From Leica 3A to X1 – a 51 Year Journey by John Shingleton
John’s Blog: http://therollingroad.blogspot.com/
Twelve months ago I purchased a Leica X-1.It was an impulse purchase and the latest step in a 51 year journey.
Way back in 1960 when I was just 14 my high school biology teacher started a school camera club.At the inaugural meeting he handed around his Leica-I believe it was a Leica 2–and prints from his 1930s travels in India and Burma.From the moment I handled that jewel of a camera and saw the pictures it produced I was hooked– I had to have a Leica.
It took me 7 years to achieve my ambition–a 30 year old Leica 3A –with F2.8 Elmar lens, lens hood, accesory brightline viewfinder and Leica neckstrap- purchased for $35 in1967. The thought of purchasing a 30 year old camera today other than as a collectable item seems absurd but progress was much slower then and a 3A was still regarded as a serious working /hobby camera although the Japanese SLRs ,particularly the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic ,were making rapid inroads into the market .
The 3A served me very well for about ten years before I stood it down and purchased one of the fashionable Japanese SLRs–an Olympus OM-2.I kept the 3A and still have it — complete with accesories–although I have not put a film through it for over 30 years.
In the years since I have taken tens of thousand of photos all over the world.I have won competitions and even a few useful prizes. I had a home darkroom, I have done black and white printing and even dabbled in Cibachrome ( reversal color) printing which was both difficult and expensive and even for reasons which I have long forgotten I home processed color slide film. I have owned a few Leicas and Leica lenses but my relationship with Leica was not monogomous. I owned an Olympus OM outfit and later a Canon EOS outfit .But I have never been a “photo gearhead” . In 52 years I have only owned 11 cameras. I used my M6 for 18 years .My interest has primarily been in taking photos not in collecting gear.
I particularly liked Leicas because of their precision almost watchlike feel , the fact that they were rangefinder cameras and above all for their magic lenses which had and I believe still do have a unique quality .
I was an early adopter of digital and acquired a film scanner in 1997 and I won an early Kodak digital camera in a photo competition in 2000 . My first serious digital photos were taken with a Leica Digilux 1 which I acquired in 2003 .This is an odd camera which takes surprisingly good photos even by today’s standards. I have recently revived it and the images have really surprised me .
In 2006 I purchased the then newly launched Canon G7 as a “point and shoot” camera and its capabilities and its compactness convinced me that compact was the way to go . My days of carrying around a big bag of gear were over . Besides anything else I was just getting too old for all that weight and airport security checks were becoming very difficult .
I also had a new passion -old Porsches — and I was restoring a 1971 911. I was “over”analogue photography so I sold most of my gear including my lovely Leica M6 outfit and ploughed the money into the Porsche restoration.
I kept a watching eye on the world of Leica but from a distance. I was not impressed with the M8 and that crop factor and it confirmed for me that I had made the right decision to sell my outfit when I had .
When the X-1 was announced I handled one at a Leica dealer in Sydney and came way seriously underwhelmed . I thought that it was overpriced ,very plasticky and lacked that Leica feel although I was impressed by its simple controls and what I had seen of its image quality in reviews although these same reviews were very luke warm about other aspects of the camera
I decided that I was quite happy with my little Canon but then in July 2010 I visited an old friend and serious Leica enthusiast at his home in Italy. He had an M9. It was gorgeous and I loved the feel of it and the solidity and the simplicity of the controls. It stirred old enthusiasms .
In January of last year I was in Auckland,NZ, when I saw the then newly announced black X-1 in the window of a camera dealer . My Leica M6 had been black. I could not afford an M9 and anyway “compact ” was now my mantra so I decided to set aside my misgivings and buy myself a black X-1 and to rejoin the Leica world . It was a rash, hasty decision.
My longstanding and expert Leica dealer in Adelaide, South Australia , found one for me immediately and it arrived in the post in the first week of February . It did not work out of the box . The silly pop up flash unit would not retract.To say that I was annoyed would be a major understatement. I had spent $2000 on this camera which I had major doubts about and it arrived in this ridiculous over the top packaging with a note signed by the quality control manager and it was defective. Shame on you Leica.
To cut a long story short Leica did not have the parts available to repair a black X-1 and black new cameras were on back order so I ended up with a replacement silver model after a few weeks . Not an auspicious start -particularly as I had already purchased a black Voigtlander optical viewfinder .
The first few weeks with the replacement camera were awful . I found the fixed focal length lens even more limiting than I had feared . The camera took beautiful images but it was slow and I was very nervous using it as I felt that it was fragile . I was beginning to think that maybe I had made a major mistake and then I started reading the Leica X-1 forums which were overwhelmingly negative and I was soon convinced that I had made a major mistake!
I seriously considered selling it on e-bay. In April I went for two weeks travelling in Vietnam and took it with me . I took some great photos on that trip but I was still struggling with it and undecided as to whether to keep it. Gradually I turned around . I took it on a trip to Europe in July and to the US and Canada in September and I came back with more great photos -some arguably as good as I have ever taken. It stayed. Now I love its strengths but still hate its defects. I still worry that it is fragile . But the lens/sensor combination is superb . The IQ is brilliant but it falls down in so many areas you really do have to be a mellow, understanding and committed Leica enthusiast to live with it and I do not believe that is who it was designed for .
Would I recommend the X-1? Not an academic question as I was stopped when I was using it on the street in Chicago in September by a man who said his daughter was graduating from college and wanted an X-1 as a graduation present -would I recommend it? I gave a highly qualified “yes”. I hope that he was not too confused.
So there you have my 51 year Leica journey .From Leica 3A to Leica X-1.
As for my X-1 photos I have always taken what interests me . I now put some of them up on my blog and what you see here is a small selection .The first two very neatly link the 3A and the X-1 . The first was taken in 1974 on the 3A on Kodak Tri-X film and home processed and shows my wife and daughter. The second is that daughter’s daughter taken with the X-1 in 2011. Three generations taken on two Leicas arguably three generations apart. The others are some of the output from the X-1in its first 12 months.
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