I have been absent from posting for a while, like many others I have been hit with the “Why bother” feeling as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
It isn’t that nothing has been going on, it most certainly has. In the past year I have gone from being in limbo as an un-acccredited member of the Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC), unable to in any way, shape or form link my name with theirs, to where I am now: a nationally accredited member of the PPOC, Ontario Communications Chair, Editor of Gallerie Magazine, National Copyright Chair, a mentor, and vice-chair of the Eastern Ontario branch. (Yes, I do find time in there to do actual paid work.)
I also made the decision to move from Hasselblad and Nikon into the Leica ecosystem. I now shoot with the Leica SL2, Leica SL2S and a variety of Leica L, Sigma L, and third party M lenses.
I have been asked why I would make such a move, so let me explain.
The beauty, build quality and image quality of the Hasselblad is what drew me in. It is truly a unique experience using a Hassie, both because of the efficiency of the system and the way it causes you to slow down and actually experience what you are doing. I thoroughly enjoyed both the X1D II and the 907x and would go back to them for specific use cases, but they could not do everything I needed them to do and I could not afford to maintain two separate systems. Being unable to shoot at more than 2.7 frames per second was restrictive, so, despite the pleasure of using the system (and getting the t-shirt “The names Bad, Hasselblad) I decided to move on.
I have no complaints what so ever with Nikon and the Nikon system. Their product is exceptional, and there wasn’t much it couldn’t do for me. Switching from DSLR to Mirrorless was a relatively seamless experience, and it has only gotten better in the past couple years.
The think I found, however, was that I wasn’t enjoying photography as much as I used to. I was spending time (too much time) tweaking my settings so the camera could created the best image possible. Think about that for a minute, …so the camera could create the best image possible. With Nikon (and Sony, and Canon, etc., etc.) the technology had, in my opinion, made the photographer the least important part of the equation. I wanted a camera that would be a tool for me, not a tool that would work well regardless of what I did.
Intentionality and Leica
I don’t think most people would consider Leica as the cutting edge of photography, but it does offer something special. Leica, like Hasselblad, is not mass produced by the thousands in a factory setting, They are hand-crafted in a setting more like a lab than a factory. The build quality is exceptional, the industrial design is efficient and exudes a simple classiness. Their user interface is simple and intuitive, there are few buttons and dials (no more, no less than you would need.) They are without a question a luxury item and a guess an accurate analogy would be a high end MacBook Pro along side a high end PC. Both can do the same tasks, but one offers much more in intrinsic value.
At the same time, the SL series of camera is not lacking in technology. The SL2 is capable of capturing images approaching 50 megapixels in size, can capture 20 frames a second, is weather sealed and allows easy switching between manual and autofocus. Manual focus is not something I have done much of throughout my life, but I found that with a Leica in my hand, it became my preferred method of achieving sharpness. I have never been able to hand-hold a camera and get a good result at less than 1/40th of a second, but with my Leica, 1/20 was not a problem, even while manually focusing.
In short, with Leica I found the technology got out of the way and let me create, using the tool I selected. It made me a larger part of the process. Consider the woodworker, creating a handcrafted chair to a factory worker, manufacturing chairs for IKEA. Both create something to rest your backside in, but in no way do they offer the same experience or build quality.
I won’t deny that Leica involves a lot more careful budgeting. That gear from Germany don’t come cheap, but the idea is that you would have it for a longer period of time and it will hold its value longer than a composite (plastic) lens. Leica lenses from the 1950’s for example are very popular even for use on current cameras. Besides, with recent price increases to the various mirrorless systems, there is very little that can be considered as cheap. The new benchmark seems to be hovering around the $3,000 mark for professional quality lenses. Everything is relative.
Would I switch again, at some point? Who knows. I can see me at some point wanting to get rid of as much weight as possible and move to the Leica M system and their tiny, high quality lenses, but that is somewhere down the road. I will admit I felt a twinge of envy when Nikon released their flagship Z9, and it is on my radar, but not in the way the D5, the D850 of even the Canon X1D II were. These all have a purpose, but not so much for what I do.8K video is amazing but how many people have a television or monitor that can playback at that quality?
A craftsperson can do superior work regardless of the tools they are presented with, but they will probably enjoy the work more with the tools they love. The tools do the hard work, but the crafter adds the magic.