Tuesday, 31 August 2021

The X-U - the first photos

Down to the nitty-gritty now. What can my Leica X-U (aka Lili) accomplish?

The very next evening after buying Lili at Park Cameras I dined out with friends, at the Bistro Gourmand - also known as Chez Franck - in Rottingdean. It isn't cheap, but the food and wine are excellent. I won't show every shot, but as the light fell I tried my new camera out on candle flames. Bear in mind that I'd not yet decided on the best settings, and so these shots are a first effort. 

I thought the rendering of the flame, the lit-up objects close by, and the way the background was thrown out of focus, were all satisfactory. Walking back to Fiona along the wet street, I took a nice photo of the distant traffic lights reflected on the wet road and pavement:

Hmm! This suggested to me that a night-time walkabout in the centre of Brighton, especially in the rain, would be highly worthwhile.

The very next evening, I drove to Lancing College, to get shots of the College Chapel in the setting sunlight. I stopped off at Botolphs along the way, and this was one of the selfies I took near the church. Nice to know that Lili can do selfies quite well, although the image shows every tiny blemish on my face!

Soon afterwards, I was pointing the lens at Lancing College Chapel, hoping for the best.

Very good detail in these brightly-lit shots - click on them to enlarge the picture and view the detail properly. Down one side of the Chapel was a cloister. I had a look at it, and took some selfies in the dimming light while in there:

Then I continued around the base of the Chapel for more exterior shots. You couldn't go in, so I had to be content with these. The Chapel is very tall, and somewhat Gothic - it would look absolutely right in Gotham City. 

It was getting on towards sunset, but I decided I could fit in two more locations that evening. Close by was Old Shoreham Bridge, a well-built but narrow wooden bridge, nowadays for cyclists and pedestrians only, but - believe it or not - it took the A27 road (Sussex's main east-west road) across the River Adur until 1970. And it was a toll bridge too. What a bottleneck it must have been. The Old Bridge was replaced by the fast modern toll-free dual carriageway a little upriver. Today it's a popular place to visit on foot or on a bike. And it's pretty photogenic too, as are the views to the north and the south.

The 23mm (= 35mm 'full frame') lens on Lili was only semi wide-angle, but it was still possible to compose spacious-looking shots.

And once again, I had fantastic luck. Resting against the bridge was a penny-farthing! With its rider close by. We chatted. I didn't ask him to mount the thing, but we did discuss the apparent difficulties of getting into the high saddle, how to brake, and how to dismount. I knew a bit about it, having watched a few YouTube videos on the subject - prompted by seeing a gent in period costume ride a penny-farthing sedately through the centre of Chichester in June last year. Here's that gent, captured with the little Leica D-Lux 4, as he passed close to me:

Now I had a second chance to bag shots of a penny-farthing and its rider:

There was just enough time left to drive over to adjacent Shoreham Airport, and catch some sunset shots of the Art-Deco passenger terminal, still with a working air traffic control tower. Lili was still set up for warmish shots, and the sky wasn't quite so pink-orange as this, although still an impressive sight.

Well! I had clearly acquired a camera capable of better, more detailed, more subtle-toned pictures than I'd enjoyed since my Nikon D700 days back in 2008-2011. Some fine adjustment to settings was obviously still needed; but I was already inclined to think that I'd found a worthy successor for my venerable little Leica D-Lux 4. 

The X-U - that name

It was pointed out to me that the name 'Martha' has connotations to do with domesticity and running a home - not really suitable for a camera begging to be taken into the wilds. 

A camera has nothing to do with household management. A camera is something else - an extension of the photographer's creative mind, a device to make an imagined composition real. In other words, an essential partner in the process of capturing a scene, or a subject, to perfection. Which is what Leica (as a brand, and as a force in photography) stands for. 

A photographer is nothing without a camera to use, whatever its form. And not unnaturally, the better the match or meld between camera and photographer, the closer the symbiosis. 

It's entirely possible to care deeply about a camera that works properly, and does things well, and shares one's adventures. Just as you would care about a car, or a bike, or a boat, or anything else that supported the creative or adventurous side of one's life. And just like that regard for the said car, bike or boat, a camera can make a claim on your emotions. So much so, that - as with anything cherished - you totally forgive whatever quirks and idiosyncrasies it may have. 

