The Leica dilemma

The important difference between chemically based and solid-state based photography is not the capture technology. It is in fact unimportant whether the projected image by the lens is recorded by a sensor or in the emulsion layer. The main difference is the closed and open character of both capture technologies. The chemically based photography is a closed system with its own techniques, procedures and rituals: to take a picture one has to step outside the daily flow of events and activities. It is a conscious decision with products that are only useful for the process of photography. A film, a developer, a darkroom has no other use that to produce a printed photograph. It is a closed ecosystem. Digital photography on the other hand is an open ecosystem, integrated with modern electronics and digital technology. Everyone uses a computer nowadays and the digital files of the digital camera can be seamlessly integrated with modern consumer-electronics and its culture of Instagram and Facebook.
The Leica camera was leading in the 1950s, when the ecosystem was quite closed, but lost its position to the Japanese companies that were more inventive to incorporate electro-mechanical interfaces in their cameras, paving the way for electronics and automation. The Canon EOS system shows the ease with which digital engineering could be incorporated into a basically electro-mechanical body. There was space enough inside the body!
The evolution from M7 to M8/M9 was not an easy path and many engineering obstacles had to be cleared away. In the modern open ecosystem, the Leica cameras have lost their edge and are technologically marginalized, whatever the marketing department and the many Leica aficionados assert. Optically the Leica company is still leading, but the incorporation of AF and IS in the current line of TL and SL lenses shows a worrisome convergence with other leading optical companies.
Optical qualities were once very important: the image chain was a range of steps where every step degraded the original negative image: it was important to start with the best design possible. With modern imaging algorithms the situation is reversed: you can start with a medium quality lens and the imaging software will enhance the original image: it is now simple to manipulate the individual pixels and improve the final image. It goes without saying that the image quality of the current Leica lens is still beyond reproach, but is no longer the main criterium. In a closed ecosystem there is a limited number of benchmarks, but in an open system there is a longer list of benchmarks and the integration with current consumer-electronic products and technologies becomes the main criterion.
The flavour of the closed ecosystem can be experienced when a film-loading Leica camera is used: one has to think consciously about the type of film and the type of developer and in order to produce a print a fully equipped darkroom is required. The digital path is much simpler: just take pictures and use one of many processing software to produce the picture while being immersed in the consumer-electronics world. You do not have to leave your desk to develop and upload the picture. It has been said that the average digital photographer produces more pictures in two hours that all photographers produced during the full nineteenth century. This may be exaggerated, but the point is well made. Producing digital pictures is an effortless and almost subconscious activity, embedded in the usual daily flow. Here lies Leica’s dilemma: how to incorporate the values of the 1950s into modern mass consumerism.

Summarit-M sale

I am selling my Summarit-M lenses
2.5/35 Price Euro 650, almost as good as the Summicron-M 2/35
2.5/50 Price Euro 550, excellent alternative for the Summicron-M 2/50, very compact
2.5/75 Price Euro 750, almost as good as the Apo-Summicron-M 2/75
2.5/90 Price Euro 650, excellent alternative for the Elmarit-M 2.8/90, very compact

The whole set is only Euro 2400
Every lens with lens shade, lens caps, papers, and soft pouch
Free world wide shipping
Email me if you are interested

Summer musings

The last few months I have been taking pictures with a 50 mm lens, almost exclusively! The Apo-Summicron 50, the modern workhorse, is my most used lens (the next one is the current SX 50). Both lenses are very well suited to a style of photography that may be called ‘producing documents’. A document is a source of information and should be neutral, devoid of subjective intention. Most persons would think of the decisive moment as the iconic method for documentary photography. It is remarkable that the original French title of his book (Images à la sauvette) in correct translation means “pictures in a hurry” which is quite different from the idea of a creative and conscious decision to wait for all picture elements to fall harmoniously in place. ‘In a hurry’ refers to the vernacular snapshot style of photography, the document par excellence! This style and the kind of photographers using it are diametrically opposed to the other extreme of the spectrum: the art photography. One can discuss and even speculate about the possibility that a mechanical instrument, like the camera, can ever been capable of producing art (Szarkowski would claim that it can!). The theory of photography that assigns a heavy weight on the influence of the operator on the final result (injecting intention and meaning) disregards the chance element of photography. No one is able to see exactly what happens in that tiny part of a second (1/50 to 1/1000). Photographers with digital cameras use prolonged bursts of pictures to get the one they need or like.
But I am digressing. My choice of the 50 mm lens implies that a range of lenses I own are no longer needed: originally bought as companions to the M8, the Summarit range 2.5/35-50-75-90 was intended as a travel set: very high quality and with a compact size that takes little space in a photo bag.
I am now selling this set of lenses, complete with pouches and lens hoods.

