Dear LHSA member, one of the things that makes LHSA so interesting and informative is that everyone has their own Leica “story.” This is one of the things that connects us. I thought I would offer my own here in an effort to generate more stories from the members. What is the story of your Leica journey? Send yours to email@example.com and we will publish as many as we can.
Alan Weinschel’s Leica Journey
To explain my Leica journey, which began in 2002, I need to take you back to 1959. I was thirteen years old and received a camera from my favorite uncle Stanley. He must have seen me looking enviously at his Argus C3, which I thought was a special little box. My first camera was not an Argus, however. It was a Samoca 35, a small camera with a built-in reflective meter and a coincident rangefinder.
It was a fairly crude camera by today’s standards. It had a 50mm f/3.5 lens, shutter speeds from B to 1/200 — and the back had to be removed to load film (see how far we have come!) The top plate was nearly fully occupied by the winding knobs and a meter scale, so much so that the accessory shoe was mounted on the side of the camera:
Having used only Kodak Brownies to that point, I had never seen this fascinating rangefinder device that let you focus on something specific. I fell for it, and used it for several years, when I changed to another Japanese rangefinder, an “Argon”, imported by Saul Bower. Saul was a friend of my Dad’s and gave me a good deal. I remember traveling to Liberty Street in downtown Manhattan to pick it up. The Argon had both a faster lens and a faster shutter but, alas, its optical quality was not even up to Samoca standards. But I was young with limited resources, so I had to make do. Along the way, I started developing and printing in a makeshift darkroom in the basement laundry room and started learning about such things as developers and agitation, printing on different grades and types of papers, and techniques like dodging and burning.
Like the Samoca, the Argon had a fixed lens. I tried some auxiliary tele and wide angles that screwed on the front of the lens, but they were contraptions that had real limitations. When I was in high school, I was the photo editor on the school newspaper. I had to cover sports, among other things. The Argon was not getting the job done, and I needed something that could handle telephoto lenses. That had to wait until I could afford it, but after working at a grocery all summer one year, I saved enough for an interchangeable lens camera. I strayed from rangefinder to SLR, buying a Honeywell Pentax H1 (yes, it was “Honeywell” (the importer) in those days, even though Asahi was the manufacturer). That camera, and successor Pentaxes, stayed with me for years until the early 1970’s when a great deal on a Nikon F Photomic was presented and I changed to Nikon. I was working as a lawyer by then, and finances had improved somewhat.
The Nikon SLRs were good cameras with good lenses but there was that rangefinder bug lurking in the background. I dabbled with a Nikon S1, and a Nikon S3 rangefinder but my law practice was too busy for me to spend much time on photography. In the late 1990’s, still looking for a compact interchangeable lens system for travel, I tried a Contax G2, a nice viewfinder camera with very good Zeiss optics. The Contax was autofocus but I did not keep it very long because I found it very difficult to figure out what the camera was focusing on. I was then in a better financial position, and the Leica light bulb finally went off. In 2002 I bought a M7 and a used 50mm Summicron (from Stan Tamarkin) and used that camera for years. I was able to obtain some other lenses, including a very old 135mm (I don’t remember which one).
At around the same time, I started scanning negatives and slides and learning this new thing called “Photoshop”. I had one foot in the digital world and one foot still in the analog world. When decent digital cameras began to appear, I started experimenting, but was mostly unsatisfied. What I was was really waiting for was a digital Leica. All the reports were that it might not be possible to do digital in a Leica body, but Leica had its DMR for the R8/9 so there was hope. Finally, the M8 appeared and I leapt at the chance. We all know the UV/IR issues with the M8, but like many others I was happy to have to deal with that. The reports then were that a full frame rangefinder was “impossible”, but on 9/9/09, I was very happy to put in an order for a M9, and then went on to an M(240), and M10, which is what I am using now (along with an SL, CL and Q) . My M10-P with the LHSA 50th anniversary commemorative APO 50mm Summicron is here:
Now both feet are planted firmly on the digital side. I won’t get involved in the film/digital debate. Suffice to say that I am happier doing my developing, cropping and dodging and burning, etc. on a computer screen than I was messing around in a darkroom.
So what happened to the first of my Leicas, the M7? Sad to say, I sold it to finance something else (now forgotten), one of my regrets. The rule I have learned is that I never regret buying Leica gear, (no Buyer’s Remorse here) but frequently regret selling (Seller’s Regret), but it is a rule that even today I do not always adhere to. Will I ever learn?
Alan Weinschel, LHSA President