The last two cameras I've bought show a radically different approach to how to put together a small(ish) camera to compete against the mirrorless offerings from companies like Sony, Panasonic and Olympus. Now Canon seem to be letting this pass by. Yes I know they released the EOS-M. (which kind of proves my point!! ) So what do we have here from Nikon and Leica? Two of the most iconic names in photographic gear.
Well neither are cheap. Both have top quality IQ. Both have good and in the case of the Df great high ISO performance. One is sleek black and minimalist, the other isn't. One embraces touch screen and other current modern technology, the other doesn't. Both have a long tradition of making cameras and both are highly regarded by discerning photographers. Of which enlightened fraternity I am obviously one!!!
I really like both of them, And that like has come from an initial hostility. (So we'd better strike out discerning from the above paragraph!) I like the different approaches, though to a certain extent they have similar functionality, it's just accessed in a different way. Consequently, somewhat surprisingly, I do regard them as similar.
They are, as far as I'm concerned, 'personal' cameras. I.E. They have been bought purely to give me pleasure, both as photographic 'tools' (though neither deserves to be saddled with that prosaic description) and as aesthetic objects in their own right. Neither are toys, I hasten to add and there is no way I would ever regard them as such. However, they certainly aren't as versatile as some other cameras I own. But then do those other cameras inspire me in the same way? Well the Fuji X100s does, but that's about it.
And much of that inspiration comes from the history of the names. As a photographer I can't forget that I know who Julia Margaret Cameron is, or Ansel Adams or Eugene Atget etc. I am very aware of what these people have achieved and I'm also aware of the historical sigmificance that both Nikon and Leica have in the development of photography. Leica almost invented fast moving documentary photography and Nikon showed that small cameras can be taken almost anywhere, no matter how dangerous and come back with the pictures. It's no coincidence that Under Fire starring Nick Nolte is one of my favourite films. I remember watching him swagger around a war zone with those Nikon's and thinking, if only. Then there's John Savage in Salvador who gets some great lines -
'You gotta get close to get the truth. You get TOO close, you die.' '
John Cassady: You know what made photographers like Robert Cappa great, Rich? They weren't after money, they captured the nobility of human suffering!
Richard Boyle: That was a great shot in Spain. The one flying through the air.
John Cassady: Yeah but it was more than just bodies, Rich. He got... why they died.
BS maybe, but great BS!!
And of course he was running around with Nikons everywhere and then gets out the Leica for the sneaky shot of the evil dictator. Priceless.
So when I pick up a Leica or a Nikon (well most of them) I get all these ideas of what it means to be a photographer. Robert Capa in Spain and at the D-day landings, Cartier-Bresson roaming the streets of Paris, Don Mcullin cheating death because his Nikon F stopped a bullet. And while what I'm doing isn't even remotely similar to what those giants of photography have (are) achieved (achieving), I still get the inspiration from the work they produced to attempt to create the best work I possibly can. And much as I admire what they have inside them and the almost unbelievable technical advances that have been made, I just don't get that from my Sony or Panasonic gear.
So. I choose to ignore some of the comments on the photographic internet that define these cameras as toys for the wealthy or electronic jewellery. And In fact my wife Ann has described the Df as the most gaudy camera she's ever seen, so I'm getting it from all directions!! For me there is a magic in both the Leica and Nikon names and no matter how modern and digital they both are in the way they create pictures from the world I see, they will always have a special resonance for me.
And when I finish writing this I'll decide which of them to take out to tackle the mean streets (i.e.country lanes) of Warwickshire and while I'm in no danger of capturing a soldier at the point of death or a moment of cosmic symmetry on a Parisian street, I can only hope that a little of the fairy dust that emanates from those logo's will let me come home with some images I'm proud of.
Finally you may have noticed I've left something out. One is a DSLR and one isn't. Now some might think that important, but I don't. Sure the Df would be a lighter, smaller camera with no mirror and maybe video could have been included. But that's not what Nikon chose to do so it's a case of accept it or don't buy it. And considering the results I've been getting since I bought it, whether or not it has a mirror is the least of my concerns.
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