The Leica Collection

The Leica Collection - click on it for a bigger picture

Sorry the picture is so blurry - but it is only part of a much large picture showing the whole Leitz collection. It was all sold in Germany via Das Fotohaus in Hamburg.

It started almost by accident - I was in a photographic shop (long gone) in Wellingborough and picked up a Leica M3 fitted with a collapsible 90mm Elmar. As a user of a Japanese SLR (a Miranda F) at the time, I was stunned by the weight (Leica bodies are machined out of blocks of solid steel) and the build quality. So it went home with me and, loaded with Kodachrome 25, on a trip to Brassington Rocks that weekend.

I was unmarried at the time and working in the City of London on a good salary - so a collection started. I picked up an M5 body ("the shoebox") quite quickly, then an M4. Lenses also started to accumulate. Since you can't fit zooms to rangefinder cameras, quite a lot of lenses.

I got to know every serious camera dealer in London. Yes, there are reasons for visiting Praed Street that won't get you arrested. One of the best was Campkins at 45 New Bond Street - the only dealer in the country with a Leitz-approved workshop in the basement.

When we moved to Germany, Leitz itself was a lot closer and the factory took over maintenance of what was now a large collection. Leicas are praised for legendary reliability, but I don't entirely share that opinion. In serious use, the M5 (modified by the factory to add a 6-frame finder and third strap lug) proved delicate - prone to balsam fractures in the viewfinder and mysterious meter problems. The M4P's angled rewind knob is also exposed - a good knock on the side and you can't get the film out. Leitz obviously recognised the problem (I told them often enough) and fixed it with the last version they built, the MP. And one of the quietest shutters ever built driven by the loudest motor ever built.

So the workhorses became a pair of matched M2 bodies, gutted and rebuilt with M4 innards by Leitz and also fitted with 6-frame viewfinders. And they truly were indestructible. But the issue was the weight - the 50mm Noctilux and 75mm Summilux are heavy lenses - without zooms you also have to carry 28mm, 35mm, 90mm and 135mm lenses. Add a spotmeter, a handful of filters, twenty rolls of film and the effluvia that photographers carry, and it's an issue. Enough to pull your shoulder off, and a serious problem on a whole day mobile shoot. The bag was so big I got charged double on the Venetian water buses.

They were, of course, magnificent tools. The f1 Noctilux on the M5 "shoebox" loaded with 3M 640T slide film is a lethal weapon in the late evening. An hour after most people had put their cameras away and using no flash - people get a false sense of security. It's hard to hear the M5's shutter even with it pressed against your face.

But the weight. And the inconvenience of perpetual lens changes - especially in the rain or wind-blown dust. And even the cost of filters - circular polarising filters for six lenses is a week's salary.

So thank heavens for electronics. The Sony T series (the latest version is waterproof too) certainly can't do everything the Leicas could do, like placing a 5mm depth of field accurately three metres away. But it covers the focal lengths, focusses to 1cm and doesn't need reloading every 36 frames - it can store 1,000. Fourteen megapixels is a lot less than a Leica lens can resolve, but it compares well with what 640T can achieve, and it's TINY and weighs nothing. The software functionality (it recognises plates of food and goes into "gourmet mode") is a bonus.

The best camera in the world is useless if it's at home in the wardrobe - my Cybershot is ALWAYS in my trouser pocket.

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