BONEV PHOTOGRAPHY - Leica M

BONEV PHOTOGRAPHY

A decision that did not came immediately but was inevitable from the beginning...
Leica cameras were introduced to me by a friend of mine somewhere back in 2005. At this time I was looking for a relatively inexpensive way to record memories of the first upcoming child. Leica's brand name came in the conversation because even thought I could afford only inexpensive digital camera I wanted to see what is the best on the market. Back in 2005 digital was such a huge thing that I did not even think about the option of getting a film camera. Looking back at the photos now I can really see what a mistake that was. With a decent camera with good lens and aperture f2 you could do a much better job scanning the negatives at high resolution using a professional scanner. Not to mention we had 2 SLR film cameras in the closet one of which I used already at age of 11. I guess compared to the digital compact they were SLR monsters. One of the two was actually a Zenit E which was a smaller size SLR but had a problem with the mechanics. Still have that camera.
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Zenit-E Moskva 80 Edition with Helios 44-2 lens
... Leica M ...
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Shot with Leica M and 50mm Summilux ASPH
As a kid I was fascinated by 2 things- history, especially evolution of our world and the second thing is how things work. Still remember lingering around my grandfather when he was repairing some things in his house or in his workshop in the basement. I guess this is where I developed a really bad habit of taking things apart to see what is inside and how it worked. Now I do it just to fix things.... hopefully. So this is where Leica with it's pure design and phenomenal quality and craftsmanship comes in. Leica M completes me not only in mechanical but also in a spiritual way. Every time I use it, It brings something special that I can relay with. It is digital but feels quite mechanical too. No auto focus, no 5000 options that I do not need. Very basic control nobs on the top that looks old but stylish, and very efficient. Leica M changed the way I take pictures again. I even had to change the way I hold the camera since it operates in a different way. At one point I gave it to a friend of mine and after 60 sec he concluded this is not something he will be able to use. Henri Cartier-Bresson once said the camera is not a toy but an instrument with which photographers seal a fraction of time. True but ask yourself the question: ok, it is not a toy but what pleasure of taking pictures if you hate your camera? In which profession you are ok to use an instruments in which you constantly see imperfections? I do not think there is such a person and if there is, well you are one lost soul since passion is the core of creativity or at least that is how I feel about it. I cannot imagine that somebody will wake up today and say "I am going to do something great", and then make some product or a write a poem or a book, and do all this without being passionate and be motivated or inspired by something. I feel that to create something outstanding you have to have a special motivation beyond money. I love photography but I also love the instrument that makes it.
...it feels like a film camera, but is digital, but is not like DSLR...
Now I might sound confusing to some but here what Leica M is- it feels like a film camera, but is digital, but is not like DSLR. Every picture is my responsibility and if the picture is not good at the end it is my fault. Let me explain. It feels manual because in most cases the only thing I care about is aperture and focus which are done manually like on a film camera. It is digital because it has digital metering modes, auto ISO, Auto WB and etc. Auto ISO mode work in relation with Aperture Priority mode which I use 99% of the time. Auto ISO has a function where I specify a minimum shutter speed I want to achieve. So lets say for example I shoot with a 50mm lens. By default auto ISO will not push the ISO higher than the standard minimum ISO 200 unless it is too dark and cannot achieve 1/focal length of the lens, which for this example is 1/50. With the latest firmware update you get even better options- 2, 3, etc. times focal length. In this way I only pay attention to focusing on the object.
...focusing...
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Shot with Leica M and 50mm Summilux ASPH
Focusing on Leica with the rangefinder is phenomenal. It cannot be done in a more organic and mechanical way. Leica M has three ways to focus (not counting the zoning focus with the markings on the lens): rangefinder, LCD live view and EVF2.

Rangefinder: as long as you have good eyes this method is the best. The nice thing about it, is that it lets you see outside of the frame when you use 50 and higher focal length. It gives you the ability to focus and wait like a hunter for the object to enter the frame. No lag because it is pure optical.

The EVF2
(electronic view finder): works very good too. The benefit is because it focus using the sensor, I see what I will get at the end. Sometimes when I switch between the rangefinder and EVF2 I feel like I am cheating when using EVF2. It gives a lot of info and the final image as it will be produced. Focus peaking, which is an option activated in the menu, automatically highlights sharp contours in red to provide simple focus control and let you know how wide your focus is and by moving your lens focus ring it moves with it. This is the only option to focus R lenses. There is some lag with this method also as a drawback.

LCD screen:
It works the same way as EVF2 but is really not comfortable. Good to have it for certain situations like tiny or complex objects and when you do not have the EVF2 on. EVF2 sticks out a little and thus making the camera less compatible to wear I started utilizing LCD more ofter and using EVF2 less and less.