A camera can certainly play the part of an old and trusted friend. So bestowing the right name is important. It matters.

In my last post, I mentioned the 'secret names' that my possessions undoubtedly have. In my new camera's case, she had a German name, which I conjectured might be Isolde, Gertrud or Birgitta. Others could be added, such as Elke, Erika, Ursula and Uta, the last two perhaps referencing the 'U' in 'X-U'. None of these felt quite right, but nevertheless I certainly thought that a German name must be best. After all, one of the big facts about my new camera was that she was made in Germany! 

So which name now? 

I was beginning to incline after all towards Isolde or Gertrud. They seemed as German as Leica itself. But an exchange of texts with a friend prompted me to think of Lili, as in the song Lili Marlen (or Marlene) - 'the Girl under the Lantern' - a forces' favourite on both sides in World War II, but especially popular with the German Afrika Korps, against whom Dad, in the British Eighth Army, was pitted. 

The nice thing about this song was that the leading Nazis disapproved of it, probably because it told the story of a soldier's tender love for a pretty girl, and consequently wasn't 'martial' enough. A song that might sap a soldier's resolve to face death for the Fatherland, and in any case harked back to happier, freer, pre-Nazi days. One in the eye for Joseph Goebbels, then, who fumed at its immense popularity. But he had to relent. On the Allied side, the song's sentimentality and evocation of normal, very human, concerns appealed just as much. War-weary soldiers tend to share the same wistful notions.

So Lili it is. 

Lili the Leica. 

Lili and Lucy: sounds like a great team.

Monday, 30 August 2021

The X-U - teaser digression

Let's not show any pictures quite yet, and instead digress. Several things to mention, really.

Having already taken some 1,200 shots in the last ten days, it's clear that the Leica X-U is going to be a success. We are going to have a close relationship - albeit a working relationship - and I need to give my new camera a name. I can't keep on calling it 'the X-U' as if it were just a machine. This camera has personality as well as capability, and is going to be a boon companion, rarely out of my hands, both at home and when out and about. I can see us becoming very good friends. 'It' must become 'she', as befits a friend. And I am going to call her Martha. To me, the Marthas of this world are nice to know, but definitely persons of comfortable size and heft. That's a fair description of my new camera!

And it fits well with the rest of my personal retinue. A car called Fiona; a laptop called Verity; a phone called Prudence. And now a camera called Martha. That somehow seems pleasantly consistent. 

Of course, they all have secret names too: Swedish, American, Korean and German respectively. I tried to discern what Martha's German name might be, but got no further than Isolde (and she isn't an ice maiden, romantic or not), or possibly Gertrud (and hence Trudi, but then she's no bierhaus barmaid, either), or even Birgitta, the name of the very pleasant woman at Leica who helped me register Martha with the company, so that they know that I'm her new owner. 

Martha will do nicely.  

Next, that rather unusual blue sleeve. I gave it further thought, and realised that if the carrying strap is momentarily unclipped and the sleeve slid onto it, it's possible to carry the camera - Martha - with a cover over it, in this fashion:

I suppose there would be occasions when you would want to hide the fact that you were toting an expensive bit of equipment around - such as on a train, or a bus, or on the London Underground. Of course that highly-visible red dot is rather a giveaway - but then you could roll the red dot around to rest against your clothes, so that onlookers would see merely an intriguing bright blue bag. Later on, when ready to shoot, you'd slacken off the toggles, and slide the sleeve up to the neck part of the carrying strap, thus:  

And now the sleeve can be a less-ludicrous version of the 'neck warmer' suggested as one of its functions:

Dare I suggest that worn like this it might help to soak up neck sweat on a hot day in the Sahara? Or at Camber Sands? (Of course I'm serious)

Next, a way of turning the long carrying strap into a wrist strap. Pretty obvious really. Just tie a knot in it, and the padded part then goes around the wrist:

This is how I might attach Martha to me, if taking pictures from the top of the Eiffel Tower. 

As she has a built-in hand-grip (that rarest of things with a Leica), it'll now be possible to wander around town or countryside with her in my hand, secured by this improvised wrist strap, instantly ready for shooting. Exactly as I've done with the little Leica D-Lux 4 for years past. It's also welcome as another way of carrying the camera. I can now sling her across the body, positioned at my side; hang her around my neck, resting on my tummy; and carry her in my hand, without fear of dropping her.