Part 4 is almost ready!

The text for part 4 of my series of Leica books is almost ready. There are a few printed books of part three (Leica Lens Saga) available. To give an impression of the content of this book, find below a section of the text.

Leica’s optical design team has several constraints to work with when designing lenses for the rangefinder camera. These were listed in the first part of the book. As long as the M-designs have to be compact, they will be mechanical. It is not the rangefinder concept that forces this mechanical design. The Live View option in the current FPA-equipped M-cameras indicates that the mechanical linkage between lens and rangefinder mechanism is not the only option. The inclusion of an autofocus and optical stabilisation function in the compact dimensions of the M-lenses would not be possible. An M-lens can be compared with a T-lens of similar specifications. The Summilux-M 1.4/50 mm ASPH has a length of 52.5 mm and a diameter of 53.5 mm with a weight of 335 grams (+ integrated lens hood). Compare these figures with the Leica Summilux-TL 1.4/35 mm that has a total of 12 elements, and is substantially larger (length: 77 mm; diameter: 70 mm; weight: 498 grams with lens hood).
More elements imply better correction possibilities. The M-lens is also limited in the number of elements, at least for normal (50 mm) and short-tele designs (75 to 90 mm). Possible increases in optical performance have to found in the use of more aspherical surfaces and even more exotic glass types. In a compact design these choices imply even narrower mechanical tolerances than the ones now accepted in the manufacturing and assembly stages.
The previous period during which the flagship lenses for the M-camera were manufactured (1960 to 1980) is characterised by a slow progression in the optical performance and a heavy emphasis on the mechanical qualities of the design. This was also the period when the Japanese manufacturers switched their effort to zoom lenses where weight issues were more prominent and needed to be solved. The Leica lenses were universally acknowledged as having the best mounts of all manufacturers. The Leica lenses of that period were possibly not the best in the imaging sense, but the balance between excellence in mounting and material choice on the one hand and manufacturing cost on the other hand was a very good one. The original Summilux 1.4/50 mm stayed in production for over forty years and the current Summicron 2/50 mm (without the Apo-prefix) is now more that 40 years old. The potential of the Double-Gauss design and its variants on which many Leica lenses from 1935 to 1995 were based was completely exhausted around 1980.
The most recent lens constructions for Leica cameras indicate a major change in de design approach with a shift from opto-mechanical to opto-mechatronic constructions. This shift is mainly inspired by the switch to solid-state FPA-imagers for all Leica cameras (with the exception of the classical cartridge-loading rangefinder body). In the mechatronic world the mechanical connections are replaced by microprocessors and compact drive motors. The focusing movement of the M lens is accomplished by the turning of the focusing ring, that moves the optical cell forwards and backwards. The focusing ring has a rotary movement that has to be transformed into a linear movement by means of a mechanical screw-thread mechanism that connects the focusing ring to the optical cell. The main requirement of the mechanism is the accuracy of the movement and the smoothness of the movement that must be the same over the full extent and must not exhibit any sloppiness. The automatic focusing mechanism requires that the resistance of the focusing mechanism has to reduced and the travel of the components must also be minimised. When using auto-focus mechanisms, the focusing accuracy is now the task of a small precision stepper motor that moves the focusing lens or lens group in very small steps over a 360 degree circular movement. In addition, there must be an electronic interface between camera body and lens mount. The contact strip on the R-lenses for the R8/9 and the black-white lens code on the recent M mounts are very different in function from the ten-pin interface on the new SL camera. The relative masses of the camera body and the lens body are changing with smaller bodies and larger lenses. The advantage of the rangefinder body is the ergonomically correct balance of the total package (lens plus body).

The mechanical tolerances and the accuracy of assembly are for the foreseeable future fixed. The world of the micron, a very small distance in the physical world, sets a limit to what machines can accomplish. Typical tolerances are 0.002 - 0.005 mm for distances and a few arc seconds for decentring. Such a level of precision is difficult to handle and when it is possible, one should be aware that such small dimensions make the design very sensitive.
Everyone who is acquainted with measurement and control techniques knows about the margins of error inherent in all equipment, however accurate. A lens must be useful under conditions of physical stress and accept normal wear and tear. A very sensitive instrument requires frequent adjustments at even smaller intervals of time. The Apo-Summicron 50 mm lens is for the moment the design with the most critical dimensions which explains the high price and the low production volume.

The lenses for the Leica rangefinder cameras are unique in the current landscape of photographic lenses. Leica rangefinder cameras can be classified into two major groups: the screw mount models and the bayonet mount models. The last group has two subgroups: the film-loading cameras and the solid-state FPA-equipped models, also known as digital models. There are a few minor differences between the lenses designed in the film-loading (or analogue) era and the most recent lenses designed in the digital era. The most important differences are (1) the provision of the six-bit coding strip on the backside of the lens (this feature can be used to exchange information between the properties of the lens and the in-camera processing algorithms) and (2) the optical correction (or optimization) of the design to compensate for the small impact that the protective filter in front of the sensor surface has on the path of the light rays. Lenses for the screw mount cameras can be identified by the name of the lens, as was also the case with the earlier series for the bayonet mount cameras (the ‘M’-camera). After the introduction of the Leicaflex, Leitz used the suffix -R or -M to identify lenses for the two ranges of cameras. There is no special identification for the recently introduced or (slightly) redesigned lenses for the digital rangefinder models.
The premium characteristics of the M-lenses are the outstanding performance, the full metal mount, the manual operation and the compact size. The combination of compact size and high image quality is now an unusual one. Recent introductions by Zeiss and by Leica itself (for the SL- and T-cameras) indicate a trend to ever larger physical volumes. The small physical volume limits the optical evolution of the rangefinder designs.

The current designs have already a performance profile that most users have difficulty to fully exploit. At medium apertures the standard lenses are capable of a useful limiting resolution between 100 and 120 lp/mm (measured with the microscope on low speed microfilm, developed in Spur Nanospeed). This translates into a spot of about 0.0042 mm. A 24 x 36 mm sensor would need to have about 40 million pixels to record reliably this high resolution. Presumably 50 million pixels would be required because of the moiré effects at high resolutions. The Leica M-lens however should not be valued only for the high resolution potential, but for the clarity and smoothness of the reproduced details and gradation in the mid-range of spatial frequencies. Any audio aficionado knows that it makes no sense to look only for the high-frequency response of the equipment.
The Leica rangefinder user should however accept that higher levels of performance will be introduced more gradually for M-lenses in the future. The true advances in optical design will be introduced in the modern opto-mechatronic devices, like the Leica T- and SL- systems.

The complexity of photographic lenses has increased substantially in recent times. A high-speed-high-performance lens, like the Zeiss Otus has twelve elements in ten groups. A comparable lens for the Leica T (1.4/35 mm) has also twelve elements (including two aspherical surfaces) in eight groups. A zoom lens foo the Leica SL has 23 elements and seven moving groups. It is nearly impossible to handle this complexity with the help of the Seidel coefficients or the thin lens approach. The additional mechanical and electronic complexity (image stabilization, autofocus movements), including the analysis of the required accuracy and manufacturing tolerances can only be handled with the help of computer programs. The price for this added complexity is size! Lenses for the Leica M CRF are not as complex, but their physical constraints ask much of the designer to create high quality designs.

Background for part 4 of the series

Here is the background for my new book (part 4 of the series)
Photography has been characterized, from the early beginnings and based on its properties, as either art or science. Commentators were unsure how to categorize the new medium with its photogenic drawings (Talbot). Early photographers, not content with exploiting the objective and mechanical nature of the final picture, tried hard to convince the art community that photography was more than a recording medium with which nature copied itself without the help of the human operator. The initial excitement that the new technology could produce pictures without any human interference became soon a threat to the photographer, the illustrator and the engraver.

