Sunday, January 10, 2021

MY FIRST LEICA



By Heinz Richter

I think every Leica enthusiast remembers the Leica camera that ‘started it all’. I am one of the fortunate individuals that can truly say that I have used Leicas all my life, well, almost.

I grew up in the photography business of my father in Germany. This naturally exposed me to photography and cameras at an early age. It was always my father's hope for me to take over the business once he retired. That, however, does not mean that I was pushed in that direction, to the contrary, I was always encouraged by my parents to follow my own interests, of which there were many. My dad  always encouraged me to take pictures of my own. I must have had some noticeable interest, because on my fifth birthday he presented me with my Leica No. 1, a Leica III with 50mm f/2 Summar and a Steinheil Culminar 135mm f/4.5. That also included a Braun Viewfinder, adjustable from 35mm to 135mm and a Leitz VACU flash synchronization device.

 

 
Leica III with Summar 50mm f/2

 
Leica III back with Foto Richter Barntrup Nameplate

 
Leica III with Summar 50mm f/2 and FIKUS Lens Shade

I am convinced that starting out with this camera ultimately made me a better photographer for a variety of reasons. My dad did not give me a light meter, instead he taught me the sunny 16 rule and for flash, there was never any automation until much later in my life. I simply focused and then had to use the old guide number divided by distance formula to determine the aperture setting. Considering that I also had to deal with a collapsible lens, I had ample opportunity to make mistakes, and mistakes I made, many.

After wondering about some very blurry images, even though I knew I had focused my lens quite carefully, and after many explanations from my dad, I eventually remembered to pull out the collapsible lens before I started shooting. I also soon figured out that taping a little guide in back of the flash with the guide number/distance formula eventually lessened flash exposure mistakes, as did a note with the sunny 16 exposures on it.

 
Steinheil M√ľnchen Culminar 135mm f/4.5

 
My Laica III with 50mm Summar 50mm f/2,
FICUS Lens Hood, Braun Universal finder and VACU Flash Synch

This isn’t meant to give me a pad on the back. I truly believe that starting out totally manually made photography in the long run a lot easier for me. Even though I have since switched to digital Leica equipment with all their advanced automatic features, I still like to work like in the old film days, for no other reason than not to lose my touch. To this day I have no problem getting correct exposures without the help of a meter. As a matter of fact, once I did start using a light meter, it gave me cause to explore what these instruments are capable of beyond just plain camera settings.

Even now I like to rely on my light meters from time to time. In spite of these days of Photoshop, I still approach my photography as in the film days. That includes careful light readings and all else that I can do to get the shot right. That certainly makes post production a lot less time consuming because generally, I don’t have to correct for mistakes.

Having grown up with rangefinder cameras, which of course included the use of add-on viewfinders, never bothered me. I have owned several of the Leica R models, but inevitably I always gravitate back to the rangefinder Leicas. This is also because several of the current Leica M models accept an electronic viewfinder, the new Visoflex.  This makes them a true system camera. Without the electronic viewfinder the rangefinder allows the use of the typical M lenses from 28 to 135mm while the electronic finder will work with all lenses, including Leica R lenses and lenses from other manufacturers with the help of the Leica R adapter or adapters for other manufacturers lenses. In addition, the electronic Visoflex finder greatly enhances the versatility of the camera because it also allows for virtually unrestricted close up photography. This and the new Leica SL have to be considered the answer for all the Leica R lens owners who, for a long time, have waited for a digital camera to use their R lenses on.


Thus my good old Leica III from so many years ago has effectively been the starting point in a long succession of cameras which, with the exception of the R models I have owned, have been further developments of the Leica III which, in itself, is essentially nothing more than a further development of Oskar Barnack’s Ur-Leica prototype. No other camera anywhere can look upon such a long history and no other camera ever will.


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