Q&A – Switching from a DSLR to Rangefinder Camera

Some Leica Q&A – Switching from a DSLR to Leica Rangefinder – Your e-mails answered!

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My inbox has been getting jammed lately with many questions from those who have never shot with a rangefinder and are thinking of switching from their DSLR to a Leica M rangefinder camera. I am also getting questions about lenses for the Leica M9 but I will do a post in the morning about that. For now, I would like to share an E-Mail I received from a reader who had quite a few questions about the “big switch”. Since his questions were the same type that I have been getting lately I asked him if I could use his actual e-mail to me for this post where I will answer his questions the best that I can, with my own opinions. Here is the e-mail from Mr. George Lanae:

“Steve,

I am going to switch from a DSLR to a range finder and am hoping that you are willing to give me your opinion on several matters. But first let me give you some background.Ā I have really enjoyed your web site, particularly the reviews. Although I will say that you are responsible for me not getting to bed until the wee hours of the morning because I can’t tear myself away. HA. I love your non-technical writing style and the passion that you express for photography and Leica.

I have dabbled in photography for close to 40 years starting out with the Pentax Spotmatic and three Pentax lenses (28/50/90). I loved this old SLR film camera, which served me well for many years and gave me memorable moments and pictures. I kept it for many years until I decided to try Canon SLR’s, but it was hard giving the Pentax up.

Unfortunately, I have never felt the same about Canon products albeit they are generally very good. Most recently, I have owned the 20D and 5D and was contemplating either the 5DMKII or 1DMKIV. However, I just couldn’t get comfortable with wanting to continue with Canon and making the investment. And I have 8 good Canon lenses: 24-70L, 24-105L, 100-400L, 70-300 DO, 16-35L, 85IIL, 100 F2.8, and 70-200L.

But for all the reasons you like the range finder and not DSLR cameras, I feel the same. I don’t know how many times that I have missed a picture opportunity because I elected to leave my equipment home for convenience purposes. Plus, I have never really been able to bond with my Canon equipment. To someone who does not appreciate cameras and lenses, this may be hard to understand. However, like you I want a camera that is my friend and a friend that I want with me all the time. I want to enjoy my passion all the time not selectively because my equipment is cumbersome.

When I discovered the M9 and began to research it, it was almost love at first sight. And the Leica look is distinctive and so beautiful. With my Canon equipment, I sort of felt like I had to do everything–landscape, wildlife, portrait, etc–but now I am feeling that I would like to be more selective and introspective–to slow down and do more composing and thinking about what I want to shoot. At this point in my life, I see limiting my photography a good thing, so what I will give up with a DSLR doesn’t bother me at all. Sure, there may be that occasion but no big deal. However, I really like the idea of a small camera that forces me to compose my picture more and presents in some respects a simple approach to photography than the plethora of bells and whistles that are so characteristic of DSLR’s. I know that you really liked the video component of the Canon 5DMKII, but it was a turn off for me. I just have no interest in video, so including it in an already bulky camera, albeit less bulky than the 1D series, turned me off.

So, I’ve decided to sell all of my Canon equipment and go for it with the M9 (silver) and two lenses: 28mm cron in silver, and 50mm lux in silver. I want to dedicate my photography to the capabilities of these two lenses including street and portrait photography and landscape. I have the passion for photography but am certainly an amateur with a lot still to learn.

Here are my questions:

1. With the M9, do you think that I have made the right choice of lenses? I prefer an M lens and am willing to make the investment.

YES. You chose two WONDERFUL lenses. The 28 Summicron on the M9 is gorgeous. The 50 Lux ASPH is pretty much a must own but it is VERY hard if not impossible to find right now. This would be an amazing two lens kit giving you a semi wide and a nice general purpose 50. I can not image anyone being disappointed in this setup. Tomorrow morning I will be posting my lens recommendations for the M8 and M9 and these two are in that list.

2. Do you recommend a UV filter to protect the lenses? Do you recommend any other filters?

Yes I do. Though I am guilty of NOT using them, they really should be on the camera for protection. Some think putting a UV filter on may degrade the quality a little. If you think about it, you pay all of this money for the Leica glass, which is the best in the world. You then attach a somewhat cheap piece of glass over it. The filters can sometimes cause flare but most Leica users put one to protect the glass. You never know when you may drop one of these lenses. Better to be safe than sorry. But again, I do not use any.

3. Do I need a flash? With my Canon cameras, I liked to use a flash ( 580 EX) as filler, particularly with portraits, but if I don’t need a flash (curious as to how often you use one), I don’t feel strongly about getting one.

