Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Leica, One Year Later

Orange Line, Wabash and Adams No.2
About 18 months ago I bought a Leica M8 with a Voigtlander 35 f/1.4 lens. I should say I've spent the last ten years shooting Canon 1d's of various versions. As my street gear, I'd mount a 28mm to my 1D2 for an effective focal length of 35mm. So, unlike most SLR shooters, I was already used to shooting with prime lenses. Still, this was a huge change.  Rangefinders, like the Leica, are just different animals, wholly unlike SLRs.

The viewfinder on the M8 is large and beautiful, but you don't really see the exact image you're shooting because, unlike an SLR, you don't actually see through the lens.  The viewfinder is off to the side and a bit above the lens.  Essentially, you look off at an angle from the lens itself and, of course, you don't see any of the blurring or even see the image snap into focus as you would with an SLR.  Also, framing is done with frame lines which will change depending size and position depending on focal length and focus distance and even then, they're not terribly accurate.  You focus manually with a projection of an image on the viewfinder that essentially triangulates between the rangefinder and your view.  Because of my long history with DSLRs, this was a bit disconcerting, to the point that I'd subconsciously use the entire VF, just like a dslr, just force of habit. [more after the break]

I really struggled with composing in the viewfinder, with manual focus, and even generally with the much slower speed of the M8.  If the 1 series Canons are like Ferraris, then the M8 is like a Miata, fun, small, but in a completely different league.  It really took a while, but it eventually grew on me. Then, a funny thing happened.

I spent a long time recently selecting photos for a residency in a gallery I was applying to (just got accepted, btw) and picked an initial set of around 150 images. The M8 accounted for 75 images. ONE HALF!!!! I was flabbergasted.

My Canon images in the initial set dated back to 2004. I had essentially six years of Canon photos to 12 months of Leica photos but the Leica accounted for half my initial selection.  I eventually whittled it down and ended up with a ratio of two Canon images for each Leica image, less drastic than before but still an over-representation for the M8, especially since I actually shoot far fewer photos per session with the Leica.

I've drawn two lessons. First, the M8 (and all rangefinders for that matter) is just a different animal and has to be approached on its own terms. Second, the speed that Canon (and all other dslrs) offers can actually be a crutch and even an impediment.  You walk into a scene, level the Canon and snap off eight or ten shots.  There might be a good one in there someplace.  If not, keep spraying.  I can't do that with the Leica.  My M8 slows me down and makes me think before I shoot.  I anticipate a scene, I compose with more thought, I enter the scene and become part of it and I'm a better photographer for it.

Love my M8.

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