In 2013 my father died. To paraphrase a friend, I realised I’d already dug myself a rut, or a grave, one is just longer than the other. All of this lead to different goals and a change of my outlook on life. Spend time doing more things, in better places, with decent people. Everything else is superfluous. Cut away the unnecessary fat of life – including the people that cause it. I moved on from a lot of things, away from a lot of people. A lot has happened in our lives since then. I left my country of birth, permanently. I got married. Bought a house. Made a baby. Moved jobs. Big, significant, grown up person changes. The usual shit we’re all supposed to do.
While clearing out my house in Ireland for sale I came across an old camera trove that belonged to my father. Two very old medium format film cameras. His old Canon kit. A series of crappy 80’s compacts. And box after box of slides, prints and negatives. Years of memories gathered on film and slide. I took time to think about what my father would have wanted from the life I now live. Photos. Of us, our child, what we do, where we go. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I actually wanted in a camera. I was mostly taking photos with my old Pentax and an RX100 – a great point and shoot. I carried it everywhere with me and took some photos that I am stunned at for the size of it even when printed to A4. What I realise is that I wanted simplicity. Manual focus, aperture priority primarily, and exposure control. That was it. Something that was close to how my film cameras worked.
During that time the Leica Q was released. Sort of a “budget” M with a fixed 28mm f1.7 lens and a full frame sensor. I was lucky to be internet friends with two other photographers (Mark and Glenn) who had got in early and purchased Qs from the first run. By chance I got to spend time in the real world with Mark and spoke at length about the Q. Soon after I’d placed a pre-order for one. I waited patiently as the back order was long, and there was no delivery date other than Q4 2016. In October I had one in my hands. Two days before I took the keys to our new home. So I spent some of my inheritance on a Leica Q, and a house. The two most expensive things I’ve ever owned. However, I’m sure the baby will be more expensive in time.
I’m aware that I live in a world of privilege. I have free time and the ability to enjoy that time with my hobbies. Pointing an expensive light box at these things is a privilege. The capacity to pay someone to make me coffee as I require it, let alone own a device which has a sole purpose to take images better than a cheaper version of itself, is privilege. A choice that I am fortunate enough to be able to have. I’m aware that we go places, see things, and afford to do these things due to part luck and choice of a certain lifestyle on our side. However, I could waste it like so many others do. Pour the time and money into a bank for “retirement”, something I know my now dead dad was looking forward to. That I’ve chosen not to do so, but to try to enjoy what time I have is something I hope to continue to do as long as I can. If I produce some photos that I and my family are in love with, then I have done well.
Would owning a Leica make me a better photographer? No. Would it bring me pleasure and memories every time I press the shutter release? Yes, as it turns out it does. This year has made me think more about how I view the world more than I ever have before. Oddly, it appears I mostly view it in monochrome. Do I wish I’d kept the money in the bank for some rainy day? No, not even slightly. Not when I get to take that money and go to places where I can experience beauty as it happens.
My father was a lifelong photographer and he introduced me to photography as a hobby at a young age. I still have memories of being dragged along to a overly warm, smoke filled room above a local leisure centre where the camera club gathered every few weeks. A sort of pre-Instagram thing where people actually met up with their real human bodies. How novel. He stood, looked at prints, talked with other men, nodding sage-like at each others comments. I’m sure there was poorly made coffee and sandwiches in the corner. I mostly went looking for pictures of scantly clad women. Late 80’s catholic Ireland…there were none, just nuns. He tried to instil something in me, something I’d rejected through his love of sailing, but was interested in his love of going places – pointing a light box at them – pressing a shutter release and capturing an image. I do think it worked? Yes, It lay dormant for a long time but now I’m focusing on the world around me in more detail than I have in years.
Finishing off with a very brief review:
- The Q is an utter joy to shoot with. Simple, unobtrusive, near silent and most of the time people don’t notice it unless they know what the little red dot is.
- I don’t treat it like a crystal vase. It has a lens hood and UV filter on it permanently, I don’t know where the lens cap is, I’ve never used it. It goes in bags, gets dragged up gritty hills, it’s been rained on frequently. It is not a unicorn, just a very nice tool.
- Manual controls where they should be. Shutter speed dial, aperture ring, manual focus tab and an exposure dial instead of a film advance lever. It works beautify.
- The macro mode is exceptional. It’s lovely to have a close focus option, even if it is not something I often use.
- Files are malleable and easy to work with. Not too big either. Monochrome conversion of the files is very worth experimenting with.
- The sensor and lens are the best I’ve ever used hands down. The limit to the camera is you the user, not the hardware.
Unfortunately, owning the Q has come with one downside. The dawning reality that maybe I’d like a digital M at some stage. I scratched the film M itch with the purchase of an M6 at a very reasonable price the day my daughter was born. Leica glass is not cheap. Nor are there bodies. However, if I sold a few bikes….maybe an MM is in my future.
For now the Q is my go to camera for wandering around with. In town, on hillsides, anywhere really. I still have one interchangeable lens digital camera in my mirrorless Sony a7, mainly as it allows me to use all my legacy Canon lenses which are all perfectly functional. At the moment I can’t see myself selling the Q, or parting with it for more than a few days at a time. Thanks for the camera dad, lets think of it as all the presents you’ll never get to buy me for the next 100 or so years.