Leica gear is beautiful but will likely always remain the domain of the wealthy hobbyist or the hardcore, sacrifice-what-it-takes-to-own-a-Leica photographer. I’m one of the few full time pros that uses Leica. Although, at the moment, I am Leica-less. Even though photography is my full time living and I depreciate gear on taxes it has always been a major decision any time I’ve bought Leica gear because of the huge expense.
Was it ever totally practical to own Leica as a pro?
Nope. It’s about the feel of the camera and lenses and quality of the images. It’s also the inconspicuousness of a rangefinder. If you’re photographing people they’re less intimidated by a small camera that looks like something their grandfather owned back in the day. In the film days I could see the difference between my Leica and Canon images but could anyone else? Only if they had a trained eye and were examining the chromes with a loupe or scrutinizing a large print.
When Leica went digital
In 2007, after years of using Canon digital cameras and missing my Leicas I bought the first digital Leica M series body, the M8 and a few lenses, for which I used my entire annual equipment budget. It had a 10MP (megapixel) sensor and it was the best 10MP I’d ever seen. At the time, virtually every digital camera used anti-aliasing filters over the sensors. Leica didn’t, so combined with their great glass, the images were tack sharp right out of the camera. The only problem was that no matter how good it was, 10MP just wasn’t enough for the large prints that were my bread and butter income. I was used to the 16MP from my Canon 1Ds Mark II and had been wishing for even more resolution. After much consternation I sold the Leica gear and got a 1Ds Mark III (21 MP.)
Fast forward nine years. Without going into all the details of how I arrived here, I currently own a Sony full frame system based on the A7R II with mostly Zeiss glass and a Fuji X-Pro2 with a whole bunch of Fujinon XF lenses. I love the images I get from the Sony. The Zeiss and Sony lenses are fantastic and up to the task of the magnificent 42MP sensor in the camera.
Which camera do I reach for and carry with me most of the time? My Fuji X-Pro2. It has the feel of my old Leicas. In fact, even better in some ways. Not only does it have rangefinder viewing but with the flick of the lever that sits naturally against my middle finger I instantly have an EVF. It becomes a mirrorless camera complete with autofocus and all the other bells and whistles. It’s even a very good EVF- not quite as good as the Sony but close.
If I’m honest with myself, I feel like my Sony A7R II is a computer with a spectacular sensor attached to it. The X-Pro2 feels like a camera. It’s a pleasure to use. In fact the best part about it is I’m barely aware that I’m even using a camera. It’s a natural extension of me and I’m just concentrating on the moment and creating images. That is the definition of a great camera.
The Sony Quandry
I’m a little torn about what to do with my Sony system. I already sold my A7 II body but not the A7R II. There’s no denying that when I make large prints the Sony has that little extra bit of acutance and smoother transitions. Not that most of my patrons would notice, but I do. I’m somewhat tempted to sell just the body and wait a generation or two to see if Sony comes out with something more intuitive and fun to use. I’ve changed whole systems enough to know that the expensive part is replacing all the lenses. Also lenses hold their value much better than bodies.
If you want to find out why I favor my X-Pro2 and all the different ways I use it, along with photos and the stories behind them, check out my series of blog posts at XProTour.com
For some, myself included, part of the traditional rangefinder experience is the ability to zone-focus with a 35mm or 28mm lens. This is faster than any autofocus and with zero lag time. You leave the lens on a small aperture, usually from f8-f16 and use the DOF scale to set a distance range that will keep everything in focus. This is easy to do with a manual focus rangefinder lens such as those from Leica/Zeiss/Voigtlander on a Leica M body. It is possible to do this with the X-Pro2 but admittedly not as easily as you have to use the digital scale in the viewfinder or on the back LCD. Even though I own 2 Fujinon XF lenses with a clutched focus ring you can pull back and instantly turn the lens to MF, I find the DOF scale not very useful as there aren’t enough marked increments. Another aspect of traditional MF rangefinders is the split-image focusing which tends to be positive and precise. It’s not something I miss on the X-Pro2 because I’m either being precise with AF by placing the focus point using the handy joystick or using peak focusing with focus assist (magnified image) in MF.
Recently a lot of good information has been coming out on Leica’s new (and currently very hard to get) M10 rangefinder. And yes, I’m thinking about it.
Joel Wolfson is an internationally published photographer who loves teaching as much as shooting. He shares his 30 years of experience as a working pro with other photographers and enthusiasts by way of his workshops, 1 on 1 training, webinars, articles, blog and speaking engagements. His technical articles have been translated for use in more than 30 countries yet he is best known for his artistic images of nature’s fleeting moments and unexpected views of everyday places around the globe. He is one of the pioneers of digital photography having conducted digital photography seminars for Apple and other corporations starting in the early 90s. His roster of notable clients includes numerous publications and fortune 500 companies. He currently works with great affiliates like Topaz Labs and Arizona Highways to have more avenues for working with those wanting to pursue their love of photography. His goal is to make learning and improving one’s photography easy, fun and rewarding.
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