Wow, I got to shoot a Leica M on 6th Street

Bar Performance from the Street, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Bar Performance from the Street, 6th Street – Austin, Texas

So it was Friday night and what do a bunch of middle-aged photographers do? Party on 6th Street of course. Except for us, partying meant doing street photography rather than Sake bombs.

I met my friend Steven and new photographer friends Mark and Ann down at the Driskill Hotel. Mark and Ann are relatively new to photography and we did a crash course. Street shooting at night is sort of like jumping into the deep end of the pool, photographically. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but we all had fun. This was more of a social event and not a serious photo walk.

Bar Performance, 6th Street - Austin, Texas
Jeff with his big Canon, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

We met up with Jerry and Rosemary Sullivan, owners of Precision Camera as well as a few more photographers along the way. A healthy group of people for such a hot but dry Austin summer night. I’ve met Jeff a few times on 6th Street over the last several months. He had his big Canon camera with him.

Reviewing a pair of Nikon D800s, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

As you may recall, last month, I played with a Leica M for the first time at the Drink and Click event. Mark again, very kindly, let me use his camera. Mark also brought his Nikon D800, as did Steven, so they conveniently shot a matched pair of D800s all night. I opted to use a true digital range finder, the Leica M and a faux range finder, my Fujifim X100S. I really got to experience, first hand, the true difference between the two.

The Bar Beyond, 6th Street - Austin, Texas
Bikinis Blur, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Remember back in March when I first got the Fuji X100S, how much I complained about it? It was quirky, slow to focus and found it generally a lot more challenging to use than my Olympus mirrorless cameras. I stuck with it and after 15K shots or so, the camera has become second nature. Muscle memory now, usually, reroutes my actions to ignore its quirky pitfalls.

Bikinis Staff, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Well, I’ve discovered the Fuji X100S is a walk in the park compared to the Leica M. For someone like me who never truly shot film with a manual camera, it’s a real eye opener. Consider that, first, I need to manually focus the lens. The exposure metering is center weighted and fairly primitive. Auto ISO did not work as expected. Exposure compensation is ergonomically hard to use. For a person who cut their teeth on digital and auto-everything, the Leica M can be befuddling and frustrating.

Closed Window, 6th Street - Austin, Texas
Shiny Trash Bins, Alleyway off 6th - Austin, Texas
Pedicabs in Waiting, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Oh, but get everything right and the images look fantastic. Perhaps, because you have to work harder to get the photographs, creating good-looking photos are doubly rewarding.

Using the M inside at a bar was one thing — the light levels were fairly uniform. On the street, changing conditions added an extra level of difficulty. Ultimately, I decided to use full manual exposure, setting the shutter speed and aperture and also changing the ISO too, when required. It was the closest to a film experience I had in a while. But I had one modern aid that really helped, the rear LCD. Since I didn’t trust the exposure meter, I used the LCD to judge exposure and it seemed to work great.

This may be the first camera where the pictures on computer actually look better than what I expected. I went through enough manual gyrations that I didn’t, at least just yet, have confidence in my abilities. It looked good on the rear LCD but you know how often those little screens can be deceiving? Often times, on my other cameras, photos on my large computer display don’t live up to the small camera previews.

From Red to Purple, Bat Bar - Austin, Texas

Two things really stand out image quality wise. The first is the color. I love the rich vibrancy. Red and purples are usually hard to reproduce, Look how nice it looks at the Bat Bar.

Before the Crowds, 6th Street - Austin, Texas
Congress Avenue and the Austonian - Austin, Texas

The second is the sharpness. When focused properly the details are magnificent. I’m sure the world-famous Leica glass has something to do with that. However, the lack of an anti-aliasing filter plus the in camera processing also, I believe, is a big factor.

Dancer at the Bat Bar, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

Despite my unease at using the camera, I was still able to capture much of the action at night. I certainly made mistakes. Sometimes I seem to knock the aperture ring when I focused. This shot would have worked better at f2.8 instead of f4.

