5 frames with...

5 Frames in Porto with 1927 Leica 1A & Kodak Tri-X – By Ian Patton

July 26, 2020

A touch of cabin fever, or perhaps just frustration, I wander through some images of last year and pause to recollect a short break in Porto. It was an opportunity for a cheap flight to a city and indeed a country on my bucket list, but long ignored. We arrived late Thursday evening and stayed in a city centre Airbnb. If you discount my wife having her handbag stolen within an hour of arrival, the city is a wonderful location for a short break and has everything a photographer could wish for.

station

It is a city in change, adapting urgently as a tourist destination, but with a wealth of history, wonderful architecture, fabulous cafes and a cocktail of cosmopolitan and friendly inhabitants. The underlying topography helps, as the city lies at the confluence of the mighty Douro river and the Atlantic with spectacular bridges and waterside café culture.

cafe

I was accompanied by my trusty Leica 1a, manufactured in 1927 with its fixed 3.5 Elmar lens and armed with my usual Tri-X 400. The camera, with its retracting lens, is small enough to slip into a pocket and fits nicely into the palm of your hand. Being black, [reminiscent of the Model T Ford of the same era, you can have any colour as long as it’s black] it remains mostly unnoticed for those street shots.

What I find amazing is the quality of the lens from that era. It was only the third year of Leica production and yet the lens from day one was beautifully matched to the camera and delivered amazingly sharp images.

busker

Anyone tempted with such an early Leica must expect a few restraints. These early models have no allowance for a camera strap, so you need to allow for extracting the camera from the case, extracting the lens and locking in position, winding-on to set the shutter, setting the aperture and focus.

No rangefinder, such modern appliances did not appear until 1931.

The basic Elmar lens was uncoated but like many early products, simple in concept and beautifully designed as an integral part of what was a game changer in camera evolution.

If you are tempted to follow, there are a few pitfalls, most of which are solvable. My coated shutter curtains began to shred tiny elements of their coating, which resulted in white spots on my negatives, sometimes called ‘sparkles’.

The inner matt black coating can also wear, which can lead to light flaring on the centre of the image. The grease on the focus and aperture rings can harden from lack of use and become stiff or bind.

I don’t pretend to be an expert, these are just some of the issues I have encountered. Like an old house or car, you need to have patience and remember you are using a highly complex machine that was manufactured ninety odd years ago. Spare parts disappeared many years ago, so repairs need a high degree of skill and ingenuity.

roofscape

All that apart, my five frames have tried to capture a vibrant city in the pre-Cordvid-19 era, which offers a photographer a seemingly endless array of subject matter.

old city

Add Porto to your bucket list and take a Leica: you won’t be disappointed.

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Lukas
    July 26, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    Beautiful photos. A good reminder for all GAS infected such as myself of what really counts. Experiences, going out there, focus on taking nice pictures. If you do that, you will get great results, no matter how simple the camera. Not being bogged down by heavy camera bags and too many gear choices.

  • Reply
    Jack
    July 26, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    I, too, have been amazed by the sharpness of the 3.5 Elmar lens on my Leica I (1930).

    Leitz was new to the photographic world at the time our cameras were produced, but the company already had many decades of experience producing microscopes and other fine optical instruments. I think that explains the high quality of the early Elmar lens.

    Shooting with these vintage cameras is minimalism at its best. Pure, back-to-basics pleasure.

  • Reply
    Charles Morgan
    July 26, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    Beautiful – I love my Leica III and its uncoated Elmar – a great lens as your super images show. Using an old Leica is so satisfying and connects you to the earliest days of 35mm photography.

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    July 26, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about you wife’s handbag. Unfortunately, it can happen to even the most observant and cautious.
    Good photos. Old doesn’t mean bad or inferior for camera equipment or people. I would sense the ghosts of Barneck and Leitz peering over my shoulder, just watching and smiling.

  • Reply
    David Narbecki
    July 26, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    What great pictures! Thank you for this post!

  • Reply
    Marc Wick
    July 26, 2020 at 11:17 pm

    Wow! Incredilbe photos in a very good quality and tonal range from a camera which is 93ys old!!!!!!! Never thought to see so good results! Did you give the camera to someone in order to check the functionality???

  • Reply
    ian patton
    July 27, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Marc, my thanks for your kind words. I purchased the camera some three years ago from a well known London Leica dealer. The first four rolls of film including the images in my post, far exceeded my expectations. However with the following rolls, i started to experience light spots on my negatives. These were caused by a breakdown of the original coating to the shutter blinds, which created tiny light holes in the blinds. I assume that the camera had spent many years of not being used, and after 93 years the coating had started to disintegrate. A specialist replaced the blinds and serviced the camera for me. The lens and shutter speeds and general mechanical condition for such an old camera were excellent. These early Leicas are surprisingly robust. Oskar Barnack would indeed be smiling to know that some of his original cameras are still in regular use.

  • Reply
    Tom
    July 28, 2020 at 5:24 pm

    What a great article and beautiful images so typical of Tri-X. I am lucky to own a Leica iii with a Elmar lens and it is a joy to use.

  • Reply
    BG
    July 29, 2020 at 12:40 am

    Beautiful images! I am amazed at the clarity and sharpness, though your skill at handling this camera probably has as much to do with those things.

  • Reply
    donald ball
    July 30, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Now that’s a standard to aim for. Cracking shots.

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