Do you sometimes get that urge to write, or paint a picture, or bake a cake, or even fix up a shelf? A creative impulse. Have you even noticed the way sometimes, when that works best is when you just relax, don’t think too hard and let things happen?
That’s the way I feel about my Leica. It lets me get on with framing pictures based on 2-3 variables (ISO, Aperture and shutter speed). It’s ironic that a camera without autofocus can often be far less stressful to use that one packed with automation. Manual focus through a rangefinder is easy once you’ve got that knack of lining up the images. Too many people start out with a F1.4 lens and get disappointed when it misses focus. Even if you have that lens, stop it down to F2.8, get practice, soon it becomes easy.
One of the things I feel people in general don’t understand is how you can possibly take street photos while manually focusing the camera. A little secret: photography is all about zones of in focus areas that are (broadly) flat. So you have no need to point your camera directly at people if they are parallel with something you can focus on. Another point of confusion about shooting with a manual focus camera is how you can possibly take photos of action. You prefocus. That’s about it.
I don’t always use my M240. I wouldn’t use it by choice for sports or action, my Df does high ISO better and my D810 has better dynamic range. If you bring in smaller mirrorless cameras, the abilities of the A7 II re stabilisation should not be sniffed at. All of that said, there is something truly special about the output of the M240. It’s not the most accurate regarding colour but it does give wonderful rendering of colour detail (a seeming contradiction but the truth). None of that really matters when you factor in the satisfaction of the pure photography experience the camera gives you. The most critical thing to remember is that buying a Leica is expensive and it isn’t a system to splurge on every new lens or accessory. Keep it simple, buy secondhand and buy what you can afford. Even better, use or buy some old rangefinder lenses from the days of film. The voigtlander and Zeiss lenses are reasonably priced too and some are really excellent (although the best ones tend to be more expensive).
But what about the lack of 50plus focusing points? Don’t you miss things? Yes, of course you do. The real question is whether that always matters.
All too often we come locked into a monotony of always “getting the shot”, to the detriment of getting a shot that’s meaningful, or speaks to the photographer or viewer. Of course not every photographic venture can be an adventure of art and the possible, but it’s really a positive if sometimes we disconnect from that all pervasive mentality of getting 200 36mp shots of a hummingbird in flight…
A work colleague once said to me that she often forgets where she is when she takes photos for an hour, and sometimes ends up losing track of her husband in the process. Sometimes, just sometimes, that is what a great photography experience should be like (even if the results don’t always hit the mark, if you’ve actually enjoyed yourself, little has been lost*).
This brings me back to a post I recently put on a well known photography forum: “it’s about the gear that you enjoy using, not whether it has X or Y”. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting a CCD or CMOS sensor, X frames per second, fast continuous focus in Liveview or any other myriad mechanism that notionally could improve your picture taking experience. However, sometimes we focus on what we want to the detriment of what we need. A funny thing to say about photography, because who “needs” photography exactly?
In my view, everyone, and if you measure photography by the number of people taking pictures and/or using them there’s no doubt photography is more popular than ever. We all crave memories and representations of the world around us. However it’s also true that we don’t need 14 different shades of art filter to accomplish that aim, nor do most of us need 10 frames per second. In truth, in this day and age we don’t need a camera at all, a smartphone will suffice for many people. However, assuming you appreciate the art of photography, a smartphone won’t always cut it. In fact it is the antithesis of what I’m getting at here because it’s automatic everything. For the kind of really amazing inspired photography I’m referring to, a camera that can shoot in full manual or aperture priority is key. It’s also important to be able to isolate your subject or choose to have everything in focus. For me that leaves everything between Micro Four Thirds and Medium Format as fair game.
It would be unfair or incorrect to say you can only do this with a Leica. Many of today’s Mirrorless cameras can function like this. I used to use Voigtlander manual focus lenses on my E-M5 and began to use M-mount glass on Sony NEX and Fuji X mount cameras with some lovely results. That led me in a number of directions: to film and a variety of cameras (my Nikon FM3A is my current film camera), to infrared photography, to “awkward” to use cameras like the Sigma Foveon sensor cameras, to the Leica M9 and its rich (and sometimes borderline accurate 😉 colours (I jest). Ultimately it led me to continue my adventure with Leica in the form of an M240 and a variety of M mount lenses.
For me, when I get half an hour to wander with my M, it’s not certain I’ll take any pictures at all. However, I will think a lot about composition, light and what might be an interesting picture. Sometimes, having had that thought process without distraction is good enough. It does mean though that the collection of pictures you take can be much more disjointed than anything other than film. Fewer snaps and repetition, more interesting pictures (I hope). Sometimes downloading the SD card can be a bit like getting a sporadically shot film developed 😉
None of this is to say that a digital M is the best way to capture a wedding, an event or a sporting occasion. However, for just wandering while taking pictures in places you enjoy and having fun in so doing it’s just about perfect. Satisfying in fact….
Taken with my Leica M Typ 240 plus: Super-Elmar-M 21mm, Summicron 28mm F2 ASPH, Summicron 50mm F2, Summilux 50mm F1.4 ASPH and APO-Summicron 50mm F2.
* of course this doesn’t apply to film photography