Shooting an Entire Wedding Season with a Leica M by Tapas Maiti

The guest articles keep on coming and this is AWESOME! I love seeing all of you guys contribute so we can ALL learn and grow from each others experiences. Those looking to send in articles, contact me using the contact button at the top of any page. Today, more wedding work with my favorite camera, the Leica M9 – by Tapas Maiti

Shooting an Entire Wedding Season with a Leica M

By Tapas Maiti

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about my decision to transition to an exclusive use of Leica Rangefinders for wedding photography. I bravely ditched my DSLRs leaving me with my M8/M9s and my Hasselblad outfit.

I thought I ought to follow up with my experiences now that I have worked through a whole season. My problem is that I am a devoted Leica enthusiast but I’ve decided to write both from the perspective of a photographer and enthusiast but also from the colder viewpoint of running a business and delivering the goods on paid wedding shoots.

For those of you that want a quick summary here goes:

Yes I can shoot all parts of a wedding with a Leica M9, including dancing , speeches and so on but you do need to build a workflow around using it

The M9 delivers amazing quality and does really reduce the wear and tear on my back and create a client impact

The M9 is not operationally as good as an M7 or MP (more on that later)

The biggest problem of using M9’s isn’t the camera but it is the availability of products, building redundancy capability (which is why I now have a DSLR as an emergency back up)

Shooting weddings and my workflow

Firstly for me, shooting Rangefinders is an approach and a state of mind, you have to commit to it and for me at least, I find it very difficult to mix shooting Leica’s and DSLRs.

I also need to shoot rangefinders all the time to keep myself sharp and in the groove. I don’t see this as a criticism and I don’t really have time for people who claim to be professional but won’t put the time , effort and due diligence into their basis skills.

Conceptually, I do understand how the automation of DSLRs can be enticing BUT they can lock up, fail quite often as well we just tend to be more scared of relying on ourselves. I find that DSLRS can fail to focus or lock up with close moving dance scenes and during processions, that is reasonable and fair so not getting a perfect hit rate with a Leica is fair as well.

My workflow and approach has had to change though to adapt to three main factors:

You can’t change lenses that fast so I prefer to use two M9s

On camera flash is just unwieldy on the M9 so I tend to use available light or off camera flash with wireless triggers

The meter sucks, so I tend to use a hand held light meter (works better anyway)

Two cameras with a 35mm and 50/75mm work really well for me, I also have a 21mm Biogon in the bag. I sold my M8s and so that I could have two M9s and this works well. I can be mixing formats, filters etc in the middle of a wedding. I have also made sure that my key lenses are Leica lenses, again the whole manual lens selection is fine for stable environments or amateur use but not in a wedding and the M9 is more sensitive to getting things right.

If I lived in a place with nice weather , I would now be sorted and the whole Rangefinder simplicity thing would work really well but I don’t I live in the UK , suffer from low light levels and the peculiar desire of wedding venues to induce “mood lighting” otherwise known as “dark”

I am actually convinced that some venues own Nikon D3s just to test their light levels are low enough!

My first approach is fast lenses, I made sure I got one of the first 35 1.4 Asph II to come out but the second has been to work out flash techniques.

Now I will admit to having a Nikon D700 (more on that later) but the low light advantage is not as it seems, yes the Nikon does have amazing quality at 6400 BUT you need much higher shutter speeds to get sharp images whilst I can happily shoot the M9 at 1/15 or 1/30 second. I have also shot at a UK venue where 6,400 and 1.8 wasn’t enough so you do eventually run out of light !

It has taken me a while (and some money) to get to a situation I’m happy with and I still think there is some changes to make. On camera flash didn’t work , the SF24D is pointless, Vivitar 285 too big. I don’t want to try the SF58 – far too expensive and too big. I have however turned this to my advantage, I now use wireless flash.

– a trigger on each camera and one or two vivitar 285 on manual or

– profoto lights with profoto air triggers (more rarely)

This has been a blessing – manual flash is far more reliable than TTL and when shot off camera is just much nicer looking, the remotes are light and suit the M9.

The conflict is that we want to shoot Leica’s simply but I can’t not get good images because I won’t carry lights if needed. Again going back to my D700 example, I don’t see this as a weakness of the M9 because you are always going to run out of light at some point, the M9 (unlike the M8) has got a reasonable ceiling.

The key to making the above work is to spend enough money to get a reliable set up but have one set up, I tried e-bay triggers but they are not good enough, I may focus on using my profoto or get a Quadra so that I have a single reliable set up that I can use in every situation.

The M9 is not as good as the M7 / MP (operationally)

When considering the handling performance of the M9 it is just not fair to compare it to a D3 / 1D because it is conceptually different. It is fair to compare it to an analogue M though and I think it does come short:

You can manually crank and M7 at 2/3 frames a second for 36 frames

The M7/MP are quieter and feel more rugged

The M9 isn’t bad but it has a number of shortcomings that should be easily resolvable:

More processing power, the M9 doesn’t have the juice to properly power the camera

Better LCD, it has taken me a while to trust the higher iso because the screen is just bad, having said that I would prefer the images to be better than the screen rather than worse

Better battery performance or perhaps an add on small battery pack / grip

The feeling I get is that the M9 is just slightly under specified in terms of battery power and computer processing, not enough to want me to give it up but enough to sometimes frustrate.

The key to Rangefinders is directness and immediacy not frames per second or automation and we aren’t far off.

The final thing is “ruggedness” I think a future M10 should have environmental seals, the lenses won’t allow waterproofing but it would be nice if it were better than it is.

Redundancy and Availability

The absolute biggest problem for me this year is not the camera itself but availability of products to a professional’s timeline.

As an example, I have found that I need 4 batteries per camera to get through an Asian wedding with safety. I had to travel to Rotterdam to shoot a long wedding and knew I didn’t have enough batteries – but I couldn’t buy any, there was a backorder for thousands of batteries. I walked into my camera dealer and bough a second hand Nikon D700 and a couple of lenses and batteries (the only suitable camera available at the time). Bizarrely I now own a DSLR as cover for battery power ! Having the Nikon in the car as an emergency back up is no bad thing.

I put in an order for a chrome 50 1.4 Asph at the beginning of the year, it still hasn’t arrived and I have the Zeiss Sonnar and 75 F2 summicron instead.

Fortunately the M9 has now become a stock and demo item in the UK, I have the lenses I need and I have Zeiss back ups so I am all set now to cope.

As a business decision

The M9 is expensive and the lenses are expensive but this needs to be set in context. The M9 is no more expensive than a D3X, its high iso capabilities are about the same so it is in the same league as other top end cameras. The lenses are superb and made to last, once you have the kit you can use it for a very long time.

I can write the costs of the equipment off against tax and I have lenses such as the 35 1.4 and 75 F2 that cannot be improved upon. If I am still successfully making money from these lenses in 10 years then the costs will be justified.

I have spent a fortune on the continual upgrade cycle of DSLRs whilst my Hasselblad 501CM has given faithful service for 15 years with the small uplift of a digital back. My Blad and back are actually more cost effective than the DSLRs (over time) and hopefully the M9  will be as well, I certainly have no need of greater image quality.

The Leica’s also differentiate me, I have undertaken high end weddings with guests bring D3X, 5DII. I sit outside this , both in terms of the cameras I use and the approach they impose upon me.

My conclusion the Leica M9 still rocks

I have used a Leica virtually everyday for the last two years and it is slowly becoming instinctive and an extension of me., it allows me to be light, flexible and discrete. The Leica M demands this diligence and it changes the way you shoot and see, it gives me a look and a presence at weddings that sets me apart (in my niche world anyway).

And finally the Leica M9 produces amazing images , limited only by my skills but gives me huge pleasure in my work. More of my work can be seen at my website HERE.

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  1. I made the switch from DSLR to Leica M9-P last May, One year on my Nikon D2X has not come out the camera bag. I photograph, Weddings, Portraits (both environmentally and studio based), schools and under 5’s nursery schools. I use four lenses being 21/3.4, 35/2, 50/1.4 and 90/2 all are simply stunning quality.

    This is a system for life. Yes battery life is limited, I keep previewing to a minimum but three batteries for a wedding is a minimum.

    The screen is pants but I still get excited when the images just go Ping on the computer, the closest you’ll get to medium format bar none.

    Processing time is slow but It has taught me to slow down and be more selective. I’m now shooting less, getting better quality work and spending less time post production, so Win Win.

    On camera flash has to be an act of desperation, the camera is so small any on camera flash makes it so top heavy. I love the Elinchrom Ranger system with it’s mini Skyport.

    Rangefinders aren’t for all. There is next to no automation. The range of lenses are limited beyond 90mm, if you like photographing people 1/4 mile away forget it and close up photography is also not their thing. However they are small, discreet and so quiet, they have a way of slipping by un-noticed. The camera will make you think more about what you do and how you go about your photography.

    For me… I have a new friend for life!

