. . . Previously in the article “Leica M Edition 60: A Design Concept” (and deliberately avoiding the term ‘Part One’ if only in the interest of originality), I looked at the M60 from the point of view of Leica and in particular, their designers and marketers, what ‘it is’ and what it means to Leica themselves. Now I’ll examine the camera, what it’s like to use (with the resultant photographs) and what it can offer the photographer of today.
Writing camera reviews (or any written work for that matter), is rather like designing a camera itself. Typically and when beginning such a creative endeavor, it’s common practice for the Design Team (or writer) to draw inspiration and ideas from areas seemingly unconnected to the task at hand. This is often achieved by the creation of a ‘Mood Room’ – an area whereby objects or photographs are collected together and that in some way instill a particular feeling, or an emotion, or place the individual ‘inside’ the mind of the prospective customer. For example, someone wishing to create a vehicle that evokes a sense of the 1950’s may watch a movie from that period, such as “Rebel Without A Cause”.
Another approach is to seek enlightenment from one’s own memories and experiences, and which is a technique I frequently use when piecing together the basic premise of an article, such as this one.
In my case and through the course of the 3 or 4 days spent so far with the Leica M60, I was beginning to form a sense of what the camera ‘says’ to me as a photographer. During this period, two distinct and completely unrelated memories began to surface – my favourite old television set and Eric Clapton.
Firstly and recalling a family event of some forty years ago, I was seven years of age and we had just taken delivery of a new TV – a Philips 22 inch, cathode ray tubed, valve powered monster that was as equally heavy as it was deep and wide.
Nothing particularly exciting or memorable there, until you realise that once the TV had been left for a minute or so to warm up, you were then free to sit down and actually change channels from the comfort of your own settee – yes it had a remote control.
The part that sticks in my mind so clearly is not that the device was the size of a frozen lasagna, but that it only had two buttons – the left one gave the option to turn the TV OFF (not ON however), the other allowing the ‘keeper of the remote’ to change channels ‘UP’ only (not so much of a problem as there were only 3 channels available in the UK at that time). Suffice it to say that aside from the remotes functional limitations, it performed its intended role perfectly.
Then there’s Eric Clapton – what could he possibly have to do with writing a camera review? Well bear with me.
Despite being a noted Leica user and not forgetting the picture of him shooting his M6 with the lens cap on, the particular point I recall is an interview he gave in the 1980’s during a documentary about the band “Cream”.
He recounts to the interviewer how one evening in the 60’s, he and some fairly noteworthy individuals (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) had spent the evening at the Cafe Wha in New York. It was here that Clapton had his first encounter with the guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix.
To cut a long story short and after Eric had turned to his mate Pete Townshend and said “We’ve had it” (in fact something else unprintable), it struck Mr. Clapton that during this performance, he had witnessed a glimpse into another world and another way of playing guitar. Further, he realised that up until then, he’d been stuck in a musical rut.
Which brings this rather lengthy introduction round to the Leica M Edition 60, the ‘camera without a screen’.
Now I’m not going to beat around the bush here, for I have indeed had my own ‘Hendrix’ moment – and it all revolves around that LCD screen, or rather the lack of it.
Put simply, why do digital cameras have a screen, or for that matter, do they really need one?
Let’s take a moment to put this into perspective. Is it possible to use a digital camera without referring to its convenient and highly informative LCD display and especially the (often) endless menu options hidden within?
I for one, always make a mental note whenever taking street photographs to ensure that the image preview is switched off and remember to pinch myself whenever the urge to chimp enters my mind. Both of these ‘aids to better photography’ may provide a comforting reassurance that the image is ‘in the bag’, but are also an unnecessary distraction – whilst your attention is drawn to the latest image presented on screen, other potential ‘moments’ are appearing and disappearing right in front of you.
The following images are as they came from the camera, with the exception of the black & white shots which I have processed in Silver Efex Pro in order to see how the files respond to such treatment.
Lest not forget then the inevitable and unavoidable comparisons with that other photographic medium, film – a quite frankly exhausted analogy but as it turns out, nonetheless utterly relevant. Hence the question, does a digital camera need a screen?
Remember that our film photography cousins and forbears have managed without the impulsion (or the facility) to continually check their previous shots, since the birth of photography. For sure though, there are situations where a screen is essential, such as those cameras whose only means of framing the image is via the LCD. However for the purposes of this review, we are discussing cameras with a built in viewfinder and for that matter, an independent means of focusing.
Again referring to film, is it absolutely essential to be able to check how the shot has turned out, or whether it’s necessary to take another? Film photographers have lived with this particular ‘handicap’ for years. If at any point the photographer felt that something wasn’t quite right with the last frame, it was a simple case of making a few changes and taking another – and they were strictly limited in the number of frames available.
