Photographers will know what I mean. When you and your camera are one. The Japanese concept of Jinba Ittai, horse and rider as one, describes it well. I only ever experienced this with one camera though. I own a bunch of cameras, from my workhorse 550d, the beautiful X100s to film cameras like the OM-1, QL19 & 17 to the Contax 167MT. All of those are fantastic cameras, each in its own way. But I only have that feeling with one camera and that is my Leica M2. This camera is special to me, and not just because it's a Leica.
I want to tell you about this camera.
How did I get a Leica?
A few years back, my neighbor died. He was a very kind man, a retired doctor, an art person. I regret not having been able to appreciate him more when he was alive, but alas, I was just a kid. We'd sure have a lot to talk about now.
This man had a Leica. My dad has always had a thing for cameras and generally mechanical doohickeys of all kinds, being a watch collector. It is from him that I got a lot of the cameras I own now, like the aforementioned Contax, with two stellar Zeiss lenses. All in mint condition, because my dad knows nothing about photography. The cameras were never used, they just sat in a closet waiting for someone to appreciate their greatness.
My dad used to chat with that neighbor "over the fence" (there was no fence) and they talked about watches and cameras and all those things. He obviously was a man that appreciated that kind of a thing, a quality made product, meant to last. Naturally he drove a Porsche (until it, ironically, broke down.) It became apparent that he owned a Leica, which was, however, broken. A friend of ours is from Wetzlar, so he offered to take the Leica down to Solms and get an estimate for a CLA. The estimate was 600€. Too much for my neighbor. Although he had told my dad, that when he died, my dad was to inherit it. Hoping that day was to be far away, it was forgotten on our side.
April 1st 2008. I wake up to the sight of an ambulance and an emergency physician's car on our neighbor's driveway. The ambulance drives off. A man arrives on a bicycle. A policeman. He had died. It was all so very sad, he and his wife just having adopted a puppy that we took care of during his wife's mourning.
Soon after, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. She wasn't going to live very long and she couldn't take care of the dog anymore. When she was leaving for the hospice, she asked my dad if there was anything he wanted to have from the household. They didn't have family and their only heirs were distant relatives, a young doctor living in London.
My dad told her about the Leica and the Leica it was. She died soon after.
The camera was forgotten again, sitting in a closet.
Fast forward to 2012. Your humble narrator has just discovered film photography. I'm shooting with my dad's Contax, the much hated R3, but also a rather interesting camera, a Canonet 28, a rangefinder. There was an instant connection, something special in the way you work with it. My dad mentioned he had a Leica from our neighbor, but that it was broken. Imagine my excitement. After a little searching, we found the camera. It was in a black leather case with red felt inside. Leica M3, it said on the top plate. It came with three lenses. An Elmar 50mm f/2.8, an Elmar 90mm f/4. And then there was this weird looking contraption. A Leica Summicron 35 Mk I. 8-Elements. All the accessories too, lens hoods, Leicameter, a strap, filters. Turns out the camera was broken. Too bad. It was put back in the closet.
Fast forward six months. I'm taking part in a photo contest, the prize money: 500€.
The topic was shit. I was frustrated, but I took a lot of photos, cause, you know, 500€. I didn't expect to win. Turns out I did. The same night I decided I'd buy a Leica.
I searched for about a month and found a beautiful M2 for 600€. I wanted an M2, it had the .72 times magnification for 35mm framelines, was supposed to be the most rugged of the M-family. Two days later I had a parcel. Man, I was excited. I went on the street and shot and shot and shot. I was bitten by the Leica bug.
Since then, my M2, 1144570, built in 1966, has been a loyal companion. Although for a while it was a love-hate relationship, since it broke down three times. Luckily, the seller is a camera repair shop and I had warranty, which fixed all issues. Now I have a practically mint M2, waiting to show some brass, since we all know, only a rat Leica is a true Leica.
I love this camera. I love my OM-1s. I love my QLs. But then I pick up the Leica and realize once more, that there is nothing else like it. The way it balances in your hand, the fluid film advance, the sounds. Unique. I could only compare it to the Speedmaster Professional, the "moonwatch." It's just like that, perfectly balanced, beautifully hand crafted. I wonder why they took a hassy to the moon...
It's perfect for me. On the street, the goggles of the 35 'cron widen the .72 viewfinder and lock the 50mm framelines, which are widened to 35mm. This gives me a better view of the whole scene, what's entering the frame.
Only a Leica user understands it. But every Leica user does.
I cannot express how grateful I am, to my dad, for giving me all these beatiful cameras, these expensive lenses. But even more so, grateful to my neighbor, for leaving this gem to my dad. Everytime I shoot, I think of him.
The M3 is in repairs, with quite substantial damage. It needs a new shutter, but luckily my uncle has connections with Leica and a reputable repairman, so we'll wait until he can salvage a shutter from another M3. But that M3 is going to sit on a shelf.
Thank you, Dr. I.