Too many cameras
A look back at the craziness of changing systems
It is crazy to think of all the camera systems I have used, purchased and sold over the years and how I revert back to Leica for personal work.
As a kid in Michigan, tromping the woods in the winter, my first camera was a Kowa SE, which I bought with money saved by working at a friend of the family’s campground in the Florida Keys. I traded it for a Minolta SR-7. The Minolta lasted a year and then I was on to a Leica M2. The M2 was my trusty companion for many years. All of my early photographs of Pentagram were shot on the M2 with the 50 and 90 Elmar lenses – often pushing Tri-X to 800 or even 1600. At one point in the early years, I bought a Pentax Spotmatic with an inexpensive Spiratone 400mm lens.
Eventually I purchased a Leicaflex SL and SL2 for using long lenses – especially my 400 and 560mm Leitz Telyt glass. I was robbed at gunpoint on the Elipse behind the White House in June of 1975. After the robbery, I switched over to Nikon F bodies starting with the F2 and working through the F series up to the F5. Dick Baghdassarian at Pro Photo in Washington DC adapted a Nikon mount to the Leitz lens and I was able to use the 400 and 560 lenses for the NatGeo story on Great Blue Herons. (April 1984).
For many years, Nikon was my primary system. I added a a Hasselblad 500 C/M with a few lenses – primarily for editorial portraits. I also tested out the Bronica 645 system and shot with it for a year or so, but I wore the cameras out.
In the early 2000’s, Contax came out with their incredible 645 system and I went all in on it. Stellar lenses, good bodies and a pretty decent system. I have a couple of friends that are still using that system with Phase One backs. I also decided to buy a couple of their Leica inspired rangefinder cameras. The Contax G was a pretty nice little carry-all system. I drowned both of my bodies while on assignment for Wired magazine in the Florida Keys. (although I did save my Leica M6 by holding it high in the air as I sunk in the muck surrounding a key in the middle of Florida Bay)
Since I’ve been a rangefinder user for years, I also bought the Hasselblad Xpan (made by Fujifilm I believe) and used it for a bunch of editorial assignments in the late nineties.
When Nikon made the now-revised decision to stick with the APS-C system, I briefly switched to the Canon DSLR 1Ds and its brothers. Never really bonded with Canon and when Nikon released the D3 with the full-frame sensor I was back in Nikon land. (thanks to a photog friend who is tight with Nikon – I had a chance to test the system before switching back – that made it easy)
It’s funny to think how much muscle memory there is when using cameras – Nikon always had the perfect feel to me – your hands just fell into the right place – regardless of the camera body – from the D3 to the D850 to the Z9 – they just feel right.
At the same time, I bought a Leica M8. I had a decent M6/M4 and a few lenses. Absolutely hated the M8 – although I shot a few nice portraits in Haiti with it. At that point, I gave up on Leica until this year. I did pick up a Sony RX1 as a poor mans Leica – I used it for years and traded it in to Pro Photo in DC last year. The 35mm Zeiss lens on that camera is a wonderful lens for low light and travel photography – at 24 MP it hit the sweet spot, if I needed to use it on an assignment – downsides to that camera was poor battery life and slow autofocus.
in 2012 a photographer I knew offered me his Alpa 12 Max with an Aptus back for a fair price. I bought it, hated the back, but loved the camera and lenses. Steve Hendrix at Capture Integration found a sweetheart of a deal for me on a used Leaf Credo back from the PhaseOne rep. So, I bought it. Then had to buy new lenses because the older ones did not really cut it with the new digital back. The Credo in combination with the Alpa 12 allowed me to create beautiful landscapes and work in a slower style. I bought a couple of Hasselblad H2 bodies to use with the Leaf back. That was a disaster, the autofocus was miserably slow and the bodies were not all that reliable. I sold the Hassy’s, the back and the Alpa.
For the past few years I’ve plodded on with the Nikon bodies, upgrading to the D850 and my plan was to stick with those for the rest of my career.
Enter Fujifilm and the GFX 50r and 100s. Incredible cameras, incredible quality, great glass, Capture One support and I was smitten with system. It is now my system for commercial and editorial assignments. The Nikon’s were sold two years ago to a bunch of APA DC photographer friends. I tried out the little Fuji XT cameras, but they were not right for me – I like the larger sensor of the GFX cameras and the wonderful Fuji film simulations in Capture One. I still own a Leica and it is used strictly for personal work.
I’m sure I’ve missed or forgotten a camera or two that has passed my way. Not counting the view cameras in this little essay.
What is the lesson in all of this? David Burnett once told me, “don’t sell any of your cameras.” Not sure if that makes sense in the digital world, but for older Leica glass, it sure does.
Camera systems are so good now. Mid-range Mirrorless cameras exceed old medium format film quality. If I was starting out now, I would buy the brand that feels right and stick with it.
For me, that is the Fuji GFX for assignments and Leica for personal pictures.
Lets not get started on tripods and camera bags……