NO NO NO!!! I am a HUGE anti flash guy when it comes to a Leica M. I have NEVER used one and never will. The M9 and the two lenses you picked will not need a flash. Open those babies up and you will be amazed at what you can capture WITHOUT A FLASH!

4. For someone starting out with a digital range finder and two lenses, is there anything else that you would recommend? I have a tripod, Gitzo, and will keep it.

Hmmm. The only thing you will need is an extra battery and if you like to have a grip on your camera, the Leica grip can be useful. I do not use it but many swear by it. All I use is my M9, batteries, lenses and occasionally a tripod.

5. Although I have not sold my lenses ( I have sold my Canon 5D), should I order MY lenses before January given the anticipated price increases? And should I pre-order the M9 since it’s probably still going to take awhile for me to get it?

Well, as you know I shop at B&H Photo. As you also may know they started taking pre-orders for the M9 on November 20th 2009. After 2 weeks they STOPPED taking pre-orders and from what I was told they already shipped most of the M9’s that have been ordered but still have some to ship. They are a priority with them and they are shipping them as they get them in weekly. So they will not accept pre-orders until ALL of their other orders are filled. Most dealers have HUGE lists of 50-70 poeple still so it may not be so easy to get one until next year anyway. My suggestion for your best bet would be to check B&H daily and when they start accepting pre-orders again JUMP! You may be able to find an M9 at a smaller dealer as well in the meantime.

6. I may be able to sell some of my lenses locally to professionals and enthusiasts, but for lenses that I can’t sell locally, what do you recommend: Should I put them on ebay or sell to B&H? I have sold cameras to B&H, but have never sold anything on ebay. You get a better selling price on ebay, but then again, you have shipping and ebay’s cut and PayPals if you use them. I should mention that all of my lenses are in superb condition, like new.

I would e-bay them or use a photo forum such as getdpi.com as they have a great buy/sell section. As much as I like B&H for buying, if you sell to them you will not get what you could if you sold them yourself.

7. I wear glasses but have not had any problem with view finders. Do I need to do anything special with the M9. Most of the time I like to take my glasses off when I am shooting.

If you shoot without glasses it should not be an issue. If you shoot with them it may be a bit harder to see all of the framelines.

8. How do you transport your equipment when you have more than one lense? If I don’t need one, I just soon not purchase a camera bag. And I’m only purchasing two lenses, one of which will be on the camera.

Well, I have a cool little billingham bag, THIS ONE to be exact. It holds my M9 and 2-3 lenses very nicely. You could get by without a bag but remember, if you want to carry both lenses and an extra battery its best to use a bag. You could throw a lens in your pocket but they could get scratched up. I would buy a bag. The one I linked to is small and nicely fits over your body.

9. Have you ever used a camera case? Again, not something that I want to purchase if it is unnecessary.

In the past I used a Leica brand lether half case but after a month or two I ended up selling it. Why? Well, it was a pain to always remove the camera to get at the memory card or battery. With that said, I think I may buy one again but when I do, it will be from Luigi at leicatime.com He makes THE BEST Leica M cases in the world.

10. What size and type Rocket Blower do you have for your Leica? What do you recommend?

I use and recommend this one. It is the large size and blows the most amount of air. It works very well for me to keep the dust down.

11. Are you familiar with Zagg Invisible Shield? If so, what do you think of putting it on the LCD display for protection? I use this product for my iphone and it works great–it has an adhesive back that you slide onto the display after applying a light spray of water. Supposedly, it is material used on helicopter blades for protection and is virtually impossible to scratch.

I am very familiar with it as I used it on my first Iphone. The cool thing is you can buy THIS ONE and it will fit the LCD perfectly. BTW, thanks for reminding me. I am going to buy one for my M9 šŸ™‚

I hope that you don’t find my email an imposition and thanks ever so much for any help and advice that you have. My best.

George Lanae

PS: I plan to purchase my Leica camera and lenses from B&H and will do so from your site. By the way, besides photography, my other passion is writing. I published my first book last year about my daughter who has Down syndrome and am working on a second.”

Here is the link to George’sĀ website, and here is a here is a link to his book at Amazon.

