Saturday, April 13, 2024

Spotlight: Leica M5


The Leica M5 is a professional rangefinder camera from 1971. The auction house I work at got one in on consignment, so I was able to test it out. The opportunity got me excited, as it had been about nine years since I'd put film through a Leica. Spoiler: I wasn't disappointed! 

People often complain about how ugly the M5 is compared to the classic M3 and M4 cameras, but I find it rather attractive in person. While it certainly looks a little clunky in photographs, when held in the hand, the M5 feels premium. While the M3 is objectively one of the best looking cameras of all time, I think the M5 has all the other M cameras beat. I always hated the diagonal rewind  knob on the M4, M6, and M7 cameras -- The M5 has the knob on the underside of the camera, which gives the camera a cleaner, more uniform look. 

The viewfinder of the M5 is absolutely crystal clear, with a rangefinder patch brighter and more contrasty than anything I've ever used before. Yowza! This excellent viewfinder/rangefinder combo allowed me to focus quickly and accurately, even in the somewhat dim light of the auction house. I also appreciate how the current shutter speed is displayed in the finder, and how the oversized shutter dial let me easily change my speed without forcing me to pull my attention away from the subject. There is also a light meter viewable in the finder, but the meter on this particular M5 wasn't working (corroded battery), so I didn't get to try it out. 

One odd thing about the M5 is how the timed shutter speeds only range from 1/1000 to 1/2. Every other M-series Leica to my knowledge also has a 1 second timed speed. Not that it really matters to most people, but it just seems odd to omit the 1 second speed. Hmm. Another M5 oddity is how it's the only M camera to have three strap lugs. I admire this, even though I didn't dare attach one of my straps out of fear of scratching the finish! 

Overall I found the M5 enormously enjoyable to use. I'll certainly put in a bid once it's on the auction block, though I think this little guy is gonna end up well out of my price range. For the roll I shot with it, I used Ilford HP5+ film, pushed to ISO 1600. The lens was a 50mm f/2 Summicron. The subjects are my co-workers at the auction house, who are all excellent people! :) 

Don't worry, Boss. It's only apple juice! 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Spotlight: Rolleiflex SL35 E


The Rollei Rolleiflex SL35 E is a 35mm SLR from 1978. I picked up mine at the Chicago Photorama camera show last month. In short, my curiosity got the better of me, and I traded 75 bucks for the camera and a standard 50mm f/1.8 Planar. A pretty decent price, I think. 

The SL35 E is a small, handsome camera with a nice finish. It possesses a few unique features that set it apart from the myriad of other mid-range SLR's of its period. For one, the shutter speed dial is completely clickless. You can smoothly and quickly change speeds (16 seconds to 1/1000) with your right index finger while your eye is to the finder -- it feels like a precursor to the now standard command dials on modern digital cameras. In the middle of that shutter dial is a huge, comfy shutter release. It's threadless, but there is a separate cable release thread right next to the shutter dial which doubles as a shutter locking switch. 

The other unique feature of the SL35 E is its focusing screen's central focusing assist. Instead of a standard horizontal split image assist, the Rollei has an unusual diagonal assist. Rather than having two images that move horizontally and converge, the image assist is made up of three zones. The middle zone will twist around until it matches up with the two outer zones. The outer zones are also microprisms. It's as weird as it sounds, and I didn't really care for it, especially in lower light. I tried to illustrate how it works in the photos below, but you kinda just have to try for yourself to understand it. 

As you can also see from the above photos, the Rollei has a nice full information viewfinder. The light meter is easy to use, with steady diodes lighting up next to the shutter speed you have selected, and flashing diodes indicating the speed the camera thinks you should use (based on your aperture, ISO, and available light).  In addition to manual exposure, there is also an automatic aperture priority mode. 

The film advance lever is smooth and ratcheted (a premium touch), and multiple exposures are possible via a small switch on the back of the camera that also functions as a rewind release. 

And that's really all there is to tell. Besides the bizarre focusing assist that I didn't care for, the SL35E was a pleasure to use. I shot a roll of very expired Kodak Tri-X 400. I'm not sure whether it was the old film or a light leak in the camera, but my negatives did not come out great. The whole roll turned out very dense and grainy. See for yourself below. Thanks for reading!