Caucasus with a Leica MM, APO50 and X2 By Malik Abbassi-Antoine

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Caucasus with a Leica MM, APO50 and X2

By Malik Abbassi-Antoine

Welcome to my 10 days road trip to the wonderful countries of Armenia and Georgia with a Leica Monochrom coupled with the incredible 50APO Summicron and a Leica X2.

Hello Steve and everyone. Thanks for sharing a little bit of your space and attention with me today. I always enjoy passing by and discovering your reviews or your readers’ field tests that are very often interesting and esthetically nice. So that’s pretty cool to contribute and have the chance to speak to a wider audience today.

1. Heading to Yerevan

Like many of you I have GAS. I know it’s bad but I have GAS. However, for nearly one year I am in love. Yes, one year ago my Leica dealer called me and told me about a new drug I could be interested in. The thing they name Monochrom. A black and white only device. Well, why not I thought, let’s give it a try. And that’s what I did. Immediate addiction. Few shots and it was done, it was home with me. And I am in love since then. Monochrom is a remedy to GAS, Monochrom is bringing me back to Monogamy.

Monochrom is all I need: The perfect combination of past and present. It is a Leica rangefinder, has a blowing dynamic range and high ISO capabilities. All I need when 99% of my M9P shots were converted in B+W. So I sold the M9P keeping MM as the only one digital device. But I had plenty of lens and just two M bodies. Brainstorming every time I wanted to go out and shoot: What lens shall I take? Worst when I was out: Oh, shall I shoot with the 35, 50 or 75, no maybe I need the 21…. Waste of time. Missing the point, missing where I should have really been focusing on: My subject. Therefore missing l’instant décisif praised by HCB. So I have started to think I should be selling off my lenses, keeping just one, a 50, my favorite one, so that I could improve my work and get concentrated on one thing: What I see in the rangefinder and where I go. And came the famous 50APO Summicron that I have been lucky enough to find fairly easily and rapidly. Perfect match, while the MM brought me back to Monogamy, 50 APO brought the MM to Monogamy. Perfect world… although I have to admit I still sometimes cheat on my MM with a X2 for landscapes and things that need to be color.

7. Dames - Goris

3. Thoughts in the Gas

Here we are in July 2013. 10 days off from work: The opportunity to see what I can do with “just” a MM coupled with an APO50 and a X2. The opportunity to rest and discover new things, satisfy my curiosity. Where to go to? What to do? Wanted something new, something far without being too far from Paris as 10 days are a short timeframe. Somewhere enriching, somewhere with a great cultural heritage, somewhere preserved from mass tourism, somewhere with some landscape diversity, somewhere new. Armenia and Caucasus came quickly in my mind… Read a lot about Armenia first: its history rich of thousands of years, Noah and the Arch on the Ararat (actually in Turkey nowadays but a strong symbol for Armenian people), churches and monasteries from the 4th, 5th, 6th centuries everywhere, mountains, the lake Sevan, the Karabagh, the war with Azerbaijan, hospitality of the Armenians, the wine, their lovely alphabet, among others…. So deal done, it had to be Armenia and Caucasus.

9. Cascades 1 - Yerevan

11. Spices shop - Tbilisi

And there we went for a 10 days trip on the Armenian roads –which as the title says also brought us in Tbilisi-Georgia for a short visit. We hired Garik, our driver, in Yerevan and we drove: Yerevan, Chor Virap, Goris, Stepanakart, Shushi, Sevan, Dilijan, Tbilissi and many other places. MM to shoot the streets / people with the 50APO and a X2 to shoot landscapes while in or out of the car.

2. Blurred Rider

4. Horse in the Mist

Simple but challenging method. Why? Well, hard white light from 10am to 5pm and 50mm is a bit narrow for street. I have been very frustrated at the beginning, and above all, very disappointed with the first meaningless results. But I have insisted, trying to adjust my vision, trying to forget about how I wanted to see things and trying to see things as they were, carpe diem as the motto. And things improved, I think. Started to adjust to the light, the people, anticipating the moments, and forgetting about the gear – had no choice but 50mm after all so stop whining and shoot. Anyway, the result is for you to judge now!

13. Regards - Yerevan

5. Waiting for the Lada

A quick word on my editing choice though as it might surprise some of you: You will not see the marvelous landscapes of Caucasus and the old churches of Armenia here. I have really tried to choose those that I enjoyed the most to capture and those that I felt where conveying something deeper than mere representation of a person or of a thing. That is also the reason why post processing of the black and white pictures aimed at giving an old look, conveying a sort of nostalgia.

8. Latchine - Shot

My keywords before leaving: Armenia is a wonderful country / Caucasus is beautiful and diverse / do what you want and shoot as you want (I have no lesson to teach here) but if you want to free yourself from GAS and gear addiction, go simple, try to travel light with one piece of equipment and shoot, save this money and travel more…. and of course…. I love my MM coupled with the 50APO! Thanks for your attention and I hope you will enjoy this selection!

