5 Frames with a Leica M3 in the Singapore Botanic Gardens – by Sroyon

My current workplace is located inside the Singapore Botanic Gardens – a 163-year-old tropical garden which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. How lucky is that!

When I need a break from sitting at my desk and gazing at a screen, I often go for a short walk in the garden. It’s a magical transition. You step out of an office, with its air-conditioned cubicles and ergonomic chairs and faux-wood floors, and into a tropical paradise – black swans and otters, plants with giant leaves like elephant ears, wild orchids festooning ancient trees.

Last week I finished work earlier than usual, so I had nearly two more hours of daylight. I also had my camera – a Leica M3 loaded with Kodak Double-X B&W film.

Most other botanic gardens I’ve been to are organised by geography. The Singapore Botanic Gardens have a thematic layout – a Fragrant Garden, a Foliage Garden, and so forth – which I think is a great idea. My favourite is the Evolution Garden. As you enter, there are pools with algae, which were among the oldest living organisms on earth. You then move on lichens and mosses – the invasion of the land – followed by ferns and cycads, which you see in my photo above. Then there are conifers, and finally flowering plants which are the dominant terrestrial plants of our time.

The cycads were shot with my Voigtländer Ultron 28mm f/1.9 (my first contribution to 35mmc was a 5 frames article with this lens, which I’ve also reviewed for Casual Photophile). The Ultron is somewhat prone to flare, but in this particular photo, although I shot directly into the sun, there’s surprisingly little flare. Go figure.

The next three photos are with my Leitz Summicron 50mm f/2 (collapsible first version).

For the photo above, I stopped down a bit (probably around f/4) so that the bamboo-shoots would be blurry but recognisable. The leaves are a bit scraggly, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing – what do you think? Nature is not always perfect. There are other bamboo groves in the garden which are tidier in appearance; I might photograph one of them on colour film, just to compare.

The 82-hectares (202-acre) garden plays host to a variety of wildlife. Otters frolic in the streams, while a pair of black swans graces one of the lakes. My favourite denizen, however, is the Asian water monitor. I love watching their slow, deliberate movements, and how cutely they nose around the undergrowth and dead leaves in search of insects and worms. But they can move surprisingly fast when they want to, and have been known to eat bigger animals including turtles and dead pythons (warning: graphic images).

I shot three frames of this monitor, hoping for one where its long tongue was on display. I did in fact succeed, but I prefer the photo below. The scales – and this is an odd thing to say about a photo shot with a 66-year-old lens – are almost too sharp.

The monitor is one of many reptiles in the garden. Red-eared terrapins live in the streams and lakes, sunning themselves on rocks or just swimming around. Sadly their characteristic red markings are lost on B&W film.

Double-X – Kodak Eastman Double-X 5222, to give its full name – is motion-picture film, used in iconic movies including Raging Bull and Schindler’s List. It’s sold under different names, and by various retailers such as Foto-R3 (Spain), Analogue Wonderland (UK) and Film Photography Project (US). This particular roll was a gift from my friend Nanda, who buys it in bulk and hand-rolls the film. I rate Double-X at ISO 250, and develop it in Ilford ID-11 (1+1) for 10 mins at 20°C.

The last photo, with the Voigtländer 28mm, is probably my favourite of the set. I underexposed the leaves, wanting a dark, relatively low-contrast backdrop, while retaining some highlight detail on the white Anthurium flowers. I was pleased to see that it turned out very close to what I had visualised (when it works, this delayed gratification is one of the best things about film photography). What you see here are DSLR scans from negatives, but this photo is one which I’ll definitely be printing in darkroom.

I hope you enjoyed my little tour of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I feel fortunate that I get to walk through the garden almost every day, and I’ve tried to convey, through these images, some sense of what it is like. If I am in a new city and it has a botanic garden, I always try to visit, so let me know if you have a personal favourite; I’ll put it on my list.

Thanks for reading; for more of my work, feel free to check out my Instagram.

