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Monday, April 30, 2007

Go, Kent, Go

Well, naturally I've gotten raked over the coals in many of the Leica forums this morning, for insufficient worship (here and here) of the M8. I'm getting called names, insulted, denigrated, accused of name dropping and bias and of having no qualifications, and of course everything I wrote was outrageously wrong in nine kinds of ways—one guy called my report "piffle" and another jumped in and listed the several specific kinds of piffle it was. (To another it was "tripe." Well, which is it, piffle or tripe? I'm afraid that's something they're going to have to work out amongst themselves.)

This is par for the course, and it's why Sean Reid (who has a large amount of editorial material about the M8 at his site) is wrong when he suggests that the "religion" analogy is a red herring. With some Leicaphiles, as with religion, if you're not a true believer then you're automatically an apostate. There's no such thing as the moderate middle ground. You really can't insert enough qualifiers or make the criticisms gentle enough—either you believe, or you suck.

I'm sorry if I upset anyone. It's really not such a big deal, though. The M8 is nice. I was disappointed, is all. I expected to like it better.

Of course, the over-the-top nature of some of the responses make me wonder if some of the acolytes don't themselves have doubts. If you're really secure about a decision you've made, why get so threatened just because some guy on the internet doesn't agree?

A much more secure and confident response came from my M8-toting friend Kent, whose response was to send me a bunch of pictures.

The attached note said, "I love this thing, warts and all."

Kent Phelan, Busch Stadium, Saturday, April 28th (Leica M8)

Cool by me. Go, Kent, go.



Blogger Max said...

You just apologized by saying "The M8 is NICE"? Man, you're giving heresy a whole new meaning.
PS: I was catholic, but in time I felt I couldn't stand for the postulate "Everybody else is just plain wrong" anymore.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey, this is Leica we're talking about here. The ultimate expression of inadvertently brilliant grass-roots marketing! If you don't like the M, your first response may be to think there is something wrong with YOU.

I have an M4; it's a damn nice, utterly obsolete camera that is an absolutely pleasure to use. The only reason I shoot film today is to be able to use fine mechanical cameras like the M4 and the Canon P. The haptics of these cameras gives me a great deal of pleasure, and there may be some value in having to work MUCH harder to get good images with them than with modern cameras.

But I'm drawing the line at the M8. Beyond being an obscenely expensive, half-finished product that's miles behind the digital state of the art it's also, as you so eloquently point out, a replica, not the real thing. From a purely conceptual standpoint, it's really no different that that toy digital M3 I see being sold on eBay.

Leica brand junkies desperately want to believe in their choice, that there simply is no photographic instrument better than the one they've decided to invest a ton of cash in. Because many of these folks are deeply insecure about that choice, they're compelled to lash out at anyone who approaches the object of their affection with anything remotely resembling objectivity.

You, Mr. Johnston, are supposed to give the M8 a pass because it IS a Leica. Which is a bit like giving the Iraq debacle a pass because it IS a war.

11:11 AM  
Blogger pitchertaker said...

MIKE, Mike, mike....when will you learn, the pictures don't count, cameras do. Would be interesting to see how many of the M8 folks also own MAC's.....

11:25 AM  
Blogger hugo solo said...

Since 2001 I make a little campaign against how strange can be some Leica owner under the syndrome of Cartier-Bresson and the zen myth.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Steve Gillette said...

A few months back I was invited by a photographer friend to do some shooting on a local abandoned military base that is being razed. He has permission to shoot there, and is no photo slouch, with his work appearing in galleries, museum shows, printed monographs, etc. When I arrived at our rendezvous, he opened the lift gate of his Subaru wagon and invited me to "throw my gear in there."

I was more than a little embarrassed to point to a tiny camera case attached to my belt. That's all I had. That's all I needed.

My pictures are not for everybody. (Whose are?) I typically don't go after pretty landscapes, especially with a small-sensor digicam. It makes no sense. But I know what I'm doing, and all my recent work has been done with a sub-$200 camera. All things considered (including depth-of-field issues and being able to shoot inconspicuously), I don't think my images would be that much better if I had used an M8.

---Steve Gillette

11:58 AM  
Blogger Michael Canyes said...

I love shooting at sacred cows!

After reading various reviews of the M8, and reading between the lines in some of them, I have to wonder who designed the M8. It would seem that the problems the M8 has have been solved by other cameras a long time ago. Did Leica hire some real experts in digital technology, or did they just use their mechanical engineers and tell them to come up to speed on digital? And who tested the M8? Anyone have any thoughts about this?

Michael Canyes

11:59 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey, you asked for it man! Maybe next time you could be less thoughtful in your reviews. ;)

12:50 PM  
Blogger Ryan Brenizer said...

The only people who would react so strongly to that are the 95 percent of dentist Leica-users who want to be like the other five percent, who actually take fantastic photos. (of course, many of that five percent are still clunking around with an M2)

12:55 PM  
Blogger CH said...

I think your post(s) raised some salient and pertinent questions about the M8. I own one of the blasted things, and in occasional moments of clarity, I see it for what it is. Lotsa $$$$!!! for something that works occasionally as well as my 5D.

But the whole rangefinder experience is what makes it something I would be reluctant to give up. I just really like being able to see what is outside the frame when composing a shot. Of course, that is a whole 'nother bag of worms - the framing, that is. I don't know if you tested this when you had the camera, but the framing accuracy in terms of what is framed in the finder versus what the chip records is amazingly bad. You get about an extra 20% 'rind' around the frame. Maybe the Leica 'gestalt' really amounts to using an instrument that forces you to imagine what you will capture versus being shown what you will capture.

2:05 PM  
Blogger dasmb said...

"I love this thing, warts and all."

And that's the rub, isn't it? That's what this is all about, finding something you love and using it to make art, everything else is MTA charts.

I love my XTi. What you make think of it, especially compared to YOUR favorite camera, is immaterial, I love it. I love its crummy handgrip, untrustworthy white balance and the lack of whatever feature. I love how ridiculous it looks with my 24-105 f/4L attached to it.

Because I love it, I use it a lot. I am beginning to understand its limitations and turn them into successes, and these pictures bring great satisfaction.

If things were reversed -- if I had to pay $5k+ for my XTi, but it provided the same level of satisfaction -- I'd do it in a heartbeat. It's way cheaper than therapy.

2:48 PM  
Blogger dasmb said...

pitchertaker --

I would like to point out that while Macs ARE much better machines in every way, the best photo editing software (Aperture) does not yet support the Leica.

Though I'm sure it'll happen soon. Jobs has to be a Leica-phile, right?

2:51 PM  
Blogger Dave Sailer said...

There was a quote by Bertrand Russell I thought was to the point. Something about the vehemence with which an opinion is held being inversely proportional to is provability.

But of course I couldn't find it.

Instead I found these (take your pick):

* If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.

* A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.

* I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.

* It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.

* Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth -- more than ruin -- more even than death.... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.

* The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.

* The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

* This is one of those views which are so absolutely absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.

* Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.

* Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.


Dave Sailer

2:53 PM  
Blogger David Lykes Keenan said...

As a "victim" of followers of Leica As God myself for M8 criticism, I offer support and solice. I, too, was disappointed by the M8 and this precipitated my (self) ex-communication from the cult of Leica-ism. I suspect, as well, that the zeal of the most vocal M8 supporters is strongly driven by suppressed insecurity and self-doubt.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Richard Man said...

To be fair, there are professional M users who are producing amazing pictures with the M8. A number of them switched to Canon and Nikon dSLRs before the M8 came out and they cannot be happier to go back to the RF style of photographing.

Me? Too rich for me. I will for sure buy it for $1500, or even $3000 since $3000 was how much I paid for the R-D1. But as long as the R-D1 works, I can wait for them to fix the digital M problems.

3:41 PM  
Blogger ChrisAZ said...

As a former Leica owner, I've got to say that the imperious tone, vitriol and sheer tom foolery emanating from the Leica forum and being piled onto Mike is ridiculous. Sure I liked my M7 and my R9 (expensive and subject to breakage as they were). I took some terrific pictures with them and have done so with my D200 as well. But for pete's sake, they're only cameras, after all, not your sister. Mike offered only one view and mild criticism of the M8, its not a holy decree. Somehow I don't think Ralph Gibson, HCB, Sebastian Salgado or David Alan Harvey would get so apoplectic about a mild criticism of the tool they use, they'd just go about their business and continue shooting.


4:12 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

I was surprised to find the bruhaha surrounding your M8 review still foaming. (Somebody even took a peripheral swing at my remarks -- actually at a self-serving partial quote of my remarks!) I can't say I feel sorry for you; you knew that farting in the Leica church would precipitate some strong reactions from zealots. Zealotry is a stain woven into nearly every part of the human fabric but amateur photography seems to host more than its proportionate share of this principally male sport. Zealots are such a bore. So shrill, so montonic, so mindless, so myopic, so uninformative, so unproductive.

