Lenses For Free?
Last weekend Leica hosted the
most popular booth at the NY
Photo Festival, why? They
were loaning out cameras and
lenses to anyone with a drivers
license and a credit card. It was
a fantastic way to test your dream
camera and lenses in the field.
Leica lenses are in great demand. The biggest dealers in New York City like Adorama, BH Photo, and Photo Village only have a handful of lenses in stock. If you are thinking about making the jump to an M9 or debating the extra money for an f1.4 lens, you will not be able to make this decision in a shop. Tucked inside their silver boxes, most shops will not let you take a new lens out for a test drive. Even if they let you put a lens on a body, there is no way to really get the feel for a Leica under fluorescent lights.
The “Leica Akademie” invites photographers to use cameras and lenses that are normally back ordered for months. The day is broken up in two hour time slots. While its not a full day of shooting, it is enough time for you to walk around, shoot real scenes, and turn mild curiosity into full blown obsession. The day had its fair share of disinterested girlfriends (mine included) who were rolling their eyes, while the rest of us marveled at the Leica toys on display.
—Surprise, f 0.95
From the press release I received a few days before the event, I was expecting Leica to have a few X1′s, maybe half a dozen M9′s and some of the Summarit line. The release made it sound like a Beginner’s Day to Leica. This was a far cry from the truth. On hand there were over a dozen M9′s and lenses from the Summarit, Summicron, Summilux and Noctilux lines. What a shock. I could not resist trying the 50mm f 0.95 Noctilux on my M9. There was enough gear on hand, including a Leica S2, for any photographer to have a field day.
Leicas are considered to be quiet cameras. The retro rangefinder is often mistaken for an antique camera. Standing next to a Canon Mark III, the M9 looks like a toy. In most situations the Leicas blend in, except today. With Leica-philes sprinkled all over DUMBO (thats a section of Brooklyn, where the festival is based) I did not make it one block before someone stopped me and asked to admire the 50mm Noctilux. The front element must look like a large gem stone. And at $10K it costs as much as a small diamond. The surprising thing was the guy who was going gaga over the Noctilux was using an M9 and a 35mm Summilux Version II. His set up was not on loan, he owned it. I was surprised the Noctilux got him so excited. He wasn’t exactly carrying a Holga himself. But I was happy to indulge his curiosity. He wanted to know if it was hard to focus. My response was, I had not taken a picture yet, so I was not sure. He agreed to stand still for a second so I could snap his photo. The picture is lack luster for sure, but the focus was did not seem especially difficult. He thanked me for my time, as if I had just granted him a brief meeting with the President and we parted ways.
—Is It Worth It
Over the years, I have become close with my Leica dealers. One of my favorites, William Juseck at Photo Village. I love hearing the stories about how people finally decide to buy Leica equipment. Customers always ask William, “Is it worth it?” This question applies to the first time buyer of an M6, the upgrade from an F2.0 to a F1.4, and the switch from an DSLR to an M9. His answer to everyone is the same, “It depends.” No one can really answer a question like that for you, but it feels nice to have some reassurance that you are not clinically insane for spending an extra $1,000 for one F stop.
A great alternative to reading a million reviews and looking through LFI Online (and their painfully slow server, fix this Germany) is to go to the Leica Akademie and try out your next purchase. Owning a camera is a physical experience. I am not trying to waive the Leica flag here, but ask anyone who owns an M camera and they will tell you, “I like how it feels.” Since shooting is such a physical experience, there is no substitute for picking up a lens and a camera and exploring the streets. It was a great opportunity that Leica made so many cameras and lenses available. While they did not have every single lens, they did have the most popular ones and a few exotics like the 35mm Summilux Version II, 50mm Summilux, & 50mm Noctilux to keep things interesting.
When I picked up the Noctilux, I came between time slots. There were only a handful of people at the Leica counter. Though after an hour of walking around with the lens, I came back to a serious crowd. The small Leica team had a hoard of eager photographers waiting to try out the gear. Credit cards were being handed over as owners put new lenses on their MP’s and M6′s. Another group was being given a range finder tutorial by Leica specialist Jim Wagner, while Biana and Kelsey were handing out lenses, catalogues, and answering as many questions as humanly possible. It was a nice to see the controlled riot and so many new faces excited about Leica.
For too many years, Leica has felt like an exclusive boutique reserved for doctors and Magnum photographers. But somewhere between those extremes lies the rest of the world. By getting Leica out of the show case and into the hands of its users, it seems like both parties are happier. Leica now has most of their equipment in short order, thanks to successful sales and customers were really responding well to the new accessibility. The Leica Akademie will be back in New York later this Fall. If you are waiting for a lens on back order or just curious to use a digital rangefinder, pencil the date on your calendar. See you there!
And I want to say a quick thank you to the Leica team of Jim Wagner, Kelsey Fain, and Biana Bakman.