Leica A Day at the Leica Akademie


Top Veteran
I spent the day at the Leica Akademie in San Francisco along with 19 other camera enthusiasts, a local professional photographer, and two Leica representatives, both named Tom. As with many trips into the city, it began early with a trip on Caltrain.

The venue was the Hotel Triton, a funky little Kimpton hotel. The small conference room on the second floor was where we met: three large round tables for the class members, the altar of cameras and lenses at the front, and coffee at the back (which I sorely needed). You will see just how funky this place is later....

About half the people already owned either a Leica M8 (the previous model, Leica's first digital M-series camera) or the current production M9. A couple extra people had owned previous film cameras; the Leica M series has remained essentially similar since the mount changed on the M3 in 1954.

After a brief introduction to the cameras and the basics of focusing, we filled out forms and then selected a camera and our lenses. Most people, including myself, took a single lens. As I was carrying around someone else's expensive camera, I opted for one of the smallest (and thus least expensive as small generally also equals slow) lenses -- a 28mm Emarit f/2.8, which is a nice wide-angle lens for a city street or general landscape. There were a wide variety to choose from, and there was at least one Noctilux (the most expensive lens currently in production), but I was afraid I'd trip and smash it or something.

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We wandered around the room on a break and I took this photo. Absolutely nothing's in focus, but hey, I was learning and it's "artsy" despite the focus fail:

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I'd been trying to aim at the glitter, but maybe that was the wrong tactic. Perhaps a better one would have been focusing on the strong vertical, tilting artsily (more than I did; it looks like I was drunk rather than merely caffeine-deprived), and then snapping.

We were taught about focus and hyperfocal photography, and were challenged to try to take photos without looking: to set a distance and learn to work within that limit.

Then it was time for the local photographer, William Palank, to come talk. His specialty is what he calls "environmental portraiture," and the image he had in mind when he says that is the same one I thought of: Steve McCurry's photo, "Afghan Girl." Palank takes photos in Southeast Asia, primarily, and I would like to point out two in particular: first, the haunting and beautiful Child Monk, taken in Burma, and the comedic Gangs of Phnom Penh, taken in Cambodia.

Then it was time to play in earnest!

We all trundled downstairs, picked our directions, and headed off with one of the three instructors. Two of the groups headed north into Chinatown, which is the direction I headed.

I found a bronze statue of a mermaid (I like mermaids, and this one is a particularly nifty example) and snapped a few photos, of which this one is my favorite:

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Here's a few other photos:

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The best of my street shots of people:

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And other shots:
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And some of the hotel's entrance and lobby. In these (and in some of the other pictures I haven't posted in this thread), you'll note one quirk I found: I kept framing thinking the right edge of the shot stopped short of where it actually did:
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On the last one, in retrospect, I should have focused on the strong vertical elements in the back of the chaise. Oh well.

When I went, I had the following questions:

1) Given that an M9 is heavier, is it still something I could comfortably handle for a long day's venturing out? Yes.
2) Was I able to get over the fear of having an expensive camera? I think so.
3) Was it something I enjoyed shooting with? Oh, yes.
4) Was I able to focus quickly and reliably? For the most part, even though I hadn't used a rangefinder for 20 years (and my eyes definitely aren't what they used to be). In fact, I throw away more photos when manually focusing my GF1. Approximately 2/3 of my photos were usable focus-wise. Sometimes I took 2-3 takes of a scene and only kept the best, so I kept about 1/3 of my total photos. Not all would normally be "keepers," but each has a lesson about what I needed to focus on, so they're keepers in that sense.

My other photos from the day's shoot can be found here.

At the end of the day, we spent time going over features of Lightroom, which was pretty cool. I have been a combo iPhoto/Photoshop user for so long, I'm not sure I'll switch to it, though. Some of what I liked about the layout in Lightroom I now have in iPhoto '11 and I need to upgrade my laptop before doing any serious change of photo process.


betwixt and between
Deirde, many thanks for sharing your Leica Akademie day with us. I'm sure I'll have some questions, as will others. Right now I have to attend to things non photographic, but I wanted to be sure you knew how much I appreciated your taking the time to post this.


Hall of Famer
S W France
I'm not reading this anymore, it's too depressing - us Brits are suppose to be involved in "reducing the deficit" and "budgetary control" - it's OK for you lot "over there" you just print a few more "squillions" when you need to

I'll just settle down with my "afternoon cup of tea" and dream


Thanks for this report. Great read! I am this close to trying out an M9. I'm in the midst of a camera shift to better fit my needs and I'm longing for a return to rangefinders with their wonderful OVFs. I miss my Zeiss Ikon (but I no longer shoot film). That 28mm Elmarit is the most interesting lens to me right now too. It's a very expensive kit and requires careful thought.

Are you going to get an M9 at some point?


Hall of Famer
S W France
I said that I'm not reading this anymore and all the images are horrible, particularly the first - but you just cannot beat a Leica and a good RF lens, (Leica, Zeiss or Nikon), can you


Top Veteran
If it were that simple, I'd already have the M9, but given the price difference between an M9 and a good used M8 or M8.2 -- well, a compromise may occur.

On the other hand, what I really want is the M9 and so I keep telling myself I should just suck it up, sell everything that's not nailed down, and buy it and a single lens. (I do have a 50mm LSM lens already.)


Top Veteran
Two images requested to be reposted out of the larger set: