I like to get across a sense of place through pictures. The Treasure Island flea market is a unique place with many characters, and even a bit of magic, but it takes some serious effort to do it justice through photography. For me, the best tool for large crowded spaces like this, with lots of nostalgia and human drama, is a classic 50mm lens on a full-frame camera. I’ve tried using a 50mm equivalent on a smaller sensor in this same setting, but the perspective just doesn’t look right to me.
Although I like the 50mm f/1.8 Nikkor I’ve had for several decades, it doesn’t even come close to matching the 80-year-old design that Carl Zeiss uses for the Leica mount C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I learned how to shoot a rangefinder over the last few weeks just for this lens.
The trick was finding a reasonably priced camera to attach to the lens. I got lucky when I recently stumbled on a used M7 in great condition for an incredible price. All the new digital camera releases must be driving down our local film camera market a bit.
This lens’ dreamy rendering of bokeh wide open (examples coming up in another post) explains why it’s been a secret weapon for portrait photographers since 1929.
What isn’t as widely talked about is that it’s also very sharp across the the whole frame stopped down a bit, but still has a signature look that is not the same as other lenses. I was really happy after seeing this roll of 400TX from the Leica/Zeiss combination. It is very capable of capturing a bit of magic.
Since Tri-X film has such a wide exposure range, it made switching between bright sunlight and dark indoor lighting a breeze. I was shooting approximately f/16 outside and f/1.5 inside, with a few 1/3 stop adjustments depending on the situation. After using a pocket gray card for checking incident light levels through the M7’s meter, I kept it in full manual mode the rest of the time. I am not sure a DSLR with matrix metering would do at all better than this. Not that the latest digital cams can’t do a decent job as well. Here are a couple captures with the Ricoh GR of nearly the same scenes.
They were not bad, and of course in color, but somehow maybe it’s just a bit too jarringly modern coming directly from the classic monochrome film look? I put away the GR and kept shooting the rangefinder until I ran out of film.