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LEICA or Not?
Do you really need a LEICA to get great pictures?

© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

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October 2009     More Leica Reviews   More Canon Reviews  More Nikon Reviews

 

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One moment I'm telling everyone that Your Camera Doesn't Matter, which it doesn't, and the next moment I'm jumping up and down telling everyone how the LEICA M9 is the best digital camera ever for travel, nature, outdoor, landscape and interior photography, which it is.

What gives?

Do you really need a $7,000 camera — which also needs a $4,000 lens — to take great photos?

No!

As I teach at Your Camera Doesn't Matter, all that fancier cameras do is make it easier, faster, more convenient or more pleasant to take photos, over a broader range of conditions.

The results aren't any different; it's the amount of work required to achieve those results that varies by camera.

As I teach at Lens Sharpness and How to Create a Masterpiece, any camera is more than sharp enough. The only thing that matters is your ability to envision the final result, and knowing how to get there.

Different cameras might require you to take slightly different paths to get to your result. The talented photographer arrives at the same image regardless of the gear.

So then why do I go into such depth comparing cameras and lenses at foolish ten-foot (3-meter) wide print sizes?

The only reason I waste my time with this foolishness is because I'm curious, and so are many of my readers. When I get a new piece of gear, I check it out, and then go take pictures.

Sadly there are too many people who are always getting new gear, or shopping for it, but never get out and take pictures before they start shopping for their next toy. These people rarely create compelling images.

 

What makes a good camera?

An underlying metric for cameras is how well they get out of your way. Great cameras never get between you and your pictures. With a great camera, you can concentrate on your pictures instead trying to figure out, or wait for, your camera.

A crappy camera is one that takes too long to set, or worse, that no one can figure out how to set. If you have to look at three menus trying to find something, you have a crappy camera. If you can just grab your camera and shoot when the moment hits, you have a great camera.

Modern Nikon and Canon DSLRs can be set to shoot immediately. That's good. I can set a D700 or whatever so that I can just grab and go. The big problem with DSLRs is that it takes a virtuoso a half an hour to set them up so that they can do that, and Heaven forbid if you have to reset the camera for a different kind of photo.

DSLRs are fast once set-up properly, but it takes forever to figure out how to set them up in the first place. DSLRs are awful because of all the junk features jammed in to sell them to inexperienced and impressionable amateurs.

This is the most important thing that makes any LEICA so compelling: it's simple. I can take it out of the box, and at worst, there is only one menu, and it's easy to figure out. When I pick up a LEICA, it's trivial to set it and go shoot. I've never seen anyone or myself be able to pick up a D700 or 5D Mark II and get it going in any less than 5 minutes; with the LEICA, you're rolling in five seconds.

No one needs a $7,000 LEICA M9 and $3,700 Leica 50mm f/1.4 ASPH lens to make spectacular images. The Leica is elegant because it makes it extraordinarily easy to carry and to create great images. The LEICA is the best, and it's also the most expensive. Things have been that way for over 5,000 years; the best usually costs more.

The Internet crosses all paths. There are people reading this site who go nowhere unless it's in the back of a Maybach 62, others who are perfectly happy driving themselves in rusty, dented 1974 Plymouth Dusters as I did, and smarter people who take their bikes. We all might prefer being chauffeured in the Maybach, or swapping our Nikons for LEICAS, but they all do the same thing.

What makes the LEICA the best is its simplicity. Its technical quality isn't important for serious photography. What is important is that the LEICA's controls are right in your hands where you can set them with your eyes closed.

You can do the same thing with a Canon AE-1 Program and standard FD 50mm f/1.8 lens, which often sells used as a set for $10 at garage sales. Because the Canon AE-1 Program shoots RealRaw, it can create better results — to my taste anyway — than the $10,600 digital LEICA.

You also can get this same emancipating simplicity in the Fuji Quicksnap.

I kid you not: because the Quicksnap gets out of the way, in many ways it's better than any DSLR. With the Quicksnap, or any other simple camera, you can concentrate on your picture instead of your camera.

The only way to get great pictures is to concentrate on your pictures, not on your settings or on your equipment.

Think about the last time you were shooting. Were you thinking about changing lenses, exposures, white balance or focus points, or were you thinking about your subject?

You get much better pictures when think about your picture. If you're thinking about your camera, it's only by dumb luck that you get a good picture.

Thus the best camera is the one that's with you, and it's best if that camera stays out of your way.

No one needs a LEICA any more than one needs a Maybach 62 and a rotating staff of full-time drivers. It's nice, and once you have it you'll think it's a necessity, but it's in no way mandatory for anything.

You can get great pictures with any camera that lets you concentrate on your image instead of the camera. The reason I go off so much on the LEICA M9 is because it's incredible how well the Leica gets out of the way and lets you shoot, just like the Canon AE-1 Program.

Yes, I put the LEICA in the same class of great cameras as I place the Canon AE-1 Program, the Nikon FA and FE, and the Quicksnap.

I'm a huge proponent of cameras that I can figure out, and want no part of cameras with menu systems designed by monkeys that no one can figure out. After shooting a good RealRaw camera or the LEICA, I really hate having to try to figure out menus in my DSLRs like my D3, D300 or 5D Mark II. I love my Nikon D40 because it has a clean-up option where I've removed all the junk menus I don't use, so the ones I do use are right there.

Yes, I could set a DSLR to its AUTO mode quickly, but that's not the mode I want. I need to get a camera to exactly the setup I demand, and then I can pay attention to taking pictures.

And there we go about inexpensive cameras: the D40 still does things, like autofocus, that let me get better photos of my wiggly kids than I can chase with a LEICA. A D40 is all I need for anything.

Cameras, just like anything else, aren't good or bad. They are good or bad for you and what you're trying to do. We're all different.

You don't need fancy cameras to make great photos. The sharpness crap I go off on is only visible if you're printing way too big and looking way too close. If you can afford a lot of fancy cameras, that's too bad because you'd make better photos if you concentrated on just one camera and learned it so well that it became an extension of your imagination.

You'll make even better pictures with a camera that you're not afraid of losing if it gets to close to the action.

 

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Thanks for reading!

Ken

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