All Things Old are New

Roughly two years ago I was falling out of love with Leica. There were a variety of reasons, some valid, some perhaps not. Regardless I culled my rangefinder heard down to one remaining body, two lenses and moved on in the world. I discovered the Nikon F6. In fact, I discovered two of them, and two lenses to go with. The F6 is the most advanced 35mm, film camera I’ve ever had. It has the best meter, the best autofocus, the best viewfinder, feels great in my hand and is built to last longer than I am. Everything about it is right. It’s nice to hold a roll of 35mm to the light and see nothing but PERFECT exposures staring back at you, and anyone who darkroom prints knows what this means. And the F6 is FAST. It’s also routine to hold a roll to the light and have 36 tack-sharp images staring back at you.


But there is ONE problem. The images. I simply do not make the same images with the F6 that I do with the Leica. I thought I did, and thought I would, but I don’t. Now, this is ME talking here, and I did, after all, use the Leica for roughly twenty years so it’s not like this is an accident. The Leica became a part of my photography, more than I ever imagined. I figured all this out about two months ago while shooting at The Palm Springs Photo Festival, something I do on a yearly basis. For the first time I carried two F6 cameras and not the Leica. Okay I lied, there are TWO things about the F6. They are SO heavy in comparison to the Leica. As you know, I’m not in great health at the moment, and this difference between the two, after ONE full day of carrying was substantial enough to include back pain, even with carrying everything else on my hips.
Then during the nightly presentations I watched a VERY good presentation from a New York based photographer who shot black and white, 35mm. I looked at the work and thought, “That is what my work USED to look like.” It was not only the weight, but also because Leica allows for a certain TYPE of image. Let’s be honest, if you are going to shoot runway fashion or a football game the Leica is going to suck, but if you are after a certain type of image there is no better camera in the world. I happen to want that exact type of image.
I’ve also come to realize something else…for the LAST time. Most of the great work I see, and what I’ve seen from the past, is all ONE style of work completed over a long period of time. Almost all of it. My way of working, color 6×6 and 35mm black and white, isn’t really working. It never has, but it’s EASY with the 6×6 and for a lazy photographer or someone with little time, I’ve been both, it’s the crutch I felt I needed. I need to stop this and just shoot ONE thing. This WILL not apply to my Blurb shoots however. Those will remain a mixed bag, understandably. Would I love nothing more than to descend on a Blurb shoot with two Leicas, one with color and one with black and white? YES. YES. YES. And it would make my life logistically superior but it ain’t gonna happen.
There are also a few new/old constants that have cemented themselves further into my life. I wasn’t sure that was even possible but it is. The journal is a DAILY must. This damn thing is maybe the most important thing I do. After all these years I’m still a bit afraid of how powerful this book is. Not the content, but what it sparks in me, how it opens doors, works as a companion and allows for truly flushing things out. The written word has always been a serious thing for me, something I give tremendous respect to, and this book is the anchor of it all. I also have to throw in audio here. I’ve dabbled in the past, but I now realize just how much I love the power of sound. On the contrary, after doing more video, I have LESS interest in video than ever before. But audio, oh my lovely audio, we are headed toward a serious courtship.
Finally, I’ve realized a few other things. I want to continue to explore art. Sketching, painting,etc. Just for fun. And fully understanding, learning Spanish is a must. There is NO WAY around it any longer. Where I live, and where I want to work, Spanish is the only way. I’m tired of not being able to really speak with people, in depth, with meaning, and until I can do this I can’t really make great work in these places.

To recap my current systems check….

Dan Bag(s)

28 responses to “All Things Old are New”

  1. Ivars Krafts says:

    Congratulations on discovering the means to achieve your goals! I am happy for you! Please keep us posted. There are many of us still struggling. But the journey can be fun also, if we will allow ourselves to enjoy it.

  2. Mike says:

    Daniel, been there, done that; too many times. Automated cameras are just so …. automated. In a previous post of the Trent Parke video he mentions that he loves his film mistakes. With auto cameras you don’t get the mistakes, just the bland sameness. So I’m with Leica: film and digital. how’s it going? Well I know that I’m keeping the film camera and I’m trying to love the digital camera-shaped computer.
    I’m back in the darkroom next week. It’s been a long time. I love that Dan bag!


    • Smogranch says:

      What’s funny to me is the manual cameras are far easier to use than anything else. There are no options, which makes them so easy. I think I have most of this backwards however.

  3. Hi Dan:

    I wondered what happened to those Leica files episodes you used to do. I quite enjoyed them and missed then during your F6 phase.. πŸ™‚ Yes, the film Leica rangefinder. Nothing sounds and works so great for b&w reportage style photography, quirky moments and for just everyday life images. Aperture, shutterspeed, focus, shoot, advance. I also have a couple of Mamiya 6 cameras that work similarly in 6×6. But last year I got a Monochrom and together with an M9 I get great stuff and save my back. Last year on a trip to Lisbon, I took this combo and had all that I wanted, simplicity, color with the M9 up to 320 ISO and b&w to almost any ISO with the Monochrom as the files just look so good. I realize that the Monochrom is so expensive but it is truly unique in what it does and how the images look that I just jkeep going back to it. I know you do not love digital and the two of you don’t get along.. πŸ˜‰ but you must give a Monochrom a try. It is the most non-digital old school camera I have ever used.



