Homemade Lecia Monochrom, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Broken Sensors

Being a photographer, I often get questions from friends or acquaintances about various photography-related subjects. I also often get given old cameras and miscellaneous bits of equipment because — “George is into photography, he’ll do something with this.”

An acquaintance of mine had a Lecia C-LUX 2 that had developed a fault and he wondered if I knew what was wrong with the camera. The LCD screen displayed pink and purple lines that indicated the sensor was nearing the end of its useful life. I told him that he could probably buy the same camera again pre-owned for less than the cost of a repair. He offered it to me as I often dismantle cameras and use parts of them in projects or take bits that are of no use to the dump.

It sat around in a drawer for a few weeks before I decided to charge the battery and play around with it one day. I was astounded by the strange images that it produced. Below is the image I created as a first attempt at a surreal self portrait.

The broken sensor behaved in an idiosyncratic way and captured these weird, melting images. The sensor sometimes broke and gave clear images.

Other times you were entirely unsure of what you had even pointed the camera at as you pressed the shutter.

Now you may think this is silly and pointless. This guy is playing with broken cameras. And much less why is he writing an article about it and why am I reading it?

I’d forgive you for thinking that, but in my small world it is important for two reasons and maybe those reasons will make sense to you.

Reason #1. Gear

Gear. Gear is something we all love. I do, you do, your girlfriend does, your mother, your dog, your mistress, your local religious leaders. Gear, gear, gear, gear, gear, gear, gear, and more gear.

The next big thing Loadsa megapixels! Faster autofocus! Makes you a better photographer. Makes you more money. Makes your business successful. Makes you a better lover.

George Carlin and Tom Waits both put it better than I ever could. The need to consume, the need for the next camera (read product) that will make you better than the one before. I don’t mean to be negative, but there are tools that do the job. A professional, mirrorless camera is the best choice for wedding photography. Not a compact, outdated camera. My Homemade Monochrom is far more helpful to me than any Monochrom… and that leads me to my second point.

Reason #2. Creativity

I remember reading an interview with a successful musician (I don’t remember who) many years ago where they explained that they learn how to play a new instrument by writing a song with it. This is what I do with my cameras. The camera’s inherent limitations and strengths allow me to use them to direct the work. (My article Little Boxes also applies).

The way my homemade Monochrom depicted things (darkly, otherworldly, strangely) made me want to photograph content that was dark. Dead birds, funeral directors and towering churches are just a few examples of the dark content I was inspired to photograph.

As another unrelated example to prove my point, take a disposable camera. It has a fixed focus, fixed aperture, fixed focal length, and a fixed shutter speed. You only have two controls: the flash (on or off) and the shutter button. You can’t photograph all subjects. So, you could photograph landscapes on a sunny day, they would come out okay. If you bring along friends, use your flash but keep them away from the camera. You could also lean into the limitation, shooting close-ups of signage in your local town and come back with bright defocused graphic images. Your work style is often determined by the limitations of your equipment.

In summary, think about what you want to say using photography and then try and choose a camera that allows you to articulate this as clearly as possible. If that fails, you can try to love broken sensors.

About the author: Liam George Collins is a photographer and teacher living in Kendal, the gateway town to England’s beautiful Lake District. Kendal College has appointed him as a lecturer in photography.