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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Stay in The Zone- Leica M8, Leica M-D, Panasonic LC1, Fujifilm X20, Canon G16, Ricoh GR IV

Stay in The Zone- Leica M8, Leica M-D, Panasonic LC1, Fujifilm X20, Canon G16, Ricoh GR IV
July 2018, Carl Garrard

This article will touch on a subject that is hardly discussed in photography groups, but one that I feel is the most extremely important of all- staying in the zone. And what exactly do I mean by staying in the zone? Being in the zone to me at least, in life or in photography, is a mode in which you are in when you are at your most acutely aware, focused, and balanced. It's a moment, or series of moments in your life where you know you are at your optimum self, at your  most capable, and produce your finest works in all aspects of life. I also believe that being in the zone is a moving target, and that it takes supreme honesty and maximum effort of your cognitive skills in order to be there. The zone, to which I will refer in the rest of this article, should be a place we strive to be in as often as possible. To get yourself in the zone often requires a lot of honest self reflection, humility, and complete lack of external and internal distractions alike. You must know your true self "Nosce te ipsum", and then be your true self "Tu ipse esto", wholly, and without any reservations.

I think that what photographers are truly seeking in an experience with a camera, and some actually find, is the ability to be in the zone with it. When they are, they make their best photographs and enjoy photography the most. It's a transcending personal experience that belies any need of outside praise or appreciation from others. It's a personal place that  will truly make you a happier person, or a better photographer making images of the world around you. On top of that, being in the zone makes you see the world a bit differently, dare I say clearer. It's a state of relaxed heightened awareness that will help you yield your best photography simply because you are at a state of your most honest self. Getting to this state of mind and body is not always easy, therefore I suggest that you have as few distractions as possible.

And that leads me in to why I decided to write this article. In the years of photography I've experienced, and of the many different cameras I've used, only a handful of those hundreds of cameras  have a special quality that can actually aid in the process of zone photography. The reason for this I surmise, is that these cameras typically have obvious limitations that both encourage the best use of your skills, and, that become rather easy to use once you get used to them. In short, they are well designed cameras that once used properly have very few distractions and become second nature to your mind and body (a sort of extension of the self). Each photographer has his/her own preferences of course for what makes a camera pleasurable to use. So to me, if you are going to do your best work, it's up to each and every one of you to find a camera that encourages the most honest version of yourselves. This article serves as my own list of cameras that for one reason or another help me forget that I'm actually using them, and of course encourage me to stay in the zone.

Leica M8 Best Current Price  

Leica M8 
Although the most inexpensive Leica M camera, I find it to be my favorite for the very reasons others have written or professed this camera to be a failure. I completely disagree with them. I never use my M8 with an IR filter because I love the uniquely different colors, enhanced black and white, and the overall unique look of the images the weak IR filter and Kodak CCD sensor manifests. It's also the most versatile M camera because I can shoot a wider range of the color spectrum than other digital cameras out of the box (with the use of color or IR blocking filters). I normally only shoot at base ISO too (only occasionally going to ISO 320) because first of all, this is where the M8 shines the most, and secondly sticking to one ISO setting is one less distraction to change. I use fast lenses always on the M8, and its hefty, excellently built body keeps image blur to a bare minimum. The M8 and I can literally feel like one together after just a few practice shots. All I think about then, is being creative. It is my favorite camera for zone shooting of this group.

M8 ISO 320

Leica M-D (Typ 262)

Leica M-D 
My second favorite Leica. The lack of any sort of digital screen on this camera is the ultimate test of skills as a photographer, much the same as using film. The M-D literally forces you to become acutely aware of your exposure and anticipate how the camera will meter a scene. Then all you need to do is focus only on the very basics of your exposure adjustments with the use of your hands, never taking an eye away from the viewfinder. Since it is nearly five times the cost of my M8, I do feel a financial burden and need to take greater care of it when shooting. Yet once I get in the zone, that distraction or fear will fall away. The M-D makes gorgeous color images and has a wide dynamic range full of massive cropping potential. It's simplicity is both its greatest charm and its most challenging characteristic. 

M-D ISO 200

Panasonic LC1 Best Used Price

Panasonic LC1
My favorite digital camera before I purchased my M8. Another camera I in which I rarely use above its base ISO. It's 28-90mm f/2-2.4 manual fixed lens is a dream come true, unmatched in quality of optics or design by any zoom lens before or after it (with the exception of its twin, the Digilux 2). Optically and mechanically, this lens is a superstar, and equally mechanically superior in its design for ease of use. The viewfinder is only adequate by many standards, but to me that is its greatest quality because it literally forces you to really pay attention to your focus. The LC1 is the first camera that I first experienced zone photography with, and why I feel it and its twin, are still so supremely popular with its owners today. It's 5mp sensor encourages you to frame right the first time, not a lot of room to crop after. I would recommend you start with this camera, of the six listed here.

LC1 ISO 100

Fujifilm X20 Current Best Price

Fujfilm X20 
If I were able to design an upgrade for the LC1, Fujifilms X20 would have been a very close resemblance to what I had envisioned a successor to be like. This camera came as a shock to me, because I found it to give a very unique hands on experience that no other camera can match. Some cameras do feel similar in use, but the X20's combination of design decisions make it unlike any rangefinder, DSLR, or compact camera ever designed before it. In a way, its a blend of some of the very best attributes of all those cameras, but somehow doesn't try to be any of them. It's optical viewfinder (with its LCD overlay) is imminently useful, both a pleasure and unique experience in one. It's manual zoom fixed lens is very unique among cameras, it's super sharp, and versatile. Image quality is also a step up from the LC1, giving massive dynamic range and superb sharpness from such a small sensor. If you want a camera with character and a unique experience, I don't think any other "compact" out there can match it. 

X20 ISO 200, DR200 Setting

Canon PowerShot G16 Best Current Prices

Canon G16
This camera might come as a surprise to readers, considering the company it's keeping. However, the G16 has somehow managed to consistently drive me to use it, and defy it's intended design. The mixture of its better than average compact image quality, and its simple, comfortable, and properly designed body has always kept me wanting to pick it up and use it over my years of ownership. The G16 has a very fast and well designed and versatile lens that can make beautiful images from macro to landscape, and even catch some action shots better than you initially might give it credit for. I find that when I can't decide what camera to bring, that I will just grab the G16 and it always performs above expectations. Although the G16 isn't much of a challenge to use, it's so well designed on the exterior, that I will easily forget all of its video and other capabilities, and just enjoy making quick snap shots with it. It's also a great workhorse camera for writing my reviews (as seen below). When I want to get serious with it, it can do that too. To me, the G16 is my Swiss army knife that somehow always manages to keep me smiling and in a zone.

G16 ISO 800

Ricoh GR Digital IV Best Current Price/Option

Ricoh GR Digital IV
Ricoh have always been some of my very favorite compact cameras but this model stands out the most of all of them (and I've literally owned every Ricoh compact digital camera). The reason for this is because the GR IV ended up being the final culmination of refinement through several predecessors that photographers were looking for. It was also the last of the smaller sensor cameras, and it has quite a wonderful CMOS sensor with a very unique CCD like image profile and characteristic that I love. It's also a featherweight, has awesome manual controls, and a simple but comfortable handling design that is unrivaled for a compact as far as I am concerned. Its lens is superbly sharp, it has a fast aperture, and it's quick to focus. It's 28mm equivalent lens is also surprisingly versatile, since shooting macro with this camera is simply fantastic. The smaller sensor sets some limits, but I will use it up to ISO 1600 because of the quality of its image "grain"/noise. It's also okay that I'm not limited to base ISO because of how second nature it is to change ISO on the fly with the thumb controller. Handling with the GR IV has to be the most intuitive of all compact cameras ever made (bar other Ricoh GR's). And because the GR IV is so well designed, there are no distractions while I shoot- and that leaves more room for creativity. It may be limited a bit, but not enough to miss a decisive moment which only seems to add to its charm. Those reasons are why it's one of my favorites of all time.


All of these cameras have a special design appeal that encourage me to get out and shoot with them. And as much as I like them, I cannot stress enough that a good design alone is not your ticket to zone photography. They simply work with my personality, and are designed in such a way that they do not hinder my ability to do so. To me, this is a huge design achievement and one I feel should be the ultimate goal of any camera designer. But more importantly, is that you need to find a camera (or cameras) that work best for your personality. Be honest with yourself and use what you like, and do not let others opinions be the reason you buy a camera. If you happen to agree with them, then that's an added benefit I suppose. But in order to shoot in the zone you need to be in a zone, and that is nobody else's business but yours, and yours alone.

Stay focused.

-Carl Garrard

1 comment:

  1. I've never read a photography article like this. This was awesome.