100 Years in One Day - Leica M10-P Review (2) The Street
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I could only use the M10-P for the weekend, unfortunately the weather was bad most of the time and I was afraid of using it even in light rain, I first thought this was because I have to return the camera to get my deposit back, but soon I realised even if it’s my own camera, I wouldn’t want to risk it in rain consider how much it costs.
It was the first time for me to use a rangefinder, I found focusing an M not as easy as my other auto focus cameras, but due to the nature of rangefinder, once you nailed the focus, it’s never wrong, not like AF cameras which can have false positive focus.
At first I often leave the finger tap below the middle of the lens, rotate it left and right to see if the object is in focus, one issue with this approach, is that I could never be sure if rotating more would make it more or less in focus; After a few tries, I learned to leave the finger tap on nearest or farthest, then rotate the focus ring one way only, click shutter once the patch is reasonably overlapped, with a small aperture like F5.6, I always get sharp enough object in photo.
I found zone focus with 50mm on full frame Leica isn’t that easy, which I often use on my X-Pro2 with 35mm lens (APSC sensor with 1.5 crop, equivalent to 50mm full frame), with X-Pro2 I usually use F11 to get 3 meters to infinity in focus, but on full frame Leica, even F16 isn’t small enough.
Smaller sensor has advantage of more DOF, and camera with smaller sensor can be made smaller, which is another advantage for street photography. Having said this, I have to admit that the image quality from full frame Leica M does impress me.
When I got the camera, its battery wasn’t fully charged, I didn’t know how long it could last, so I tried to not always check images after pressing shutter, which makes me think the other digital M that doesn’t have back LCD does make sense - it’s closer to the experience of shooting film.
I’ve read quite a few articles about street photography, many of them suggest not only to use prime, but also stick with a single focal length. The lesson I learned from this was that sticking with a single focal length could help one getting familar and eventually form a natural field of view from one’s eye, now another lesson learned is that with Leica lense, sticky with a single focus length could make one get used to the position of finger tap in relation to the focus distance.
I mainly use 50mm equivalent lens before, so having a 50mm lens on Leica isn’t a problem. Cartier Bresson said his Leica became an extension of his eye, initially I didn’t quite understand this, because 50mm is said to mimic the vision of human eye, and Bresson mostly used 50mm, so how could it be an extension rather than a duplication?
Later I began to understand, rather than extension, 50mm (and actually, all primes) is a limitation which forces you to view in certain ways, you can only see what the focal length sees, at first it feels like a limitation, but as you use it more and more, the limitation creates some constraint for your brain, that you would think in certain ways when visualising a frame, eventually the limitation would become an extension.
Some photographers say that 50mm was used in old time because it used to be the only lens available and there were not many people on streets, streets were also much wider so that there was enough space for 50mm, nowadays 50mm is very narrow whereas 35mm or even 28mm make more sense for street photography. Actually 50mm hasn’t changed from past to now, what has changed is the time, the age, and the people.
The shutter of M10-P is very quiet, I can still hear it, but it’s quiet enough that when paired with 50mm I’m confident enough to not be afraid of taking photos of people.
I’m not sure what does Leica wants to achieve with this testing event, I can only guess that it wants to get more people to use Leica. However, with the price tag and the way manual rangefinder works, I don’t think it could convert every tester. Especially the 50mm lens paired, accordingly to many photographers, isn’t suitable for general purpose compared to 35mm or 28mm, especially for people who never used Leica before, or even never used a camera before and just heard the name Leica. So why doesn’t it pair with 35mm or 28mm? I don’t know.
The shooting experience of M10-P is very different from my Panasonic cameras or Fujifilm X-Pro2. With Panasonic, I usually use multi-point auto focus and let it figure out where to focus. I saw articles written by street photographer who doesn’t suggest using multi-point auto-focus because the camera may not focus on what you want, to be honest, I found reading those articles without proper context can be misleading, especially for beginners who don’t have much experience and blindly follow. Panasonic has DFD technology which is contrast-detection based, its AF is not only fast, but also tends to lock on object that’re nearer to the camera, with the 2x crop M43 sensor and a relatively small aperture, you can get most stuff in focus most of the time.
The camera forces me to think before taking photos, at least to think where the rangefinder patch should overlay (ie. focus), I can see the benefit of this being that more thoughts could mean better results. The word “could” was used because Ansel Adams said “there are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs”, it can’t be said that certain way of photography is always superior, as far as I know, Daido Moriyama took a different approach which is similar to the way I took photos.
Moriyama is known as a Ricoh GR user, many of GRs have 28mm equivalent focal length. With wide angle it is often suggested to get closer to the object, I didn’t get a chance to use 28mm or even 35mm on Leica M, but I could imagine I’d use zone focus most of the time, the distance scale marked on the lens made this easy. To me it feels that zone focus is good for shooting “decisive moment”, where the moment won’t wait for you to think, focus and/or recompose, the only thing you can decide is to press the shutter, or moment gone.
I like black and white, but I’m also afraid that monochrome can sometimes be mis-used as an attempt to save bad photos, just like drawing a gold/yellow rectangle on the bottom corner of a photo.
The camera feels heavy in hand, I couldn’t hold it using one hand but have to use two hands, which is vastly different from Ricoh GR. I also found that shooting portrait orientation more difficult than landscape due to the leather case and neck strap.
I was impressed by the image quality in terms of sharpness, color tone as well as micro-contrast, which many Leica users would agree; Ironically, when looking at famous photos from old time that were taken by film Leica, people only pay attention to the content, instead of checking any of the image quality related specs. It feels weird that while Leica users praise their cameras for having top image quality, they also say that street photography isn’t all about image quality, just like Joan Miro said:
“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.”
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