USER REPORT: From DSLR to Leica by James Maier

From DSLR to Leica by James Maier

Hi Steve,

I’ve been shooting mainly DSLR for the last few years but, finally, I was compelled to check out the Leica digital rangefinder cameras because of the great time I’d been having (and the excellent photos I’ve been taking) with their little X2 point-and-shoot. (Thanks for the introduction to the X2 BTW!)

The rangefinder paradigm is admittedly not for everybody but I first fell in love with photography by shooting 35mm film in my father’s Contax IIIa when I was a teenager so, in some ways, the M9 was kind of like “coming home” again – only with the convenience of digital files and processing that I’ve grown accustomed to!

I shot Canon gear for years and finally, after some considerable time hands-on with the Leica M9, I’ve completely liquidated my 5DmkII and collection of “L” lenses. The M9, a spare battery and a couple of lenses all fit in a *tiny* Domke F-5XA bag, the whole kit weighing just a few pounds. Compared to the bag I used to lug my DSLR and lenses around in, this is practically effortless, plus it’s much more discrete to carry as well as shoot! The compactness of the M9 is wonderful not only for portability but I find people just don’t *react* in the same way to the M9 as they did to my huge DLSR – they’re more relaxed and comfortable. The have often mistaken it for a vintage film camera. This thing just doesn’t look that imposing. 😉

The Leica M lenses are simply phenomenal – extremely sharp, even in the extreme corners (where my Canon L glass didn’t always fare so well). The lenses are sharp and contrasty even when shot at wide open apertures…and that even applies to the wide-angle lenses! The 50mm Summicron and 35mm Summilux have been excellent partners for this camera, though my favorite is the 21mm ultra-wide Elmarit as it’s helped me to capture stunning landscapes and seascapes in contrast and clarity I could only dream of before.

The CCD sensor in the M9 certainly bucks the CMOS trend of most modern digital cameras but affords the Leica a unique image signature that is absolutely lovely and very film-like to my eyes. From my own experience, I’ve noticed that the M9’s files require much less post-processing than any of my other cameras.

Thanks to you and a few others, I finally found my way to a camera that is a perfect fit that will be a great companion for years to come.

I’ve attached a handful of my M9 shots.

Very Best Regards, James Maier

1

3

4

5

6

7

8

Related Post

41 Comments

  1. i’m in complete agreement with Ray (first commenter). Just replaced all my Canon 7D and L lens for the Sony RX1. it seems everyone here is on a whole different league from me. But the shift for me was a big one. Being a minister, husband, and dad full time, photography has often been difficult to invest in (time and money). It took me YEARS selling and upgrading from my first Canon XSI to the 40D then finally to the 7D. But i will never go back. And perhaps someday, i will be able to own my own Leica!

  2. Very nice article James. I think if you changed it from your “5DmkII” to my “D700” this could be an article from my point of view. I made the same journey just a couple weeks ago – selling off all my Zeiss glass and my D700 to pick up the Leica M-E and a Zeiss 2/35 (still waiting on the Leica Summilux 50). Amazing display of photos – really beautiful work.

  3. Love the shot of the car and how it’s slightly out of focus.

    It definitely made the image more interesting and I found myself looking at that shot more than the others.

  4. The compactness of the M9 is wonderful not only for portability but I find people just don’t *react* in the same way to the M9 as they did to my huge DLSR – they’re more relaxed and comfortable.

    Where are the people not reacting to your M9 ?

  5. The compactness of the M9 is wonderful not only for portability but I find people just don’t *react* in the same way to the M9 as they did to my huge DLSR – they’re more relaxed and comfortable.

    Where are the people to react ?

  6. I totally agree with you James, having been ‘turned off’ shooting with a massive DSLR, same system. I learnt to shoot with an SLR, with only one or two lenses. Zooms could make me an idle photographer. I found limiting yourself to one or two (lenses) doesn’t restrict your image making. It requires you to make more imaginative use of that you see in the view-finder. The rangefinder is so easy to focus, more so than the old split-image or the matte screen.

  7. Beautiful images James. Love the one of your cat! What breed? I have four abyssinians, and your cat has the large trade mark abby ears..

  8. Nice!! Een after owning the sony rx1 for a few months. I still prefer the image quality of the M9 over the newer sony camera. Just seems more poppy

  9. Well well, look who made it onto the site =o] James does indeed take some wonderful photos. And his cats are so damn photogenic, when ever i’m at his place, i always have to grab at least one shot of them =o] One of these days, i’m gonna secretly replace his M9 with my X-Pro1 and see if he notices =op

  10. Very nice James. Your reasoning is just and the shots are excellent. Love the wide angle pics. Thanks for submitting and thanks to Steve for putting it up.

    • BTW, the cat looks very pretty. The image on the smartphone LCD screen isn’t bad. Thanks for sharing and write up.

    • Not really enough room for the charger. It holds the body with a 50mm lens, my 21mm Elmarit, a spare battery, a Lenspen and a couple of memory cards…They have a slightly wider one, the F-5XB, that might work better if you need the charger in there as well.

  11. You are a brave man posting a picture of your cat taken with a Leica, but this one (and I say this as a dog person) is very cool. Love the way the colour of the cat blends with the furniture and ceiling, with the dark tail snaking around the side.

    One small quibble – is it compulsory for Leica users to include the word ‘lugging’ (as in ‘I got tired of lugging around a giant bag with 5 zooms’) whenever the word DSLR is used in a sentence…? Not all DSLR users carry all that cr*p around with them, you know (!)

    • My camera bag used to hold the 5DmkII, 70-200 f/4L, 16-35 f/2.8L and the 24-105 f/4L…so, at least in my case, there really was a lot of “lugging” involved. This brings up another interesting paradigm shift – the movement to the new system also meant a move from mostly zooms to all primes. Fortunately, for whatever reason, this hasn’t really been an impediment.

