Text and photos : José Manuel Serrano Esparza
Since his teenage years in Brooklyn ( New York ), Daniel Zirinsky was smitten with small photographic devices able to get great pictures, and after graduating as a Bachelor of Science at Syracuse University in 1949, that fascination grew by leaps and bounds, turning him into an avid user and researcher of 24 x 36 mm format cameras and lenses, particularly those ones manufactured by Leitz, Zeiss Ikon and Nikon, in addition to having proved a flair for photography since 1950.
Right off the bat, everything related to top-notch 35 mm cameras and lenses became a tremendous passion for him, along with his unswerving love for black and white photography, making in 1955 two great aerial images : one capturing the Upper East River as a shimmering body of water flowing around the Fiorello Laguardia Airport (which would soon be expanded) and Rikers Island, and a further one depicting the network of highways and railroads of Newton Creek, which was then the most concentrated industrial area of the United States and the epicenter of New York´s commercial activity.
Throughout his sixty-five years of infatuation with photography, Daniel Zirinsky was Member of the Leica Historical Society of America, Nikon Historical Society, Zeiss Historica, Photographic Historical Society of New England, Photographic Historical Society of New York and Photographic Society of Hong-Kong, as well as having been Vice President of the Great Neck Color Camera Club in New York (within which he won the Print of the Year Award, the Color Print of the Year Award 1989-90, 28 awards and 42 honorary mentions).
By dint of perseverence, increasing knowledge and gleaned experience, he was able to gather a vast assortment of photographic cameras, lenses and accessories that wquality ould turn after a few years into one of the best collections in the world, featuring museum and being steadily enhanced by his travels all over the globe searching for top-class equipment in mint condition.
His curiosity and yearn for learning were boundless and he likewise managed to get a wonderful and very extensive trove of photographic literature, with highly valuable books and magazines ranging between mid XIX Century and late XX one.
Moreover, he was a great enthusiast of photographic exhibitions and top-drawer black and white prints on baryta paper, to such an extent that he often travelled with his beloved wife Gilda Schiff and visited picture galleries and museums all over the world.
AN OUTSTANDING ADVOCATOR OF LTM39 LEICA CAMERAS, LENSES AND OSKAR BARNACK´S FUNDAMENTAL TENETS
Daniel Zirinsky, a highly experienced user of both screwmount and Leica M cameras and lenses,
knew perfectly that Leica M rangefinder cameras and objectives are the ones able to deliver peerless image quality,
thanks to their bayonet M created by Hugo Wehrenfennig in 1950 (featuring a flange distance of 27.8 mm and external diameter of 44 mm, making possible the design of more luminous lenses) and a reference-class coupled range-viewfinder ( enabling the photographer to simultaneously focus and compose) which is a masterpiece of opto-mechanical precision and features more than 150 parts,
with the Leica M3 as jewel of the crown with its superb, crisp and very brilliant 0.91x viewfinder boasting the most accurate focus of any Leica camera made hitherto, both in the analogue and digital domains.
On their turn, the Leica screwmount cameras don´t feature a combined viewfinder and rangefinder assembly, but separate eyepieces for the VF and the RF, so the photographer has to focus first with the rangefinder and then compose with the viewfinder (Zeiss Ikon had gone far ahead of Leica for eighteen years in this regard, with its Contax II rangefinder camera from 1936, the first one sporting a rangefinder and viewfinder combined in a single window, with the added advantage of a huge rangefinder baselength of 90 mm, with a magnification of 0.75x, giving a stunning effective baselength of 67.5, even longer than the 62.33 mm effective baselength in the Leica M3, though the latter´s clarity of the RF patch is better).
In addition, Leica screwmount cameras like the Leica III (1933-1939) are optimized to be used with 50 mm lenses in symbiosis with a 1.5 x rangefinder magnification, needing specific external VFs to leverage objectives of other focal lengths, while the Leica M cameras (with choice of rangefinder magnifications of 0.58x, 0.68x, 0.72x, 0.85x and 0.91 x) can use a slew of lenses between roughly 28 mm and 135 mm without specific external viewfinders, thanks to their selective framelines and parallax correction, as well as being better to get very precise focus with tele lenses or on using very large apertures.