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23 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Leica M3 in the Singapore Botanic Gardens – by Sroyon”

  1. Lovely photos – and so beautifully sharp. I also shoot M3 / Summicron albeit mine being the slightly newer (1965) dual range (DR). And thanks for the intro to Double-X.

    1. Thanks Nik! I bought my camera at an auction, and it came with the collapsible v1. At first I was tempted by the v2 or DR because my understanding is that they’re sharper and possibly more iconic, but since then I’ve grown to love the collapsible lens and wouldn’t want to trade 🙂

  2. Lovely images. I enjoyed a lot looking at them and reading your text, it brought back my memories when I visited the gardens. I had briefly a M3. I loved being able to shoot with both eyes open with the 50mm due to the viewfinder magnification. Now I own a 50mm and 35mm lens (but no M body), and I wonder if I would enjoy more shooting with the M3 with an external VF for the 35mm lens, or if I should aim for an M2 or M6 (and not being able to shoot with both eyes open).

    1. Thanks Eduard! The M3 as you probably know has a viewfinder magnification of 0.92×. This is more than other M series cameras but still not 100%, and the slight discrepancy bothers me, so I don’t usually shoot with both eyes open. Maybe just a personal thing though.

    1. I wanted one for a long time (around 7 years!) before finally taking the plunge. I am still not convinced I “deserve” such a nice/expensive camera, haha. But I try to make the most of it 🙂

  3. Nice shots. You asked for recommendations of other botanical gardens, so I’ll recommend the one in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It’s huge, and beautiful.

    1. Hi Sroyon,
      das dunkle Bild von den Anthurien ist wirklich sehr gelungen.
      Auch das Bambusbild gefällt mir gut, der Kontrast zwischen den Blättern und den Sprossen im Hintergrund.

  4. Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne

    Outstanding!! The images are beautiful, the writing simple, concise and elegant. Perfecto…

    The botanic gardens in Singapore are one of my favorite places to visit when I’m there – without a Leica, nowadays a Nikon DSLR and two lenses travel with me wherever I go in Asia. For nostalgia’s sake at times I also take along a Contax G1, usually with a 28 Biogon but also the marvelous 45 Planar or its equally good ‘wider’ mate, the 35 Planar. Like the author, Often as not I shoot B&W too, in my case the Ilford films, FP4 or HP5 depending on the light.

    My favorite place in the SBG is the Orchid Garden, with the Evolution Garden a close second. It isn’t easy to pick a Number One Preferred Place in the gardens, as there are visual treasures to be seen and photographed at almost every turn.

    The gardens are well worth at least a half day’s exploration. Go in the mornings (a convenient journey as there is now an MRT station directly at the entrance) , walk around the western part for two hours, have a leisurely lunch at one of several good eating places within the park, and finish your sojourn at the eastern end. For me this is an ideal day, as it wakes me away from the mad consumerist shopping areas Singapore is now so congested (I was tempted to say “polluted” but no, I won’t, ha!) with.

    I hope to be back thee in February (2023 and I will most definitely be doing another long photo walk in that beautiful setting.

    Your M3 and lenses are an ideal minimalist kit, which is THE way to go with photography in this too-complex-everything era.

    Best regards from Dann in Melbourne.

  5. Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne

    Oops. I meant to add, but forgot, “everybody deserves a Leica”.

    I took the plunge in the 80s when I was younger and had more disposable income, with first an M2, then an M3, and four lenses, a 35, two 50s (Elmar and Summarit) and a 90, with all the usual Leitz bits and pieces. All this served me ideally until difficult financial times set in and I had to sell them, along with my beloved Rolleiflex TLRs. This I have never quite got over with, I adore my Contax G1s, but as we all know Leicas are divine and can so easily get into one’s blood and brain.

    Again with best regards from dawn in Melbourne

    1. Ah, sorry to hear about your cameras!
      Yes the Orchid Garden is great too. I hope your February trip works out! If you’re in the garden on a weekday and would like to catch up for coffee, just let me know (you can DM me @midtonegrey if you’re on Instagram).

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