Can things get any more exciting in photography than they are now? We’ve been spoiled with a deluge of fabulous new cameras, quite a number being highly innovative in design and just a taste of what’s probably to come. This list includes Nikon’s D4 and D800/800E (what a stir the latter is creating), the Fujifilm X-Pro1, Pentax’s K-01, Canon’s EOS-1D X (at last), the Olympus E-M5 and Leica’s Monochrom version of the M9. Even in the lower ranks of D-SLRs, there’s a host of interesting new models – Canon EOS 650D, Nikon D3200, Pentax K-30 and Sony SLT-A57. It’s hard to know where to start and if all this isn’t creating an itch in your wallet area then there’s something wrong.

For your delectation, we’ve got the D4, K-01 and E-M5 in this issue. Don’t dismiss the Pentax because its styling takes a bit of getting used to... it’s actually a very capable camera and Marc Newson’s Bauhaus ergonomics do  actually work. The D4 is to die for and the Olympus... well, be still my beating heart. It’s as gorgeous – if not more so – in the flesh as it looks on paper and, I have to confess, as a crusty old camera reviewer who has seen pretty much everything, it caused more than just a twinge of excitement when the box landed on my desk. The OM-1 has to be one of the greatest cameras of the 20th century and, if Olympus does all the right things (which it is at the moment), the OM-D system is on track to gain cult status too.  

So, with all this emphasis on camera design are we forgetting that it’s still the photographer’s vision that matters most and the images that result from this? It’s been argued that the camera really doesn’t matter which, in fact, has never been the case. The photographers often mentioned to support the argument – such as Henri Cartier-Bresson – could only have achieved what they did with the camera that was pretty much specifically designed for what they did... the Leica 35mm rangefinder camera. And we were reminded of this once again at the Australian launch of its spiritual successor, the B&W Monochrom.

The singer and judge on The Voice, Seal, spoke very eloquently about this for nearly 25 minutes (and only I know it was this long because of the counter on my audio recorder... the time actually passed in a flash). Seal is a Leica ambassador, but he revealed he’s passionate about cameras – and photography – in general... and remains committed to using film. For the record, his favourite is an M3 and he was keen to explore what it is that makes the Leica RF cameras, in particular, so special... and conducive to a level of photographic intimacy and integrity that’s largely unmatched elsewhere. It is all about being in control and that the camera doesn’t get in the way or intimidate subjects. Indeed, you have to work close up which means you’re involved with your subjects and not just a dispassionate observer. Let’s be honest, Fujifilm has adopted the same characteristics for the X100 and X-Pro1, but what sets the Leicas apart beyond – as Seal cheerfully put it – them being “absurdly expensive”? I suspect it might have something to do with the intimacy and integrity that goes into the manufacture, largely by hand, of these cameras and lenses. I’ve visited Leica in Germany – a few years ago now, mind you – and I can say that the company is definitely full of passionate enthusiasts. It’s exactly the same at Ferrari and its products are “absurdly expensive” too, but a 458 Italia is worth every penny and so, I suspect, is an M9 Monochrom.

The M9M launch was held at Foto Riesel’s new Leica centre in Sydney, but the place is actually a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of cameras, lenses and accessories. There’s everything from Lomos to Leicas with all stops in between (including some nice second hand goodies) and, importantly, it’s staffed by enthusiasts. If you live in the Sydney area, it’s truly worth a visit because it’s an ‘old school’ camera store where photography is still the core passion and the camera is at the heart of it. Alleluia!
Paul Burrows, Editor