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Parallax Newsletter March 2013

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Dear rangefinder enthusiasts and classic photographers, 
Thank you for allowing us to share some news and random thoughts with you.

Our Virtual Home

Not sure if you have noticed, but Camtec Photo and its faithful rangefinder sidekick (the destination formerly known as leicaboutique.com) have a new website, and it’s a real beauty! Conceived, designed and executed by Mike Hayes of mikesimagination.net, it accomplishes everything we asked for and more! Compatible with present technology and built to accommodate next generation higher-resolution monitors, the site architecture is so flexible and manageable, it can be easily contoured to handle any changes. Still to come: a new shopping cart.

Our Old Brick & Mortar Home

In mid-February we started a long overdue remodeling of our Rue Notre-Dame location. The building, our home since 1988, is an historic premises that dates back to the 1600s. Delays and complications are a fact of life when renovating, but the finish line is finally in sight and, within two weeks, we look forward to showing off our completed boutique.

 

Among the changes: new counters and shelves, a raised ceiling, a more open layout and an accessible library of photo books that I have been collecting for thirty years. I look forward to hanging up my tool belt and sincerely apologize to everyone for the slowness in responding to your emails and questions during the construction period.

Installation du mobilier Feu le plafond... On découpe... On jette...

Monochrom Magic: The Black & White M Meets Pierre Charbonneau

When introduced in May 2012, I was quick to applaud the Monochrom for underscoring Leica’s commitment to black-and-white imagery. I also realized that this specialized M shared the unfortunate ‘almost available’ status with several other products in the catalogue, and the flexible, readily available M9 was no slouch in producing top-rate black-and white photos. Factor in my love of film for its indisputable quality and the thought process it demands, and you can colour me unconvinced of the need for the Monochrom

 

On October 20, 2012, we hosted the Monochrom atelier and over the next several weeks, I had a chance to use the camera. Superlatives aside, suffice to say I am now a convert! The approach to taking pictures and the results from the Monochrom are not only different from shooting film and any other digital camera, they are also better than what any other digital camera can offer and – I know I risk being branded a heretic but here goes – even superior to film! Am I willing to abandon film completely? No, I am not, but I am slowly realizing the unthinkable after reviewing work done by my friend, the great Montreal photographer, Pierre Charbonneau. Pierre seems to understand the purpose and capacity of this camera. His work speaks volumes about the process of black-and-white photography: the technique and presentation of the final result. 

 

Recently, I was exchanging some thoughts with Tim Isaac, the inventor and maker of the Match Technical lineup of handy accessories including Thumbs-Up grips and the Bip-Bop-Boop-Beep soft shutter releases. He too has found new benefits to photography with the Monochrom: “I must say that this fine camera lets me achieve all the things I aspired to do with film through the years. It is an amazing camera!” 

 

Two other luminaries on the Canadian photographic scene have also adopted the Monochrom and we look forward to featuring the work of both Geoffrey James and Serge Clément in upcoming newsletters.

Is this the Dawn of the Second Golden Age of the M?

“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

Digital technology has matured and the months ahead will indicate whether features now incorporated in the new Leica M will serve to maintain and grow the legendary rangefinder’s standing. While Cartier-Bresson’s assertion has certainly grabbed and held attention for many decades, there’s an awful lot of middle ground between it and the excessive scrutiny of edge pixels to detect blur. Time will soon tell if, in Leica’s quest to perfect the technical aspect of images produced by the digital M, engineers have sacrificed the simplicity and fluidity of holding and using an M camera.

 

I remain miffed and perplexed by images published by photographers who tested the camera, and by actual photographs made available on Leica’s own download page. In no way have those initial samples provided an indication of the capacity or character of the camera. Without commenting on the aesthetics of the photographs, both the choice of lenses and conditions left me scratching my head as I reached for my M9. To his credit, I was happy to see this chat between Mark Norton and Stefan Daniels where he acknowledges this misstep:   

 

Mark Norton – “Apologies for starting another thread on this subject but rather than it getting lost in the existing threads, I thought it's important people see this. I've been in touch with Stefan Daniel; I told him I thought the existing sample images are poor, are damaging to Leica and I suggested a new approach. I'm pleased to say I've had this helpful reply from him:

 

Stefan Daniel – “Thanks for your message. I agree completely with you. Mr. Rohde acted against our “gentlemen’s agreement” not to post pictures. However, we will start posting convincing and relevant files of the new M stills this week. We are all convinced that the new camera will meet or exceed the expectations of our dear M customers!”

Pre-commit, Pre-Order, Prepare To Wait

What is the gestation period of a Leica M 240? I don’t think it will be too much longer, and I do think that it will be well worth the wait. That said, this inability to have cameras and lenses ready to go when product announcements are made, is both frustrating and discourteous. Sure, the last introductions of Canon and Nikon professional gear were anything but smooth, but those instances were exceptions. For Leica, the endless product tease is now part of the corporate modus operandi. Want some good news? There’s loads.  Although it took months or even upwards of a year to clear the backlog, Summilux, Noctilux and Summicron lenses are no longer in short supply!

 

Like many of you, I’ve been spoiled by the M9 CCD sensor with its unique, Leica signature. I’m eager to put the new M through rigorous testing to see whether that CMOS sensor will equal, or even eclipse its predecessor.

Leica M

Looking at Pictures: Showing the Goodness in Humanity

We remember and reminisce through souvenirs and snapshots, but we define and pay tribute through great photographs that have a visceral understanding of purpose.

 

It’s 40 years since the Paris Accord effectively brought an end to the Vietnam War. Larry Burrows of Life Magazine brought that war into the home of millions. This photograph, entitled “Reaching Out”, shows survivors of a firefight in the DMZ in October 1966. 

