Sunday, 28 August 2016

A love-triangle

The Panasonic LX100 camera, with dust on its sensor, has been boxed ready for the warranty procedure, which I shall get started by midweek. The much older Leica D-Lux 4 has taken over daily photo duties. Here it is. It's actually a shot taken a year ago. But the Leica looks exactly the same today:


Am I downhearted, because the still-quite-new Panasonic has to be repaired? Not at all. I welcome the chance to use the Leica again. The little Leica may be seven years old, with nearly 63,000 shots under its belt, but it's in feisty condition, with a set of brand new batteries, and completely up to the job. In fact in just three days I've already taken over 150 pictures with it. I admit these pictures are not quite as good as the Panasonic could have taken. A discerning and knowledgeable person will rightly notice that the Panasonic has a slight edge on resolution, dynamic range, and low-light performance.

But there is more to taking successful pictures than a better technical specification. A newer, more sophisticated camera does not necessarily outclass a simpler camera from a previous generation, where handling and results are concerned.

I noticed that years ago, when first using my Nikon D700 SLR. It produced (for the time, 2008) astonishingly good results - if you valued a pin-sharp and detailed photo showing great tonal and colour accuracy. But the rendition was too perfect, too accurate - it was like looking directly at a real scene, and not at a representation of one. It was a perfect 'record shot', and the rendition was accordingly a bit dull. Technical perfection had paradoxically robbed the Nikon's pictures of any obvious 'photographic' quality. Whereas the compact camera I was using at the time (a Ricoh GX100) could turn out gritty shots that couldn't possibly be mistaken for real life, and - aesthetically speaking - were all the better for it. So could its successor, the Leica. This is one reason why I went back to small cameras: their particular lens/sensor combinations allowed me to create something other-worldly (and potentially very creative) straight from the camera.  

A camera is a tool, and I like it to be a sophisticated tool for the right occasion. The Leica does seem rather bare-bones in the manual control department, compared to the Panasonic. Look at that shot of the Leica above, and then look at these shots of the Panasonic:


Doesn't the Panasonic look the business? That no-nonsense, rather rectangular, 'industrial' look. And all those dials: a proper manual control for everything essential. And that fast f/1.7 lens, which pulls in about 60% more light than the Leica's more modest f/2 lens can. From first acquaintance in August last year, I felt inspired by the Panasonic. And 15,000 shots later, I have not been disappointed. It's a really nice camera. It truly shows what an extra seven years of technical development can achieve. Specification-wise, it's twice the camera that the Leica is. I respect it, I enjoy using it, and I love the results it gives me.

And yet...

The smaller Leica is somehow more engaging. My fingers curl round it more easily. The shutter release button seems more controllable. It's never given me any problems, like dust on the sensor. It's outclassed, of course it is, but I'm falling in love with it all over again.

Perhaps it's no more than an upsurge of affection for an old and very faithful friend who has lately been eclipsed. Or, if it's an infatuation, that this will run its course by the time the Panasonic is back. But you never know. Love is an inconvenient emotion. It's also an illogical emotion. I might find, if I'm not careful, and if the Leica produces a harvest of wonderful shots, that I will want to stay with it and not go back to the Panasonic.

What then for the Panasonic? I've already taken more shots with it than many people do in a lifetime, and so in that sense it has served me very well, and we can part without regrets. Some (high-income) photographers do sell or trade in their equipment every year, or every other year, just in order to stay cutting-edge. Nobody uses the same camera for ten or twenty years, as was quite often the case in film days. But it does seem a bit too soon to part with the Panasonic. I'm sure I would happily use it for years to come, once it's been cleaned up, if the Leica weren't around.

But the Leica is around.

Hmm! A classic love-triangle. A classic tug of loyalties. Return to the old love, or embrace the new?

Here are a few examples of what the little Leica can still do, taken from the last three days:


Click on any of these to enlarge them.

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