The Leica M camera system was really new to me when I first picked one up back in February 2018 with a mint, black Leica M9 – the first full-frame digital Leica had put into production almost a decade ago. I bought the camera from a member on an online forum with a used price that would make most photographers gawk in shock for a camera that was almost 10 years old at that point. However, after getting my feet wet with the Leica Q during a test drive at my local Leica Boutique store in DC (and soon buying one afterwards), the price of entry was something I was willing to pay to enter the legendary M family as the Q was my gateway drug. With their unique rangefinder experience, Leica cameras were also known for their legendary rendering from their glass paired with their proprietary sensor, which the photos have a more life-like and organic feel where the images have a three-dimensional look to them due to the high levels of micro-contrast that Leica is known for.
To caveat, I’m not a wedding photographer by any means, but fortunate enough to be a guest to several weddings from my closest friends - affording me the opportunity to document these events of their lives.
One of the things that I had to get used to were some of the limitations of the camera (if you call it that). Using a Leica M rangefinder is a visceral experience that rely on the user’s technique and it responds to its will.
If you mess up the shot - it’s on you. Not the camera.
There is no autofocus to help you focus on the subject for you like a modern digital camera, which we all take for granted now, and the photographer also had to be cognizant of the other two settings such as the ISO and shutter speed. The three points of the exposure triangle.
At first, these limitations were intimidating to me. I knew that the experience of shooting a rangefinder would be new to me, but knowing how quickly I can screw up a shot was something I had to shake off.
I compared it to driving a manual transmission car without any of the high-tech nannies. You are driving the car, not riding it. The car demands more from the driver to be in control. Same with the Leica.
What I didn’t realize was what was going to happen to me, was that using a Leica rangefinder made me feel more creative and more excited about capturing moments in life. I’m still trying to figure out why, but the camera inspires you to step out of your comfort zone with all the conveniences of modern camera technology and go back to the essentials.
Das Wesentliche as they say in German. Meaning “The Essentials.”
Through my short journey with the M9, I’ve eventually upgraded to the M (Typ 240) and ultimately to the M10, the latest iteration of the M rangefinders. This goes to show that I’ve become comfortable shooting a rangefinder in most situations, but my ability to use the Leica in dynamic situations was ultimately tested in one situation: weddings.
Using the Leica at weddings
If you’re getting paid to do a wedding shoot, I would probably shy you away from using a Leica M rangefinder for several reasons:
It requires the user to focus manually and for weddings, this can be a very challenging affair as it’s very easy to lose important moments because you’ll spend time trying to focus when seconds count.
There is no dual memory card slot. It’s not really a big deal for me, but I know many wedding photographers like to backup their photos in case one of their memory cards fail. This can be disastrous.
Dynamic range is not the best compared to a Sony A7R series of cameras or the Nikon D850 with 3-6 stops of dynamic range, therefore you don’t have a lot of margin of error if you screw the exposure.
Not to say that it’s impossible to do weddings with a Leica M rangefinder. Check out these guys here:
It would be an understatement if I told you I felt stressed in these situations where fast and accurate captures were key, especially in these fast paced environments. I’ve definitely missed a handful of moments that I would have easily captured with any other camera, to the extent where there were times when I wanted to give up and grab my Olympus camera with the 12-40 f/2.8 lens (24-70mm full-frame equivalent). But I only had my Leica with me and it forced me to work with what I had. These experiences with the Leica had taught me some important skills that any other digital camera wouldn’t demand of you.
It forced me to compose ahead of time and be smarter about my position before pressing the shutter button. The continuous shutter is slow and you’ll need to pre-focus your lens prior to the moment actually happening.
It forced me to be very selective on the photos I wanted to take. Any other camera would spoil me and let me cheat by spraying and praying with only 1-2 keepers out of 30 shots. It forced me to keep an eye out for moments that were worth capturing. Since I’ve been more conservative with my shots, I ended up only needing a 16 GB memory card compared to a 32-64GB memory when I had my old Sony A7II or Olympus E-M5 II. My number of keepers also noticeably went up after triaging them through Lightroom.
It forced me to be creative since I couldn’t rely on the conveniences of autofocus, framing (just crop it later), and insane bursts like 30 frames per second…because it didn’t have any of that. The Leica kept things honest and if you messed up, it’s all on you. It makes you work extra hard for every photo.
It taught me to be patient and learn to anticipate the moments, focus manually, frame up, and then only then, press the shutter after you had proactively created the scene. It truly made every photo intentional about which moments were truly worth capturing rather than deleting most of it later.
