Lane on Leica

In this week’s New Yorker, Anthony Lane examines Leica, and explores, in one sentence, an idea I’ve been batting around for a few years, that Garry Winogrand may have been the world’s first digital photographer.

Garry Winogrand might have felt relieved to secure those thousands of images on a hard drive, rather than on frangible film, although it could be that the taking of a photograph meant more to him than the printed result.

And later, Lane takes an M8 for a test drive:

If you can conquer the slight queasiness that comes from walking about with seven thousand dollars’ worth of machinery hanging around your neck, an afternoon with the M8 is a dangerously pleasant groove to get into. I can understand that, were you a sports photographer, perched far away from the action, or a paparazzo, fighting to squeeze off twenty consecutive frames of Britney Spears falling down outside a night club, this would not be your tool of choice, but for more patient mortals it feels very usable indeed. This is not just a question of ergonomics, or of the diamond-like sharpness of the lens. Rather, it has to do with the old, bewildering Leica trick: the illusion, fostered by a mere machine, that the world out there is asking to be looked at—to be caught and consumed while it is fresh, like a trout.

8 thoughts on “Lane on Leica”

  1. An excellent article. Really makes me yearn to own a Leica.
    I wonder though, what Winogrand would have felt about the instant viewing of digital. Considering he would wait up to a year to develop his negatives to avoid bias in his editing process.

  2. That’s a good read. He’s obviously had the kool-aid and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve all had it for one thing or another.

    Favorite line: “…for more than fifty years the pride of the company has been the M series of 35-mm. range-finder cameras—durable, companionable, costly, and basically unchanging, like a spouse.”

  3. Years ago, I set up a wee savings account for an M. Now, lots of tiny contributions later, I am nearly able to buy a body and a 50mm or 35mm (haven’t decided). I was explaining this to my wife when her skepticism about spending four grand told me to be quiet. I decided to read the New Yorker and accidentally opened it to this article. Fate? The thing is, I was secretly hoping that New Yorker objectivity would sober my irrational thinking regarding shelling out four grand for a used, film, manual focus camera. No luck. It was as good an advertisement as I’ve ever read. The M purchase plan remains intact.

  4. @Nicolas – are you saving for an MP or M7? I was able to get a beautiful M6 and a Voigtlander 40 f/1.4 (new) lens for about a third of what you are talking about in cost.

    It was a really great way to discover if I rangefinder shooting was really for me (it is – and I have since added an M8 and a few lenses).

    Finding good, used, Leica lenses is a hobby unto itself… the lens ‘measurebators’ put crazy ideas in your head: “No, I must have the 4th generation 35 Summicron – not the newer ASPH version – for the creamier bokeh, of course” – but when you do finally track down the elusive cheap, right version and minty object of your dreams it makes it all the more worthwhile.

    Personally, I love my Leicas for the small size and great low light capabilities. I think the articles does a great job of capturing the appeal of Leica cameras. It’s a great writeup for sending friends and family to read – so they can know your obsession a little better – or at least know that you’re not alone with it.

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