Home Cameras/Lenses Canon Do I Leica It? The latest step in my photographic journey

Do I Leica It? The latest step in my photographic journey

The author takes us through his photographic journey with a series of stunning images. Following his recent experience with a Leica set-up, he makes a surprising decision

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I was slow to transition from film to digital photography with an SLR. Then, a year ago, fell into the mirrorless world. For the past year, I have had one foot, or camera, in the SLR world and one in the mirrorless realm. This article is a brief description of my photographic journey from film, to digital SLR, to mirrorless. As I head toward going solely mirrorless, it is also a glimpse in the mirror. I dare not look too closely, but it’s good to take a peek now and then.

My interest in photography began in my early teens. Like many photographers of a certain age, I learned to develop film, had a small enlarger, created contact sheets, and made prints. As a teenager, I had my own darkroom. Well, at least when that bathroom wasn’t needed for a couple of hours. I loved the printing process but didn’t enjoy the high-risk chore of developing film. I could always make another, hopefully better print, but if I messed up developing the film, ugh!

Through photography classes in high school, and a few more in college, I even learned a little bit about the art of taking photographs. It’s extremely likely I was taught way more than I learned. Early on, I used my dad’s Yashica Twin Lens Reflex camera (which I still have). If I recall correctly, the film was 2¼ x 2¼ inches (6 × 6 cm).

The Pentax phase of my photographic journey

At some point in high school (mid to late 1970s), I started shooting with a Pentax. I later graduated to shooting with a Pentax ME, my last film camera. Not being someone typically on the cutting edge, I hung on to that Pentax for a long time before going digital with a Pentax K100 D. In 2012, which sounds so long ago, I upgraded to a Pentax K5. I had several Pentax lenses, including a 55-300mm that I loved, and practically wore out. The lens was versatile, relatively lightweight, and had sharp focus. 

I liked the shots I got with the Pentax.  Then, like now, I took many photos of people, birds, and horses. 

Slowly, my photographic expectations changed. My 55-300mm Pentax lens, which I loved for a very long time, no longer had the range I desired. And, the focus was starting to hunt way too much. Although I truly liked the colour and quality provided by my Pentax cameras and lenses, technology was marching on. So, it became time for the next step in my photographic journey: a longer lens and a more up-to-date camera.

Canon shots

When I decided to shop for a longer lens and a new camera, lens quality was the most important factor to me. I still had my Pentax set up and did some comparison tests. To see the difference between the camera/lens combinations, I would take the same photos, with the same settings. I was sadly shocked and amazed that some new cameras and lenses, from highly reputable camera manufacturers, didn’t take sharper photos than my ageing Pentax set up.

I finally tested and bought the Canon 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 lens and Canon 7D Mark ii camera. To round out my kit, I also purchased the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 and Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8. I continued to photograph plenty of people, birds, and horses, and was delighted with my new set-up.

With the help of a photography friend, I finally expanded my photographic repertoire to include night photography. I’m still very much a novice in that area, but have come to genuinely enjoy it, even if I have to go out after dark. It also felt good to explore a new aspect of photography. You can teach an old photographer new things, it seems, as they continue their photographic journey.

Larry and Leica

I’m the youngest of four children; two girls, two boys. My older brother Larry was not an easy guy. He could be very kind and extremely generous. He also could be very intense and unhappy. Whether he was happy or not, he was always a hard and effective worker/employee.

Larry got into photography, I believe in his early 30s, and brought much of his best to that endeavour. Larry became a highly successful and well-known paparazzi in New York City. The term paparazzi will evoke a certain image and expectation. Professionally known as Lawrence Schwartzwald, my brother often embodied the stereotypical paparazzi image, but was not limited to that style of personality or photography. Yes, you can find photos of Larry arguing with actor Hugh Grant on the streets of New York.

