Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/07/29

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Subject: Re: [Leica] potential image quality
From: Alan Ball <>
Date: Wed, 29 Jul 1998 17:26:02 +0200

Eric Welch wrote:
> I think this is too sweeping a condemnation of 35mm. 

I'm not condemning 35mm, on the contrary. I prefer it to larger formats
because it allows really mobile photography for a wide variety of
applications while maintaining a nice level of quality. Not being
involved in sports or wildlife photography, which imply specific
constraints, and being very diletante with macro, I am happy to FREE
myself of the (heavy) tripod. I have also used medium format equipment
(never larger) in the past and might find reasons to do so in the future
if I get into that kind of photography again.

> First of all, it can
> be treated like a view camera (a la tripod) and it is also flexible for use
> as you say. That's an advantage, not a disadvantage. Sure it doesn't give
> the same sharpness ("clarity") as larger formats when enlarged much at all.
> Yet over and over and over again, people are won over to Leica from other
> camera lines because of the image quality. And not just when on a tripod.

Flexibility is of course an advantage. I was questionning the choice of
35mm systems for people whose daily photographic interests imply getting
the last optical quality drop  out of their hardware in order to get
'top' quality in their images. Typically, in my mind, this refers mostly
to high end landscape, nature, still life, studio and portrait
applications. The workload implied by these activities is only
marginally heavier if you switch to larger formats, but for radically
'better' (in the imaging sense) pictures. Carrying 15 kilos of
accessories (heavy tripod, super ball head, etc) and a 10 kilo Leica R
gear bag is not much 'better' than carrying the same load of accessories
with a 15 kilo Hasselblad gear bag (these are quick guess figures
deserving to be corrected). The setup speed will only be marginally in
favour of 35mm but the MF setup will allow super fast change of emulsion

> You can argue 'til you're blue in the face that there is no difference
> unless it's on a tripod, and those of us who have a different view on it -
> also based on experience with our use of our cameras - are not going to be
> convinced. We know that the Leica lenses have different performance
> characteristics than other lines. 

There might be "a" difference (in the sense you define it) in handheld
'normal' shooting but it will be quite marginal, and you can argue till
you are green in the face (what a colourful world). I agree Leica lenses
are 'better' than the rest for reasons I already mentionned: regular
Leica M lenses are extremely compact (no need to carry a gear bag even
with a full system), Leica M also offers the best selection of
ultra-fast lenses on the market (allowing sufficient quality pictures in
the lowest light conditions where others would not stand a chance),
Leica M and R lenses are extremely well built and allow very precise
focusing while many competitors have a little 'slack' in that respect.
Optically, Leica users tend to know they use top notch equipment, they
are confident that this will not be a point of failure in the
photographic process. And rightly so.

> I find a quite unique look to Leica
> pictures - in the main, not every lens - and I have taken pictures in nasty
> conditions that lesser lenses fall down in and get great pictures. Not just
> Leica vs. Sigma, but Leica vs. Canon L series. That's my experience (and
> the guy who owns the Canon). If yours is different, then that's fine.

Could you describe the Canon experience ? I am happy we agree on the
'not every lens' precision anyway.

> If someone cannot see a difference, then are they not wasting money on
> Leica? I know they feel good in the hand, they offer pride of ownership,
> they last a long time, and have for the most part great resale value. None
> of which would compel me to own Leica. 

And other qualities, especially in the M line, as mentionned further up.
Regarding the "cannot see the difference" bit, I've often stated that
the M system has encouraged me to take the gear out when a SLR setup
would have stayed home, that it has encouraged me to take more pictures,
that it has helped me change my style of photography by suppressing  the
agressivity of the SLR interface in my eyes and even more in the eyes of
the people I photograph, that it has been reliable and I am more and
more in a position to find it totally predictable. I therefore take more
good pictures and generally better pictures than before. That is the
difference I see.

> On the other hand, other people have
> other reasons to own it besides me. I own them because I use them
> professionally, and they do the job better than any other cameras/lenses.
> For me.

I also use Leica 'professionally' though I am not a professional
photographer. As an editor, I use my camera gear to provide me with
adequate illustrations. As a hobbyist, I use it because I find
photography is a mode of communication I can relate to. And Leica helps
me getting better at it. I have yet to meet a professional photographer
professionally using Leica gear in the press activities I attend to. And
I attend to a lot of press activities. If the image quality difference
was as spectacular as argued by yourself and other dedicated
Leicaphiles, I sincerely believe those people who rely on the selling of
images to make a living would not hesitate to switch to Leica in order
to  gain a competitive advantage.

Friendly regards, as always