A Review of the Leica M-A

The Leica M-A is not a camera. It’s a time machine, a device that can take you back to the 1990s or further back. The only time that I regretted this purchase was when I had to remove insane amounts of dust from the first roll that I shot with this camera using the Tri-X film that came with it. Would I have to remove all this dust every time I shot? I realized that it wasn’t because of the camera but because I had an imperfect film development process. I added a squeegee for removing stabilizer and a fan to dry my negatives and no longer have this dust issue.

Leica M-A, Summicron 50mm, f/11, 1/60s, Tri-X shot at ISO 400
Leica M-A, Summicron 50mm, f/11, 1/60s, Tri-X shot at ISO 400
The first camera I owned was a gift from my mother. It was a Minolta XE-7 SLR with a 50mm f/1.7 lens bought used in 1988 from a camera store that no longer exists close to Park Merced in San Francisco. I shot with that camera until December of 1990 when the shutter no longer worked. With this camera I shot hundreds of photos, most of which ended up in the St. Ignatius College Prep year book for 1989 and 1990. The film advance on this camera was like slicing through warm, soft butter. This feature was due in part to a partnership between Leica and Minolta at the time. I felt there wasn’t anything I couldn’t photograph with this camera.

When I was at the Leica Store in San Francisco, I was on the fence between an M6, an MP, and the M-A. The M6 would be used and I’ve had such bad luck with used cameras in the past. The M-P had a light meter, but the battery cover for it felt like plastic. The M-A felt heavy, and its black chrome was smooth and cool to the touch. When I looked through the view finder, I easily focused super fast by lining up the focus patches. (I had read about how to focus a rangefinder before showing up at the store.) When I pressed the shutter, it was so quiet compared to the “THUNK!” of a film SLR. When I tried the film advance, I got that feel of slicing through butter that I had with my Minolta XE-7. For a moment, I felt like I was back in 1989.

The Leica M-A’s frame lines are clean and bright.
Without a moment’s hesitation I purchased the M-A and a 50mm f/2.0 Summicron lens. The Leica rep, Wayne, took me to a brick and carpeted area of the store with a comfy couch to sit on. I unboxed what had just cost me so dearly. What a luxurious experience it was. The camera is encased in what can only be described as a jewel box drawer. I slid the drawer out and there was my camera. Wayne put on the strap as we talked sundries about the photography. I placed the lens on. He showed me how to load the film by putting a fold on the first 1/3 of an inch of the film. Once the film was loaded, I was ready to go.

I left everything (including my phone) at my office close to the Leica Store, and walked around with the M-A like I would have with the Minolta I had in December of 1989. With digital when you press the shutter, sometimes it won’t take a photo because auto-focus is still hunting. With a range finder and manual focusing, the shutter always fires. The shutter always firing inspires confidence in this camera. Eyeing the exposure is something that comes with experience. I know the light in the city really well from shooting with my Pentax K1000 SLR. I knew that in the subway, I’d be shooting at f2.0 and 1/30 of a second. I knew that on cloudy days f/8 at 1/125 was the way to go. And of course, the sunny 16 rule never let me down. If the light was complicated, bracket the shots. I still have trouble with following this bracketing rule. I felt truly at one with my camera, and when I have to use a DSLR camera for work, or projects that demand instant or fast results, I miss my Leica M-A.

Leica M-A next to a photo of Lindsay Ashton, Summicron 50mm, f/4.0, 1/250, TMAX 100
After a few months with my Leica M-A, the pros and cons with a range finder became clear. First the pros:

  • I never worry about having to charge my camera. It just works.
  • The M-mount lenses that I got are simply optically perfect. No more vignetting, barrel or pin-cushion distortion. I can shoot a brick wall with my 28mm and all the lines are perfectly straight.
  • Perfect ergonomics: the camera just fits so well in my hand.
  • There is something about this camera that I can’t pin down. I’ll just say that it seems to have a soul.
  • Compact for travel: The lenses for the Leica M-cameras are small. The same DSLR kit that might require a backpack could fit in my hand and khaki pants pocket.