Larry also had excellent relationships with many celebrities and took portraits as well as family photos for them. He got along especially well with Jackie Kennedy Onassis. If you’re reading this, you likely appreciate photography. If you also enjoy reading, you might take pleasure in his book ‘The Art of Reading’. It comprises photos of people and celebrities reading. There are some great photos in that book and some superb writing. No sales pitch intended; I do not profit from any sales.

Sadly, Larry passed away in September 2021. My eldest sister had the task of dealing with his estate. When things settled, she generously sent me Larry’s Leica SL 610 with his Leica 24-90mm f/2.8-4.0, 50mm f/1.4, and 90-280mm f/2.8-4.0 lenses. 

Mirrorless, wordless, and a bit clueless

I was thrilled to receive the high-end camera and lenses. I was also honoured and touched to have my brother’s photography equipment. As I said, he wasn’t an easy person. Although he was not close to family members, there was always a kind and familial connection.

With this new camera, I was jumping into the mirrorless pool several years earlier than I expected in my photographic journey. I knew there would be a learning curve but was more than somewhat surprised that on the SL 601, apart from the word Leica, the only words on the camera are On and Off.

Overall, the transition from Pentax to Canon was easily manageable. The learning curve to Leica and Mirrorless was steep. Some videos on YouTube were very helpful. My local camera shops were unfamiliar with Leica products, but calling the Leica store in Los Angeles was very helpful. I worked through the menus, building a basic understanding of how to adjust the settings on my new mirrorless Leica. Though it did not yet feel quick and natural, it was time to go out and take some photos.

Slow Start: Risk Phobic/Chicken

Although an amateur, I still felt very anxious about taking lousy photos with my new Leica, my brother’s camera.  I also wanted to make sure I was playing to what I perceived as the strengths of the Leica. For example, I shot in black and white, as I saw many Leica users do. I like shooting in B&W, but struggle with the editing. I also did some architectural photography, which I rarely did with my other cameras. 

I took it to a car show and had fun, and enjoyed a few of my shots. But again, it’s not my favourite type of photography, even if I occasionally get a groovy kind of photo.

I rarely do indoor photography, but gave it a try at the Horton Grand Hotel, and an Adams Avenue barbershop. These are two well-known spots in San Diego, where I live.

I did some cityscapes in Coronado, which I felt good about.

It is challenging to take good reflection photos, but I love trying them, and occasionally get one I genuinely enjoy.

All that to say, I spent many of my outings with my new Leica, taking photographs I typically don’t take, but thought would suit the Leica style. I came to truly enjoy, and of course, appreciate the Leica. 

“I can’t believe you are selling them” 

After one year of using what I always refer to as Larry’s camera, I decided to sell my Leica gear. I can only imagine the reaction Leica users have as you read those words. 

As I was self-acknowledging my decision, I reached out to a local Leica user, Keith James. Keith, as many of you know, is an excellent and creative photographer, as well as a wonderful writer. In a very restrained, polite way, Keith wrote to me, “I can’t believe you are selling them”.

After my year with Leica, I entirely understand that view. For me, the SL 601 was an exceptional camera, but as technology has changed over recent years, there were mirrorless cameras that are as good or better. The Leica lenses, well, I admit, I don’t think I’ll ever match that quality and richness.

As much as I enjoyed and valued having Larry’s camera, sadly, it carried some emotional baggage with it. So, for various reasons, it was time to move on from Leica and Larry’s camera to a new phase in my photographic journey. I already miss having the Leica camera and lenses. I also miss having my brother’s camera. But for me, moving on was the right thing.

As the next phase of my photographic journey begins, I hope Leica users will have some grace for me.

Read more from the author


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19 COMMENTS

  1. There is something about Leica glass that I can’t really fathom; is it crispiness, sharpness? Not really. Several lenses do that as well. Does it pop? It sure does, but again, not the only one. Clinical? Yes, sort of, as many modern lenses do as well. Character? Oh yeah, but not the only one by far. Color? Yes, but as so many other established brands. Depth? You got it, but again, they are not alone.
    What is the differential, per se?
    For me, humbly, is some sort of magicality that lacks definition, that moves you when you see the image. It’s emotional.