ISO wise, I would use it up to 6400, which can get a little rough at times, but still generally acceptable. It’s noisier than the X100S at this ISO setting but considerably sharper. There is no JPEG smearing to diminish the details. And yes, I shot the Leica in RAW which produces a DNG file which should work with most RAW converters.

Finally, the Leica M seems to produce images with pop. I know this isn’t a technical term but somehow, it seems to render mundane scenes with an extra bit of panache which make them more exciting. Perhaps it’s the clarity of the optics but when you look the last three photos, they somehow seem different. Maybe backlighting and headlights just look good with the Leica glass.

Of course, I haven’t shot the Leica M enough to give it a thorough review. I have no idea how well it works under other conditions. However, despite the challenges of using the camera, I ultimately feel happy with the results. My thanks again to Mark for letting me use this special and pricy camera.

Do Not Enter, 6th Street - Austin, Texas
Traffic at the Corner of 6th and Congress - Austin, Texas
Tow Truck Ready, 6th Street - Austin, Texas

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12 thoughts on “Wow, I got to shoot a Leica M on 6th Street

  1. I have long contended that all the generations of photographers younger than me have never used a non-auto-focus camera. Never taken a light reading using a handheld meter and wouldn’t know how to read the results if they tried. Or for that matter, never taken a photograph without having ANY light meter … just by knowing what settings work under which lighting conditions. It really is very much like the difference between learning to drive a car using a manual transmission versus learning on an automatic. A manual tranny teaches you a lot about your car you will never otherwise understand — like shift points and gears.

    Amazingly, you CAN take pictures without auto-focus AND without any light meter.Kodak film used to come with what we all called “the paper meter.” It had a table of typical lighting conditions and the appropriate settings to use for each. They were astoundingly accurate. I still override my camera’s automatic settings when my years of taking pictures tells me the meter is lying. It’s also why I ALWAYS use the spot meter and NEVER use the averaging meter. Because at least with the spot meter, I know what I’m measuring.

    Sadly, my eyes are not good enough to do without auto-focus. One of the perils of age. Where once I had super sharp eyes, I have super soft eyes. My granddaughter uses auto everything on her camera — except focus. That she does manually. Ah youth.

    My old Leica M-1 was the best camera I ever owned. I still regret selling it. Rangefinder cameras are not WYSIWYG. It takes practice to figure out how to shoot, but once you do, if you’ve got that great Leica glass? The world is yours. Doesn’t hurt to memorize which f-stop and speed settings work under which lighting conditions, either. Just in case.

      1. You couldn’t pay me to go back to the old days … but I think the knowledge gained really helps. Because I understand what it means, how it works and no matter how many bells and whistles are added, these basics don’t change. Optics don’t change. It’s a lot easier to take pictures today and I could no longer function without those functions … but I do believe learning the fundamentals tends to produce a better photographer.

  2. Is that Leica blowing out the reds really bad or is it time to recalibrate my monitor? Looks like a lot of lost detail on the Bat Bar wall and in the street of that last pic. The Fuji can lose detail in strong reds too but I guess I expect more from Leica given the price tag. I’d love to have a Leica in the M2 to M4 range. The digital Leicas don’t interest me in the slightest, not even interested in borrowing one. Glass is one thing. Spending that much money on a digital body seems really silly IMO.

    1. Maybe a little blowout. Still better than the Fuji which I need to underexpose with red and I still get orange.

      I haven’t shot enough with the Leica to really nail the exposure, I was happy enough to get in the approximate range. Keep in mind that I’m a real novice when it comes to manual exposure metering, especially with a brand new camera.

      I’m not convinced that the dynamic range is much better than the Fuji but again I haven’t shot enough. Of course Fuji has the Auto DR mode that I use, which helps.

      The price is certainly high. You’re paying extra for the Leica name, of course.

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