Archive for September, 2009

The Cost of Leica

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

One of the new members on the Leica forum ( I occasionally frequent posed the excellent question of how – given the high cost of Leica cameras and lenses – anyone other than professionals can justify their cost.  He received a number of thoughtful replies.  Here was mine.

It’s a slippery slope. After years of enjoying an SLR/DSLR, you look at all those timeless, iconic images taken with Leica rangefinders and all the great photographers who used them and you begin to wonder what all the fuss is about. So you decide to give it a little go. Just one Leica M body and a single lens. You probably buy them used.

After a few days, you suddenly realize that this strange rangefinder thing is kind of cool. It’s a heck of a lot easier carrying around your new Leica than that big, clunky SLR. And that one Leica lens you’ve got sure does render some really nice images. They have a crispness and a definition and a look that’s, well… just hard to describe.

Mostly, though, you find that using that M camera is just different. You start to see the world through a window, instead of through a tunnel. And that soon starts to be reflected in your images themselves. They are somehow subtly different from how they were before.

You’re quite pleased by all this. But there’s something that still nags at you, there in the back of your mind. That single prime that you’ve been using brings a freedom, sure. You love the simplicity it brings. It’s a revelation after all those years of using a zoom on your SLR. But, still, there are times you wish you had a different focal length. And so after awhile you start idly looking around. You visit Ebay and Craigslist and the Leica internet stores. You wander down to your local camera shop and look at that silver Lux behind the glass in their display case. You shake your head at all this. It’s way too expensive. And, heck, you’re just an amateur, a simple guy who does this for fun.

But you keep thinking about those images. The one’s you’ve gotten since you got into this rangefinder thing. You can’t get them out of your mind. And you can’t ignore the belief that you’ve become a better photographer for it.

And so you spring for that second lens.

And there it starts. You’re down the hill and gone.

Leicas are expensive cameras. Always have been. Always will be. They call to only a few. But if you’re among those few, you’ll find a way.

Leica M6

Leica M6

The Last Hour

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

The graying darkness slowly descends around me and I’m reminded that this won’t last much longer.  September is here.  And on last night’s ride, toggling the screen on the bike computer while I gasped for breath there at the end, the time was one minute past sundown.

No, I won’t be able to do this much longer.  Soon only the weekends will be left.

But I push that thought away.  The more important thing is that now, a half-dozen miles into tonight’s ride, that ache from the early miles that I always hate is gone.  Replaced by the deeper and more intense – but somehow less bothersome – burn of muscles that are warmed to their task.

Mom’s surgery is tomorrow, a worrisome nettle.  Ginny and I will be heading down to Charlottesville early in the morning to be there for that.  I hate hospitals, the place where people go when things have gone awry.  The locus of too much pain and suffering.

But they are also where people go to get fixed and get better.  And since I’m optimistic by nature, that’s what I hold to.

Miles on, and Lancaster looms.  The upper part that’s hard.  I usually run it in both directions.  First coming off of Northampton, the pull up the long gradient followed by the sharp, fast downhill.  Then, a few miles later, going the opposite way, heading up that once-was-a-downhill, now a painful incline.

I freewheel as much as I can as I approach it, resting my legs.  Then I’m around the corner and there, clicking quickly into my lowest gear in the rear, middle chain ring up front.  Within a handful of yards my cadence drops under 70, and that’s where I lift from the saddle.  Up over the front wheel, hands on the hoods, pushing the pedals in measured, powerful strokes.  Striving towards the top, trying not to drop into the small chain ring, the granny gear.

I measure it by the manhole covers.  The first one halfway up, the one rising six inches above the tortured, misshapen pavement – where if you’re not watching you’ll run smack into it with a bone-jarring crunch.

The second one just a handful of strokes shy of the crest. You always figure if you can get to that one you’ll be able to make it all the way.  But by the time I reach it I’m nearly spent, my heart hammering and my breath coming in ragged gasps, my lactate threshold long since having been left behind.  The pain in my legs has morphed into a faltering numbness.

It’s times like this that you wonder why in the world you do this.

But then you’re over the top and there comes the long, glorious downhill.  The speed builds in a rapid crescendo and the cooling breeze washes over you like the sponge of an angel.  And in half a minute your legs have recovered.

There are few things as wondrous as a long, freewheeling downhill.

One more quick loop around, an easy, lazy mile, and then I’m done.  Out back to the road, glancing quickly left to see if there are any cars coming, then accelerating hard into the downhill shrouded in the darkness.  And then out of the trees, up the hill, and back into the last light of the day.