21 April 2009

Roma and Horse Carts and the Leica Digilux 1

LUND--Last summer when I traveled to Transcarpathia, Ukraine to shoot footage for the films I am currently editing and posting I had a bit of a camera dilemma. I was shooting the movie with a shoulder-mount Panasonic DVC60, a terrific camera but a fairly large one. Someday I hope to have the ultimate photographic accessory, an assistant, but as it was I am one guy filming, taking stills and recording the sound and taking notes--which is a lot to manage and perhaps even more to carry.

I decided to compromise on my still cameras (and this was before I got the Nikon D3 and the Canon G9) and to take only my Leica M6 loaded with black and white film and the odd, clunky beast that is the Leica Digilux 1, my very-first-ever digital camera. I had the option of taking, then, my Nikon D1X but both because of its weight and a number of issues with it I decided on the aforementioned rig.

The Digilux 1 is a strange machine that has recently achieved a sort of second life as a cult camera. It is a large point and shoot with retro styling, shaped rather like the classic American rangefinder of yore the Argus C3, or, as it was known, "The Brick". The Digilux 1 is a scant 4 mega pixels--a little anemic even for its time--and certainly for its original price tag of about $800. Still, it often proves the mega-pixel myth and the primacy of a good lens as, in good light, it turns in photos that can send even current point and shoot cameras slinking to the dog house. But good light it must have. In poor light and even at moderate ASAs of 400 its images become almost uselessly noisy. It has a slight shutter lag though it was incredibly fast for its time and still beats all but the better P&S models. The shutter itself is almost completely silent.

In good light it delivers some of the loveliest color I have seen on any digital camera and it has a fairly easily accesed set of manual controls. Oddly, being a Leica (even if it is really a repackaged Panasonic) it lacks a black and white mode. I could go on about it and though I wish I could return to Transcarpathia with my D3 and other new equipment I am glad I dusted the Digilux off and used it seriously, even if for the last time. I still plan to take it out on sunny, summer days when I feel like making pretty pictures. I wish Leica would re-invent it, same weird, cool, retro body, same lens, same lovely color rendition, but with better low light performance, a little higher resolution and perhaps a larger sensor. The body is certainly large enough to contain all that!

Among the Digilux 1's features is a 3-shot burst mode (rather like the M-16 A2!). The horse cart is a common mode of transportation in Transcarpathia, most commonly (though not limited to) utilized by the Roma (Gypsy) people. I had the idea to use the 3 shot burst mode to take sequences like those above as we passed the horse carts on the road. It took me a while to get them done but here are two that came out.


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