Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/07/21

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Subject: [Leica] PRC trip (long)
From: "Jeff S" <>
Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 00:17:11 -0600

Hello all,

Just got back from a whirlwind tour of China, which took in a route
approximating the ancient silk trading routes, from Kasgar in the northwest,
to Xian and beyond, to Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Equipment I carried: M6, M4, 35 Summicron, 50/2.8 (current), Pentax
spotmeter, TMax 400, which I exposed at ISO 100, and lastly, a set of
Leica's 8x32BA binocs.

Photographically speaking, wow, what a trip! A fortuitous front of foul
weather made for some great soft, (actually, a
little foggy) filtered light in Kasgar and elsewhere. And what subject
matter: Islamic architecture, earth-walled buildings in Xin Jiang province,
to grubs and scorpions for sale in the southeast.

Challenges faced:

When in an area of the Gobi Desert, with camel caravans a setting sun and
waxing moon at hand, as well as throngs of tourists, what do you do? Do you
try to capture the lone caravan traversing a moodily-lit dune, or do you go
out of your way to include said tourists, and play with preconceived
notions? I did a few "straight" shots, then quickly decided to have fun.

Beijing's Forbidden City is much-photographed, but how to capture the sense
of immense scale? Well in this case, the sky was featureless grey, and the
light was overhead and pretty hash, so I didn't even try for an overview,
but rather, picked out interesting architectural elements sometimes in open
shade, or in other cases, sought to reduce sky to a minimum. I used the 50 a
lot, and had fun capturing views through archways, or even found a pleasing
arrangement of stone stairs and manicured lawns. Even the souvenir stands
are fair game.

How the heck to capture the feel of being in a covered marketplace in
Guangzhou, and the heaping tables of mushrooms, centipedes, pigs, cats,
scorpions, etc? I've been to many a marketplace in Asia, and tend to enjoy
the diffused quality of light as it filters through the tarps overhead, but
this often means shooting wide open at some slow shutter speeds. Tripod? Fat
chance if you get down to where the action is! Suppose I could experiment
with flash more in the future--would be fun to have the camera on a tripod
(somehow!) and assistant to "paint" the place with multiple strobe flashes.

What to say about Hong Kong? Near the touristy areas in Kowloon, towards the
tip of the peninsula, I found signs overhanging the streets gave them the
feel of shopping arcades--really crowded ones. So that's what I aimed for.
The red-and-silver taxis are everywhere, and I tried to get lots of those,
too (I stopped in the middle of a crosswalk, in fact) Up north, not far from
where Nathan Road and Prince Edward Street intersect, I had some fun
photographing the bird market. Though not a particularly large or photogenic
area (the buildings look pretty bland and modern), the stalls themselves are
practically bursting at the seams with birds, cages and bird enthusiasts,
and I tried to capture some of the cluttery, noisy feel. While looking for
the goldfish market, I found instead, an open market which looked to be
mobbed, so I waded in with the 35mm lens, and tried all sorts of things to
capture the feel of being amongst a sea of humanity--raised the camera over
my head, shooting blindly, deliberately photographed the backs of people's
heads, walked in back of the stalls for a vendor's-eye view, etc.

How the gear fared: The M4 got zero use, as the M6 worked fine, and I had
little desire to have multiple cameras dangling from my neck. I'm going
through batteries too quickly (three since March), but darned if that little
TTL meter isn't a treat! The red dot on the lens release is about worn off,
but no big loss, since I know where it is :-) I had neglected to remove the
Really Right Stuff QR plate, and just as well, as I whacked the camera and
may have dented it had it not been armor plated there. In Hong Kong, fogging
of optics due to moisture condensation was a real pain when leaving the
hotel, and it did prevent me from shooting for the first 1/2 hour or so.
Suppose I could've wiped it and shot quickly, but the poor 35mm lens has
already got cleaning marks, so...

The 8x32BA binocs are always a treat to use, and I'm still regarding these
as the proverbial "it" for deluxe general purpose use. I sometimes would
leave these behind if, for instance, I knew the day's events would keep us
within crowds or on the go; I prefer leisurely use of the binocs, and like
the "Mole" character in a Kobo Abe novel, still get a kick out of "soaring"
over the city with a view from a hotel window!

Camera shopping: I did very little. Actually, I had hoped to find some
Russian gear (21mm lens!) in various marketplaces, but was told Russian
things in general weren't so common anymore. Only Chinese cameras I saw were
a few pedestrian-looking 35 RF cameras, possibly with selenium meter, and a
number of black Seagull SLRs proudly hanging from the neck of many a Chinese
enthusiast. Things changed in Hong Kong: No Seagull to be seen, and numerous
shops bearing the Leica logo, though I saw no actual gear, save for two
shops Cameron and Francisco Photo.  I did get to stop by Cameron Photo
briefly, and found the $850 price for a 90/2.8M extremely tempting--I may
take them up on the offer at a future date. Next door is Francisco Photo,
which has an impressive display of collectables in the window. I have no
great urge to own a gold camera or a new Minolta Hi-Matic, but it's fun to
see them on display.

Thoughts on carrying a chrome body with unaltered red dot: From Kasgar to
Hong Kong, I attracted more attention with my Palm Pilot! In crowds, I keep
the camera in my hand, bringing it to my eye only to shoot or periodically,
verify exposure settings. I do like having a seat-of-the-pants feel for how
these settings change as I step into open shade, or what my lenses will
cover. Bracketing? Only if the subject matter's pretty static! The net
effect, I think, is that I must look like I'm casually clicking away here
and there, rather than intently twiddling controls with the camera up to my
eye. I've gained new respect for the 35mm lens, primarily because by f/5.6,
it's not too picky about precise focus!

What went wrong on this trip: I usually go light on lens-cleaning supplies,
preparing only for dust and an occasional light fingerprint when travelling.
This time, I found the back of my 50 appeared to have been splattered with
something, and not just one or two specks--possibly enough to give me a bit
of the soft focus look--darned if I know how THAT happened, as the back of
the 50 Elmar is deeply recessed and not easily touched. Very laborious to
remove with condensed breath and a microfiber cloth. May experiment with a
lens pen device or the old standby, Kodak fluid + tissue. Also, the (black
plastic)  M6 rewind knob is too darned small: I have yet to fully rewind a
40-exposure roll without slipping at least once--I may see if I can replace
it with an M4 part.

More shirts w/breast pocket might be nice for holding the baseplate of the
camera (it's kind of hard on the teeth)

Film used was 200' of bulk-loaded Tmax 400, which I determined was best at
ISO 100, following Zone VI Workshop guidelines. I'll be shopping around for
a good multi-grade fiber-based paper that'll maybe take toner well, as well
as a good developer for same. Suggestions would be welcomed.

A good trip all in all--now to convince myself that I really like the
darkroom side of things :-)