5 Years shooting professionally with Leica (Q, SL, M6, Sofort)
5 Years with Leica
Five Years ago I fell in love. Stood in a shiny city centre Leica store, still unsure whether I was prepared to part with nearly £4000 for a camera that I had never even picked up, let alone worked with. I watched as a dear old lady entered through the door carrying a large box. Tearful and buckling under the weight she placed the heavy cargo of vintage cameras on the counter. As she did so, my eyes caught site of dozens of red dot Leica logos inside. Holy Shit, I remember thinking to myself. Someone’s got an expensive collection of vintage gear. Asking to speak to the manager, the lady explained how sorry she was for any disruption caused. She explained that her late husband had only passed away just one month ago and only now had she remembered to return the cameras that he had ‘loaned’ from the store over the years. “I’m afraid we don’t loan cameras dear, your late husband must have bought them all from somewhere” the manager explained. I’m unsure of what happened next but having witnessed an old lady carrying maybe £50,000 of cameras around town in a cardboard box, I got a glimpse into the Leica obsession that can take hold once you’ve experienced this luxury Germany brand. 10 Minutes later I’d purchased my first Leica, walked outside, met my wife and refused to tell her how much I paid for my fancy new toy. Was I turning into the dead guy, hiding the truth about his secret camera collection? Probably.
I’m writing this not to give a technical run through of the wonders of Leica. First off, I couldn’t. To this day I don’t know my camera’s megapixel count, their ISO capabilities or anything else ‘under the bonnet / hood’ so to speak. None of this actually matters to me. They just work and give me the results I want. Video production, street photography, commercial work, family holidays, weddings. They simply perform perfectly year after year.
Leica Q Street Photography
I’m a 38 year old guy who doesn’t really get excited about much but from the moment I left that Leica store 5 years ago, I felt like I was in a club. I agree that’s it’s maybe a bit of an old man’s club. Usually formed of retired geography teachers and dentists, but still, all I could think of were the pioneers of photography that had gone before me with Leica in hand. Plus, the Queen shoots with one. F*ck the dentists, Leica’s are cool. Aren’t they? I’m cool right?
I now own 4 Leicas and each one serves a different purpose. I’m not a gear head and I certainly don’t believe in yearly upgrades. My photography work is with a Leica Q. My video production with the Leica SL. My Analogue photography with an old M6 and just for fun, my wife bought me a Leica Sofort instant camera last Christmas.
I chose Leica for 3 different reasons.
Firstly I needed to use something different. I’d worked closely with Sony Pro Europe for a number of years and it was secretly getting me down. As well as creating a series of films for Sony, I’d regularly receive new gear in the post from them, I’d help to develop new cameras in testing and would review new products. But nothing about it was ‘me’. I hated that 90% of my peers were using the same camera as me and producing work that looked exactly the same. I hated the technical side of the cameras and I hated that they went against my entire ethos of simplicity. I don’t need a million menu options, I just need my shutter speed, aperture and ISO. I once made a film for Sony promoting a new camera and embarrassingly had to google how to use it before hand. To my horror, I later found out that a number of colleagues I knew had invested thousands in the same camera based purely on my ‘recommendations’. It was all too much. It felt dishonest and so I gave it up.
I can count on one hand the number of people I know shooting weddings who use Leica. I love this and it makes the whole experience of using the brand feel more unique and special. I think this gives an insight into my character.
For Wedding photography I always use the Leica Q. Over the last five years I can’t tell you how much this has simply become an extension of me. It sounds clichéd but I find photography with the Leica Q literally effortless. I don’t think I’ve altered the ‘in-camera’ settings in any way or really entered the menu in maybe 3 years. I often feel lazy or like I’m not really working when I’m with the Leica Q. I never use a camera strap and it just sits in my hand all day, compact and strong but light as a feather. For street photography and obviously wedding photography, it’s a dream. I’m unnoticed as the photographer when I need to be.
Secondly, Leica’s looks great. But who buys a camera based on its looks? Well, I do. I know the cameras are going to be awesome, performance wise. I don’t need to test them. It’s like buying an Aston Martin and being unsure whether it will drive okay. Of course they’ll take great photographs. I want to work with a camera that looks as sexy as hell because it makes me feel great when I’m working. If I feel great then I’m more confident and relaxed. This inevitably results in better images for my clients. In the same way that wearing a great suit to work makes you feel good, or (going back to the first example) how rocking up to a job in a beautiful car makes you feel great.
The luxury brand factor also is important to me. It fits with the type of weddings I shoot and the vibe I want to give off to my clients and their guests. I love working with other photographers (usually holding a Sony, Panasonic or Canon) who always seem to look a little envious of the Leica. Maybe it’s just intrigue? Or confusion? I love that I can turn up at a wedding and know that at least 5 of the guests aren’t going to be taking amateur pictures using the same camera as the professional. I love the attention that the Leica’s receive from guests too (usually wealthy males who are trying to convince their partners that they should also buy into the ‘Leica club’). I love that I took three additional bookings last year based on the fact that engaged couples noticed my camera.
(bg image by David Cliff)
With Leica, simplicity forms the bedrock of everything I do. I alluded to this before when mentioning previous cameras I’d worked with. Anyone who’s bought my online video course or been on one of my workshops will back this up. To give the best results I can, I need to strip everything back to it’s most basic. The Leica’s give me simplicity in abundance but without compromising on image quality.
Sure, there’s menu options in both of my digital Leicas, but they’re extremely minimal and simple to figure out in seconds. For my video work I have just two colour options. I either bake the colour in using the standard profile available, or, I use the flat L-Log Profile and add minimal colour grading later. I don’t have a flip screen or image stabilisation and I don’t consider the need to shoot with sky high ISO’s. I select either 100, 400, 800 or 1600 (remember film?). I also manual focus everything. No magical eyeball tracking, no on-screen guides showing me what’s in focus or over exposed. Just me and my simple human decisions. Anyone who’s taken my video course know’s that I call this ‘soul’. The connection between my work and my subject is real because I made it. There’s a part of me in the images.
Video Shot with the Leica SL
Leica’s are also built like no other camera I’ve ever held before. You also feel like you have a piece of mechanical perfection in your hands. I dropped two of my previous cameras (Canon + Sony) and neither of their plastic bodies survived the crash. In comparison the aluminium body of my Leica SL feels almost bullet proof and indestructible. I don’t however intend on dropping it any time soon. A few years back I filmed in Iceland with the SL and remember thinking that there was no way the camera would survive the conditions I was putting it through. It was battered completely by heavy rain and cold for hours at a time. It just worked. On an extremely boring note the battery life also completely surprised me. I can film an entire wedding day on the SL with two batteries (I wish I’d have known this when I originally bought 15 spares).
The Q operates with a fixed 28mm lens which is permanently attached to the body. Yes, this is autofocus but it’s just there and works instantly, without fail, every time. No focus hunting or missing shots, just years of reliability and not having to worry about extra lenses. The Leica Q has changed me as a photographer for the better in so many different ways. Another cliché is that I zoom with my feet. If I need to be closer, I move closer. If I need a wider shot, then I move away. I’ve shot weddings for 5 years now without any other lens. It just works. I also know what to expect from every shot. In the same way that I only use a 75mm or 85mm lens for my video work, I only have the 28mm for photography. When I lift the camera to my face I know the shot I’m going to get before I’ve even hitting the shutter. Using one foal length for video and one for photography also helps me to separate the disciplines.
With my Leicas, everything is based around simplicity. Stripping the process back to its most simplest to get the best results. Not just from the image but my own experience working at each wedding. I want to enjoy myself and not feel like I’m carrying the world around with me all day.
(Leica Q JPG’s straight from camera)
But not everyone can’t afford Leicas right? Yes, completely, I understand that they’re costly and maybe more expensive than most other camera brands. But going back to my original tale, I’ve used the same camera for 5 years. I have no intention of changing this or upgrading it. It’s not broke, so why fix it? It still works as well as any other camera I’ve seen and gives me results that my clients love. My initial investment has lasted me five years so far! Looking at the majority of Sony, Canon or Panasonic users I know, they’ve all upgraded their cameras maybe two or three times during this period or switched completely to another brand when a new fancy feature comes along.
Off topic, but, In my online course I harp on a lot about human elements in your work. When a new feature is launched on a camera, you’re never gaining an advantage by rushing to purchase. When 100,000 photographers/videographers rush out and upgrade their cameras, they’re all still in the same position as each other. The industry’s images or way of working may change slightly but they’ve not personally gained any advantage. They don’t become better photographers or videographers. They all just have a new feature.
I’ve put this short bit of text together quickly because, well, I’ve been asked a lot recently to clear up what cameras I’m shooting with at the moment. To be honest, I can’t see me changing cameras, let alone brands anytime soon. Feel free to challenge me on this next year when you see me shooting with something else. I once said that drones were for c*nts then realised they were quite fun to fly.
What I would say is that the Leicas aren’t easy to master immediately. On my online video course I give a very strict word of warning to those wanting to jump ship and join me. First and foremost Leicas are and will always be photographic cameras. If you’re a purist and love the heart and soul of photography then Leica could be for you. The truth is that video is a 2nd thought and isn’t even available on most of their modern digital cameras. On the SL the video functions are very limited and aren’t to everyone’s taste. Like I said earlier, that was the appeal for me. Simplicity, luxury and uniqueness were all deciding factors. I have a look to my video production now that is different to most other people simple because of just that – It’s a different camera. It’s not Sony, Panasonic or Canon.
The thing is there’s no right or wrong in this game. I know guys who are producing much better images than me with far less expensive cameras. It’s a personal choice and is certainly each to their own when it comes to deciding what is right for you personally.
Just don’t feel the need to follow the masses. Your footsteps will simple get lost amongst theirs.
Happy to open up the conversation here.
PS – I overheard the old lady story whilst in the Leica store. I didn’t witness it firsthand unfortunately.
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More Leica Photos?
The very first time we used the Leica Q for wedding photography was 5 years ago in France. Hit the link below to see the images.
More Leica Film?
If you like the images in this article take a look at this elopement that we filmed I Iceland. This was the very first time we used the Leica SL !!
Philip is an internationally sought after wedding videographer & photographer who has shot over 500 weddings and events across the world. A global ambassador for Sony, his clients include the Royal family, Oscar winners and some of the world’s most prestigious families.