The early comments focused on the ability of the new process to reproduce a part of the real world without human intervention. There was much amazement that there could exist a tool with which nature could take its own picture. One could admire the capability of the machine to reproduce the finest detail that the eye failed to record. The nineteenth century was after all the age of materialism. A growing segment of the public accepted the efficacy of the machine as the embodiment of a new era, the modern one. The exhibitions in London (Crystal Palace, 1851) and Paris (Eiffel Tower, Exposition Universelle, 1889) showed the impact of the engineer’s and scientist’s ingenuity and mechanical achievement. The photographic camera was only one of many mechanical instruments of that age. It had the advantage that the machine-made image and its easy reproducibility matched the increasing demand for realistic images in the magazines and journals. Many painters looked with dismay at the enhanced realism of the images made with the photographic camera. The mechanical limitations of the camera were known and artists used all kinds of technique to produce images with a style that emulated the best of the classical painters. On the other hand many artists exploited the technical capabilities of the camera to produce optically accurate images. Baudelaire wrote a scathing critique of the Salon of 1859, where many photographs, made with several techniques and styles were exhibited. Many photographers claimed that their pictures were to be included in the domain of art. Baudelaire however denunciated photography as an art form. He listed the proper functions of photography: for record-making, as a note-taking tool and for scientific investigation. His friend Delacroix carefully noted the limitations of the photographic process and concluded that photography, used carefully, could be an asset to painting.

The description of photography as a medium oscillated between two extremes: art as photography and photography as art. Behind this dichotomy however there lurked another one. The distinction between art and science and between art and craft did not disappear, but surfaced time and time again as the main topic for a comprehensive account of photography. Scientists and technologists used the photographic technique for practical work and even for non-pictorial work, suitably referred to as non-art. In contrast the history of photography has been described as an orderly succession of the major artists in the history of the medium.
‘Non-art’ as a category also includes the snapshot (instantaneous) and detective photography, promoted by Eastman in the 1880s and finally including also the casual street photography.
In the final analysis, photography can be divided by the basic dichotomy of art and non-art. When the history of photography is approached as part of the general history of the visual arts, it is inevitable to include a discussion of the major trends in art history since the start of photography: impressionism, modernism, snapshot aesthetic and post modernism. When the history of photography is mainly concerned with non-art, the topics of science (reality), vernacular snapshot, social processes, technique, instrument development, and image quality (high resolution) have to be addressed.

Photography is intimately connected with human perception. For good reason the analogy between the eye and the lens has been stressed as a sensible idea.
Our culture is a visual culture. Vision is the main sense with which we experience and analyse the world around us. Martin Jay has characterized the twentieth century as an ocularcentric culture. The underlying cultural and scientific theories of vision, perception and reality have to be sketched and used as a background for a better understanding of the culture and technique of photography.

The Leica rangefinder camera straddles several domains. The Leica rangefinder cameras was one of the preferred tools used by a fair proportion of the classical art and iconic photographers. The optical qualities and the mechanical construction earned it the enviable reputation of being the first precision miniature camera. Its small size, accurate rangefinder and smooth handling enabled a new direction and style in snapshot photography.

After its announcement in 1839, the technique of photography was a very complex one and only suitable for the daring entrepreneur, the curious scientist and the wealthy amateur. The technology used during most of the nineteenth century (large wooden cameras, glass plates, emulsions, chemicals, lenses) was not very stable and quite xpensive. This allowed the photographer to influence the result and made him a decisive element in the processing chain. The discussion about the nature of photography as art or non-art obscured the assessment of the new medium and its most common use as a tool for recording physical reality.
Photographic technology (at least till the digital capture became the dominant technology) is a closed ecosystem. The components were provided by many small cottage industries or had to be produced by the photographers themselves. The number of active photographers around 1880 was too low to sustain a large scale profitable industry.
If nothing had changed, photography would have stayed a niche technology for the rich amateur and a tool for scientists and lithographical craftsmen.
Eastman, whose company produced photographic products, concluded that to become more profitable the scale of production had to increase substantially. He therefore created a mass market for his photographic products. In order to reach this goal he had to target the ordinary person, the public at large. The taking of photographs had to become cheap and easy to seduce the common man and woman to start taking pictures. The Kodak era started in 1880 and lasted till the end of the twentieth century. It was the century of the snapshot, the domestic photograph made by millions of people to record memorable events and persons. The Leica camera, introduced in 1924/1925, gave a new impetus to the style of candid photography: the precision miniature camera quickly became the dominant tool in the photographic ecosystem, where the rangefinder camera carved out its own niche till today.
The urge to use the Leica rangefinder camera was partly functional because of its propensity for high-quality scientific and domestic images and partly technical because of its precision-mechanical feel.
Professor Weizenbaum, one of my guiding lights in computer science, once during a lecture told the audience that he took lousy pictures with his Leica M3, but he took pictures because he liked the sound of the shutter. Here he hints at one of the most important actual arguments for choosing and using a Leica camera: the Leica RF camera is a perfect example of technical eroticism.