  2. I very much like the creativity you were inspired by the Leica . Nice photos all around.
    I as mainly a Nikon shooter slrs , dslrs and now the Z9 mirrorless. I also have a couple Sony a7siii’s I mainly use for video. Well I’ve been eyeing the eBay’s Leica M5 film camera selection. I truly and dearly would love one of Leicas Monochrome cameras.
    As of late have been getting a collection of Voigtlander M mount glass and adapting them to my Z9 . I do have one Leica lens the Summicron pre aspherical 90mm f/2.0 . It has a beautiful rendering of the images and the bokeh or quality of the background blur is beautiful. By the way the Voigtlander 75mm f/1.5 has a very Leica-ish rendering to it also .
    There truly is a “Leica Look “ it’s more than the lenses or the sensors. I believe it is the system as a whole and it’s the nostalgia and history you feel carrying the Leica . It’s the past and present and everything in between. I get the same feelings carrying and shooting Nikon cameras and lenses.
    It truly can be the camera that makes the photographer.

  3. I can only image having your skill set, your photos make me envious. I found myself in GAS quandary and had to make a lasting choice, I’m 76 and can’t carry my Q and 2 of X’s anymore. So out went five Leica’s 4 X’s 1 q and got new Q2m, which with my grd4 and gr 2 is my final arsenal: at least my wife hopes. Please just enjoy yourself and keep that wandering bubble of gas away! Looking forward to your next article with your new outfit.

    • John, you are way too kind with your comments about my photography. That said, I greatly appreciate the compliments.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, obviously a very personal one. About the SL, I paid $7.5K for the original SL ($12.5K with the 24-90 included) early 2016. It was a very very different market though. In the current market and with the SL3 specs as we know them I feel $8K (latest rumors) would be a really tough sell but I might be wrong… Do the right thing for yourself, your enjoyment and your own mental health!

  5. Pick a camera that motivates you to go out and be creative. For me that is Leica but you can create great images with any camera.

  6. Given how striking your Pentax and Canon photos are, I doubt anyone would criticize your unloading the SL!

    I believe it’s the photographer that matters most; the camera/lens is second.

    • Kathy, Thank you so much for your kind words regarding my photos. I have taken some very good, and some terrible photos with every camera I have owned….

  7. If vanilla were the only flavor, you would have to take it, or go hungry.

    Changing metaphors perhaps jarringly, it is also horses for courses. Older Leica ads to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no universal camera. You have to find what works for you, currently, for the types off images you like to make, need to make, or feel compelled to make.

    By the way, your images are striking!

    • I completely agree Ed and can relate to horses for courses. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed my photos.

  8. Gary

    I understand completely. There is no point in having the best/coolest of anything if there is something about it that inhibits your desire to use it.

    Find a new system that fits you and your photographic style. Try before you buy, if possible.

    PaulB

  9. Gary, I can imagine how the ’emotional baggage’ might have affected bonding with your SL 601 / SL lenses. I acquired my SL 601 in February 2016 – bought s/h ‘on a whim’ when shown to me at Aperture Photographic as a ‘just in’ bargain buy. The dealer advised there was some ’emotional baggage’ for the previous owner who’d just PX’d the brand new flagship Leica FF mirrorless for an M9 outfit. He could not bond with the SL 601; FF mirrorless were not on his radar; he preferred rangefinders. I bonded with the SL 601 immediately and it’s proved to be the most reliable and versatile camera ‘ever ever’. I joked with friends that the subsequent SL 24-90mm purchase required eating sardines and porridge for a few months to justify the cost – but it’s a fantastic lens and I’m continually amazed by the full aperture performance throughout its zoom range. I look forward to reading your “next phase” article Gary and which system you’ve chosen.

    • Dunk, I am glad you found and bonded with the SL 601! It has many strengths, and out of the 3 Leica lenses I had, I used the 24-90 nearly all the time. Very versatile and excellent quality. Thank you for your comment and story.

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