This past Saturday night I had a rare experience. I found myself nearly alone surrounded by an extremely rare collection of some of the worlds greatest paintings from the late 19th century. I would guess that the value of this gathering of paintings would have to be well north of half a billion dollars. The museum had closed hours before. I, and a handful of other folks, had the priveledge of being able to wander freely among these works for nearly an hour. No crowds. Nearly silent galleries. Being so intimately surrrounded by so much pure beauuty and history was almost overwhelming. Interestingly, not once during that hour did I wonder about the paints, brushes or canvases that the artists used to create these works. Not once.

4:13 PM  
Blogger erlik said...

Mike, it's not tripe or piffle. It's trifle. Mmmmm, trifle. :-)

5:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It's absurd on both sides: people who think the M8 has no flaws are as wrong as people who think that someone that likes the camera is a blind elitist. The M8 is just a camera. It's the pictures that count.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Just jumping in to point out that I don't want to get all polarized about this. Everyone should shoot with whatever they want to, and please remember that I said lots of good things about the M8 too. No online expert, least of all me, has the last word. Ultimately we each make our own choices, and that's as it should be. One man's meat, etc.


5:51 PM  
Blogger whynospoon said...

how many of those who pour scorn on mike [i]ACTUALLY[/i] use and/or own the M8? hmmm...

7:20 PM  
Blogger Lloyd said...

I looked forward to, very much appreciated, and agreed with much in your review of the M8. I started my life as a photographer shooting a IIIc (upgraded to a IIIg), which I still have and still shoot on occasion. I own, use professionally, and very much enjoy an M8, but it has not been without adaptations or even problems. (e.g., my first sample had a defective sensor, and was sent back to Leica after 24hrs.. that long only because I couldn't send it off to them at night!)

I've shot film and digital in multiple formats, and each has had its adaptations. Some of my assignments just can't be accomplished with the M8 (or my film Leicas either, for that matter), so its "horses for courses" for me. I do enjoy shooting the M8, it is so comfortable and familiar. So I agree with Kent, "warts and all" I'm happy. By the way, my favorite lens on the M8 is my Summitar f=5cm 1:2 (i.e. 50mm f2) purchased new by my father with the then IIIc in Germany in 1946.

Thanks again for the review, from a Leicaphile who thinks there is middle ground.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

What a great comment, Lloyd, thank you.


7:42 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"I suspect, as well, that the zeal of the most vocal M8 supporters is strongly driven by suppressed insecurity and self-doubt."

This is just the sort of comment that drives the insane discussion to greater heights of vitriol. What point is there in making this sort of personal attack?

I've read, and agree with much of what Mike wrote. I've also read and agree with many of the posts at the Leica Forum. I really don't think that *most* of the posters at the Leica Forum have a problem with the substance of Mike's criticisms. What they hate is being described as poseurs and dilettantes that are interested in the M8 as some sort of fashion statement, rather than because they like taking pictures with it.

And they dislike amateur psychology. And people who have no direct experience presumptuously making judgements.

8:21 PM  
Blogger NIMBY said...

"farting in the Leica church"... I love that - thanks Ken.

After I may pop round to the Mac church and summon up some extra flatulence.

The best product is the one that is best for the person buying it - plain and simple. A little feet on the ground common sense is all that is required. I made my choice, Canon and Gates - and I care little what anyone thinks, it is the right choice for me.

As with Macs, I guess (and hope) that the mass majority of M8 owners also bought for themselves, for their own reasons, are happy and don't feel the need to "educate" others.

Pros and cons, pros and cons.


1:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been looking at the image of Busch Stadium by Kent Phelan, assuming that this was put forward as an example of what the M8 does well, but I just don't see it. I took a copy of the larger version, zoomed in, peered at it, stood back from it, had a cup of coffee while purusing it, but I still don't see it. What is it about this picture which is supposed to recommend the M8 to me?

What I have seen, is chromatic abberation (look at the white line across the road in the top left and around the shadow near to it) and a lot of halos around just about everything, though that may be over zealous sharpening later I guess.

It seems to me this picture would have been better even if taken with a reasonably cheap film camera.

So will someone please tell me what I'm missing.

3:35 AM  
Blogger paul norheim said...

Mike, by coincidence, Erwin Puts published Part II of his reflections on "masterpieces" (it`s about Leica cameras and lenses) at the same time as you published your Leica Pro & Con articles. The funny thing is that he seems to support a couple of things you said. (He also has, like you, the ability to look at both sides of the coin, as well as a broad historical perspective).

Two quotes - the first about the Leica company and the M8:
"To reclaim the historical role that Leica had in the film-based era for the digital era, Leica needs to become more daring, more innovative and even more performance conscious than they are today. It may be a bit too far stretched, but historically the M8 is in the digital environment in a stage where the IIIg was in the film-based environment: an excellent product but too closely related to the past and being in danger of overtaken by more nimble competitors (as Canon and Nikon were about to do)."

The second statement from E. Puts seems to support one of your more controversial statements about the decreasing importance of lens quality in the digital environment (Photoshop etc). And, as many T.O.P. readers probably are aware of, Puts (as well as Mike J) knows a few things about lenses, Leica lenses in particular.
Like you, Mike, he doesn`t argue in this article, it´s just a claim (he has, however said a few things about this in earlier essays). Quote from the "masterpiece"-article:
"Lens quality is less important in the digital environment especially when more and more potent software can compensate for the lens characteristics.
With the M8 Leica has made a different statement: the camera and the lens are the main components of the photographic craft and the software should support and not dictate the act of making pictures."

Perhaps the subject for a separate article on T.O.P.?

By the way, Henry Kissinger once commented that academic disputes were so vicious because so little was at stake. You could probably translate that to the gadget scene on the web.

Those guys arguing about Nokia versus Sony-Erichsson mobile phones are even nastier then the Canon versus Nikon, M8 versus DSLR or Mac versus Windows guys. The Digi-Electronical-Gadget Civil War is a strange phenomenon in the Western world. There are striking simularities with the atmosphere and invectives during the ideological disputes between the communist factions during the 1930s or the dogmatic wars within the church centuries ago.

However Mike, to me it seems like your once in a while can`t resist the temptation to shout "Long time no see!" to some of your former enemy combatants in the gadgetry war, still active behind their barricades.
Their reaction creates a half predictable, half amusing spectacle for the pacifists among your readers.

3:52 AM  
Blogger Hank said...

There are a lot of camera's I don't like but I don't assume that those that purchase them do so because of some flaw in their character. I assume they do so because they suit their shooting style and requirements.

If you tell someone you don't know that there choice of tool is an indication that they are a status-seeking posseur with more money then brains you are likely to get a less then warm reaction.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"What is it about this picture which is supposed to recommend the M8 to me?"

I think you're falling into the trap of looking at the picture in terms of typical Leicaphile rationalizing, i.e., the claims that the sensor is "special" and imparts special qualities to the picture. As if Canon and Sony don't make competent sensors and only Leicas can make good-looking digital files. The thing about the Busch Stadium picture (which I love, by the way) that recommends the M8 is that it was made with one. That's all. It shows that some people will make good pictures with the M8, just as we know that others will any other camera.

As Kent himself said to me, "Sheesh, it’s just a camera fercryingoutloud. I’m into it because it’s the same box with the same glass window I’ve been using since 1973--nothing more."

What you might call "Leica exceptionalism" is an identifiable dimension of the brand's lore, but it's a shibboleth. You can identify it by the words used and the claims made: "there's just something special" about Leica pictures," or "some people can't tell, but I can"; another common gambit is testimony (what in religious contexts can be called "witness," as in "I saw what the Lord can do, and my eyes were opened"). An example of this is when you read things like, "I shot with Canon L glass for years but was never quite satisfied. Then I switched to Leica [found Jesus] and suddenly realized what I'd been missing." Another frequently encountered trope is the conversion story, in which the supplicant recounts many years spent wandering the wilderness of other camera brands, never finding happiness until finally coming home to Leica, becoming truly fulfilled, and living happily ever after.

The 21st century version of Leica exceptionalism can be found repeatedly just in the forum threads that have followed my review in the past couple of days. It's usually some version of the idea that "Leica made its sensor special in order to take advantage of the special quality of Leica lenses." Exceptionalism squared? Right--like Nikon doesn't bother to make its sensors work well with its lenses.

It's all a shibboleth. Other camera companies also make good sensors that are competent to create good image files. People (even True Believers) can't tell the difference between Leica lenses and other lenses in controlled comparisons (although--and this is also typical of religions--the faithful do not find this convincing, perferring instead to find fault with the methodology of the comparisons).

The upshot of all this is that very few really good or really accomplished Leica-using photographers feel the need to resort to any of this. You won't find them claiming that their pictures have that special indefinable something extra that is forever barred to users of any other kind of camera. To them, they're just using a camera they like and that works for them, that suits their style of shooting, and that gives them results they're happy with. I think this is true of Kent.