The cons:

  • Parallax: The closer you get to your subject, the more parallax distortion you get. What this means is that what you see in your frame isn’t necessarily what will show up on film. This is really pronounced at 2 meters or less.
  • Difficult to achieve perfect eye focus for portraits at 75mm and up with the 0.72x magnification in the frame. The sharp portrait with razor thin depth of field that you can achieve with auto-focus designed to detect eyes, e.g. the Fuji XT-2 paired with a 56mm lens, becomes near impossible on a range finder. You have to do focus bracketing to really make sure you nail a shot. The irony here is that you can get better focused portraits with a sub-$1000 Leica M3 with it’s 0.92x magnification in the frame.

Other cons are really more aesthetic and have to do with technology driving aesthetics. For example, most Sony gear heads believe that a photograph taken cleanly at ISO 12800 is better than a grainy one on film at the same ISO even if the composition is better on the film one. Canon gear heads will say that the same photo taken with an L-Lens is better than one without even if both lenses are stopped down enough to remove any distortion at the corners. I’ll save further exploration of these cons in another post.

The market for the M-A must be very narrow. You had to have had shot film before it was abandoned by newspapers in 1999. You had to have had it up to here with social media and the Internet. You had to have had dabbled with experiments in slow culture. Last but not least, you yearn to time travel back to the pre-Internet age. Any one of these experiences already make for a rara avis.

Ted Chin Is A Photo Stealer

If you look at page 32 of issue number one of the Art of Visuals print magazine, you will see at the bottom left, the Aurora Borealis veiled with some wispy clouds and a silhouette. Below this you will see the supposed name of the author, Ted Chin, @eye.c on Instagram. The photo of the Aurora Borealis is not his, and what is in this magazine is a crude attempt at art and plain theft. You see… Ted Chin is a photo stealer. What is more is that he is simply amoral and will do anything to get ahead.

The real photographer of this photo is Scott Slone. How did I figure this out? When I went to the Art of Visuals launch party in San Francisco, my friendship with Ted was already on the outs. You see, I gave him and Brock Sanders the @igerssf account. The moment I gave them this gift of friendship, they totally ignored me and never wanted to hang out with me again. I was duped, and all the times they called me friend was really just lies.

Before being frozen out, Ted and I would have debates. Ted showed me how following and unfollowing could grow an account really quickly. I didn’t think that was a way to grow community, but he really didn’t care about that.

So there I was at the Art of Visuals launch party about a year and a half ago… I thumbed through the magazine and there was a photo of the Aurora Borealis apparently by Ted Chin. No way. He never traveled that far north or anything. I know how tough it is to get these shots, too, because I was in Iceland freezing in the middle of the night just to capture the Aurora. When I got home and got the digital version of the magazine, I ran it through tineye.com and it showed the original photo was created by Scott Slone, @scottslone.

A few days later, I posted my discovery on Instagram.

One user pointed out that on his feed he even went so far as to claim that he took the photo with his Canon.

In fact this interesting exchange occurred:

After this revelation, Ted decided to use his ill-gotten position as a moderator to block me from the @igerssf account. He also decided to go ahead and steal a bunch more photos.

Ted has a video where he’ll show how he innocently goes to a site like Unsplash, and gets the photos there, but if you talk to any of his victims they will tell you that Ted is one of many photo stealers that have stolen their work. Moreover, that Ted is appropriating their images from shady photo dealers.

Scott gave Ted permission to use his photo after the fact, but I believe this was a mistake. This allowed Ted to believe that he could get away with his photo stealing with impunity.

Also, Scott Slone isn’t the only one he’s stolen from.

He stole a photo from someone on Flickr, and this is a response that I received when user, anoldent, found out his work was being sold:

Recently, as of this year, he’s used a stolen photo twice without attribution on the Photoshop account and on a Lightroom and Chill ad:

Whenever I run into Ted at Instameets, I keep my mouth shut. Why bother with the drama? I know Ted trash talks me to other people, and has supporters that are pretty huge. I know that he can use his huge following against me in the same way Trump will use his Twitter followers to bully folks that support good causes like Black Lives Matter. But I also know a ton of those followers are fake or bots or bought!

Here’s Ted’s account on the 31st of January, 2017. It grew by 1500 followers. How was this possible?

I did a little digging.

I found out that you can get your photo featured on Lovewatts for $600. I guess 1500 followers in one day can be bought for $450.

Ted has gone on to be a brand ambassador for Photoshop. Some people would report Ted as stealing their photos and they would get taken down as part of the DMCA. Large corporations though, they see someone with influence, and they don’t care if he’s a photo stealer or not. In my eyes, Ted Chin will always be a photo stealer.

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