The secret to shooting a SMALL camera kit! Sony & Leica.
by William Yianni Binks
Hey everyone! Steve was nice enough to post a passionate project of mine about my grandmother and her ongoing Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. The main part of the article was how I was working with minimal gear most of the time (35mm Leica summicron V5 and Sony A7s camera)
I wanted to send in this new article, as it’s something I’m also passionate about SMALL KIT shooting!! I feel I have found a secret kit for daily street photography that is unobtrusive that can quickly be transformed (With use of a new M auto focus adapter) for corporate shoots all the way to carrying around HALF the size for club photography!
Last year on assignment for a big client of mine, CHC Helicopter, in Vancouver, BC and a large golf fundraiser along with Dreamline films I brought along my Sony A7s and only two small prime lenses. Those two lenses were the 35mm Leica Summicon and 75mm Leica Summicron. Along with these two small manual focus lenses was my ONA bag, which fits this kit perfectly.
The point of this article is that you can shoot an event with LESS, and I found I engaged with the people MORE. Less is more? 😉
I see a lot of people shooting events with zoom lens canons, running around sweating and then throwing out 85% of the images. I took a different approach. I engaged with everyone first, with my small Sony a7s and leica lens around my neck. At the CHC helicopter family corporate event, I actually ended up just taking the tour of the helicopter assembly plant as if I was almost just another guest. If, and when I saw a moment, I took out my camera and shot a few photos. Near the end I took some group photos and then had an hour to myself to walk around and take some interesting minimal factory type photos. I took the day in three stages, something I feel this small under the radar kit worked perfectly for, with no holdbacks. Under the radar candid’s, high quality group photos and then slow and steady promo shots for their factory. All while using the best glass I’ve ever used! NO HOLDS BARRED!
For the golf event, I simply had a golf cart and went and hung out with everyone. I would take my camera out, take a few photos and then get to know some of the groups to get a few fun photos the client wanted. I found that by the time I knew some of the groups they would yell over to me and set up the photo’s themselves! Something I never would have gotten gunning around with a 70-8000mm lens (In production somewhere I’m sure!) ha-ha. In fact, the company I was shooting for put me on the project because of my outgoing nature anyways, so having this kit that wasn’t obtrusive and made people act differently along with having more face time was perfect. The client loved the photos and raved about having us out, perfect for everyone!
The next step to making life even easier, as many would say- ok that’s a great small kit, but for events I would lose shots focusing! And that is true! At the time of this though, there wasn’t one piece of kit I feel that changed the game for the Sony A series- the new auto focus adapter for M lenses! Due to the large size of auto focus lenses, especially those, which have stabilization (which the new Sony’s have in body anyways!) there’s hardly an argument anymore against M and Sony kits for everything. I plan on getting the auto focus adapter soon once I research the models more. Yes, there are Sony prime lenses now in most configurations, but most of them are still large- and pull by wire.
This kit gives you the connection with your camera and manual focus Leica lenses, and in an instant with an adapter- a small and deadly kit. I feel this is what the A7 series was supposed to be at launch, but subsequently got bloated down by the need for such high-resolution lenses no one really needs (99%). This option brings it back to the unobtrusive, configurable camera you just can’t have with DSLRS. I’m using it for travel, professional photography events, and club photography and then rigging it up like a cinema camera for short films and commercials and shooting Slog 4K. It’s such a well rounder!
If this seems like it would work for you and your style- look into it! I mention what I’m doing to photography friends and many have followed and love it.
As of those events listed above and photographed in this article, I’ve since added a 24-70 F4 Zeiss lens to the kit. Its small, fits in the ONA bag perfectly with my other lenses, and gives me something for more hectic times to cover all edges. Then, when I want some shallower DOF shots and creative control, I swap to a prime lens and take my time.
Many people complain about the new Sony E mount full frame lenses (myself included) but with the auto focus adapter now and stunning M lenses out there (Zeiss and Voigtlander included) I feel we can in fact once again have a small kit configurable to shoot ANYTHING!!
For club photographers-
I’ve been shooting with a 21mm Voigtlander M lens which is TINY, and a Nissin i40 flash which is half the size of other flash systems and incredibly powerful. I feel bad when I see someone chugging around a massive camera body and bulging prime lens in a sweaty club.
So there you go, a kit less than half the size of a DSLR (or even many Sony lenses which are getting back to DSLR size, and front heavy and annoying to shoot with all day).
PS. If you have the a7 or a7r (mark 1 or 2) the 1.5x crop mode also is VERY useful and still allows PLENTY of resolution, especially for events where you’re usually compressing files. This in turn can make a 35 and 75 (or 90mm) kit effectively, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 130ish mm) all in two tiny lenses!
