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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

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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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A One Lens Camera?
Old 02-22-2009   #1
Bill Pierce
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A One Lens Camera?

The thread on what is your favorite lens on a Leica has set me to wondering. Is the Leica really a one lens camera?

With the exception of the M3 and the .85 viewfinders, the range-viewfinders of Leicas work best with 35 and 50mm lenses. Thatís pretty much reflected in the favorite lens thread.

There isnít so much difference in angle of view that you are going to miss a picture with a 35mm because your camera has a 50 - or vice versa. You walk a little or crop a little.

Is the Leica a one lens camera that has the option of changing lenses if you really have to? Bresson seemed to think so. A lot of folks who contributed to the last thread seem to think so. I know I usually travel with a normal lens on the camera and bag of other lenses that really donít see any use until I absolutely canít take the shot I want with the 35 or 50 that is on the camera.

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Old 02-22-2009   #2
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Over the many years I've used Leicas, I've always found it most effective for me with a 50 or in rare instances, a 35. I know that the thing these days is to use very wide angle lenses on them, but an SLR has always suited me better with the extremes either way.
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Old 02-22-2009   #3
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I don't know about Leica but the R4A/R4M has to be a camera that fits into this realm. I really now only use my R4A with my 15mm Heliar as the total viewfinder is very close to the 15's field of view which makes it the ultimate wide shooter IMO... occasionally a 25mm Zeiss goes on it but not often! My M2 gets used for 35mm 50mm and 90mm while the M3 sits in the cupboard because you can only carrry so much stuff around on two wheels.
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Old 02-22-2009   #4
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In my opinion, the advantage of an M-Leica over most (except Olympus OM) SLR is the smaller size and thus better transportability. When I take my Leica with me (every day), I put one lens of choice onto the camera, load one roll of film and try to make the best out of the given setup. It helps a lot not having to think about which lens to use but how to use the one lens most effectively. Also, not carrying a bag makes moving around much easier and more stress-free.

On the other hand, a professional photographer on an assignment has to think different, he needs to get the best out of the given situation and not being limited by his tools.
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I agree
Old 02-22-2009   #5
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I agree

Quote:
Originally Posted by maddoc View Post
In my opinion, the advantage of an M-Leica over most (except Olympus OM) SLR is the smaller size and thus better transportability. When I take my Leica with me (every day), I put one lens of choice onto the camera, load one roll of film and try to make the best out of the given setup. It helps a lot not having to think about which lens to use but how to use the one lens most effectively. Also, not carrying a bag makes moving around much easier and more stress-free.

On the other hand, a professional photographer on an assignment has to think different, he needs to get the best out of the given situation and not being limited by his tools.
When I go out for me. I think one lens, though I will tuck a second in a pocket, which hardly ever gets used, but is always there.

But, as a professional while on assignment, I take everything I can carry or have someone tote.
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Old 02-22-2009   #6
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I don't even have a second lens for my M4p.


If I did, it would only slow me down.
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Old 02-22-2009   #7
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Now that you have mentioned, given that RFs tend to be useful to me only between the 35 to 90mm focal range, I rarely change lenses on my Leica as there isn't a significant difference in perspective over that focal lengths (although I always bring more than one lens out with me - addictions of a gearhead). Come to think of it, the most common change on my Leica is between my 35mm Summicron and Nokton - change not because of focal length (both 35mm) or quality (both superb),but for ease of handling (love the summicron's compact size) & max aperture (bokeh & speed of the Nokton).
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Old 02-22-2009   #8
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For the last 1-2 years I have used a 50 sonnar lens almost all the time with a few switches to 35mm.

The previous 2-3 years I used a 35mm almost all the time. I guess my point of view has switched.

I wonder what I will use in the next 2-3 years.

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40/1.9-24/1.9
Old 02-22-2009   #9
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40/1.9-24/1.9

i would not wonder if we will really see a highspeed one-lens digicam. like canon af35ml(40/1.9. with its fuji natura 24/1.9 has made an interesting counterpart. i am sure canon or fuji will offer them on a larger chip.
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Old 02-23-2009   #10
Harry Lime
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It can be a one lens system.

There are a few people that come to mind who shoot with one lens on a Leica. I think Antonin Kratochvil and Abbas only shoot with a 28. So did Winogrand, once he settled in. Bruce Gilden seems to shoot a 21 or 24.

Most of WWII was shot with the 50mm.

Obviously Bresson shot 90% of the time with a 50, but he did admit to using a 35 and 90 on occasion.

Capa was primarily a 50 shooter, but he also shot with lenses as long as 135mm in Italy.

Personally I'm a two lens person. 35 and 50

Which one I use depends on several factors:

- How much of the environment do I want to show around my subject and how that will effect the mood of the shot?

This is probably the main criteria for which lens I choose. A 50 can be a lot more intimate than a 35. The 50 is very voyuristic. A 35 is what you see and a 50 shows what you remember one minute later.

Technical reason:

- Working in a confined space, so I need a wider lens.

- Want more or less DOF at a given stop and shutter speed.

Last edited by Harry Lime : 02-23-2009 at 03:43.
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Old 02-23-2009   #11
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I don't own a Leica, and doubt I ever will. However, I think the question can be asked of any camera that has interchangable lens capability. I mentioned in another thread that I "grew up" with a normal lens, which is 50mm for 35mm cameras. I have other lenses for all my cameras that can change them. I still prefer the 50mm lens. I am trying to use the 35mm lens more on my Kiev just to see what all the hype is about (and because it is the only wide I have for the Kiev).

But if I have the Kiev, and I am only taking one lens, and I am not force-feeding myself the 35, it will be the 50. If the Super Press 23, then the 100mm.
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Old 02-23-2009   #12
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Bill, I think your question has more to do with the photographer than the camera.
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Old 02-23-2009   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankS View Post
Bill, I think your question has more to do with the photographer than the camera.
precisely.

sometimes I take one main lens with another in the pocket. Other times I take two bodies with one lens on each. sometimes I take one body and three or four lenses. It just depends on what I am going out to do.

I agree that the optimum for a given body is limited. A 0.58 is great with 28 and 35mm and marginal for 50. A 0.72 is great with 35 and OK with 50/28 etc. I happily change lenses if shooting slower stuff, but when fast I pick what I think is appropriate and work to that FL (i.e adjust my timing and distance to get the framing right for that combo, rather than changing lenses)
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Old 02-23-2009   #14
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When travelling I take only the Snapshot Scopar 25/4. (full stop, no comma)
At home and I have more time to ponder, it is either a Serenar 50/2 or a J-3.
Both are amazing, to my eye.
If I want a collapsible for pocketting, it is a Summitar 2/50 or a FSU 3.5/50.
The Elmar never gets an outing. Don't ask me why, I dunno.
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Old 02-23-2009   #15
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The Leica is very much a one lens camera for me. I do own two lenses, but they're both 50s.
My primary attraction to the camera is its small size and ease of use. Carrying around more lenses and fumbling with them would make it rather less satisfying for me. If I want to be fancy, I'll take an SLR.

I'm a glasses wearer, and the 50mm frame in the M2 is pure perfection for me. The 90mm frame seems a bit small to be especially useful to me, and I can't see the whole 35mm without searching. So, for me, the M2 is the perfect 50mm camera.
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Old 02-23-2009   #16
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For me, no it's not a one lens camera. I think it's a combination of several aspects.....

Some artists respond best focusing on one lens, finding their way to see something that others have missed or not done the way they think they can. Some might call it monolithic, others genius.

Other artists look to the tools and move from 6x6 to 4x5 to 35mm using light and lenses as part of their message, the camera provides a frame.

While I've tried to love 135 on an RF, it's an SLR focal length for me. These days my 180mm is stuck on the SLR. It's a perspective that I want from time to time.

I think a lot of lens choice comes down to being comfortable with a lens. Knowing it's ins and outs, how it will react to bright light in a corner, how it will allow you to bring the viewer into the scene, how it will allow you to capture what you want to say.

I think a lot of the old masters did not have the wide range of choices we have today. Great lenses are much more plentiful than they were back in the 50's.

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Old 02-23-2009   #17
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I'd call it a two lens camera. I have a 35mm and a 50mm and little desire to get any other focal lengths.