8:04 AM  
Blogger Hank said...

Because of Leica's recent history there are more then a few brand cultists among it's user base. The M8 however, was not well received among many of these users. Unlike an all mechanical MP or an old M3 the M8 was not an heirloom that could be passed down to their grandchildren it was a digital device that would be worth about as much as your old pc in a few years.

Picking your tools picking your compromises. Along with auto focus came crappy viewfinders. You wouldn,t dream of paying $7,000+ for a film Canon 1 or $30,000+ for a film Hasselblad H3. Because of the digital unfriendly nature of the M platform the M8 has a few more compromises then did the R/DMR or any other DSLR. Whether they are deal killers depends on how much value you place on its benefits.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Leica is a religion, and I think we've all found out that Leica is a religion, and that there are some extremists out there. Self-flagellant Leicaphiles.

Of course, all I can think of when slef-flagellants come up is Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

"Pie Leica Domine. Dona eis photographs." (SMACK!)

Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed your review, Mike. It was nice to get a nice objective look at a camera that just about any true cameraholic has at least a little curiosity about (that most of us mere mortals won't be able to satiate by purchase).

Of course, it begs the question: When is your editor going to be taking more requests for well thought out, well written reviews?

9:41 AM  
Blogger John said...

Mike - for the record, I appreciated your candid assessment of the M8

10:39 AM  
Blogger John said...

I'll just add - could it be that the expectations for this camera have, to a degree, been its undoing? Digital and film are two different solutions to achieve the same end - i.e. to produce images. The controls that are used on digital and film cameras are are by the very nature of the two processes, different. Thus trying to produce a digital camera that retains the manual controls and feel of film is bound to be unsatisfying to aficionados of both mediums. And, even as someone who likes a high quality piece of technology as much as the next guy, I have to say, if it detracts from the ultimate purpose, that is to produce a beautiful image, then it is something worse than superfluous.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

Mike Johnston: "The upshot of all this is that very few really good or really accomplished Leica-using photographers feel the need to resort to any of this. You won't find them claiming that their pictures have that special indefinable something extra that is forever barred to users of any other kind of camera. To them, they're just using a camera they like and that works for them, that suits their style of shooting, and that gives them results they're happy with. I think this is true of Kent."

Your entire comment should be printed, as it's precisely on-target. But this final paragraph from it should be bronzed, Mike.

In the years prior to the "digital M" the original Leica forums were frequented by many of these folks. Some had been using Ms since they were introduced in the 1950's. Some were professionals but most were amateurs. Yes, some were curmudgeonly but most were just very comfortable with the M and extremely knowledgeable about all the things that could go wrong with an M camera...and with an M shooter.

When I first took up the M7 I was greatly warmed by these fellows' responses when I asked newbie-style questions. I felt as though I had been welcomed to a sort of club and felt an odd responsibility to do the best photography I could with a camera that had such a legacy and such support. (Ironically, two of the images from my first roll of M7 shots were ultimately purchased! One now hangs, quite large, in the lobby of a large law firm. The other is in a private museum.)

Today I don't see too many of these fellows on the new Leica forums. Perhaps they've retired from participation and/or photography. But I miss their calm, knowledgable, secure voices. These fellows loved their Leica Ms and were eager to share their knowledge. But, unlike so many of the "newcomers" in the M8 forum, they rarely made unsupportable supernatural claims of its prowess (at least not publicly). The M "magic" for many of these fellows seemed to come mainly from using the same simple tool for decades. This is something unimaginable for most camera owners today, many of whom will divest as soon as the next cool camera comes along. But truly deep familiarity with a camera and its lenses can, indeed, create some magic images from nearly any good camera. Leicas just sometimes make the genie a bit easier to conjure.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Max said...

...and after all, this whole argument only shows a lot of people feel ashamed of admitting or being told they bought it just because it's a Leica.
What's so bad about that? Whatever gets you through the night...

12:26 PM  
Blogger CH said...

I have been amazed at the vitriol this review has produced. I happen to own an M8, and for what its worth, agree with all of your observations. It is a quirky piece of equipment that still has some major wonkiness to be worked out. Auto White balance and strange behavior just after power -up to name two.

But the zealots! Oh man. I almost want to punt on using this thing if I am going be associated with this group. Owning one of these is gonna be put right up there in the same category as hanging around airports in yellow robes used to be.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Actually I thought the comments were surprisingly positive.

7:38 PM  

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