 

I remember waiting for the postman to push Life through the mail slot, and immediately turning to the photo essay by Larry Burrows. In apocalyptic scenes, his photographs didn’t dwell on catastrophe, but showed compassion and hope. 

 

British war photographer Don McCullin has recorded many conflicts including Cyprus, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, and Beirut. His images are timed with the precision of a photographer capturing peak action at a sports event, but this action, both violent and deadly, is nevertheless secondary to the emotional response of people affected by the conflict. Until April 14th, The National Gallery in Ottawa is exhibiting a retrospective of his photographs that, clearly of time and place, are timeless reminders of both man’s cruelty and mercifulness.  

Reaching out

Gone Too Soon

Montreal’s photographic community lost a great friend. Bonnie Nichol, an artistic, skillful photographer with a zest for life and an ability to capture life’s important things, passed away in January.  A longtime member of the Montreal Camera Club, Bonnie also edited the club’s Cameragram newsletter. She was a regular visitor to our boutique and an enthusiastic participant in several M Vision Ateliers. Her presence will be greatly missed.

Bonnie Nichol

The Rangefinder Roundtable - A ‘Vagabond’s’ Testament

When looking at a photograph from Eric Lajeunesse, do not expect the view from 30,000 feet. Instead, it is a fragmented and distilled piece of life that somehow makes sense of chaos and imparts an overall understanding defying the randomness of the captured moment. Katmandou, New York, Paris and Havana form parts of the grid that Eric ranges over while using his remarkable sense of composition to complement a strong ability to connect with his subjects. 

 

Photographed with traditional, black-and-white 35mm film, it is important to recognize that while the medium contributes to the texture and feel of the images, in this case, it is not the message. Analog or digital, I unhesitatingly place Eric amongst the great Leica photographers. For me, his images have a tautness reminiscent of the finest work of Marc Riboud. 

 

“Errance” is the latest tour de force from this very special photographer. The exhibition runs until April 6 at the Bibliothèque municipale et scolaire de Bromont, 37, rue de Gaspé, Bromont. Expect to be completely immersed in the ethos of classic street photography!

The Rangefinder Roundtable - High Water Mark: “La Mémoire de l’eau”

Last year’s Richelieu Valley flood caused tremendous hardship for those unfortunate to be caught by the rising water. The crisis ultimately resulted in the arrival of the army to help sandbag and take charge of critical activities. Dramatic photographs taken by Edouard Plante-Frechette and other photojournalists, make Michel Huneault’s exhibition of pastoral images all the more remarkable. Michel has captured two sets of pictures from the same viewpoints, one with water covering the landscape, the other after the water receded. It is surprising that there is nothing menacing or even peculiar in either set of images, just a remarkable, calm, quiet beauty.

 

Henry David Thoreau wrote: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”  Michel’s take on the flood is remarkably consistent. He never twists or forces reality to alter his vision. This consistency ultimately offers the viewer a special perspective of a once-in-a-lifetime event. 

The Rangefinder Roundtable - Sharing Friendship and Experiences

Judith Lermer Crawley has a remarkable obsession: creating a visual record of people she interacts with! Employing friends and family, she explores themes and phases in our lives. Not one to flit from passing interest to passing interest – the “Women’s Daybook Series” ranges from 1986 through 2010, and “The 50s/La cinquantaine” looks at a decade of living – her photography captures the grand journey in studies that, through breadth and time, give weight and importance to a vast collection of delightful, gratifying and captivating moments. 

The Rangefinder Roundtable - Dispatches from Bali

News from my friend and hero, Carl Valiquet, is always welcome. His rich insights into life in general and the visual world in particular, have inspired me on more than one occasion. Carl wants to share his passion and knowledge of Bali with travellers to the region and is offering his services as guide and photographic coach for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

For more information, please download the PDF.

Voigtlander’s Nostalgic for Noktons

If you know me, you know there isn’t a 50mm lens that I do not like and have not flirted with. So, when Cosina announced a new entry, I eagerly prepared for the courtship to begin. 

 

Unfortunately, the 50mm f1.5 is not yet ready for the debutantes ball and, when available, will go up against an already crowded 50mm rangefinder field, home of Leica’s legendary Noctilux, Summilux and Summicron, Voigtlander’s superb speed demon Nokton f1.1, and Carl Zeiss’ scintillating Planar, a lens renowned for its remarkable sharpness and very reasonable price tag. (Yes, the Zeiss Sonnar is also in the mix, but it is a highly specialized lens that I don’t recommend for general photography.)  

 

For many years, the screw-mount Nokton f1.5 had a reputation as a solid 50mm, especially when closed down a couple of stops. It performed admirably and without breaking the budget. Cosina is about to discover whether we’ve moved past the stage where everything old is new again. Because of the critical demands of digital sensors, new rangefinder lenses cannot merely be reengineered classics with their Leica-thread mount replaced by an M mount. Like the old version, the new Nokton f1.5 will sport 6 elements in 5 groups. It will be available in either silver or black. Because the old Nokton really had to be stopped down, I don’t know whether the f1.5 maximum aperture represents a useable one-stop gain over the Planar’s f2 setting.

 

The new Nokton 50mm f1.5 Aspherical should be available this summer.  There is no set delivery date, no provisional price and, for my money, no reason to wait. If you’re in the market for a normal lens, look at the wealth of proven performers, both new and used. You will certainly find one that will fit your budget, and I don’t think you will be disappointed with any of them.  

***

While the winter of 2012-13 has provided rich opportunities to make memorable pictures, it’s time to shed the gloves, scarf, down jacket and boots and get back to street, not sleet photography. 

 

Always looking forward to your comments.

 

Photographically yours,

 

Jean Bardaji and Daniel Wiener

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