Last edited by feenej : 02-23-2009 at 08:15.
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Old 02-23-2009   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris101 View Post
I don't even have a second lens for my M4p.
If I did, it would only slow me down.
Exactly!

I only have one lens for my M4-P also. Upgrading to another lens is one thing, but to have (let alone carry) multiple lenses for an RF body...?

To me, that's just going the opposite of what RF cameras are good for: quick, inconspicuous, high-quality shots.
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Old 02-23-2009   #19
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If you use 35 only, f2 is fast enough, and you want speed and quiet operation, for practical purposes, a Leica is simply the wrong camera: I would always pick my Hexar AF instead.

But I agree with Frank, it's highly person and situation dependent.

They are funny beasts, Leicas:

- on the non-profit assignments that I have done, I couldn't live with less than two Leicas and 2-3 lenses.
- when I travel, I often go with one body, and 2 lenses or more, but per "outing" only one lens makes it out of the hotel. In that sense yes, a one lens camera, but only for a couple of hours.

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Old 02-23-2009   #20
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I almost always carry two M6 bodies, one with a 35mm Summircon and one with a 50mm Summicron. These two lenses take care of about 80% of what I shoot. Nineteen percent is done with a 21mm Voigtlander and 1% with a 90mm Elmar-C.
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Old 02-24-2009   #21
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I got my first Leica in graduate school and used it obsessively to photograph my wife. The 50 was my lens of choice with a 35 often in my pocket with an extra roll of film. I have a 90 but seldom use it.

I could do what I need to do with the Leica and a 50 without a problem. Most of the extra cameras and gear I have accumulated have less to do with need and more to do with soothing some creative angst...
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Old 02-24-2009   #22
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When I shoot dslr, most of the time I only carry one lens, a 24-70 zoom ...though I guess it doesnít count as ďone lensĒ meant by this thread . Even when I carry several lenses, it's usually 24-70 that I use, the rest of the lenses just stay in the bag.


So, with my M6, thatís what Iím trying to do, use only one lens (one focal length), a 50 cron. It's been quite refreshing because it's been a long time since I'm "forced" to use only one focal length and it simplifies things to me. It simplifies thing in a sense that I plan my shoot, try to kinda pre-visualize it, how wide or tight I want the shoot to be, step forward or backward and then press the shutter.


No more do I change my mind in the middle of the process. When I use zoom lens, I often change my mind in the middle of the process. I want to frame it one way and then before I press the shutter I thought: "oh, I'd better zoom out ... ehm, no, it's better if I go a bit tighter... aw heck, just shoot it, and crop it later"


Having said all that, I'm thinking about getting another lens cause there are times when I can't step further backward and wish I had a wider lens.

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Old 02-24-2009   #23
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I think there is a moment when you realize the camera is a secondary issue to photography. To me the less choice I have in terms of gear, the more limitations as a byproduct; the more I am forced to find creative solutions myself and work with the limitations of whatever camera I have.

I started with a fancy SLR with a few lenses, I moved to rangefinders with a couple of lenses, now I'm interested in fixed lens 35mm p'n's and 120 folders. The less I have to think about. I'm enjoying my photography more than ever at this stage!

Harry
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Old 02-24-2009   #24
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For me the Leica is definitely a system camera. I will continue acquiring and playing with glass of all focal lengths, new and old.

Last edited by Melvin : 02-24-2009 at 23:19. Reason: edit
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Old 02-24-2009   #25
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I think that any camera can be a one lens camera, from a leica cl to an 8x10 toyo. It is a matter of the camera feeling right to the user. This is completely unscientific, but I would wager that something like a hassy would be used as a one lens camera more often than a leica. One of the biggest advantage to m mount cameras to me is that the lenses are so small that it isn't difficult to carry multiple lenses. I had an EF mount canon slr for a few years, with a zoom lens (worst decision I ever made) and I could carry my m4-2, my 35mm lens, my 90mm lens, and pretty much any other m mount lens and it would take up the same or less space than my canon. With that said, however, It is very convenient for me to just put my leica with my 35 on my shoulder under my blazer or coat, stick an extra roll of film or two in my pocket, and go. If I keep my right hand in my pocket, and you aren't looking carefully, you wouldn't know I was carrying a camera. That is a trick you can't pull off with most interchangeable lens cameras.
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Old 02-25-2009   #26
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Is the Leica really a one lens camera?

