Leica M4-2
5 frames with...

5 Frames in Bilbao with Leica M4-2, Voigtländer VM 35 mm f/1.4 Nokton Classic II MC, Kodak Tri-X pushed 2 stops (1600 ISO).

August 30, 2022

The first international trip since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought us to Bilbao, which offers many photographic opportunities and challenges. Of course there is the Guggenheim museum which photographers can best take advantage of for stunning images if they use a digital camera with an ultra-wide angle lens or a wide angle zoom.

But the point of going out with an analog B&W set up was different. I wanted to capture a somber mood in the streets of Bilbao in line with the weather (mostly rainy) in late April. Also, I had a new lens (the Voigtländer 35 mm f/1.4 Nokton Classic II MC) that I wanted to run through its street photography paces, and I had never shot Kodak Tri-X. I had heard and read a lot about this film, its history and its current reincarnation. Pushing it 2 stops to 1600 ISO supposedly would provide much more contrast (and grain) – and I would call this “grit” or “bite”. This promised to be just right for the stated purpose. Needless to say, being mostly a color photographer, this project pushed me a bit out of my comfort zone.

Fosterista

Fosterista Exit – The entrance covers of the Bilbao subway system designed by architect Norman Foster.

The Leica M4-2 is a wonderful purely mechanical veteran, a bit of an underdog in the Leica M film camera line-up (maybe even more so than the M5). It may be the best value you can currently get. No light meter, and the 35 mm frame lines being the widest. Estimating light in the dark streets using “sunny 16 rule” is a bit daunting. Fortunately, the Tri-X is very forgiving, and we live in the iPhone age, providing a free lightmeter app that did the trick in most situations.

Overall I had a lot of fun roaming the streets, and there were quite a few keepers on the role when developed (development and high quality scans by the The Darkroom) that captured the mood as intended.

Ayuntamiento de Bilbao

Ayuntamiento de Bilbao – The municipal government building.

Train Station

Abando Station

Train Station

Estacion de Bilbao Concordia

Street

Street in the Old Town of Bilbao

Overall, this camera and lens combination is great for street photography. 35 mm frame lines are the widest for this camera, maybe a limitation if you are a 28 mm shooter. Pushing Kodak Tri X (or 400TX as it is called now) gave me the desired contrast without the grain becoming anything close to being offensive.  There may be room for more pushing.

Thanks for reading,

Ulrich Specks

If you want to see more of my Bilbao photos feel free to look at my Flickr Album from this trip:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/uspecks_photography/albums/72177720298912808

The link to my photography Flickr site is:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/uspecks_photography/

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Michael Greene
    August 30, 2022 at 8:26 pm

    Great photos. Nice work. I currently have Tri-X at 1600 in my Leica M7 and am looking forward to seeing the results at this speed.

    • Reply
      Ulrich Specks
      September 4, 2022 at 4:07 pm

      Thank you, Michael. You will not be disappointed.

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    August 31, 2022 at 12:33 am

    Great urban shots. I love the little striped ‘bugs’ in front of the municipal building and I am always a sucker for city dog photos.
    We’re heading to London in about 4 weeks & I’m renting the 35mm f/1.4 Voigtlander to take along. I ‘m using a M4-P (another Leica that the purists tend to look down upon.)
    What are your thoughts on the lens? I may buy it, but renting first costs less $$.

    • Reply
      Ulrich Specks
      September 4, 2022 at 4:05 pm

      Thank you, Dan.
      You will be as happy with this combo as I was with mine 🙂 (almost the same). I love the lens; bought it for its size, price and maximal aperture, although I have not used it much at f1.4, because I zone focus most of the time in the street at f8 or f11 (hence also the need to push the Tri-X on these grey days). Depending on what other lenses you have and on your filter usage, the only drawback may be the slightly unusual 43 mm filter diameter. This lens is not only great for film photography, but I have also been very happy with this lens when mounted with an adapter to my Canon R6 (see some of the Dublin photos on my flickr feed). As long as you are not a pixel peeper this lens is even great for digital. Enjoy London!

  • Reply
    Lance
    August 31, 2022 at 4:53 am

    All of these photos turned out great! But that first one of the subway stars is phenomenal! Loved the write up and the photos!

    • Reply
      Ulrich Specks
      September 4, 2022 at 3:53 pm

      Thank you, Lance. Agee, the “Fosterista” is my favorite, and I may print it for the wall.

  • Reply
    Robert Kapp
    September 2, 2022 at 7:56 pm

    Hi Ulrich!
    Love those shots! I adore those deep dark shadows. Did you edit the Photos in post? I think i need to try some pushed Tri-x 400. Thanks for that :D! Rob

    • Reply
      Ulrich Specks
      September 4, 2022 at 3:51 pm

      Thank you, Rob!
      I think your question deserves a more in depth answer. So please, indulge me.
      In principle, all my post processing is limited to Lightroom, and I try to do only what could have been done in a darkroom, i.e. dodging and burning, adjusting contrast with the choice of paper, (film) development times etc. etc. Only it so much easier now.
      Specifically, for these pictures, digital processing was limited. For the “Fosterista” image the Clarity lever was moved mildly to +10, and a small bright spot on the left was “burned” with the brush tool. The other images also have Clarity lever adjustments. The last picture of the street in the old town had the most significant adjustments with Exposure +0.5, Shadows +17 and Clarity +18. That’s probably why this obviously underexposed picture appears softer (less contrasty).
      Also, any post processing of these analog originals is limited by the (high quality) scans you get from the lab. In this case, the files you get from the Darkroom lab in California are high quality pdfs, but not TIFFs or RAWs, limiting what you can do in post processing. But fortunately, there is always the option to generate your own RAW scan from the original negative. Overall, I was surprised how little processing these scans of these images needed. I will definitely push Tri-X again for the right occasion.

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