Way back in the 1980’s I enjoyed taking photos with a film camera, a Minolta Hi-Matic F rangefinder camera with a fixed lens. It was a great camera — a simple camera. You set your aperture, speed and set the film speed when you loaded the film. You advanced the film with the advance lever, focused, and took a picture. Simple to use, but sadly it broke. I put it in the drawer hoping to get it fixed one day, but that day never came. Digital cameras started replacing film, and I didn’t pursue photography because I was too busy at work and too busy with family.
My interest in photography was rekindled in 2007, and I bought a Canon DSLR camera. The camera was smart. It had lot of preset settings for landscapes, sports, close-ups, portraits, and other stuff. You didn’t need to learn about aperture, or shutter speed, or film speed, or how to expose for backlights. The camera was designed to do all of the thinking for you. (well, not really.) The camera did WAY more than I wanted it to do and I had the feeling that the camera wanted to control me instead of me controlling the camera. Nevertheless I stuck with the Canon format. After few years I bought a used digital full-frame Canon 5D when the Canon 5D Mark II was introduced. I really could not afford to get the latest model, but the old model was more than enough for me. It had even more advanced features – but they were features I didn’t use, didn’t want and frequently could not find in a complicated menu system. Although I took some great photographs with it, I sometimes felt that I was “not one with the camera.” Even though I typically shot photos in manual mode, and occasionally in Aperture Priority mode, I still felt that the camera was in charge, not me. (I can swear that since 2009 I have NEVER touched a single automated setting on the settings dial for any special functions.)
While I continued to use my excellent digital Canon, I longed for the simplicity of that film rangefinder Minolta Hi-Matic I had in the 1980s. This got me back into film using the really, really old Pentax Spotmatic. That was a simple camera and a joy to use. Good lenses too. Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble with the cameras breaking down. I had acquired over time some good lenses, but those lenses seemed to spend more time on my digital cameras (with adapter) than on the film cameras they were designed for. In frustration I finally decided to abandon the older Pentax cameras. Others have had excellent luck with them. I did not.
The Leica M6..and the Voigtlander Bessa R4M
I wanted a quality film camera, but Leica was not on my radar. They are pricey – very pricey. But over time I decided that through savings and selling off seldom used gear I could probably someday afford a used Leica M6 Classic film camera. The M6 was introduced in 1984 and discontinued in 1998, and had an excellent reputation as a very high quality piece of gear that if kept properly serviced would last a lifetime. The fact that this was the camera of choice of all the Kool Kids and hipsters had no bearing on my decision. (I’ve never been identified as a Kool Kid or a hipster.) So I sold off gear and saved money…only to find after two years that the popularity of the M6 had moved it even farther outside my price range. A twenty year old film camera now selling for far more more than its 1980’s price.
Frustrating. The Leica offered what I wanted in a film camera, but I wasn’t going to spend that kind of money. That’s when the Voigtlander Bessa R4M came into view. This is a Leica clone that actually offers a few more features than the Leica M6. Better yet, it was much newer. Brand new in fact. The Bessa R4M was introduced in 2006 and discontinued in 2015. I came across a new, old stock copy in 2020. This camera has been in languishing in a warehouse somewhere for five years – new, unused, unopened, unloved. The person who was selling it had bought some unsold warehouse items, and this being a film camera he assumed it wasn’t worth much. I pounced and got it for a price I feel guilty about. (well, not TOO guilty)
I love the Bessa R4M. It is a simple, fully manual rangefinder camera (I love rangerfinders) and the Voigtlander lenses I’ve acquired over the past few years work natively with the Leica M-mount system also used by Voigtlander. Simplicity.
What does this have to do with Canon?
At this point, I had three good but old Canon digital SLRs. Except for landscapes and macro photography, I wasn’t using them a lot and I was still frustrated with the over-design of digital cameras that now focus heavily on video. Then I found a Leica CL digital camera at a used camera dealer. The Leica CL was practically new, but the price was low because a new version is expected any time now. It was in outstanding condition – low shutter count and not a scratch on it. The used camera dealer offered me more than I expected trade-in on two of my Canon cameras. I bit and the Leica CL arrived in the mail a few days later. The Leica CL adopts Leica’s philosophy of simplicity. They know their audience and don’t try to provide every feature every other manufacturer provides. The system is simple. The body resembles classic film Leica cameras.
I sold almost all of my existing Canon lenses to fund more modern lenses for the Leica CL. They won’t be Leica lenses since those are WAY to expensive. Sigma and Voigtlander will provide the lenses I need. I will retain one Canon camera as a backup, but clearly my days as an on-going Canon customer are at an end.
Canon is a great company with outstanding cameras, and for the majority of photographers I highly recommend them. But being an old fuddy-duddy longing for a simpler camera experience, I’m moving in a different direction. Goodbye Canon. It’s been fun, and I have no regrets.