Grandfather's Leica

My grandfather bought this Leica camera in 1955. He was on a familiarization trip to Munich while he was based in Iceland with the Navy. It’s the camera that captured the grainy photos of my mom growing up – the photos that filled boxes I eagerly flipped through when I was a child. I’ve seen a photo of my grandfather in the 60s standing outside in the sun – lanky, tall, and handsome, wearing a shirt that looked a little too big and pants high on his waist – wearing this camera around his neck in its leather carrier. He took incredible care of it until he gave it to me a couple years ago.

I don't shoot often with Leica cameras, and even less often with their modern models. But there's something special about shooting and handling and just interacting with these machines that sets them apart from the Nikons and the Canons out there. I've heard it compared to the difference between using a Mac and a PC. Something about the aesthetics/functionality/simplicity of my MacBook has always kept me spending more money on sleek silver computers like the one from which I'm typing this. This Leica is no exception: it's beautifully constructed and feels hefty in the hand compared to my daily digital camera. While it's an absolute workout to shoot with compared to what I normally use (no light meter, no autofocus, two different viewfinders (one for focus, one for composition), no film advance lever), it makes me slow down and think rather than floating through the thoughtless, inconsequential, maybe-I'll-get-lucky-and-get-the-photo, rapid-fire shooting I sometimes get into when shooting digital. So in a sense, this camera's biggest flaw is also its biggest asset. It's like a mentor telling me to slow down, breathe, dig deep, find something worth saying. And even better, for over 50 years it belonged to someone who actually is a mentor to me.

This is one of the few possessions I have now that I'll have when I'm old. This one is special.

Two fun facts: 1) The red tag (filled out on the reverse in German, from the shopkeeper in Munich) is in fact the tag that was hanging on the camera when purchased in 1955. 2) This camera is precisely the same height and width as an iPhone 6 (and roughly 4 iPhones thick with the lens in its collapsed position). Now you know.