Why shoot a Leica

Shopping for Antiques
Shopping for Antiques

Chris Bennett recent made an interesting blog post about DSLR ver Mirrorless cameras.

In the article he mentioned that I shoot with two Leica’s for my street photography. Since the introduction of the SLR in the sixties the Leica rangefinder and of course range finders in general (I also love the Nikon S) became very much a niche product.

Today Leica is again very popular, but not their cameras, it’s the lens that people love.

With the introduction of the Mirrorless camera many old lens have become popular again. Due to mount design and very small flange distance, just about any lens can be fitted.

But why are Leica lens so popular? Well there are a number of reasons, first the image quality is second to none. Second is the size, three high quality primes easily fit into a large coat pocket.

Leica M4 Film
Leica M4 Film

Of course there are odd people like me who love not only Leica lens but Leica cameras as well.  What is it about a Leica that causes people to still use them, effuse about them and generally love them, despite the price.

My M4 has no meter, no auto modes, its as basic as they come.  The viewfinder of both the M4 and all Leica M’s for that matter does not show exactly what you will get it in fact shows a lot more depending on lens.  I find that when out shooting with the M4 I really have to think hard about my photography.  I have to regularly meter with an external light meter, and meter in different directions in Autumn, Winter and Spring.  If shooting with the sun behind and then I see something to the side I may have to change the exposure by up to two stops.  I have to be fully aware all the time what the light is doing around me.

Steep Hill GigWhat then about the M8.  This is Leica’s first digital Leica.  So it does have some automation.  A built in light meter which is basic but functional.  You still need to consider what the light is doing and how it may fool the meter.

So using the Leica’s makes me much more aware of what is going on around me and that can only be a good thing, I have to be prepared, have the camera pre-set and pre-focussed. No autofocus on any Leica M.

But what makes an M an M.  Well if you know your German, you may know.  Messsucher is the German would for Viewfinder and Rangefinder combined which is what a Leica M is and is all about.

If you have ever used a professional full frame Nikon like an D3, or a Medium Format Camera you will realise that since the we got digital viewfinders have been going down hill.  The viewfinder in a Leica M is simply brilliant, and by that I mean bright and easy to use and focus.  You can see clearly and in low light, more importantly with the frame lines you can see what is about to come into the picture and so pick the decisive moment.  I makes capturing these moments even with the lack of automation easier.

The rangefinder is not an easy focusing method, it requires regularly practice, and I find if I have not used the Leica’s for a few weeks it takes me longer to focus then any other method, but once in practice is is surprisingly fast.  You may be interested that in the last year of shooting with my M’s I have only one badly focussed picture.

So the Leica M, not a camera for everyone but one that rewards practice and the pictures I take with it, I know are the result of my hard work and not the computer in the camera.

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