I hope these questions and answers will help some of you who visit this site and are thinking about switching from a DSLR to a Rangefinder. Also, it is always best to handle an M before jumping in if you can. Not everyone gets along with manual focus but George seems to be a perfect candidate for an M9, plus he chose two GREAT lenses to start with. For me, that would be all I would ever need šŸ™‚ Also, many shoot with a rangefinder and they keep a DSLR on the side for macro or telephoto. Two things an RF is not capable of. Me, I do neither so I am good with the M9 alone. šŸ™‚


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20 Comments

  1. Great forum !, I am just getting into Street Photography after photographing all subjects in the past.
    I have gone from 110 to 35mm to medium format to SLR Digital.
    I really want to own something digital that looks, feels and performs like a classic film camera but like the previous thread I sadly cannot afford an M9.
    I may be able to afford an M8 if I got a good deal ! would this be the next best choice ( I have read very mixed reviews for M8).
    Is there any other cameras to consider which could fulfill my needs n wants ???
    Any advice is greatly apreciated.
    Thanks
    Sacha Malley

    • Sacha-looks like you and I are in the same position. Ive been considering the Oly OM-d or the Sony NEX-7. Sadly im not finding a system within my budget to virtually replace my ff dslr kit. Ive only had one person kind enough to offer his suggestions – thank You George!

  2. Firstly – wonderful book George! Thank you for sharing your story and that of your daughter. I dream of Leica like a little girl dreams of sugarplum fairies! So for those of us for whom $7000+ is well beyond their budget – what is the “next best thing”? NEX-7; OM-D … there are just so many choices and the reviews are truly overwhelming.

    So the question is to all you SteveHuff-ers out there – if you couldn’t muster the monies for an M9 – what would it be?

    Thanks!
    CMD

  3. I’m new to rangefinders (4 months), and here’re my responses, FWIW:

    I started off with the 28mm f/2.8, the 50mm f/2, & the 90mm f/2. They’re great lenses! I plan to get the 28mm f/2, and sell the f/2.8.

    I then got the Voightlander 50mm f/1.1 and the pre-ASPH 35mm f/2. UV filters on all lenses.

    Like Steve, I use the Leica grip replacement baseplate.

    I use the Match Technical Thumbs-Up CS3, their Boop soft-release and their 1.25x magnifier for 50mm-up. I got a Luigi case as Steve suggested – half-case, cut-out for Thumbs-Up, snap-on back cover, Leica grip customization, and tripod screw customization.

    The strap I use is the BlackRapid RS-5 – it’s a rifle-sling strap, really changes the way you shoot! I carry a small LensPen, a small SensorPen, a lens cloth, a spare battery, and spare memory cards, along with the 1.25x magnifier, in the pocket on the BlackRapid strap.

    Finally, I carry lenses in the pockets of my cargo shorts – each lens in a separate pocket, so nothing to scratch them – or in a Domke photo vest (again, one lens/pocket, so nothing scratches them). No bag, no ‘kit’.

    ;>

  4. Please.. please…please NO FLASH TO THE LEICA M: Can you imagine what the flash would do the Van Gogh starry night, or to Velasquez Las Meninas… yes Leica M is “painting” with NATURAL light, and the flash will destroy all of this…

  5. Ben, a flash is not desirable with an M. I never knew of anyone who used one with their M. An M does not need a flash and there is a reason they do not have one built in. I shoot mine at dinners, parties, and at night. All without flash. Whats cool is that the fast M lenses seem to create their own light!

    So again, a flash IMO is not desirable. This will give you a flat, unnatural look as well as take away from the M experience with added bulk and size.

  6. Sorry I think a flash at least a small one is worth the expense. M9 has no built in flash(No want wants that to happen). You still need to do the occasional snapshots =). Plus! you have the excuse to bring it to dinner, parties and all that.
    A PnS is for the waterpark =)

  7. Sorry I think a flash at least a small one is worth the expense. M9 has no built in flash(No want wants that to happen) but you still need to do the occasional snapshots =) I wont buy a PNS after gett

  8. I recently bought the M9 and now have 4 lovely lenses. I carry the M9 almost everywhere, but I am not going to give up my 5D Mark II. Different cameras for different purposes.

    The M9 size, comparetively quiet shutter and great quality lenses with great OOF are all positivie attributes. Fast AF, zoom, long focal length, macro and great high ISO IQ are also quite useful on occasion.

    I have two photographic opportunites upcoming both of which a DSLR with a zoom will be better choice. No doubt the M9 can take some unique, perhaps even spectacular photographs, but it will also miss so many that I cannot take the risk.

    Like many who read this web site, the M9 is the best for my main interest in photography – i.e. people. But it does not do everything and there are times the positive attributes of rangefinders are overshowded by the shortcomings of the system.