12. Look in the Lada

You can see my other pictures here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/malikmm/

33 Comments

  1. I think you know you have achieved something really worthwhile when you get both very positive comments AND negative comments.

    I’d be really proud of this set, the B&W white car would look brilliant framed.

    • Thanks Andy – Actually I completely agree with that! And critics definitely help to improve and do better. Just needs to be constructive to really help 🙂 After that I am fine with any person not liking my pics!

  2. Why are people here being “kiss-ass”? Excuse the French.
    I know Steve preaches positivity and to enjoy photography.
    But these pictures, bluntly, sucks.
    Positive note, I say it as it is.

    Even his writing confuses me.
    “I felt where conveying something deeper than mere representation of a person or of a thing”
    And what might that be? Empty spaces? Blurred images? Bad contrast?

    “travel light with one piece of equipment and shoot, save this money and travel more”
    Just to bring sense to your thought. You are bringing $15k+ worth of equipment with you.
    Warp that around your mind. Then looks at the pictures. Pffft. Mind blown.
    Yeah, not even that expensive of equipments can make you take good photos.

    I suggest. Sell your Leica. Buy an X100 or an OM-D. And follow your own advice.

    • “I say it as it is”. Well you have said everything….If the pictures do not talk to you, if you don’t understand the message, fair enough, there’s nothing I can do for you. Nothing we can do, there are some “kiss-ass”, there are also some “dumb ass” 🙂 Excuse the English.

      • Telling the truth and calling it as I see it, does NOT constitute me being a “dumb ass”. It’s fair to say you are overwhelmed by hearing me and many others commenting negatively on your shots. Clearly, you have the means to purchase expensive equipment, but you are way in over your head with this. I will not resort to name calling, I find it childish.

        • Not the slightest actually but I do not want to argue with you any further. Waste of time. Who are you after all? I have the courage of posting pictures here. You have the courage to tell the “truth” anonymously behind your computer calling those who liked these shots “kiss-ass”, saying “these pictures suck”, and ranting about that with no constructive arguments. Who said childish? Anyway have fun with photography, that’s the most important and good luck 🙂

          • No constructive arguments? Bullocks. You just couldn’t see past the negative comments that me and others have posted here.

            To make it as straightforward and constructive as possible, it’s the photographer not the gear that makes good shots. Therefore I suggest for you to sell your camera gear then follow your own advice — “save this money and travel more.”

            Because clearly your $15k+ setup isn’t creating any good photographs.

  3. I don’t “get” the photos. seem to me like unskillfully composed beginner’s snap shots – sorry to say. I don’t see any artistic nor aesthetic value in any of the pictures. it’s hard for someone to take a limited kit and produce great images. it takes real skill. the large range of kit available to us nowadays is available for a reason. different lenses for different situations. by doing this the photographer has limited himself and his photography. the “results” speak for themselves. sorry to be so blunt but it’s my honest opinion. the same could have been done on a phone camera – probably with better results as some shots are out of focus or needed to be shot with a wider view

    • Hi Jonno – Thanks for this very constructive and elaborated “honest opinion”, as good as you could. Given the admiration I have for your own work, I will give some thoughts to sell all my gear and buy an Iphone 5s. I will read again your blog with inspiring skilled photos so that I can improve my smartphone photograph skills with someone who masters that field. Maybe one day I’ll be allowed again to shoot a Leica and produce out of focus pictures if I want to? Don’t get me wrong, I take it easy coming from you but it’s just, as you say yourself, that you don’t “get” it. Well, then don’t be sorry for me and continue to be that candid and blunt, if you don’t get it, you just don’t get it. Fair enough. Thanks 🙂

      • You’re confusing this guy with the respected Jonathan Slack. He spells his nickname as JONO with a single ‘n’. I doubt he’ll waste his time commenting on your photos.

  4. Really nice stuff. Your BW shots are much nicer than the colour ones; I hope you can take that as the compliment that I’m intending!

  5. Nice pics. Whenever I see pics with a digital Leica I cant help be wondering how great they would look had the photographer shot film!

    • Not all digital shots could or would have been taken with film. Digital never reaches the end of the roll, and you are never stuck with the fast film in bright light or the slow film in low light.

      Film is great, but digital has its advantages as well.

  6. It’s the images that count, not so much the gear used. While I appreciate the thinking that’s behind these images (I would have loved to have made the same trip), I find them less than impressive as well, and feel so much more could have been made of them with a little bit more attention to composition and timing. I’ve been to Ukraine (a bit more modern than these countries maybe), made hundreds of pictures there, but would find it hard to select ten that I would find worthy of publishing here (if accepted of course).

