Same same but different!

When I scanned my first long exposure of photographic paper using a beer can pinhole camera I was thrilled by the result (see post: „Looooong time exposure“). I had also sent a few of those cameras to family all across Germany as a Christmas present. The idea behind it was that they should record the same 6 months as my cameras and once scanned my family members would receive a framed print of their half year local recording of the sun’s movement. Admittedly, a somewhat egoistic present, since I was probably even more excited to see what their pinhole cans would record over the same period of time. Would there be differences in the suntrails? At least the weather should have some impact, but I expected rather subtle deviations from an overall comparable result. But not quite so!

The pinholes were closed and all cans were collected at summer solstice. They were sent to me for scanning, but they had to wait until last night before I found the time to open them and reveal their secrets. And I was stunned how different the results were. The first can I opened in May was mounted to a dead tree in the field and recorded half a year of a Brandenburg open landscape. It showed the full amplitude of the sun’s ecliptic changes between winter and summer. The second pinholed beer can was mounted to our house in Berlin, and two more had been fixed to a roof near Göttingen and to a rain pipe near Celle, both in Lower Saxony. Finally, a last one was set up on a windowsill near Heidelberg from where it vanished at some point and unfortunately delivered nothing.

While the can mounted to our house basically produced the same image as the one from the field (apart from the background being houses in one and farmland in the other), the other two images had some strange peculiarities. The one from the roof obviously had an obstacle to the left as there is only the last third (early afternoon to evening) of the suntrails to be seen in the image. The left side of the photograph shows a curved black area with no exposure whatsoever. I remember now that the can was mounted to a wooden beam and this must have blocked the view to the East. However, the camera recording from the rain pipe gave another totally different impression. Although it had a clear view from East to West with only a few pine trees interfering, the suntrails showed only about a two month‘s time frame. It must have stopped recording around late February to early March. The only explanation for this is that just before spring something must have clotted or covered the pinhole. I think despite the missing white curves higher up in the sky this last image is still the most beautiful of all the solargraphies due to the clear and calm foreground.

183 days looking south (Berlin)

183 days looking south (Göttingen)

Not quite 183 days looking south (Celle)

Overall this was a fantastic experiment with a really stunning result. I love these images. They are very raw and blurry due to the optical properties of the coarse pinhole I pricked into the cans with a sewing needle. By the way, it’s not a focus problem, since in pinhole cameras everything is in focus as long as the size of the pinhole is in proper relation to the distance between the hole and the film (or in this case the photographic paper). The panoramic effect due to the cylindric form of the beer can and the beautiful color shadings when the scans were inverted into positives add another dimension to the images. I will certainly repeat this experiment at different locations and I can only recommend to try it yourself – it’s dead easy to prepare these cameras and the results are always rewarding.

And then there were three*

Some things take time, and there are certain things that seem to take forever. But finally, I made it! What the heck am I talking about?  It’s the refurbishment of my three Agfa Isolette folder cameras including bellows replacement and full CLA of all moveable parts. Apart from the focus rings, the range finders of the Mark III models gave me a hard time but eventually everything went well and all three cameras are in perfect working condition now.  To give you a short cutback:

Four years ago I purchased an Isolette II which I CLA-ed only to find out that the bellows had light leaks and needed replacement (see “The Isolette and I”). Falling in love with the overall form,  performance and haptics of these Agfa folders I started watching out for different models and about a year later I had another two of them in my collection (see “Isolette news”). While the first one has the 4.5 Apotar optics with three lenses, the other two have the more sophisticated Solinar optics (four-lens arrangement) with 4.5 and 3.5 max aperture, respectively. The latter ones had the same and common problems with a stuck focus, pinholes in the paper bellows and – being Mark III models – stuck range finders. After cleansing the bodies and lubricating all turning knobs and rings the most cumbersome work to do was replacing the bellows. However, this unexpectedly turned out to be rather straightforward, though a little time consuming. I used pre-manufactured bellows by Sandeha Lynch, which are of very high quality and easy to mount on the metal skeleton of a stripped Agfa folder. Additionally, they are available in different colors, which gives these old medium format light-weighters a little pop. The last bit to do was calibrating the focus and the (uncoupled) range finders, a job I only managed to do a few months ago! Almost four years to finish this tiny project…it’s unbelievable.

The three Agfa Isolettes in their full glory! From left to right: Mark III with Solinar 75/f3.5 (green bellows), Mark III with Solinar 85/f4.5 (black bellows), and Mark II with Apotar 85/f4.5 (blue bellows).

And what did not happen yet!? …   You guessed it already! So far, I did not find the time to shoot a single frame with either of these cameras, despite the fact that they are staring at me every day from their cabinet since I added the last drop of Ballistol to their metal framing to give them the last and shiny finish. The collector’s trap again as outlined in “Procrastinator’s corner” and “Photographer or collector”! But their time will come, I am sure.

* This album made me a fan of Genesis in the late 1970s. Can you believe that it took me some ten years to “discover” their older records, which I liked even better then?

I missed the mist

It’s early September now and during the day the thermometer may still reach more than 25°C. But since about three weeks I smell the typical autumnal scent in the mornings. You certainly know what I am talking about: When you open the door in the morning of a late summer‘s day and a breeze enters the room still carrying the cool and slightly damp air of the preceding night, an earthy wooden smell fills the room, which is so typical and always the first sign that summer’s over. What I didn’t think about that morning I smelled it the first time was that early in the day the landscape may also start covering itself in mist – you only have to leave your cosy bed in time outsmarting the sun to catch it.

On a normal day, I would have grabbed one of my cameras and headed towards our local woodland, a rather unimpressive assemblage of trees which partly was planted only after the wall came down and which is overpopulated with dog walkers, mountain bikers, runners and what have you. The trees planted around the former border patrol paths are still young and their arrangement is more like a plantation rather than a natural forest. The older parts of the forest, which 32 years ago were still behind the iron curtain, are mainly ivy-infested oak trees and silver birches many of which suffering heavily from the droughts of the past two summers. Interspersed are quite a few introduced species like bird cherry, robinia and ash-leaf maple. Nearly all birch trees are dead and many have fallen into the understory giving the impression as if a massive dinosaur has recently broke its way through the woods. The woodpeckers love it, but they may be the only  ones. With some autumnal mist though there are quite a few compositions to be found, but without it it’s a boring piece of forest, which doesn’t even try to hide its man-made origin.

BUT…it was not a normal day. Both our boys started at their new schools and we had to leave the house very early to guide them on their first way to what will be their learning places for the next 6-8 years. When closing the door of the house I looked towards the woodland and saw the mist creeping through the trees! No chance whatsoever to capture it, since we had to go and with clear skies above us the sun would certainly have burned it once I was back from my school tour. So, I saw the first mist of the year, but I missed to capture it on film. Nothing to worry about though…there will be more misty mornings over the coming months. I just have to be prepared for it.

Loooooong time exposure

I don’t know what you think about long time exposures, but what I see – at least online – is always the same boring seascape with the water surface smoothed out by using an exposure time of several seconds or the even more obvious waterfall image with the cascade of water softened to a white fuzzy cloth hanging down the cataracts. Ever so often these images run under the category “fine art”, but to be honest neither do I know what this overused term describing a certain type of photographic image really means, nor do I think that these images are particularly innovative or exciting.

What I was after with my latest little project was kind of the opposite to “fine art” and may be termed “raw art” instead. I wanted to capture the sunlit landscape with a pinholed beer can. The blurry images showing the trail of the sun which gets steeper and steeper over several months towards the summer solstice always fascinated me. Usually the landscape on these solargraphies is somewhat dark and only faintly visible. The basis for this kind of photography is cheap and simple. You need a can or any light tight box with a pinhole in it and a piece of photographic paper. The latter is sensitive to light, but not as sensitive as film. What normally turns out as a positive in the darkroom is used here to produce a negative on paper. This can be scanned with an ordinary flatbed scanner and inverted in post processing. A clean and straightforward process with no chemicals involved. There is plenty of how-to videos online and after watching some of these, I made six pinhole beer can cameras, three to be used by myself and the other three to be sent to family members all over Germany. All cameras were installed around the 21st December last year to start with the lowest possible sun trail on the horizon. The plan was to expose the photo paper for the entire half year until 21st June 2021 to record the full amplitude of the sun’s yearly trail.

One camera, which I had mounted on a fence at a woodland’s edge only survived for about two weeks. Someone got too curious, ripped the camera-fixing duck tape off the fence post, threw it into the landscape and took the camera with him (or her). But the other one which was mounted on a dead tree trunk made it throughout winter and spring. I collected it last week, since I feared that over the coming weeks the sun trail would be so high up in the sky that it may run out of the image. The remaining beer cans are still in position and will be collected in about a month’s time.

And here is what I got from my first harvest:

Isn’t that remarkable? A shutter opened for a little more than 5 months resulted in this amazing record of time with uninterrupted bright trails from left to right showing sunny days and scattered trail lines marking temporary cloud covers. Almost half a year burned into a single frame. At least for me that’s something to think about! What is time? What is a day, a week, a month?  What is the relationship between the seemingly static landscape and the daily changing position of our cosmic energy source? These are questions which I see arising from this kind of pictures and this is exactly what I love about this unusual type of photography. You look at the image and it throws questions at you, uncertainties, even uncomfortable feelings. I know, solargraphy is not so unusual and it had been used for more than a century even to solve scientific problems, but nevertheless these images are still fascinating today. Even more so, since most contemporary photographs are taken with little high-tech computers called digital cameras and high-tech lenses and produce these superclean and ultrasharp images we’re confronted with everyday and everywhere. Solargraphy images by contrast are just the opposite. They are raw, fuzzy, even gritty sometimes and the only device needed to make them is a dark box with a hole in it.

For those of you interested in the technicalities of the image: I used 30 year old ORWO silk matte paper, which is known to produce some aberrant color gradients in solargraphy images. The final image was scanned as color positive with an Epson V700 flatbed scanner at a resolution of 800 dpi and post-processed in Photoshop. Now that I know that the setup works as expected, I am very curious to see the results of the remaining four beer cans. Once I have the scans ready, I will certainly share them in a future post.

Struggling with my photography – is it any good?

Being back into photography for more than four years now (after a long break of more than a decade) I am looking at what I’ve produced so far and – to be honest – it’s not where I want it to be. But the question is: Where is “where”? What exactly causes me struggling with my portfolio? Having a closer look at my results, it looks like a little bit of everything. There is no overarching theme, no consistent “language”, no favorite genre. Instead, it jumps from 35mm to 120mm, from color to b/w, from street to landscape to architecture and back to pinhole photography. It is the result of cheerfully playing with different formats, gear, and film stock. Perfectly OK for a hobbyist, who still tries to find his style. And even more rewarding for someone who loves to play around with old cameras. So, what’s the problem?

Rumors have it (thanks to HCB) that your first 10.000 pictures are only good for the waste bin. This translates into “practice, practice, practice” as THE guiding principle to earn the right to call yourself a photographer. Even when adding my early day photography to what I have produced during the last four years, in terms of numbers I am still not there, yet. But is it really just a lack of practice?

As a creative it’s quite common to be unsatisfied with your product. Being your strongest critic is almost inevitable and we all seem to quickly underrate our own work rather than celebrating our achievements. On the other hand, a critical view on our own body of work with all our background knowledge we’ve acquired through experience, book reading, talking to mentors and fellow creatives, visiting exhibitions etc massively helps to assess our portfolios and, thereby, constantly grow as a photographer. However, the core difficulty is to find your own style or to produce work, which is consistent – whatever this consistency is made of.

Playing around with many cameras and different film stocks is fun, but it seems to keep me away from profoundly learning one piece of kit and/or one type of film to e.g. produce a consistent look independent of the ambient light conditions. I always try to think in projects and then choose what I think is the most suitable camera and film for it. But ever so often the projects I come up with are tiny and if there are more than three or four of them at a time you bet that every single one seemingly needs different gear and emulsions. The result again is swapping cameras and film stocks instead of sticking to one combination and deeply learn how to make the most of it.

Despite the fact that I love the restrictions when using old cameras and certain types of film, I obviously have difficulties to simplify my options any further. Why not restricting myself to e.g. monochrome and square format and deeply explore all options this combination can give me? Why not pushing the limits of a single color emulsion to getting to grips with this very stock? I think it has to do with the fear of missing out. Who hasn’t cursed herself when a perfect color scene unfolded before your eyes and the only camera around your neck was loaded with a b/w film? However, this may only be problematic for the immature photographer. The pro knows when this scene is not her style of photography and, therefore, can fully enjoy the moment without feeling the need to press a shutter button.

As outlined above, it’s still a long way to go…

Photographer or collector?

It’s been a while that I have posted something here. The pandemic took (and still takes) its toll. Fortunately, neither me nor anybody of my family caught the virus (yet), but the mixture of homeoffice, homeschooling, homestaying and home-everything is racking our nerves. And although a restrictive lifestyle regarding travel, commuting, contacts with other people etc. seems the only appropriate measure to counteract the spread of COVID-19, we all suffer from these regulations since it is difficult for our minds to trick our evolutionary heritage. Humans have evolved to live in groups after all!

What does this have to do with my photography, you ask? A lot, because to be creative you need some freedom of mind, some brain capacity to be devoted to your creative task. When my day-to-day job in the Museum entered our home through the new homeoffice regulations the space for this freedom, this capacity got smaller…and it still does to this day. Less and less time to go out shooting, the best weather conditions pass by while you’re ZOOMing your life away in front of a computer screen, and even if you happen to have an hour or two for a short photowalk, you are too tired and your empty brain can’t be bothered to think about grabbing a camera, let alone stepping out and follow up on your last photo project.

And here we’re coming closer to the title of this post. For an ‘old-camera aficionado’ like me these times are dangerous. The ‘gear acquisition syndrome’ aka GAS likes it, when your mind is stressed out by daily routines and duties. It’s like the little devil on your shoulder saying: ‘Come on, you’ve been sitting the whole day in front of the computer…a few more moments to browse the latest offers at auction X or camera shop Y doesn’t make a difference’. Or: ‘ Your mood needs a little lifting. Don’t you remember the sweet feeling of bargaining a favourite camera online?’ Or: ‘You’ve been working so hard today and all the online meetings were so stressful, you should treat yourself with a little camera shopping, don’t you think?’ And so it goes on and on….

And that’s exactly what happened to me over the last couple of months resulting in an increase  of cameras, lenses and photo books in my collection, naturally ‘counterbalanced’ by a decrease in output. I couldn’t withstand the lulling voice of the devil on my shoulder. As outlined in an earlier post, I am not interested in regularly dusting items, which I own just for the sake of having them. It’s still my aspiration to use all cameras and lenses in my collection for proper photographic work. And so there are a few more little gems already loaded with film, amongst them an EXA 500 to finally make use of my CZJ 35mm f/2.8 Flektogon, and the iconic AGFA Optima 1035, a point-and-shoot from the 1970s with a fixed 40mm f/2.8 lens and a beautiful design. The top deal though was a camera I previously described as unnecessary or even useless for me, because I thought that with my Olympus 35 SP I already owned a rather similar one. But the offer was so good and the camera in such perfect condition that when I hold it in my hands while sitting in the kitchen of the seller and negotiating the price with her I already knew that I would never give it back again. Yes, you’re right, I bought my first Leica that day. An M2 from 1958 with a ZEISS 35mm f/2.8 Biogon lens. What a fantastic camera that is. Wearing glasses I still struggle a bit with the 35mm framelines as they almost touch the edges of the viewfinder, but this just needs getting used to.

Anything else? Oh yes… I sold my Canon AE1 program and one of my two Olympus 35 SP rangefinder cameras since neither was used over the last two years. And I finally repaired the bellows of two of my AGFA Isolettes (see posts “The Isolette and I” and “Isolette news”) so that all three of them are now in working condition waiting to be tested. Last not least, I decided to change my scanning workflow and to switch from my flatbed scanner to a digital camera at least for 35mm film. There are still some bits and pieces missing to start with it, but I am really looking forward to speeding up the rather boring scanning process and increasing the quality of my scans. As you will know, flatbeds are not the best choice for digitizing small film formats.

So, what am I? A photographer or a collector? I can easily live with being both! I love photography and I have plenty of ideas for future projects, which hopefully will find their way on to this website over time. And on the other hand I love old cameras and I probably won’t stop buying them, repairing them and using them to the best of my knowledge and capability. It all feels like playing, with the former being a more serious endeavour, the latter being the fun part.

 Alright, that’s it for now. Just a short update on GAS-related developments during the last months. I will certainly post more on my experience with the new cameras, but this has to be supported by images which currently are either still in camera or are waiting to be developed and scanned.

Stay safe and check in on Light & Grain for the next one.

Something for a change

I am not a studio photographer. The majority of my photographs are taken outdoors…apart from the usual documentary shots of family life, which often show inhouse situations. Therefore, the images I want to share with you today are somewhat unusual. The photos are already 8 months old and were produced in a mock-up studio situation. And here is the story behind it:

My elder son told us that his biology teacher had tried to get corn seeds germinating in the middle of winter by immersing one side of a whole corn cob in water. The result was rather disappointing with only three or four seedlings appearing after a week or two. Back home my youngster was excited to repeat this experiment, naturally with the intention to beat his teacher on this one and present a much more impressive result in class.

We had two fully dried corn cobs, leftovers from an autumn decoration on the dining table. We put one of them into a flat bowl with a bit of water and then we waited. After five or six days the first white rootlets appeared and made their way to the bottom of the bowl. And soon after, the first green started reaching for light. Seed after seed came to life again and after three weeks you could hardly see the cob anymore. The young corn plants were about ten to fifteen centimeters high and the bottom of the bowl was filled with a network of intertwining shiny white roots.

At some stage of development I realised that the green and white seedlings produced a beautiful contrast against the golden corn seeds. Since I didn’t want to kill the young pants in the freezing winter temperatures on our terrace, I decided to setup a tiny studio situation with a chair, a background cloth and natural light near the window. I placed the cob on a white glass plate and took my rather heavy macro gear (see my other blog about macro photography here) consisting of the Nikon F90x, the Soligor C/D Macro MC 90mm f/2.5  and a Nikon SB21 ring flash for handheld shooting. Again, I used Kodak Gold 200, which delivers vibrant colors, high contrast and decent sharpness.

My Nikon F90x with the 90mm f/2.5 Macro lens and a ring flash in its full glory

There are a couple of things I especially like in the resulting images. First and foremost it is the complementary colors of the green and the orange tones against the blue background. Also the highly ordered arrangement of the seeds contrasts well with the chaotic growth of the seedlings and their roots. And finally, the photos illustrate one of the fundamental processes of life on Earth, the growth of a new plant from its seed, but the way my studio setup and the chosen gear renders the subject gives it a somewhat artificial appearance. It looks too clean, almost misplaced, like in a laboratory situation. At least that’s what comes to my mind when I look at the images. But see for yourself!

Corn cob 1-4

Berlin, 2020, Nikon F90x, Soligor C/D Macro MC 90mm f/2.5, Nikon SB21 ring flash with diffusor, Kodak Gold 200

Square Dance

Our summer holiday destination this year was a very last minute decision and what originally should have been Denmark turned out to be – after a 13 hour drive – our favorite Tuscan hills between Siena and Volterra. Regarding the weather it was definitely the better choice!

As for previous trips to Tuscany I decided to take a mix of 35mm and medium format cameras with me. But this time I wanted to limit myself to only two camera bodies. For the smaller format I grabbed my “ever ready” F3, but for medium format I decided to wake up a sleeping beauty. About two years ago I had purchased a late photographer’s equipment from the 1950s which among other treasures contained a Rolleiflex 3.5C with all sorts of accessories in good working condition. At the time, I only ran a test film through it, but without an idea for immediate use of the camera it went straight onto the shelves – until now.

Photographer and his toy

Berlin, 2020, Rolleiflex 3.5C, ZEISS Planar 75mm f/3.5, Kodak Portra 160

A couple of rolls of FP4+ and Portra160 later I wonder why I had waited so long to work with this fantastic camera. Sure, it is a bit clunky and especially if you carry it around your neck you may want a massage after a while. But the mechanical and optical qualities of it are pure bliss. Composing with the huge and bright groundglass of the waist-level finder is easy. Using a groundglass instead of a prism finder I always have to get used to the left/right conversion of the image, but with this camera it didn’t take long to adapt. For my landscape photos I decided to mount the Rollei on a tripod. A Rolleiflex TLR looks a bit awkward mounted on a tripod, but the combo does the job when the fading sunlight asks for longer exposure times. Since the in-built lightmeter is the only malfunctioning part of my model (the old Selenium cell is almost certainly broken), I used a mix of “sunny 16” and my external spotmeter. Both film stocks I used have a broad dynamic range and are quite forgiving when it comes to “one stop over or under”, but still, you want to nail the exposure if possible. I have bracketed some shots and already in the negatives I can see not-so-subtle differences, especially in the shadows, which may make or break a shot.

Farneta premises, Tuscany/Italy, 2020, Rolleiflex 3.5C on Ilford FP4+

By the way: these landscapes were already the second attempt to ban the beautiful Tuscan hills on film. My first photo walk the day before was a total disaster. And here is what happened: As said, I only ran one test film through the camera after I bought it two years ago. I was 100% certain that I still knew how to load a roll of film into the Rollei, when I grabbed the first FP4+ from my bag. I even remembered that it is absolutely necessary to fiddle the paper through the small slit between the two metal rulers to activate the film counter. But … I did not realise that I was loading the roll upside down with the paper towards the lens and the film facing the back plate! So I went with high expectations into the field only to find out that after frame 5 the advance lever did not turn anymore, neither forward nor backward. The film instead of winding onto the take up spool had somehow crammed itself into the space between the spool and the camera body, whilst the covering paper was neatly reeled up. When the film transport got stuck I knew that I had to open the camera. Not knowing what exactly had caused the accident I preferred to call it a day and went home. On the way back I already suspected the film to be loaded the wrong way – it was the only possible explanation. And so it was. One film down the drain, and the next one loaded into the camera to repeat the exercise.

And what about the Portra images? Here are a few. Typical subtlety of this film’s color rendering. Beautiful and perfectly suited for the late summer colors of the Tuscan landscape.

Farneta premises, Tuscany/Italy, 2020, Rolleiflex 3.5C on Kodak Portra 160


These days everyone is talking about macro photography. At least that’s my impression following several photography channels on Youtube that normally do not deal with this specific genre. However, this is not that surprising since across the globe photographers were confined to their homes to a certain degree and in order to stay productive they had to come up with alternatives to their normal outdoor photography preferences. Macro and still life are only two options for that, but they are the most obvious ones. The pandemic forced nature and landscape photographers to seek beauty in small to tiny objects they already had at or could bring home and arrange for macro photography sessions in their kitchens, sheds or gardens.

Being interested in nature for a long time and having a nag for animal photography in my early days as an SLR user I purchased a proper macro lens to go with my Nikon F301 already in the mid-eighties. It was a manual focus tank of a lens, the Soligor C/D Macro MC 90mm f/2.5, a re-branded version of the then highly esteemed Vivitar 90mm f/2.5 macro lens, produced by Tokina. I used it quite regularly back in the day and produced many color slides some of which I still do like very much today, e.g. the praying mantis in the botanical gardens in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

MantisPraying mantis

Antananarivo, Madagascar, 1989, Nikon F301, Kodachrome 64

Seeing all this macro hype on my computer I thought why not digging out this old and heavy lens and re-vive my former enthusiasm for the tiny and easily overlooked ones out there in nature. This time I used my Nikon F90x and a tripod because camera and lens weigh nearly 1.5 kg and when the lens is fully extended for a reproduction ratio of 1:1 it is almost impossible to shoot handheld without blurring the image. The objects I had in mind were spring flowers and flourishing shrubs in a nearby woodland area. I stumbled upon them when walking the dog the other day and saw the potential for a few macro shots. But I had to wait for an overcast day since blotches of sunlight here and there in the shots I thought would be distracting rather than doing any good. And a couple of days later I finally went out for the first time with my camera gear after a nearly 3 month’s break largely caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and its collateral effects impacting our daily life.

In macro photography depth of field is a big issue. Even if you decide to stop down your lens to say f/11 or f/16 the focal plane is still tiny. So, when shooting flowering plants you have to choose which part of the flower you would like to see sharp in your final image. There is a few possibilities to remedy this, though: you can either use a telephoto lens and shoot from a larger distance or – with digital cameras – you can deploy focus stacking. But I wanted to work around the imperfections of my film camera/macro lens setup and rather stick with the small focal plane. My goal was to get one typical character of the flower tack sharp and to have the other parts fall into a colorful blur supporting the image. A good example for this is the photograph of the dandelion’s blowball below. Blurred by using an aperture of f/4, the yellow dandelion flower in the background not only adds some interest to the photo, but at the same time puts the main subject – the seeds – into context. Looking at the image you immediately know that the blurry yellow blotch is a dandelion flower. You don’t need to have every part of the plant in focus to understand what’s going on. Your brain is able to put the puzzle together and this is what fascinates me more than shooting one of these ultrasharp, focus-stacked postcard images we are used to these days.

So here are a few of the results of this late spring photo walk which after a long time sparked my interest in macro photography again.


Berlin, 2020, Nikon F90x, Kodak Gold 200


Hawthorn Hawthorn

Berlin, 2020, Nikon F90x, Kodak Gold 200


Celandine Celandine

Berlin, 2020, Nikon F90x, Kodak Gold 200

Buying a Leica, or not…

Over the last six months or so I regularly browsed the usual online market places looking for a well preserved older Leica M model at a reasonable price (which seems to be a paradox in itself!). I was surprised to see M2, M3 and M4 models popping up new on ebay every week. There seems to be quite some trading with these 50 to 70 year old mechanical gems. Checking online offerings of M-Leicas almost every day over a few months I learned two things: It is not easy to set your highest price to a successful level, because there is plenty of people out there willing to spend a fortune even for partly damaged M-bodies, which I find strange. And because of this, there are quite a few dubious people around trying to trick you into deals not worth your time, let alone the money.

When I started my quest for a Leica, I had the stupid idea to find a model matching my year of birth. I thought if I spend such a large amount of money for a 50+ year old camera, it should be something special. Like a birthday present bought for myself. This restricted my search to the M4. One day I found a beautifully preserved model – judged from the photographs. What also drew my attention was the rather low price of just under 600 Euros for an immediate buy. Knowing that well-preserved M4s on ebay normally crack the 900 Euro level, I wondered why the camera was still available. Even more so, since I had seen M-Leicas appearing in and disappearing from auctions within a few hours, when there was a good match between preservation and price. I decided to ask the dealer some specific questions regarding the camera, to make sure that this wasn’t a fraud. In his reply he did not answer those questions, but instead sent a few very general comments… and I kept my hands off the deal. The following weeks I regularly checked, whether someone would buy it, but nothing happened. The M4 was still on offer. Then I received an email from ebay saying that they tracked my conversation with the dealer and that they had blocked his account due to “some irregularities”. Phew….trusting my gut feeling was obviously the right choice!

After this incident I cautiously continued to look for M-Leicas, and also included the M2 in my search now. The full metal advance lever of the M2 I like better than the plastic one of the M4, anyway. And in contrast to the older M3 it also has proper 35mm frame lines in the viewfinder, a feature I definitely wanted to have. A few more weeks of (unsuccessful) browsing and bidding and I started to have second thoughts about the whole endeavor. Why do I want to have this Leica M in the first place? What exactly do I want to use it for? Is it worth to spend such a large amount of money for it, especially if I play it safe and purchase it from a trusted camera shop? On top of all this I would have to face the fact that the camera body alone does not lead anywhere without investing in a proper lens as well. In my head, the next couple of hundred Euros were already dripping from my bank account – it would be my first Leica after all and there was no fleet of M-lenses waiting at home to be mounted on a new camera body. Finally, I decided that the “I want to own a Leica M”-project will have to go on the back burner for the time being and a few weeks ago I stopped camera hunting.

As I have written in a previous post, I am not a camera collector. I don’t want to fill up a vitrine with prestigious cameras just for the sake of having them. Apart from the fact that cameras don’t get better when sitting in a shelf unused, I only want to own them, if I have reason to believe that for a certain photographic project or genre a specific camera model is the perfect fit for the job and may outperform any other camera I already have. The stunning performance of the Leica lenses in combination with the perfect ergonomics of the M bodies is certainly such a reason. But what are my current photographic projects, which would suffer from not using a Leica M? I can’t think of any…

In the end I had to admit that, against my conviction, I obviously got infected by the Leica virus (quite an infectious one!) which made me longing for one of these fantastic cameras – a fair enough reason by the way, but not for me at this time and under the current circumstances. The obvious genre I would have used the Leica for is street photography. Zone focusing, sunny 16 and all the rest of it, but you may remember that I own an Olympus 35 SP, often dubbed a “poor man’s Leica” due to its stunning optical performance and reasonably low price. I have been using it throughout 2019 for my “Last Day”-project and fell in love with this camera. It has about the same format and weight as a Leica M, has a pin sharp 42mm lens and (for the lazy photographer) can also be shot in full automatic mode thanks to a very precise light meter with spot function. One of the main differences between the Olympus and a Leica – apart from some mechanical quirks of the Olympus – is the fact that it has a fixed lens. Although the 42mm lens has proven to be perfect so far, there may be a time in the future when I can’t help but want to change lenses on a rangefinder and this will certainly be the time when the hunt starts again!