The Leica had taught me to be a better photographer by truly being the driver behind the three points of the exposure triangle (most people don’t even know what this is) and not just riding along. It’s very rewarding to learn how to envision the frame first and then taking the shot. It’s a fantastic learning experience where you get the shot you want on the first try, liberating you when you no longer need to shoot more than you need to because you already know what you want to do. The idea of shooting less while being more intentional of what I do. This is the true minimalism that I appreciate and the Leica kicked my ass to get me there.
Finally picked one up - was it everything that I dreamed of?Read More
The most balanced 35mm lens you can get for your Leica MRead More
So that escalated quickly…
It was not that long ago when I had acquired my Summicron-M 35mm from the good people at Leica Store Miami and took some photos with it in Ocean City over Labor Day weekend. I knew after that weekend that the Summicron 35mm had a place in my humble collection of Leica lenses and I planned to keep it for a long time.
Oh how things changed on a fateful visit to Ace Photo.
One of my favorite local camera shops in the Northern Virginia region had a pre-owned Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH (11874) for sale for an exorbitant price for a used lens, which they quickly corrected to match the used market value once I had corrected them. What I did not realize was that the lens was now significantly cheaper and a few hundred more than what I had bought the pre-owned Summicron 35mm for a few weeks back.
My poor and terrible GAS logic got the best of me and I picked up the Summilux for an excellent deal and the good folks at Leica Store Miami accepted the Summicron back for a refund, albeit I was hit with a minor restocking fee. This was completely fair considering I had the lens longer than the approved return window.
The images that I was able to capture with the M9 was nothing short of stunning and at the same time, as expected from Leica. The images were sharp across the frame, albeit a bit soft on the corners. The color saturation was neutral, yet beautiful with the M9’s sensor. The bokeh, was just stunning without any weird shapes or “nervousness”.
The lens turned out to be one of my favorite 35mm lenses of all time, even more so than my previous favorite: the Sony-Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 ZA.
While the body of this lens is what you would expect from Leica, with its brass inner construction with aluminum outer body, but the lens hood was something to be desired as it was made from hard ABS plastic (albeit very tough). Not something I expected from a lens that costs over $4,000 new, built between 1994-2010.
Optically, the lens was close to perfect, yet it does suffer from minor focus shift between the median apertures. I personally don’t think this is a big deal because people buy this lens to shoot wide open at f/1.4, which is fantastic, and street photographers tend to shoot above f/8 anyways to open up their depth of field. Anything between f/4-f/5.6 is sort of immaterial for photographers that buy this lens, in my opinion.
There is more to this story, however, but that will have to wait until the next update.
I was inspired to write this short blog update as Apple’s 2018 Fall Keynote is just 24 hours away and I thought it was a good time to look at my current everyday carry (tech wise) to see which device require upgrading as I can’t afford to upgrade everything every year. That being said, I own the following Apple devices as of today:
Apple iPhone X
Apple Watch - 42mm (Series 2)
Apple iPad Pro 10.5 (2017)
Apple MacBook Pro - 13 inch (2017)
Apple MacBook Pro - 15 inch (2016)*
It would be an understatement to say that my daily tech workflow (or carry flow?) is mostly dependent on Apple devices and some people may have a similar setup, but through other manufacturers, but the iOS/MacOS ecosystem works very well for me. The use of Apple’s continuity and streamlined workflow speak volumes to me and this alone make me very happy to be stuck in their ecosystem.
As September draws closer, it’s time for me to reflect on each device and think about whether or not it needs to be upgraded.
This is hands down my favorite Apple iPhone since my first iPhone back in 2012 with the iPhone 5 (yeah I’ve been a BlackBerry user since 2006) and it mostly has to do with the refinements that Apple done since the original iPhone. The iPhone X is a culmination of Apple’s best foot forward approach, such as industrial design, the state of the art A11 Bionic processor, and finally going bezel-less like the rest of the world. After a year of use, I never picked up the phone and thought to myself, “I need to upgrade.” This phone still outperforms most flagships out there in terms of real-world performance and with the upcoming launch of iOS 12, which was reported to make older devices even snappier, I don’t feel the need to upgrade this guy anytime soon.
I’m in the Apple iPhone Upgrade program since last year, which allows me to call dibs on the latest iPhone every year, sort of like a lease program like you would through any other cellular provider, but doing it through Apple instead.
This alone is worth it to me.
Being able to avoid the useless reps at Verizon (or any other carrier) when something happens to your phone and working with Apple directly, is the the path of least resistance I’m willing to take. To top it off, Apple also includes two years of Apple Care + as part of your program.
This is something I’m looking forward to upgrading.
The problem I have now with the watch is that it’s been noticeably slow when it came to heart rate monitoring during my workouts. Sometimes the watch would not read my heart rate (or read them incorrectly altogether) in the middle of my workout, which is a problem for me as I want to know what my heart rate is during my HIIT workouts. It was becoming such a nuisance that I’ve considered picking up a separate bluetooth chest strap to supplement the watch, which defeats the purpose of the built-in tracker. I’m hoping the new Apple Watch comes with a new processor and better heart rate monitoring algorithms, as I believe these improvements will be the main seller for me.
iPad Pro 10.5
Despite the convenience of having my iPhone on me everyday, the iPad Pro is easily my favorite device to use everyday. I was an early adopter of Apple’s tablet since the original iPad in April 2010 when I was probably the only person to buy one at the local BestBuy. Fast forward 8 years and several iPad iterations later (which I’ve owned most of them), I’m here with Apple’s simply overpowered 2017 iPad Pro.
This device is simply attached on me most of the time due to its utility. Whether its for watching Youtube, browsing the web, taking notes for school or work, the iPad Pro is a staple of my daily life that I can’t live without.
Rumor has it that the new iPad Pro (2018) models will be bezel-less, meaning the actual screen real estate will be larger for both the new 11 inch and 12.9 inch models, will implement Face-ID 2.0 and notchless. To add to this, the new design will now feature solid edges instead of continuing with the curved design that Apple had been using for the past few years. This is a smart move since going bezel-less will require some sort of extra girth to hold comfortably without your fingers getting in the way of the screen.
I’m a tech junkie and I love having the latest toys, but due to the cost involved in upgrading to the latest and greatest every year, one has to be pragmatic about their reason for upgrading. That being said, I do plan on upgrading the three devices mentioned above as they’re a core asset to me that I use daily, but it also scratches the itch that I get every year during new tech season - at the exchange of a lighter wallet.
Amy and I took a weekend out of our busy schedule to spend some time with friends at Ocean City, where we had rented an Air BnB for the long weekend.
The weekend brought together friends that I have not seen since Mariah's wedding and it felt really good to get out and relax, or as much as I could afford to since I was still burdened with school work during the weekend.
I took my Leica M9 with my new to me SUMMICRON-M 35mm f/2 ASPH that I had picked up from the good folks at Leica Store Miami for what I consider to be a good deal. I've been looking for a good opportunity to use this lens and luckily I had found that chance with the sunny environment of Ocean City, MD.
It's no surprise that the images that a SUMMICRON can produce is nothing short of stunning as even shooting wide open at f/2 bring out the resolving power out of the aging M9 with plenty of micro contrast for that pop that I love about Leica lenses.
However, the other lens that truly impressed me was the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 ASPH. The rendering out of that lens paired with the M9's CCD sensor gave the images a classical look without looking too clinical as other lenses I've seen where the race to have the sharpest lenses have gained favor over the lens' character in the modern digital photography world.
Remember, raw sharpness is not everything.
With the sun at its peak, the light proved to be too overpowering for the Nokton at its widest aperture at f/1.5, which is unfortunate since most of the micro contrast magic truly pops at f/1.5.
With the power of post-processing and Lightroom, I was able to save most of the highlights from shooting wide open and added some flavor to my liking to recover the contrast.
I forgot to add that I had also brought my venerable Leica Q with me on this trip, but I didn't have the urge to bring it out since I was having too much fun with both the SUMMICRON-M 35mm and the Nokton. Both of these lenses filled my needs for a wide-angle and long focal lengths, while at the same time, filling the speeds I needed for both wide depth of field and low light.
Picking up this SUMMICRON-M 35mm ASPH completes my dual 'cron setup paired with the legendary SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2, while the Leica Q continues to fills my thirst for going wider with its gorgeous SUMMILUX-M 28mm f/1.7 ASPH, which is cheaper than purchasing the SUMMILUX-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH by itself that costs over $6,000 for just the lens. If you're looking into getting your feed wet into the world of full-frame Leica cameras, I would wholeheartedly advise you to start with the Leica Q. My gateway drug into this club started from there and I have to say that I love every bit of it.
I've recently picked up a new lens from a friend of mine, the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 and I have to say that I've loving what Voigtlander lenses can render with the Leica M9's CCD sensor. The classical rendering from both the previous Nokton 35mm f/1.2 ASPH II (sold due to the size and heft) and this lens made me a big fan of how the images look with very little post-processing work.
I was also looking at the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZM as a contender to Leica's Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4, but the reviews I've read about the focus shift and rendering (I'm personally not a fan of contrasty images that the Zeiss renders), the Nokton rose to the top of the list and it has more and earned its right to stay in my camera bag.
Minimalism is more than just owning less stuffRead More