Tools, Toys and Treasures

Bonita Springs - October ~ Leica Digilux 2With the racing season put to bed, I get to take some personal time and recharge the batteries a bit. Having the good fortune to have my work actually be a pleasure, I never really have that sensation of being sick and tired of work. And, since it's work that stimulates and promotes creativity, you never really stop thinking anyway.

So, what do I do? I look for things to do that encourage and challenge my creativity. I get to have fun trying to improve.

I've written before about using a point n' shoot type camera to help improve your picture taking mental muscles. It's something I do and have even taken it a step further and incorporated small cameras into my arsenal for shooting events. And having put a lot of thought into why I like small cameras and why I believe they're good for improving skills, I've also discovered they're good for your head.

It occurred to me that my work cameras really don't have a lot of soul. I have no real connection to the hardware. Sure, I take pleasure in using a new lens and using quality equipment that delivers on its promise. But truth be known, I don't feel any emotional connection to my cameras. They're tools. I drag them all over the country... over 50,000 miles this year... through airports, in overhead storage, the back of rental cars, in and out of hotels, media centers and let's not forget the golf carts. Don't get me wrong, they're great tools... but where's the love? Know what I mean?

If I can take a little license and compare photography to music, Clapton's got "Blackie," Isaac Perlmans got his Stradivarius, and B.B. Kings got Lucile. These are instruments that these artists love. They're instruments that get better with age.. even with wear and tear, they seem to just get better.

Leica C-Lux 2So what do we get? Well, in my pursuit for a great little point n' shoot, I realized that each time I found something new, I had more of an emotional connection to these cameras than I did my work tools. Maybe it's how they sit in your hand or the novelty of all that technology packed into these cool little packages... or even how impressive they perform. I can't quite put my finger on it, but each time I get a new one, my emotional reaction is far greater than getting a new tool for work.

But, alas... my affairs with these little beauties tends to sour the minute my eyes fall across the sleek lines of some sexy new model. And even though I'm not swayed by the megapixel race, the song of all the fabulous technological advances soon leads to the heart of my pocket book and a brand new love affair is born.

Don't get me wrong... I enjoy this little game of cat and mouse. And it proves I still haven't found what I'm looking for. And, after all, why shouldn't I engage in this pursuit? This is MY camera... for ME and my ME time. So let's just call it one of life's guilty pleasures.

Briann Alder ~ Leica Digilux 2Lately, though, I've started to get a grasp of what it is I "really" want. Looking back at the various personal cameras (as in not for work) I've owned, I'm able to unscientifically compile all my likes and dislikes. I look back on what was good about one camera or what shortcoming finally wore me down with another. Maybe it's the technology that has finally started to get redundant and over done with whistles and bells, but I've started to zero in on what I really want. And, believe it or not, I almost had it right two years ago. I just didn't know it or understand what I really wanted.

I realize what was missing the most was I wanted a camera, not a computer. I wanted something to bring up to my eye and not get between my brain and the subject. I wanted a camera that felt good in my hands... and that that didn't necessarily mean the smallest 10x zoom 12 megapixel shirt pocket rocket launcher known to man. Comfort is key. I wanted a quality lens. I wanted simplicity. I wanted good clean files.... and I wanted style. Yep.. I'm not afraid to admit it, style is important.

Leica D-Lux 3The last three or four love affairs have all been with Leica / Panasonic cameras. I've had the Panasonic LC1 which I got rid of because I thought it was too big and didn't like the electronic view finder. I went with a slick Leica C-Lux 1. Then moved on to the very cool black D-Lux 3 and even added a C-Lux 2 for Kristin. All wonderful cameras.. and the D-Lux 3 is still one of my favorites.

But looking back at the Panasonic LC1.. I knew I had missed something about that camera. I always wished it had been it's Leica counterpart, the Digilux 2, but more importantly, I knew I never really got my head around what a great camera it was. Chalk it up to inexperience. So within the past few months, I picked up the Leica Digilux 3... what I thought was the successor to the Digilux 2. It was not.

Leica Digilux 3The Leica Digilux 3 is an SLR in the 4:3 format. It's great looking camera. It feels like a 35mm camera with analog controls. Aperture ring on the lens, shutter speed knob on top of the camera... it's just great. And it comes with a beautiful Leica 14-50mm f/2.8 lens. It's gorgeous and takes terrific pictures. And, I truly do enjoy using it. But... and you knew that was coming... but it feels a lot like using my work camera. And, frankly, my work cameras do the same thing... only better.

So, I'm there... but not quite.

But I'm closer to knowing what I want. Remember I said I want a camera.. not a computer? I want a rangefinder. Not a point n' shoot... an old fashioned range finder. I look at all the old Leicas... especially the M series, and I drool. They're gorgeous. But, they're film. Do I want to wait for results? Not really. Do I want to give up my digital darkroom? Hell no. So what are my choices?

Epson R-D1Basically, there were two options... well three, but I was only paying attention to two. Fortunately for me, my good friend Mike Levitt owns both options. One was the Epson R-D1 and the other was the Lecia M8. The Epson is just the coolest looking camera you'll ever lay eyes on. It's a perfect replica of a film range finder... but digital. Nice in the hands.. lots of style. But... manual focus. Oh boy... if you wear glasses, you're in trouble. Without a corrected diopter you're dead in the water. I shot 50 or 60 frames and got four or five pictures out of the lot. In part because the f/2.0 lens has a very unforgiving depth of field... but an awesome look to it. But for the most part, I had an incredible amount of ghosting on the focus screen.

Leica M8The problem was the same with the Leica M8. That and the $6000 price tag... for just the body. The Epson can be found used (with a lens) for around $1800. It was very tempting.. but the struggle of focusing really took the fun out of it and in the end, I want my "personal" camera to be fun.

In the meantime, I'd been participating in the Leica L Camera Forum and stumbled upon a photographer named Thorsten Overgaard. He's a European photojournalist. I was struck by the natural look of his images and kept going back to his site trying to figure out why everything was so clean, simple and striking. The colors were natural, the lighting was perfect and yet the subjects weren't necessarily unique. He had pictures of formal meetings, Bill Clinton, a royal wedding and the guests, and lots of pictures of his family and life. But there was something about all of the photos that was extremely pleasing. It was also obvious that his camera was an extension of his eye and his life. The connection was seamless.

As I spent more time on the Leica L Camera Forum, I kept seeing discussions about my Digilux 3 and different comments about how Leica should have never abandoned the Digilux 2 concept. I was confused. I was discovering that my Digilux 3 wasn't an upgrade to the DIgilux 2. Even though the appearance and packaging was the same, it was a completely different camera.

Now, keeping in mind that I had previously owned the Panasonic version of the Digilux 2, I was completely stumped. What was I missing. I sold that camera. Why?

Not afraid to admit having made a mistake, I set out to find a Digilux 2. The camera sold new for about $1895 in 2004. You can now find them used for about $700. I managed to find one a bit better than that on dBay and bought it. Well... let's just say, I've found my "Blackie."

Leica Digilux 2The Digilux 2 is about 15% smaller than the Digilux 3. It is especially smaller at the lens, since the Digilux 3 lens is detachable, whereas the D2 lens is fixed. Both are zooms.... about 28-90 35mm equivalent. As I mentioned before, the Digilux 2 has an electronic view finder... kind of like a video camera. I'm not wild about it, but it works fine and I'm getting used to it. More importantly, the Digilux 2 looks, feels, works and produces like and old style Leica rangefinder film camera. And based on discussions I'm seeing, the camera appears to be inheriting a Leica type legacy of it's own.

The lens is f/2.0 to f/2.4 over the zoom range. It's shutter is virtually silent. And the 5MP files are out of this world. Shoot a tight portrait at f/2.0 and you'll instantly learn what they mean when they talk about the Leica "glow."

You'll find Leica owners to be fairly entrenched in the company brand... but the Digilux 2 has proven itself as a great performer and a joy to use. And it's developing a bit of a cult following among Leica die hards.

Taken with Leica Digilux 2The punch line comes back to Thorsten Overgaard. Going back to his site, yet again, I discover Thorsten shoots with the Leica Digilux 2 and is considered somewhat of an authority on the camera. So I had my answer to the natural look of his images. Though I will yield to his abilities and admit that I have yet to duplicate his results. But I have the camera... and I have the desire.

A second Digilux 2 is on the way. I will use one agressively, but the other is off to be tricked out with some custom features and will probably become my Sunday driver. But, I honestly believe you will be hearing me talk about adventures with these cameras for sometime to come. When you consider I'm mentally (and strangely) in a place where I actually bought four year-old technology, somethings going on.

Thanks for listening.