Sixty Weddings with a Leica M 240
by Joeri van der Kloet
Hello to all of you! Thanks Steve for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers again. I’ve posted a couple of times on shooting weddings with a rangefinder, but I thought it would be nice to give you an update.
I’m quite sure I’m a lucky person. 2014 was a crazy year and it’s not over yet. I just kept getting emails from people who were getting married and asking about availability. It was a very busy, yet immensely rewarding year. With an ever-increasing competition among (wedding) photographers this is something I don’t take for granted. I have found that staying true to the way I work does pay off. I don’t stage anything besides the group portraits and I shoot real moments only. Just snapshots of beautiful moments. Nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes my clients tell me it felt like I was just one of the guests, who happened to be there with a funny little camera. The M helps in this approach with its modest proportions, but behavior is just as important. I wear a suit if that’s the dress code, I mingle with the other guests and even my camera bag fits in. It may seem like just common sense, but you’ll be surprised how often this is forgotten.
Besides my documentary wedding work, the number of customers for my workshops are growing. Lots of rangefinder users are interested in the way I use my camera and they’re especially interested in my focussing training techniques. I really love this work, because I can help people to get more fun with their cameras.
In the last two years I’ve shot 60 weddings with my Leica M240 and although I already reviewed this camera here before, let me give you an update after many hours of shooting.
After having shot around seventy weddings with my M9s, a few years ago, I had gotten used to this camera. While I was on a four months journey around the world, I heard about the new M and I was quite excited, but also in doubt. A CMOS sensor? Liveview? Video? Seriously? Like most of you, the first pictures we saw that were taken with the new flagship were somewhat disappointing. Soon after that, the CCD vs CMOS discussion took off. And we’re still having this discussion today. Of course I also read about red skin tones, the lack of ‘crisp’, ‘pop’ and ‘3D’. However I also read that the M240 featured 2 extra stops in ISO sensitivity, a more silent shutter and a better responsiveness in general. For me, the increase in ISO sensitivity was enough to spend the 6300 Euros and start working with it.
The number one reason for me to work with the M240 instead of the M9 is ISO. I’ve really needed those two extra stops for low light circumstances. Even with a fast 35/1.2 I have used the highest ISO setting quite a few times. Of course the wedding receptions are the hardest moments to capture. As a rule of thumb I can freeze people who are dancing at 1/90th and at 1/60th, even though it will start to get slightly fuzzy, the look is very moody. People that are dancing slowly can be shot at 1/15th and still be sharp enough. By the way, sharpness is never my main concern. Emotion has top priority, then composition and only then sharpness. Flash is no option as far as I’m concerned, since I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. So for ISO only, I’d choose the M240.
Next is overall responsiveness. The M9 has a somewhat gritty shutter button, while the M240 has a clear two-step shutter button. The shutter itself is more silent and lacks the whining noise of the M9. Button wise, the M240 is more responsive, although I have heard people complaining about the start-up time. With my M, I have no problems with that and whenever I use my M9, it feels slower to respond on the buttons. Handling wise, I prefer the M9, simply because it significantly lighter. Don’t underestimate these 100 grams. You will notice the difference.
Much has been said about the M9 screen. Yes, it’s a joke, but it never troubled me. It was good enough to browse through the menu, check my histogram and check composition. If you’d want to check for sharpness, forget it. Though the M240 is not very good for checking for sharpness either (just compare it to the 5D3: now that works!) it’s a lot better than the M9.
But then the menus: I prefer the M9, simply because it’s more intuitive and easier to work with than the M240. Also, setting the ISO on the M9 triggers a clever menu: by clicking down you’ll increase one stop and by clicking to the right you increase your ISO with ⅓ of a stop.
Then there is the live view. First I thought I’d never use it on the M240. When I started using it, I discovered some benefits of this system. It always works, no matter how dark it is, whereas the EVF might get so dark that it’s almost too hard to focus. Live view also provides a way for very precise focussing. The drawback is that live view is very laggy. For me, during action it’s unusable, but for more static subjects it’s great. It’s also great for checking if your rangefinder is still calibrated properly. I do not use it a lot, but I wouldn’t want to miss it in a next M.
Battery life of the M240 is very good. With my two M9s I used to carry six batteries to a wedding. Now two is enough. So that compensates for the increase in weight of the camera itself. Sort of.
Issues then. The M9 has had quite a few and one more recent issue can be added to the camera: corrosion of the sensor. While the M240 has had its share of bad luck, it seems to be problem free at this moment.
The most important feature of a camera however, is its output and that’s what most people are talking about. It’s the CCD versus the CMOS. Yes, the files are different and everyone had to get used to these new files, myself included. Technically, the M240 files are superior: they have more dynamic range, less noise and they’re just more flexible. The issue with the skin tones has been fixed, though it never bothered me much. The M240 needs a little more punch than the M9 files: increasing the contrast a little is usually a good thing. For me, I’m really happy with the output the M240 delivers. Of course, you’ll have to shoot in raw, just like with the M9. Where the M9 really shines is base ISO. Those images, where light is good and focus is spot on are almost unbeatable. But as a pro I don’t shoot on base ISO that much. I don’t get to choose the light on a wedding and often it is dim, or very contrasty. So what do I want? Low noise high ISO and flexible files with a good dynamic range. And that’s what the M240 delivers. If you’re shooting in other circumstances and you don’t need to make any money with your camera, I can perfectly understand why you’d prefer the M9 over the M240. In fact, I still have my M9-P which I will keep as long as possible.