The Leica camera is also intimately connected to the world of art. Many iconic images were made with the Leica camera. Who does not know the Che Guevara picture by Korda (Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez), the girl in the rear window of a car by Erwitt, the kissing couple by Eisenstaedt. The classic pictures by Cartier-Bresson (“The Eye of the Century”) have inspired and still inspire many Leica photographers. The number of Leica photographers that have been allowed into the hall of fame of art photography constitutes only a minute proportion of the hundreds of thousands of Leica users who use the camera to record domestic events and persons without any other goal that to record what it interesting at the moment of pressing the shutter release button. Most of these pictures are considered as non-art and therefore as having no value by the members of the art community. Many Leica photographers feel the need to comply to the rules of composition that have been laid down by the canon of art aestheticism.

The humble vernacular snapshot has to be elevated to the level of the so-called snapshot-aesthetic to be of some interest. The common snapshot has been described as low art because it depicts ordinary life in photographs taken by amateurs who take pictures without artistic intentions. The ordinary snapshot is characterized by a highly ritualized style and composition with the main object in the center. The typical shutter speed and aperture are 1/50 and f/8. The important difference with photography as an art form (the Kantian aesthetic) is the social function of the photograph. The production and use of the photograph as a family snapshot is always embedded in a social ritual and has no artistic goal. The same style of photographs with ordinary objects as its main theme has been elevated to high art in the form of the snapshot aesthetic, as practiced by the street photographers in Paris and New York from 1930 to 1960. Many of these photographers used a Leica rangefinder camera, because in that period it was the only reliable and easy-to-use compact camera. The style of fast shooting precluded the use of the rangefinder and zone focusing was the norm, most often with the 35 mm wide-angle lens for extended depth of field.
The connection between the Leica RF camera with the 35 mm lens and the snapshot aesthetic of the street photographers has defined the public role and status of the Leica camera. There is a distinct danger in focusing too much attention on the small selection of acknowledged art photographs as typical for the medium as a whole.
The history of photography is documented with at most two hundred photographs, selected by an historian of art or photography. Bill Jay has remarked that any such small and personal selection out of the millions of pictures that have been taken since the 1820s produces a distorted view of the real history of photography. The millions of domestic snapshots, by art critics referred to as low art or by sociologists as middle brow art, are not included in the official history.

The photographic style of the so-called snapshot aesthetic, was made respectfully in the world of art by the MoMa exhibition in 1967 ’New documents”, featuring then unknown photographers Arbus, Friedlander, Winogrand. Szarkowski, the curator of the exhibition wrote that what united these three photographers is a belief that the world is worth looking at without theorizing. The pictures showed the causal style of ordinary snapshots and the subject matter was ordinary or at best a bit bizarre. The street was the theatre of urban space and the new style was in fact a continuation of the famous Kodak moment and the humanistic photography of the French, mainly Parisian photographers. Why these pictures by the three Americas were accepted as art is a matter of debate. A main reason is the mere fact that they were exhibited in a famous museum and another reason might be that these pictures indicated a major departure from the conventional style of art photography, exemplified by Steichen, Weston and Adams.

The question ‘what is art’, is in most history books conveniently evaded. To answer such a simple question, one would have to plunge into the deep waters of art theory and art history, not to mention theories of aesthetics or even philosophies of aesthetics. It suffices to refer to a handful iconic works of art and to note how close the photograph that is being assessed is to any one of the established works of art. It is inevitable that such an assessment is personal and subjective.
Art critique is often interpreted as negative, because the art reviewer has a set of norms that is assumed to define the quality of the art work. In reality the art critic describes what in his view are the merits of the work. There is some resemblance to the evaluation of the technical quality of a photograph. Image quality can be described in a subjective way and with the help of a number of measurement techniques. When the last method has been selected it is possible that the amount of aberrations can be objectively established. Such an approach is not possible when discussing the criteria that define that elusive concept of ‘art’.

