Shooting film with a Leica M6
By Kjetil Andre Dalheim
In my last “inspiration” I wrote some word on my thoughts on going from a state of the art DSLR to rangefinder and Leica. Gear is not all, but changing to Leica is to me more than going from Canon to Nikon. Using rangefinder, manual focus etc change the way I take pictures. Wanting to challenge myself even more, I started to look into shooting film again. Someone once said that shooting film Leica is something all Leica users should do, so then….
I love my M(240), but adding a film Leica had two purposes for me. First the change in the process with using analog medium would challenge me and also give me a final product which I really like. I love to print (as big as possible), and film produces a look that cannot be copied with any digital camera/SW (in MY opinion). The other purpose, was that I wanted a small, cheap (in Leica terms) camera to have with me ALL of the time. I could have bought a Sony, Fuji or even digital Leica that fit in a pocket, but how boring is that 😉
After some research I concluded that M6, and M6TTL particulary was what I needed. Many reasons to choose something else, but for me there where a couple of important things. The M6 has a meter. No need to make the challenge too big! The M6 is mostly mechanical as opposed to an M7. M6TTL have have a way better shutter dial than the Classic. Last but not least, I found a MINT Leica M6TTL for sale here in Norway! It was also 0.72 viewfinder which I find practical as I shoot 28-50-90mm.
I love 50mm, and use my 50 Lux “all” the time on my M. To make things compact and not have to move lenses around I bought a 50 Summarit for the M6. I was now ready for some film shooting!
Analog vs digital
There is a lot of discussions of which is best of digital and analog. My conclusion so far is that I love both! One of them will not replace the other. Both methods have some advantage to the other, and I think shooting both is more “relaxing”, as you will not try to make one method be the other.
First of all analog is not instant. In today society that is almost unheard of, but one of the things I really enjoy. You take the picture, but no LCD to chimp, you wait for the film to be developed, picking the best negatives to go through the scanning process, process in LR/PS and print. All of this really gives you the feeling of creating something. Sitting down a looking at the final print on fine art paper is just lovely. On the other side, seizing a moment and share it online instantly with friends and family is something I appreciate to be able to do, so for me both worlds offer something.
Not being instant also gives another benefit that I did not think off. Taking a picture and not seeing it before it returns from development maybe weeks later, give you a distance to the picture. It really makes you look and make an objective assessment of the photo. Looking at something for a split second on the LCD might not give the best impression, and you might just delete the picture trying to reduce the massive amount to go through afterwards.
Film is more expensive ( if you forget the cost of the camera/lens). Taking photos by trial and error is both difficult and expensive with film. That makes you slow down. I take fewer pitures, but have just as many or maybe more keepers than with digital. On the other side, when conditions are difficult and the result is critical digital is by far the best.
M6 does not have any A mode, so learning manual is needed. The meter is pretty good, but again having no LCD to look at, you start to think of exposures. I have learned the “Sunny 16” rule, and use far more time to get the correct exposure.
Today we get new cameras on the market with new sensors almost every day. With increasingly sophisticated software we can also make the picture look exactly the way we want even before it comes out of the camera. All of that is fine, but with film I have found an even greater joy by the fact that each time you load a new roll in the camera you have a new sensor! The planning and anticipating with choosing a specific film with all its unique look, is far more fun. It is almost like trying to pick the perfect red wine for a specific dish.
Pixel peeping and 100% view…. I am one of them when I shoot digital. One of the benefits of Leica is the superb quality of the files. I love it when it, but with film I do not get the same result in regards to sharpness. It is possible, but I simply do not care that much. Slight OOF pictures… doesent matter. Grain… beutifull. If I only shot film, I might be more concerned, but I am not.
Using film today is for many, including myself, a combination of old and new technology. I get my film developed at a studio close by (for now at least), but use a scanner to digitalize and finally print. I did some research before getting my first roles of film back. I ended up with a dedicated film scanner (Plustek 8200i). From what I see of examples they have an edge over flat-bed when it comes to 35mm film. From what I have learned so far, the software is by far the most important.
My current workflow consists of 4 programs. It might seem like a big job, but it is really quite fast and gives (in my opinion) descent result. I use Vuescan to make a linear scan. Vuescan is easy, fast and cheaper than alternative software. I open the file in PS, where I use ColorPerfect ( Plugin run through Filter in PS) to adjust the image and convert to positive. ColorPerfect is really THE key to get the best output! Finally I import the picture in Lightroom to give it the final tweak. This whole process from scanning is finished takes normally 1-4 minutes, which I think is acceptable.
M(240) vs M6
This is not meant as a product review, but I thought I might give some thoughts on pros/Cons on these two (wonderful) cameras. Both my cameras are in silver, and to be honest the M6 looks and feels like a “slim” M240. Both feel very solid, and the M240 is still a relative small camera, but the M6 has a slight edge in size. Small is not always best, as even the 50 Lux feels a little “big” on the M6. The Noctilux is almost a no-go.. Shutter sound on both are very nice, though most silent on the M6. The only think I consider to upgrade on my M6 is the glass in front of the focus screen (not sure that is the correct name..). In some light it makes the focus very difficult due to flare on the focus patch. This is due to missing coating, but can be upgraded to one with coating. As both mine are 0.72 viewfinder, it is really easy to change between the two cameras.
On the M240 I use A-priority almost all the time. Trying manual after using the M6, I actually find the M6 meter to be easier and more responsive as to signals. Having the opportunity to use A-mode speed up the shooting a bit, at least for candid pictures. But again a did not get the M6 for its speed 😉 I long thought about having a second digital M as backup. Looking at it now I think the M6 with no need for batteries (metering yes, but it still work without), mostly mechanical might be a better choice.
Summilux vs Summarit
The 50 Summilux is surely one of the best 50mm around. It already had a 90mm Summarit and was very impressed with this “low cost” Summarit series. Receiving the 50 Summarit I was exited to see what it would be like. In short, I LOVE this lens! It is SMALL, sharp and very well-built. Compared to the Lux you lack some f-stops, but from f2.8 , sharpness, contrast and colors are just as good as the Lux. Build quality is very good on both lenses, but the aperture ring I would say is even better on the Summarit than the Lux, and the best I have tried on any Leica lens.
To be able to shoot Leica film and digital is really the best of two worlds! I love the process of working with film, and I have already made changes to how I think, shoot, and process my photos. Some examples follow from the first roles in my beloved M6TTL 🙂 Color photos are Kodak Portra 400, and the B&W are from Kodak Tri-X and Fuji Acros 100.