Maybe you don’t even need to make a choice between the M9 and M240. When I switched to the M-system, the M9 was the only full frame compact camera body in the world. Lots has changed. Sony has made the full frame compact system camera accessible for a much bigger group of people with the A7 series. I have seen many great reports about the A7 and A7s. Steve here rated his A7s as his number one camera! On the other hand: DSLRs have acquired features that make them more interesting for the documentary approach as well. The Canon 5D3 for instance, is just as silent as the M240 in its silent mode. Also, its AF-system is a lot better than the 5D2, which makes the 5D3 a pretty good smallish, silent camera for the documentary wedding pro. For me, I just like the way the M-system works with its simple lay out and its intuitive controls. I wouldn’t want to change that. Also, my M is my best marketing tool ever. Whether I like it or not, it sells.
So, in conclusion, can we finally say which camera is better? No, we can’t, because image quality should be one of the most important factors in deciding which camera to buy and this image quality can’t be described in numbers and sometimes not even in words. I just wanted to explain why I still prefer the M240 over the M9 after having read the renewed CCD vs CMOS discussion. Whatever camera you buy, get the one you can afford and just shoot with it. That’s what they’re meant for.
and now, the photos!
1 Magical moment. The couple started dancing on our tiny boat on the Amsterdam canals. The sun came through and I just knew I had the best job in the world. With 28 Elmarit.
2 The dance. They just kept dancing on this wedding and everybody had such a good time. Very low light, but I think I nailed it on 3200 ISO on 1.2 at 1/125th with the terrific CV35/1.2.
3 Bride getting ready. I love to use whatever there is available for natural framing. With the small but very good 35 cron.
4 The car. This bride just loved the classic Porsche 911 the groom arranged for their wedding. And it even worked with the dress. Shot with the CV35/1.2.
5 Intimate moment during one of the speeches. I’m constantly looking for these moments. With the 50 cron, my workhorse.
6 Waiting for the groom. While the bride was peeking through the window, this dog jumped on a chair and started peeking as well. I couldn’t have been happier of course. CV35/1.2.
7 The vows. This was an intimate outdoor wedding and the couple had ordered birds made out of paper from Japan as a styling detail. I decided to shoot the vows through this curtain of birds. With the tiny 28 Elmarit.
8 Father and child having fun. Shot at 6400 ISO at 1.2 at 1/60th. Is it sharp? No, but it conveys the message. CV 35/1.2.
9 Bride and groom and umbrellas. It was a rainy day and the couple moved from the wedding venue to the next venue. I liked this scene and shot it quickly. With the 35 cron.
10 I noticed this little moment just after the ceremony between the bride and her daughter. Shot with the 50 cron.
11 The moment after the kiss. Couples relax after all the offical things are done and you can tell by just looking at their faces. WIth the 28 Elmarit.
12 Soap and sunshine. During the ceremony it was dark and rainy, but when the couple got out the weather had changed completely. They were hugging each other and I liked this scene with its warm colours and all the reflections on the bubbles. With the 28 Elmarit.
13 The laugh. While returning from a group shot, the groom (probably) told a joke and the bride laughed out loud. I like the flare and the soft light as well. With the 50 cron.
14 The cake. This lovely couple just had a terrific day and I love the little moment with this interaction between the newly weds. With the 50 cron.
15 The look. The groom was listening very carefully while the bride was secretly looking at her husband-to-be. I love, love this light and the way the 50 cron renders the scene.
16 Magic light. When the couple walked towards their car after the ceremony they literally stepped into a ray of light. Smooth, warm, just beautiful. And the 50 cron has no trouble in rendering this scene.
17 Boy and car. When the groom went for a cup of coffee, the kid sneeked in the car, an Audi R8, and pretended to drive the car. I could hear him imitating engine sounds. With the 35 cron.
18 Smooth. The CV 35/1.2 is not just a low light lens. It’s also suitable for getting this smooth look. I’m not sure who the bride was looking at, but I just like this shot.
19 Friends. Well, this one doesn’t need any explanation. Best friends captured with the 50 cron.
20 Getting ready. I like the expression of the bride and the soft light from the window. Shot with the 35 cron.
21 The kiss. An intimate wedding with only twenty guests. Being able to mingle with guests is even more important than at big weddings. With the 35 cron.
22 Almost ready. After many years of shooting I’m still surprised that my clients give me the opportunity to capture all these delicate moments. Here the bride, probably quite nervous and so beautiful in the last moments before she’ll meet her groom. With the CV 35/1.2
23 Light from above. This couple lived on a boat with windows in the ceiling. When the groom stepped on board, the bride heard him and looked up, trying to get a glimpse of him through the window. Shot with the 35 cron.
24 The quote. While we were heading out for a boat trip we came across this quote and I quickly focussed on it. The groom turned his head to read it and I took the shot. CV 35/1.2.
25 Kiss me honey. The bride reaching for a kiss in a train somewhere in Rotterdam. With 28 Elmarit.
26 The first look. It was very narrow and I didn’t have much space to shoot the couple during the first look. Luckily, there was a mirror. CV 35/1.2.
27 Father and bride. Long after the wedding, this bride told me that this picture made her father cry. I’m still honoured she took the effort to tell me that. Shot with 50 cron.
28 Kiss and dance. Working with a rangefinder in low light conditions can be hard, but also very rewarding. The couple loved this shot and so do I. CV 35/1.2.