Why I switched to a Rangefinder
Last year I fulfilled a decade long ambition of switching from shooting on DSLR’s to a mirrorless Rangefinder system. 6 months down the line, this is what I’ve learned.
So, which is better?
This is a tricky question to answer, I had long become used to the modern luxuries of the DSLR's - their incredible low light performance, fast AF systems and vicious continuous shooting output. When I first switched to the Leica rangefinder system, I was left without all of these; and this affects how I photographed, and what chose to shoot. I actually found it hard to adjust at first. It was easy to focus on what the fully manual Leica couldn't do. Then I started acclimatising to the new system and I found instantly what the Leica was capable of.
The camera I bought was the Leica M240, with the 35mm and 50mm Summicrons (f2). I soon learned that what the camera lacks in low light performance, it makes up for by reading good light impeccably well. It has changed the way I see light altogether. It is unforgiving in many respects, as without good light your advantage is often lost - But the upper bound of what can be achieved surpasses any of the modern DSLR's that I've shot with.
If I'm on a demanding shoot, I will still carry the Nikons with me, because they have the ability to get you a shot that can be delivered in almost every condition, but with the Leica - you have the opportunity to hunt for good light and deliver something really special.
Street shooting and portraiture
There's really no comparison. The small and unimposing demeanour of the Leica creates so much less of a barrier between subject and photographer. Portrait shoots have become more of a conversation. There is a subtle nature to it, and people seem more comfortable with the muted click of the Leica curtain as opposed to the obtuse smack of the DSLR mirror.
The unique frame line system on the rangefinders helps you see beyond the confines of your frame, which is great for composition on the streets.
Slowing it down
When I switch back to the Nikon, I’m shocked at how trigger happy I am. The volume of photographs is not usually a substitute for one well composed and considered photograph. The rangefinder has such an analog feel that you are forced to consider each shot more, and this, for me, has lead to better shooting.
Leica doesn’t compare. The clarity of the glass is so incredible that the monitors I edit on don’t do it justice. Sharpness down to the pixel level for sure, but with character and tone that you just can’t fully replicate on Photoshop.
There is a wonderful weight on your shoulders when you shoot with a Leica. The roster of great photographers that shoot with the Leica rangefinders is overwhelming. I find that when on a shoot with the Leica, I am aware of this responsibility and I unconsciously shoot accordingly. I can never blame my gear for letting me down. If this is the system that so many of my heroes shoot with, then I can’t even consider blaming the gear – I have to blame my bad pictures on something else, which can be quite self-evaluating.
In conclusion, for all its grief and the lack of convenience - the process of shooting with the Leica rangefinder system has transformed the way I've approached photography altogether. It's changed how i see good light, and what I feel makes a good picture. That is something special, perhaps even worth the price tag.
Slowing down the process of photography, treasuring each frame, is a new attitude that comes with the rangefinder system. This was unexpected, but consideration of each shot has meant that I have changed the way I shoot. I bought into the system for the superior image quality and the sharp lenses - but I've found that the switch has transformed my attitude to shooting, and this has fed into the quality of my work.
It's also really fun to shoot with. Really really fun.