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and the LEICA
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November 2012 (Feb. 2009)   LEICA Reviews   LEICA Lenses    All Reviews

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Photographic icon Henri Cartier-Bresson was known for using only one camera, a Leica rangefinder, and one lens, a 50mm, for almost all of his life's work.

Photographers have always realized that this allowed him to focus his attention so that he always knew exactly what would be in his frame without needing a viewfinder. He could walk the streets, draw his camera up to his eye and shoot, all in one smooth, unobtrusive motion.

That's what photographers who've never shopped for Leica lenses think.

Someone sent me a Leica M4-P so I could review Leica M lenses. It came with a 50mm lens.

It needed repair, so I sent it off. The routine overhaul cost me more than a brand-new Nikon D40 with lens!

I started shopping for lenses out of curiosity.

The most basic and inexpensive Leica 28mm f/2.8 manual focus, manual aperture lens costs $1,500, after temporary rebate. For a 90mm lens, luckily Leica makes a stripper line of discount lenses. The most basic Leica 90mm f/2.5 lens only costs $1,295, after temporary rebate.

It's easy to frame a fixed-lens photo by walking forward and back. Weak photographers, who have gotten too soft shooting zooms, have usually forgotten this. I started thinking how I, too, might wind up like Cartier-Bresson and just use the one lens I've got for my own shooting, and just borrow the other lenses as I test them for you.

Then the light turned on. After many decades of thinking Cartier-Bresson shot with just one lens because it let him shoot faster and smoother, I realized that Cartier-Bresson was, duh, a journalist. Journalists don't get paid anything. They aren't the rich hobbyists who buy Leicas, romanticize about the fascination and unique "Leica look," which is how the cameras look sitting in their glass display cases and Danish Royal Wedding presentation boxes.

Cartier-Bresson obviously went to a Parisian camera store, and bought his Leica and lens after much saving and scrimping.

He liked it, and when he went back to get another lens, found out the price, shouted "Merde!" and promptly waked out. Cartier-Bresson never again dared to return to a camera store.

That's why he only shot with one lens his whole career: it's all he could afford, and he came from a very wealthy family!

Why then did he shoot what seems like such an expensive camera? Cartier-Bresson started shooting in the 1930s. In the 1930s, Contax was the good camera, and most serious impromptu photojournalists (all three of them back then) had to settle for Leica instead. Nikons and Canons hadn't been invented yet.

When Cartier-Bresson walked into that camera store in the 1930s, a Leica was all what most people who had to work for a living could afford, if anything. Cartier-Bresson was a just a journalist, although he is now an icon. For all I know, his portrait may already grace the 100 Euro note.

But wait - the initial asking price of 2008's Nikon D3X was so absurd that even Hitler came back through history out of astonishment.

Think about it: you could flush $8,000 down the toilet into a Nikon D3X. A D3X can't even take pictures until you've bought a lens and memory card, and charged the batteries.

For just $8,080, you could buy a brand-new Leica M7, and 28mm, 50mm f/2 and 90mm lenses. You'd have a complete Leica setup for the same price as a stripped Nikon body. You could pay $200 less and opt for the 50mm f/2.8 instead, or save $1,000 and not even bother with a 50mm lens. You also could pay a lot less finding these items used.

You could shoot with the Leica system for years.

In three years, the Nikon D4 should be announced. By then, the D3X body will have a resale value of about $775. Your Leica system? Well, it will still be cranking out great photos, and from what dangerous little I know of Leica prices, with inflation, the same system will probably be worth about $10,000 with inflation, not $775 like the D3X with digital rot.

Leica may be expensive, but it's a bargain compared to digital.


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Thanks for reading!



Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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February 2009