There is a scene in the movie My Cousin Vinny where the wrongly incarcerated Billy inquires about his lawyer Vinny’s qualifications. Having found that Vinny didn’t pass the Bar even on his second attempt, he asks: ” Third time’s the charm?”. Vinny replies: “Not for me it wasn’t. For me, six times was the charm.”
Reminds me of my experience with the Leica M.
I bought my first Leica when I was 25 years old, thanks to the generous salaries paid to Silicon Valley computer programmers during the software boom, and a complete lack of maturity in spending. The system I bought, from a camera store in Palo Alto famous for its curmudgeon sales staff (they’ve been known to chase immature photographers out of the store with monopods), was an M6 TTL with a 35 summicron lens. By then, I had already amassed a sack full of cameras and lenses - a few Sigma primes, a couple of Canon SLRs, a Bessa R with two lenses, tripod, ball heads, a smattering of filters, grips, flashes, camera bags and other paraphernalia. But it all started with that cursed two-page advertisement in a glossy magazine. An apparition in silver and black with a red dot in the middle, apparently carved out of metal and glass, shone out from the pages, from a background of red velvet. I had never seen anything like it. Actually, I didn’t even know how to pronounce “Leica”. Nevertheless, a few weeks later, I found myself gathering most of my photography gear into a bag and driving to said store. Walked over to the sales counter and handed my bag. Walked out with an M6 TTL and a 35 f/2.
I spent the next month learning to use the M6. Focusing the 35 summicron was very different from what I was used to, but I eventually got the hang of it. Film loading was the biggest challenge, and I spent many hours on the web, learning and practising the various techniques and incantations required to load a canister successfully and not dropping the base plate. (I also practised holding the base plate in my mouth.) The Fuji Velvia slides that came back from processing were fine, but if this camera had a hidden “Bresson Mode”, I was yet to activate it. But on the plus side, the camera was built like a brick, and the camera-lens combination was tiny. I took it to India on my next visit home.
Being new to a rangefinder, I hadn’t mastered the tricks of zone focusing, pre-focusing, or the “move to focus” technique. So most of my attempts at photographing moving subjects was akin to a child chasing a pigeon in a park. Always two steps beyond reach. I also found the 35 mm focal length to be “limiting”. After the trip, I posed several serious existential and metaphysical questions  to myself, and at the end of all that, traded in the Leica system for a semi-pro Canon SLR and a couple of “L” primes. Two years passed. Then one day, I came across the book “Cuba” by David Allen Harvey. Clearly, it was possible to produce superlative work within the “limitations” of a 35 mm lens. My existential and metaphysical doubts returned - they moved in with me, in fact. I had no option but to dump my Canon gear, and this time, I bought an M6 TTL and a 35 Summilux.
I tried my best, but it seemed that I was simply incapable of getting razor sharp focus consistently out of this camera and lens. Here is a photo I took at the Chennai museum.
Here is a 100% crop from a 4000 DPI scan of the slide:
Where’s the sharpness? This was just sad. I sold the M6 and the 35 summilux. Again. I felt sick, and didn’t want to take photos for a while. A short while. But life goes on. A few years later, I went back to slide that made me sell M6 #2. Here is a 100% crop from the top left of the slide.
So it would seem that the camera/lens was capable of focusing accurately. It just needed some help from the photographer. Sigh. A decade passes. The Leica M9 has just been announced. My second eyebrow now joined the first one, which had raised itself when the M8 was announced a couple of year ago. The doubts have returned, and at this age, cannot be ignored. I wait it out for a year. I give up, and buy a near-mint used Leica M9 and a new 35 summicron. This time, I’d like to think that I was prepared.
After a year of use, and a lot of trial and error, this is how I now use the M9:
And here is my short review of the M9 + 35 summicron, in the terminology of one of my favorite movies.
Here’s the conundrum:
I dislike the look and feel of the current crop of cameras that can produce the best technical quality of images. But I am unable to consistently produce images of a high technical quality with the camera that I love to see and hold.
Because of said metaphysical doubt syndrome, I often find myself “in between cameras”, during which state I borrow my wife’s camera, which only changes every decade or so, that too under my compulsion. Here is one from one of those periods.
So, I have come to the following conclusions:
Now I got that out of the way, let me try and rediscover the art that once enticed me - photography.
 Terminology from Mike Johnston’s essay “The 50mm Lens and Metaphysical Doubt”
 Read this thread for some headaches the Discrete + Soft mode causes, including the official response from Leica, which included this bewildering snippet:
“To avoid this, please release the button uninterrupted and completely and wait a second before taking a new picture.”