If you’d like to see the original post on my site with more photo’s that can be found HERE:
As well as my Facebook group HERE for my photography and cinematography, Black Case Media:
(I’m currently residing in London, UK. If anyone wants to collaborate or shoot sometime, as I’m relatively new to the city, let me know!)
Thanks again Steve for the reviews and I hope your readers find this perhaps a problem solver in having a small kit that can be used for just about anything! (Except fast action sports)
Cheers, and I hope you all the best time photographing your lives,
William Yianni Binks
Hi William, if you’re in London why not come and shoot with us. We’re having a free event this week with the brilliant Suki Dhanda giving an introduction before our How to Shoot Street Portraits workshop. We’ve also these great shoots coming up:
London Fashion Week shoot with Mark, Street Photography Masterclass with Eduardo Pavez Goye, Cinema Museum & Open House with Phil
Cheers – Sukhy
Having already said that my 12-40mm, 60mm macro, 7-14mm and 75mm are what I’ll take along with my E-M1, now being a wheelchair user I have the ‘luxury’ of being able to carry around significantly more ‘Kit’ than this,which all within easy reach, underneath the chair’s seat! Needless to say, I used to know how much a pain a back-pack or shoulder-bag can induce!
One of these days I’ll get round to offering Steve an article on the subject … someone here might know someone who will find the info useful.
How much easier it is to occasionally move a few steps forward rather than all the time carry a huge 85/1.4 or a 70-200/2.8? For this you should be part of the crowd with the liberty to do that. Small, unobtrusive gear helps.
But as a “pro” photographer fenced-off at a distance from the red carpet you have no choice. When doing landscapes, the closer view of that mountain may require a few hundred metres rather than just a few steps forward.
In many cases yes for sure! I might eventually buy a 70-200 although mostly for cinema applications where the camera is rigged and size isn’t as much of an issue- or more particular shoots where Ill have a larger bag at base to grab the lens from now and again.
And of course for landscape/wildlife work too- although having even a 135 or 180mm 2.8 prime can be relatively small with say a 35 (for stitching landscapes) or even a 24mm or 21mm M mount lens would also fit in a very small bag and be extremely portable for hikes etc with still incredible IQ!
Some of the best photographers in the world have shot their entire career with just one camera and one lens.
Really depends on what that “best photographer” in the world does for a living, though, doesn’t it. I think you’re thinking of photojournalists. I doubt many of the world’s best photographers wedding, nature, sports or macro photographers would get very far with just one camera and one lens.
You are right, of course…
But gear is generally overrated, especially on the internet websites like these, while talent and creativity is often underrated.
The late Bill Cunningham, one of the most influential fashion photographers of the past decades, used a mediocre Nikon camera with a 35mm lens.
Another good option to keep your kit small is to keep the filter sizes the same. The 21mm Voightlander, color skopar, 35mm Summicron, 50mm Summicron and the 135mm Tele-Elmar (earlier version) all share the same 39mm filter size. I typically just grab two lenses and throw them in the bag which carries one set of filters. That way you really keep the kit size down.
Definitely true, David!
I had a problem with that before when buying even ND filters, and although Id usually buy the largest size my filters fit and then use step up rings- it gets in the way for sure. Leica lenses at least for the most part are small filters though which is nice- so a small step up ring on just a small handful and then a few eBay lens caps should do the trick until someone might have enough for separate filters. Definitely am interested in a 135 leica though at some point. Im shooting a 135 nikon now, its a nice lens and relatively small actually, but having the large Nikon to E adapter is its crutch. Id like to eventually have all Leica M primes for my photography jobs so the mount adapter just stays on the camera for the whole kit!
Totally agree with the “less is more” concept, but with one caveat. This caveat is that there is a distinction between what you own and what you carry. Heading out to photograph cathedrals and skyscrapers? This will require a combination of lenses different to the combination that is required for something like an equestrian event. As a Leica shooter myself, I own 21mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 75mm lenses, but make it a habit to only go out with 2 lenses, one on the camera and one in a small ONA bag. What those 2 lenses are will depend on the day and what I plan to focus on. So it’s nice to have choices, but we certainly don’t have to carry all of them with us all the time.
I have been carrying 21mm, 40mm, and 75mm Voigtlander with A7 recently. I don’t have to think what I am going to shoot today before packing the camera bag. 😉 I wish Sony can make native high IQ and small size lenses at these focus lengths.
Sony sort of screwed us- came out with the tiny first A7 series (a7,a7s,a7r) then smallish but slow lenses, and now massive lenses. The huge size of their new fast primes are due to the extremely high quality nature, correction IN lens and need for such high resolutions they themselves are pushing. To me, the 36 even MP or even around 30 would be plenty enough for 99.9% of anybody. Smaller lenses perhaps even with the mount focusing as another option or NO IS in the lenses would have been nice. Instead, anyone not shooting for cropping or huge print is stuck with these huge kits. Thats why I immediately went into the Leica territory. Im no expert on lens design but Auto focus should generally allow a wider lens to be necessary to fit gears to turn it in and out to adjust focus- but not the massive length sony lenses are also becoming. Its unfortunate and a miss IMO, as the cameras are then unbalanced, and end up front heavy as the camera is literally digging into you on a 45% down angle- its horrendous.
100% agree man, many shoots having two lenses does the trick! Im adding a 21mm f4 voigtlander or 1.8 to my bag soon. I then plan on bringing the 21,35 and 75 to most shoots. The 21 f4 is essentially a lens cap, and if need be I can put crop mode on to get my 75 to a 105mm equiv. 21-105 in 3 SMALL lenses, pretty incredible! (Sometimes Id also carry the 50 1.5 voigtlander or instead of the 75 if I want more of a regular focal length with TINY dof. Either way, theres a nice collection to choose from for the job at hand that will easily fit in a very small lens bag.
I agree that Sony A7 series cameras and Leica lenses are a match made in heaven. I currently shoot with a Sony A7RII and Sony A6000 using Leica 90mm Summicron, Leica 50mm Summicron, Leica 35mm Summilux, and Leica 21mm Elmarit lenses. All of this fits inside a Think Tank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag (with an additional Leica 35mm Summicron mounted to the A6000 body within the bag). I can walk around all day carrying around this bag because it is so small and lightweight, even with those two camera bodies and all those lenses within it! Needless to say, I don’t miss shooting with DSLRs one bit!
Glenn how well does the 35mm Summilux perform on the A7? As I said below, the 35mm Cron just doesn’t work unless you’re using it in crop mode on the A7 but I’d be interested to know if the Lux is any better.
Interesting, I have many images on the a7 with the 35 summarit that I absolutely loved- although I didn’t shoot much of stopped down landscape. Heres an example of the summarit 35 on the original a7.
in fact in some cases the rendering with the summarit once graded I found more similar ‘3d’ results as the Lux from what I’ve seen, where as the cron is much more flat paper cut out of a look on subjects- equally excellent just very different.
I believe though for the leica lenses, the a7s and the a7r2 are really the cameras you want for the best quality with wider leica lenses (in the far corners) I did crucial tests with the a7s and my 35 and in the very very far corner found a pixel to pixel smudging, that when displayed online or regular size even ona 27 inch cinema display was 100% unnoticeable. With the new a73 coming soon, which Im betting will have a new sensor, that however might be the one to wait for- cheaper, should take the AF M adapter, and hopefully be like the a7r2 with leica glass.
ah, the 90 summicron. Ive been on the fence of trading my 75 for a 90, just to get a tough more reach and also this further reach allowed when using cropped mode. Im not a big 50 shooter, although I like a fast 50 to get that beautiful DOF while still obtaining some of the scene around the subject, thats why I ‘settled’ for the 75 cron. Ill have to shoot with it more before making a decision. Why does Leica have to be so expensive:(. The beauty I feel though with Leica lenses are that they are all manual, and stunning IQ and build- and in the case especially of the Summilux or longer focal length cron lenses- lifetime kit. So the price is justifiable, just takes a while to get the kit you dream about! haha.
Ps. how is the 35 lux on the a7? Im a HUGE 35 shooter and tempted to ‘upgrade’ from my 35 cron as having 1.4 as my main lens would offer a lot. It seems to have beautiful rendering for people, a touch less clinical than the cron. Curious on how you see it compared to say even your 50 cron in rendering! (even around the same f2 aperture)
M lenses are stunning. But most of them show severe smearing and color cast issues when mounted on a sony a7, including the Leica 35 Summicron. When it comes to a 35mm prime which should be compact, why not simply buying the excellent Zeiss E 35mm f2.8.
FE 35mm f2.8 is great for landscape. For portraits, sometimes, the depth of field is not shallow enough. For this reason, I oftentimes carry Voigtlander 40mm F1.4 rather than FE 35mm F2.8.
This would be a nice kit for sure! Good options also, and nice manual feel with the voigtlander which is great for the joy of photography- while having the ability to get an AF adapter or shoot the zeiss!
The 35 zeiss is excellent, however not in the same league of build quality, speed (having f2 min for me is necessary for my main lens) and also lasting impression. Much less, the pull by wire is useless for even on the go filming and feel of photography that Leica just gives in abundance. Id also argue that since later sony bodies like the a7s, a7s2, a7r2 don’t have the issues with the leica lenses anymore (at least 28 and longer to my knowledge) a leica lens to me is just a much better investment. If someone is not planning on ever upgrading their sony a series, then the zeiss might be the ticket however! (also, much cheaper!)
If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough. Capa.
The best telephoto I ever owned was made by Keds! Me
Great article William. Your kit is almost the same as I’ve settled on buying. The Leica Elmarit-m 28mm & Leica Summarit-m 90mm (Crop factor gives me the mid 42mm & tele 135mm) which is all the range I’ll need to begin with. Along with the Ona Bowery & Voigtlander close focus adapter.Just disposing of my Canon kit. Cant wait to switch & begin shooting!
P.S. Thanks Steve for opening up the platform to other photographers to share their opinions & experiences.
Ah- beaut kit!! I too have been tempted in the 28mm, actually by the Photographer Luiz Paolo (Steve huff had featured him a few times) what a stunning photographer! But yeah, he had a 35 lux but then also a 28 cron- and for people and event photography- that 28 reach was just beautiful. it had just the look of another world with the wider FOV over a 35, but not as much as a 24 where its almost special lens territory. I wish I could afford a 28 cron, (or that new 28 LUX- WOW- what a lens, to have DOF and 28 FOV, heaven) haha but I might settle with a slightly older 28 Voigtlander f1.9 that looks the business even if I just use it for black and white photography!
a 28 and a 90 is an excellent kit though- Im 100% certain you’re going to love shooting with that! And the crop- exactly! Thats what adds so much to these cameras, the ability to crop and have a different field of view:) I do wish though they would add the crop mode to a user selectable button or quick function menu- come on SONY! haha
Very interesting, though I use an Olympus E-M1 and mainly carry around my 12-40mm f2.8 zoom and the 60mm f2.8 macro. I do though have the 7-14mm f2.8 zoom and 75mm f1.8, so might take along, (depending on the main types of shooting I’ll be doing) the 7-14mm and 12-40mm zooms, OR the 12-40mm and 75mm. The 60mm macro is only 1.5 stops slower than the 75mm, but is far more versatile and by using the 2x function on the E-M1, gives me more ‘reach’ than the 75mm, whereas the 2x on the 75, brings in things just a bit too much. For night time shots, the 75mm comes into it’s own especially when I know that by the time I’ve got in closer, what I want to photograph, will have ‘moved on’.
thats where the micro 4/3rds kits come in- the size of their native lenses! Jealous- I think Sony got a bit screwed using the E mount for full frame glass, as the flange distance of the sensor is SO shallow, the lenses seem to just be enormous unfortunately, and to me, the point of the small body is almost useless. Id actually prefer a Nikon SLR from the film days size, with smaller DSLR lenses, which, compared to Sony native E mount lenses seem shorter- and thus better balanced.
The 35mm Summicron can be mounted on the A7/r/II/rII etc, and it can produce lovely results in the centre of the frame as I found out when I owned one for about a week. The problem is tha at anything lower than f/8 you get smearing and vignetting around the outer 30% of the frame and lower than f/5.6 and the results are dreadful and certainly not something you can correct for. You do indeed need to use a 1.5 times crop, either in camera or post to remove this issue, which sort of begs the question, why spend so much money on a lens that only produces great results across only a fraction of the picture (notwithstanding the fact that I totally appreciate the appeal of small lenses on the A7 body)?
A much better alternative is the Voigtlander 35mm Ultron which does work really well on the A7 range and is similarly small, plus it opens up to f/1.7 and is about a third of the price. You do get some vignetting but it’s easy to correct in post. There is a very good review of it on a friend’s website – Le Petit Photo Blog by Dragan Dragoz.
The ultron is a very nice lens- for someone sticking with the a7 over say the a7s or mark 2 of the a7 series, that definitely could be a nice option- or even non permanent option until a newer camera later on! Ill definitely check out that review though- I do like Voigtlander lenses (Have the Nokton 50 and its wonderful and filled with character)
I shot the Walker Cup at the National Club on Long Island with an M240 and the Leica 28-35-50. It was fun and I was able to get in close with the golfers and the spectators. The pictures are very good and were very well received.
the tri elmar! Ive been really interested in that lens! and the wider one they have also- as they are small and could double as a ‘zoom’ lens for small film applications. I got the zeiss 24-70 f4 to have something to over all bases and it matches with my zeiss ZF.2 primes for a quick and dirty zoom on productions also, but very tempted to have a zoom leica lens some day- Id love to hear how you find it- do you have any posted images or flickr albums etc I could look at!
Thanks Jack! Haven’t ever come across anyone with it so very curious- !