Mar 062015
 

Recovering DSLR USER

William Bright

LEICA M240

 

Donghwasa - Daegu, South Korea. © William Bright

Donghwasa – Daegu, South Korea. © William Bright

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.

Donghwasa - Daegu, South Korea. © William Bright

Donghwasa – Daegu, South Korea. © William Bright

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.

Donghwasa - Daegu, South Korea. © William Bright

Donghwasa – Daegu, South Korea. © William Bright

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.

Leica M240, Leica 50mm f/2.0 Summicron, Leica 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit, and Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 ZM © William Bright

Leica M240, Leica 50mm f/2.0 Summicron, Leica 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit, and Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 ZM © William Bright

MY KIT:

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.

Drying Squid. Jeju Island, South Korea.  © William Bright

Drying Squid. Jeju Island, South Korea. © William Bright

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.

Old Grandma in Daegu selling clothing. © William Bright

Old Grandma in Daegu selling clothing. © William Bright

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.

Reading the Bible in Daegu, South Korea. © William Bright

Reading the Bible in Daegu, South Korea. © William Bright

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.

Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju South Korea. © William Bright

Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju South Korea. © William Bright

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.

Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju South Korea.  © William Bright

Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju South Korea. © William Bright

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.

Block Drugs Stores, New York, NY © William Bright

Block Drugs Stores, New York, NY © William Bright

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?

Hades Ascending. The Devil's Churn, Cape Perpetua, Oregon © William Bright

Hades Ascending. The Devil’s Churn, Cape Perpetua, Oregon © William Bright

To see more of William Bright’s Work: https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlebill/ 

–William Bright

AM_LOGO-Lightroom-Small

 

  23 Responses to “A Recovering DSLR User: William Bright”

  1. Great article and great photos and I totally agree with all your comments. For over 30 years I used a Pentax SLR film camera until I could no longer get it repaired. This lead to a four year experiment with a Pentax DSLR; where I got lazy and simply used the auto settings etc rather than using my mind to capture images. Four years ago I was exposed to the Leica rangefinder cameras and lenses. That exposure lead to putting the Pentax DSLR on the shelf and to the investment in the M9 and subsequently the Monochrom, to workshops with Adam and to taking the time to think and compose my images..

    Thanks for a great article.

    Robert Lemmon

  2. All the time I was reading this my head was nodding in agreement with everything you said. I nearly offered a “high five” at one point. I too have recently found Leica, and now I simply cannot shoot with any other camera. It’s always difficult to explain why, other than for me it just “feels right”.

    At first I thought I was crazy, spending so much money on a Leica set up, but after shooting for a very short period of time I soon realised theres no price you can put on that feeling of falling in love with photography all over again.

  3. I agree almost completely. As an old pensioner I’m not in the Leica league — so I have a poor man’s Leica, the Fuji X100S. In the year I’ve had it my Canon 5D3 frequently stays home. When I began processing X100S pictures I realized there was nothing I could have done better with the Canon. So, I’m in the process of preparing to divest myself of all the Canon stuff and go completely with Fuji.

    Last Saturday afternoon I took a particularly difficult picture — cramped space, shooting into bright afternoon sun, crappy background, etc. The Fuji gave me options of using high shutter speed with flash (leaf shutter), built-in 3-stop ND, fast aperture (down to f/2.0). After getting the picture I saw with this little camera I looked at it and found myself saying out loud, “I LOVE this camera.” I’ve never said that to an SLR/DSLR in my life. Very exciting.

  4. Rob and Antony,

    Was thinking that a few photographers would relate to William’s experience. Glad you enjoyed it!

    Best-AM

  5. My serious photography took a nose dive when Leica kanked the R10 project. To date, nothing Leica bulids has replaced the reflex experience. I have had a lot of trouble adapting to and enjoying the digital experience in photography. I recently bought an M(240), but, even with the live view finder, there is much lacking outside of using the M with the small set of M lenses that optimize the rangefinder’s use.

    The M is arguable still the best camera for a number of uses, but Leica has nothing for the longer lens crowd, sports, or wildlife any more.

    The other thing I finally identified in my own mind is that one thing I valued so much shooting transparencies was the editing and projecting. I don’t do prints very often. Digital images look different on every different piece of equipment, and one needs two screens to see verticals at the same size as horizontals. Digital projectors of Leica quality are so expensive as to be absurd for personal enjoyment.

    I don’t know what my medium-term decisions will be with regard to my M and R gear, and I’m getting a D-Lux, now that it has an integral viewfinder. This whole digital thing is not easy for me to get excited about.

