not scuba dived I might have chosen a Canon when I switched to normal photography. But once started on a particular course it is hard to change so one does not do so unless there is a strong reason. At least I did not. My considered opinion is that many things in life come down to chance. Though we hate to admit it of course.
I was adopted at birth and ended up with a particular family - pure chance! I met a woman at work and eventually married her but am conscious that I could have equally ended up with someone else had I worked elsewhere or perhaps gone to nightclubs more (who knows?). I wanted to get into Uni in one course but it was full, was accepted into my second choice so studied that instead. And so on. Pure dumb chance. Like that feather floating around in Forrest Gump.

And when I bought a small sensor camera I walked into the camera store not even really intending to buy that day but convinced that when I did buy I wanted a Sony due to its larger sensor. But they had a nice OMD EM 5 fully optioned with battery grip and so forth at a good price so guess what i bought (OK I bought a Sony later too). Again pure chance.
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Old 11-14-2017   #18
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My father-in-law gave me a Spotmatic in 1969. I was in heaven, I added two lenses and used it exclusively until when I bought a used Rolleiflex. I still used the Spotmatic most. In 1989 I bought a Pentax P3n. Pentax: I liked the size and build quality. Rolleiflex:I like the images. Pentax P3n: I like the size and the auto exposure feature. I still own them all and the same with my Leica IIIf (bought in 1964). I'm thinking about a K-1 (FF DSLR) now, but I'm not sure I'll use it much.
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Old 11-14-2017   #19
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Started with Pentax in the late 70s, moved towards larger formats, and when I hit 8x10 I was finally satisfied. Shot the Pentax, then Nikons and Hasselblad or Pentax 67 for $ work. Ended up with a contax G1 and 45 lens as something I could just carry around with me when I realized that there were good cameras that didn’t weigh what an F4 or 503CX did. Was totally blown away with the image quality from that 45 Planar, so started investigating what other of these rangefinder cameras could do. When my stock houses stopped taking slides I decided to pack it in and sold a bunch of the Nikon kit and got an M7 and 50 starter kit used from Camtec in Montreal rather than selleverything to get a digital body and a zoom (I had nearly all Ai or older glass that wouldn’t meter on the then available digital bodies). Have not missed the bulk, weight or IQ of the Nikons.

I still shoot MF and the 810, but my daily carry has been a Leica for twelve years or so now.
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Old 11-14-2017   #20
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First real camera, Mamiya SD rangefinder. Why? Friend of brother had it for sale and I could afford it!

Second real camera, Pentax Spotmatic. Why? I wanted to "go SLR" and it was more affordable than the Nikon F series, which was the Holy Grail back then.

Pentax K1000. Why? Loved the Spotmatic but disliked the clumsy unscrew-rescrew lens change. Ironically I bought a zoom shortly after the K1000.

Canon GIII. Why? Wanted to get back into RF and the folks here recommended it.

Those are a few of mine over the decades.
My (NEW) Gallery
My Blog
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Old 11-14-2017   #21
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After using M42 SLR gear for a couple of years (early '70s), I decided I wanted something with a bayonet mount, so I did my homework. I researched all the makes available at the time, and looked at where they might be going with their systems, and who had the quality lenses.

It came down to Nikon having the most comprehensive system to build on. Unfortunately, all I could afford at the time (and it took a whole months pay) was a Nikkormat FTn with the 50/1.4. But I was in the system. I added lenses when I could, and always thought of getting a degree in photography after I got out of the service, but things changed for me, and it was a long time before I actually took the plunge in starting a studio.

By that time the F2 I had lusted after (and this is the only camera I felt that way about) had been supplanted by the F3, but it was the FM/FE series I could afford. Granted, the local market for used F2's was almost nil, as most photogs were still using the heck out of them, so it was many more years before I ever got one. It was well worth the wait.

The last few years I've been able to try out the various other brands of SLRs, but always came to the conclusion that the Nikon system was still the best choice for me. They just seem to design their cameras with the user in mind more than the other brands did.

As for rangefinders, I've gone through quite a few of those too, and found I liked more of them than the SLR systems. However, when it came to deciding on a quick change mount, again I went with the Nikon because it was less expensive than the Zeiss or Leica offerings, and just seemed to fit my way of shooting better. Still, nothing really wrong with an LTM model because I tend to not change lenses that often anyway when using a rangefinder.

Waiting for the light
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Old 11-14-2017   #22
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I bought my first controllable camera in the early 70's just as the OM system was coming out. While I liked the OM, my father used Nikons at work so I went with a Nikkormat FTn. I got used to the direction the Nikkors moved.

