The right moment

Sometimes the moment isn’t right. A recent weekend trip to Lille seemed to be the perfect time to get the grips with a Leica M6. I love old cameras, in theory anyway. In practice, the speed and ease of an automatic SLR often wins out. But with the M6, almost nothing is automatic, and everything can go wrong.

My plan was to slow down and take less shots but learn how the camera works, think about the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, between focal length and focussing distance.

What I hadn’t bargained for was the weather. The first day I was there, it rained solidly from the moment I got up. In the afternoon, I decided to go out for a stroll anyway and took the Leica, a black and white film, and two spare lenses with me. The rain slowed to drizzle and I was able to get one or two shots, but the endless fiddling with the camera almost drove me mad. The M6 has an inbuilt light meter, but I was finding it hard seeing even one of the two red arrows in the viewfinder that signal that you’ve got the exposure right.


Then there was focussing – I’ve used split screen and matt focussing on an SLR but the M6 is totally different. When the subject is out of focus you see a double image, which converges as it comes into focus. Or you can use split image focussing – aim the bright patch in the centre of the screen at a straight line, such as a building and adjust the focus until the line is unbroken. It doesn’t sound too complicated, but I had a hard time seeing the broken line or double image.

It all felt wrong.

Had I remembered to check the meter?

Was my focus any good?

Was I using the right aperture?

And added to that, the low light and slow film speed (I was using 100ISO) meant that even if I’d got the focus right there was still a risk of camera shake. I was convinced that none of my shots would be any good. It was time for a rest , so I stopped at a café just off the main square. Though the rain had stopped, it was good to inside somewhere warm, with the prospect of a Belgium beer to cheer me up.

Just as I sat down and ordered my beer, the sun came out lighting up the square, so I set the focus, dashed outside, checked the meter, held my camera up and took the shot. Its not the best photo ever taken, but I’m pretty proud – considering I thought none of my shots would turn out at all. I managed to catch something of the brilliance of the sunlight, the darkness of the sky and the sheen of rain on rooftops. Despite all my worries it was even in focus. All I had to do was wait for the right moment.