I am both a Nikon and Leica shooter. I shoot film and digital with both brands and the other day I sat down at my Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter–that’s where I do my best thinking on paper–and I wrote out what each camera type is good for.
For shooting street photography, Leica may be classic, but my Nikon with a 20mm, auto-focus and aperture priority beats it every time.
Every. Single. Time.
Because there’s no fuss, I have the Nikons–F100 for film, D610 for digital–set for back-button focus and -0.7 dialed for exposure compensation on the digital, so I make sure I don’t blow any highlights, or +0.7 set for film, to make sure I get a dense negative, and I can shoot out my car window and guarantee a shot.
I can’t do that with my Leicas. I’m using an M9 for digital, which does have aperture-priority, and an M2 for film. They need attention, finessing. It’s great for contemplative work. But not for lightning quick. At least not for me.
Yes, I use hyperfocal/zone focusing with the Leicas.
These three photographs were all made out my car window with the Nikon as I was passing these scenes at some rate of speed. I can’t get these with the Leica.
The first two were shot with a 20mm f2.8, the first AF 20mm Nikon made. The last with a 50mm f1.2 AIS manual focus lens. They show what I saw, real life, captured in split second.
Even this one, while I was attending an Italian festival in Denver, I stopped to talk to another photographer after I noticed his Sony camera and some behemoth of a lens. But while I was talking to him, the sausage man appeared and with the Nikon and 20mm, I could turn, focus and shoot in one fluid motion, nail the shot, then it was back to my conversation.
At the end of the day, story comes first, and it’s all about the photo. I do love the way the Leica looks and feels, and its small size, it’s just not a street shooter for me. That’s the conclusion I came to when I was typing out my thoughts.
As a further test, I went out to downtown Denver this past weekend to shoot street photographs with another photographer. The shoot went so well, I came back with several photos that I’ve included in my updated street photography gallery, ColoradoFaces.com. Photos #4-13 all came from that Saturday afternoon, all shot with the Nikon and the 20mm.
So enthralled with the results, I went back down the next day with the Leica M9 and M2 and a 21mm Elmarit. I thought, wow, if I could do that with a Leica and a 21mm, it’s so small and light, it would make a great kit for daily use. Guess I hadn’t used the M9 recently enough, as I ended up putting battery after battery in it, four in total, and they all quit within a few shots. I still had the film Leica, so I could keep shooting, but I certainly shoot more conservatively with film.
I wished I had brought the Nikon.
By the way, my Nikon has five bars on its battery readout, and it can be down to two bars, and I can still get a whole afternoon of shooting with it. Nikon batteries rock for lasting and not petering out.
So, what’s my point. For me, it’s Nikon film and digital for shooting documentary photographs, they’re quicker and I feel more confident I’ll get the shot with them. And I do.
Leica is a great camera for portraits and documentary coverage where you’re going to be working the scene. The build quality is incredible, as you know. I love documenting my friends with it. Posing them and creating photographs. And it’s a treat to use.
But just like a Rolleiflex and a Hasselblad are both portrait cameras in my hands, a Leica is a special camera for portraits or a day of deliberate shooting. Not grabbing life on the street.
When it’s speed I need, I go with the Nikon with the 20mm. Or the 50mm. The viewer feels like they’re in the shot.
And I get it every time. That’s my story. And story is king.