Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Brassy Leicas: Why does a well-worn camera look so good?

Brassy Leicas: Why does a well-worn camera look so good?

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 Photos by Mike Evans, Leica SL and 50mm Apo-Summicron-M
Photos by Mike Evans, Leica SL and 50mm Apo-Summicron-M

Why is it that an old Leica that has had a hardish life can be so much more attractive than a pristine out-of-the-box newcomer? I’m the first to admit that I mollycoddle my cameras and worry about getting a scratch or a brassed corner. It’s some notion about harming resale value, I suppose, but really I shouldn’t worry. Today I met a man who doesn’t.

 Kai Sotto is a man who doesn
Kai Sotto is a man who doesn’t take his cameras too seriously. He uses them for what they are intended, to take good photographs

Kai Sotto’s modern M-P looks like it has seen better days. In fact, it looks more like my brassed-off MP film camera from 2004 than a digital wonder that was introduced to this world as recently as August 2014.

Kai is a Canadian who now lives in Singapore and I met him at Red Dot Cameras in London. He has a completely different attitude to his cameras to me, throwing them in the bag and generally not worrying about any damage. I bet he gets some great shots.

In view of the large amount of brass showing through on this M-P I thought initially he had been at it with a Brillo pad. This is not the case. He just uses it. It is what happens to a good camera when it is used as a tool for taking photographs rather than as an object to be kept safe from harm.

I envy Kai. I’d really like to take his attitude to cameras, to treat them with a firm hand and to free myself from worry about the first scratch. I’m also not so sure that if he put his war-weary M-P on the market he wouldn’t get more for it than I would for my pristine black model. There are people out there who will pay more for a good dollop of brass. As they used to say back in my home county of Lancashire, “where there’s muck there’s brass.” 

There’s just something about it. I feel the same about my MP film camera which I bought secondhand, already well and brassy. It’s a beauty and so is Kai Sotto’s M-P.

 New model? Never: Shades of Lenny Kravitz in 18 hectic months. And just look at that  Match Technical  Thumbs Up. It
New model? Never: Shades of Lenny Kravitz in 18 hectic months. And just look at that Match Technical Thumbs Up. It’s the brassiest thumb rest I’ve ever seen and deserves a place in Tim Issac’s museum back in Seattle. But I bet Kai wouldn’t change it for a new one. Brassy is best, I can hear him saying

Gradually I feel my attitude to cameras changing: Don’t worry so much, just get on with it and enjoy taking photographs. Forget those leather half cases, just let the camera take its chances. It might even make me a better photographer.

By the way, if you feel like a bit of brassing yourself, it has to come naturally. No nail files or pumice stones for you. And before you start throwing around your M make sure you know which one has a brass top-plate and bottom cover. The new, stripped down M262 doesn’t, for instance—but you are safe to scratch to your heart’s content with the M240 and M-P.

You can find Kai on Instagram @kaielm

7 COMMENTS

  1. It doesn’t happen to chrome cameras Mike as you know…

    My M2 is 50 years old this year and it is neither attacked with wire-wool, nor kept in cotton-wool, yet it still looks like new…

    Best of both worlds…

    Or am I missing something 😉 ?

    • No, you are right. I think a camera that has survived 50 years should be preserved as it is. But there is something nice about the camera I saw this morning.

  2. It was a pleasure to meet you, Michael.

    More importantly, I am grateful for your blog post. Specifically, you captured the essence of my life philosophy, "Wabi Sabi".

    Wabi Sabi is a Japanese world view and aesthetic. I describe it as cherishing the beauty of imperfections. It is the embrace of austerity, the incomplete and the inevitable.

    From strictly an aesthetic point of view, it is the appreciation of the scars and patina earned through function. Leica cameras, as we acolytes know , are simply tools. (As a side note: When did the intellectuals and the 1% usurped Leica? When did utility become fashion?) Beyond aesthetic, I aspire to be like my camera; aging gracefully.

    To see the photos I’ve taken with my MP240 and my film MP, please take a glance here. Please feel free to publish/link my instagram account, @kaielm, on your post to close the loop between the tool and the outputs.

    Again, grateful. Thank you.

    Stay in touch… ::kai

  3. I have a similar approach to vintage cars: Many people restore them "to brand new", but after years of use it can be much more interesting to keep them in technical pefect condition, but to let the optics untouched. Experts know: Original condition only exists once.

    Meanwhile unrestored cars can be much more worth than "trailer queens" that lost their souls during a restoration: http://autoweek.com/article/car-life/unrestored-gullwing-fetches-400k-more-restored-one

  4. My personal favourites are the black lacquer and nickel models produced by Leica between 1925 and 1936. Nothing produced by Leica since then comes close from an aesthetic perspective, not even the highly prized and priced black paint models from the 1950s and 1960s and certainly not any of the digital models. As for chrome, it does mark up over time. The most hard wearing chrome was the shiny chrome, produced for a very short time in 1933 after the Model III was introduced. It looks today like it had just left Wetzlar yesterday.

    All of this is, of course, about cameras as aesthetic objects and not about their real purpose; taking pictures. The most important questions are; how does it handle and does it enable the photographer to take good pictures? At the end of the day cameras are just tools. It is the photographer that creates the real art.

    William

    • I agree on the older black models. Also you are absolutely right on the camera being a tool rather than an end in itself. I think this is what Kai Elmer Sotto was express so eloquently. I feel we all spend too much time worrying about the equipment and not giving priority to the pictures. I hold my hands up to that one. In many ways I found meeting Kai very inspiring. Having returned the test SL and zoom to Leica, I am now walking around with my M-P and 35 ‘Cron, gently rubbing the edge of the top plate with the palm of my hand. No brass yet. Nor any worthwhile pictures for that matter.

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