The Unlikely Duel - M8 vs. M9. Or Not.

Sometimes, it helps to be undecided. I won't claim that I haven't been too fortunate (or too extravagant) to actually own both an M9 and an M8 (not because of necessaty or frugality). I started with the M8 two years ago. I won't go into how it all happened (the mythical image precedes the know-how). A year after the release of the M9, I thought I could see the prices on the used market starting to go down and I thought this might be might chance. I put the M8 for auction quickly, I cleaned up the lens collection (that gear acquistion syndrom in reverse - I can't believe that back then my latest version Summicron 50 was just 700 euros - it goes for double this right now), and I had the cash for the M9. About a year later, in September, I was preparing for my first big wedding shoot and I knew I should have a spare camera - not because I didn't rely on the M9 alone but because I wanted to have greater flexibility with lenses and not need to change my mindset with every picture. So I went for a spare M8.2. With all of its shortcomings, I had forgotten it was my first fling with rangefinders. It didn't replace the M9, but it was there, calling for me. The files it produced in black-and-white were different from the files coming from the M9 - probably the algorythm is different but it was helpted by the infrared sensitivity of the camera. The files had a certain crispness which I didn't seem to get from the M9 (I am even thinking I might need to send in the M9 for clean and check). It had a different look and style as well with its less-reflective black-chrome top (ok, not a real M8.2 but an upgraded M8) combination. But the point of this post is not to compare the M8 and the M9 - for one thing, there have been enough comparisons made already (and most anyone would claim that, should money be of no concern [which, let's face it, with a price point like this, it would be only for very few people], you should get the M9). For another thing, I don't really care about this comparison. And I do get the question "what camera did you use?" often - often enough that I am reminded of that joke about the photographer who bit his lips receiving the compliment "monsieur, I love your photographs; you must have a wonderful camera" from the hostess at a social party; at the end of the party, he goes to the hostess and tells her "madame, I loved your food - you must have a wonderful oven". [please, remind me who this was]

The real problem we face as photographers is becoming attached to the equipment more than to the subject of our photographs - and that's what's scarying me and what's making me use different equipment every now and again - getting rid of the M8 again and again (I think I've bought and sold 3 or 4 M8-s since my acquisition of the M9 - at least the M9 is still the very same one which I got from another great street photographer, Guido Steenkamp).

Why do I categorize my photographs in order of equipment rather than in order of subject? Is the reason for a landscape to exist different from a street photograph to exist? Why does a photograph of Yosemity park taken by Ansel Adams attracts different cache than the same photograph taken by an unknown hiker? Why would a photograph taken with an M8 have a different value than one taken with an M9 (or any other cell-phone)?

Perhaps this is related to our own individual conception of what constitutes art:

☐ anything

☐ something

☐ nothing.

[tick where appropriate]

And perhaps the institutional definition of art has its merits, as does the Kantian and Hegelian and all western-centered philosophers' (and one can even fit the functional definition of art in there somewhere when one looks at documentary photography). 

If we talk about esthetics, yes - of course the technical specifications of the tool will lead to different esthetics - but a tool is a tool - the tool for a job - the job begins in the mind rather than in the hand. Or does it - because how often would I pull out the iPhone when I have the Leica? In fact, having both is confusing - it is the beginning of an inner dialogue that is about choice - and the risks of taking the wrong one (and shooting with the wrong tool). Perhaps here the saying that the best choice is the one you've already made is the most sparing mantra. Esthetics aside, we are in the search of capturing a moment - and all that is contained in that moment (a hundredth of a second). And the tool is the emotions carrier - the canister that can contain our love, our pain, our strength, and our sorrow. 

Why do I have so many tools then?!

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