A New Start | Part 2: I Found Where I Belong
Continued from Part 1 of A New Start
What I ultimately chose was to walk away from the arms race waged by major camera makers whose objectives were advancing photography a direction not totally in line with what I valued: the process of capturing a photograph. I chose a camera where the interface is as simple as humanly possible, where any input is solely for the purpose of exposure and where manual control over focus, aperture and exposure isn’t a choice, it’s the only way things can be done. And while I wasn’t comfortable switching to film as I still value the flexibility of digital sensors, I chose a camera that has evolved from it’s roots in film to something with a digital heart and an analog soul, always making choices in the name of honoring the process and what got us here. I chose to go with a Leica M.
If you’re not familiar with Leica and more specifically the Leica M, let me summarize. The German camera manufacturer Leica has been around since 1914. The company popularized using 35mm film in a portable camera and has a long history dedicated to making top of the line optics and cameras and is most notably known for their rangefinder M camera, introduced in 1954. The Leica M10 is the latest evolution of the M, known for its simplicity and quality. And while it now has a digital sensor and electronics inside the body, the camera is practically indistinguishable from any of the previous iterations of the M; from the front it’s impossible to know the camera is any different from a 40 year old film M.
Leica cameras are also known for their cost. Relative to the top offerings from the major manufacturers, they are about twice as expensive yet offer specifications that are hardly competitive. The Canon 5DS has 50 megapixels, shoots 1080p video and is fully automatic featuring a lightning fast autofocusing system. The M10 has 24 megapixels, cannot shoot video and uses a complex manual rangefinder focusing system. There’s even a version of the M10 that eliminates the LCD screen meaning you’re using a digital camera with no way to see what you captured; it’s in effect a digital film camera and it even costs more than the M10 with a screen! But the reason that Leicas are so expensive and their lenses are equally expensive is probably why I landed here.
It’s all about the quality, the experience. Now, before you go saying that any camera can make amazing photographs and that post-processing can give any photograph the look you want (and you’re for the most part correct) and that “the best camera is the one you have in your hand” remember the cooking analogy from part 1. I value the process and respect applying time and knowledge applied to every step in the process over doing something faster, cheaper, easier and the same could be said of the tools that I use. Leica cameras are handmade in Germany at a small factory in Wetzlar where they hold a tiny share of the world camera output. Having skilled workers build cameras in small batches and testing and calibrating each one by hand costs a lot of money and the quality shows. The amount of plastic on the camera is practically non-existent in favor of more durable metal, glass and leather which results in a beautiful, durable camera ready for a lifetime of use. And beyond the manufacturing, the quality and experience of shooting with a Leica is unmatched. Hold one in your hand, look through the viewfinder, adjust the focus, press the shutter release and you’ll get it. It looks like a camera. It feels like a camera. It even sounds like a camera when the shutter is released, a mechanical CLICK that reminds you of the first film cameras you remember from your childhood (assuming you were born prior to the 21st century). In a world dominated by bulky, black plastic cameras with electronic shutters and viewfinders and dozens of buttons and dials all over them, this camera just feels right.
And for a lot of people, none of that matters. But it does to me. I’d collected so much gear over the years that selling it all to switch to Leica wasn’t nearly as much a hit to my wallet as it could have been. I found a Leica dealer who helped me through the process and got me into a used camera that was just over a year old and well cared for with remaining factory warranty, making the decision to switch all the more easy.
I’ve not truly put the camera through it’s paces and it has limitations which make it very difficult to use for astrophotography which is why I kept my backup Sony camera which I’ll use exclusively for those pursuits. But this camera is now my trusted partner and taken with me everywhere I go.
So from here on, when you see new photos posted on this site you’ll know that they were captured with a camera that tests my knowledge and skill around photography and rewards me handsomely when I execute everything just right and punishes me and forces me to work on getting better when I don’t do everything just right. And in the end, that’s exactly what I want out of my camera and why I’m so happy to be holding a Leica M.