Currently I have several cameras:
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 6D
- Canon EOS 3
- Canon M50
- Leica M2
- Leica Q
- Apple iPhone XR (yes, I know)
My main workhorses for casual shooting are an iPhone, Leica Q, Leica M2, and Canon M50.
After having Canon 6D (no 4k) for several years, I needed something lighter for travel, so I picked up Panasonic LX10 (4k), and later Canon M5 (no 4k). The mirrorless body benefits really were interesting, but Canon RP (4k) or Sony A7 (no 4k) was not appealing, so I went to Leica Q (no 4k). Switching to Leica M world was not easy using Leica Q, so I got Leica M2 to understand the philosophy of rangefinders and framelines. To leverage various manual M-mount lenses on a digital body I bought Canon M50 (4k). It also can be used with huge Canon EF and tiny Canon EF-M lenses.
Let’s take a look on Leica philosophy and how it is implemented in Leica M2 and Leica Q.
Erwin Put’s Leica Practicum gives a review of the theories of perception and photography in general, as well as a historical review of Leica photography. Also Thorsten von Overgaard gives a good overview of Leica history.
The interesting fact is that the Leica film rangefinder was almost universally adopted by professional photographers in the 1950s. In 2020, professionals use the latest Canon and Nikon digital DSLR or mirrorless cameras. The difference is huge, but the core basics are the same.
Leica philosophy is to preserve the basics from their traditional M cameras. Leica also is trying to compete by creating SL2 which is more like the other modern mirrorless cameras from Panasonic, Sony, Canon or Nikon. In that regard Leica Q/Q2 is an interesting approach that combines M and SL2 elements of design. In fact, it is possible to use Leica Q exactly as one would use Leica M film rangefinder.
The main principles of Leica philosophy:
- Making unobtrusive photography possible. The camera with the lens attached has to be compact. It should work just fine without a flash, using the existing light only.
- The dominant photographic style as the art photograph in the styles of pictorialism and surrealism. The camera should be a picture-machine: objective, mechanical, technological, giving the photographers new perspectives, strange compositions and in general the unexpected spontaneous look, surrealist approach of intuitive, even subconsciously made snapshots. The Vision approach in Leica photography is to focus (literally!) on the subjective, individualistic aspects of spontaneous picture-making or the ‘artless art of the snapshot’.
- “It is not sociologists who provide insights, but the photographers who are observers at the very heart of their times”. To capture this heart the Leica photographer wanted to as invisible as could be. Cartier-Bresson would vey quickly raise the camera to his eye, take pictures in rapid succession and jump out of the scene. Many Leica adepts cover their Leica M body with black tape to disguise the fact they they are using a camera and the classic black-painted Leica cameras are in great demand on the collectors market.
- The operation of the camera should be minimalistic and simplistic. The aperture and focus controls belong to a lens, the shutter speed and sensitivity controls belong to a body with a clear viewfinder. Point and shoot.
- The emotional attachment to the Leica camera is a universal phenomenon. The Dutch photographer Philip Mechanicus used a Leica and noted that he saw masculine and feminine traits in the camera. ‘He’ because of the functional appearance and ‘she’ because of the slimness, proportions and shades of the body. He called this feeling ‘technical eroticism’, and linked this emotion exclusively to the Leica camera.
Right now Leica is making waves and experiencing a Renaissance. As Ken Rockwell noted, the taste of the modern casual photographers is spoiled by the cheap market from Japan and China, and the quality demands are balanced by the price to pay. The whole question had become a psychological inferiority complex problem:
“Men buy LEICA, and especially the NOCTILUX, to establish dominance. Owning LEICA is tangible proof of a man’s superior vision, inimitable taste and superior level of accomplishment. LEICAs, instruments of the immortal, are a plaything for the talented. We own LEICA because it is who we are, not because we need to take pictures. LEICAs haven’t been about taking pictures since they went obsolete back in the 1960s. LEICA lenses cost what they do because they are well made and use very high grades of glass (for instance, you have to pay a lot for better homogeneity grades as LEICA does), but most of the price is paying for intangibles like bloodline and heritage. Oskar Barnack’s martyrdom isn’t free. LEICA is about the lifestyle, never the price.
While this Mitakon lens works on a LEICA camera, it doesn’t deserve to be mounted on a LEICA because it lacks bloodline and has no heritage, and certainly doesn’t confer any sort of prestige. It just takes pictures. If you have to worry about price, you should not be playing with LEICA. Sit down and let the big boys play if you can’t afford genuine LEICA lenses for your LEICA camera. The guys I know who own NOCTILUX own an average of three of them, not just one.”
This said, we have to remember that the primary reason we use photography gear is to take beautiful pictures. While it is okay to experiment, buy and sell, try new things, the whole point is not to get busy, or to be busy, or to get into debt, but to find the gear that works for you, a style that works for you, and start producing annual photobooks.