I’ve just my third crack at street photography in London. In the past I’ve been on Lndnwlk, then I joined a bunch of guys from Lndnwlk for a rematch, and this time I was ‘street-hunting’ with Spyros from streethunters.net. Hamish Gill of 35mmc was running a workshop on using film for street photography, while Spyros ran a workshop on the use of flash. The three of us bunked together with the lovely Tom from Cosyspeed, in an Airbnb in Whitechapel
What to take?
When the time came to pick a camera for this trip I was tempted to take my Leica, they have always figured strongly in the load out of other photographers at these events. It would have been my first chance to let mine loose on the streets of London, but it and I are not getting on, (to the extent that I’ve been tempted to sell it).
On previous ventures into the capital I’ve taken my Hasselblad because it was my favourite but it proved less than well suited to street photography. Next I took the the big Fuji because as a rangefinder, (even a medium format one), I thought it would prove more suitable.
This time I wanted to shoot freely, to get more than 8 or 12 frames to a roll, and to stop running away from myself. I decided it was time to shoot London on a 35mm SLR and just take my Canon F1. My decision was aided by my recent visit to Manchester, whereupon I stumbled into the Real Camera Company. While I was in there I accidentally found, bought and left with a Canon 55mm f/1.2 FD lens. I was eager to play with the new beasty, and this seemed like a good time to do it.
Once out and about I came to realise just how heavy the F1+ 55mm combo is. Together they weigh a surprising 1.4kg, which is a fair chunk to wield all day. This is exacerbated by the broken meter which means I’m also carrying my Sekonic spot meter. (I metered occasionally for the most part, hoping that Portra 400’s massive dynamic range would smooth out some rough edges).
How to take it?
I tried my hand at a few different photography techniques; snap focusing, waiting for patterns to repeat, shooting from the hip, but most of my best results came film my normal shooting style: see something, shoot it, hope.
At f/1.2 the 55mm is hard to focus, generally pretty soft, and had some pretty startling chromatic aberration as well as an interesting halation effect. It also flares impressively when aimed towards a strong light source. (It has a pronounced convex front element that can add an inverse rainbow to your image if you aren’t careful). Once you stop down a little these problems evaporate and the lens become sharp, contrasty, and expressive.
After the workshops we absconded to a series of destination camera stores, (I spent some time drooling over the large format and Hasselblad gear in the lovely Aperture store in Rathbone Place before meeting for drinks around Waterloo).
At this point I was set upon my chosen path, sell the Leica, I was going to commit wholly to the church of the SLR and be done with all this ‘grass is greener on the rangefinder side’ nonsense once and for all. I was however surrounded by great photographers, evangelising about their Leicas, turning my head all over again.
Have I really given the Leica the opportunity that it really deserved? Had I played with it while hoping not to like it? Had this trip been the perfect opportunity to test the Leica? I’ve decided that it stays, at least for a bit longer, whatever I do decide about the Leica, the F1 and that 55mm aren’t going anywhere.