You Don’t Want a Mint Condition Leica

Or a Leica 35mm Summilux lens in like-new condition. Or a Nikon F6 NOS (new old stock) brand new just out of the box. Or any number of amazing cameras–Contaxes, Hasselblads, Mamiyas–that are in their most pristine condition.

I can’t think of a worse way to make photographs than to get a camera that’s so clean, so beautiful, that you don’t want to use it. That you’re afraid to touch it. That gets put onto a shelf behind glass.

It‘s too nice. You don’t want spectacular because then you can’t use it. Don’t buy perfect items for that reason.

It’s as bad as leaving the lens cap and case on the camera while you’re shooting. Everything that’s in the way has to go. No cap. No bag. No case. Just the camera turned on and ready to shoot, finger on the shutter release button.

1967 Buick Skylark

I like to buy worn camera bags, cameras, lenses and cars. Yes, I said cars. I have two older vehicles, both paid off and reliable, (one 2WD and one 4WD–it is Colorado after all), so that no matter what the situation, I never miss a photography assignment. I’m a freelance commercial and editorial photographer and there’s no excuse for not getting the photograph.

I would love to drive a 1967 Buick Skylark–one passed me on the road yesterday, which is why I use it as an example–but would never buy one if it were perfect, fully restored, or garage-stored its whole life and never used. I wouldn’t be able to drive it. I’d be afraid I’d beat it up. I’d rather have one not restored, not perfect but drive-able and reliable. One that gives me the experience without the worry of getting, god-forbid, a scratch.

Fender, the maker of guitars and amplifiers has a series of “road-worn” guitars and amps for people who want to look experienced.

This Fender Stratocaster guitar comes pre-worn for that experienced-player look! “Looks like she can shred!”

Leica does it too, with its Lenny Kravitz-edition camera that is already heavily “brassed” from its years of war documentary use–actually not, it comes that way from the factory thanks to a little sandpaper.

Lenny Kravitz’ Edition Leica

This next one is the real deal, Walker Evans’ Leica. Not brassed from the factory but from years of use by an actual legendary photographer. (It sold at auction for $23,090. Perhaps that’s not the best one to buy if you’re going to use one, either.)

Walker Evans’ Leica M2.

The goal is to get something you can toss in your bag, that you can keep out and not worry about dust and rain and anything else, but that you can just keep at your side and use.

No caps. No cases.

Get something that’s replaceable if you wear this one out. You can’t wear it out. See Walker Evans’ Leica above. Years of use and still working.

My Nikon S4 with 50mm f1.4 Nikkor-S

Anything that gets in the way of creating–that has to go. If it’s something in too pristine of condition, then that’s the problem. Buy something already dinged up. Something you can use without a thought, not something you’re worried about.

I just picked up a Nikon S4 rangefinder camera with a 50mm f1.4 at an estate sale which has a ding in one of its corners. It’s barely there, but it is. Good! That won’t make me worry about damaging it. That ding is a blessing! I’m glad it’s there. It made the camera much more affordable than one in collector’s condition, and usable, without having to worry about it.

We have to use our cameras as tools. Not as precious items that are too valuable to take out into the air. (Not the air!) That are at our side and ready to shoot.

What’s your camera of choice? Get one in B+ condition. Then go out and make photographs.

That corner ding is most welcome! Big thanks to whoever banged it into something. It’s actually barely noticeable except when I photograph it in close-up.

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Check out my YouTube Channel of Photography Talks: my 6×6 Portraits Blog (you’re here) and my Daily Photography Podcast. Thanks!

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