David duChemin Finds Freedom in Leica

Photo (C) Copyright David duChemin

David duChemin is a world & humanitarian assignment photographer, author, digital publisher, and international workshop leader based in Vancouver, Canada. Thus far, he's been an ardent DSLR shooter, but in a recent post called "The Mirrorless Post" it would seem those days may be behind him. He talks about finding new freedom with a Leica M (Type 240) and Fuji X-E1. It's always interesting to read about a newcomer's experience in shooting a Leica for the first time. We wish David continued success and enjoyment!

He writes of the M specifically:

The Leica M (Type 240)

What a beautiful camera to hold and photograph with. A manual-focus-only camera, it takes some getting used to but I see myself using this happily, even as my main camera, for years to come. It’s like the cameras I grew up using and I’m amazed at how muscle memory has kicked in. I can work really fast with the Leica after only 3 weeks. The ergonomics work for me, the image files are beautiful, and as long as you don’t ask it to do much in low-light, it’s amazing. Even then, I like a little grain and I shot a balloon launch at 6am in near darkness and the files are better than I expected. And when you can hand-hold this and get sharp images at almost 1/2 second shutter speed, there are times I just don’t need the higher ISO.

I used a Leica 21/3.4 lens for almost the whole trip and quickly got used to zone focusing and just raising the camera to my eye and shooting. I use the EVF (electronic viewfinder) that’s available separately, and with it I get an in-viewfinder histogram, an accurate sense of my framing, and the ability to hinge it up and shoot from my chest while looking down. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? For many people, maybe not. And until I started working with this Leica M, I was ready to just use Fuji, and for the price of the Leica and one lens you could get 2 Fujis, every lens they make, and have money left over to go somewhere amazing. But a couple weeks with it and I’m hooked. You can pry it from my cold dead fingers, if you’re willing to fight off my ghost. For me, it’s that amazing. But it’s pricey and the lenses are astonishingly expensive.

So why the Leica at all? Why spend so much on a camera? Without doubt the images are beautiful within certain constraints. But, with apologies to the purists, so are the images from the Fuji. Different, but beautiful. For me it comes down to process. It’s the reason craftsmen all prefer one tool to another. It fits better in the hand, gets out of the way when it matters, and allows me to work the way I work best. For me that’s the beauty of the Leica. It’s simplicity is worth a premium to me. I like that the buttons and dials are kept to a minimum, and I like that when I use zone focusing and I nail it, the Leica is faster than any of my DSLRS in terms of seizing the moment. All of that means I am more present in the moment and that is more important to a photographer than anything. Whatever camera does that for you is the right camera. Little else matters.

One of the barriers to my getting a Leica rangefinder before (aside from the price) has been the focusing. It’s fully manual and I’ve never found focusing a rangefinder as easy as I’d like. A friend of mine recently told me his efforts to focus his M8 were like a monkey f*cking a football. I’m not sure what that means but it paints a picture. That’d be one frustrated monkey. With the M, the electronic viewfinder (an additional accessory) and LiveView on the rear LCD helps enormously. I still use the traditional optical viewfinder to focus at times, but when using the EVF and LiveView there’s now a focusing assist which zooms in to 5x or 10x the moment you touch the focus ring, and focus is confirmed with focus peaking, the in-focus edges being highlighted with red. Combined with zone focusing (I’ll discuss this in a future article) the only other thing I needed was mindfulness, and this camera allows me to remain in the moment beautifully (as long as the EVF doesn’t hang, which it does once in a while, requiring a quick on and off of the camera).