Leica shooters

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by kallisti, Nov 30, 2010.

  1. kallisti macrumors 65816


    Apr 22, 2003
    Just out of curiosity: any Leica shooters out there? Film or digital. I've been annoyed with the bulk and weight of a DSLR while traveling. Curious about switching to a rangefinder system. Was also blown away by the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit that is currently touring. Amazing what you can capture just with a 50mm lens when that is all you have at hand.

    Obviously rangefinders and SLRs are different tools with different applications. Just interested to hear the thoughts of any with experience shooting with a rangefinder system (Leica or other).
  2. robbieduncan Moderator emeritus


    Jul 24, 2002
    I've been looking at buying a digital Leica as a fun second system for when I don't want to carry the 7D and all the heavy lenses that go with it. M8s are still going for more than I am willing to pay on eBay though :(
  3. jpfisher macrumors regular

    Dec 5, 2006
    New Jersey
    I made the move from SLR to rangefinder about a year and a half ago, and haven't looked back, for the most part. I had previously used a Pentax system with primes, and simply found myself not carrying the camera with me due to size/weight -- K10D with the 31mm f/1.8 just took up too much room in my everyday bag to consider.

    I ended up going "all-in" and spending way too much money on an M8 and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH, along with a more modestly priced Voigtlander 21mm, to start. It took a little bit of getting used to handle the focusing and framing, but after a few weeks I was at a point where I could reliably focus with the RF in all kinds of conditions faster and more accurately than I could ever do with a manual focus lens on an SLR.

    (An aside -- I've since sold off all of my AF glass for my the still-chugging-along K10D and added a split-prism focus screen for use my older MF glass -- RF is still easier to use for me, although I'd say it's a toss-up between the RF and my 35mm SLR film bodies -- just something about those old focusing screens in MF bodies that digital can't reach)

    I've been shooting a lot more film in general as of late for personal use -- I picked up a cheap Leica CL as my first film RF, which is great for wide-angle but isn't that reliable for focusing with a 90mm. This year, I added the camera I now carry with me every day -- the M3. It's got a high-magnification finder (0.92x), so you have to use an external optical finder for anything wider than 50mm (if I didn't wear glasses I could probably get away with rough framing for a 35mm by using the entire finder, ignoring the framelines), and I usually carry it with a 3-lens kit -- a 21mm f/3.4, 50mm f/2, and a 90mm f/4 -- the 50mm is on there most of the time, as I really found it's my preferred focal length/field of view (the 35mm lives on the M8 and gives me about the same FOV due to the cropped sensor).

    With all that said, I have cameras that aren't rangefinders that I use for various purposes, but I consider them to be specialized tools, whereas the RF is my every-day companion. The K10D is still used for telephoto and macro use, though not as often -- I took it down to a ballgame last summer and it was so hot that day, using the big camera to take some shots of the action on the field was not fun. I ended up getting a Micro 4/3rds (Panasonic G2) with adapters so I can use the Leica & Pentax lenses with it -- it's small, and light, and gives you the SLR experience (albeit with an EVF rather than an optical). I've shot with it seldomly since I've got it, but I found that the EVF does pretty well for macro, and is aided by the large crop for that and telephoto use.

    I also recently acquired a Nikon P7000 (it was a gift, not a planned purchase), and have had a good weekend with it -- I haven't had a digital compact in a long time, and I have enjoyed using it to this point. It's about the same size as my CL, actually, but the zoom range, high-ISO quality (shot a lot of RAW images at ISO 1600 -- haven't had time to really look at all of them in Lightroom, but was very impressed with the few that I did spend some with!)

    You've got a ton of options for high quality in a small/light package -- a rangefinder isn't for everyone, but I'd definitely recommend giving one a spin for a few weeks to find out if it's for you. The M8 is really down in price now thanks to the M9's availability, and is still a very capable camera with a few foibles (the crop, and the necessity of using UV/IR cut filters for color shooting)... and if you want to go 35mm, you have the knowledge of knowing that if you buy a Leica in good shape and don't like it, you can probably get most or all of your money back with a resale.

    Another aside -- Leica can mean big bucks, but it doesn't have to. Most of my shooting is now done with an M3 that I have put about $1100 into ($500 for purchase, $600 to get it back to original factory specs -- CLA, new curtains, new leather) and a $250 lens (Leica 50mm f/2 Summitar). I also bought my CL -- with a working meter -- for $250 -- there are bargains out there if you are patient.

    Now that I've gone on way too much about the gear, the approach. I am not a volume shooter. I take a lot of photos when spending time with family & friends, and also love capturing little bits of the world that I find interesting -- whether it be a decrepit building or signage for a business that has been gone for years, some sort of interesting texture or composition at a rail station, an old gravestone, etc...

