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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"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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Old 02-13-2013   #41
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Winogrand was really not interested in photography, he simply got a buzz from photographing women on the streets. The reason why he became such an idol has to do with the fact that his dead.
Are you sure about this? What do you have to backup that he wasn't interested in photography? No interview shows this. Did you know him personally?

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had he been alive, he'd be another Bruce Gilden, famous for sometime and then derided and forgotten - like all youtube celebrities.
I'm pretty sure Bruce Gilden's work will be around awhile... especially with the backing of Magnum.
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Old 02-13-2013   #42
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The idea of building a huge backlog and then printing is usually a way to rationalize lack of interest in printing. But this not a bad reflection on the photographer, editing and printing are the two worst aspects of photography, time consuming and boring, while shooting is always fun. Winogrand was really not interested in photography, he simply got a buzz from photographing women on the streets. The reason why he became such an idol has to do with the fact that his dead. had he been alive, he'd be another Bruce Gilden, famous for sometime and then derided and forgotten - like all youtube celebrities. The real lamentation for analogue is mostly a lamentation for a time when those with a camera and a darkroom actually mattered.
What you suggest is a generalization and perhaps applies to others. I actually love equally all aspects of photography and pine away for the time that I can edit and print. Back in the seventies in art school I was trained to be a good printer.

I have struggled in the arts for decades and originally was a painter, and I know I have the discipline to defy your generalizations. Anyways not trying to be another Gary or Bruce: all I'm trying to be is me, but why do I feel oppressed?

Cal
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Old 02-13-2013   #43
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Are you sure about this? What do you have to backup that he wasn't interested in photography? No interview shows this. Did you know him personally?



I'm pretty sure Bruce Gilden's work will be around awhile... especially with the backing of Magnum.
What is a photographer? Isn't a photographer first and foremost someone who produces photographs? Winogrand was a producer of negatives... In one of his interviews he said, and i paraphrase that photography allows him to feel as if he did not exist, that pretty much sums up his need to compulsively shoot and forget about the results. However, Winogrand's honesty is admirable, he went out of his way to emphasize that he should not be taken seriously, but then the NY photography clique badly needed an American star photographer to balance all the European photography superstars, Winogrand made perfect sense... After all Robert Frank was European.
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Old 02-13-2013   #44
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What is a photographer? Isn't a photographer first and foremost someone who produces photographs? Winogrand was a producer of negatives...
Come on man, do you really think this way? We should all be so lucky to have as many prints as he does in museum and private collections.
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Old 02-13-2013   #45
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What you suggest is a generalization and perhaps applies to others. I actually love equally all aspects of photography and pine away for the time that I can edit and print. Back in the seventies in art school I was trained to be a good printer.

I have struggled in the arts for decades and originally was a painter, and I know I have the discipline to defy your generalizations. Anyways not trying to be another Gary or Bruce: all I'm trying to be is me, but why do I feel oppressed?

Cal
Photography is a demanding activity. It requires time, patience, physical effort, money and many sacrifices. At least with digital some of those aspects have been trimmed but not much in the larger scheme of things. I see this analogue/digital debate as a dangerous distraction in a time when photography itself is struggling for relevance and importance... I guess when you said you're shooting film and not caring about printing, it struck me that you could do that with digital as well and far cheaply.
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Old 02-13-2013   #46
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Come on man, do you really think this way? We should all be so lucky to have as many prints as he does in museum and private collections.
There is more to the world of photography than pure talent. Ansel Adams needed Alfred Stieglitz and the Winogrand myth was created by John Szarkowski. There are very few photographers who have become famous by pure talent against all odds. Even Robert Frank needed Walker Evans.
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Old 02-13-2013   #47
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Is it possible that Winogrand was sloppy and liked to proscratinate? That he liked being outside shooting better than he liked going through file drawers? Did he maybe find the task of sorting through all that stuff -- 2,500 undeveloped rolls -- kind of daunting? Wouldn't you? And, anyway, what's wrong with that? He did produce a rather staggering and very fine body of printed work. Do you think that maybe he had hoped to live past the age of 56? What would any of us leave behind in life if our number came up prematurely like that? Is Vermeer less of a painter because we only know of a small quantity of finished canvasses? Did Gary maybe prefer shooting to printing? Who knows?
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Old 02-13-2013   #48
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Quote:
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There is more to the world of photography than pure talent. Ansel Adams needed Alfred Stieglitz and Winogrand was created by John Szarkowski. There are very few photographers who have become famous by pure talent against all odds. Even Robert Frank needed Walker Evans.
That still doesn't make Winogrand only a maker of negatives.
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Old 02-13-2013   #49
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Is getting recognition the measure of talent? Would Winogrand or Adams being less talented if they were simply less well-known?
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Old 02-13-2013   #50
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Is getting recognition the measure of talent? Would Winogrand or Adams being less talented if they were simply less well-known?
Not less talented, but it would be a shame to not have either be known.
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Old 02-13-2013   #51
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Originally Posted by upceci View Post
Photography is a demanding activity. It requires time, patience, physical effort, money and many sacrifices. At least with digital some of those aspects have been trimmed but not much in the larger scheme of things. I see this analogue/digital debate as a dangerous distraction in a time when photography itself is struggling for relevance and importance... I guess when you said you're shooting film and not caring about printing, it struck me that you could do that with digital as well and far cheaply.
Your assumption about digital is not the case either. Tomorrow I get delivery of a Leica Monochrome. Already bought an Epson 3880 to take advantage of a $250.00 rebate. This weekend I intend on buying a fully loaded 15 inch Mac Book Pro with Retina Screen. Just completed building out the room for my digital studio that involved about $1K in furniture. A NEC 721W with spectraview is about $1.5K, but that will have to wait.

