A hard break-up: Life without Leica

A few days a go, the last Leica product I owned has found new ownership. My trusty Leica SL is mine no more. Eighteen months ago, I wrote a blogpost about the SL where I stated that it still was the best camera in the world, even in 2020. For me. I also wrote a few posts about M mount lenses on this site. All of them were positive. So what has changed? A few things, none that I wasn't aware of at the time, but all became more present recently which ultimately led me to sell my last Leica. Before we get into it, I have to say that I still love Leica's. I have had a few over the years and I still have a soft spot for them. Probably always will.

Summer essence [Leica M240 - 50mm Summicron F2]

My Leica journey started with a Leica M240. Apart from some point and shoot work when I was younger, I never really shot film and my interest in photography became real when digital cameras were already maturing. The M240 was the logical first step for me into the world of Leica. I did not take this decision lightly. The cost of a second hand M240 was a significant expense to me so I really wanted to be sure. It was around the time I got married and we had a photographer capture our wedding with a Leica M (Joeri van der Kloet). I was very impressed by how he managed to be there, and not be there at the same time. With the esthetics of the Leica, he blended in the crowd and many people wondered and asked me if we actually hired a photographer for the day.... Together with a friend of mine who would also succumb to the Leica virus, we did a workshop with that same wedding photographer. He allowed us to shoot with his Leica's and introduced us into the world of the rangefinder. We were sold.


Summer evening in Prague [Leica M240 - 50mm Summicron F2]

It was quite a steep learning curve for me to master my Leica initially. I came from a Nikon DSLR background and anyone who has every shot with a rangefinder knows that it can be quite a challenge to learn how to not miss shots. In the beginning, I was already happy when I got something I wanted to be in focus, to actually be in focus. 90% of all my shots had their subject in the middle, right where the patch was. I just had not really mastered the art of focusing on scale on the lens or by recomposing like lightning and somehow maintain stable hands to match the shutter speed. Our wedding photographers was incredibly good at that. I am still impressed how he managed to capture everything without breaking a sweat. Weddings are kind of a big deal to people. Missing a shot is not an option. When asked, he would say that he shoots with muscle memory in his fingers, connected to the lens attached to the body. I guess when you get so close to an object, it almost becomes an extension of yourself. My own restless nature when it comes to keeping cameras and lenses long enough to reach that level, clearly gets in the way here.


My Leica M240-P [Leica Q - 28mm]

I really enjoyed the M240. I always treated it as an object of use and often took it with me as I travelled for work. Slowly but surely, I was getting better at rangefinder focus and this allowed me more freedom to compose. In the beginning I shot with a single lens, the 50mm Summicron F2. No frills, but what a trusty companion that little lens was. But I slowly gravitated to want to have more focal length variation though. I borrowed a 28mm but I found that swapping lenses took away some of the swift shooting I had come to appreciate with only one lens.


Munich's Frauenkirche [Leica M240 - 28mm Elmarit]

Enter the Leica Q, that served as one part of a two-way setup with the M240. Initially, I held on to the 50mm Summicron but I would eventually swap that for the 75mm Summicron, a nice partner for the Q's 28mm Summilux. To this day, I probably have not shot as many photos with a single camera as with the Q. Leica took a different position with the Q, favoring a very advanced EVF, that still holds its own today, over a rangefinder focusing solution. With its fixed 28mm lens, it was relatively compact and worked well along the M240. The Q is a beautiful camera and surprisingly rugged. The same as with the M, I treated it as a tool and it dealt with everything that was thrown at it.


The Q in all its simplicity
Life is a beach, Capetown [Leica Q]
An eye for detail at the Alhambra [Leica Q]

For a while, this combination worked well for me. Occasionally, I would add my Nikon Df and 135mm lens to it, but mostly the Q and M240 worked as my go to setup. I looked at an M10 for a while but did not see the benefit over the M240. The years where I shot with this two camera setup were where I felt I made a step change as a photographer. In my eyes, composition started to improve and I felt I was better able to capture what I saw with my eyes in my photographs. This also made me feel as if I had stumbled on to the end of my learning curve. I now realize that in photography, as with so many other things, there is not just one learning curve, but many. And when you feel you are on top of one of those learning curves (or S-curves), you feel you have outlearned your equipment. This is absolute nonsense but I am not afraid to admit I did feel that way at the time. So I looked to my gear to open new learning experiences for me. Classic mistake.


Mirror, who is the fairest camera of them all? [Leica SL, Summicron 75mm SL]

That false judgment led me towards the Leica SL. I believed I needed the quality of the modern lenses to take the next step as a photographer. I purchased the SL 75 Summicron and replaces the M240 with the SL. I kept the Q and this was my new combo. Nothing really changed for me though with the SL lens. I liked the lens but couldn't justify the pricetag and soon I traded the Summicron SL back for my trusty M Summicron 75mm. I must say that shooting M lenses with the SL was a great combo. I know it sounds weird, but I would say the SL is an even slightly better camera for M lenses. But sometimes better is not what you need. Sometimes you need what feels right.


When does it get light, in Tromso [Leica SL, Zeiss Distagon 35mm F1.4]

Because of the kind of camera the SL is, it opened the door to re-assess my Leica gear in a different light. Shooting with the SL and the Q, as efficient as it was, made me question what was so special about theses cameras compared to other brands that offered their cameras and lenses against a very different price point. After all, they are just mirrorless cameras. I wanted to hear none of that initially. So I overcompensated and invested in more special Leica-ness by buying the 50mm F1 Noctilux. I have a separate post on that lens. It was absolutely gorgeous and I am grateful to have had the experience but after the honeymoon period was over, I had more doubts about its usefulness in everyday situations and the price tag it came with.


Sunny autumn in Belgrade [Leica SL, Noctilux 50mm F1.0]

This went on for a while and I kept looking for a combination with the SL that made it feel 'justified'. At this point in time, there were not that many options on the market yet for the L-mount and I wanted to explore other forms of photography. More wide-angle, more tele. The steep prices of the M lenses in wide-angle made me take another look at the Sony ecosystem. I bought into it and for a while shot a Sony body next to my SL. I had sold my Q to make room for the Sony setup. Not sure that was the smart thing to do, but everything becomes clear with hindsight.


Sardinian clarity [Sony A7Riii, Sony 50mm GM F1.2]

Sony makes great cameras and lenses. There is very little that you can rationally object to any of the A7 series cameras. Nowadays, they also make some truly stunning lenses. I especially liked the 24mm and 50mm GM lenses. But I never liked how a Sony camera and lens felt in my hand. How to operate them annoyed me. Even though you can set up a Sony camera to your liking with custom buttons and everything, I just wasn't drawn to them as I was to the Leica's I owned, or the Nikon Df for that matter. The exception being the Sony RX1Rii, which I still have.


Sunset snap [Sony RX1Rii]

At this point I need to bring another contender into the story. Where the Leica M240 made me mature as a photographer, the camera that made me fall in love with photography was the Nikon Df. I owned three of them over the years. Something about that camera just makes me want to pick it up and shoot with it. I went through cycles of falling in love with it and then telling myself I really needed a mirrorless camera, only to return to the Df. It is a polarizing camera and I belong in the camp that absolutely loves it, especially paired with the Nikon 58mm F1.4G, which seemed to be made for the Df and its sensor. The other two magical lenses from the F-mount for me are the 28mm F1.4 and the 105mm F1.4.


Yours truly [Nikon Df, Nikon 28mm F1.4]

Feeling unhappy with the lack of connection between me and my Sony system, I looked at Nikon again. I had not shot with the Z system since the very beginning when I just wasn't super impressed with the functionality and the lens ecosystem. But so much has changed and over the last months I have been swapping out my Sony gear for Nikon. It felt like coming home. The ergonomics of the Z6 ii that I own feels incredibly natural. While the SL, Q and M will remain to be the absolute champions of of photography experience for me, the Nikons are really not far off. For me that is. And that marginal difference made me decide to finally also sell my Leica SL and concentrate on shooting with my Nikon gear 100%. (I still own some other stuff like the Ricoh GR, and beforementioned Sony RX1Rii).


Happy pedalling [Leica M10, Summicron 75mm]

Will I enjoy life without Leica? For now, I think I will. I have a nice combination of modern Z lenses and my absolute favorite F-mount lenses. With the new FTZ ii adapter, shooting these lenses feels native and brings out the best in them. The 58mm F1,4G I mentioned before was never an easy lens to shoot with on a DSLR but with the AF system of the Z cameras, it has gotten a whole new level of excellence.


Will I never own another Leica? I probably will at some point again. I like the brand's attitude and heritage too much. And going through the M, Q, and SL, I learned something. I understand there is a place for the SL and it truly is a great camera. I love it for what it is. But it lacks the differentiation and uniqueness of an M. And then it becomes really hard to justify that pricetag. The M is a different story. The only Leica camera I can see myself own today is the Typ 262 M with just one lens, to really go back to 'Das Wesentliche' and use that for a very different mode of photography. But I am not there yet. Like with any breakup, a bit of distance will be good.


Update: it's not even been a couple of weeks since I sold my last Leica and I find myself already browsing around for a used M262. So, that break up might not last as long as I anticipated. Writing this post and reflecting on what made the M unique has helped me figure out why the M has this lasting appeal and the SL, and Q to some extent, were so much more fleeting in comparison. No matter how great they are as cameras, they are 'just cameras'. The M is so much more than that.