So you guys want to know how to shoot a Leica M9 on a budget? Ha ha! Well, here you go. Just buy some Voigtlander glass like Armando Chiu did! Here is his article on shooting the M9 with budget glass during his trip to San Francisco. Enjoy!
Leica M9 travels…on a budget – San Francisco trip
By Armando Chiu
Is it possible to place the word “budget” and “Leica” in the same sentence unless the word “budget” is referring to the need for a BIG budget in order to shoot Leica? After much soul searching and drinking, I finally splurged on a M9 a couple of months ago. Coming from the 4/3 world, I was amazed by the Leica’s superior resolution and dynamic range. The difference is simply huge. Unfortunately, it was also huge in terms of cutting into my disposable income! So I just could not convince myself to exhaust my not yet in existence children’s college funds to buy some “real” Leica lenses to go with the M9.
The solution to my woes was Voigtlander! I will forego the discussion about the humble history behind Voigtlander as it has been told ad naseum in other websites. But I eventually picked up a Nokton Classic 35 1.4 (MC), a Nokton 50/1.5, a Skopar 21/4, and a Heliar 75/2.5. The total cost for the lenses was cheaper than a new Leica 35 Summarit.
How did the “budget” kit perform? I brought these four lenses with me on a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the great things about these lenses is the size and weight. The 35 and 21 are literally tiny. The 50 and 75 are about the size of a 50 Summilux ASPH. The total weight of the kit (M9 plus four lenses) is probably about 1600 grams.
During the week long trip, I took about 1100 – 1200 photos with the M9 (and another 100 or so with the Canon S90). Not all the photos were keepers, but I was very pleased with the results. I got some nice photos to look back at, which will remind me of this particular trip in my old days.
One of the things that I learned about my photography during this trip is that I shoot wide more than long. Most of my shots ended up being with the 35.
My second most used lens was the 21. The 50/1.5 is probably the best out of the four lenses in terms of image quality, but I found myself rarely using the 50 or the 75. The usage ratio may have been a product of the subject matter. But in retrospect, the 35 appears to be more versatile than the other lengths, and it ended up staying on the M9 quite a lot. I also concluded that people photography is what I find the most interesting, whether it’s photos of people I know or strangers.
I considered a used Leitz 21 Elmarit as my super wide lens for the trip. But the Skopar was so much smaller, lighter and cheaper. And the Skopar came with a viewfinder too, which saved me a few more bucks. The Skopar 21/4 was perfect for the stereotypical tourist photographs (i.e. Golden Gate Bridge). It does have the red edge issue when used with the M9 though, but that can be fixed during post processing.
The 21/4 also turned out pretty good for capturing shots that I didn’t have time to really focus on, like this trolley shot (another tourist “must have” photograph), because it has such a large depth of focus even at f4…
…and this quick shot of some tourists making the long climb back from the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
The Heliar 75/2.5 paid for itself because of one shot in the trip. During the hike up the path to the lighthouse in Point Reyes, I came across an eagle sitting high on a big tall tree. I took about a dozen shots with the 75. The 75 was not long enough to get me really close, but it was close enough to give me a few keepers. This was my first time ever seeing an eagle that was not in flight.
My most awful moment during the trip was breaking out in hives from eating bad shrimp in Chinatown. Fortunately, I carry Benadryl with me for situations like this. Unfortunately, the Benadryl turned me into a walking zombie for the next four hours! At this same restaurant, I took a photograph of a customer digging through the “dim-sum” cart. Where’s the food police!?!? I would name the restaurant on this article, but we don’t want to cause a legal incident for Steve!
The next photo displays the wonders of Chinese cuisine as captured by the Nokton 35/1.4.
This Bay Area trip was my first time shooting the M9 almost exclusively for several days. It was fun and relaxing. The four “budget” lenses did their job admirably to capture the essence of my Bay Area experience — like witnessing the “bushman” scare the heck out of tourists at the Fisherman’s Wharf for a buck! Panhandling at its highest creativity. And yes, I did tip the guy for entertaining me.
A traveler’s biggest challenge visiting San Francisco is the lack of parking. The use of public transportation is highly recommended. Otherwise, be prepared to pay outrageous parking lot prices or spend hours looking an empty metered street parking spot. Needless to say, parking fees (and fines) are a big source of revenue for the City of San Francisco.
The people are what ultimately make a place feel worthwhile to visit though. And there are some nice folks out there in the Bay Area.
From the parking meter guy in Chinatown …
… to the food stand vendor at the Fisherman’s Wharf …
… to the boutique store owner in Sausalito.
Speaking of budget travel, for this trip, I flew for “free” on Southwest Airlines. And to top it off, we paid $63 on a $150 hotel at the Fisherman’s Wharf, thanks to Priceline!
Word of advice, to buy some peace of mind while carrying the M9 around with me, I added the M9 as an insured item under my homeowner’s policy. Considering that the insurance covers the full the replacement value of the M9, the $70 annual surcharge is a bargain.
Here are some additional photos from the trip. Hope you enjoyed the budget photos as much as I enjoyed the trip itself!
St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral.
Taking a break inside Alcatraz.
Ghirardelli guy looking unhappy.
To see more images by Armando, visit his Flickr page HERE!
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