    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Jeff,

      Just don’t want digital. I’m sure the camera is great, but I have NO IDEA how to preserve those files, can’t print them in the darkroom, don’t want to see images while I make them and would never spend that much $ on a camera. But, I’m in the minority. Everyone I know that has one loves it. If someone gives one to me, never happen, I’d give it a go.

  4. This Is truth. There is NOTHING like a FILM Leica M. NOTHING!!!!

    P.s. Let it be known that Daniel started putting gaffers tape on his Leicas after he saw my little buddy (leica).

  5. bob soltys says:

    Great column … but for a brief moment, I thought you were going to continue that were going to sell the black paint M4


    Count me as another who won’t go back to a heavy SLR for day to day use.

  6. Mike says:

    Daniel, ‘What’s funny to me is the manual cameras are far easier to use than anything else.’ : today I spent about an hour cleaning the digital M sensor – and then went out with the film M.
    You and the team did well in Nicaragua. Poverty is a waste.


    • Both My M’s are older than I am & I’m 42. One of my favorite things on my film is the rough scraggly border that I look at a signature of a camera that has been around for a while.

  7. Dan,

    If you are in Toronto let me know and you can try one out one afternoon.. Yes, storage is an ongoing anxiety with digital. I too in many ways long for the past and the simplicity of photography as it was. And the physicality and tangibility of it all. Hit 50, starting to sound old.. πŸ™‚ Still love b&w film and shoot regularly with it with my M6 but in terms of sheer image-quality in any light.. I love the Monochrom despite its challenges and faults.

  8. Sean says:

    It was this blog that made me sell my clunky DSLR a few years ago and switch to Leica. I’ve never regretted it as the simplicity is what makes it such a joy to use.

    In fact, this weekend I shall be cycling around Mount Fuji with nothing more than one M6, one lens, and a roll or two of Provia. A few years ago I would have needed a trolley on the back of my bicycle.

  9. Harold says:

    Film, got it. Leica, got it. We don’t need no stinkin badges.. nah that’s a movie πŸ˜‰ [ the extent of my Spanish is No hay de queso no mas de papas ]

    Seriously though, I enjoy the narrative. I don’t own a Leica but I do understand the lure of film photography. Points are well taken about storage of digital files. Fortunately I don’t have years of files I need to hold on to, I could put all the meaningful files I’ve shot on a thumb drive.

    I have a broken rangefinder of unknown origin and my trusty ole Nikon F series; but if you hang anything on there bigger than a 50mm it’s like carrying a concrete block. So if Leica is in my future I will welcome the opportunity but I’m not waiting on gear I’ll shoot what I have which is mostly older gear, the exception being my phone.

    What I have learned most from all of this talk on the blog has been a better way of seeing and what an image can be. The idea behind the content is so much more than just “gear alone”.

    Keep em coming.

    • Smogranch says:

      Gear is only as important as you make it. Once you figure out what works for you, or what doesn’t, then you don’t really have to think about it at all. Most of the top photography sites, in terms of traffic, are all gear related, but nobody in those circles is making the great work. Nobody. In fact,the work isn’t really that important, or at least it seems that way. I’ve never been around a great photographer who will spend more than a passing moment talking equipment of any kind. Just doesn’t happen.

  10. For a long time, I have been focussing on gear far too much. Since I sold a part of my DSLR gear at the end of 2009, and the remaining part at the end of 2012, and made the switch to the Fuji mirrorless system, I almost don’t care about gear anymore. I never regretted that decision. I haven’t looked back since. Leica was one option, but the digital set-up was too expensive for my budget. I don’t shoot analog anymore, but I still have several boxes filled with B&W prints from the dark room. To be honest, I do miss the look and fill from film which I don’t get using digital.

    However, there is till one object missing on my list: the Dan Bag πŸ™‚

  11. James Luidl says:

    Just found SmogRanch. I’m enjoying your site immensely.

    I had the same experience, just in reverse. I grew up with SLR film cameras and Polaroids. When I tried a rangefinder, it just didn’t look the same to me. I’ve carried my two trusty Minolta SRT 102s for, wow, decades. It’s what I learned on and just kept using because it works for me. It the tool that allows me to push the limits of my vision.

    I’m asked quite often why I picked this camera or what camera do I think someone should use. My usual answer is, “The one that speaks to you.”

    • Smogranch says:

      It’s liberating to NOT have to think about gear. Same old s%$# is the best way. I love Minolta. “Only from the mind of……MINOLTA.”

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