We’re about six weeks from Christmas when it feels like it should be six months. This year’s time progression has been slippery; because I had clear point in the middle when I started to take time off work, it feels a little like two years in one, and yet much less. I’ll bet it’s the same for everyone buried under lots of work and not going out enough anyway, because a lack of New Stuff happening each day just makes them go by faster.
I read something somewhere about the mental health toll that working from home is taking on people, and of course someone quoted said the lack of human contact was bringing them down. Something in my head said, “well now you know how work felt for everyone who doesn’t love being surrounded by lots of people, but had to do it anyway for all of their lives”, but I’m sure that’s already been said. I land somewhere in the middle: I can do either infinitely and hate them equally.
I met Khairul for a coffee earlier in the week, for the first time in maybe a year. He’s been exploring new interests and possible personal projects during his time off. So it was great to talk with someone in virtually the same boat, and we both gave each other some homework to research and think about before the next chat. After that we took a short walk around Chinatown where my first-gen Ricoh GR got some use.
Speaking of projects, I was inspired by this Twitter thread of Venkatesh Rao’s wherein he goes down the web3 rabbit hole and ends up minting NFTs out of his old blog/newsletter artwork. What happened with me was initial dismissal, curiosity, then buying a couple of NFTs to see if I was wrong, before moving onto other topics (currently trying to grok DeFi 2.0 bonds) without considering that I could make some NFTs of my own, just for kicks. I hardly have the skills for it, but why should that stop me?
So now I think I‘ll do it, starting with a collection of these Misery Man doodles I started drawing by accident a couple of years ago, which became a joke signature/tag of sorts I’d leave on whiteboards around the office. I’ll probably draw a bunch of variations, maybe a hundred, and put them up on OpenSea soon.
I spent a little time on Decentraland this week checking out the alternative metaverse. It’s rough by modern game standards, but it’s cool that anyone can create assets and straight plug them into what is essentially an MMO, or sell them on an open marketplace. I wandered downtown and saw buildings that companies had built as shrines to themselves, on plots of virtual land that they’d bought and now hold as NFTs. It’s early days because no one really knows what to do with them. One company recreated their org chart in the lobby as photos on shelves, and if you go upstairs to a cathedral-like space with glass and high ceilings, you can browse their website in a Jumbotron-sized window.
Speaking of giant things, KAWS’s Holiday artwork is now in Singapore as part of its world tour, albeit embroiled in some legal mess that means it can’t officially open to the public yet. That said, it’s still up, and it looks great (better?) from afar. I love the idea of a giant character chilling out in different cities, but it loses that magic for me the closer you get. We had the opportunity to visit before it was meant to open, and yeah if there was merch on sale, I’d say definitely go. If you’re just nearby on the Helix Bridge, that works too. I brought my D-Lux 7 out for that. The iPhone is great and all, but as I said to Joseph in a chat yesterday, everything is so crispy and bright and HDR these days, it’s a relief to shoot with a “real” camera based on aging technology now and then.
We’re watching Only Murders In The Building, a 10-episode series set in New York, with some strong Manhattan Murder Mystery wannabe vibes. Instead of Woody Allen, Alan Alda, and Diane Keaton, you get Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. And oh, they’re making a podcast of their amateur murder investigation as they go. It doesn’t always feel consistent — there are some admittedly cool ideas choppily shoved in but they mess with the tone and pacing — but I’ll take what I can get because cozy, fun weekend viewing is rare these days.
On paper, the camera I wanted was the Leica CL. For maximum versatility on the go, I imagined the first lens I would get would be the Vario-Elmar-TL 18–56mm (equivalent to 28–85mm in 35mm terms). There are several omissions on that camera, stabilization being a big one, but it was an intriguing and attractive product.
I’d always been curious about Leica cameras from afar, but never really considered buying one. Functionally speaking, I know that Fujifilm and Sony and the rest all make cameras so good that I could never use them to their fullest potential. And then here’s a company that makes idiosyncratic, deliberately limited gear easily costing three, four, five times as much. I suppose they are like Apple, but even more removed from the mainstream.
But the Leica curiosity is one that grows with age and disposable income. Every time it crossed my mind, I would wonder if it was time yet. Still, buying a fully manual chrome M felt like a 40th or 50th birthday move. The idea was to dip a toe into Leica’s shimmering pool, but not to fully jump in on the first try.
So, most irrationally, and that is the keyword I see in many sentences written by many people on the subject of Leica cameras, I decided I wanted to get one before I even knew if they made a model that I needed.
I looked into my compact camera drawer, pared down in recent years, and started describing what I needed. Essentially I wanted a good Swiss Army knife travel camera, a position filled by the LX10 I bought on sale early last year. It was good but lacking in a few areas. What I really wanted to get back then was the LX100, which I passed on because it was four years old by that point (I should have known an update would be out by the end of the year).
Small and reasonably light. One-handable if necessary.
