Sunday, February 22, 2009

Leica R8 and Nikon F4

Finally let me tell you about my jump into "professional grade" cameras...

When I got my Miranda Sensorex at a garage sale for $5, I was so blown away by the color and character imparted by this camera, that I plunged head first into photography and I haven't slowed down since. I thought that my developing style was "lofi," similar to the sound quality ethics of idealistic musicians popularized especially 90s and beyond. Old/crappy/weird stuff has a special character - and if you like using that character your style is "lofi." I had been buying thrift store and flea market cameras originally just to test them out. Then I came to a conclusion from the cameras I had used: many classic cameras have similar features and not all lenses are created equal. As I experienced lenses, I picked my favorites and noted them. If they were good enough to keep, meaning they were equally stimulating as the Miranda lenses I had, then I would keep them or continue collecting lenses and bodies of that kind (like Miranda mount, Pentax K mount, Olympus OM, m42 etc.). I was beginning to become jaded on the possibilities of these flea market cameras; nearly all of them had a top shutter speed of 1000 (maybe 2000 or 500), maybe had aperture preview, maybe had available 50mm f/1.4 lenses and maybe they didn't, maybe they were rangefinders and maybe they were SLRs. I liked my Miranda, and I had begun to build up my lens collection, but I was also intrigued by cameras costing much more. What made a camera so expensive when you could get one that works pretty darn good for under $100? My friend friendly damage was way into these expensive cameras and he had a lot more photography experience than I had at the time. I didn't get it.

Finally one day I stumbled upon a Leica R8 in a thrift store. The price was fair for the model but unaffordable to me; I still had to hold it in my hands. I was inexperienced and holding something that expensive made me shake a bit. I was afraid I would drop it. But when I held it, I noticed its heft and excellent finish. I still didn't understand how a used 35mm SLR could cost well over $1000. It sat in there for a while, being way nicer than all the other cameras they had there (and out of most people in the area's price range) and I used to think about it as I drove by. Then during the holidays it went on sale, and I uncomfortably haggled them down to $1350 with 2 mint lenses (after doing my internet research of course). I knew it was a good deal on it and I intended to just use it once to experience it and sell it on ebay for an estimated profit of between $100-$600. I had been mostly fixing up flea market cameras so I thought I might as well use my knowledge to flip this one for some easy cash.

So I shot a roll through it. Just screwing around on my roof with my mint R8 and a tripod taking some low light photos. Not bound to be anything spectacular. I got the pictures back and thought "hmmmm..." It looks good but not $1350 good. So I put it out of my mind and started thinking I'd be using my Miranda for a while as it seems to be working good. Practical eh?

I put the Leica out of my mind until the idea of a more-featured camera came back to me. My friends were into Contax and I only sorta got it. I saw some of their images and I really liked the strength and color of their images. So I got the idea of getting an older "professional" camera with a top shutter speed of 2000+ and an assortment of "nice" lenses ( still didn't know quite what these terms meant). I had been getting into fast lenses / slow film and I began to notice that if I liked to shoot with the aperture wide open in the daytime with fast lenses, then I need fast shutter speeds. Certain creative options were only available with nicer more expensive cameras. Fast lenses were more expensive as well as cameras with fast shutter speeds. So I started looking at a Nikon F3 at the recommendation of mr. damage.

At the same time I had realized that the Leica images were very nice and were still ME. I had thought that my style was "lofi". This wasn't really true as I was never a holga/disposable camera/polaroid guy. It was more about the strange and imprecise style and choices I made that resulted in interesting photographs. I was never an "image engineer" - someone who views a camera as a tool that should be used in a certain way to produce an accurate representation of "reality". So I found out that I actually could benefit from a fancier camera. But which one?

The Leica was outrageously expensive but I loved the feel and function of it. The F3 was cool but not nearly as high tech or as big and nice to hold as the R8. Then I found the F4, read about it, found out it was about the same price as the F3 but with a power winder like the R8 I had and a top shutter speed of 8000 (also like the R8). Plus it looked big and nice to hold and had the possibility of other viewfinders, which was one thing that I thought was really impressive about the Miranda in its price range. So one day an F4 popped up on craigslist and I picked it up with a handful of film and a wonderful 105mm f/2.5 for $450 and I was happy as a clam once I started burning through rolls at lightning speed (must've been maxing it out at 6 frames per second) and I was astounded by the results!

But that was not the end of the Leica...

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