Issues with focusing a DSLR: focusing in DSLRs focusing is pure electronic. In most cases it works using the mirror and with contrast to detect edges but not like Leica M directly on your sensor. Yes, the Canon 70D I had and other cameras, can use the LCD on the back to focus the same way but it is not an option when shooting without tripod. With regular metering I was never 100% sure that the focusing indicator on the camera is telling the truth and for a many thousand reasons. I could only assume and this was not good enough for me. Because of this I developed a bad habit- looking after each shot I take. Leica M is fixing this now pretty fast. Canon tells you you can do micro adjustments to improve your accuracy but this is a joke. The simple truth is electronic focusing works fine with f2.8 lenses and above. Try it with f1.4 or less and you will be hating yourself for trusting it. So…it never worked...period!

Leica's combination of electronic view finder and the range finder is superb. Most of the time I stay with just the rangefinder but in certain conditions It is difficult to focus- for example an object that is rather complex with small parts and has occupied a wide space or light is not that good. In that case the EVF2 is perfect. Did I say that I love the rangefinder.
Auto focus...
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Manual focus with Canon 70D and Leica Summilux-R
Auto focus is good for many things but in my experience it can be a disadvantage too. I can imagine it is good to take a picture of something without looking thru your viewfinder while you have 10 other people in front of you and you have to lift your camera way above your head. But think about it and you will see you can do this with your Leica. Every fixed Leica lens have range scale on it. I can approximately calculate the distance to the object and adjust my settings without looking thru the rangefinder at all. Not sure - put f5.6-11 or even 16 and just shoot as long as you want. I will give you another example. I could never get a good picture of my daughter using a DSLR while she swings in the playground using auto focus. The truth is it can be done after shooting 100 shots and you will get one lucky one. This is not for me. I like precision and to be in control. The way it works with manual focus is you measure at something parallel to the object at the same distance at the point you want the object to land and then...click. Sports same thing... Leica M make me think about my shots. It feels right and secure. Modern mirrorless are putting auto focus on a different level as it measures with the whole sensor but still it is finicky at times. I prefer to use rangefinder as it tells me 100% if I am on the subject or not.
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Last shot with Canon 70D
Design...
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Leica M... Who said you cannot make good pictures with iPhone 5?
Design is where Leica is in my opinion superior to any other brand. Not only the quality of the pictures is over the top but also the design and feel is superb.

Lets start with body size. It is so much smaller than a full frame DSLR. Leica really stay with traditional M3 design and managed to keep it almost the same for the digital. Weight is 680 grams compared to full frame 5D Mark III is 950 grams. This all shows me that despite it looks simple, the Leica M had some serious design thought put into its design process and this makes Leica M bonding perfect. I can imagine if they went and used all plastic like other DSLRs it would have been 400 grams but then it might be too cheap and too light. I love metal I love glass. Plastic is cheap, recyclable materials are really not on my list. Combine it with the ultra compact, fast and precise Summilux and Summicron lenses and you have a camera that is less than 1000 grams with a very small overall size. This is a complete package. Nobody offers this on the market and Leica is straight on point in this case.

(Update) Check this video to see live comparison between Canon 5D and Leica M.

To be honest I think Leica deserves to be admired for trying to stand alone in this segment. It is not easy to sell a camera that costs 2-5 times more that competitors. It is not easy to spend all this effort and expect people to understand you and justify the price. I did.
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Compare Leica M with Summilux 50/1.4 lens, Canon 70D and Canon 5D Mark III
...nobs, leather and metal...
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Leica M front
The final finish is great. The body is metal with leather around it. The top part is polished to perfection that feels nice to touch and use. The nobs on the top are super nice and clicks stops are very soft. The body is rounded so it requires a little different approach to hold it. The nice leather help getting the needed grip. You can get an extra grip adapter but then you will ruin all the efforts put into making this camera small. If I have to summarize the feel of the camera I would only say it feels special. It is like Leonardo da Vinci creation. Combine it with Leica own lenses and you have a master piece! Just thinking that you can have bought 60 years ago a lens that is still outperforming quite a bit of the DSLR lenses is fantastic. I did owned Summilux 50/1.4 from 1974. It made circles around the cheap 50/1.4 from Canon that simply could not focus properly. It makes them useless in some way. I love what I read on Leica’s site some time ago and it stated something like this: Leica camera is a purchase for a lifetime and quite often it will last even more.
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Leica M back
Without being technical about it I tried to explain the motive to get one of the most precious instruments in photography. I switched from Canon where I had full equipment to cover from 11mm to 200mm. I never regret it. Now I have the same and more on Leica. It feels right to invest in your memories.

Leica M
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The best view. Shot with Leica M and 50 mm ASPH Summilux.