Manual Schmanual

I’ve prided myself on my ability to shoot a Leica M3 or Hasselblad 500C/M with no meter, no auto-focus, and no auto-exposure. Who needs it? Real photographers certainly don’t! Plus, being fully mechanical means that the cameras require no batteries and should be repairable forever. It’s a badge of honor.

Except, and maybe I’m getting lazy in my old age, I’ve grown to like letting the camera do at least some of the work. In fact, I prefer it. They’ve gotten pretty good at it and if I’m honest they do things better than me most of the time.

I guess it depends on the camera. For example, the big 4×5 cameras are slow, deliberate beasts, so having to adjust things just so is part of the experience. On the other hand, when just walking around with a digital or 35mm film camera, I want something fully automatic. Since most of the time I’m in walking-around mode, this means that most of the time I want to let the camera do the work.

The realization that I now prefer automation came to me after I bought the Leica M10-P. The Leica of course has a meter and aperture-priority exposure. But it needs to be focused manually. When I must manually focus, I love using a Leica’s rangefinder, but unless I’m range-focusing in bright light there’s no way I’m faster at it than I am with a modern auto-focus camera. Also, it takes two hands and sometimes it’s better when I can just lift a camera to my eye and press the shutter.

Manually focusing a camera is a pain I simply don’t feel like dealing with.

So, I’m finding that although I have my dream camera available, I most often pick up the little Ricoh GRIII. The Ricoh is much faster to use and, honestly, the images are comparable to the M10-P (shhhh, don’t tell anyone).

The same thing has been happening with film cameras. I stopped using the fully manual, no-meter-having Leica M3 and M4 and started using the M6. I wanted a built-in meter. Even more surprising is that lately I’ve been grabbing the big old Canon EOS-1v or Nikon F100 instead. Those cameras don’t have anything approaching the soul or joy of use of a Leica, but I kind of just want to point and shoot and move on, ya know?

I don’t know if this slow drift away from manual cameras is just a mood swing or if it’s permanent, but it’s changing how I think about shooting.

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