Art critique is impossible without a reference to one of the theories of art. The two most important theories are now the modernist and post-modernist theories of art. Most theorists would claim that only the post-modernist theory has any relevance for the current evaluation of the visual arts.
Critics of photography follow generally the following steps: describing, interpreting, evaluating and theorizing. A background theory is necessary to put these actions into context. For example: post-modernism claims that every work of (visual) art must be interpreted as a text where symbols take the place of words. The common reference is the visual language that photographers need to learn in order to create meaningful photographs. Interpretation is a most important activity because interpreting a picture loads it with meaning and provide an answer to the question: ‘what is it about?’.

There are large practical and theoretical problems when one wishes to define photographic pictures as art. Notwithstanding these problems, there are a number of iconic photographs that define the medium.
Camera manufacturers are keen to relate their products with iconic art photographs.
The reason is obvious and quite simple. Photographs are made by photographers who use photographic equipment. Any serious photographer will assume or will be persuaded to assume that using a certain type of camera will enable him to take the same kind of pictures. Leitz in particular used the strategy of connecting famous scientists, explorers and later photographers with the Leitz products to promote the Leica camera. There was also a very logical argument for this strategy: the possibilities of the novel concept of the Leica had to be explained to the photographic world. The Leica Company follows the same strategy even today. The photographic world has however changed dramatically and the use of pictures as demonstrations of the capabilities and qualities of the equipment is losing its effectiveness.

The idea of archetypes of iconic pictures that set the norm for any serious photographer to copy or emulate is still prevalent in the world of photography. No one fails to photograph a blind accordionist, a barber shop entrance or a deserted gas station, because these images are part of the collective memory of the art of photography.
Leica photographers face the double challenge to comply with the standards from the art world and the standards from the technical domain. To be taken seriously as a Leica photographer, they are under the obligation to adopt the standards of what is considered to be good Leica photography. Historically, Leica photography is also closely tied to a certain level of image quality. The reputation of the Leica lenses is legendary. One of the arguments to invest in a camera system as expensive as a Leica rangefinder camera and its range of lenses, is the potential for a level of image clarity, usually linked to medium format systems.
Photography can be defined as an art and a craft. The skill to produce a technically accurate image can be learned, while the creativity to produce a work of art is a gift. This at least is the common view of the matter. To rediscover the joy of photography, the Leica photographer needs to shake off the yoke of the art canon.
As soon as one realizes that the art industry of galleries, artists and museums follows economic laws that capitalize on the human art instinct (a biologically regulated drive), one can look at the icons and canons of modern photographic art with a fresh view.

Photographic criticism is a personal and subjective act of judgment and interpretation. Every photographer should be free to adopt any set of rules he wishes to use. The basic requirement is a sense of pride in one’s own ability to take the pictures one likes. When the Zone System was imperative for monochrome photographers, many supporters of the system selected motives where the command of the rules of the system could be demonstrated. The motives themselves were rather boring (from today’s perspective): white pained buildings in blazing sun with deep dark shadows. Printing the full tonal scale in the darkroom was the rule and the photographer who succeeded could be proud of the result. It is not different these days with the use of digital Leica M cameras. The Zone System may be anathema, but it has been replaced by a cult of sharpness, not in the least inspired by the high optical quality of the Leica M lenses and the resolving power of the solid-state sensor. The low noise (grain in the context of classical emulsions) and high sensitivity of the imager system promote the impression of high sharpness. Many Leica M users (including the small but growing class of film emulsion aficionados) exploit sharpness techniques and select suitable motives for the task. Not every Leica photographer is enamoured by this approach. The basic dichotomy in photographic criticism is the one that divides photography in two segments: science and art. The focus on sharpness definitely falls into the category of science. The focus on meaning and composition falls into the category of art.
It is important to make sure that one does not throw away the baby with the bathwater and to replace one obsession with another one. Art photography has been cultivated for a long period. Leica M photography is strongly associated with the theme of street photography and the decisive moment. Since Cartier-Bresson’s book (L’Image à la Sauvette (The image on the run), every Leica photographer is at least aware of the cult of the decisive moment. Since the New Vision movement in art and photography, every one knows about the power of the clear photograph, taken from an unusual angle. Both approaches are in themselves valuable and can co-exist side by side.

