From DSLR to Rangefinder, learning to shoot stills again from scratch…


Getting a Canon 5DmkII really made me love shooting stills again, something I had not really done much of since my late teens. It’s an amazing camera and with it’s auto focus and amazing low light it’s been a joy to shoot stills with. The one thing though is it does a lot of the hard work for you, it’s hard to take a bad photo! Now that’s good of course and the images I have gotten have been wonderful, best I have ever taken…but I wanted to feel connected to photography like I used to in my teens with my first Pentax…

It was not until I used Rick McCallum’s Leica M9 that I suddenly felt a rush of excitement and even a wee bit of nostalgia. There was something about the feel of the camera, the manual controls, the handling and of course the images that made me feel way more connected to shooting stills than I have done with my Canons. It felt like I was taking the photo…sounds strange I know but if you try one you will know what I mean…

Rangefinders are so much harder to use, focusing is different, framing is very hard and often obscured by the lens as this is not an SLR, what you see in the viewfinder is not what the lens sees!! But it’s so rewarding when you get it right…

Of course this comes at a price, a crazy expensive price, especially if you want the Leica glass. So for the past 8 months I have been saving up to get myself an M9, 3 Voigtlander lenses and 1 Leica lens. The all Leica glass will come in time when I win the lottery! They are an investment, they hold their value so well. But the Voigtlander lenses are pretty damn good for the money, there is a lot of snobbery out there but honestly I am amazed at the quality, especially the 50mm F1.1 and 35mm F1.2. The 50mm F1.1 is around $900. The Leica F.95 50mm is around $10,000!! Now that lens is in a class of it’s own and I have used it and the bokeh is so buttery it melts in your mouth, but for the cash the F1.1 is stupendously good too, great build quality and sharp and smooth…though if Leica read this and want to help me out I will be VERY grateful!!!! 🙂

Voitglander F1.1 50mm

My first M9 from Adorama arrived this week and had a nasty big old crack in the sensor, heartbreaking as I had been waiting ages for this camera. Thankfully I was able to source a replacement as Adorama had no more in stock, this camera is pretty hard to get hold of…

Shot on the 50mm F1.1

The size, the discreetness of the camera and the ability to shoot at really low shutter speeds without shake due to no mirror has been so much fun, a lot of the shots I took tonight were at around 1/6th to 1/8th of a second!

Yes, it’s ludicrously overpriced and it’s certainly not going to make me any money. I am an amateur photographer but a pro cinematographer…My Canons bring in the dough and I love them to bits. But I want to really take my photography sideline to a new level and concentrate on that when I am not filming. This is an investment in learning a new skill and feeling great when it works out! It’s also fulfilling a life long dream…

I took the camera out for the first time properly tonight in Palm Springs to get the weekly Thursday night street thingy…I took just one lens the 50mm (I also have the 35mm F1.2, 15m F4.5 and Leica 28mm F2.8 (although that has not arrived yet), I bought a second hand Leica Leitz 90mm off of ebay and that should arrive soon. The 15mm is not great on the M9, it’s better on the film ones as it does weird stuff with colours in the bottom left and right of the image as you can see below as it’s too close to the sensor…shame as its super wide and super sharp and damn good price!

It was damn hard shooting with this, getting focus was hard and framing is tough too but when it worked I felt so rewarded. There is something SO nice about going out with just a smallish camera and one lens and seeing what you can get. The Leica M9 has a full frame 35mm sensor like the 5DmkII a HUGE plus. The M8 had many issues, this is a much better camera

Santa Monica BOKEH!!

If you want to try one out, the only place that rents them is Photo Village in NY, I bought 3 lenses there and a bag. Great service and nice people.

But to be honest if you have a T2i or any other DSLR that is just great anyway, I know this is out of the budget of a lot of people, it took a lot of saving up for me to realise my Leica dream. The Canons take amazing photos, I am just trying something new and challenging myself…any camera is better than none, after all I take an enormous amount of photos with my iphone 4 and love it so much, especially the instant ability to tweak the images and share, nothing like it!

Click to see the set on Flickr

Anyway below is my first few photos taken with the camera in Palm Springs tonight…far from perfect but I enjoyed it and that is what is important, I got real pleasure in taking these photos even though I know I can do a lot better…and I will…this camera will always be with me. My new best friend 😉

You can see my first attempt on flickr or watch the slideshow below…



Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

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59 comments

    1. That is the equivalent of a new 12-core Mac Pro ! Wow… now i am really confused.

      I wonder what makes this camera worth that kind of money. Not that i don’t want one !

  1. The downside of a compact camera with interchangeable lenses, for us photo consumers, is the lack of focal length/aperture info in Flickr!

    The B&W’s of the night market are all the 50mm? Did you do various cropping? Or is the wide DoF variation mostly to do with aperture?

  2. Love the black & white set so much! And that pool table shot! Damn! XD

    I have an M8, and I get what you mean when you say you feel like you’re “taking the photo”… Haha! I kinda gave up on getting an M9 after a while, but after seeing your shots… The spark is back! Gotta love that full frame sensor! 😀

  3. Had the privilege of shooting some parts of a music video I recently directed on a Canon 5dmii and all Leica glass. 28mm, 50mm, 90mm, and 180mm (with an EOS adapter). Boy what awesome glass LEICA makes! Super sharp, yet still creamy and little if any C.A. If you get a chance check out the video. We shot on Red One MX for the majority but you will see the 5D with Leica glass at 0:57, 1:30, and all of the B-roll shots. http://vimeo.com/14787902

    Would love to hear your thoughts! You are completely right about Leica glass being a great investment that holds value.

      1. It would be interesting to develop your RAW file with Capture One 5 to increase the potential of color profiling. Especially with Leica M9. There are profiles personalized for each camera and not a generic profile in this software.

  4. Love the shots. It’s a dream came true for you.
    This one is also of my top of the dream “shopping List”. Unfortunately I have to save money for this- not for 8 months- but 8 years. Lol 🙂
    If I won the lottery, I will send you a f0.95, please do the same.
    Nice to see a “Photo” blog post in here. Looking forward for more.

  5. Thinking on Leica M-series you will automaticly think about the photo’s of Henri Cartier Bresson.

    Nice pics and black and white imgaes seems to be the only good images for the Leica. Sure the color images are great as well but Leica is a real classic that seserves a classicle aprouch to photography. How will it be when you can shoot HD films with the M9?

    And I regonize the feeling that a camera can give you to get motivated and inspirated to make photo’s. That’s Leica magic 🙂 The best way to use this kind of classicle tools is in the winter when it’s cold. When you touch a tool like this you can feel it’s cold… you can feel it’s metal. That’s just one of the many small things that makes you feel it’s strong it’s a working horse.

    Sad enough the only Leica camera I can buy is the DIgilux and that’s what I have… to be honest the Digilux is a Panasonic but the famous red dot on the front of the camera makes you feel it’s real. I’ve to deal with Leica R primes on my Canon5D 🙂

    And that’s all about Leica it’s a legend… it’s mysterious and the lenses are not just lenses it’s glass. Philip: hope to se more Bloom Photography in future.

  6. It tickles me to read of someone with a lot of experience with a wide array of complicated equipment finding it a challenge to move back to something that is, in essence, more essential. Once you catch the hang of the rangefinder, you will understand why it is an undead classic. with a 50mm or longer lens you get more than 100% of the frame in finder, so you can compose more accurately and more quickly. the RF focus, even though it does not give you a DOF preview, does allow you to focus on what you want without being distracted by the DOF itself, as this can be hard, at times, with wide apertures on an SLR. I think that part of the reason why the Leica lenses have such a particular quality to them is because, on an SLR, even a Standard prime is a retrofocus device, whereas a Leica M 50mm is a true prime. I highly recommend picking up a couple of the cheap telephoto lenses, they will not disappoint you even though their f number seems unappealing, but pick up, maybe off ebay, an Elmar M 90/4 and Elmar M 135/4, they are both unpopular lenses that can be found for around £100 in decent condition, and they do have a stunning rendition of bokeh and detail. neither of these are telephoto lenses, which again is unusual in our world of modern optics, they are both constructed as a small optical group at the end of a tube. And also, you should get a M4/3 to M mount adapter, so you can shoot some video with these, which again is rather lovely.

