I sold a Leica once.
Not because I needed the money. I always need money. But because I didn’t like it.
The red dot of a Leica is the masonic handshake of the camera community. It identifies you as a PHOTOGRAPHER. You’re fucking in. You’re top tier. Move over hobbyists, take your pictures of sunsets, flowers and park benches because I have wars to cover, societal injustice to expose and gangs to infiltrate.
Leicas are there with being a Magnum photographer. Lovely to dream about but the dice aren’t exactly loaded in your favour.
I’d managed to get my hands on a Leica M6. The Aston Martin of film cameras. I’d studied this camera for years. Often drooling over images it had created and feeling gut punch envy while reading the gushing praise of owners. And now I had one.
When you hold the body of Leica you know you’re holding something special. It’s the kinda weight that makes you purse your lips and exhale like you’ve just been given a sticky toffee pudding. It makes you do things like run your fingers over parts of it while nodding or holding it up to the light to…look at it better. Things you see other people doing and immediately pigeon hole them as total throbbers.
I was now throbbing.
Id managed to score the camera at a ridiculous price but still couldn’t come CLOSE to affording a Leica lens to go with it. Instead I had the still beautiful Voigtlander 35mm 1.4f. It was incredibly sharp but most importantly had a rangefinder focus ring. The unique focusing system of rangefinders means you look through a separate lens and bring a dual image together until they perfectly match. You do this by holding the nub of the focus ring between your thumb and index finger moving it gently side to side. You look like your’e performing incredibly complex surgery on an ant, and it’s awesome.
I already knew where I was taking it for the first roll of film. It was going to be gritty, high contrast black and white beauty. I was giddy walking there, constantly fiddling the camera strap and turning it towards anyone that would look my way. When I finally got to the spot lifting the camera body to my eye and focusing literally felt spiritual. Then I pressed the shutter release.
It sounded like a tired mouse exhaling.
What the fuck?! That was it? This is the most coveted film camera in the history of film cameras and the actual experience of taking a picture was more disappointing than finding out I didn’t have a six pack after doing 20 sit ups.
I finished the roll and got the images back. I didn’t care how they looked as I was so crushed by the experience of using it.
The joy in film photography is all in the process. From opening the film canister to pressing the shutter release. Every stage should feel magical. That may sound like thundering hyperbole but it’s truly how I feel.
I knew from then that I’d never like an image I’d made with the Leica as I was so profoundly disappointed with the actual act of taking a picture.
I took it to a Leica dealer shortly after to sell it. They asked me why I was offloading it and when I told them I simply didn’t like it you'd have thought I’d just drop kicked their Mum in the jaw. They didn’t understand it.
“YOU DIDN’T LIKE IT?!”
I went right back to shooting my Olympus OM1. I love that camera. It gave the most satisfying sound and mini kickback when taking a shot. You knew you’d just taken a picture.
I’ve always shot digital for work, I still do. Digital cameras to me are just tools for a job. I'll use what I have to get the job done.
I literally don’t care how phenomenally wanky this sounds but a film camera HAS to FEEL right and no advertising, marketing, myth or bullshit culture can tell you what that is for you.