But Daniel Zirinsky also realized that screwmount Leica cameras are the ones more linked to Oscar Barnack´s essential keynotes of very small cameras and lenses delivering great images and also outstanding photographic tools to capture expressive attitudes or prevailing moods and obtain meaningful pictures oozing spontaneity and expressing what he saw and felt in the subjects he photographed or the places he captured with his Leicas during his trips, sides more important for him than getting a huge technical perfection in the images. Not in vain, he made many of his first pictures in early fifties with high speed for the time and grainy Kodak Super-XX ISO 200 black and white film (the photojournalistic all-round emulsion par excellence for shooting handheld before the launching into market of Kodak Tri-X in 1954) yielding low contrast, a long scale of tones and excellent latitude, so it endured very well both overexposure and underexposure.
And LTM39 mount cameras like the Leica III (1933-1939) with its 1.5x VF magnification coupled to standard 50 mm lenses were an excellent photographic tool offering a very good effective rangefinder baselength of 0.58x, superior to the 49 mm effective baselength of 0.72x VF Leica M cameras and very near the 59 mm effective rangefinder baselength of 0.85 x VF ones and the 62 mm effective rangefinder baselength of the Leica M3.
In addition, broadly speaking, LTM39 Leitz cameras are superior to M ones in some important aspects :
a) Tiny size and weight. As a matter of fact, however incredible it may seem, the screw mount Leica cameras and lenses are not only smaller and lighter than Leica M ones, but also in comparison to the smallest 24 x 36 mm format current digital cameras like the Sony Alpha 7 and 9 lineup.
For example, a Leica III (1933-1939) features a size of 136 x 39 x 65 mm and a weight of 410 g, being smaller and lighter than the Leica M3 ( 138 x 77 x 33.5 mm and 580 g), the Leica M2 (138 x 77 x 33.5 mm) and 560 g), the Leica M6 (138 x 77 x 33.5 mm and 585 g), and also clearly beats in this regard the very small digital full frame cameras Sony Alpha 7 (127 x 94 x 48 mm and 474 g), the Sony Alpha 7RIV (129 x 96 x 78 mm and 665 g), the Sony Alpha 9 (126.9 x 95.6 x 63 mm and 673 g) and Sony Alpha 9 II (128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5 mm and 678 g).
A riveting sight : detail of the Leica III from 1936 turn winding knob (featuring an incredibly accurate knurling) with the exposure counter around it . The painstaking manufacturing perfection and laudable miniaturized engineering of screwmount Leica cameras always enthralled David Zirinsky. Also visible on the right is the very sturdy strap lug for transport. © jmse
b) The beauty and cosmetic appearance of cameras and lenses. Though entering a subjective sphere, it seems apparent that screwmount Leitz photographic tools are the most beautiful ever made by the German firm.
c) The amazingly tiny size and weight of lenses. Most times, LTM39 mount Leitz lenses get the upper hand in this aspect in comparison to M ones,
with objectives like the 4 elements in 3 groups Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5, sporting a length of 32 mm (10 mm when collapsed), a front outer mount diameter of 36 mm and a weight of 111 g.
Needless to say that the 28.8 mm flange distance of the LTM39 mount was instrumental to make possible the design and manufacture of such incredibly small and light lenses.
That´s why the Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 in M mount has an almost double weight with 210 g.
Whatever it may be, Leica M lenses are more modern and far better than LTM39 mount ones, particularly in terms of resolving power, contrast, impressive performance at widest aperture (in such a way that on stopping down you only gain depth of field), uniformity of results at every diaphragm, thanks to new breakthrough manufacturing techniques, improved coatings, new glass types discovered, use of cutting-edge CNC machines, state-of-the-art optical softwares, etc.
d) The overall craftsmanship. Evidently, a Leica M3, M2, M6, M7 or digital models like the Leica M10, M10-P, Leica Monochrom and others are masterpieces of precision.
But though being much older,
the screwmount Leitz cameras and lenses are the cream of the crop of craftsmanship ever made by Leica,
real benchmarks of mechanical accuracy and miniaturized engineering, which were manufactured in an utterly 100% manual way, with lavishness of very high quality noble metals like aluminum and brass and boasting amazing completely mechanical and whispering horizontal travelling cloth focal plane shutters created by Oskar Barnack and Ludwig Leitz.
And these screwmount Leica cameras and lenses were definitely built to last, without any kind of programmed obsolescence, and nowadays, many decades after their production, they go on working flawlessly and hold an elegance and aura inherent to the halcyon days of the brand.
A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO PHOTOGRAPHY
Daniel Zirinsky always grasped that resolving power and contrast are not the only important things.
He was never a man subdued by MTF charts, scientific measures of lens performances, tests and so forth.
Daniel Zirinsky was a human being having a tremendous visual culture stemming from the observation of millions of images throughout his long activity as a photographer since early fifties and the myriad of photography books, magazines, catalogues, photographic exhibitions, baryta prints, etc, which he thoroughly watched once and again with unbridled enthusiasm, in symbiosis with a deep knowledge of darkroom secrets that he acquired after a lot of practice.
And he was fully cognizant that it is not all about sharpness (which is often confused with resolving power) either.
Because sharpness is a very complicated concept not defining a measurable parameter, but how the human brain perceives an image.
And in spite of having a remarkable technological background, Daniel Zirinsky was never a scientific person regarding photography.
He was a man with great sensitivity and having a penchant for getting pictures with special feeling, above all in terms of acutance, vintage image aesthetics, special atmospheres captured, saturation, distinctive depiction of textures, unique bokehs and so on.
And Leica screwmount lenses are second to none in these aspects.
He never valued photographic lenses focusing only on their resolving power, contrast and sharpness, but also paying attention to a raft of other important sides and subtleties.
Moreover, Daniel Zirinsky (who strongly believed that the design of top class lenses is an art more than a product of computers, optical softwares or manufacturing automatic systems, so the human role is decisive) was an indefatigable researcher of the different colour renderings yielded by each specific lens, either warmer or colder, in addition to thouroughly study the diaphragms positions inside the lens barrels ( he was particularly enthralled by the exquisite and ten curved blades aperture of the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5, constantly round at every diaphragm ), the variations of sharpness between center, borders and corners of a wide range of lenses, the transitions between planes of focus with bokehs at largest apertures, their higher or lower uniformity of resolving power across the frame, the falloff at the edges as an aesthetic and creative means, etc.
And though praising and admiring incredibly perfect lenses like the 8 elements in 5 groups Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH designed by Peter Karbe, he was particularly happy on using some screw mount lenses designed by Max Berek, suffering from some chromatic aberrations but delivering very special signature, character and a unique image aesthetics of their own, like the uncoated Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 (1926-1944),
the Summaron 35 mm f/3.5 (1946-1960), the Summitar 50 mm f/2 (1939-1955), the Hektor 73 mm f/1.9 (1931-1946), the Thambar 90 mm f/2.2 (1935-1949), the thin Elmar 90 mm f/4 (1933-1948),
Elmar 90 mm f/4 (1949-1963) and others.
Moreover, though being a world-class collector of Leica photographic gear, Daniel Zirinsky always thought that Leica cameras and lenses are fundamentally photographic tools to be used and get pictures with them.
And he was likewise a discerning and very knowledgeable buyer of second hand products in good condition, which he personally checked thoroughly, paying heed to every detail, as proved by this sequence of him examining a Leica Digilux 2 camera with Leica DC Vario-Summicron 17-22.5 ASPH lens sold by Carl Merkin (a New York based professional photographer with 53 years of experience, veteran trader of Leica photographic gear having it down to a science and also a legendary member and director of the LHSA, who worked as sales representative in Leica Store Soho New York) in his booth during the 2008 LHSA Annual Meeting in Louisville (Kentucky) :
A HAPTIC CONCEPTION OF PHOTOGRAPHY
A highly respected member of the LHSA wholeheartedly attending to its Annual Meetings and a fervent reader of
Leica Fotografie International,
Shutterbug and many other specialized illustrated photographic magazines, Daniel Zirinsky was a veteran and highly experienced photographer using both screwmount and M mount rangefinder Leica cameras and lenses, and had always a haptic conception of photography, firmly rooted on large prints as cornerstone of his images production.
That´s to say, photography was for Daniel Zirinsky an art which had to be depicted on photographic paper or first-string inkjet papers like Hahnemühle or Canson to be not only beholded but also touched and smelled.
And to attain that goal, he always strove after getting the best possible print, working hard for it during a lot of decades of intensive learning with first-class enlargers, albeit always understanding that the technical perfection of images is not the most significant thing, but the conveyance of feelings, atmospheres, sensations, emotions and a broad array of messages.
And this raison d´être of photographic images was one of Daniel Zirinsky´s driving forces in his life, along with his great sense of humor, debonair nature and above all an unflinching love for his family.
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