First Roll: Leica M4
TOO MANY PHOTOS IN ONE POST ALERT: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
Okay, I lied. I actually shot 1.5 rolls with the “new” Leica M4. I had to do it. You can’t get a “new” camera, not test it, and then head into the unknown thinking you are gonna set the world on fire. I have utmost faith in Leica technicians, but THEY would want me to test it, so I did. I happened to be in Newport Beach, so I started walking and searching. I put myself in Newport at days end, hoping for some decent light, at least some decent direction. The first thing I noticed is that the M4 has some heft to it. It’s not heavy it’s solid. It feels great. The second thing I noticed is the camera is smooth, REALLY smooth. When you crank the wind lever it is like eating a stick of butter.
I knew within about ten frames that this is the best film camera I’ve ever had. It’s not even close. The M4 is all brass and all mechanical. There is no meter. Another photographer said to me, “Oh that sucks, no meter, what a pain in the ass.” For a split second I was kinda thinking the same thing, then I quit huffing paint for two minutes and realized my Hasselblad has no meter and I love that thing. So when I did this M4 test I put my trusty light meter in my back pocket, but instead of pulling it out and metering the scene I just viewed the scene, analyzed it, and then set my exposure. Then I pulled out the meter and tested to see how close I was. The vast, vast majority of the time I was right on the money. So, in short, I don’t need a meter.
The crazy thing about NOT having the meter is what it does to you, or doesn’t do to you, when you look through the viewfinder. There is NOTHING there except for the framelines. That’s it. There is ZERO distraction. Now it’s not like the M6 with the small red circle and arrow is greatly distracting, not at all, but this M4 is so damn basic it is impossible not to pay full attention to what lies within those faint white lines.
This is now my everyday camera, my number one, my big cheese, my big Kahuna. I’ve been carrying it now for about a week, and I have to say, everywhere I take it people flock to it like bees to honey. I’m not sure why this other than the fact that old cameras are cool, but there really seems to be something more to it. The only thing I can come up with is that in an age of something new every six months, people have a great appreciation for things that last. This M4 is over forty years old and it is just as good today as it was when it was first released. How can you not appreciate that?
Last night I was at a retirement party for a local college photography professor, someone I’m going to write about in the coming days, and I found myself at table with four young photography students. I put the M4 on the table and grabbed a menu. I felt four sets of eyes on the camera. “Wow, what is that?” one of the students asked. What followed was a conversation about learning the basics, about editing, about finding a style and about the latest greatest isn’t always the best. Is this the only camera I’m going to use? No, not by a long shot. Over the last week I did two shoots with the M9, then turned those shoots around minutes after the shoot was over. I see a future of continuing to do the same. Using what I want to use, when I want to use it. After all, I’m the photographer. I make the decisions.
These pictures are not world beaters, but the test was successful. And if you want to know more about the M4…click here.