    Take for instance the landscape with the Volga: just a landscape with a passing car really. The picture of the woman at the table shows a partly hidden face at left; interesting but that composition could have been so much better.

    It’s not the camera…

      • Haha; cropping is for farmers.

        Anyway I thought the whole rangefinder thingy was supposed to offer excellent framing opportunities? In all honesty, I make this sort shot myself as well, and I have disciplined myself to binning them instantly, without regret.

        If I wouldn’t do that I would sink into a mire of smug satisfaction filled with half baked images: great idea, not so great execution. In my (very strict) view missing the mark by a yard or a country mile is essentially the same: a miss.

      • LoL! Cropping is for farmers. Previsualizing an image by, even cursorily, studying the scene (with all the dynamically evolving components in it) you want to capture always works. Surprises usually don’t.

        I would have binned this one instantly, without regret (I do that a lot with my own photography).

        • Hello Mike – I agree with the first part of your answer re cropping (I almost never do that). For the rest that is your view and I respect that but I do not believe that the picture you are talking about should have been binned. I have hundred of pictures of that trip but as said before the editing and pp choices were driven by the will to show an atmosphere and an exercise of “contrition”. That you think it is weak is fine with me, steep curve before my pictures will be able to please everyone anyway. Thanks

  7. Well….thanks to all of You! For the critics and the compliments, thanks, really. Again not here to teach any lesson but sharing my love for photography and travel. I am conscious a talented photographer could do better with a mju or whatever and that was my point here. I am lucky enough to own that equipment, alright, but who cares. You have to feel free, you gear should not drive you. You should drive it, whatever its price or technical qualities. It can be anything as long as you keep control and focus on what really matters – hence my reason for going with just one lens right now as I want to focus on the instant first and adjust to it. That is also why I disagree with one of the comments up there. Saying a gear is capable of doing Y or Z is not taking us very far. Either the picture makes sense / produces an effect on the viewer or not, regardless of the gear used and its supposed capabilities. Buying expensive Leica gear is not automatically making you a good photographer, that’s obvious. So yes, there is room for improvement and yes, I am happy about that because it just means I’ll be hitting the road again as soon as I can to improve….or not.. ….but that really does not matter as long as fun and pleasure are there! Thanks again to all of you and special thanks to Steve!

    M

  8. In total agreement here, the Monochom is my camera of choice, I’d love to replace the 35mm Summicron with the Summilux, but maybe I’ll try the Voigtlander 35 1.4 SC lens, I have the 40mm SC that I use on the M9P, there’s just enough difference to my eye! I could be making this bit up!

    • Do you own the VC 35mm f1.4 already, Stewart? I have tried all the VC lenses and this is the “least good”. The 2.5 is astoundingly good (and more than enough with the MM’s high ISO range) or the 1.2 if you really do want a big aperture. The 1.4 has extensive focus shift and somewhat overly-funky bokeh. You might actually find the Summilux FLE a bit too sharp and contrasty on the MM!

  9. I’m planning a two week trip to Germany (first time to Europe) in the spring and will definitely be bringing my Monochrom with me. Not sure I can take a single lens, and if so, whether it should be the 50 Cron or the 35 Summarit. I like the idea of using a compact camera for color and a slightly different focal length.

    The X2 or something like it is also a good option for handing off to strangers so I can be in some of the inevitable family pictures.

  10. Your commentary and your photos are most engaging. Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Also thank you for sharing your thoughts on Monochrom monogamy!

    I have never done an entire trip with a single prime lens, although I often will go out for a day with only one lens. One camera, one lens; it really does improve one’s photography.

  11. Really enjoyed the atmosphere of your pictures, but I think you might consider going a bit less contrasty with your MM B&W (hope you don’t mind me saying so). I toned down the highlights and lightened the shadows a little in number 4, and IMHO it brought out interesting detail in both the white wall and the shadows without spoiling the atmosphere.
    I also found your lens comments really helpful. Even though I shall never own the two Leicas and lenses you have, what you say is wholly relevant to deciding what primes to go for and whether to opt for a fixed lens camera. All in all, many thanks!

  12. Working my way through the same frustration, Malik. After 35+years with SLR/DSLR gear, I sold it all this year as retirement approached. The key difference is I opted for the Fuji X-System as the Leica gear is out of my price range. But I have just the Fuji XF 1,4/35mm for a roughly 50mm FOV and the X100S for a 35mm FOV. I will be studying your work to help me along on my quest to lighten the load and still come up with meaningful images. Thanks for sharing!!!

  13. These photos are honestly quite underwhelming. As an example: The man riding a horse taken from a car window; the bottom part even shows the inside of the car, why isn’t that cropped? And the man and horse are blurred… And none of the others really display what this kind of gear is capable of.

      • These images were posted to one of the most popular photography blogs on the net, which frequently feature absolutely stunning photography. Saying these are not up to par is not what I’d call “to be so nasty”.

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