Recovering DSLR USER
Hello. My name is William Bright and I’m a recovering DSLR user. For the last twenty years, photography has been a big part of my identity, but recently I began to wonder why it was that I took fewer and fewer photos, despite having some really great equipment. And when did my smartphone become my camera of choice?
And then it hit me: I’d lost control. I had become disconnected with the process. Photography had devolved down to the quick snap. Gone were the days where I would consider exposure, aperture and tone — both photographically *or* emotionally. I was no longer thinking about light. And here I was ignoring my expensive tool with all its sophistication and using it like a point and shoot. It’s no wonder I set it down for my smartphone.
Mine may be one of the last generations to grow up with manual film cameras, a time when there were only so many shots per roll and every shot counted. And while we have replaced silver gelatin with megapixels, and thoughtful consideration with speed, we have also traded knowledge and experience for the endless cycle of shooting by LCD with a complete disregard for how composition, exposure, and light can affect a moment.
Last summer, as the date for my two-week summer trip to South Korea approached, I decided to get a new camera. And not just any camera; I had rigid requirements for what I would call the “ultimate travel camera.” First and foremost, I wanted a full-frame digital camera with the best glass I could find, and after consulting with several photographers I respect, including our very own Adam Marelli, it was clear to me that the Leica M rangefinder system was the way to go.
I selected the latest Leica M-P typ 240. For lenses, I wanted a well rounded kit, so I picked up the 50mm Summilux F1.4, a used 90mm Elmarit F2,8 and a new Zeiss Biogon 21mm F2.8 with viewfinder. Along with a GorillaPod tripod with Ballhead X, a handful of neutral density filters and a cable release, I was armed with a small, light, *and complete* portable system that could fit entirely into a nondescript WWII Gas Mask Bag — much like the A. Marelli x Slow Tools Bag — which I could comfortably (and discreetly) carry.
Other photographer friends of mine, the ones who hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid, balked at the high cost of entry into a Leica system. I can understand that. But my counter argument was simply this: what good is a camera system you never use? I have three other cameras whose primary duty is to collect dust on my bookshelf. My counter argument to the nonbelievers was that I now had a full kit at a fraction of the weight of a competitor’s similar setup. When in the field, that’s important.
MY EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD:
The first thing I discovered about shooting with a Leica is that I felt much more in tune with the camera. It rode closer to my chest, comfortably slung diagonally across my body. It would recede into the back of my mind when walking and talking with a companion, but also remain substantial enough that I never felt like I’d left it behind.
Also, it’s true what they say! No one notices it! With its smaller profile and whisper silent shutter, people barely give it a second glance. Well almost, that is, save for the other photographers that I would encounter in the field. The intrepid souls sporting Nikons or Canons – particularly those with heavy 300-500mm lenses (are you carrying a lens or a transmission?) – would invariably cast envious glances my way.
German engineering has a reputation for precision, and in this instance it is well-earned. It’s a religion, and the Leica M is their prophet. In my hands it felt substantial without being bulky, with the mechanical switches snapping into place with such surety that you always knew you were set. The same goes for Leica and Zeiss’ lenses: every aperture change was heralded with a solid click, and focusing rings would glide at your finger’s slightest whim yet stay put once you’d found your spot.
Isn’t rangefinder focusing difficult with that tiny square? What about the lack of autofocus? I’ll address the first question: the answer is a simple NO. One of the reasons Leica has become the top manufacturer in the world is because of its now legendary rangefinder. With it, I’m able to find a target at my desired distance and focus, even during night scenes, with a minimum of fuss. As for autofocus, I won’t miss arguing with my lens on what *I* would like in focus, especially after I’ve recomposed my shot. And most of the time I’m shooting with a wide enough depth of field that I can trust the hyperfocal distance scale on the top of my lens to know what will be in focus, so I never miss a shot. I relied on my knowledge of light and its relationship with shutter speeds and aperture, rather than let the camera show me what my results were. There weren’t fifty dots in the viewfinder to consider when focusing, or follow focus, or seven burst modes. It was focus, shutter, and aperture.
With this setup I feel a symbiotic relationship with my camera; I know my tool and how it works. I’m now able to let go, to focus on my surroundings and find the composition I want to capture. At no point am I detached from my surroundings. Quite the contrary, in fact – I can tell an intimate story about every exposure I’ve taken.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what camera you use, so long as you’re out there capturing and sharing with the world. Find a tool that moves you, that you can control, and that frees you to capture your little moment and help it transcend into something that won’t simply be cropped into a tiny square on Instagram, but rather, something that you can print, mat, and frame behind glass on your wall.
Now, when someone comes to your home and asks about that photo, you’ll have a story to share. And it will come with an extra thousand words. For me, the system that makes this possible is Leica, and now I’m planning trips simply to photograph places I want to see for myself. Some might ask, what good is a camera if you’re not present in the moment? I would ask, what good is a moment if you’re not present at all?
To see more of William Bright’s Work: https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlebill/