Leica M Street Photography
• by Daniel A. Norman •
My favorite tool for Leica M street photography is a film Leica M, the Leica M7 to be exact, but with the introduction of the new digital Leica’s including the Leica M10, the Leica M, the Leica M-E, the Leica Q, and more, can I be convinced to abandon Leica M film photography?
The Leica name is legendary when it comes to street photography, and the name of famous Leica photographers, especially Magnum photographers, is pretty long. Many people still shoot Leica M street photography with a Leica M3, which some consider the perfect camera with the perfect design. I always thought Leica M street photography was a hype until I started using a Leica M7 for street photography a few years ago. Not only does the film Leica M7 feel good in my hand, it’s also a pleasure to be out in the street shooting with. The new Leica M10 is now the same size as my beloved M7, so I really anticipate shooting with one. Leica M’s are solid and well built, the way a camera should be made, and will last a lifetime. Leica M street photography is a unique experience for anyone who’s tried it. Shooting Leica M street photography is totally different than shooting street photography with a DLSR, an SLR, or a Lomo plastic camera. I didn’t say “better”, just “different”. I absolutely love shooting street photography with film in my Leica M7, which has been in production for fifteen years, and is holding it’s place in Leica’s M system lineup.
Leica seems to have taken the form of the “perfect” street photography camera, the film Leica M, and applied today’s latest digital technology to it, to make the new Leica M 10 and the Leica Q. When I’m out shooting with my film Leica M 7, my favorite lens is a Zeiss Planar T 50mm F2 ZM lens. I have a choice between this lens and the entire Leica M lens system and other M lenses such as Zeiss and Voigtlander M lenses, which are considered the best photography lenses ever made. I also bring a Olympus Pen digital body with me sometimes, and with the use of a converter, attach my Zeiss Planar lens to it. The Olympus has a EV-2 electronic viewfinder that I can use to see the image in monochrome as I’m shooting it. This feature made me really love using my Olympus EP-2 micro 4/3’s camera. It seems like the team at Leica loved this feature too, because it is included in the new Leica M. This feature alone makes me want to go out and get this camera. Shooting street photography with a new digital Leica M 10 in monochrome mode, with an electronic viewfinder attached, is the perfect marriage of classical rangefinder photography and the latest digital technology. It makes the new digital Leica M 10 the only camera a Leica M street photographer would need in his or her arsenal. Of course there are more features like a 24 megapixel sensor, and a 3″ LCD with Gorilla Glass, but the inclusion of the electronic viewfinder is all I needed to hear.
Is the new Leica M 10 is going to be the ultimate tool for the modern street photographer? Does Leica M street photography with film still have it’s place? I still love shooting with a film Leica M7, but would love to compare the experience of shooting the streets of New York City with a digital Leica M 10. I’m just waiting for someone at Leica to send me a camera for testing. I could try the new Leica M-E if I want an experience similar to the Leica M7, but I love the shooting digital in monochrome mode with an electronic viewfinder. On the new Leica M 10 or Leica M, electronic viewfinder will allow me to see a scene in black and white as it is happening.
Traditionally, a photographer had to develop the ability to imagine a scene in black and white, and this is something that I’ve been working on for years. I try to see the scene in black and white in my head, and I sometimes do get the picture on film that I envisioned. One option is that I can convert the image to black and white later in Nik Software‘s Silver EFEX Pro 2. With an electronic viewfinder, and the camera in monochrome mode, I can actually see the scene in monochrome as I capture the images. This is something that I’ve been doing on my digital Olympus Pen, and I’m eager to try on the new Leica M with a full frame 24 megapixel sensor. The Olympus Pen is fun, but the image size doesn’t compare to the Leica M street photography images I would be able to make with the new Leica M.
The new Leica M hit the streets in the Spring 2013, and it’s the new tool for Leica M street photography. I continue shooting Leica street photography on the streets of NYC with my Leica M7, and with my digital Olympus Pen in monochrome mode with an electric viewfinder. As much I like shooting street photography with a digital camera, I can’t stop shooting with black and white film loaded in my Leica M7. Film street photography is something special.
Film Leica M’s have been around for over 50 years, and are still the best tool for street photography. They offer a different experience than shooting Leica M street photography with digital. Every time I see a film street photography image that I took for the first time, I feel like a kid unwrapping his birthday present. That surprise feeling is one of the many reasons I love shooting street photography with black and white film. The new Leica M and M-E doesn’t replace the Leica M7, but will be a great addition to camera bag of a modern street photographer. With the new Leica M & the new Leica M-E, Leica M street photography has taken a leap into the future. Now Leica released a Leica Q and that too looks like a great tool for street photography.
Click here for some examples of film Leica M7 street photography.