Friday, September 3, 2010

Black camera odyssey

You gotta love a guy who seamlessly weaves Homer and Spotmatics into one short essay. Mike Johnston, a wonderful writer, did just that in an interesting commentary the other day about black Leicas.

Apparently, all other things being equal, black Leica bodies are generally more desirable than chrome ones. The main logic is that black doesn't grab as much attention. You can hang a black thing around your neck and it might be quickly mistaken for a phone or pair of binoculars or a leather bag, or maybe it's camouflaged against your black shirt. But a shiny piece of metal flashing in the sun? You've just announced your presence. So for the sake of discretion, black is favored. And maybe also because, well, black is just plain cool.

This leads to all sorts of strangely mispriced items like this or even this (thanks, Stan). If you're stuck with a chrome Leica you can pay several hundred dollars to have it replated black here or here.

Honestly I don't know if it really makes a difference. I shot with black cameras for a long time before buying a chrome one. The reactions were different, but it's hard to compare them because none of my earlier cameras were Leicas. It was apples and oranges, or maybe apples and avocados in this case.

But I'd heard the rumors about black Leicas even before Johnston's post, and they made me curious, so a few weeks ago I used black electrical tape to mask the chrome on the front of my camera, taking care not to blind the viewfinder. Overnight it went from shiny tool:

To wandering beggar in disguise:

Does it seem more discrete? I'm not sure. I do know it was a lot simpler and cheaper than paying someone a chunk of money and shipping my camera off for replating.

Next question, did it work? Well, my first venture out after the tape job was the day I was kicked out of Lane County Fair for photographing. Yikes! I knew I shouldn't have worn my chrome shirt that day. Instead of fading into the background my camera blared like a siren. Black shirt next time. Black.

So, strike one. I've kept the tape on since then with no further problems, not because it seems to be doing anything but because I'm too lazy to remove it. Regardless of color the camera is still fast and accurate enough to shoot through a dozen axe heads.


Chris said...

A far more important consideration is how black cameras improve the contrast of your final image compared to the same image taken with a chrome camera. The black tape absorbs stray photons, rather than reflecting them. The smaller percentage of stray light bouncing around and eventually finding its way through the lens results in a sharper image with less fogging. Overall a win I'd say.

Blake Andrews said...

Hadn't thought of that. What about installing a small vacuum on the bottom of the camera to suck up some of those excess photons? Maybe it would absorb the fog too. Win, win, and win.

jacques philippe said...

... or maybe a shinny chrome can be used as a costless fill-in flash.. and then you have the black tape for otherwise :)
by the way the black tape was used by Cartier-Bresson on its chrome Leica to make it less obvious. So it should make sense, at least 70 years ago or so.
I personally prefer black camera but for mere personal taste. I started with a used Nikon FM and regretted it was chrome each time I look at it. And afterwards I was happy to have a black F3. Anyway we spent more time with the eye on the range/viewfinder so on the end of the day I am not sure of the very difference... Oh yes! If I hypothetically one day I happen to make a portrait serie of a girl with a camera I would probably insist for a black one :)

madanimator said...

I'm using chrome trousers and mirror cufflinks before moving anywhere, to subdue entours...but if I want to feel like a proper street fighter, be invisible in these cruel street jungle, wearing always my protective- pink belt- London's MI6 secret weapon. Anywhere feel like a ninja!

jon said...

James Ravillious covered his leica in black tape too. Not entirely sure why, but i think it was to do with reflecting light issues. He also made a clinically accurate rectangular 'mask' with black tape over the lens hood, allowing him to shoot into the sun. .

K. Praslowicz said...

Hrmm. Now I'm pondering the utility of covering my black Leica with silver duct tape.

Blake Andrews said...

If you go the duct tape route, don't forget to wear a duct tape shirt.

What about hiding the camera in a pile of leaves?

cacv12000 said...

I surround the lens of my M6 with double-sided tape. It does a great job of catching stray light and it's much quieter than a vacuum.

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