You'll notice that Martha doesn't have a viewfinder, just a rear screen. That's exactly what I wanted: as a glasses-wearer, viewfinders are a pain. It's no good if I hoick my glasses up and squint into the viewfinder - no dioptre adjustment is sufficient to correct my unaided vision, and I wouldn't be able to see clearly. I have to keep my glasses on.

This said, I do occasionally pop an optical viewfinder into the shoe, and I have a couple of them tucked away all ready to go. But they are rarely used. The rear screen does get a bit dark when shooting into the sun - all camera screens do - and that's when a viewfinder (optical or electronic) will help. But most of the time I'm not shooting into the sun. Some insist that a viewfinder is best for getting the composition right. Let them have their prejudices. A screen is usually just as good. Some say you hold the camera steadier when it's braced against your face as you peer into the eyepiece. But you can brace your arms very effectively against your body in a variety of ways (and it avoids smearing the camera with gunk from your face). In any case it's unwise for a woman not to remain fully aware of what is happening around her. A face held away from the screen is a face that retains an all-round view of the vicinity. 

All this said, viewfinders have their uses, and I remembered that I had a Voigtländer 35mm viewfinder in my vaults, bought as long ago as 2008, and hardly used since. Perhaps it would find a permanent position on Martha? 

Here it is. It's made of metal and is very sturdy. 

Well, this Voigtländer viewfinder looks pretty good on my new camera, doesn't it? It's nice and bright to look into, with thick white frame lines. And there's no danger of scratching the right-hand lens of my glasses against the metal eyepiece of the viewfinder, because the rubber of the camera stops me getting that close. There's just one thing. This viewfinder has some weight, coming in at 48g:

And this is enough to bump the weight of Martha, plus her strap - and now with this viewfinder attached - up to 758g.

That extra 48g makes Martha seem noticeably heavier, as if a tipping point in comfort has been exceeded. Indeed, 758g is one and two-thirds pounds, and feels slightly too much for modern Melford muscles. So although I'm keeping the viewfinder on standby, and will take it on holiday, I'm not minded to attach it on a permanent basis. 

Funny how Martha's ordinary weight, 710g (or 711g - it seems to fluctuate fractionally), seems fine; but not so when small extras like this are added.

Which got me wondering what my favourite film cameras of yesteryear weighed. Here's the Konica Auto S3 on the scales. It was a good-quality, mostly-metal, semi-automatic rangefinder camera that I bought in 1973:

Hmm! 440g - the exact weight of the little Leica D-Lux 4 in its case, with a spare battery. I imagine that in a case, with a film inside, the Auto S3 would probably weigh not far short of 600g. It would still seem lighter than Martha, but not by a lot. 

Here they are, side by side:

Another comparison. With the Olympus OM-1N, in its day regarded as a super-compact SLR, a distinct contrast to the heavyweight creations of Canon and Nikon. And yet it was a pro-level system camera backed by umpteen interchangeable lenses and other specialised accessories. It was launched in 1973, but I bought mine (a late model: it had a long production life) pre-owned in 1993, when it had long been superseded by later OM models. It was in great condition, and still completely usable. That was how it was in film days. Even very old cameras could be loaded up with modern film and taken along for a rewarding shoot. Here it is on the scales, with a standard 50mm f/1.4 lens attached - my favourite at the time: 

Gosh, 834g - and maybe as much as a kilo in its bag, with a spare film or two. It feels heavy nowadays. And yet until 2000 (when I went digital) I used to carry this camera around on every outing, and thought nothing of it.

Here's Martha alongside the OM-1N:

On the whole, I'd say Martha is on the light side for her size, despite having the traditional Leica bombproof build, and that ten-element f/1.7 lens stuck on the front. But she's not a camera you can pop into any normal coat pocket. Why would you want to? She's meant to be weatherproof, and doesn't have to keep warm and dry. Admittedly, she might attract attention if I try any stealthy shooting down in Brighton's streets. But then, the respected red dot will be my justification and excuse.

Well, that's enough digression. The pictures next, I promise.

Of course, readers can get a sneak preview by clicking on one or other of the handy links to Flickr at the top right of this webpage. (But nobody ever seems to. Hey ho)