If you read my post from earlier in the year, you’ll see I made the decision to try out a Leica M6 in an effort to find a system camera that was more suitable for taking along with me when I travelled. After putting a bunch of films through the camera, I was quickly convinced that the Leica rangefinder was an ideal travel companion – legendary lenses, and a no nonsense camera body, which, whilst fully manual, offered enough flexibility to be able to shoot quickly and reliably. The size of the kit meant that I could slip the body and a couple of lenses into a bag, along with my laptop, in a fraction of the space that I would have required should I have chosen to travel with my Nikon gear. There was only one problem with the M6 – despite the fun of waiting for the films to be returned from the processor, and scanning the images in – it wasn’t satisfying the immediate need to see my images that I have become accustomed to whilst shooting digitally over the past 15 or so years.
So, as my interest in the Leica camera system ‘developed’, I heard that a local Leica dealer, Henny Hoogeveen in Lisse, had a Leica M-E ex-demo body in stock at a very attractive price. To cut a long story short, I was able to purchase the body in time to take with me on a trip to San Francisco for the RSA conference.
I had timed my travel so that I would have the weekend before the conference to recover from any jet lag, and spend a bit of time walking around the city. An ideal opportunity to see what the digital rangefinder would be able to do for me. The learning curve from the M6 was very slight – although the M-E is a digital body, feature wise it is very similar to the M6 in that it is very feature light – the only addition in terms of taking photos is the addition of aperture priority on the M-E in addition to the fully manual exposure mode that the M6 offers. Needless to say, both cameras are manual focus, which is quick and easy with the rangefinder.
Many street photographers choose to shoot with Leica, or other similar rangefinder cameras, as they are able to approach and photograph their subjects without getting in the way, and even if they are noticed the subject’s attention is hardly captured as the camera is very unobtrusive. Shooting with the M-E gives me a confidence that I never have with the Nikon in terms of the opportunities on the street where I will press the shutter release, rather than walking away when with a Nikon to avoid any unpleasant confrontations. With a bit of practice it’s possible to visualise what you will be seeing through the rangefinder, and prefocus and shoot from the hip if necessary. In the situations where you are noticed, a smile and a whispered thank you is normally enough to appease most people.
I took my 35mm Summarit and a 50mm Summicron with me, and wandered through the streets of San Francisco looking for opportunities. In Chinatown the local community was celebrating the start of the Chinese New Year, providing a very photo rich environment, and as always a walk along Market Street offered a number of opportunities.
San Francisco is a beautiful city, and the mixture of cultures means there is something new to discover around every corner. I walked a fair distance during my days there, and carrying the Leica over my shoulder was no strain at all due to the lightweight construction. Since acquiring the M-E I have started to take my camera with me a lot more frequently, and ultimately taken many more photographs compared to previous years.
Of course, the Leica comes at a price, and there is a lot of discussion in online forums as to whether or not the Leica is worth the money. After all, technology wise the camera is miles behind competition from the dSLR vendors such as Canon or Nikon. My Nikon D800 for example has excellent AF, and great low light capabilities – the Leica is manual focus, and starts to lose definition above around 1000 ISO. So ultimately, no, the Leica isn’t worth the price you pay if you are simply adding up features, but the Leica provides a different sort of emotion to the photographer, and a different way of shooting – after all Leica is celebrating 100 years of rangefinder cameras this year, and wouldn’t have been around for so long if they weren’t doing something right……