14 Ways The FinePix® E900 Rivals The Legendary Leica®

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There is a strange phenomenon in the field of photography it demonstrates itself something like this. My camera, format, film, digital media, lens etc. is better than the rest. Pictures from my gear are technically superior. Manufacturers love this kind of thinking since it fuels an insatiable ‘prosumer’, [a term denoting non-professional photographers whilst flattering them], appetite for the latest and the best.

A ‘Barnack’ Leica

No one who makes their living by selling photographs engages, or listens, to this kind of nonsense. The reason is that we are concerned with earning money with our cameras. You may be surprised to learn that publishers also don’t care if your photograph of Osama, Posh, or G.B. was taken with a Nikon®, or a Kodak®. They just want the image to be in focus, well framed and relevant.

That said during the beginning of the twentieth century three cameras dominated reportage. These were the Graflex, the Rolleiflex and the Leica. Because one of these machines was generally there when important historical events needed to be photographed myths developed around these makes of camera and the photographers who used them.

It’s true that many of the photographers were characters who were larger than life. But neither belonging to a camera club, nor purchasing a Graflex, Hasselbladt, or Canon will in itself change your personality, or necessarily make you a better photographer.

In the first of these articles I will compare the FinePix® E900 and examine how it might have stood up to the demands made upon Leicas. The aim isn’t to prove that the FinePix is better, although you are welcome to reach whatever conclusion you wish. Rather it is to establish that the E900 is adequate for most professional applications. Indeed I beieve that if you start with a modest camera like the FinePix® E900 you will concentrate more on your ability to compose good pictures, rather than acquire expensive and frequently unnecessary equipment.

Two Kinds Of Leica

Let us be clear, in my world, there are two kinds of Leica. Of the first kind there are three principal versions and all are excellent examples of their class. These Leicas comprise:

The Barnack Leicas
The M System
The R System

The Barnack Leica is the original 35mm film camera. They are known as the Barnack Leicas because Oscar Barnack invented and designed them. and the M System Leicas are, [with the exception of the Leica 1], rangefinder cameras. They date from 1954 right through to the present day. The R System is a single lens reflex system built to excellent quality but considered by many journalists to be rather pedestrian, and expensive.

Leica M3
The Leica M3

The M System was designed by Willi Stein. These are finely tooled machines, until recently, [the M7 has electromagnetic coupling to the shutter mechanism], relying on all mechanical components. All have superb optics due to the Leica range of interchangable prime lenses. M Series Leicas, like the Barnack series before them, have been carried to many corners of the globe by reporters, many of whom still consider them to be the very best 35 mm cameras available today.

The Barnack Leicas were made from 1925 until 1959. They are small cameras frequently fitted with a collapsible, [f 3.5 Elmarit], lens that retracts into the camera body. As such they are both inconspicuous and pocketable. In the end they suffered because their design patent was placed in the public domain as part of Germany’s war reparation. But the M mount was slightly more convenient to use when changing lenses than the 39 mm screw thread used on the Barnack series, and having the rangefinder within the viewfinder screen also made picture taking easier.

The second kind of Leica to which I refer are those cameras made by third party manufacturers, in collaboration with Leitz, which are branded as Leica. There are many of these including a range of digital cameras developed by Panasonic, and a small 35 mm camera the Leica, or Minolta CL and CLE that rely heavily upon Minolta design and manufacture. The patent on the M System Lens Mount has now expired so third party manufacturers are also producing M Mount cameras that can take Leica lenses. These include Cosina, [Voigtlander, Rollei, and Zeiss}, and Konica. Since none of the cameras in this category have any mystique attached to them we will not concern ourselves further with them here.

Having used the Leica M system for some years I am convinced that the optics are the very best, and just keep getting better, but this doesn’t mean that these cameras are the easiest in the world to handle and guarantee that you will always obtain the shot you anticipated.

The procedure for using a Barnack Leica is slightly more complex. The rangefinder isn’t coupled so you must focus, or use the zone-focus system, and then transfer your eye to the main viewfinder. Nevertheless if you live with either a Barnack Leica, or an M system camera for long enough then the settings become second nature.

Enough of this, I like Leicas but I really love the FinePix E900, here’s why:

FinePix E900 and Leica Compared

1. The E900 is even smaller than a Barnack Leica, but has a firm ergonomic rubberised grip making it easy to handle.

2. The E900 has a zoom lens of 32mm – 130mm f 2.8-5.6 zoom lens. A rangefinder Leica would require four different prime lenses to cover the same range.

3. The E900 will take pictures at 80, 100, 200, 400 and 800 ISO, [the latter being capable of ‘pushing’ in post production]. To cover this range with a Leica you would have to use five different films, and if you wanted them available at all times then you would need to carry five different Leicas loaded with them!

4. E900 files are readily converted to monochrome where they may be filtered and toned in post-production. Leica monochromes must be filtered ‘blind’ in the camera using a range of different coloured filters.

5. The E900 comes to life in less than a second. The Leica is always ready, but if fitted with a collapsible lens then this must be unlocked before the camera can be used.

6. The E900 has a small supplementary flash built in, which can be useful for key lighting. The Leica has a flash socket for a separate flash gun.

7. The E900 will evaluate different lighting conditions selecting the appropriate colour temperature settings, or these can easily be set manually. Leicas require you to use different filters, or different films.

8. The E900 has a 2″ digital display that shows what you are taking, and allows you to review your shot. The Barnack Leicas have a small optical viewfinder, the M Series is slightly larger.

9. The E900 has s small optical viewfinder, coupled to the lens. This allows framing in low-light and for action photography similar to the Leica. The Barnack Leicas require a supplementary viewfinder for each lens used, other than 50mm. The M system has different frame lines, which for the 90mm lens can be quite small, and for the 135 requires a supplementary magnification glass to the viewfinder housing.

10. The E900 will take 228 high resolution, [458 Normal], images on a reusable 1 GB SD card. A Leica would require you to carry seven rolls of film in order take this many photographs. Film is, of course, not reusable.

11. The E900 lens is crisp, and may be corrected for aberration such as barrel distortion, and/or softened, using computer software. Leica lenses are superb, but a collapsible Elmarit from the 1950s is no match for a modern aspherical lens. Whilst you may easily soften a sharp image it’s much harder to sharpen a soft one.

12. The E900 is fully automatic, or fully manual as you wish. It also has a range of interesting modes in between these settings. Leicas are fully manual, [the exception being the latest M7].

13. The E900 offers ‘Evaluative’, ‘Spot’ and ‘Average’ metering. Spot metering only is available on the Leica M5, M6 and M7.

14. The E900 powers-up and zooms quietly. It’s beeps and simulated shutter noise can be switched off making it virtually silent in operation. The Leica has a quiet focal plane shutter.

The M7, Leica’s Latest 35mm Rangefinder Camera

Great Leica Moments In History Re-examined

When Robert Capa arrived on Omaha Beach to photograph the D. Day invasion he took a number of photographs at dawn. These were printed throughout the world. They were grainy, often out of focus, and full of movement. They are nevertheless great photographs. What most people don’t realise is that Capa lost most of his D. Day pictures because they were badly processed. Can you imagine how he must have felt having risked his life to obtain good shots only to find that much of his best work had been destroyed by someone in the safety of a film lab?

With an E900 picture file this couldn’t have happened. Even if the technician had accidentally ‘erased’ the SD picture card, the important data lost could have been restored using appropriate software. Furthermore the E900’s fast ISO 800 ‘digital film’ speed would have added more detail to those dawn shots. Capa would continue his photography throughout the day changing the ISO setting on the camera as the day became lighter.

The same kind of accident also befell negatives of the most famous Leica user of them all, Henri Cartier-Bresson. He had happened upon the summary trial of someone accused of collaborating with the Nazis during the war. Cartier-Bresson took a whole roll of film but it was ruined by development by unskilled hands.

Cartier-Bresson is so linked to the Leica in the minds of photographers, [particularly the Barnack Leicas], that I suspect that some purchase a Leica in the hope that some of his skill will rub off. This is of course nonsense, HCB’s photographic ability isn’t derived from his Leica, which he regarded as a sketchpad, but due to his training as a painter, his reading of Heidegger and also Eugene Herrigel Zen and the Art of Archery. Anyone wishing to follow HCB would be better advised to read these references, plus HCB’s collection of monographs on photography and buy a FinePix E900.

Another well known Leica photographer is Bert Hardy. Like Cartier-Bresson he discovered the Leica during the 1930s and used it during the war years before changing to the Contax camera system. Significantly during the 1950s Hardy was sent to Blackpool with a Kodak Box Brownie in order to take photographs that would help rekindle the public interest in domestic photography. Hardy photographed two young women on the pier, skirts billowing in the wind in an image reminiscent, but predating, Tom Kelly’s photograph of Marilyn Monroe, her skirt billowing over a grating. Not a Leica in sight for either Hardy, or Kelly’s pictures!

Why e900photography must replace today’s fuddled ‘Leica’ thinking

It’s nonsense, of course, to compare a 21st century instrument with machines built fifty, and more, years in the past. But that’s what Leica owners are apt to do. Their forums tend to abound with topics such as: “Is the Bokeh, [the way the lens renders a defocused area of a picture], of the Noctolux, [an expensive Leica lens], superior to that of the 1.5 Aspherical Nokton?” [a less expensive lens from Zeiss]; or “Should I buy less expensive Zeiss lenses for my M Series camera whilst I’m learning how to take pictures?” This kind of thinking can only drive your bank manager crazy and lead toward divorce and despair. Far better to buy a FinePix E900 and learn about composition, photography on the wing, regarding the camera as a sketchpad, and ever pushing the limit of what the little machine is capable of producing.

E900 digital camera
The Perfect Travelling Companion

I must confess, I sleep with my FinePix E900, rather than a Leica, under the pillow just in case I might find a way to record my dreams.

Kindly note: Since this article was first published Leica have announced the Leica M8, which is a digital camera that takes M series lenses. It costs around £ 3,000, [$ 4,000]. I also recently purchased a Leica III, (circa 1939). It is a fine perecision machine, sadly mine needs a repair!

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