    I'm not a big action shooter, and don't really do sports other than a few photos at the ballpark during the summer. I'm not a pro, just a hobbyist, so events are not my forte -- although I did shoot photos at my grandparents' anniversary party on my two 35mm RFs. They were happy with the results & happy to get prints... but it wasn't traditional event coverage. I shot a wedding for a couple this summer, mostly on film and with mostly two RFs -- they were happy, but it was more documentary style with a few posed shots, not the traditional (IMO a bit cliche) shots you'll see from pro wedding shooters -- I didn't rattle off several thousand frames.

    Anyway, I hope this was helpful and not too rambling. I'd definitely recommend that you try out a rangefinder and see if it fits -- you'll know quickly if it's the right camera for you.
  4. kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 22, 2003
    Thanks for the detailed reply concerning your experiences. It was very helpful :)
  5. kallisti, Dec 4, 2010
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2010

    kallisti thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 22, 2003
    I found a good deal on a used M9 and used 50mm f/2 lens. I made the plunge.

    Loving it so far.

    The biggest differences I've noticed:

    (1) Manual focusing isn't a big deal. Rangefinders are actually pretty easy to focus. Not great for action, but that isn't what I like to shoot.

    (2) Composition is easier. Since the viewfinder is roughly a 28mm perspective with 50mm lines superimposed, it is easy to see what will be in the shot and what will be left out. Having a wider FOV when composing through the viewfinder than what will be recorded on the sensor is very nice. Makes it easier to make compositional decisions since you can see through the viewfinder what will--and won't--be included in the image. This is true even when using glasses. Some DSLRs provide 100% viewfinder coverage. Some provide 96%. I'm really liking having >100% viewfinder coverage. It's totally amazing.

    (3) Very few bells-and-whistles. The menu system is spartan, which makes it very easy to rapidly make any system-wide changes you wish to make. No hunting through sub-menus to find what you are looking for.

    (4) It's compact. Dense, but with a very small footprint. Easy to carry around. Great image quality without the hassle of lugging around a DSLR setup.

    (5) Limited to primes. I currently have a single 50mm lens. In the future I might spring for a 28mm or 90mm. Might not though. I tend to gravitate towards 50mm anyway. I like having to move to change my composition rather than use a zoom. Makes me think more about the best vantage point rather than spinning a dial.

    (6) Limited shooting options. Because of the manual focus, action shots are more challenging compared to a DSLR. Macro shots are pretty much out of the question. Long telephoto shots are out of the question. I'll keep my DSLR for macro. I don't shoot action so that isn't a concern for me. Most of what I shoot is walk-around/travel.

    (7) Bright viewfinder. I mean, really bright. Even when using fast lenses on a DSLR, the viewfinder is rarely as bright as what you see with your eyes. With the M9 (and presumably other rangefinders), the viewfinder image is nearly as bright as what you can see with your naked eye. This is very, very nice in low-light situations.

    Though it's still early, I'm having a blast. Totally subjective, but I really like the feel of using the rangefinder.
  6. Pikemann Urge macrumors 6502

    Jan 3, 2007
    Very interesting thread. I always like talking about Leica RFs. :)

    I did a wedding with a pair of M bodies (film) but I almost messed it up. It wasn't the camera's fault, but rather mine - I didn't bring one of the lenses with me and in the church I got separated from my camera bag. Oops. But I experienced first-hand the flexibility of the 35mm focal length.

    Earlier this year I photographed a shop window which I really liked with the 90/2.0, but found I couldn't get comfortable with the framing. I wish I had used an SLR. However, people shots are another thing, which the camera is really made for, I think.

    And yes, for carrying around, it makes a lot of sense to go for a RF over an SLR. Sure, you could use a zoom with a big range (e.g. 18-200) but with the narrow aperture you'll neutralize the DSLR's advantage: low noise at high ISO. However, you do get the longer focal lengths that RFs don't have.

    There's a lot to be said for a RF plus two or three lenses. The trick is choosing them. Here are just two examples:

    24mm + 50mm + 90mm
    21mm + 35mm + 75mm

    You can get away with just two if you prefer: 28mm and 75mm.

    RF lenses have another advantage: wide aperture but small physical size. Compare the Nikkor 35/1.4 to the Leica M. I actually have the CV 35/1.4 and I like it a lot. It does have light fall-off at the corners wide-open, but it's great. And it doesn't cost too much.

    To conclude, it does depend on what trade-offs you are prepared to accept when you choose RF or SLR.

    Three companies make modern 35mm RFs. Zeiss, Leica and Voigtlander. They're all worthy of consideration. Is the M9 worth it? Your call!

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