I was slow to transition from film to digital photography with an SLR. Then, a year ago, fell into the mirrorless world. For the past year, I have had one foot, or camera, in the SLR world and one in the mirrorless realm. This article is a brief description of my photographic journey from film, to digital SLR, to mirrorless. As I head toward going solely mirrorless, it is also a glimpse in the mirror. I dare not look too closely, but it’s good to take a peek now and then.
My interest in photography began in my early teens. Like many photographers of a certain age, I learned to develop film, had a small enlarger, created contact sheets, and made prints. As a teenager, I had my own darkroom. Well, at least when that bathroom wasn’t needed for a couple of hours. I loved the printing process but didn’t enjoy the high-risk chore of developing film. I could always make another, hopefully better print, but if I messed up developing the film, ugh!
Through photography classes in high school, and a few more in college, I even learned a little bit about the art of taking photographs. It’s extremely likely I was taught way more than I learned. Early on, I used my dad’s Yashica Twin Lens Reflex camera (which I still have). If I recall correctly, the film was 2¼ x 2¼ inches (6 × 6 cm).
The Pentax phase of my photographic journey
At some point in high school (mid to late 1970s), I started shooting with a Pentax. I later graduated to shooting with a Pentax ME, my last film camera. Not being someone typically on the cutting edge, I hung on to that Pentax for a long time before going digital with a Pentax K100 D. In 2012, which sounds so long ago, I upgraded to a Pentax K5. I had several Pentax lenses, including a 55-300mm that I loved, and practically wore out. The lens was versatile, relatively lightweight, and had sharp focus.
I liked the shots I got with the Pentax. Then, like now, I took many photos of people, birds, and horses.
Slowly, my photographic expectations changed. My 55-300mm Pentax lens, which I loved for a very long time, no longer had the range I desired. And, the focus was starting to hunt way too much. Although I truly liked the colour and quality provided by my Pentax cameras and lenses, technology was marching on. So, it became time for the next step in my photographic journey: a longer lens and a more up-to-date camera.
When I decided to shop for a longer lens and a new camera, lens quality was the most important factor to me. I still had my Pentax set up and did some comparison tests. To see the difference between the camera/lens combinations, I would take the same photos, with the same settings. I was sadly shocked and amazed that some new cameras and lenses, from highly reputable camera manufacturers, didn’t take sharper photos than my ageing Pentax set up.
I finally tested and bought the Canon 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 lens and Canon 7D Mark ii camera. To round out my kit, I also purchased the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8. I continued to photograph plenty of people, birds, and horses, and was delighted with my new set-up.
With the help of a photography friend, I finally expanded my photographic repertoire to include night photography. I’m still very much a novice in that area, but have come to genuinely enjoy it, even if I have to go out after dark. It also felt good to explore a new aspect of photography. You can teach an old photographer new things, it seems, as they continue their photographic journey.
Larry and Leica
I’m the youngest of four children; two girls, two boys. My older brother Larry was not an easy guy. He could be very kind and extremely generous. He also could be very intense and unhappy. Whether he was happy or not, he was always a hard and effective worker/employee.
Larry got into photography, I believe in his early 30s, and brought much of his best to that endeavour. Larry became a highly successful and well-known paparazzi in New York City. The term paparazzi will evoke a certain image and expectation. Professionally known as Lawrence Schwartzwald, my brother often embodied the stereotypical paparazzi image, but was not limited to that style of personality or photography. Yes, you can find photos of Larry arguing with actor Hugh Grant on the streets of New York.
Larry also had excellent relationships with many celebrities and took portraits as well as family photos for them. He got along especially well with Jackie Kennedy Onassis. If you’re reading this, you likely appreciate photography. If you also enjoy reading, you might take pleasure in his book ‘The Art of Reading’. It comprises photos of people and celebrities reading. There are some great photos in that book and some superb writing. No sales pitch intended; I do not profit from any sales.
Sadly, Larry passed away in September 2021. My eldest sister had the task of dealing with his estate. When things settled, she generously sent me Larry’s Leica SL 610 with his Leica 24-90mm f/2.8-4.0, 50mm f/1.4, and 90-280mm f/2.8-4.0 lenses.
Mirrorless, wordless, and a bit clueless
I was thrilled to receive the high-end camera and lenses. I was also honoured and touched to have my brother’s photography equipment. As I said, he wasn’t an easy person. Although he was not close to family members, there was always a kind and familial connection.
With this new camera, I was jumping into the mirrorless pool several years earlier than I expected in my photographic journey. I knew there would be a learning curve but was more than somewhat surprised that on the SL 601, apart from the word Leica, the only words on the camera are On and Off.
Overall, the transition from Pentax to Canon was easily manageable. The learning curve to Leica and Mirrorless was steep. Some videos on YouTube were very helpful. My local camera shops were unfamiliar with Leica products, but calling the Leica store in Los Angeles was very helpful. I worked through the menus, building a basic understanding of how to adjust the settings on my new mirrorless Leica. Though it did not yet feel quick and natural, it was time to go out and take some photos.
Slow Start: Risk Phobic/Chicken
Although an amateur, I still felt very anxious about taking lousy photos with my new Leica, my brother’s camera. I also wanted to make sure I was playing to what I perceived as the strengths of the Leica. For example, I shot in black and white, as I saw many Leica users do. I like shooting in B&W, but struggle with the editing. I also did some architectural photography, which I rarely did with my other cameras.
I took it to a car show and had fun, and enjoyed a few of my shots. But again, it’s not my favourite type of photography, even if I occasionally get a groovy kind of photo.
I rarely do indoor photography, but gave it a try at the Horton Grand Hotel, and an Adams Avenue barbershop. These are two well-known spots in San Diego, where I live.
I did some cityscapes in Coronado, which I felt good about.
It is challenging to take good reflection photos, but I love trying them, and occasionally get one I genuinely enjoy.
All that to say, I spent many of my outings with my new Leica, taking photographs I typically don’t take, but thought would suit the Leica style. I came to truly enjoy, and of course, appreciate the Leica.
“I can’t believe you are selling them”
After one year of using what I always refer to as Larry’s camera, I decided to sell my Leica gear. I can only imagine the reaction Leica users have as you read those words.
As I was self-acknowledging my decision, I reached out to a local Leica user, Keith James. Keith, as many of you know, is an excellent and creative photographer, as well as a wonderful writer. In a very restrained, polite way, Keith wrote to me, “I can’t believe you are selling them”.
After my year with Leica, I entirely understand that view. For me, the SL 601 was an exceptional camera, but as technology has changed over recent years, there were mirrorless cameras that are as good or better. The Leica lenses, well, I admit, I don’t think I’ll ever match that quality and richness.
As much as I enjoyed and valued having Larry’s camera, sadly, it carried some emotional baggage with it. So, for various reasons, it was time to move on from Leica and Larry’s camera to a new phase in my photographic journey. I already miss having the Leica camera and lenses. I also miss having my brother’s camera. But for me, moving on was the right thing.
As the next phase of my photographic journey begins, I hope Leica users will have some grace for me.
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