I guess some of you might have seen this coming. Perhaps even before I did, which was relatively quick after I wrote my post about how I sold the SL as the last Leica camera I owned.
That post was a reflection on why I said goodbye to Leica, you can find it here. It was an adieu that did not come out of frustration but one out of a series of steps that started as I drifted away from the Leica M and into other Leica cameras. These other cameras like the SL and CL are wonderful tools but they don’t give you the unique experience that an M will give you. I found myself comparing my SL to other mirrorless options and felt more at home with Nikon’s Z6 offering (the 2nd iteration) and a blend of F- and Z-mount lenses. I remain by my point that in a true mirrorless comparison, it is hard for me to justify sticking with Leica. The cost, size and weight do not hold up well to other options like Nikon and others. We’ve long surpassed minimal photographic quality standards in today’s gear so that doesn’t really become a reason to pick one system or other. And while the M remains unique, as good as the SL is, it simply is another mirrorless camera at the end of the day.
Mirror, mirror on the wall
What drew me back to Nikon was the user experience which I think is very good for a mirrorless camera. You can see more on that in my post on shooting with the Z in Iceland. The photos are great and the experience was good enough, so what happened as the title of this post clearly states a return to Leica? Two things happened. First, writing the post about my Leica journey made me realize just how much I liked the M. I still can’t quite understand why I got rid of it in the first place but scanning the forums, it seems I am not alone in making irrational decisions when it comes to camera gear. I will admit I led myself go along in the arms race of most camera manufacturers and really believed I needed more, faster, brighter. Writing the post about how I moved away from the M made me realize that I actually missed it. That was trigger number one that had me looking for a used M.
There can be only one
I still think M’s have their limitations and mirrorless camera’s like the Z or any other brand have an edge over the M in plenty of situations. Cameras have become so good with regard to smart autofocus systems and other tools that it also became easier and easier to get a result. But nothing gives quite as much satisfaction as composing through the rangefinder framelines and getting the focus right by aligning the patch. For an amateur like me, it’s not always about the outcome. I predicted in my post that some distance would help me evaluate how I really felt about the M. It turns out, I feel quite strongly about it. Much stronger than I did about shooting M lenses with the Leica SL, let alone native SL AF lenses. The SL was and still is an amazing tool, it just isn’t the same. M lenses on other mirrorless cameras, the SL included, provide a functional experience but nothing else.
Which M to get
This left me with a conundrum. I was quite pleased with my two Nikon Z6 ii’s and especially with the magical F-mount trio consisting of the 28mm, 58mm, and 105mm F1.4 lenses. But the M kept pulling on me after I wrote that post. I read pretty much every M review and dozens of posts on Leica forums but that left me none the wiser. It is an individual choice at the end of the day that no one can make for you. Ultimately, I decided to buy an M and use it for a while before I made any final decision about how to move forward. I thought about getting an M262 but they are very hard to find and their price point is not that far away from a used M10. This together with the few improvements in the M10 were enough for me to not pursue an M262. The M11 is too expensive for me and I don’t need to extra megapixels.
Feels like home
In spring of this year I found an M10 for a good price and I decided to pull the trigger. Next step was to get a lens. I already knew I wanted a 35mm lens based on my experience with the Zeiss 35mm ZM F1.4 but I found that too bulky on the M, even though it is a wonderful lens. I compared the Summicron and Summilux and decided for the latter as I really like the way it renders wide open when you want that look. Careful readers of my blog might have already seen this combo pop up on a post about a trip to Sevilla and Ronda in the south of Spain. This trip confirmed for me that there really is only one thing like an M and that is…. an M.
I thoroughly enjoyed shooting with the M10 and the small difference in weight and size compared to the M240 I used to own was more significant than I thought. I just felt right, especially with the 35 Lux FLE mounted on it. My focusing was a bit rusty but I had more than enough keepers. The viewfinder seemed much easier to work with than I remembered from the M240 but that might be my memory and bias playing tricks on me in favor of justifying my rather expensive purchase….
Weight becomes a factor
I really enjoyed the setup of only the M with one lens but I also paired the M with one of my Nikons coupled with the 105mm F1.4 which proved to be a nice combination. The Nikon with the 105mm did add quite a bit of weight to my bag and this brings me to the second reason for my return in the world of Leica. Slowly but clearly my back has been getting worse and a couple of new incidents made my take a hard look at my Nikon setup. If I take the two Nikons with the FTZ adapters and the 28mm + 105mm, it adds up to 3,3 kilo. After another hike with my Nikons and my backpain being present for many days as a result, I decided that I had to cut weight. The solution was partially already there with the M. I just needed to add a second body, as much as I enjoy the M with the 35mm, I do like to have a two body setup with two primes for a bit more wide and tele perspective.
Another familiar face
There was really only one candidate and this reintroduced me to another familiar camera, the Leica Q. I wanted something a little wider than 35mm and the Q’s 28mm works really well with a 75mm on the M, a combo I have shot with in the past. So not only did I find my way back to the M, I went one step further and returned to the Q as well. I am not sure I would have gone this far had my back not created such an immediate problem to deal with. The 28mm F1.4 F-mount lens on the Nikon Z is a glorious combination. I think the Nikon 28mm is the best lens I ever had. I will write a separate post on it before I sell it. Nothing comes close in terms of sharpness, falloff, bokeh and most importantly the natural way it renders. I can’t quite describe it but the look of the Nikon 28mm is sublime. However, together with the Z6 ii and the FTZ adapter it comes in at almost 1,5 kilo vs the 600gr of the Q. This does make quite a difference. And it isn’t like the Q’s 28mm is a poor performer, on the contrary. It just isn’t quite as good as the Nikon, but we are splitting hairs here so that is a trade-off I am happy to make. Together with the Voigtlander 75mm Nokton on the M, the Q makes a fine and light two camera setup that covers 80% of what I typically shoot. It is about half of what my two Nikon camera setup weighs. I do also plan to just take the M with the 35mm LUX and work with one camera and one lens. Sometimes less is indeed more.
I will probably hang on to one Nikon body and pair it with the excellent 24-120mm F4 native zoom which is great for hiking. The 40mm F2 native lens will also stay as it has proven to be a great lens to take while out cycling. And no, I am not getting rid of the 58mm F1.4.
Outcome vs serendipity
As my final reflection on this 180 degree journey, I will leave you with an observation; I think there is a difference between an outcome photographer and a serendipitous photographer. Obviously there are many more ways to carve up the types of photographers but I think this is an important distinction. It’s not a hard line and people can be chasing an outcome one day and be more serendipitous the next day but in general most photographers belong in one camp more than the other.
The outcome photographer is someone who has a clear result in mind and sets him- or herself up to achieve it. This can be landscape, portraiture, wildlife, street or whatever, the point is that this kind of photographer knows what they want to achieve and will work with clear focus to get to a result. Waiting for the right light after scouting a particular view of a valley, seeing a yellow background and waiting for someone with a predominantly blue outfit to walk in front of it for that color-effect on the street, or setting up the lighting in a studio just so, to get the right features exposed for a model shoot, all these examples belong to the deliberate nature of an outcome photographer.
The serendipitous photographer works differently. The most important deliberate action here is simply to always bring a camera so that when something interesting pops up, the photographer can use his or her experience and tool to capture it. I sit firmly in the camp of the serendipitous photographer and I believe the rangefinder camera is one that fits this kind of photography like a glove. Unobtrusive and with little bells and whistles to distract, the work done is a twist of the focus ring and the press of the shutter. As is usually the case with things that look simple, it is more complicated underneath. The scene a serendipitous photographer notices in a flash and deems interesting enough to capture is in itself the result of years of looking at the world this way. The rangefinder window seems to be made for it.
A wiser man, or…?
Many cameras and lenses have come and gone over the years and I would be a fool to state that this return to Leica will be the end of my tale when it comes to photographic equipment. I can only hope I give myself the time to embrace the M and Q for what they are and enjoy the process. Especially the M has reintroduced me to the rangefinder way of shooting that remains mostly unique* to Leica when it comes to digital photography and I thoroughly enjoy it. I wish I could state that I am now a wiser man when it comes to my own photographic preference but I will let time tell if that really is the case. In the meantime, I am shooting with the M and Q once more.
*The Pixii is a very interesting proposition.