Also no debate film verses digital: to me they are two separate mediums. And yes I know that photography is a demanding activity because I take what I do very seriously, but also know that the only person I need please is myself. No need to impress anyone else.

Cal
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Old 02-13-2013   #52
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Originally Posted by robklurfield View Post
Is it possible that Winogrand was sloppy and liked to proscratinate? That he liked being outside shooting better than he liked going through file drawers? Did he maybe find the task of sorting through all that stuff -- 2,500 undeveloped rolls -- kind of daunting? Wouldn't you? And, anyway, what's wrong with that? He did produce a rather staggering and very fine body of printed work. Do you think that maybe he had hoped to live past the age of 56? What would any of us leave behind in life if our number came up prematurely like that? Is Vermeer less of a painter because we only know of a small quantity of finished canvasses? Did Gary maybe prefer shooting to printing? Who knows?
Rob,

There's lots of ambiguous writing about Gary, and its really difficult to get any real clarity. Part of the legend and mystic is we really do not know definitively what Gary was thinking, especially towards the end of his life.

Not all photographers print their own work, and there are some that are known to be great printers as well as shooters, anyways the latter is my goal.

I know that I have upset people with my ways and my logic. This never was my intent. For me its art verses artifact: one is the act of creativity; and the other is the presentation of that creativity. Know that I do look at my negatives, evaluate them, and critically look for theme and content. I always was good in evaluating negatives and all I need is a good light table and sometimes an 8X lupe.

Since you went to art school I think you can see this separation of art and artifact.

I am 55, but I am rather good about taking care of my health. Eventually I will edit and print these negatives. Making prints I put off because I always envisioned printing big, and because of my training as an artist I want the quality.

Anyways I apologize for upsetting people with my creativity and personal logic that does not seem to make any sense to anyone else. Again all I'm trying to do is be me, and I'm very happy.

Cal
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Old 02-13-2013   #53
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Cal, you certainly haven't upset me, although I have teased you more than once about your backlog. I am a slob and have a quite a backlog of my own.

I think you're right about the mystery (and mystique) surrounding Winogrand.

Good health is lucky thing, as even those who work at maintaining it can have their number come up at anytime without warning. Winogrand certainly didn't strike me as any kind of health nut, but does that matter when you get gall bladder cancer?

Even if you never work through your significant backlog, the process of living your life fully is as important -- more important, I think -- than leaving a whole stack of lovely framed prints behind. Truth be told, until I got the new printer, I had printed anything in at least six years.

I mostly have teased you about this Cal simply to encourage you post a little bit of that oeuvre on the site for all of us to see -- even if it's not edited yet.

The difference between me and Winogrand will be that, when I'm gone, my backlog will be smaller and rather less (very much less) viewed. But I don't care. I kind of get the sense that Gary didn't care either. The pull of shooting just have greatly exceed to desire to stop long enough to edit, print and all that other junk (showing, selling, schmoozing, agents, publishers, etc. that we amateurs miss out on).
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Old 02-13-2013   #54
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+1 on that. But I often wonder, how many greats are out there waiting to be discovered.

Personally, I think the bane of the digital age so far is not in the quality of the work or the ability of it offer high IQ, but rather in the glut of it. There's so much out there. No different than in the golden age of film, in that most of it is junk and cheesy snapshots of cats, but now it is so easy to share in the public venues, that the size of the pile is ridiculous. And most of the pile is crap.

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Not less talented, but it would be a shame to not have either be known.
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Old 02-13-2013   #55
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Cal, with the MM arriving, you it to yourself to begin posting in the gallery. Don't worry about whether images are "finished;" just put 'em up. We'll all be waiting. Enjoy!
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Old 02-13-2013   #56
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I'm getting old.

