Sunday, 1 January 2012

Pimp my Leica!

Recently my camera has acquired a certain swagger. It has been hanging around with the big boys, those meaty full-frame DSLRs and the supercharged, oversized brutes. You know who you are with your macho chunky battery grips. And even though it’s not remotely in their league it's holding it own a little better, having less disparaging looks and name calling now.  
When I upgraded from my D-Lux 4 last April, I hoped I could recycle my little stack of filters and Lensmate extension tube but of course it was not to be. Even though the D-Lux 5 looks the same size as the 46mm extension tube, it's marginally bigger so the extension tube for my new camera steps up to 52mm instead. Lensmate hadn’t continued with this line so I found a suitably unbranded one online from HK. One of the beauties of the Lensmate extension tube is that it came with two little D shaped clips that could click onto the lens cap and you could still pop it on when required. So once I’d attached the new tube I calculated that all I needed was to procure a 52-46mm step down ring so I could continue to use my filters and Lensmate clips when I wanted. 
However this cunning plan didn't really work. The stepping down produced vignetting and the clips I'd been so keen to reuse would flick off at the merest provocation necessitating much grubbing around to find where it had gotten to this time. But the big issue here was the sudden appearance of rounded corners on my pictures and a new solution had to be unearthed. 
I'd taken to using a daylight filter when out on photographic excursions, so I could hang my camera at my side via my sling, keep it powered up and it wouldn't be so exposed.  There's much debate about the worth of getting a lens with a decent bit of glass in it and then slapping the cheapest daylight filter money can buy on top. I’d stumbled across a second hand but unused Leica 46mm daylight filter and this gave me both quality and protection. I also rather like the eerie red glow it appears to give my camera from the inner ring of red metal!  So all I had to do was look for a decent 52mm daylight filter, polariser and a couple of others I was pondering (NDs etcetera), I'd fix the rounded cropping but wouldn't be able to use my lens cap clips. That was easier said than done, Leica doesn't seem to favour 52mm so the only solution was to step up to 55mm instead. This worked out fine, I sourced some decent filters, including my beloved Leica scarlet hued daylight one and also found a new Leica lens cap to fit this now beefier version of my D-Lux.  Now vignetting has been eliminated and no pinging clips to lose, I'd just swap out the lens caps and away I'd go. I took to keeping the set up on permanently but now my camera doesn't fit in the neat, form fitting leather Leica case and I could only cart it around in my camera bag. This wasn't an issue when I was out on a bit of a session but I like to keep my camera in my bag everyday so this wasn't practical. I found on the internet a little nylon case I could just squeeze the camera into with the extension tube on, so it was by my side again.
It wasn't long before I decided to explore using a viewfinder. This seemed to be on of the features that was setting the men from the boys - camera-wise. On a very sunny trip to Berlin I'd struggled with live view as generally I couldn’t see what was going on and composition was entirely hit and miss.  Knowing that a succession of photographic opportunities were in my near future, I embarked on a research mission. 
One of the most infuriating things when trawling the net looking for reviews on the D-Lux range and accessories that so-called feedback is just a litany of people complaining how much more the Leica is compared to the Panasonic with nothing more helpful to say. Okay so I’ll get it out there.  My name is J, I love my Leica, I admire the elegant, minimalist styling, the free tuition at the Leica Akademie and the superior editing of Lightroom. Oh, and even though it's wrong to say, I love my red dot! And if I wanted to part with it, Leicas have good resale value. So please don't tell me that I didn't make an informed decision.
In the end I gleaned enough sensible knowledge to go for the EVF. And what a revelation, really crystal clear image, all the vital info I needed so I could make any tweaks and adjustments, a handy pivot so I can shoot from above and When I was next bathed in sunshine not only could I take the picture easily, I could preview through the viewfinder also. My fellow DSLR users were forced to peer through a rubber loupe so I'd finally gained an edge!
The instructions on the EVF mentioned how delicate it was and I shouldn't drop it. It came with its own little leather case so I could holster it when it wasn't in use. However I wanted to use it all the time but unfortunately my new viewfinder had come complete with a death wish. Just like the pesky d-clips before it the slightest knock would send it flying. A design flaw could be the lack of retaining clip.  The EVF slides neatly into the hot shoe and an additional connector designed for it but there's nothing to stop it sliding right out again. I discovered this niggle on its very first outing.  With a couple of days of hard-core snapping ahead I was just getting into a taxi at Cambridge station when I noticed its absence. Fearing that I could have lost it anywhere between home and there I persuaded them to let me back on the platform and amazingly it was lying there amongst the throngs of passenger’s feet and seemingly unharmed. It took further suicidal dives in New York, Croatia and nearly swept out to sea in Dorset. I needed to fashion some sort of restraint. After toying with gaffer tape I came to the Heath Robinson conclusion that a thin black cord tensioned between the business end of the EVF and tied under the barrel would stop its wanderings. And it has worked very well, no more leaping off whenever it felt like it. If I want to remove it, I just unscrew the barrel and ease the cord off.
My pampered camera got suited up with a Gordy wrist strap when I'd first bought the D-Lux 4 and learnt you couldn't use the neck-strap that came with the camera if you were using the snug form fitting World War 2-pilot-style case. I'd come across another Leica camera sporting a Gordy strap in a magazine and was rather taken by their website and philosophy. All they do is make leather straps, popular ones. You get to choose the colour of the leather and colour of the waxed thread used for wrapping the cord. You can also select the method of attachment, via a lug, tripod mount or my preference, the string. And one of the best things about Gordy straps is the reasonable price you see online includes shipping, and yes even internationally!
When I felt the need to be able to hang my camera at my side I went back to Gordy and he asked for my height, my camera weight and made a sling to suit me. I particularly like the way the continuous leather loop worn diagonally across the body is attached to a neat camera connector via a carabiner.  This means when you don't want the strap in the way you can just remove it in moments.  My black leather and red wrapping string connector can be seen in the picture. 
I suppose the only downside of easily being able to get the strap off is that on a crazy extremely jetlagged night in New York I managed to become parted from the strap but thankfully not my camera. There was only one solution, I'd be meaning to visit B&H on my next foray to the Big Apple and duly set forth to seek a replacement strap the next morning. B&H really is the most amazing photographic emporium there is. It's like a surreal Aladdin’s cave with more staff I've ever seen anywhere (and seriously knowledgable too). When you find something to buy from one of the waistcoated staff, you're given a ticket and your intended goods get placed in a green ’bucket’ and placed on a track hanging from the ceiling that whisks your new shiny things down to Santa’s workshop for packing. Or at least that's how it seemed to a shopper suffering still from jetlagged sleep deprivation. I ended up in the second-hand section, found a great leather Leica neck strap in lieu of my missing sling and to my delight a vintage Leitz/Leica ever-ready case that could fit my extension tube, filter and finally my EVF. And my camera is very partial its new suit.
As smart as the neck strap was, it made me realise that I prefer a sling. I discovered that a neck strap can snag your necklaces, so I went back to Gordy again and order was restored.
The final oomph my camera got was an update to its firmware in December which amongst other things increased the maximum shutter speed from 60s to a more substantial 250s in manual mode. I’m looking forward to utilising these slooooow speeds in Iceland later this month. 
I still get asked by non-believers if my camera has an aperture priority setting, or can I adjust the ISO? And yes it does and I can. What I can't do is change the lens, use my EVF and flash at the same time nor do I have a bulb setting (I think this would just drain the battery instantly anyway) but I don't think I've really missed these things. The "compact" sneers still gall, Leica occasionally refer to the D-Lux 5 as a "compact system" camera but generally as "maximum Leica quality in a minimalist camera form factor".  I shouldn't mind it being called a compact, don't the best things come in small packages and I rather like surprising the naysayers with what my clever little camera produces sometimes!
I love my swaggering pimped-up Leica, I believe good things are ahead of us this year, the world is just full of images we haven't captured yet and we're ready - bring it on!

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