Tuesday, April 16, 2013


A while ago a reader questioned that Leica continues to manufacture film cameras.  The opinion was that in this world of digital photography, it would be too costly to continue to make film cameras, especially ones with the level of quality like Leica.

Of course, the writer is wrong.  Leica does indeed continue to make film cameras, both the Leica M7 and the Leica MP.  It is easy to think that high end film cameras are a thing of the past.  Both Nikon and Canon websites do no longer list any film cameras.  Does that mean that film is dead?

Definitely not.  Film continues to have an avid following.  That is the very reason why the Leica film cameras are still being made.  Unlike with many other makes of cameras, especially Leica enjoys a faithful film shooter following.

That made me think of my own film cameras of which several are sitting on my shelves, waiting to be used.  I have to admit, I haven’t shot a roll of film for a long time and just about when I am ready to keep it that way, I come across an article by Ricky Opaterny that makes me think about film again. 

He too hadn’t been shooting film for several years.

... So last week when I had the chance to shoot a couple rolls of film with a Leica M7, I wasn’t expecting much, having not shot any film since 2004.

Leica M7
Photo by Ricky Opaterny

That caught my interest.  I have never shot with the M7.  My M6 was the last film Leica that I shot film with before changing to digital.  Ricky continues...

A few years ago in the New Yorker, Anthony Lane described the sound of a Leica shutter as a seductive kiss. I had never handled a film Leica M series camera before last week, and I have to say that Lane’s ostensibly cheesy observation is dead-on. After I loaded my first roll of Kodak Portra 400VC in the camera and advanced it a couple frames, I thought there was something wrong with the shutter. “Why isn’t it making more noise?” I asked myself. Seduction begins with a little mystery, I suppose.

This man sat next to me to watch the Spain vs. Germany game at the soccer store on Haight
Photo by Ricky Oparterny

That mystery eludes me.  Probably because I have owned a Leica since my dad gave me one for my 5th birthday.  After all those years, I have learned what the Leica can do for me.  Shooting with that camera is no longer a mystery but it has proven to be a thoroughly professional tool.

Handling the camera was great. It just feels absolutely right when you’re holding it. And I had mounted on it my favorite lens of all time, Leica’s 50mm f/2.0 Summicron.

One of the great things about the Leica M cameras is that you can shoot them at very low shutter speeds—even with the 50mm lens, I can reliably get shots as slow as 1/10 second. It’s like having a faster lens or better high ISO performance or just, generally, an extra stop! This comes in quite useful indoors where light is usually low. With the exception of the first shot, I don’t think any of these were taken at speeds above 1/50 of a second. Normally, on an SLR with a 50mm lens mounted, that would be the minimum shutter speed that someone could expect to use—here, it was my maximum shutter speed.

I have to agree.  I have never shied away from using a Leica at relatively slow speeds.  I suppose this is one of the reasons why I think that the current quest for ever higher ISO capabilities of digital cameras is a wasted effort to some degree.  But to each his own.

Ricky makes special mention of the Leica viewfinder.  He considers it easily the brightest viewfinder of any camera.  He is right.  Another advantage of the Leica bright line viewfinder is that it always shows more than the area covered on film.  This allows seeing and observing the scene past the edges of the image area.  It allows the photographer to become more aware of his surroundings, something that no SLR camera ever offered.

I even liked the images that showed more of the film grain
Photo by Ricky Opaterny

Because I was shooting film—expensive film that would need to be developed at additional cost—I was patient waiting for shots I was anticipating. I tried to avoid wasting a single frame. I spent more time thinking about what I was doing rather than blindly snapping away.

That comment definitely made me think.  I used to take the same, more deliberate approach, and I must admit that since shooting digital, that has all but disappeared.  The gratification of instant frame review does allow for more of a machine gun approach without any cost penalty.  The only time I still work substantially more deliberate is when doing studio shoots, especially with product photography.  There it eliminates a lot of trial and error shots to get things right.

Shooting, with a Leica, as many others have noted, makes you slow down. It makes you more careful about composition and exposure. And shooting with film compounds those effects. In general, I’ve spent the past few months trying to regain two abilities I feel I’ve lost in the Internet age—that to be patient—to delay gratification—and that to concentrate on something for an extended period of time.

Digital photography conditions us to expect instant gratification, providing us with instant previews of our images. In some cases, this is useful and helps us get the shot we wanted. However, more often it’s simply a distraction from doing the thing we should be focused on—taking photographs. Is there any other activity in which people so immediately evaluate their performance with such scrutiny as photographers checking the LCD image previews on their cameras?

The bruschetta was very good
Photo by Ricky Opaterny

It isn’t just the process that blew me away; the results were awesome. I waited with anticipation for the local lab to develop and print my film. What would it look like? What surprises lay in store? I can say that I felt my patience was rewarded. Even though their content is boring, the prints I got back from the lab had a contrast and vividness that makes them look not only unlike digital images, but cinematic in a way that I absolutely love—rich, textured, almost tactile. Unfortunately, getting to that result means paying a lab for developing and printing, which is why I don’t think I can shoot exclusively on film.

I wholeheartedly agree and it makes me think all the more to get some film, load one of my film cameras and shoot.  Of course that brings up the question of what film to use.  My main interest is black and white.  Therefore I don’t think I will bother with color film.  My favorite black and white film used to be the Agfapan APX 25.  Unfortunately that is no longer available.  Then I switched to Efke KB 25 which is now available as the ADOX CHS 25.  Of course there are times when ISO 25 just isn’t enough.  For those times I occasionally used Agfapan APX 100 or later the Efke KB 100 which is now available as the ADOX CHS 100.  But my favorite higher speed film is without question the Ilford XP-2 Super.  It has the advantage of an ISO range from 100 to 800 without the need of any exposure or development compensation.  However, at the lower speeds it does display noticeably finer grain.  This allows the user to switch between higher and lower ISO indices on the same roll of film and thus assure the finest possible grain under varying lighting conditions.  XP-2 super is a chromogenic film meaning that it must be developed in C-41 color chemicals, like all standard color films.

Photo by Heinz Richter
Leica M6, 50mm f/2 Summicron
Agfapan APX 100 

Photo by Heinz Richter
Laica M6, 50mm f/2 Summicron
Agfapan APX 25
cropped to 20 percent section of whole negative

Lou Bellami
Penumbra Theater, St. Paul, MN
Leica M6, 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit
Ilford XP-2 Super at ISO 800
Stage lighting

Don Stolz
Old Log Theater, Excelsior, MN
Leica M6, 50mm f/2 Summicron
Ilford XP-2 Super at ISO 800

I guess I have convinced myself to shoot some film.  Now I just have to decide which film and which camera to use.  Maybe I will be back here at a later date for a report. 

For the complete article by Ricky Opaterny go to:

 Rediscovering film with the Leica M7

For more information on the ADOX films go to:


For more information on black and white films and sample images go to:


Film verses Digital




  1. I am not sure about your comments regarding black and white film. Is the Ilford XP-2 Super as good as the Efke KB 25 or its ADOX equivalent?

    1. The Efke/Adox 25 film has to be better simply by virtue of it s slow speed. After all, the Ilford XP-2 Super has a basic rating of ISO 400.

    2. Yes, indeed, the Efke ADOX 24 speed films are better than the Ilford XP-2 Super. That is as long as the lighting conditions allow the use of that low ISO rating. That very much assures results with finer grain and a better tonal range. The finer grain inevitably also means sharper images with finer detail. I realize that grain is not that much of an issue for many film users; some even use it as an integral element of the photograph. In general, the choice of film, color or black and white, is definitely a matter of personal preference. For instance, I never liked Kodak Tri-X very much at all. On the other hand, many photographers swear by it and I must admit, I have seen some terrific work done with that film. Whatever film works for you, shoot it!

    3. Of course I meant to write ...Efke/Adox 25 speed film...

  2. Reader Uwe Ehlert referred to the photo of Kallie above as "Tolles Foto" (Great Photo).

  3. I looked at the Karsh article. I find it hard to believe that this photograph was taken with a 35mm camera. It has a level of sharpness, detail and tonality that one would expect to come from t least a medium format camera.

  4. I can assure you that the photograph in the Karsh article was taken on Agfapan APX 25 35mm film with a Leica M6 and 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit. The film was developed in Agfa Rodinal with a dilution of 1:100 and developed for 16 minutes with continuous agitation. I used a Beseler color drum agitator which switches the rotation of the processing tank approximately every 2 1/2 revolutions and which additionally slightly rocks the tank from side to side. I have not found any means for a more consistent and even agitation. The negative was scanned with an Epson flat bed scanner.
    The overall quality of the photograph is the direct result of using a superior film in combination with a camera-lens combination that assures maximum detail and tonal range.

    1. You might also want to look at the "Film verses Digital article. It has additional performance examples of the Agfapan APX 25 in combination with a Leica and Leica lens.

    2. I looked at the article and I am amazed how sharp and detailed the pictured from the Leica Digilux 2 are. They definitely look like they were made with a camera of more than just 5 megapixels. How is that possible? I also must say that the results of the Agfapan APX 25 are amazing. Are the current ADOX films as good?

  5. The Digilux 2 is a perfect example of how well a good camera with an outstanding lens can achieve high performance even with a small, 5 megapixel sensor. As I mentioned before, a high pixel count does not necessarily indicate better performance. Each individual pixel can only show what the lens is capable to deliver. The Digilux 2 has an amazingly well performing lens which is coupled to a sensor with relatively large pixels. The result is a super sharp image, an example of which I posted in the article. A similar high performing lens with a larger sensor and higher pixel count could deliver definitely more detail, but that would only be discernible with larger image sizes or bigger hard copy enlargements. There is no other 5 megapixel camera that comes close to the Digilux 2.
    As far as the ADOX 25 speed film goes, yes, it does perform as well as the Agfapan APX 25 did.