      • Forgive me – I couldn’t resist a little bit of teasing!

        You make a very good point here. Leaving other aspects of the Leica experience aside, I think that one of the reasons that photographers feel liberated when they shift to Leica is that there aren’t any zooms available so they are forced to shoot primes. This means less weight, bulk and general complication in the whole photographic experience. It’s a shame more DSLR users don’t realise that they can enjoy this liberation while still using their Nikons/Canons. My D7000 body only weighs 100g more than an M9 and I’m guessing that my whole DSLR outfit with a couple of primes is little different to an equivalent M9 setup. Coincidentally, I use the same Domke F5 bag as you and it holds my kit comfortably. We need to spread the word that using a DSLR doesn’t bring with it an obligation to load up with heavy zooms!

        Anyway, good post, thanks.

        • There is still quite a difference. I used to carry a D700. I kept cutting back on lenses and got the set up as small as I could. Carrying only 3 lenses. The Voigtlander, 20, 40 and 90. It was still heavy! Plus much bulkier than the Leica set.

        • I totally agree, carrying my 17-50mm on my canon DSLR pushes it into the realms of ungainly, so I’ve started using old manual primes ( via mounts) which is very liberating, I’ve even gone back to my old OM-1 which is even smaller compared to the DSLR, I will more than likely pick up an X100 at some point in the future and see if that agrees with me!

        • I’ve used DSLRs for years and still shoot a film SLR (a Leica R6). I’ve moved from full frame DSLR to a compact mirrorless (Sony NEX7).

          I have not carried a bag full of zooms since I was a teenager, and whether shooting a full frame DSLR, a compact mirrorless or my Leica film SLR, I always just carry the primes I want to use.

          For the R6 I tend to stick with just the 35 and 90 Elmarits, or when that is too much I split the middle and carry only the 50 Summicron.

          For the NEX I usually leave the Zeiss 24/1.8E on it, but occasionally carry the 50/1.8 OSS. I did just order and am very excited about the new Zeiss Touit 32/1.8 and especially the 12/2.8. Those four primes to me only leave a gap at the longer tele end, which I currently fill with my 90 Elmarit-R on a Novoflex adapter for the NEX.

          So not all SLR shooters like zooms and primes have been alive and well all along.

          • In “Canon Land” I actually liked the convenience of zooms…the ones I had were pretty sharp. I had the 50mm f/1.2 L but found it to be a “special use” kind of thing.

            The Leica M9 is such a vastly different experience for me. The 21mm Super Elmar and the 50mm Summilux are unequaled by anything else in my experience, prime or not. I was just trying to capture some of that in my story. 🙂

            I appreciate the comments.

      • Not to make a big deal out of it, but why did you have to lug that zoom lens around with your Canon while you can shoot happily without it with a Leica?

        I can higly recommend the E-M5 It’s both smaller and lighter than the heavy M9.

        • The 24-105 was a great lens…plenty of (thankfully fixable) distortion at 24mm but still a great performer.
          Moving to Leica meant eschewing zooms but that just hasn’t been an issue for me for whatever reason. Possibly because a whole slew of Leica lenses would be finacially impossible for me. 😉
          I mostly shoot 50 or 35 these days and only grab the 90 if I really need the FOV or the perspective ‘compression’.
          The 21 is gone for now (until I can afford the ASPH version someday).

      • Who needs zoom lenses? I don’t. You’re always carrying too much glass for any given situation.

        Taking one prime or two, you ususally make the wrong choice. You go out with a 50, you regret not having taken a 35 or 24. And the other way around. And why didn’t I bring the 85?

        Life is hard.

        • I believe that worrying you won’t have the right lens is what leads to people carrying enormous bags with giant zooms covering very conceivable focal length from 14mm to 300mm ‘just in case’. If you’re being paid to cover the Olympics or a White House press conference, that’s fair enough. But if you’re an amateur, isn’t it better to look for photographs that work with the lenses you have on your bag? I reckon having the choice of every focal lens in your (overloaded) bag leads to analysis-paralysis and kills creativity.

          • Exactly. I take one lens, and bear the frustration of not always having picked the ideal focal length.

            The 1.4/35mm on full frame comes close to ideal though.

  12. Nice photos James. You have shot all of them, bar the last, from a lower and wider angle view. Nothing wrong with it just an observation….

    • 1, 4, 5 & 6 were shot with the 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit.
      2 was shot with the 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit.
      3 is 50mm f/2 Summicron.
      7 is 35mm f/1.4 Summilux.

      When shooting the 21mm I do indeed like to get low to the ground. 🙂

    • 1, 4, 5 & 6 were shot with the 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit.
      2 was shot with the 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit.
      3 is 50mm f/2 Summicron.
      7 is 35mm f/1.4 Summilux.

      When shooting the 21mm I do indeed like to get low to the ground.

      • I think if you don’t get something bang in the foreground in an ultra-wide shot, everything gets kind of “lost in the mix”. When using the 21mm, If I don’t get my clothes dirty, I feel like I didn’t use it right. 😉

      • I think if you don’t get something bang in the foreground in an ultra-wide shot, everything gets kind of “lost in the mix”. When using the 21mm, If I don’t get my clothes dirty, I feel like I didn’t use it right. 😉

  13. Very nice set of images…thanks for sharing! For traveling, and for pretty much everything else, a smaller camera system would definitely be better. The next few years are going to be very interesting, as there will likely be some full frame mirrorless cameras with AF and interchangeable lenses available as well, which should be more affordable than Leica. If so, there will be no need for a DSLR for most.

Comments are closed.