Let me off of the spinning top.

Going back to my roots, with film.

Long last film & the quiet and peace of my darkroom.
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Old 02-13-2013   #57
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' I see this analogue/digital debate as a dangerous distraction in a time when photography itself is struggling for relevance and importance... ."

I have a hard time accepting that photography is struggling for relevance and importance when more pictures are being taken and shared now than at any point in recorded history. Yes, there is crap, but there is also a lot of fine work being produced. We are seeing the democratization of photography. Everybody can shoot and distribute their pictures easily.

News gathering has changed because of the ubiquity of cell phone cameras. Now, the news agencies can easily pick up photos and videos from a vast pool of people, not just news photographers.

I can get amazing candids on the subway by using an iPhone, all the while keeping a film camera around my neck as a decoy. ;-)

I read in an interview with Winogrand where he said that he liked to wait up to a year before processing and looking at his contact sheets, so that he could gain some emotional distance from the work. He felt that he needed to forget about the shot in order to make an objective determination of whether it was good. I can understand that argument. I like to be surprised by what I see on the contact sheet.

Shooting film is like sending myself a message to be read in the future.
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Old 02-13-2013   #58
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I'm getting old.

Let me off of the spinning top.

Going back to my roots, with film.

Long last film & the quiet and peace of my darkroom.
Hallelujah, brother!

Tashi delek,

R.
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Old 02-13-2013   #59
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Shooting film is like sending myself a message to be read in the future.
Very true...
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Old 02-13-2013   #60
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I still have two bulk rolls of TMax 100 and 400. Now the issue is going to be when will they stop selling chemicals to develop!
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Old 02-13-2013   #61
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I still have two bulk rolls of TMax 100 and 400. Now the issue is going to be when will they stop selling chemicals to develop!
http://caffenol.blogspot.com/
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Old 02-13-2013   #62
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I still have two bulk rolls of TMax 100 and 400. Now the issue is going to be when will they stop selling chemicals to develop!
Bruce,

The chemistry isn't out of the realm of making it yourself. Also some developers have extended very long shelf lives if not mixed in sealed packages.

Film remains the critical component.

Cal
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Old 02-13-2013   #63
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Cal, with the MM arriving, you it to yourself to begin posting in the gallery. Don't worry about whether images are "finished;" just put 'em up. We'll all be waiting. Enjoy!
Rob,

This is easy to do, but impossible in the past because all these years I did not scan. Remember that I'm really a lazy slacker. LOL.

Cal
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Old 02-13-2013   #64
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I think the back stock of most chemicals will outlast most of us. And, for those of you who can read a recipe, there are plenty around for home brews. As Cal says, some of these soup mixes have half lives longer than the stuff he mixes up in the cyclotrons at work. I heard that Cal's teeth emit enough gamma radiation to expose film. A human pinhole x-ray camera.

Cal, if you're a lazy slacker, then I am a lazy, sloppy slacker. Just ask my wife.
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Old 02-13-2013   #65
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Wait til Starbucks starts selling Caffenol.
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Old 02-13-2013   #66
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Amen to that, Brother.

I shot some 4x5 two days ago. (When I stepped into a snow covered, water-filled drainage ditch up to my crotch.)

(Anyone got a good tip for sealing the top of my leaky Unicolor tank? And, no, please don't suggest I buy a new tank, especially not a $400+ Jobo or a one of those nifty tilt-to-agitate do-dads Roger recommends. Budget for this is $10. I read that a plastic coffee can lid works. Or some polyurethane foam from Michael's.)

Quote:
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I'm getting old.

Let me off of the spinning top.

Going back to my roots, with film.

Long last film & the quiet and peace of my darkroom.
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Old 02-13-2013   #67
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Cal, if you're a lazy slacker, then I am a lazy, sloppy slacker. Just ask my wife.
Being a lazy slacker is fun.

Also know that working in physics labs is boring unless you are doing something dangerous.

Cal
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Old 02-13-2013   #68
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The demise of large box film manufacturers does not spell the end of film. Assuming there continues to be a demand for film (and I believe there will be), there will be some boutique company producing film and/or chemicals. Will the price go up? Probably, but not so drastic as to make it unaffordable. I, for one, have no anxiety over Kodak's demise. It merely spells an adjustment. Digital will rule, but film will still be available.
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Old 02-13-2013   #69
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To civilian laypeople like me, everything that goes on in a physics lab sounds vaguely dangerous. Hell, just making coffee in a place like that scares me. Were you flooded out of your lab?
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Being a lazy slacker is fun.

Also know that working in physics labs is boring unless you are doing something dangerous.

Cal
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Old 02-13-2013   #70
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The demise of large box film manufacturers does not spell the end of film. Assuming there continues to be a demand for film (and I believe there will be), there will be some boutique company producing film and/or chemicals. Will the price go up? Probably, but not so drastic as to make it unaffordable.
While this is most likely true, I worry about quality over time. The impossible project may have produced polaroid like film, but from what I have seen, the quality is lacking.
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Old 02-13-2013   #71
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Wow... Great article.

I was amazed they have a 'master roll' of 50 inches by 2 miles. That's 5,000,000 rolls of film. Just imagine. That's about 10-15 million $$$ depending on which film... Crazy thought.

Film can never die!
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Old 02-13-2013   #72
Tadeyev
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I cannot imagine film will ever stop being produced - somewhere, somehow.
But in the end there will probably only be viable space in that market for only 2 or 3 players maximum, not more. Ilford will be the last to go (if ever) as they are investing and betting on being the last man standing, and offer a lot of choices.

When you look at all those beautiful cameras out there, 20, 30 40, 50 years old, that still function with a roll of film, and compare that to digital - it means something. I seriously doubt that there will be any M8's still functioning 25 years from now. One day, something snaps or breaks, and that's it. - game over. For the new digital cameras" they will just become more and more like each other as they borrow from each other.

Already the difference between rangefinders and DLSR are closing - the M240 can even do video, the crappy LCD screens will get better and in 10 years all we will have left is a DSLR Leica that is just cloaked in an old fashioned rangefinder body.

And imagine another awful fantasy - god forbid - that Leica M digital just peters out of the market slowly because of the cost and the ageing of their high end digital clients in the course of 20 years….I think there are plenty of photographers who would even return to rangefinders and film, just to be able to use all that Leica glass after their sensors have broken or can't be remapped anymore and there are no replacements.

The Monochrom is the first digital camera that I can find capable of producing 'emotive' images….I am sorely tempted. But then I think about the other M bodies I could buy with that cash and the film I could store away, I get real doublets...

We still have long way to go - certainly with a postdate after the lifetime of most of the people writing here, to see how this song really will play out in the final aria of film.
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Old 02-13-2013   #73
Roger Hicks
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Maybe we should run another thread called "The death of intelligent, informed analysis."

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-13-2013   #74
jsrockit
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The Monochrom is the first digital camera that I can find capable of producing 'emotive' images….I am sorely tempted.
Can you explain this further?
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Old 02-13-2013   #75
Tijmendal
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Can you explain this further?
I guess what he means to say is that it's the digital camera that comes closest to mimicking film, thereby evoking emotion like film does.
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Old 02-13-2013   #76
robklurfield
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Roger, please stop watching news about politics in the Colonies. Some of us are neither Republicans nor Tea Party members. Oh, you weren't referring to politics and flat-earther Yanks....
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Maybe we should run another thread called "The death of intelligent, informed analysis."

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-13-2013   #77
Tadeyev
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I guess what he means to say is that it's the digital camera that comes closest to mimicking film, thereby evoking emotion like film does.
Yes, indeed, simply put that sums it up…

The files produced in the Monochrom have a good leeway for further work in Lightroom/Photoshop without starting in colour, and have a certain 'film-like' quality, but with better high ISO results than the M9 for instance, thus opening up lots of possibilities (imagine the Leica 21mm 3.4 ASPH in combo with higher ASA's on the MM).

You can kinda treat it like a film camera with B/W, use filters and keep the mood of working with film, before using the sliders to compensate this or that ;-0)

I have only used one a couple of times, but have been inspired by some really magnificent work browsed on the net by lucky MM owners.

I still just loathe the idea of even more hours in front of the computer though.
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Old 02-13-2013   #78
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I still just loathe the idea of even more hours in front of the computer though.
This is a real problem. As a computer programmer, I already spend 8-12 hours a day in front of a computer screen. Now, modern photography requires that I spend even more time in front of the screen.

This is why contact sheets and negatives are such a relief. Sure, I have to scan, but at least I can admire the results without sitting in front of a computer.

Larry
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Old 02-13-2013   #79
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Roger, please stop watching news about politics in the Colonies. Some of us are neither Republicans nor Tea Party members. Oh, you weren't referring to politics and flat-earther Yanks....
Dear Rob,

How about flat (non-curved) lens elements?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-13-2013   #80
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Pinhole lenses for pin-headed politicians, my dear friend, Roger.

Most of our pols contribute to atmospheric disruptions and global climate change by merely opening their mouths and emitting sulfurous emanations and ejaculating great clouds of methane. These folks who are certain that Moses was around just in time to ride dinosaurs (and why didn't Noah bring any of those dinosaurs on the ark?).
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