camera value for the money

What is this so called best camera value for the money? I’ve read several times so called comparisions. I’ve seen so called test pictures – poor snapshots without any aspect of photography that makes picture worth seeing. So called photographic portals/sites. And they completely missed the main point. When it comes to cameras, it’s not about the specs. Megapixels. Noise level. But it should be mostly about user experience. Because it’s about the way we use the camera and how the camera fits itself to the way we want to use it. it goes deeper: the equipment REALLY doesn’t matter, what matters is if you know how to use it.

I’ve read several times how bad in money term are Leica products. How much snob are people buying Leica M9. Lack of autofocus. Lack of all these ‘meter and set exposure for me’ programs. However most authors of this groans has absolute zero experience with rangefinders. Well, maybe not zero, but the level that results in kind of compact camera snapshot pic from kinderparty. So, to be honest it’s kind of crazy situation – someone just shouts: listen to me, I’m newby, I have a problem shooting rangefinders and I donot like these rangefinders. And you just donot buy them.

Buying Leica is a kind of crazy moment in life. You have to forget about everything that is rational.

Brand new Leica is not cheap (but my father used to say: poor people can not afford cheap stuff – it simply means you need to invest in quality then just in cheap affordable items).

Leica M series it’s not entry level tool. It’s not automated towards user as most of people expect. So every imperfection on our level is visible in pictures. It hurts. But it makes pressure to be better. I have bought M9 in very good moment. I really needed slowdown. There was no pressure like someone has it and I have to own it too. The choice was between Nikon D3s and Leica M9. A tool for photojournalistic coverage, weddings, commercial events, streetphotography, personal projects, personal/family stuff. Everyday camera in my bag. It’s not my only camera for work, I just switched from Canon 5dmk2 towards Nikon D700. But if I have time for choice – I will use Leica because of it’s kind of film colour from the sensor. I have mentioned it before – Leica M9 gives me negative film results in rules of transparent film exposure.

A few things you need to understand before buying Leica M9 or other rangefinder:

No autofocus. Apart Konica Hexar AF I had owned and two Contax – G1 and G2 there is no other rangefinder on the market with autofocus. So welcome in world of manual focusing. At least you have to know the distance of object and use scalefocusing. Or… use frame in viewfinder to crop and focus using superimposed image method (with double image in viewfinder). Pretty fast in bad light condition and pretty ‘in point’ when you master it. DSLR will be generally faster but… is this a race all the time? sometimes it’s faster and definately more discrete for me to focus with M9 then with Canon 5dmk2. M9 forces me to think, Canon fails fitting the wall of it’s performance and accuracy.

Lack of automation. It’s not exactly true. The lens are manual. I mean – manual focusing and manual selected aperture. But – if you want or have to – you can set up Auto ISO or Aperture priority program, Leica M9 allows you to do this. Pretty nice results but seriously – only manual mode allows me to control the exposure the way I want and intend. It’s slower but it goes into precision and understanding the exposure. The only fulltime manual Leica is actualy MP model.

Viewfinder and framing. The best thing in rangefinders is framing. The possibility to see more then the frame we finally get. Hard to explains pros until you see it. the end of ‘someone entered my frame’ and the begin of ‘I put this guy into picture as a part of the frame’. The frames on rangefinders are a bit confusing. M9 has its frame lines calibrated for 1m as noted in the manual or closer the truth 2m as noted on a few pages. Leica states that parallax error is automatically compensated – it’s half truth. Sometime it means you have to postcrop during postproduction, because due to optical system in rangefinder you will get more in the picture than you have seen in the frame. For closer focusing then 1m expect to get less in the picture then in the frame. A bid confusing in term of precision framing. However the viewfinder image is large and brighter than any DSLR I’ve seen (including top Canon and Nikon models). The only viewfinder that eats Leica M9 viewfinder is in my Voigtlander Bessa R4A. The bad sides of rangefinders are telelens (above 135mm) and macrophotography. you cannot simply focus under 0,7m because rangefinder system cannot be calibrated below this distance. It’s not a big problem since I’m not macro freak. the other option if I have to is using for closeups and macro Sony NEX5 with Leica lens and macro ring. Or using for the same thing Nikon D700 I own.

so, overall – user experience with M9.
Simply to operate, smaller then pro DLSRs, not too lightweight. Solid build. Generally – whole M line since 1954 looks almost the same. Surely there is devil in details. Minors? Slow SD card write time. Not best LCD (I used to operate it only to check some camera’s parameters like ISO or battery level), lack of ISO dial to easy operate (I’ve made a joke during last visit in Leica Store that I need more this ISO/ASA dial then LCD), not good battery results, a little bit complicated system of changing battery or SD card (but there are solutions from ie Leicatime), lack of PC cord slot. Some pics with close framing or using objects to create viniette on the picture are difficult or impossible to control. It’s easy to understand if you get into minimal knowledge of rangefinder’s optical system.

So, what is the real value of the camera? as I wrote at start – only pictures we can take. Because camera doesn’t take pictures itself. It doesn’t make us better photographer.

the worst part at the end: Leica doesn’t make anyone to be Henri Cartier-Bresson. But that’s ok – it’s not matter how good I am. It’ matter how good I want to be.


Marcin Rusinowski | wish you were here



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