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 are 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 what was going to happen, but I had a feeling it was going to force me to do, 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.