After amassing a lot more Nikon stuff I decided in about '83 I needed to enjoy life and not carry so much stuff. So I got an M4-P and switched to rangefinders. Got a eary M6 and some more glass, but realized that I liked longer glass for some stuff. Did some time with Bessas (T & L) as I had young kids. If one got trashed it wasn't as much of a loss as my M6. RFs worked, but were some things I just needed an SLR for. As I still had some Nikkors and a couple of SLRs and as kids and owning a home see to absorb any and all available cash I couldn't afford a Leicaflex so I added an F to the mix with my M6.

Eventually I got frustrated with the different directions of everything and bought an S2 (still no funds for an SP/S3) and loved it.

I've had a couple of digital Ricoh's over the years, used them all with a 28mm CV Brightline on top and loved them. They were my digital answer to my Bessa L & 25/4 Snap-Shot combo. Zone focus was a breeze and they were really small.

I think I'm going to jump back into a more controllable camera and pick up an old D300 to go with a couple of old Nikkors (24/2.8 & 85/1.8). I would prefer to pick up a XE3 (or 2) but I have no cash for the glass. When someone reminded me of the lack of fun focusing on a stopped down lens isn't, I think the D300 will do until I generate some cash with it.

If I had the cash now I'm not sure where I would go. Manufacturers don't seem to want to make small wide glass that doesn't distort. They have big stuff that reminds me of an old 28-90 Sun zoom my father had at work. MFT or APS-C are good enough for what I want to do, but the years of using great glass from Leica, Nikon, Cosina and others has spoiled me. I don't want to have to do post processing corrections and I don't want to know my camera is slowing itself down doing them there. I think autofocus will free me from the head aches and the EVFs has evolved sufficiently for my needs (as long as I can stick a brightline on top!).

B2 (;->
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Old 11-15-2017   #23
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My first adjustable camera was a Mamiya-Sekor 500DTL. I bought it because it had a screw-mount lens and I had a friend who had a Pentax and I thought I could borrow his lenses.

Within a few months, I was hooked and very serious about photography. I wanted to be a photojournalist. This was during the transition period of medium format to 35mm and rangefinder 35mm to 35mm SLRs in the journalism industry. Nikon was the most popular of the 35mm SLRs among journalists so I bought a Nikon FTn.

I used various models of Nikons daily for 20+ years. But when Nikon came out with the FM models and the F3, I had nothing but problems with the cameras. Those early models were not in the same category of reliability of the F and F2. At that point, I bought my first Leica, an M4-P. Why? Leica's reputation for reliability.

As Bill brought up in the OP, the Leica and Nikon focused in different directions. That was no big deal for personal pictures but it caused me misery on assignments, especially news assignment when things were moving fast. I was used to the Nikon way of focusing and I used the Leica less and less--eventually selling it and buying a couple of used Nikon F2 bodies for their reliability.

When I left photography as a career, I became a casual shooter. I used my old Nikons and a little Rollei point and shoot. At some point, I became interested in the newer technology and decided I could benefit from autofocus. My research at the time, including talking to some of my former colleagues, indicated Canon had superior AF. So I went against all my previous concepts and ideas and I bought a plastic Canon EOS. I used various Canon film and digital models until recently.

During the time I was shooting film Canons, I also got the rangefinder urge again. Previous Leica experience led me to buying a used M6. I really enjoyed using it. So much so, I bought a second body with a few Leitz lenses and I used them in conjunction with Canon until I switched to 100% digital with Canon.

After shooting digital for several years with Canons (and other brands, particularly Olympus), I found I missed using the Leicas. But digital Leicas and their modern lenses were beyond my finances. Then Fuji came along with their hybrid viewfinders in cameras with handling akin to real rangefinders. I bought an X-Pro1 with a couple of lenses and loved them. I used it more and more until eventually I had moved whole hog into Fuji--several models and focal lengths. The Canons saw zero use after a while.

That brings me up to today. That's a long story but I've been shooting for over 40 years and lots of cameras have come and gone during this time, many of which I did not mention.
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Old 11-15-2017   #24
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Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post

As for why I use Fuji... I was always a Leica fan, but decided I preferred AF about 10 years ago. I feel the Fuji is closest to Leica in spirit while having the AF and stuff that I want in a camera.
Me too (sort of)

I very much enjoyed using the Canonet QL G-III and the Zeiss Ikon M. I never owned anything made by Leica.

My X100T and X-Pro 2 bodies enable me to recreate the joy I experienced using film rangefinder cameras. The new f2 23, 35 and 50 mm FUJINON lenses along with the pancake 27/2.8 meet practically all my needs.

Buying a D200 in 2006 to start a small photography business introduced me to digital photography. The kit I'm using now combines what I consider the best of both worlds.
Basically, I mean, ah—well, let’s say that for me anyway when a photograph is interesting, it’s interesting because of the kind of photographic problem it states—which has to do with the . . . contest between content and form.
Garry Winogrand
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Old 11-15-2017   #25
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I'm brand agnostic!

