Kenneth Wajda’s Leica (Why it Matters to Me)

The other day I wrote about Ralph Gibson’s Leica and why it matters to him, what shooting the Leica versus any other camera means to his way of working, and why once he started with the German brand, he never left. So, I was ruminating about my own workflow and how I use Leicas, but I also use other cameras, mostly Nikons and Rolleiflexes, and sometimes I don’t take the Leica because the M5 isn’t as quick as the Nikon F3. The M9 isn’t as lightning fast like the Nikon D750 or D610.

So, then I thought about it and realized I need to get better with the Leica. It’s me that’s not making them work up to speed. It’s my own workflow that needs work. The cameras are plenty quick.

Having been a Nikon shooter my whole photojournalist career, it’s easy now to fall back on a system that I know works well and is familiar, which makes it very fast and responsive, but when I shoot the M5 or M9, I see the difference. It’s evident in the photo quality, the lenses are just that good, and the way I interact with the subject, there is a smaller obstacle between us compared to a Nikon with a fat zoom lens.

So, I’ve packed a couple of bags of Leicas for shoots. One kit has a digital Leica (M9) and film Leica (M5) with a 28mm f2.8, 50mm f2 Dual Range and a 90mm f2.8, and the other one a pair of Leica III film cameras with a 35mm and 50mm–that pair, because they’re Barnack Leica and are physically much smaller, is each pocketable, which comes into play sometimes when I want to travel extra stealthily.

One of the tricks if I want to shoot Leica exclusively has to be to keep the Nikons out of reach. If I pack a Nikon, it’s just too easy to shoot it over the Leica. So, on my photo walks, on my drives looking for photographs for the Roy Stryker project, and for portraits in The Wise Photo Project, I am pulling out the Leica more.

It’s similar to sometimes when I want to shoot film when meeting up with friends, if I bring the digital camera, even a small Fuji X100, it’s just too easy to just shoot that instead. It’s all instant, but then I don’t have film of those moments, I have files. But when I do shoot film, like this couple of photos of friends made with a Leica M3 and a 50mm at a brew pub on a windy day, I’m always glad I did.

I am a Leica photographer. I shoot other brands at times, but going forward, I choose to be Leica first, as it’s a brand that supports its photographers, and they make cameras that inspire me to shoot, that put out the highest quality image, and is just as fast if I am/can learn to be.

I’m also moving forward with Leica because I’m starting a couple of documentary photo projects about people who are struggling at the edges of society and I believe they will be a less obtrusive tool when I’m making those photographs than a Nikon with a large zoom lens. More on the projects to come.

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