Physical, dedicated control dials for aperture, shutter speed, ISO, whatever possible.
The ability to zoom or change primes, if/when needed.
Physically attractive design. The LX10 performed well, but boy, it inspires no feelings at all.
An optical or electronic viewfinder.
Large enough sensor, probably APS-C or 35mm FF.
I think these are very sensible things to want in a travel camera, but it’s extremely hard to find them all in a fixed compact body. The recommended solution seems to be a small interchangeable lens mirrorless camera, like Fujifilm’s X-E3 or X-Pro 2, or Panasonic’s GX9. As far as compacts go, I could only think of the new Panasonic LX100 II. I knew that Leica had a rebranded version of it in their D-Lux 7, but somehow it didn’t even enter my mind for this particular shopping mission. If I was going to dip a toe in, it was going to in be the real pool and not the kiddy pool!
Walking into the Leica store, I made a beeline for the CL display, believing it to be the best fit for the above. It was sleek, well-built, and less than half the price of an M10, with access to a wide selection of M and L-mount lenses. The sound and feel of its shutter release was very satisfying, but after using it for a few minutes, I didn’t love the way it controlled. You don’t dial in the aperture on a lens ring, but on an unmarked soft dial on the top plate that displays your settings on a tiny LCD. Also, with that Vario lens, it’s kinda heavy, with a bulkiness that approaches the Leica Q. I considered the Q, but didn’t want a fixed 28mm.
I did the math on owning a CL and an eventual three-lens setup. It came up to like half a year’s rent. On the other hand, buying an M10 and a couple of Summilux and Noctilux lenses will bring you into territory normally reserved for car purchases (and mind you that’s in Singapore where we have some of the most expensive car ownership taxes in the world).
If you do a little internet research, you’ll find a lot of reasons why the first-generation isn’t close to being a finished or fully evolved product. The soft controls aren’t as traditional as they seem in practice, switching up functions between modes; the touchscreen UI and gestures drive some photographers crazy; and it doesn’t have any in-body stabilization. On those same sites, you’ll find people talking about what the Q’s successor might bring: a new 40+ megapixel sensor (like the one in Sony’s RX1Rmk2) which would allow the same 28mm lens to do in-camera crops equivalent to 70mm. Hmm, that would be something.*
My conclusion was this: Putting aside craftsmanship and engineering, and focusing purely on photographic needs, Leica’s non-M lineup today simply doesn’t have the right product to push me into the pool. Others with more money to spend or greater passion for the brand might have little problem doing it, but not me, not now. If I was going to enter an ecosystem on a journey that would end with me spending the price of a car on a fistful of glass and magnesium alloy, I would have to be sure.
Now, Fujifilm does a great job with their ergonomics. Aperture rings on the lens, shutter speed and ISO on top, with “A” automatic notches on each one. You just dial in the combination of those that suits your needs, and it’s so much more natural than a PASM mode dial. They just don’t make a fixed compact with a zoom lens anymore. Panasonic is the only other company I know that values the same control scheme, so I looked all the way back to the beginning… to that LX100 II, a thoroughly modern Japanese (okay, supposedly with a little help from Wetzlar) camera with stabilization and super-quick autofocus.
Yes, its menus are overcomplicated, and it tries to do too many things that no one will ever ask for, like multi-exposure photos and horrendous tilt-shift filters and that effect where one color is isolated and the rest of the photo is in black & white. Seriously. But as a camera, it ticks all the boxes in my original wishlist above. All but one. It’s kinda ugly. Where its cousin the LX10 was plain and kinda like a white label design, the LX100 has the same leather-like texture and unsightly handgrip bumps of a retro-leaning Olympus or Fujifilm product. After looking at nothing but Leica bodies for a couple of weeks, it was hurting my eyes.
Which is how I ended up with the D-Lux 7. It’s the less ugly, Leica-blessed version of the Panasonic Lumix LX100 II. I wish Leica had the time to write real custom firmware for it, instead of just reskinning Panasonic’s menus to be in white and red instead of white and yellow. I’d love to see them simplify it down to be just a simple stills camera, taking away the multiple color modes and filters, leaving just two options: color and B&W. In other words, more like other Leicas.
*Addendum: I wrote the above a few months ago and never hit Publish. Since then, two things have happened: Leica released the rumored Q2 months earlier than I would have expected. I pity everyone who bought their then-new Q-P over Christmas 2018; this Q2 is a ruthlessly quick follow-up that is refined in every way, except perhaps the files are a little too big.
Secondly, I came into ownership of a Leica CL after all, completely out of the blue. I’ll write a follow-up at some point, but my first impressions above still hold. It’s expensive, it’s not light, and the soft wheels take some getting used to. But I got used to dialing in the aperture on them after all, and the photos are exquisite. The D-Lux 7 actually complements it quite well, for when you need something a little more compact but don’t want to give up too much quality.