There's a lot to be said about the first roll of film that comes out of a new camera. Simultaneously bringing all your experience to bear on a new photographic tool. The feeling of uncertainty that comes with film, followed by the satisfaction of getting that first roll back from the lab. It's completely intertwined with the act of photography itself.
Occasionally it results in disappointment. The first time I went out to shoot with my Xpan, I completely botched the film loading process. After walking all over downtown Baltimore to finish a whole roll, I opened up the back of the camera only to find the film lead just sitting there. In the end, I simply had to write off the whole thing as a "scouting opportunity" and move on. It wasn't until just a couple months ago that I returned to some of those places for a do-over:
Of course, the real reason for this article is my first roll through the Leica M6, which I acquired about a month ago. This thing certainly lives up to the name. The meter only worked for about the first half of the roll before the cold killed the batteries. No matter though, because this is a fully mechanical camera. As long as you can set the shutter speed and aperture, it will gladly keep shooting.
I'll admit, eyeballing the exposure was a bit intimidating at first, growing up in an automatic age. A little practice with a free Exposure-Mat and soon I was memorizing f/8 exposures for all kinds of situations.
I was also afraid that the pictures wouldn't have enough contrast since I didn't have any E39 filters. I almost always use a 49mm Orange(G) filter on my Xpan to add contrast. Lo and behold, the legendary Leica lenses came through, adding their own creamy contrast.
The sheer simplicity of it really is mind-boggling. And nothing else in photography feels quite like the smooth, manual action of winding the film crank on a quality camera. Just wow. Need a Leica alternative? Fear not, the winding action on the venerable Nikon F3 is extremely impressive as well.
But I digress, this is supposed to be about photography, not mechanics. It's that clean, featureless simplicity that allows the photographer to focus on being a photographer.
Here's to another amazing tool in the toolbox.