The legendary Leica, Nikon and Cosina Voigtländer Meister and member of the LHSA and NHS Tom Abrahamsson died last January 6th 2017 at the age of 73 in Vancouver (Canada).
This is a huge loss to the world of photography, since this unique and great man has left an indelible imprint through his amazing technical skills in the sphere of gorgeous CNC machining of aerospace alloys with his world famous Classic Softreleases and Minisoftreleases for a number of different cameras and brands, his masterpiece rapidwinders for Leica analog RF cameras, tons of experience, insightful and practical approach on getting pictures as a first class photojournalist using rangefinder cameras to share space with his subjects and beget interactions in reportages and images teeming with life, and above all by virtue of his human qualities and kindness who turned him into a reference-class benchmark whenever he was, being beloved by all the ones who had the privilege of meeting him and learning very much listening to him and his wife Tuulikki Abrahamsson.
The mythical Mr Barnack softie, which has currently become a cult object among users of 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras all over the world. The highly appreciated and very special cat passed away on August 4, 2010, after twelve years of loyalty to Tom and Tuulikki Abrahamsson.
After having begun his career as a photojournalist for a Swedish newspaper during sixties working with a repainted in gray Leica M2, he subsequently travelled worldwide during seventies and first half of eighties until he settled in Vancouver (Canada) in 1987.
His indefatigable labor was instrumental in the Renaissance of RF cameras since nineties, along with other keepers of the faith in that scope like Joseph K. Brown, Sal DiMarco Jr, Vahan Shahinian, Melvin Stewart, Eric Bohman, Hirofumi Kobayashi, Ed Schwartzreich, Carl Merkin, Roger Hicks, Hans Ploegmakers, Rick Oleson, Jason Schneider, Stephen Gandy, Michael Agel, Will Wright, Eli Kurland, Daniel Zrinsky, Stan Tamarkin, Stefan Daniel, Roy Moss, Joseph K. Brown, Dick Gilcreast, Albert Bruce Knapp, Bill Rosauer, John Patterson, Dick Santee, John E. Hayden, Bill Caldwell, Norm Woodward, Thomas Campbell, Alex Shishin, Stephen Wright, Terance Dixon, David Schumaker and many others, after almost twelve years in which the Leica M6 was the only rangefinder in production until the arrival of the Contax G2 (1996), the Konica RF (1999), the Bessa R with Leica screwmount assortment of lenses (1999), the Bessar R2 with Leica M bayonet mount (2002), the Rollei 35 RF (2002), the Bessa R2S in Nikon rangefinder mount (2002), the Bessa R2C in Contax rangefinder mount (2002), the Leica M7 with aperture priority (2002), the Bessa R2A in Leica M mount (2004, with 0.7x VF magnification and framelines for 35, 50, 75 and 90 mm lenses and automatic exposure), the Bessa R3A in Leica M mount (2004, with 1x VF magnification and framelines for 40, 50, 75 and 90 mm lenses and automatic exposure), the Zeiss Ikon (2005), the Bessa R2M in Leica M mount (2006, equivalent to the R2A but with utterly manual exposure), the Bessa R3M in Leica M mount (2006, equivalent to the R2A but totally manual exposure), the Bessa R4A and R4M in Leica M mount (2006, featuring a 0.52x VF optimized for use with 21, 25, 28 and 35 mm wideangle lenses, as well as enabling to easily use standard 50 mm lenses).
This ten year stage between mid nineties and 2005 was fundamental in the preservation of the very small 24 x 36 mm format mirrorless with rangefinder concept camera and top-notch very small and light highly luminous lenses (whose compactness and optimization for handheld shots without trepidation even in dim light conditions at very low shutter speeds, its amazing smoothness and almost inaudible sound on pressing their shutter release button, the keeping of eye contact with the subject right through the moment of exposure thanks to the lack of a swivelling mirror, the invaluable help of the area visible outside the framelines, particularly in the Leica and Cosina Voigtländer rangefinders, to anticipate unpredicted moving subjects that may enter the frame and an exceedingly short shutter lag turn the RF cameras into the best by far choice for street photography and people photography from short distances) before the definitive consolidation of the digital Leica M concept, firstly embodied by the Leica M8 and
Tom Abrahamsson with his black Leica M2 coupled to a Voigtländer Nokton Classic S.C 35 mm f/1.4.
He is pressing the Abrahamsson softie installed on the threaded socket of the shutter release button of the camera.
These state-of-the-art little wonders enabled to extend the handheld shooting capabilities of the rangefinder cameras up to 1/8 s without trepidation, though an experienced photographer could reliably work even at 1/4 s and 1/2 s if having a firm support for his back.
As a matter of fact, Tom was able to shoot indoors at a shutter speed of 1/8 s with a Cosina Voigtländer Bessa R4M rangefinder camera coupled to a prototype of the Elmar-M 24 mm f/3.8 Asph lens during the LHSA visit to the Woodword Bourbon Reserve Distillery in 2008.
Tom Abrahamsson getting a picture of Bill Rosauer, Editor of Viewfinder magazine, the reference-class illustrated international publication on Leica along with LFI and Vidom.
Tom Abrahamsson was always one of the Viewfinder flagships with his superb articles about Leica and Voigtländer cameras and lenses, whose pictures and texts (he was also a gifted writer) were a true relish for any lover of photography.
He was a great lover and authority on black and white photography and the concept of latent image, with a tremendous knowledge on the specific traits of every kind of b & w chemical emulsions (which he tested once and again), having a gift to choose the right subjects for each film, getting a lot of pictures on a daily basis and treating them in different "soups", specially his beloved Beutler developer, which was also used by Leica for many decades from mid fifties to get maximum image quality in its promotional prints and show the performance of its lenses.
Tom was a real maven on black and white films, to such an extent that he was even able to shoot Kodak Plus X movie stock exposed between 80 and 100 ISO and then develop it during 6.5 minutes (which he reduced 30 seconds if the pictures had been taken under scorching sun conditions) in 1:1:10 diluted Beutler to get fantastic outdoor results regarding smooth grain, midtones and highlights, since he perfectly controlled the superior grain edge of Beutler in comparison to the classical 1:100 Agfa Rodinal.
The upshot of it is that in addition to creating the best possible black and white images according to his talent, experience, intuition, remarkable quickness and exceedingly accurate timing on shooting (Tom was consistently able to get pictures of people from a very short distance going unnoticed at the defining moments), he was a great advocate of the significance of acutance and the visual perception of sharpness inherent to it in synergy with contrast over the resolving power of a lens.
Instrumental for it was his very deep discernment on the chemical properties of every b & w film in existence and particularly his long lasting know-how in the sphere of chemical emulsions and the analysis of black and white negatives and the resulting images on photographic paper, so he had an enormous interest in the transitions between edges and differences in density which vary with the subject matter, lighting, exposure, contrast and other aspects, including the relevance of Mackie lines to acutance in pictures when they´re born at transitions between areas of different densities, it all being influenced by the developers and agitation techniques used, a further realm in which Tom Abrahamsson was a full-fledged master.
A Leica M3 mirrorless with rangefinder camera with the mythical Mr B softie threaded on its shutter release button.
When he was only fourteen years old, Tom Abrahamsson started getting pictures in Sweden with a second hand unit of this breathtaking entirely metallic photographic tool and fell in love with the Leica M System of cameras and lenses, a passion which would keep on throughout his whole lifetime.
The milestone Leica M3 camera (the best ever made along with the Nikon SP) launched into market in 1954 has an extraordinary 0.92x magnification viewfinder whose crispness, contrast and clarity is far superior to the viewfinders of the cream of the crop of excellent current 24 x 36 mm digital slr full frame professional cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EOS 1DX Mark II, Canon EOS 5DS R, Canon EOS 5DS, Nikon D810, Nikon D810A, Nikon D5, Pentax K-1, Sony full frame mirrorless and rangefinderless EVF digital cameras with a very good price/performance ratio and top of the range sensors like the Sony A7, A7II, A7R, A7S, A7RII, A7SII, APS-C sensor Fujifilm cameras (though to match the amazing compactness and low weight of these cameras and avoid very large and heavy objectives in comparison with bodies, the best choice when it comes to getting top image quality is coupling to them manual focusing Leica M, Leica R or Asahi Takumar Super-Multi-Coated lenses) , and Micro 4/3 Olympus and Panasonic cameras.
Back view of the 24 x 36 mm format Leica M rangefinder camera with the Mr B softie made by Tom Abrahamsson installed on the thread of its shutter release button.
The digital mirrorless EVF (electronic viewfinder) cameras are not rangefinder cameras, because the different models of rangefinder cameras have had (since 1936 with the Zeiss Contax II and since 1954 with the Leica M3) and go on having superb optical viewfinders in which the window of the VF and the rangefinder itself are coupled and work integrated, so a mirrorless digital camera lacking rangefinder and featuring EVF is not a rangefinder camera, but a very different thing, not only in terms of optomechanical quality but also in a much higher production cost.
To properly understand what we´re speaking about and the real differences, suffice it to say that only the optical rangefinder (a masterpiece of engineering precision featuring more than 150 parts and much more expensive and complex to manufacture than an electronic viewfinder) of the mirrorless with RF current digital 24 x 36 mm Leica M9, Leica M or Leica Monochrom RF cameras is worth approximately the selling price of a Sony Alpha 7II, a Fujifilm X-T2, an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II or a Panasonic Lumix GH5, while the state-of-the-art entirely made of glass and best ever rangefinder of the Leica M3 featuring an RF effective base length of 63.71 mm would presently have an even superior price tag.