  6. Felt the same as you, but I bought an $800 Rolleiflex TLR. Will spend the other $20,000 on film and airline tickets.

  7. Thanks for the article … I can certainly relate to it …

    Currently I have an M9 with 90mm Elmarit M, 35mm Summicron and the 21mm Super-Elmar … and every time I use it (which is often) I thoroughly enjoy the experience … I am divesting myself of all my Canon kit and have supplemented the M9 with the Olympus OMD EM1 and a DLux6 … (as well as an old Digilux 2 I bring out now and again) …

    Interested to hear about the ND filters you are using … I have none at the moment but this is a future investment ..

    Thanks again

    • Dear Jonathan,

      Thank you for sharing your transition…the smaller/lighter load goes a long way.

      What questions did you have about ND filters?

      Best-AM

      • Hi Adam …

        I was interested to know what is recommended to use with the Leica system in terms of ND filters ..

        In fact I have just ordered a E46 Heliopan variable ND filter on Amazon which looks like a cunning way to try different densities … having undertaken some of my own research … :-)

        I hope this will be a sound investment …

        Jonathan

        • Hi Jonathan,

          The two filters I use (typically) are both B+W filters…A UV for shooting in costal locations or when machinery is running.

          Or I use an polarizing filter.

          Most people are using ND filters to shoot a lower F stops, but I walk around with my lenses at F4, so Ive never used ND with the exception of split density ND filters for landscape or architecture.

          Best-AM

  8. Sorry, but there is too much bullshit in this post. The guy buys an ultra-expensive camera and comes up with some odd justifications for it.

    “I’d lost control. I had become disconnected with the process. Photography had devolved down to the quick snap.” he writes. Sure, but that’s the photographer’s fault. Put a DSLR in manual and you’re back in control.

    “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” he writes. That’s the photographer’s fault, again. Who is this “we” he writes about? Certainly not everyone who uses a DSLR. Shoot a DLSR — or any camera — with regard for composition, exposure and light and the problem is solved.

    “I have three other cameras whose primary duty is to collect dust on my bookshelf” he writes. Again, the photographer’s fault. He bought 3 cameras that were too heavy, probably with zooms instead of compact primes.

    “I now had a full kit at a fraction of the weight of a competitor’s similar setup” he writes. Yes, most DSLRs and their lenses are heavier. But DSLRs can be relatively lightweight if one chooses compact prime lenses.

    “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” he writes. He never learned to lock focus with his DSLR, or switch it to manual focus. Instead, he’d rather go by hyperfocal distance “so I never miss a shot”. So he’s back to quick snaps. What happened to taking control?

    “There weren’t fifty dots in the viewfinder to consider when focusing, or follow focus, or seven burst modes.” Again the photographer’s fault. Shoot a DSLR using center point one shot AF in single drive mode and the problem is solved.

    “I know my tool and how it works”. Good, but could have done that with a DSLR too.

    “I’m now able to let go, focus on my surroundings and find the composition I want to capture.” Good, could have done that with a DSLR too (or any camera).

  9. I priced out his kit at USD $11,150.
    Clearly a full frame Sony 7 series and an adapter for used M lenses would provide the same solution at a fraction of the cost.
    The Sony EVF are excellent and it is very easy to minimize the technical information so that the image area remains uncluttered. The focus peaking can be colored yellow and also minimized so that it mimics the yellow rangefinder square quite nicely.
    Of course, the fauxtographer/hipster vibe with a Leica body is priceless!

  10. Talking of bullshit…. Whatever your SoCaNikon is, its bulkier and heavier. Compact DSLR prime lenses? Not when compared to m-mount Zeiss, Voigtlander or Leica. Fully agree that most of what you can do with a rangefinder you can do with an DSLR (and more). It is a completely different way of set up and workflow. And it is not a solution to everything. Neither is a DSLR. I guess that you have not experienced it and if you did, you didn’t like it. That’s fine, however no reason whatsoever to tell someone else he is not entitled to his preferences.

    If I take a couple of m mount lenses and a camera it’s about one third of the size of the same in DSLR (in my case Nikon) equivalent equipment.

  11. William,

    Thank you for the nice article. It fully matches my own experience.

    Lars

  12. No one said he’s “not entitled to his preferences”. If I had the extra money, I’d have a preference for everything that Leica makes. I’ve enjoyed using a Leica and it is about as cool as a camera can be. But the bullshit is all of the false justifications, like losing “control” with a DSLR, having to “argue” with the autofocus, or not having regard for composition, exposure or light with a DSLR. Those problems are entirely with the photographer, not the DLSR. It’s like blaming bad cooking on the dishes instead of the cook. His gear shown above weighs about 1600 grams not including whatever that Zeiss finder weighs. A Canon 6D with 20/2.8, 50/1.4 and 85/1.8 would weigh just under 1900 grams. A Nikon D750 with 20/1.8, 50/1.8 and 85/1.8 would weigh about 1,650 grams. Bulkier for sure, but not 3X bulkier.

  13. I am like the author who is tired of carrying bulky DSLRs. I replaced my Canon SLR and L lenses with one camera with the smallest full frame camera in the world – the Sony RX1. Since using the RX1, I now can’t stand using DSLRs because of the plastic feeling bodies unlike rangefinders which are built in metal. I disagree with the author about the auto focus. I use auto focus a lot. As for zooming in, you can always zoom by your feet. With regards to DSLR, I think their end is near. I can imagine new cameras will be a lot smaller and will always be full frame. As for lenses, it will be same. Still huge but with more features like image stabilization, less distortion and longer zoom range.

    • Wally,
      Im with you…I came from a Hasselblad and Mamiya film system. I’ve never liked auto focus, unless it was being used for sports or birds, which I don’t shoot. I find it to be a distracting chatter in the view finder. Automation, in any tool, detracts from the experience.

      Whether its a CNC machine or the autofocus on a camera, it minimizes the immediacy. And as a practicing artist, it is understandable to use automation for production deadlines, but left to my own preferences, the manual version is always more fulfilling.

      While I applaud the efforts of Fuji and Sony, to offer competitive products to the Leica…they all deliver something close without meeting my preferences. Though I bet within a few years they will make something that attracts me. Sony is much closer than anyone at this point, though Fuji could surprise us. As of now I prefer…
      – Optical view finders…even the best EVFs do not interest me. There is nothing better than seeing the world with my eye, not my eye and a million dots.
      – Shutter dial on the top, aperture on the lens. DSLRs spinning dials are of zero interest.
      – And the body shapes for the Sony A series, Fuji’s, and Dslrs all need work. The smaller Sonys are well designed, but you could not pay me to carry most of the other cameras. Which is not to say they are bad, but I don’t like them. And Im happy to live in a world where there are options.

      All in all, equipment selection is a process for everyone. If you happen to like the gear, its for the better because you will be more likely to take it with you.

      Sad to see rants like Jerry whose first comment was that it was “bullshit.” Aside from the lack of manners, for a first time commenter, it does nothing to facilitate an interesting discussion around the ideas of equipment.

      Best-AM

  14. I consider the M camera, now a M(240), the ideal camera for a lens set from 28mm to 75mm. Outside of that range, the EVF is necessary. So, what I want to see is two things:
    1. M lenses across the focal length range, to include the long lenses and real zooms. With EVF, this is feasible and will replace the need for using the much larger R long and zoom lenses.
    2. Near zero recovery time of the EVF image. It is impossible to shoot successive images rapidly using the EVF.

    • Hi Tom,

      Interesting points…yes the EVFs are still not appealing to me yet and the M camera is very much a camera of “averages.” With the older x0.58 the 28mm lenses were an option, but the way the new finders are the camera does 35-90mm for me and thats about it. Fortunately I don’t shoot birds. We will see what they cook up with, but I would like to see them spend some time on the finder and less on the body finishes (lenny kravitz?! really?)

      Best-AM

  15. Jim, I can relate to that. I wouldn’t be lying and said that the appeal of film, and the excitement in rediscovery of your developed negatives as well! Ultimately I felt the cost of film, development, chemicals (if you do it yourself), darkroom rental fees, paper, chemicals, and time all to be prohibitive. That being said, some of the happiest time in my life was out shooting and the some of the most content time of my life spent in the peace of the darkroom… maybe I’ll head back that way soon!

    I envy you your plane tickets. Enjoy!

  16. I’ll apologize in advance, but this sounds SO MUCH like an AD for Leica. It reads in a SEO-ish way.

    • Hi Michael,
      No need to apologize.
      As you can see from the site, gear plays a rather minimal role. Rather late in the Leica digital game, Bill was looking for a solution to a problem. He found it in Leica. Will everyone? Certainly not. But, he wrote the piece. I did not have any editorial input.
      If it were an SEO piece it would look much different. And in case this is new information, Leica allocates ZERO dollars to advertising. So it is not an ad either.
      Best-AM

Add Comment Register



 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>