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A new Leica

Saturday 16 March 2002

The Leica company has just announced a new M-series camera. The M7 is a descendent of the M3 of 1954, the first Leica range­finder camera with a bayonet lens mount. Details are on the Leica website, or see this review by Irwin Puts.

Leica M7 camera

The rangefinder Leica has long been associated with the photo­grapher Henri Cartier-Bresson:

Ever since 1932 he has used a Leica camera. Currently an M3 is his constant companion. He has covered its beautiful brushed chrome with black tape, to make it less con­spic­u­ous. He carries it without a case, the lens protected with a lens cap on a string. He holds the camera in his hand, or nested in the crook of his arm, ready for instant action. It would be too inaccessible, he says, slung around his neck, or dangling from his shoulder​—​and too conspicuous, too. Once, lunching with friends at a restaurant, he suddenly pushed back his chair, put his camera to his eye, snapped the shutter, and sat down​—​without even interrupting the table conversation. He had seen, while talking, a famous painter. Days later, we saw the photograph he had taken. It seemed, in its direct simplicity and in its penetration, the product of a formal portrait sitting. Like so many pho­tog­ra­phers he will compare shooting with a camera and with a gun. He will point out that when a flock of partridges flies within range, a good hunter will select one bird and bring it down intact. So with camera shooting, except that the photographer does not kill. ‘The picture is good or not’, he says, ‘from the moment it was caught in the camera. Cropping will not save a bad picture, because a picture is done by situating oneself in time and space. A mistake made then is irreparable. The whole relation in a frame changes if you bend slightly forward, backward, to the right, to the left​—​la petite difference.’ [Beaumont Newhall, ‘A velvet hand, a hawk’s eye: Cartier-Bresson at work’, introductory essay in Photographs by Cartier-Bresson (London, Jonathan Cape, 1964)].

Leicas have been displaced by motor-driven auto-focus auto-exposure single-lens-reflex 35mm cameras as the standard tools of photo-journalists, and digital cameras are displacing them. But fresh work is still done on film with the Leica — see Andrew Nemeth’s everyday life. Meanwhile, Tina Manley carries on the black and white social documentary tradition.

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