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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

ďOur autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selectsĒ  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Speed Graphic
Old 06-10-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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Speed Graphic

When 35mm cameras became dominant, folks tried as much as possible to fill the frame and avoid cropping to achieve the best results technically. That certainly hadnít been the case with larger formats. The owners of handheld sheet film cameras like the Speed Graphic and Graflex were often content with a single lens and cropping. That was true of a lot of the good news shooters whose only second lens might be a long lens for sports.

Many popular medium format cameras like the twin-lens Rollei had a fixed lens. Between that and the square format a lot of the images got cropped not only emphasize the subject but to fit the image to the rectangular paper.

Thereís a parallel with digital cameras. The first low pixel digital cameras didnít have the image quality conducive to cropping. Thatís sort of stuck with us, regardless of sensor size. But a lot of the high megapixel APS-c and full frame sensors now allow for quite high ppi prints, much less computer screen images, from a cropped portion of the image. Thatís certainly true of the Leica Q2, a fixed lens, fixed focal length camera where you are expected to often crop the image. Itís a lot like the 4x5 Speed Graphic with a 127mm lens that I got by washing cars when I was a kid. That one lens did everything - in my case even football games.

So when we hear that the latest toy will allow us to make 30x40 prints that we can press our nose against what are those of us that donít do 30x40 full frame architectural and landscape to think. I think cropping. When I read about the Fuji GFX 100, I think, ďMy gosh, itís a digital Speed Graphic.Ē What do you think?
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Speed Graphic
Old 06-10-2019   #2
joe bosak
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Speed Graphic

I agree with all of that.

I never had a speed graphic until a few years ago. With a standard lens i was quite taken aback by the comparison to medium format (i was doing portrait shots) which (with a similar-ish focal length as it happened) was very clearly and obviously like a small crop of the 4x5 images. As i was unwilling to extend my collection of speed graphic lenses, and did not need acres of out of focus background, I kept the MF instead.

That issue of the proportion of the photo that's actually in focus bothers me more these days, and i find myself deliberately choosing small sensor cameras to get more in focus sometimes.
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Old 06-10-2019   #3
shimokita
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Don't know about Speed Graphic vs. GFX 100... haven't used either, but I have shot RB67 with K/L 90 f/3.5 L (44mm equiv.), APS-c & full frame dSLR, 135 format film, Fuji x100t, and FLs across the board.

Do I crop? ... almost always and not only to the aspect ratio of the original. A camera like the x100t was 'born to be cropped'.

In one workshop I attended the 'instructor' got on his horse about not cropping and if so, then only at the same ratio... never understood that. I also clone but that's another story.
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Old 06-10-2019   #4
Dogman
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Like most photographers, I try to perfectly frame and compose my shots. In fact, it doesn't always happen. And while Henri Cartier-Bresson might rise from his grave and flog me with a moldy M3, I often crop my Raw APS-C files. I've gotten good results from 16mp and 24mp files from Fujis and a Ricoh GRII.

I've related this story before. I made the decision to start using digital cameras based on a cropped file from a Canon APS-C camera over 10 years ago. It was a grab shot with the wrong lens on the camera but it had to be done quickly or not at all. When I printed the photo, I only used 1/2 the total image area from an 8mp file. While it's not perfect, prints up to 13x19 inches look pretty damn good when framed and hanging on the wall and viewed at a reasonable and sane distance.

Lots of great photographers cropped their photos and created some timeless images. I've read that Walker Evans, while working at Fortune magazine, sometimes went so far as to crop his negatives with scissors before sending them to engraving. And don't forget that even Cartier-Bresson cropped his "puddle jumper" photo.
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Old 06-10-2019   #5
shawn
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
When 35mm cameras became dominant, folks tried as much as possible to fill the frame and avoid cropping to achieve the best results technically. That certainly hadnít been the case with larger formats. The owners of handheld sheet film cameras like the Speed Graphic and Graflex were often content with a single lens and cropping. That was true of a lot of the good news shooters whose only second lens might be a long lens for sports.

Many popular medium format cameras like the twin-lens Rollei had a fixed lens. Between that and the square format a lot of the images got cropped not only emphasize the subject but to fit the image to the rectangular paper.

Thereís a parallel with digital cameras. The first low pixel digital cameras didnít have the image quality conducive to cropping. Thatís sort of stuck with us, regardless of sensor size. But a lot of the high megapixel APS-c and full frame sensors now allow for quite high ppi prints, much less computer screen images, from a cropped portion of the image. Thatís certainly true of the Leica Q2, a fixed lens, fixed focal length camera where you are expected to often crop the image. Itís a lot like the 4x5 Speed Graphic with a 127mm lens that I got by washing cars when I was a kid. That one lens did everything - in my case even football games.

So when we hear that the latest toy will allow us to make 30x40 prints that we can press our nose against what are those of us that donít do 30x40 full frame architectural and landscape to think. I think cropping. When I read about the Fuji GFX 100, I think, ďMy gosh, itís a digital Speed Graphic.Ē What do you think?
Yes, the megapixels are getting so high it is easy to crop and still leave a lot of resolution. I do this with my A7RII shooting panoramic photos. Turn on the square framing guide (4x6 boxes in the VF) and use the middle two rows and you have a 3:1 framing guide. The panoramic shots still end up at 24 megapixels.

Shawn
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Old 06-10-2019   #6
Bill Clark
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I used a Graflex during under grad years, 1966-1970. College had a kit, film holders, flash, flash bulbs, camera, spare batteries for the flash. Had to lick the bulbs before inserting into flash to get them to fire. I used mainly Tri-X film. Developed in trays. College had an Omega D-2.

It was fun! Even took sports photos with the camera!

Those were the days. Young, full of energy, stupid!

Didn’t really mature until the military. Had to go serve. Got #20 in draft lottery held in December 1969! I got so drunk I couldn’t register for my last semester in college. A friend did that for me!
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The idea of large format digital is beyond my needs
Old 06-10-2019   #7
Solinar
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The idea of large format digital is beyond my needs

The smaller format Nikon D850, on paper at least, already seems capable of blowing a 6x9 medium format film camera out of the water with regards to how large an image one can print straight out of the camera.

The Fujifilm GFX 100 takes that capability up to another level. Rather than a crop in post capture, I'd still prefer to have the right focal length lens on the camera at the time of capture.
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Old 06-10-2019   #8
Ko.Fe.
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I returned Graflex Anniversary 4x5 to full working order. Purchased as is from attic for 100$, CLA'd and sold for more.
I don't think I could do it with digital camera...

Cropping? I rarely use it. GW school.
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Old 06-10-2019   #9
shimokita
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Clark View Post
Got #20 in draft lottery held in December 1969! I got so drunk I couldn’t register for my last semester in college.
I got #205 (#195 was the highest number called up from that first group)... and dropped my college deferment at the end of '69. One of my buddies got #1 and immediately enlisted... wild days.
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Old 06-10-2019   #10
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I knew that once digital got the resolution problem licked, it would just be a matter of time until sensors would get bigger, and so would output. I don't need something to replace my SG Special, but would like a printer that does 30x40.


On the military front, I knew I'd get drafted like my two older brothers did, so I enlisted in the Navy (I kind of wanted to anyway). My draft notice came while I was in boot camp at Great Lakes NS. They was too late!



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Old 06-10-2019   #11
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Cropping was par for the course on my 6x6 SLR, but even nowadays with decent zoom lenses that cover a wide range of focal lengths I regularly crop images; it appears that no matter how careful I compose in the finder, I get the best subject placement by applying a (sometimes subtle) crop when viewing an image at a larger size..
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Old 06-11-2019   #12
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The Speed Graphic/Fuji GFX 100 analogy is pretty valid, although I can't imagine putting that much money into a camera and lens of that quality just to be able to crop drastically after taking the picture. By the end of the Speed Graphic's domination of the news photography business, film and lenses were far better than they needed to be for the average newspaper reproduction for an uncropped image, hence the takeover by 35 mm cameras.
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Old 06-11-2019   #13
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I understand the Speed Graphic was made for press photographers. Apart from people with a lot of cash, for whom is the GFX 100 intended?
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Old 06-11-2019   #14
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Yeah, that's a great perspective.

I wish it had a different form-factor. I've never been big on the Texas-Leicas looks. I have no idea what I would like, but I want different that a super-sized SLR.

B2 (;->
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Old 06-11-2019   #15
Bill Pierce
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
I understand the Speed Graphic was made for press photographers. Apart from people with a lot of cash, for whom is the GFX 100 intended?
I canít say for sure, not knowing anyone who has used one extensively. Image quality is a strange beast, dependent on many factors including how the photographer uses the camera. These days, in the real world, there isnít that much difference in image quality between many recent APS-c and full frame. My opinion, Fuji was right in jumping from APS-c to their version of ďmedium formatĒ with the GFX 50 series. But the improvement compared to the best full frames wasnít overwhelming. Between jumping the pixel count and adding image stabilization to the GFX 100 we may see an easily noticeable increase in image quality. When I look at some of my work with an 8x10 view camera, Iím not that impressed by the photographer but I sure am impressed with the camera. I have no idea if the GFX 100 is the somewhat affordable digital equivalent of a big film camera. But if it is, I will be impressed. And, since I use Leicas, I might not even think the GFX 100 is expensive. Those other "medium format" digitals, that's expensive.
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Old 06-12-2019   #16
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I had a look on youtube for reviews and while some complain about the price tag, a number of working photographers emphasize the income boosting capabilities of the camera: IBIS, higher-speed focusing, image resolution etc... BH must have a lot of orders...they are already flagging it as a nr. 1 seller.
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Old 06-12-2019   #17
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Or what about a real Speed Graphic?

http://lenscratch.com/2019/06/jason-lee-oklahoma/
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Old 06-12-2019   #18
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Or what about what?
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Old 06-12-2019   #19
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I don't get it.
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