  9. Georges,

    Great decision! I used Leica (M6+M7+MP) for more than 10 years with slide films, but never in digital. The convenience of digital made switch to canon 20 D, and Last summer I upgraded canon 20D to 5DII (5 L lenses); canon is an excellent gear with the L lenses, but it cannot be compared to Leica. Holding the canon has always made me the focus of attention (looking like a photographer or a tourist), my children many times they hide their faces (“not again daddy!”), in addition to right shoulder pain from carrying >5 lbs. With Leica, it is back to the essence of photography: aperture/shutter speed/ focus/compose and click! Magic!
    About Leica lenses: there is no bad lens. Each lens has its character; I often compare my Leica lenses to fine wine. I have the three lenses you are planning to buy (I used them on non-digital, my 50 is pre-asph): you will see each will tell you a different story.
    Leica experience is unique and sensational, the price is high, but these days it is better than leaving the money in the Bank or give it to the Wall Street folks.
    I am waiting for my M9 and hoping to be able to pass on this passion to my children.
    Thank you Steve for your nice web.

  10. Hi Steve

    Again a great article here! Just wanted to confirm, that the Summilux 50 ASPH and Summicron 28 ASPH is a phantastic combination for landscape, portrait and street shooting (at least for me). – I made a last minute change from the Elmarit 28 ASPH to the Summicron 28 ASPH and really don’t regret this costly decision. With the Summicron you get that 3D Leica look and that’s what it’s all about for me – the Elmarit just gives super sharp, very contrasty images at lacks this special look. I don’t mind that the 28mm frame is partially blocked by the lens and the Summicron shows no flare, so you can leave the hood off.

    All the best from Switzerland
    Matthias

  11. Dear Steve,

    You have certainly cheered up this dreary Saturday morning in England with your

    ” plus he chose two GREAT lenses to start with. For me, that would be all I would ever need”

    This is not the Steve Huff who changes his lens choices even before he checks out of B&H.

    I am next in line for my silver M9 in my London dealer, with the 50 and 35 Lux. I am currently a Nikon D3 user but I have no intention of getting rid of it. It serves a different purpose, and even though I have some great glass, the most used glass is the 14-24 and the 600 f/4 VR. So for sports it is wonderful, and frankly I would keep it even just as a platform for the 14-24. But like George there are too many occasions where I do not have it with me. Spending a fair time in meetings London’s West End I see scores of photos that go uncaptured. So I have bought a black Bilingham Hadley Pro, an Apple MacBook Air and will keep the M9 in it and with me at all times.
    Don’t feel you have to sell all your kit straight away, you may be frustrated to lose your longer focal lengths.

    Good luck

    Ian

  12. Georges, I did the switch back at the beginnings of the M8 cause I just couldn’t connect with my 5D after my Leica M6 (I am waiting for my M9 back-ordered).
    I own both lenses you ordered and they are some of Leica’s Best (Actually, all are excellent).
    You might need the 1.4x viewfinder magnifier for perfect Summilux 50 f1.4 focusing, you’ll know after some time with the Camera lens combination.
    I also agree with Pixelmixture on the filter issue and prefer not to use any. both lenses come with exceptional lens hoods and they are well protected if you use the lens hoods.
    Also, once you own a Leica, you will never want to resell it (Unless you really need the doe), since it becomes part of your daily life and with every click you make with it you get attached more and more attached to it.
    I still own my M2- M6ttl- M8 and eagerly waiting for my M9 sometimes before Christmas.
    Keep us posted of your impressions once you start using it.

  13. george go for it i did, got my m9 last week and loving it.
    i notice less photos but all keepers unlike 1000s of photos from my canon.
    stevehuff you’re awesome keep it up.

  14. i have to disagree on the filter part …. breaking a front element is nearly impossible …. but breaking a filter is really easy …. the shattered glass will scratch the front element …. the best solution is the Lens Hood .

    the zagg gives a blurry look to the LCD … i much preger the LCD glass protection by GGS …. much much much better.

  15. Great read and pretty accurate comments. I gave up my Canon gear for Micro 4/3 and a D-Lux 4 myself. I’m awaiting my M9 to come. I found I didn’t take my Canon gear with me all the time plus it was getting time to replace the body anyway so I sold it to a friend and used the money from the body and lenses on my new stuff. I agree that as long as one is willing to work with manual only and understands the limitations of rangefinder it’s one of the BEST choices out there but clearly not for everyone.

  16. Steve,

    Thank you! Your response is very helpful. I’m ready to make the switch if I can find an M9 and some lenses. Merry Christmas.

    George

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