Almost Everything Must Go

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: may 2012; revised: mar 2018; readers past month: 2106

Canon EOS Cameras and Zeiss Lenses

I have a crazy plan: I’m going to sell almost all of my cameras and lenses. I’ve begun to implement this plan, but thought I would get some comments from some of you before I sell off the best items. One of the things that’s inspiring this is an inadvertent assessment I made recently. A few months ago, looking through the more than 25,000 photos on my computer that I have taken in the past seven years, I printed my fifty best ones to put in a small photo album to show visitors to my home. Flipping recently through that album, I can see that over forty of them came from film cameras, of which thirty-eight were made with rangefinder cameras. Only five came from a digital SLR camera. My assessment: I take better pictures with film and rangefinder cameras. From this, I’m assuming I will do almost as well with a digital rangefinder camera.

Over the past several years I have been migrating towards owning and using rangefinder cameras which use Leica m-mount lenses. Towards this goal, I have acquired a Zeiss Ikon and a Leica CL camera — both film cameras, of course. For now, to provide a digital back for m-mount lenses, I use a Lumix GF1 micro four-thirds camera with a Voigtlander adapter. As for m-mount lenses, I have a Zeiss ZM Biogon f/2 35mm, a Zeiss ZM Planar f/2 50mm, and a Leica Elmarit-M f/2.8 90mm lens. This batch of cameras and lenses is excellent.

I’m very pleased with the rangefinder equipment I’ve assembled. However, I’m not satisfied with the Lumix GF1 as a digital back for my m-mount lenses. It doesn’t have a full-frame sensor; it’s difficult to keep camera shake under control; and related to both, focal lengths of lenses are about doubled. What I want is a digital, m-mount camera — not one that requires a lens adapter — and that has at least a 18 mega-pixel, full-frame sensor. At this point, only the Leica M9 camera meets these requirements — at least that’s the only one I know. Although it’s a fine camera, it’s a bit pricey — a common complaint. So if I want to buy one, something has to go.

Trying the Leica M9 Camera

Leica M9 Camera; Zeiss ZM Biogon f/2 35mm Lens;
Aperture: f/4; Shutter: 1/3000 sec; ISO: 400

Leica M9 Camera; Zeiss ZM Biogon f/2 35mm Lens;
Aperture: f/8; Shutter: 1/750 sec; ISO: 400

Leica M9 Camera; Zeiss ZM Biogon f/2 35mm Lens;
Aperture: f/8; Shutter: 1/12 sec; ISO: 400

Leica M9 Camera; Zeiss ZM Biogon f/2 35mm Lens;
Aperture: f/3.4; Shutter: 1/30 sec; ISO: 400

The reason I’m so set on a camera with an image sensor that is full-frame and high resolution is because I also own a Canon 5D Mark II digital SLR camera, which has a full-frame, 24 mega-pixel sensor. So I’m spoiled when it comes to digital. I also own a Canon EOS 33v film camera. For use with these Canon EOS cameras, I have a Zeiss ZE Distagon f/2.8 21mm lens, a Zeiss ZE Planar f/1.4 50mm lens, and a Zeiss ZE Planar f/1.4 85mm lens. All are spectacular lenses. But I find SLR cameras to be noisy and the equipment I own to be very large and heavy. My rangefinder cameras and lenses are just as good and much smaller, lighter, and quieter. As a result, I hardly use now my SLR cameras and lenses. I only use them for the occasional studio work, or when I want a high quality digital image and don’t want to wait to get film developed and then scanned.

Besides the SLR equipment and the other equipment mentioned above, I have some Leica screw-mount lenses and camera, several fixed-lens rangefinder cameras (e.g., a Canonet). and plenty of studio lighting equipment. Basically, I have an excessive amount of money into photography equipment and use very little of them. As a result, I’m planning to sell all of my cameras and lenses except the Zeiss Ikon camera, and the three m-mount lenses. I’ll also keep the studio lighting equipment. That will be eight cameras and five lenses when all is sold — I’ve already sold the fixed-lens cameras, but haven’t put the SLR or micro four-thirds items up for sale yet. By my conservative calculations, I think I can get about $6500 for all of it. That’s enough to be able to buy a used Leica M9 in excellent or like-new condition from KEH.

So that I won’t fall into severe depression from both seller and buyer remorse after swapping out my equipment, I decided to rent a Leica M9. Last week when I was in Boston, I rented one from Lens Rentals for four days. It cost more than renting a car for the week, but the idea of selling my Canon 5D Mark II and the ZE lenses scares me. By the way, Lens Rentals is a very agreeable company.

The first day or two that I had the Leica M9, I was pretty disappointed. The problem was that I didn’t have much time to use it: I was busy with my work. I also needed time to understand how to use and fine tune it. But on the weekend I met up with each of my two sons who live nearby and took plenty of shots. Below are some sample shots I took in Lowell, Massachusetts using my Zeiss ZM Biogon f/2 35mm lens. I soon got into of rhythm of adjusting the controls and was very much enjoying having a full-frame digital camera that uses m-mount lenses. The verdict: I want one!

Given all of the above, though, I still wonder if I will regret selling everything else for a Leica M9 kit. I wonder if I can manage fine using it for studio work. Since I don’t take photos requiring more than a 90mm lens, I think I can I manage with just a Zeiss Ikon and a Leica M9 and the three lenses I now have. I’ve almost made up my mind to do this, but it’s not too late to turn back. So, I’m looking for encouragement to forge ahead.