Domestic snapshot photography is not part of any of these two categories. The important events and persons in daily life are photographed in stereotyped situations (the example of the standard tourist picture is well-known). Many photographs are made with a limited command of the basic photographic techniques.
The reality of the daily environment is taken for granted. What you see is what exists. Most photographers know that there is a difference between what one observes and what the camera records. Vision and reality as subjects of science and philosophy are highly complex phenomena that defy simple explanations. The photographer who records his daily life and the things and persons that interest him most, knows, at least intuitively, that there is a big difference in the way the camera records real life and the brain processes the information from ‘out there’. Almost every manual of photography includes a chapter on the topic of learning to see photographically. This is an acknowledgment of the fact that the human eye and the lens of the camera see things differently and see different things. Only by comparing the photograph with the original view, can we see the importance of such a statement. The bad point is of course that we do not have an objective record of what we saw when we took the photograph. The human memory is a poor recording and retrieval instrument. This is one of the reasons why we take pictures at all: to preserve at least a record of what was there when we took the picture. It is the case that the brain processes the information projected on the retina based on a set of rules that are part biological, part social and part cultural. Photographers often remark that photographs are highly personalized (even intentional) versions of reality because of the choices that the photographer has: select frame, viewpoint, moment of shutter release, focal length, shutter speed and aperture. Included in this list is the quality and quantity of the light that illuminates the subject. Most handbooks of photography try to explain the effect of each of these choices in great depth. The choice of all these photo-technical parameters in a precise combination and applied to specific subject matter produce a more or less artful picture. In theory there is an infinite number of combinations and permutations and the skilful choice and application of subject matter and technique is the defining characteristic of an artistically inclined photographer.

What is the relation between this discussion about the intentionality and meaning of a photograph and the Leica photographer who uses the camera as a simple recording instrument? The photographer has three main elements to play with: the gaze, the chance moment and the objects in reality. Weston, Renger-Patzsch and Feinimger noted that it is the Thing Itself (with capitals) that should inspire the photographer to record as cleanly as possible (or as objectively as possible) the real object. Because the camera records whatever is before the lens at the moment of the shutter release and the eye only sees selectively what is beyond the head, thee is room for a detective approach, the one Sherlock Holmes applies to solve a mystery. This is a strong argument for the so-called high-resolution photography.
When one looks at a photograph, the important question is to ask what happens here. The core of the matter is that a photograph is a statement, it is a form of communication. This is a most modern approach: (digital) image processing is based on information theory and the mathematics behind it. The message of the photograph, however simple it may be (“I made this picture because I liked to make this picture”) is more forceful when there is no nice composition to distract the viewer. A beautiful composition will push away the observation or the detection of what is going on. Winogrand said that every photograph is a contention between form and content: one is always threatening to overwhelm the other. The Dutch photographer Fieret dismisses aesthetic rules as guiding principles and specifically wants to produce ‘sloppy’ pictures.

It is important to note that the snapshot aesthetic is a continuation of the amateur aesthetic that flourished since the introduction of the Kodak Box around 1890. The actual discussion centres around the dividing line between fine-art and vernacular photography. The Kodak snapshot was followed by the Leica snapshot with the well-known characteristics of immediacy and handheld shooting. The limitations of the original Leica rangefinder forced the photographer to position his subject in the center or to look over the camera to estimate his framing. William Morgan wrote in 1944:

“The snapshot has become, in truth, a folk art, spontaneous, almost effortless, yet deeply expressive. It is an honest art, partly because it doesn’t occur to the average snapshooter to look beyond reality, partly because the natural domain of the camera is in the world of things as they are, and partly because it is simply more trouble to make an untrue picture than a true picture.”
My goal is to follow this approach and to discuss modern high-resolution photographic techniques that may help the user of the Leica rangefinder camera to rediscover the joy of snapshot photography. There is however more to say about snapshot or candid or domestic or vernacular photography. There are many names for the same subject!
When we take pictures of events and things in the daily environment, we have to be aware of two problems: (1) reality is not what it seems to the casual observer: there is much debate in modern physics and philosophy what it is and whether it does exist at all and (2) neurophysiology and vision science tells us that the brain is constructing the image of reality we assume to observe. The camera has no brain and records diligently what is physically possible.
It is not the camera that has to be tamed to reproduce what the eye sees (the common artistic approach). It is the eye that has to be educated to detect what is out there in the real world without the interfering and mediating brain. Such an approach suits the stated goal of the design of Leica lenses to record a maximum amount of fine detail. Discussions between Winogrand and Meyerowitz among others focused on technical matters related to the handheld camera and its small negative. One of the topics was the question how much information could be put on a small negative.