  7. Hi, great shots Phil, you are right when you say you need to try the Leica thing to understand it, they pretty unique. I have had an M4, M6 and now just waiting for my M9 to show up and can’t wait. You should have a look at a program called “CornerFix” to solve some of those issues with the 15mm, it’s supposed to be pretty good. There is a review of it over at http://www.digitalhapeman.com that is worth a look.

  8. I really liked seeing these photos Bloom… more often than not we get so used to looking at specs on equipment and how it all compares/contrasts, what our clients want, where the industry is moving, etc. But many times we forget the subtle reward in just taking a great picture. What we do is make art our business. It’s a great profession that can easily get lost in the coldness of number crunching. So it is effervescently refreshing when we touch back, even for a moment, to that adolescent feeling of making art for art’s sake, when it is simply about the passion and not the paycheck. No contest, no kudos, just fun. Thank you for reminding me of that today.

    Cheers-
    Ashley

  9. Nice post Philip! Great images there, I can imaging not being able to “see” through the lens really pushes you to know every millimeter of the lens barrel for focus!

    How long will you be in Palm Springs?

  10. Interesting to see that you have the Leica fever, too. You’re right, they’re too damn expensive, but I can look at a still image and tell whether or not it was taken with Leitz glass.
    There’s some shots the M9 can get that a Canon cannot. Think “access.”
    Very appropriate to post the shots in B&W.
    I’m looking forward to videos shot by your GH1 and Leica lenses.
    Keep up the good work.

  11. Interesting read Phil, I’d love to go back to shooting medium format again I always found something very special in looking down through the view finder at a landscape (for person work) it was like looking into a TV set in comparison with modern view finders 🙂 in DSLR’s

    Maybe one day I’ll meet the need half way with a Digital Medium format camera sigh…… something to work for anyway 🙂

  12. Great Photos! I got an old Canon Om1n off ebay for 50 quid and love the feeling of taking a photo when you can feel all the mechanical parts moving inside. As it’s film, it makes you concentrate on every shot. Lots of disappointment when photos don’t come out the way you hoped but when they come out good it’s hugely satisfying.

    Here’s some I took with it in New York using nothing but a 28mm lens I got for £15. I’m quite happy with the results for a £65 setup.

    http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/104816662474453947951/NewYork?feat=directlink

  13. Hey Phil, now you’ve got the Leica, will your GF1 be retiring? I was thinking of getting a GF1 myself, that or an Olympus E-PL1, for fashion/portraits etc. Trying to decide which is more suitable etc.

  14. I think you shouldn’t be so modest as to call yourself an “Amateur photographer”
    the stills came out great. Nothing beats a good manual stills camera. you’re not interested in shooting any film at all?

  15. I bought a beautiful Voigtlander Bessa-R rangefinder a few years ago to shoot along with my two Nikon F3s in New York. These are the newer lenses under Cosina’s ownership. Beautiful quality, but to tell you the truth, After being use to a Nikon F3 SLR, boy, a rangefinder is work. And I have always shot manual. No autofocus, to program mode for 35mm. I only really used the Rangefinder that trip. Now damn you Phil, I will have to go in my closet and get it out and give it another try:-)

  16. Hey Phil,
    Glad to see you’ve “gotten” a Leica M9. Are you going to shoot some “color” photos on it!
    Only teasing………… your still a Brit right?
    Its a Pentax SV that does it for me, complete with 55mm f2.
    Seriously though, have you tried the Nikkor 105 f2.5 on any of your Canon kit?
    All the best.
    Richard

  17. Some thoughts

    Seeing the size of a mirrorless camera and the size of the lenses we can see that HDSLRs that have a mirror, but dont use it, are holding back the technology somewhat, particularly in the cost and size of wide lenses which are hard to design to clear a mirror.

    On that 15mm lens you should check out ‘curing’ the edge situation in post

    Its caused by the light hitting the chip at an obtuse angle

    This is a well known situation when shooting medium format digibacks on view cameras

    The ‘solution’ is to shoot a reference image, typically by putting an expodisc over the lens

    Software then analyses the reference image knowing it should be pure grey

    This shift data can then be applied to your image ‘curing’ the edge aberations (at cost, potentially of degrading the file in terms of noise or artifacts)

    You should only have to perform the grey shoot once to get and store your lens reference file

    Which software offers this facility ? – I dont know – but Capture One is probably a good one to research for starters

    🙂 S

  18. So pleased that you were able to source a replacement elsewhere – and really very sorry that we couldn’t come up with one for you.

    BTW, if you ever need after-sales advice from Adorama in the future, please do drop me an email directly, and I will be delighted to give you immediate support.

    Helen Oster
    Adorama Camera Customer Service Ambassador
    HelenO@adorama.com

  19. Congrats Phil, great camera – totally different style of shooting that I think can be more rewarding when you capture the moment !

    would love to see a bokeh off between the 50mm’s – leica .95 , noktur .95, voit 1.1 , canon 1.2 – obviously results would be affected by the sensor size but still would be awesome 😀

    ps. nice photos!

  20. Phil

    You should try to find a Leica Noctilux 50mm f 1.0…. Old model, you can find a second hand model (price will started at 2.500 $ but it really worth it). Also this lens can be used on a Red One camera* and probably on the next Scarlet and Epic camera…. so it ‘s a pretty versatile lens has you can see, and the investment could be interesting.

    For exemple:
    http://anamorfilms.blogspot.com/2010/05/vintage-cars-part-i-2010.html
    (the Job have been done with Leica M6 and a old Noctilux….)

    Thanks for your blog, and all the informations your share

    (*http://www.reduser.net/forum)

  21. I know how you feel. I’ve got a couple of M6’s and at least one of them is with me at all times. There’s a certain feeling in using them, that I don’t get with my Canons. And for street photography, they’re in a class of their own.

    I’ve got some leica lenses that I love, but I can’t afford the 0.95, so I also got the Voigtlander 50mm 1.1. I’ve been amazed at what I can get out of it with low light and a nice 400 bw film.

  22. Those shots look amazing! I’m not too familiar with these cameras but after seeing the images they produce they certainly have my attention now, but holly crap are they expensive! The escalator and pool table, or billiards if you prefer, are my favorites. You always have the coolest stuff, and I have serious gear envy.

    Enjoy the new camera!

    Cheers

  23. Great post, Phil! If you really want to keep at this side hobby, you should grab some old film cameras and shoot black & white film, and build or find a darkroom to make your own prints in. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than making an exhibition-quality print from one of my negatives that I put a lot of thought into creating. And there are so many cool cameras out there; old 35mm slr’s, all kinds of medium-format goodness like Mamiya 7’s and RB67’s and Bronicas and Horseman 6×12 panoramics, not to mention large-format view cameras. Have fun!

  24. Philip I am like you but the opposite, I make my living with the M9 and am just starting to make films with the 5DmkII to learn new skills and ways of thinking. There is a certain inaccuracy about using the M9 rangefinder which forces you to use instinct a little more than you would with an SLR…that slight lack of precision in framing can result in some beautiful organic spontaneous shots. I am touring France shooting a project with the M9 at the moment and loving it, I’ve waited 8 years for this camera, a good digital street camera.

    http://www.nickturpin.com/work/the_french

    Enjoy using it.

  25. Looks nice.

    I always liked rangefinders, nice small, compact and fast to use if you know how.

    I started out borrowing my fathers Agilux Agimatic 35mm in the 70’s, and I had a Ricoh 500 that I used through the 90’s as an easily pocketable camera.

    Pity it was in my pocket when I fell in the sea in Tenerife!!

  26. Great shots. Although you might wanna’ leave your left eye open while peering through the range-finder with your right. 🙂 (Sucks for left-eye dominant people like me.)

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