The Search for a New Camera

I need a camera.

I need a film camera.

I have a film camera.

But I need a new one.

The film SLR I currently have in my possession is a Phenix DC303N. If you Google that you won’t find much. I posted about it somewhere before and the info I did get is that it is essentially a Chinese copy of another camera, the brand and model of which I forget. But I suspect it was a Yashica.

Mechanically the camera is sound. In fact I would say it is close to being in mint condition (a bit of a stretch but not far off!) although the lens has some issues with focusing. As it’s an SLR I’m not 100% sure whether this is an issue with the lens or camera, but as I have been shooting between f/8 and f/16┬áthis hasn’t really been an issue during the day. But when shooting at night, wide open, it was a huge pain.

Either way this camera/lens combo is not for me. It’s clunky, and worst of all, cheap. And by that I mean the parts that make up the whole are cheap. Cheap glass means images are not as sharp as they should be. It’s a perfect starter camera but at this stage I’m looking to invest in a camera that will suit my needs for a long, long time.

So in the next couple of weeks I’m going to invest in a new film camera. Specifically, a Leica.

Leica

For those unfamiliar with all things photographic, Leica’s are considered by many to be the best of the best when it comes to film cameras (35mm), particularly their ‘M,’ series cameras which were used by such photographic giants as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Vivian Maier (google her. If the events surrounding her images right now are not turned into a movie in the near future I would be very surprised) and a personal hero of mine, W. Eugene Smith.

This is a great three-minute look at just some of the images created using Leica’s over the years.

So what are some of the other reasons to get a Leica?

Quality

The first reason is quality.

Think of the Phenix as a Honda Civic. The Leica a Bentley. Both will get you from A to B but the difference in quality cannot be denied.

I have some savings built up from the past few years and the idea of buying a camera made between 1957 and 1968, that I can use for the rest of my lifetime and potentially hand down to my own children one day is something special. It’s something that we don’t see much anymore.

Imagine their horror if you tried to hand your old iPhone down to your kids in 50 years time. If you still had it (which you won’t.) And if it still works (which it won’t.)

Art

These are hand-built pieces of art. The particular model I’m looking at, the M2 (for it’s lack of meter and inclusion of 35mm frame-lines, missing from the M3) was built between ’57 and ’68 in a run of 82,000 units. Because of this they still hold their value today. If anything, from my research of prices and conditions, they have gone up in value over the last five years or thereabouts..

Digital cameras, on the other hand, are like new cars; as soon as you take it out of the store it’s value has dropped considerably. Not with a Leica.

Leica’s are small, compact and very quiet. They are unobtrusive, non-threatening and lend themselves well to moving around the streets and documenting that which is going on around you.

Glass

Leica lenses, and those made by others such as Carl Zeiss to work with Leica, are beautiful.

Sharp, made from brass and metal and again, precision made to the highest standards, they are long lasting pieces of art.

Right now I’m having some trouble deciding between a 50mm (Elmar f/2.8, a beautifully classical looking collapsible) or a 35mm (Carl Zeiss f/2 ‘Biogon,’) as I intend to use whichever I go for for at least a year before investing in more. Both are wonderful so in some ways it’s a nice problem to have. In others, it’s infuriating.

Heart

This last reason is one of heart over head. This is a camera that I read about growing up, learning about photography and photographers. A camera I saw in the hands of the very people I studied, revered and looked up to.

This is a camera that I felt was always out of my reach.

But I’m a little older now, independent. Thanks to some planning and saving I will be able to tick the Leica box off my to-do list very soon.

Tool

It’s often said that the camera is simply a tool, that it is the photographer who makes the photograph at the end of the day.

And this is certainly true.

But sometime’s it’s just nice to have the best tools for the job.

And so there’s only one question remaining now.

35mm or 50mm?

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