Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Dogs About Town: One camera, one lens, lots of dogs

Dogs About Town: One camera, one lens, lots of dogs

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  Bruno minding the shop
Bruno minding the shop

When I took my first ‘Town Dogs’ pictures in 2005, I wasn’t thinking of a project – I’d gone out to buy spark plugs. So finding Bruno minding the shop at Etty & Tyler’s, the motorcycle dealers in Forest Gate, was a bonus. A gentle giant of a dog, he welcomed any visitor who took him sliced ham or digestive biscuits. And he loved posing for the camera.

  Mastiff at home
Mastiff at home
  Elderly mastiff
Elderly mastiff

At the time I used a Leica M3 and 50mm Summicron lens for all my photography. The body is double-stroke (circa 1956) and the lens a rigid version from about 1962. Why an M3? For its viewfinder. I’d borrowed an M6 from a friend, but not enjoyed it. The viewfinder, with its 0.72 magnification, felt cramped. But when I tried the M3, with its clear, bright viewfinder (0.91 magnification) I was hooked – and I still am. The body and lens came with me in 2015, when I moved to Zambia.

  Two proud poodles, one proud man
Two proud poodles, one proud man

Compact and portable, the M3 and 50mm lens served me well throughout the Town Dogs project. Carried with a wrist strap, they went nearly everywhere with me. I used Kodak Tri-X film – rated normally at 400 ISO – both indoors and outside.

  Down boy!
Down boy!

For reportage and street photography, the virtues of Leica M cameras are well known. They’re quiet, discreet and many photographers prefer the rangefinder system for focusing manually in low light. 

  Doorstep Doberman
Doorstep Doberman
  Rosa at the helm
Rosa at the helm

But what about the drawbacks?

My biggest frustration was parallax error – not getting on film exactly what I’d seen in the viewfinder. Yes, Leica M viewfinders do compensate for parallax error, but not perfectly. When taking dog portraits, I’d sometimes find unexpected clutter at the edge of my negative. With practice I’ve got better at compensating manually, but I still get it wrong.

  Designer poodle
Designer poodle
  Chihuahua and legs
Chihuahua and legs

The double-stroke wind mechanism has its critics, but in practice I’ve never found it a problem. To me it feels natural. One of the pleasures of using an M3 is winding on the film. It feels so smooth – like butter, some say. When I asked why, I was told it’s because one of the gears is made of brass.

  Undercover dog
Undercover dog

I can’t fault the 50mm Summicron lens. I love the way it renders and like its angle of view. I’ve sometimes hankered after a wider maximum aperture, but not for long. I like some depth of field in my shots – more than f/1.4 can give.

Towards the end of ‘Town Dogs’, I bought a 90mm f/2.8 lens, which I used occasionally. So in truth the project wasn’t completed with just one camera and one lens – but the M3 and 50mm Summicron took me a long way. 

  Rosa at Bookmongers, tail-end view
Rosa at Bookmongers, tail-end view
  Clothes dog
Clothes dog
  Cafe siesta
Cafe siesta
  Bulldog takes it easy
Bulldog takes it easy
  Ice cream for dogs
Ice cream for dogs

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  German Spitz on the bus
German Spitz on the bus

7 COMMENTS

  1. Lovely photos Richard. Elliott Erwitt, famous photographer of dogs and many other things and a Leica user, said that ‘Dogs don’t mind being photographed in compromising situations’. Your Chihuahua and legs photo above reminds me of one of Erwitt’s most famous photos which is on the wall of the Leica HQ in Wetzlar. I was lucky enough to meet Elliott at the opening of that building in 2014. Dogs make wonderful photographic subjects whether they are just posing or otherwise going about their business and you have captured both sides of the nature of dogs in your photos.

    I am 100% with you on your choice of photographic equipment. The M3 is the nicest M to use with its wonderful rangefinder window which has never been surpassed. The M3 Double Stroke is very smooth and in many ways I prefer it to the Single Stroke model.The 50mm Rigid Summicron is one of the best 50mm lenses ever made by Leica. The only 50mm Leica lens from that era which is on the same level is the 50mm Summicron Dual Range (DR), which is virtually the same lens with a different mount to allow close up work.

    William

  2. Thank you, William and Dogman, for your generous comments. I gladly acknowledge my debt to Mr Erwitt, a great photographer without a pompous bone in his body.

    One drawback of living in Zambia is the lack of dogs to photograph – they’re generally kept as guard dogs here, not pets.

  3. Excellent pictures Richard, many thanks for the article.

    That lens is brilliant too, like William I have more knowledge of the DR version, but I believe they are of equal beauty.

    You have excellent bokeh when you open up and good rendering throughout at smaller apertures, such a good lens.

    … heavy though!

  4. Thanks, Stephen – it’s a pleasure.

    The lens is heavy for its size, but repairable. Somehow I got a sticky looking substance on the diaphragm blades. Malcolm Taylor found me new blades to replace the ones that couldn’t be cleaned. I still don’t know how it happened, but the optics were completely unaffected.

  5. I must say Bruno and Mastiff look as if they have all the worries of the world on their brows! Also, given the marvellous variety on offer here, I return to my old question : How do dogs recognise each other AS Dogs?!
    (Still, I suppose you could say the same about human beings……..)
    You put your finger for me on why I don’t think rangefinders are photographic Nirvana – parallax.
    But very enjoyable.

  6. How do you define a dog? I’ve often wondered myself, John. It’s their almost infinite variety that makes them such fun to photograph. And if the dogs and their owners resemble each other, you truly have photographic Nirvana – parallax error or not.

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