Since starting photography in earnest - with a Canon 10D dSLR - I've owned the following new cameras in this order, when necessary selling the lenses belonging to one system to move onto the next: Epson R-D1, Leica M8, Canon 5D, Nikon D800E.

I view my camera simply as tool, so will change it when my current tool no longer does the job I require of it.

The Canon 10D went because my preference moved towards cameras with manual controls; the Epson went because it was too fragile and 6 MP was too low; the Leica went because it was too unreliable, and still lifes were becoming my signsture photograph; and the Canon 5D went as I was starting to print very large and needed max. megapixels.

I'm now considering selling the Nikon D800E and buying the new Sony A7R III.

Unfortunately, as my bottom line is a camera that meets the needs of my photographs, including prints, everything else in subservient, including how much I like a camera. I've owned my Nikon D800E for 5 years - but I find myself still aggravated by it's ergonomics; for me, Canons feel much more natural to use - but, sadly, their image quality does not meet Nikon's, plus I find Nikon colour more subtle and "film-like"!


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Old 11-15-2017   #26
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Why??? Because!!!

Simple question. Simple answer. The rest is elaboration.

Anyway, my first adjustable camera was a Kodak Tourist II with f4.5 lens and 1/800 shutter that I got in highschool. I could make contact prints and did not need an enlarger or projector to have pictures. Later I did get an enlarger.

In the early 1970s I got interested in 35mm SLRs. Being able to change lenses and see your exact focus made then attractive to me. Pentax and Canon FL cameras used stopped down metering. Nikon metered wide open. No brainer. Got a Nikkormat FTN. Not long after that the Canon F-1 came out. I was ready for a more versatile camera. I compared the Canon F-1 to the Nikon FTN with gigantic metering finder, nonhinged back, motor drive that I think required factory fitting (not sure), had to rotate aperture ring to index, etc. Canon F-1 required none of this. No brainer. Got a Conon F-1 and still have it plus two more.

Cameras follow me home like stray cats. I don't have anything against Nikon. In fact I have seven Nikon SLR bodies at last count. I'm ashaimed to say how many Canon SLR bodies I have. I even have Pentax 110, 35mm, and 120 SLRs plus Minolta, Mamiya, Contaflex, Rolleiflex, Keystone, Polaroid, Olympus, Praktina, Praktica, Ricoh, and Tower SLRs.

But enough about me. What about you?
Are we having fun yet?
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Old 11-15-2017   #27
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Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post

I’m curious why people use the cameras they do. Is it that you have always used the same brand since you were an infant? Is it a somewhat specialized camera that suits your somewhat specialized needs? Is it because you think its reliable or because it has a wealth of features? Why do you use the camera that you do????
For digital I use Fuji only. Because of the results. Tried hard to get Fuji colors with Canon and Sony - no way.
So it´s all Fuji. Display 90 degrees up and go - like good old TLR from waist level.
I´m done with trying cameras
my photos here
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Old 11-15-2017   #28
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I generally shoot b&w film, with Leicas because I inherited them (too expensive otherwise!). I also learned 35mm photography with one of my father's Leicas.
Nikons are my choice in 35mm SLRs because I worked as a reporter for a newspaper where all the photographers used them, and I was impressed by how they held up.
For MF I use a C330s Mamiya because I like TLRs and the Mamiyas have interchangeable lenses.
Most important I've always liked the results I get from these systems. Their lenses are just fine for my purposes.
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Old 11-15-2017   #29
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mynikonf2 is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: ...resident of the Virgo Galactic Supercluster +/-
Age: 68
Posts: 653

I started with Canon back in "76" [ not 1776 ;-) ] with the Ftbn & quickly moved on to the F1n & EF. They are wonderful cameras, reliable , strongly built and the SSC glass produced very satisfying images. Then Canon changed the construction of their lens line but I still hung in there with them. When they totally changed their line of lenses with the EF line I made the switch to Nikon. I just could not afford to invest in a line of lenses that seemed to keep changing.

Since making the move to Nikon I have built up a battery of lenses to cover all my varying needs. I'm very satisfied with the move I made because of the forward compatibility of the Nikkor lenses with the cameras I use (Nikon F & F2, as well as a D200).

As for rangefinder cameras I have owned the M2, M6 and several Barnacks. I still use a IIIc stepper, and a black paint II conversion to a III for B&W photography with a Summitar, Elmar 50/3.5, Canon 35/2 and a Nikkor 50/2 HC. My rangefinder days maybe drawing to a close because of my eye sight but I still enjoy the little screw mount cameras.
Mike Blache'
N.H.S. member

“Light scratches consistent with age and wear”

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