Leica O: History In The Palm Of Your Hand

Leica O: History In The Palm Of Your Hand

The Leica O is a modern reissue of Leica’s second prototype camera. It is a precisely machined instrument and you’d expect nothing less from Leica. It’s a nice little hunk of nostalgic metal and optics that take you back to a bygone era.

Frosted Grass

This is absolutely one camera you cannot operate unless you read the user manual. There’s a trick to everything, from loading the film to taking the picture. Setting the shutter speed and aperture should not be attempted by the weak hearted. The forgetful will soon discover all their pictures ruined because they failed to put the stopper in the lens before advancing the film.

Frosted Planters

Fun? This camera dishes it out in barrelfuls. After you’ve flubbed a few pictures, you start to get into the spirit of the instrument and the time and while you’re at it, you realize you can take a beautiful photograph without all the fancy auto focus and whirligigs now so de rigueur.


If you’ve known only the realm of the digital camera, you will be hopelessly lost with this instrument, and more so if you suck at estimating distance. But if you know the relationship between f-stops and shutter speed and you can guesstimate the length of a meter, then you hold in your hands an instrument capable of remarkable imagery. The only thing missing is a suitable subject upon which to focus its lens.

Spiral Tree

Most remarkable of all is the realization that the distant cousin to this camera sparked a photographic revolution. You hold history in the palm of your hand.

Nikon F3HP

Nikon F3HP

Ever faithful, virtually indestructible, I affectionately refer to this camera as “The Tank”. I purchased my first F3HP in the early 1980s and it served as my constant companion during deployments aboard the USS Norfolk (SSN-714), the USS America (CV-66), and the USS LaSalle (AGF-3). Every photograph I made from 1982 through 1994 I did so with a Nikon F3HP. Many of the following images were made using the venerable Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm, a lens many consider to be rather dodgy, but I like it just fine.

Nikon F3HP w/Zoom-Nikkor 35-105

Nikon F3HP w/Zoom-Nikkor 35-105mm


Fiery Sunset, Norfolk, VA, 1984 – Nikon F3HP w/Zoom-Nikkor 35-105

The Nikon F3, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, seduces your eye and instinctively, as if driven by a primordial force, you want to pick it up and hold it in your hands. The F3, more than any other camera I am personally aware of, is so ergonomically well built it gives one a feeling of pure power.

McFarland Regatta

OCC McFarland Regatta, 4 July 1987 – Nikon F3HP w/Zoom-Nikkor 35-105

I never remove the camera from the motor winder. Together they form a synergistic one. If two mechanical components were ever meant to forever bond it is the F3 and the MD-4. Even when I don’t need automated film advance the MD-4 still serves as the camera’s power source. And the added heft aids in camera stabilization as well as fending off an attack.

Still Life

Still Life – Nikon F3HP w/Zoom-Nikkor 35-105

What I like best about the F3HP is its big, bright viewfinder. I like to wear sunglasses when I’m out and about. I can, with the HP viewfinder, see the complete image from nearly an inch away.

Flight Deck

Flight Deck USS America CV-66, Persian Gulf, Operation Desert Storm – Nikon F3HP w/Zoom-Nikkor 35-105

I prefer to use an architectural focusing screen with the F3HP. (Focusing screen E) These have grids and no center prism.

K-Street Blur

K-Street Blur – Nikon F3HP w/Nikkor 35mm f1.4

Voigtlander Bessa L

Voigtlander Bessa L

The Bessa L is an odd fish. It feels cheap and plastic and comes without a view finder. Yet none of these minor issues limit the amount of fun this camera provides. On the plus side it sports a built-in exposure meter, a metal, vertical leaf shutter, and uses Leica-type screw mount lenses. You may wonder, initially, how a camera with no viewfinder can be any fun. I say it’s all in the lens.

Chipotle, Rosslyn, VA

On this Bessa L I use a Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar Aspherical lens. One does not need to carefully aim a 15mm lens. Simply point it in the general direction and practically everything within sight is in the lens’s field of view. You can attach a viewfinder to the top of the camera via the flash shoe, but having one there is like having an extra leg. I find it just gets in the way. The case won’t fit unless you remove the viewfinder. I prefer going without.

Fairview Park

To focus, I set the aperture to between f8 and f22 and chose an appropriate shutter speed, depending on the light, estimate the subject’s distance, then back off to the hyper focal distance. At f8, everything from about 5 feet to infinity is in focus. I also tend to use this lens for what it seems best suited for, and that is landscape photography. Closer subjects tend to get rendered with a pleasing distortion inevitable with such a wide lens. Actually, everything gets rendered with a pleasing distortion!

Fairview Park

In spite of the Bessa L’s apparent low quality, it does pack some nice features. The exposure meter is conveniently located on the top of the body so you can see it when taking a picture at waist level. It has a maximum shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second plus a bulb setting for long exposures. Its vertical shutter gives it a 1/125th flash sync speed, and it has a self-timer, which I have yet to use. The hot-shoe is not hot. If you use a flash you must plug it into the sync jack located on the left side of the camera body, just below the film speed dial.