About 15 years ago Leica came out with a camera model called the Leica O, which was a remake of one of the earliest models. Somehow I ended up with one and it sat on my shelf for a number of years. I'm not a camera collector and always felt they were made to be used so a few months ago I started taking the camera with my as I drifted about on the streets trying to make photos.
One of the first things you'll find with the camera is the film is hard to load. You have to cut each roll to extend the leader area, start it on the take-up spool and carefully slide both the film and take-up spool into position through the bottom of the camera. The first roll didn't catch right and I was shooting blanks. I know you're thinking "Hey fool, you can see the rewind moving if it's working" and that would be a good point. Anyway blanks were all I got.
I then spent a few hours, and it did take that long, trying to figure out how the camera loads and then how to rewind the film afterwards. It turns out once you reach the end of the roll you flip a switch for the rewind, but you also have to hold the shutter button down while rewinding as well. This might make sense once someone mentions it but it took me a while to figure out.
I shot a couple rolls the first few weeks using Ilfords XP2 film which is black and white but uses C-41 process. I had the film processed and simple scans made of every image. Even this took two weeks since the lab was down for service and they only run C-41 once a week at the best of times. These shots are all poor but if you look closely on the left side of each frame is a black intrusion coming into the frame. It turns out a small piece of film broke off and was stuck in the camera back ruining every frame. This is one of the problems you get when you cut the film to extend the leader length. I mention this because it was an honest mistake but took me hours to figure out. Did I mention you can't actually open the camera back like the modern Leica but only have access through the bottom by using a film width opening.
Focus with the camera is slightly challenging at first since it doesn't have a true viewfinder and focus is guess-ti-mation only. How far is 3 meters, or 2 meters, or 1 meter. I thought I knew but once the film came back I decided I needed a better method. I actually purchased a measuring tape and when shooting up close I whip out the tape measure and try and get things at the right distance. Although this seems cumbersome it's actually very quick and people seem OK with it for portraits. The shots of the sign holder with the scarf could have used this method since the sign is in focus but the guy isn't.
You'll also notice on these contacts totally fogged frames. This is the part that's tough to remember when using the camera. You have to put the lens cap on the lens before you wind the film or you'll fog both the previous image and the next one. The shutter is an old design and was originally taken from some type of movie camera. If you don't cover the cap you loose the image. Although I've know this all along, sometimes you just forget. In fact every roll has a ruined frame or two.
I'm having fun and learning new things every day.
Although I've worked as a photographer all my life, I'm currently back at school trying to finish my Masters of Fine Art Degree at the Maine Media Workshops and College.
Norman Mauskopf is one of my mentors on a project that ties together street photography and a touch of the history of photography as I drift through Toronto using a Leica O camera that was designed in 1923. You can learn more about the Leica O here.