I don't own a Leica, but I find this to be a very aggressive question that tries to project individual preference into an innate quality of the camera. As I see it, clearly the Leica M was designed to take whatever compatible lenses the photographer cares to use, so it's not a valid question at all. Should the photographer choose to use only one, that's all about their choice, and changes nothing about the camera's design and the intent of its designers for it to be modular.

I don't see what's wrong with just saying, "I'm happy with just one lens." Why does this individual preference have to seek justification by arguing it's following some hidden, so-called "real" nature of the camera?
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Old 02-25-2009   #27
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An aggressive question?
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Old 02-25-2009   #28
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Leighgion, it's a valid question because we (camera nuts) tend to be toy collectors rather than photographers. Sometimes I think the interchangeable lens camera was invented to create a restlessness and sell more lenses!

As you can see from this thread, although most of us have an assortment of lenses, we tend to use just one or perhaps two for most of our photos. I think that's what Bill was trying to ferret out with his question. In actual use, it appears most of us pretty much use a Leica as a one lens camera.
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Old 03-06-2009   #29
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Isn't the strength of an interchangeable lens system the fact that you can mount whatever lens you want, including your favorite 50mm?

People might favor a few lenses, and overwhelmingly one or two focal lengths, but that is the strength of the M system - you can mount your favorite lens. You aren't tied into whatever lens comes with the body.
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Old 03-06-2009   #30
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How about one lens/camera and alot of creativity?

Most of the time I carry extra gear it seldom gets used. On the street, MP/35mm Summilux and couple extra rolls of Fuji 160. For 30 yrs I shot with one lens and one camera. When times got better I started adding lenses, but having alot of gear ultimately wasnt my style.
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Old 06-26-2009   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
The thread on what is your favorite lens on a Leica has set me to wondering. Is the Leica really a one lens camera?

With the exception of the M3 and the .85 viewfinders, the range-viewfinders of Leicas work best with 35 and 50mm lenses. Thatís pretty much reflected in the favorite lens thread.

There isnít so much difference in angle of view that you are going to miss a picture with a 35mm because your camera has a 50 - or vice versa. You walk a little or crop a little.

Is the Leica a one lens camera that has the option of changing lenses if you really have to? Bresson seemed to think so. A lot of folks who contributed to the last thread seem to think so. I know I usually travel with a normal lens on the camera and bag of other lenses that really donít see any use until I absolutely canít take the shot I want with the 35 or 50 that is on the camera.

Comments?
No - not for me anyway. For most things I work with 2 bodies, and pair the lenses each day depending on circumstances - or to be honest depending on how I feel at the time. I then keep those lenses on all day regardless and have to work with what I have. This idea of having to accept the chosen combination without further lens changes works well for me - after all with two lenses at least one of them should fit the given circs. The idea came about by accident - the need to avoid dust ingress into M8 bodies when out and about.

If I worked with just one M body, then yes, the 35mm on M2 type finders or a 50mm on an M3 type finder or 0.85 magnified finder would be my instinctive choice. And I think what characterizes Leica M photography is instinct (or have I been too influenced by Leica's own rangefinder marketing?)

At the risk of being really silly I wonder if having a small lens makes the Leica more of a one-lens camera? What I mean is: having a pre-ASPH Summilux 35/1.4 makes the camera look like a compact with integral lens; having a Summicron 90/2 does not.

Best wishes,
Tom
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Old 06-26-2009   #32
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Isn't the viewfinder central to this thread? With an SLR the viewfinder looks right with all focal lengths, but with the Leica M camera the direct viewing system is most comfortably used with lenses that take up most of the frame with a bit of space round the edges to check elements in and out of composition.

So, 28mm is too much of an eyestretching exercise for me - though actually I use it a lot - while 75mm and beyond leaves too much visible out of frame to concentrate fully on the subject matter.

To me anyway the frame lines for 35mm on the M2 finder and for 50mm on the M3 or 0.85x finders are the easiest for rapid, 'happy' composition.

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Tom
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