There is at least one convincing argument to follow the path of the domestic snapshot photography.
Several historians of photography assume that among the many snapshots there should be a handful of accidental masterpieces, that are unknown because no one sees them. Domestic snapshot photography resides in the domain of the ‘visual trophies’, highly ritualized and at the same time quite spontaneous photographs of ordinary things, persons and events.
In the Leica world the number of snapshots vastly exceeds the number of intentionally artistic photographs.
Leitz/Leica have sold about 700.000 film loading rangefinder M-cameras and about 150.000 solid-state sensor equipped rangefinder M-cameras. This last estimate is derived from these observations: every year since the announcement of the M8 between 10.000 and 20.000 cameras have been produced. During the ten years since 2006 a minimum of 100.000 and a maximum of 200.000 have been made. The average is 150.000.
Only a small minority of these 850.000 cameras have been employed by artist-photographers: let us say about a few hundreds. The majority of Leica cameras then have been used to record daily domestic scenes. When we assume that every single camera in its entire life has been clicked about a thousand times (a very low estimate), then there must have been made at least close to a billion (850.000.000) pictures with a Leica rangefinder camera since 1954. Only a fraction of these have been recognized as photographic art.
Another approach would be to look at current usage.
There are now some 150.000 Leica cameras in actual use since the announcement of the Leica M3. This is a rough estimate. I guess that only 5% of the film loading cameras is in actual use and 70% of the digital cameras. That is 40.000 plus 100.000 equals 140.000 cameras. Every year 500 pictures are being taken, again a very low estimate given the appetite for digital snapshooting. That would amount to a whopping 70 million pictures in 2016 alone. How many of these would fall into the category of photographic masterpieces? Hardly a handful if at all! When the merits of the casual photographs are compared with the yardstick of current aesthetic theory there are indeed hardly any masterpieces. But this approach is backing the wrong horse. Currently, Leica’s Photo Gallery shows mainly old masters and hardly any new ones. The focus on iconic photographs is certainly not helpful when one sees the snapshot as a document for immortalizing the present.

This poses the question why do we take photographs in the first place. An answer to this question can be found in the tale by Italo Calvino: “Adventures of a Photographer”.
The next question is a logical continuation.
Why use a Leica rangefinder camera? When one considers only the final result (the image or print), there is not much to argue in favor of the Leica camera. Many modern cameras can deliver the same image quality, thanks to the powerful image processing algorithms. The much discussed special optical characteristic of three dimensionality of Leica lenses is hardly visible in the thin sensor surface.
The big advantage of the original Leica I camera was its size, the reliability of the mechanism, the quality of the optics and the eye-level framing. Of these characteristics, the size is the most important. Small size and weight are necessary ingredients for the casual photographer who cares for the style of the instantaneous photograph.
The picture is always judged with reference to the function it has for the person who took the photograph or the function which the maker thinks it could fulfil for another person (the famous intentionality of a picture). Artistic photography depends on genre and aesthetic qualities, however nebulously defined. When the picture is considered as non-art, any genre will do and the quality of the picture becomes a technical issue. In addition, the practice of photography as an activity or process, its social dimension and its role as a craft, are important elements to consider.
The Leica rangefinder camera has the advantage that the user will be aware of the process and technique of photography. Photography with a Leica rangefinder is easy: just pick up the camera and start taking pictures. There is a whole world to discover as soon as one discards the artistic template in one’s head. Visual templates, derived from iconic pictures, have the bad habit of guiding the photographer to seek for these templates in real life. The important rule of Sherlock Holmes (looking with your eyes is not observing with your eyes) is easily forgotten. Observing is only possible when the detective knows a lot about what he observes. Finding the reality behind the commonplace is a goal of the photographer who accepts the rules of the high-resolution snapshot with the Leica M.