  2. I’ve just made the switch to an M8 recently
    and having shot several weddings with a DSLR,i didnt feel confident shooting with a rangefinder
    Having read your post and seen your pictures,im tempted to do wedding photography again
    But im curious about the off camera flash portion
    Do you have an assistant with you?


  3. Hi Tapas,

    Thanks for the article, very informative and you have some great shots here and on your site.

    As much as I dislike using flash I agree that at some point it becomes necessary. I therefore, wanted to ask how you physically handle the off camera flash. I have just bought my first M9 and am getting used to focusing but cant see how to shoot single handedly. How do hold the flash as well, or are you using a light stand? I’m guessing that you are using light stands with your profoto gear, but wondered how you go about setting that up at a wedding. Seems a bit cumbersome?


  4. The Leica rangefinders always intrigued me. I did use rangefinders in the past, but nothing close of Leica’s performance. For street work a rangefinder is unparalleled but when the lights dim out, the dance floor opens and the madness starts at a wedding reception not so much. For a Leica to work with ease in these conditions it would need fast focus (one can adapt to that), excellent high ISO performance and a decent flash system. These last two things are for the time being serious shortcomings for this system.

    While I definitely lust for a M9, I simply cannot ditch my Nikon. Hope I win the lottery so I’ll be able to get the perfect M9 carrying device, an Aston Martin DB9 :).



  5. Hi Steve.. WOW!!! Awesome bit of kit. all Leica’s seem to be ot out of my price bracket.. been using a Pentax k100d since launch! hurry up and review the new K5, its more affordable! Thank you..Great site..

  6. Gorgeous work and a great write up really felt like I was sitting in a coffee shop having a chat!
    I have a M9 and was going to use it for a wedding but got really nervous and ended up using the Olympus E3, I recently (past week) got the panasonic GH2 which you can use Leica lens on, excellent backup camera and incredibly fast. 16MP

    Made me laugh about the guests coming with the latest camera, not many coming with a M9!

  7. Tapas, very interesting article. Congratulations.

    I have a question. I have been thinking on getting a Leica M myself, but when I see some text, they place the M9 way under D3x and D700 performance in terms of ISO. If I am not wrong, you mentioned that D3x and M9, in your opinion does have the same performance. I know this site is more on the everyday experience and that is way I am so interested on your comment on this since, on the other hand, when I see tests like DXO, the Low Light ISO (which I understand is the no-noise limit) of the M9 is ISO) 884, while D3x is 1992 and D700 is 2303.
    Also, I wonder how could a M9 have equal performance as a D3x, if the M9 ISO latitude is from 80 to 2500 (the highest ISO it delivers) while D3x is 50 to 6400 and D700 is 100 to 25600.
    Please do not misunderstand my questioning, my goal is to understand how does that real like experience works, since still a technical limitation is in there and can’t be avoid.

    Loves the Vespa shot!

    • H LaDra

      I own the D700 and have had a little play with the D3x but only have very limited experience of it. I can only offer my own view which is that there is NO free lunch, to achieve high iso something else has to give and therefore there is a balance/compromise and you have to decide which best suits you. Incidentally this is one of the reasons why I get annoyed at the morons on some photo forums that complain that Medium format digital doesn’t have the same iso performance as a D700.

      Essentially my view is that higher pixel density will inevitable compromise high iso and therefore all the higher MP 35mm cameras have lower high iso capabilities – Leica M9, Nikon D3x and Sony a900 all top out at roughly 1,600 to 2,500 any ultra iso capabilities are simply marketing. Nikon wouldn’t make a d700/d3s if it could make a d3x with the same high iso. High iso capabilties compromise lower iso performance by either introducing too much processing (Canon’s trick) or reducing the MP density.

      I don’t care about DXO in the slightest – I care about results I can get with my own eyes. It has taken me a while to get there but I am happy to use the M9 up to 2,500 for wedding work, for beauty/portraiture I would want to stay at 400 or below on any camera and at lower iso the M9 matches the performance and look of a digital back.

      In terms of pure sensor performance the D700 is probably as good at 6,400 as the M9 is at 2,000 (all depending on light quality and temperature) but a DSLR needs much higher shutter speeds for sharp results. ISOs above 1,600 on the D3X and above 6,400 on the D700 are there for emergency purpose and perfectly acceptable for journalist but not for other applications.

      So in my experience the D700 smokes the M9 at higher iso. The M9 lenses are much better wide open AND the M9 can be held at lower shutter speeds. The D700 has far better flash capability. The M9 is MUCH better at lower iso; the D700 is easier to use etc …

      The point of this is that your application and working method needs to be taken into account. IF you want to shoot natural light and lower MP are acceptable NOTHING will beat a D3S with 24 / 35 and 85 1.4 lenses – this will be much cheaper than an M9 as well.

      Practically for me the D700 might give an extra stop of usable high iso; for wider focal lengths probably no difference , for longer focal lengths the D700 pulls away since the hand holding advantages dissipate.

      Hope this helps

      The Vespa shot was good fun , hanging out of a car on the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam whilst trying to follow focus with an M9 whilst the couple rode passed – definitely a DSLR application but you use what you have to hand.

    • Yea, really! I always love seeing pro work done with a Leica M, and since there are tons of Leica shooters here, I am sure many others also enjoy seeing things like this. Would you prefer “Cats and Dogs shot with an M9”? Not me! Lol…

      Anyway, thanks for the comment, even if it was a bit rude…


  8. Great article Tapas
    Enjoyed both the read and the images

    I agree – for security you do need a DSLR – especially in England where light fades fast and in the winter you only get 8 hours of daylight

    Look forward to more !


  9. I definitly agree with not using DSLRS at weddings atleast. Those cameras were at best designed for sports and news photographers. The m9 is much more suited in my opinion, as are MF cameras such as your has with digital back or film.

  10. Tapas,

    I so love your approach to weddings it is always enjoyable to see how other photographers work and yours is no exception. , beautiful to say the least.

    I must also say how wonderful your ‘PERSONAL’ work is on your website is. Fantastic, what a fabulous set of images, I looked through them envious (wish I could afford an M9) and thankful for your post.

    Cheers A great article,



    • Hi Simon

      Thank you so much, personal work is why we do photography – some things need to be for pure pleasure. Interestingly I have made a number of booking based on my personal work because clients have said it showed that I had a passion for photography – it wasn’t just a job.

      Actually with kids and time demands – I look at personal work somewhat enviously now !


  11. Hi Tapas,

    I really loved the article, and i find it risky just only depending on Leica to shoot weddings, but it is a wise move that you backed yourself up with D700 which is way better in terms of speed and low light performance.

    For me, i see the Leica is unpractical in wedding as in sport. In both, the speed to capture the scene is important, and for sure you cannot repeat it again.

    Of course, M9 can be used in weddings, but as a secondary tool. especially in portraits and group photos where everyone will pose.

    I really liked your photos in the article and i admire your work in your site. You are really talented.

    • Hi Amr

      I think it is a question of each to his own. I am not denigrating the Canon or Nikon in any way nor am I particularly saying that the M9 produces “better” results. I do think that the Leica CAN be used exclusively for weddings and I have done so – it just needs a different mind set and way of working.

      Thanks for the kind comments on my work


  12. Wow…
    Those are the most refreshing “wedding” photos I have seen in a long, long time.
    Tapas…you are truly an artist!

  13. while your post certainly is inspirational and it took a gutsy move on your part.. most your shots don’t look focused at all (last three shots notably — you misfocus even on still portraits?).. seems one wedding season is not enough to train your eyes on wedding work..

    • Phase One P21+ (18 MP) back, bought it several years ago and it is good enough for me. I’m not sure that I could recommend MF digital though unless you do commercial work, the depreciation is horrendous.

  14. I’m looking forward to shooting a wedding with my M9, but will probably use it as a back up to my 5Dmk2. This article has shown that an M9 can be the primary camera but I don’t have the balls to just use the M9 or the bank balance to own two. Just yet anyway. Who knows what might happen next year!

    Thanks for an insightful article

  15. Fascinating article even though I don’t shoot weddings. Lots of takeaways and loved how balanced you were in addressing the strengths/weaknesses of shooting with such a system.

    As a fellow M9 shooter, this statement really resonated:

    “I have used a Leica…and it is slowly becoming instinctive and an extension of me. The Leica M demands this diligence and it changes the way you shoot and see…”

    That pretty much sums up how I feel about my Leica.

    • Hi Emily

      I remember Mike Johnston on “Online Photographer” once saying that everyone needed to use an M6 and one lens for a year exclusively and I know understand what he means.


  16. Tapas,

    Wow, love it! I particularly liked the third (guitar) image, the sixth and the last shot for their atmosphere. You have a great eye for capturing the moment. You must have happy clients 🙂

    By the way, I love the idea (if not the cost) of TWO M9s in the bag for speedy work with different lenses for two different effects. Way to go …. Need to speak to Bank Manager …..


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