To all my Leica blog readers, this article seems like the sequel to my previous Leica blog. However this time it’s not about a wedding photographed with 35mm film, it’s all about digital. If you’d read my blogs last year, you would know that I was thinking hard about switching to digital Leica setup for my professional work. Well well well, I finally took the plunge and bought the latest Leica M Type 240 at the beginning of this year. In the past six months, I had done lots of photographing with my new M. A trial professional portrait session, as you can see HERE, some street photography in Hong Kong and Malaysia. And now, I have done my first ever paid Leica wedding!!
No one would understand just how special it feels to have accomplish something like photographing a wedding with a Leica camera. At least not for those who have grown up with digital DSLRs. In short, I actually thought I had CREATED these images rather than TAKEN them. Why? read on.
But first, why just Leica?
Simple, I always want the BEST there is in the photographic world. 2014 we see Leica celebrates its 100 years history. During the past century, Leica produced some stunningly engineered cameras for documentary photography that no one could rival. However, I had to wait such a long time for Leica to produce a digital version of their famous M that I could consider as versatile and reliable. For many who used the M8 and M9 knew that there were hiccups in their operation and overall, they were good cameras but not a great one despite having a line of out-of-this-world optics. But that didn’t stop many professionals used them for work but only as a supplementary system rather than their main workhorse. M Type 240 is indeed different. I believe that it’s the first digital M that finally deserves a mention in the professional arena. I am here to proof people that Leica M is still a top professional’s choice and a proper review of the camera is coming soon here! Yes, different cameras are good at different things and rangefinder is indeed very good at documentary and street portrait work. This suits my line of work as a wedding documentary photographer. And to most who understand and appreciate M cameras, you know just how special it is to shoot with a rangefinder camera.
How was it like shooting with a Leica at a wedding?
I’ve written many of my challenges when using a full manual camera before in my film wedding blog, so there’s no need to repeat it because the M 240 is no difference in terms of operation when compare to my 30-year-old film camera. But being digital means that restriction in film speed does not apply anymore, which is a relief.
For my first digital M wedding, I carried only two lenses: Leica Summilux 50mm 1:1.4 ASPH and Voigtlander Nokton 35mm 1:1.2 VM ASPH II. The latter was a lens that I acquired when I visited HK in March and my review is HERE. However shooting with only two focal lengths in a wedding was indeed somewhat challenging. It was the first time that I didn’t carry a zoom lens. For the past eight years, I had always had my 16-35 2.8, 24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8 in my bag. So leaving these gems at home made me feel like incomplete.
But every since I started the idea of shooting with a Leica, I had been training myself in shooting primes and for the best part of last years, most of my weddings were photographed with my 16-35mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. My 70-200mm saw the occaional light when I needed the reach. So I am quite used to these fixed focal lengths already.
During the wedding day, my clients did feel a lot more comfortable of me photographing very closely. Perhaps the compactness of the M just wasn’t as intimitating as my Canon. Even when I was only using a prime with my Canon, it was still twice the size as my Leica for the same configuration.
Despite being a digital M, Leica’s operation is pretty much the same as the first M arrived in 1953. So I pretty much had to do everything the manual way. Manually focusing every scene didn’t really bother me too much either but in certain cases, I actually think it was a lot faster than my 5D. Operation was very simple and there wasn’t much to configure so I could just concentrate on photographing the moments. I also didn’t use any flash at all because my two lenses were fast enough to just use available light, which was something I always preferred.
Have I gained anything from using a Leica?
My brain. Yes, I got my brain back. With Leica M, I feel like a photographer again. It isn’t an exaggeration but I actually CONTROLLED the camera. I read the light, the situation, focus, compose, waited for the moment and ‘click’. Everything was done the manual way. I was engaged in EVERY SINGLE PHOTO!! Yes it was definitely demanding but also very rewarding when I saw the results. It’s like throwing the calculator away and start using your brain to calculate. It would feel awkward and rusty at first but as time goes on, it would become second nature again. We all learnt the manual way when we started photography anyway.
Well. After the day had gone, any photographer would have an idea about their favourite shots of the day. When I got back to my computer, I immediately looked for them to see how they turned out. Oh boy oh boy, didn’t they look fab??? I already knew how good Leica was but those photos just made my eyes just popped! The quality and unique rendering were simply stunning. Even though I loved my Canon wedding photos, there’re nothing like the Leica images. They were indeed unique. The rendering of these beautiful images was the result of Leica’s unique sensor and lenses. Even the Voigtlander was brilliant on it. It was the first time I ‘wow’ at my own photos.
So I guess Leica M brought my brain back and rewarded me with some heavenly images.
I brought along only two lenses for the wedding, Voigtlander 35 1.2 and Leica 50 Lux ASPH. With fast lenses like these, shooting in the dark was no longer challenging. In most cases, I was shooting wide open with ISO 800 or 1600. With my Canon zooms, due to the relatively slow lenses at 2.8, I had to bump up the ISO to 3200 or sometimes 6400 to get the shot. The main difference between a DSLR and rangefinder wasn’t just about fast glass, the weight played a good part too. DSLR and lenses were bulky and heavy. I needed faster shutter speed to avoid camera shake, even with image stabilisation. Moreover, DSLR’s mirror can cause additional vibration too. So lacking the weight and mirror means that I could shoot a Leica at much slower shutter and when coupled with fast glass, I could use much lower ISO for a cleaner shot.
Also, Leica lenses are known for their sheer sharpness and rendering. I agreed whole heartedly. Each image was so 3D that the subject just popped out on the screen. It was a pleasure just to look at them. You may call me crazy but this is how I see them. They are indeed beautiful!
There have been debates about whether Leica is still a professional camera or a rich man’s toy. I can say both. To me, it’s a tool, a quality tool. It’s expensive but like anything in the photographical world, you get what you pay for. It’s also a toy for the riches. It’s expensive and means that not many can afford one. They buy themselves into an exclusive club like joining a Ferrari drivers club. This is simple. But for those who know about Leica and its heritage, they KNOW Leica IS a professional tool. There aren’t many professional Leica shooters nowadays when compare to the 50’s and 60’s. DSLRs and indeed the up and coming mirrorless cameras have taken over the professional arena. Nonetheless, there’s still space for Leica. But today’s camera world is very different to when the first M camera arrived but today’s photographers are spoiled with choices. Yet, these choices have provided photographers unprecedented capabilities to generate some stunning digital images. Leica may have slipped out of the camera world when everything became digitised. M8 and M9 were good attempts to modernise M cameras but it wasn’t until the arrival of M Type 240 that Leica has made a ‘digital’ come back. The latest ‘T’ mirrorless camera may even propel Leica further back into the digital world. And if Leica maintains its course and I am curtained that it will stay for another 100 years. With that said, Leica has finally presented itself as a viable choice for today’s photographer.
Have a good day!