Just recently, as I was looking at a camera dealers website, I noticed Leica latest film camera, the M-A. It could be mine for 4.170 euros. Included in the box is also one box of Kodak Tri-X black and white film. I have never owned a Leica, and I probably never will, but seeing a camera with a price tag like this makes me wonder what difference using a Leica M-A would make for me and the photos I make. I also wondered why on earth Leica includes one roll of Tri-X when you buy the camera. Why not throw in a brick of ten rolls?
The Olympus 35RC, a sexy little thing.
I already have a rangefinder camera which for most practical purposes is similar to the M-A., It’s the Olympus 35RC, a rangefinder camera made in Japan in the seventies. The Leica M-A and Olympus 35RC have more or less the same features; rangefinder focusing and all manual operation. Both cameras are built from metal, not plastic, and they’re both pretty small. I have only seen pictures of Leicas, but given the price tag I assume the Leica is much better built than the Olympus, which is also a well built camera. The Olympus still works fine even after forty years of use, however it would benefit from a cleaning; the camera is dirty and rangefinder patch is a bit dim. Other than that, it’s like new. To be fair, there are other dfferences between the cameras. The Olympus has a built-in light meter and automatic shutter priority exposure, but it also has a full manual override, which is what I normally use. The Leica has no built in meter, so one has to carry a hand held meter, or guess at the exposure, which works fine under normal conditions. But I wouldn’t say the Olympus out-specs the Leica, because the Leica has interchangeable lenses, while the Olympus has a fixed 42mm f2.8 Zuiko. But for me, one normal lens is all I need and want, so for the Leica M-A I’d add the Summarit 50mm f2,5, which is roughly the equivalent to the Olympus’ Zuiko 42mm f2.8. The Summarit is one of Leica cheapest lenses and cost only 1.440 euros. Add that to the 4.170 euros that the M-A body (including one roll of film) costs, and you’ll be ready to shot for only 5.610 euros. On the other hand, the same amount of euros will buy you a mint Olympus 35RC and 1200 rolls of Ilford HP5 black and white film.
Waiting for the ferry. Olympus 35RC, Ilford HP5 film stand developed in Caffenol L-C, printed on Ilford fibrebased warmtone paper.
Why is the Leica so expensive, and the Olympus so cheap? Well, according to the Leica website, the Leica M-A is “pure mechanical excellence” so “dramatically reduced to the essentials that it opens up entirely new creative horizons for photographers”. I don’t mean to be overly critical, but the Olympus 35RC is also an example of mechanical excellence (after forty years it is still working fine), but apparently Olympus’ engieneers weren’t able to reduce the camera completely to it’s bare essentials, something the built-in light meter is a testimony to. I guess building a camera without a light meter would add around 5000 euros to the price of the Olympus 35RC. And quite wisely, Olympus must have realized that no-one would would pay 5000 euros for a simple japanese-made Olympus camera unless Olympus spent millons of euro on branding first. But still, for the all the Olympus’ gadgets, I don’t find that there is anything about this camera that comes in the way of my creativity or pleasure in making photos. Even so, I’m really curious about what would happen if I sold all my other photographic gear, my guitars and amplifiers and my car and used the money to buy a Leica M-A. Perhaps I’d become a real photographer? Or just an amateur photographer with a very expensive camera?
Straight into the sun. Shot with the Olympus 35RC early in the morning on my way to work. Film was Ilford HP5 developed in Caffenol L-C, printed on Ilford fibrebased warmtone paper.
A film camera is basically just a light tight box that holds the film and the lens. In theory it should leave it up to the photographer to make good or bad photos. The camera doesn’t really matter. So why on earth do anyone buy a camera that costs 5.610 euros and that doesn’t do anything that almost any other camera will do just as good? They’re not only buying the camera, they’re buying into a brand. In this case, two brands at once since you get a roll of the legendary film Kodak Tri-x included when you buy the camera. Amateur photographers are crazy about equipment and the glamour of expensive brands. In this age of extreme materialism it simply isn’t enough to have a great camera that makes great pictures (after all, all cameras and lenses do that, if the photographer knows what he’s doing), the camera must have something else, an aura, something intangible connected to it, something that adds emotional value beyond the cameras functional value. That’s the brand, and it’s mainly bullshit.
The 35RC in the cold. Ilford FP4 film developed in Caffenol L-C, printed on Ilford fibrebased warmtone paper.
As camera makers, Leica has a long and glorious history, and many of the worlds most famous photographs have been shot with a Leica. Many famous documentary photographers used a Leica and Tri-X film, and Leica now seeks to capitalize on that heritage by including one roll of Tri-X with the Leica M-A. But Kodak went bankrupt a few years ago, and the film making division was sold to a pension fund. Since then films like Plus-X have been discontinued and the price of the few available sizes of sheet film have risen sharply. The pension funds business policy is all about getting the largest return on it’s invested money, they’re not interested in film photography in itself. Therefore I buy Ilford film on principle because it seems to me that Ilford, or Harman Technology, is firmly devoted to it’s customers. Ilford hasn’t discontinued any film or photographic papers, and is now owned by it’s managers. Actually, new types of papers have been added and every june Ilford takes orders for sheet film in unusual or ultra large sizes with no minimum order.
So for me the choice between a Leica M-A with one roll of Kodak Tri-x and an Olympus 35RC with 1200 rolls of HP5 is simple.