Then we come to the other essential requirement that a screen offers, that of the cameras setup and the de rigueur menu system – without one, how could you possibly go about specifying the various options necessary for achieving a particular task?
Well let me ask you this, would you expect to find a control in your car for setting the cruise control, or the air conditioning, if it didn’t have such features?
The same applies to a camera – why would you need options for Multiple Exposure Bracketing, 148 Point Auto Focus, or JPEG quality settings, if these weren’t available in the first place? With regards the menu of the M60, the only user-definable options it provides are set via a minuscule display of digits in the viewfinder – the time and the date.
Here then is where the Leica M Edition 60 fits in – a camera that successfully demonstrates how all of the preceding ‘glitter’ and ‘stocking fillers’ are no longer essential to the task of taking photographs in a digital age – and a camera for those who want nothing more than to do just that.
One argument against this is of course the relentless force of progress and change, though as is often the case, this is merely change for changes sake.
It’s true that our photographic ‘lives’ have been improved immeasurably with the rapid development and implementation of time and ‘thought saving’ features that are now a part of every modern photographers ‘arsenal’ – additions that take the guesswork or skill out of what was once a simple, easier and learned pleasure, that of taking a photograph.
Herein lies the problem. Automation takes choice away from the operator – the human being. Photography no longer becomes a representation of a person’s competence or vision, but rather that of a machine making the decisions for them. A further downside of this is that more time is spent ‘instructing’ the machine in how we wish to portray a given situation, which actually results in less time (and more frustration) spent pursuing the original intention – taking pictures.
How often will you find on photography forums questions along the lines of, “How do I set my camera up for this…”, or “my camera focuses on the wrong area”, or more commonly, “my camera’s too confusing/complicated”?
How wonderful it would be if photography once again became the pure and simple pleasure of just ‘seeing and doing’?
This is something our ‘analogue’ photography friends have known for years, except with the Leica M60, the added time and inconvenience of film (I say that as a film photographer) are now a thing of the past.
Here then, is where I found myself after some more time spent with the M60 – my ‘Jimi Hendrix’ moment. It was then that something quite significant began to dawn on me. With the M Edition 60 and the concept that it so capably proposes, Leica have in fact for the first time ‘married’ together the benefits and convenience of digital photography, with the ‘tasty bits’ of film.
Often lambasted for stubbornly remaining with the design principles of a camera system that first saw the light of day some 60 years ago, Leica (in a moment of unparalleled purity of thought), have produced a camera that in no way hinders the photographer in the pursuit of taking pictures.
Now I would like to take this opportunity to apologise if I come across as a bit of a ‘Leica Fanboy’, or that Leica can do no wrong, or even “Leica have loaned me a rare £12,000 camera, I’d better say good things about it” – as that’s simply not the case. I just honestly believe that with the M60, they are onto something here.
At no point whilst getting to know the camera did I feel the urge (nor did I miss the option) to check what I’d just photographed, except during one moment where I felt that the focus may have been out on a shot and in a fleeting instant of forgetfulness, looked to the back of the camera to ‘view and delete’. The simple solution in this situation was to take the picture again, remembering to double check my focus point – and it has to be said, much quicker than the time spent examining and deleting the suspect image.
This then is the ultimate pleasure to be found in shooting the M Edition 60 – the ability to ‘fire and forget’ and move onto the next shot. With this camera, there’s an almost liberating freedom to be found. No longer do you find yourself distracted by studying images and I hasten to add, whilst still in the middle of capturing them. Nor is there the danger that you may delete any (deliberately or otherwise) and which later, after scrutinising them on the computer, actually turn out to be rather good.
I also found a stronger sense of being ‘in the moment’, without the continual thought of whether the camera was setup correctly, as in reality there are no setup options to speak of, apart from the basics. Even adjustment of the ISO sensitivity is just a simple and quick turn of the rear-mounted dial.
The inescapable truth of the matter (just in case it needs stating) is that I’ve already been taken aback by the Leica M60 – amazed, surprised, shocked, etc. etc….
I welcome the day when Leica must inevitably put this camera into production, not I might hasten to add as an exact copy of the M Edition 60, but one made from materials more familiar to the regular M-Digital range (and more cost effective). The icing on the cake and the cherry on top would be if it was priced along the lines of their other production models, or dare I say it, slightly cheaper (less components?)
As far as I’m concerned, a screen-less and menu-less ‘M’ would be all the camera most of us would ever need and with a portable wireless SD card reader such as the Kingston Mobilelite G2 (reviewed previously) and a mobile phone or tablet, would easily be capable of producing work for more immediate requirements.
So ends the second part of my review of this unexpectedly groundbreaking camera.
Next time – my website is called the “Street Photography Blog”, so I take the M Edition 60 out for a couple of days of street shooting.