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The Leica Diary, Part V – Final Thoughts

Gear Talk

After about four weeks of shooting with the Leica M9 and various lenses, I came to a dismaying conclusion.

I am not a street photographer. I don’t like street photography. I get nervous, am unsure, and take terrible street photos.

And, for most of the time that I had the M9, I was trying to be a street photographer. 

What we have here, folks, is a classic case of a photographer trying to mold himself into the image of his camera gear. The Leica is the classic street photographer’s camera; therefore, my thinking went, in order to truly use it and get the hang of it, I MUST shoot on the street.

Occasionally, that resulted in a decent image. The portrait below of my friend and colleague, Ben Salomon, was taken with the M9.

Every so often, I’d come across an image I’d like. But more often than not, my efforts would be a wash.

But this was a really amazing camera. Surely, the fault lay with me if I couldn’t get good images out of it.

Well, yeah, kinda. The fault was with me – to a point.

The trap that I fell into was allowing the Leica to dictate not just the my technique, but also my style and genre. Since it was supposed to be a great street camera, I decided that I had to shoot street photography with it. That, unfortunately, was an awful, awful mistake.

Your equipment should never dictate the kind of shooting you do. I know it seems like obvious advice, and it is, but I realize now that even after years of doing this, I still fell into that newbie mistake. I suppose you could argue that it took the power and legacy of a camera and brand like Leica to sway me, and there’s some truth to that, but ultimately, it was my responsibility to shoot true to my preferred style and subject and I kinda had a big fail in that department.

Which is truly tragic, because the Leica is an admirable performer no matter what you throw at it. Which is something that became all too obvious when I decided to put it and that gorgeous 16-18-21mm wide-angle to use in landscape photography.

Overlooking the Bay Area. HDR with a Leica M9.

Overlooking the Bay Area. HDR with a Leica M9.

As I mentioned in Part IV of this piece, the Leica has a pretty cool AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) mode that lets you take up to 7 bracketed exposures. The shot above was processed in Nik HDREfex Pro 2, off a 5-exposure burst. That Leica glass is just flat-out amazing.

I had similar results whenever I turned the camera to subjects I had an interest in. Strolling around near a beach in San Francisco, I was took the shot below and was absolutely pleased as punch at the texture and “crunch” the Leica was able to capture.

Sandy beach in San Francisco

Sandy beach in San Francisco

Ditto for the graffiti on a wall at that same beach.

Wall graffiti at a beach in San Francisco

Wall graffiti at a beach in San Francisco

The Leica, it turned out, was capable of keeping up with my style and subjects just fine. To “push” it a bit, I threw a PocketWizard Plus III on it and stuck another one on a Canon 580EX II for a few quick portraits in the front office.

The lovely Cherish Ortiz, one of our Front Desk team, always ready with a smile.

The lovely Cherish Ortiz, one of our Front Desk team, always ready with a smile.

Andrew Kim, Front Desk team, practicing his "I will destroy you" look.

Andrew Kim, Front Desk team, practicing his “I will destroy you” look.

Jo Deguzman, our Front Desk Manager, with his million-candelpower grin.

Jo Deguzman, our Front Desk Manager, with his million-candelpower grin.

The conclusion? Shoot what you know and love, not what you think you need to shoot just because you’re holding a Leica.

Sadly, this was a realization that I came to towards the end of my time with the Leica. Had I come to it sooner, I would’ve put it to work in the studio, maybe taken it on a trip down the coast.

What I found in my limited time with this amazing bit of gear is that when you shoot with a Leica, you really do have to think a bit differently about your approach. The manual controls force you to slow down, to consider composition and exposure and timing. I know a couple of Leica ninjas that seem to be able to manually focus as fast as a decent DSLR, but for the most part, this is a camera that forces contemplation.

That’s a good thing. Being forced to slow down leads to a much more thoughtful approach to photography and is one of the reasons I still shoot film. The Leica M9 brings that same focus on deliberation to the digital realm, and that’s a good thing.

I’m glad I took this time to work with the Leica. It fleshed out certain things for me — making me realize how much I love working in the studio versus on the street, for example. It also revealed just how much Leica has grown beyond their origins, making a camera that excels in a variety of environments.

If you’re into landscape, street photography, studio work, on-location portraiture or, really, any field that doesn’t require high framerates and super-tele lenses, it might behoove you to give the Leica some consideration. Its relative light weight and small form factor, not to mention excellent lenses and image quality, might just make it worth your time.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at as well as on 500px and Flickr.

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