Walking around in public with a Leica M and only a 50mm has never really been quite my cup of tea. For many years now I have seen the M as something that should really be accompanied for public outings with something wider, ideally a 35mm or even a 28mm if you're feeling a bit (Wino)grand.
Last month I took that to quite the extreme in the form of the delicious (if hard to handle) 21mm Super Angulon 3.4. For this month's musings, I would simply like to share what happened last week when , without too much pre-planning, I found myself at a loose end in the city with only an M4, a version 2 Rigid Summicron 50 in silver and a single, solitary roll of Tri X 400. The plan was therefore already constructed for me around such fixed parameters and I issued a challenge to myself to shoot the whole roll with the much famed 'rigid' as a walk around public lens even though I normally only shoot 35mm or wider on this camera for such contexts. I had to adjust myself to going back and seeing through a Leica M window only looking for the 50mm framelines, sometimes requiring me to step back a bit here and there from my usual up close and personal approach. It would have been an easier exercise by far on my venerable M3 as the .98 finder was made for the 50mm length and it's brighter and easier to focus such a lens through but the best camera is always the one you have with you, right?
So, wander the streets I did, inside, outside and back and forth on an especially hot Bangkok Saturday afternoon, harsh light guaranteed. So, how did the 'Cron handle the job? The later model (V2) rigid is a superb lens to focus with, it is just a nice size and thickness to turn precisely but still in the familiar reduced Leica proportions. I didn't only have to adjust my perception of framelines and width but also had to remind myself that even with Tri X and fast glass, the depth of field with the Rigid 50 would be a bit less that I am used to on a 35mm (and significantly less than the almost insane zero to infinity depths of the SA 21mm!). This took a few minutes to adapt to and I missed a frame or two. Normally when shooting street I have the lens ready to go, stopped down depending on conditions. Having worked without a light meter for a long time now, I have all my tried and tested 'go to' formulas and combos off by heart most of the time. At ISO 400 for Tri X box speed, if it's open Bangkok shade, I'm at f5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/500, cross the road to the other side and back out into open sun and it's f16 at the same shutter speed. Changing aperture rather than speed for most outdoor situations works well for me and keeps the number of things to juggle in my head down to a welcome minimum. Let's face it, running a fully manual rig like an old Leica M on film and shooting unexpected, non-improvised 'as it happens' scenes in public without a light meter is already about as hard as it gets (this side of Joel Meyerowitz having his head under a black cloth behind a tripod mounted large format camera on a Manhattan street!) so I don't alter the speed much until I head indoors, or it's early morning, late afternoon etc. With all that jazz out of the way, I like to be at about a 2 metres focus point as a 'stand by mode' according to the markings on the lens. Speaking of lens markings, the DoF scales on Leitz glass are not only beautiful but also darned useful and accurate, so I bloody well use them.
With most of my Leica glass I find the 2 metre mark (BTW I think in metres so even with my vintage silver, chrome over brass Lenses, I much prefer the later in the series ones that have the dual feet/metres markings as 'feet only' drives me crazy) is usually equivalent to having the focusing tab somewhere around 6 o'clock (ish) straight down as the camera is facing away from you ready to shoot. My general approach is to keep it there and then be scanning for what is happening in front of me whilst always estimating an invisible two meter proximity zone around me. Anything good suddenly come up closer to me more quickly than I had anticipated? No worries, just quickly pull/hook that tab up around to your left and trip that shutter. Something further away looks better? Push it away with the point of your finger around to the right to get nearer to infinity and snap. This is best practised at home with no film in the camera as you walk about and guesstimate how near or far things are away from you. In my humble opinion, in fast situations, this might just be the 'correct' way to shoot a Leica full stop . I only really carefully focus neatly through the finder with the rangefinder patch when I think that I have enough time to do so, and/or it is appropriate to the situation (or won't give the game away for a candid shot). On a 35mm or wider, with a nice 400 speed black and white like Tri X or HP5, you get enough room to be quite loose with this and still get nice focus inside a deeper depth of field. However, despite being more than aware of this, of course on the Rigid 'Cron 50, I got just a little bit less wiggle room and this kept me like a short person at a urinal, on my toes. Even when you get it slightly wrong, remember, sharpness is a bourgeois concept :-) and if it's a nice shot, it'll probably still be a nice shot.
Really delighted with the results, a nice amount of keepers that I am sharing here this month, not exactly prize winning photography or anything but I wanted to share the whole 'this is the best I could do 'off the cuff' in public with a single roll and a lens length I don't often use on this camera' kind of theme really. It honestly feels good to have not curated or debated too much over the shots for this, I'm feeling a bit 'rough and ready' with these this month. Another great thing about this lens is that, as with a lot of Leitz glass, it's perfectly usable even wide open and that makes for a quite versatile bit of kit not just in terms of focal length and framing but also different lighting conditions of course. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for. Whilst I'll always likely be more of a 35mm lens kind of guy, I can fully see the merits of the old standard 50mm approach that pervaded much of photojournalism until the late 60's and although all the old cliches of 'being so liberating just forcing yourself to stick with only a single 50mm lens' are all floating dangerously close around me as I type this post, I shall resist.I must at least confess to really having enjoyed shooting this roll. I've also owned the first version collapsible 'cron 50mm in the past as well but find the look a little different to this rigid, unless you stop one way down and then most of the Leitz 50 pre-asphs will all look quite similar anyway. One nice little outcome was that I (re)discovered that 50mm's are actually a lot more versatile than I remember them being for the way I personally tend to shoot. I suppose this is good news really because if you want Leitz glass, and you would like to be looking at faster stuff in the realms of 'Cron or even 'Lux, then a fifty is always going to be a hell of a lot cheaper than its equivalent 35mm counterpart in most cases.
As I type this, I also recall that I must have been feeling quite keen as I even developed the roll within about two hours of shooting its last frame that same day upon returning back to Chroma HQ, and that doesn't happen too often. Below here are the rest of my favourites from the roll, now in the meantime please just go out and shoot some film, see you all again next month.