Aug 262013

Going on World Tour with Leica, Voigtlander  & Nikon

By Mike Villa

Earlier this year, my typically spastic lifestyle was settling into quite a nice groove. I was putting in huge amounts of time and energy at Motor Trend, working as a video producer for their YouTube channel, while taking on weddings on the weekends, and saving for a motorcycle. And then, one fine March afternoon, the good people from Life Without Limbs called.

For those who haven’t heard of it, Life Without Limbs is a non-profit organization founded by Nick Vujicic, an incredibly joyful individual who was born without arms or legs. Nick seeks to inspire others, help those in need, and spread the hope and joy that he’s found to those who need it most.

Life Without Limbs asked me to join Nick and a 4-man video team from Sypher Films on his 2013 World Outreach Tour and provide photo and written documentation of his journey – essentially acting as their own in-house photojournalist. Less than a month later I was on a plane to Hungary for a “test run” to see how well I meshed with the rest of the team. Shortly after, I left the (rather spectacular) Motor Trend parking lot for the last time, and the motorcycle fund went to the good fellows at Leica and Voigtlander.

There aren’t very many practical reasons to pick up a Leica these days. My D800 offers far better files, and (in my opinion) my little Fuji X-E1 isn’t too far off in image quality, while being even more compact and discreet. Nearly everything on the market provides a more “efficient” way of taking a picture. But if I based all of my life decisions on practicality, I likely wouldn’t be a photographer – there are certainly more efficient ways of making a living. I picked up a Leica for the same reasons I picked up a camera in the first place – I simply enjoy it.

The first leg of our journey took us through eight countries in Southeast Asia and made for an excellent torture test of the M9. I used the Leica with either a Voigtlander 21mm 1.8 or Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 for about 80% of my shooting. Without an M-mount telephoto handy, my D800 and Sigma 85mm 1.4 made up most of the rest of my shots, although I had the rest of my Nikon kit on standby. Needless to say, it rarely left the hotel rooms.

Documenting everything means I touched on just about every genre of photography. Many days were based around speaking events – everything from a class of 30 to a stadium of 30,000. The video team and I played tourist quite often as well, as capturing and understanding the local culture of each country was important. We trekked through slums and palaces, showing our equipment no mercy when it came to dirt, rain, or rough roads. The conditions were rough on the cameras, and often rougher on our hearts. Every epic panorama was balanced with an intimate hug backstage in the green room. Every portrait of a president or prime minister was followed by journalistic shots of sick orphans dying in their cribs.

After 27 days of non-stop clicking of the shutter and furious typing of team journals and blogs, I touched back down on American soil with cards, hard drives, and heart full of incredible experiences.


1. Mount Fuji, Japan  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

2. Okinawa, Japan  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

3. Okinawa, Japan  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

4. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

5. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

6. Manila, Philippines  | Nikon D800 + Sigma 85mm 1.4

7. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

8. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 + Nikon SB900

9. Manila, Philippines  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

10. Manila, Philippines  |  Nikon D800 + Sigma 85mm 1.4

11. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

12. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

13. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21 1.8

14. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21 1.8

15. Hanoi, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21 1.8

16. Hanoi, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21 1.8

17. Hanoi, Vietnam  |  Nikon D800 + Sigma 85mm 1.4

18. Hanoi, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35 1.2

19. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  |  Nikon D800 + Sigma 85mm 1.4

20. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

21. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

22. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

23. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

24. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

25. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

26. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

27. Phnom Penh, Cambodia  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

28. Venetian Resort, Macau  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

29. Hong Kong  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

30. Hong Kong  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

31. Hong Kong  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

32. Hong Kong  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

33. Seoul, South Korea  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm 1.2

34. Seoul, South Korea  |  Leica M9 + Voigtlander 21mm 1.8

So what will I do differently for the next sections of Nick’s World Outreach tour? Not much, although I’ve since added a Voigtlander 75 1.8 in hopes of using my Nikon kit even less. Last time around, I did feel limited having 85mm as my longest focal length for the bigger events, so I’ll swap that out for my 70-200. For a more complete look at my load out, you can peek inside my two camera bags here  and here.

If you’ve already checked out the Life Without Limbs World Outreach blog  and still can’t get haven’t gotten your travel photography fix, you’re in luck: I’m typing this while en route to join the rest of the team in Indonesia for part two of the tour. I’ll be continuing to blog on the Life Without Limbs site, and possibly a bit on my own site as well (as time permits).

Questions? Thoughts? I can’t promise a timely response, but if you comment here on Steve’s site, I’ll do my best to get around to responding.

Thanks for reading folks, and a huge thank you to Steve for letting me share my experiences with his readers.


Life Without Limbs 

Mike Villa Visuals 

Images processed with VSCO Film 04 

Sypher Films 


  51 Responses to “Going on World Tour with Leica, Voigtlander & Nikon By Mike Villa”

  1. Mike, impressive and inspiring !
    That’s “all” I seek in a photo essay.
    Great use of 21mm as well !


  2. Lovely images. Each one tells a story. How do you normally set the camera for all the Leica shots (i.e aperture, shutter, f-stop etc)? do you have a general setting you stick to that works for you? The reason i ask is, I own a Fuji xpro1 +fuji 35mm f1.8 and coming from a DSLR i’m not yet comfortable working with the rangefinder when it comes to focusing. The xpro1 AF is very slow and inaccurate compared to my nikon d700. How do you focus so fast with the Leica or the XE1 that you have? thanks

    • Thanks Sreejit!

      In this kind of fast-paced scenario, you just have to KNOW your settings. Everything happens instantly for me. If I have to stop and think about it, I’ve likely already missed the shot. The Leicas and Fujis are great since you can see all your settings (except ISO) without turning on the camera. I’d say 90% of the time I can look at a scene and instantly know what my exposure needs to be. The only way to get to that is to practice. And then practice. And then practice more. I typically take about 500 photos a day, 250 days a year.

      That said, every photo has a different priority. On one, I may be trying to stop action that requires a faster shutter speed, so I’ll prioritize that over aperture or grain. Or maybe I need to get more in focus, so I need to prioritize a more stopped down aperture. As a general rule, if I’m shooting around 35mm, I know that I need at least 1/250th for fast paced action, 1/90 for people standing around, 1/30 for very still people, and 1/15 for still life.

      The biggest reason I went with the X-E1 over the Pro1 is that I wanted to be forced to use the EVF all the time, as I don’t always trust the AF (and you can’t see what it focused on in the optical display in the Pro1). In good light, the Fuji with the most recent firmware focuses fairly well. My biggest issue is that there’s just the slightest hint of shutter lag, which I find to be more problematic. Drop the light, and focus gets noticeably slower. I definitely wouldn’t be shooting anything fast-paced in less than good light with the Fuji.

      That said, I’ll put focusing with the Leica up against focusing the Fuji in any light, and kick that Fuji’s little butt. Again, it’s just practice. After 15,000 shots with the Leica, I’ve found I can be extremely quick and extremely accurate with the manually focused rangefinder.

      At the end of the day, it comes down to this: Go out and shoot 100 photos. Then do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. Practiced talent will always trump natural talent.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thank you for explaining. I’m trying to use the Fuji more than my dslr so I get comfortable using the camera and trying to switch to manual focus. but the focus by wire on the fujinon 35mm f1.4 really slows me down. But as you say..practice :). thanks again

  3. Stunning images. Great work.

  4. You guys ROCK

  5. MIke, wonderful images! I’m so glad that your talent met with this tremendous opportunity! Really great work!

  6. fantastic

  7. Truly amazing images.
    The Voigt 21mm is a killer lens on the Leica.
    My favorite pic is the Hong Kong city shot.
    Best Leica work I have seen to date on this forum.

  8. Amazing images full of life!
    Only one? image from the Nikon? was it worth to even bring the DSLR?
    Your images motivate me to use 21mm more often. Your images draw me into the scene! For my taste best images of this site for long time!

    • Thank you Tom!

      On these trips my work is probably about an 85/15 Leica/Nikon split. It certainly is a pain, as my (slim/travel) Nikon kit takes up an entire backpack while my Leica kit fits neatly into my shoulder bag. However on the bigger speaking engagements – sometimes over 30,000 people, there’s just no getting around the need for a 200mm lens and clean ISO 6400, neither of which are very practical on the Leica.

      I only posted one of the Nikon shots here because as a photography community, I think the story is made that much more interesting by showing how the Leica is used. And while very important to my coverage of our trip, we all know that speaking shots are only so exciting…

  9. Agree with Lawrence. Your post is inspiring in so many ways.

  10. Extraordinary in every way, you have a great talent and a way of bringing stories to people through your photography.

  11. Possibly the best photos I have ever seen on this site. Incredible

  12. Awesome!!! Everyone looks so happy in these photos.

  13. Great story and shots, I love seeing work like this. Thanks to Steve for this site. The Leica shots just pop out at ya! I prefer them (quality wise) over the NIkon D800. I do have a question regarding these snaps and to Leica shooter; Are these processed from Raw or JPG?

    • Thanks Daniel!

      The Leica shots do have a certain bit of pop to them. I think it’s the Voigtlander 21 and 35 that I’m shooting, as the 75mm doesn’t quite have the same pop to it.

      These are all processed from RAW files. I shoot exclusively RAW, as I enjoy the extra push you can give it in post processing (maybe also accountable for some of that pop). Presets like VSCO tend to really stretch the files, so I’ll take all the latitude I can get.

      Oh, and Leica jpegs are crap.

  14. Just this past weekend, I saw for the 2nd or 3rd time, the 20/20 segment about Nick. So inspiring! and these pictures tell you a a lot about him. Nothing but a smile!! #26 says it all..
    Beautiful pictures!!

  15. Wow! Are you kidding me?! Mike, these photos are utterly AMAZING!!!!!!! LOVE.
    Very gifted, very blessed. :)

  16. Love your photography, every images have a story

  17. Absolutely stunning, Mike. Really unbelievable. I’m sending this to everyone I know.

  18. Nicks karma jumps out of the images and sucks the viewer in at the same time. Wonderful pictures. Leaves me speechless indeed.

  19. What an amazing charity, trip, photos and story. As with many others I’m pretty speechless. Lots of fantastic Images but No. 26 brought a lump to my throat. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Stunning images and a great and very inspiring story! From the techniocal point it also tells a lot about how far you can go with a camera that’s not weather sealed. My personal tip regarding your need for a longer focal length: give one of the 135mm lenses for the Leica M a try. They have kind of a dubious reputation since the area in the rangefinder is fairly small so it takes some practice to manage them. But once you manage to handle them you’re getting excellent results. Admittedly they are easier to handle on the M240 with EVF than on the M9. The Apo-Telyt 135 f/3.4 is a spectacular lens but some of the older non-Apo’s are quite nice either.

    Best regards,

    • Thanks Wolfgang!

      I really enjoy the 135 focal length, but I really don’t think I would like it on a Leica. I tried a 90mm and returned it as I just couldn’t frame it well enough. I’m really satisfied with my 75mm as the longest length on the Leica. And on top of that, 3.4 is way, way too slow for my needs.

      By needing longer, I just meant I should’ve brought my 70-200 with my Nikon, which I’ve done on this leg of the tour. I really only use it on bigger events, and the rest of the time the Nikon kit stays behind.

  21. Great photos!

  22. Magistral shots, my congratulations for the exceptional work.

  23. Simply wonderful stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  24. Beautiful work and cause!

  25. Incredibly inspiring. You are so talented on so many levels!

  26. nice work ! but have you tried the voightlander glass on your d800 ??? if you havent you should !! you’ll get amazing images with the combo :)

    • Thanks Boris!

      I have ZERO desire to try any form of manual focus glass on my Nikon. It’s too slow/inaccurate, and at the rate I move, I can’t be bother to slow down and double check my focus. If I’m shooting my Nikon, it’s because I’m not quick enough with the Leica (which is rare) – thus, manual focus glass kind of defeats the purpose.

      Not to mention, I’m entirely satisfied with the results coming from my Nikon glass – don’t particularly feel the need for anything sharper.

  27. No. 5 is called a Jeepney, public transportation around the only found in the Philippines.
    No. 8 must be a mislabel. That’s the Malaysian flag at the background.
    No. 26 is simply inspiring on all levels. Hopefully one day that little girl will also inspire others.
    No. 27 most honest photograph I’ve seen in a third world country.

    Kudos to you and to the Life without Limbs organization. May you inspire more people to do more good in this world.

  28. Your work inspires the living crap out of me and I’m glad to be shooting next to you during Nick’s world tour.

  29. Thanks for sharing Mike.
    love 9. and 27.

  30. Incredible – what a great project and what powerful images! Kudos – very inspirational.

  31. Endlessly proud of you. These make my heart full.

  32. Amazing photos and story, thanks for sharing. Just wonderful photos! Artistry!

  33. Incredible work!

  34. Amazing images–speechless. Makes me want to quit my day job.

  35. I’m not surprised you were chosen for this special assignment!

    Wonderful pictures,,, I especially love the colour in those that have them, and wish i knew how to you get it so vivid.

    • Thank you!

      I mostly use the VSCO Film 04 presets in Lightroom 4 – typically the “-” or “–” versions of them, as the full on versions can be a bit much. Add a little bit of clarity, remove contrast if the blacks get too heavy, and juice the vibrance as desired.

  36. Powerful images and excellent reportage. Very well done, thanks for sharing.

  37. Everyday I need to feed my mind with great images. I I don’t need to feed for a long time after viewing. I am full.

    Lovely…on so many levels.

  38. Great work. Very powerful stuff. Really enjoyed your use of 21mm for reportage. Not commonly seen, but very well done. I look forward to the next installment.

  39. So glad you shared this. Wonderful stuff.

  40. Inspiring on so many levels. Thanks for sharing!

  41. Speechless

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: