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Using the Leica M9 for Documentary Wedding Photography


So I finally broke down and purchased a Leica M9 digital rangefinder and some lenses. I shot with a couple of film rangefinders for a few years as my personal cameras - the ones I used for fun. I had a Voigtlander Bessa R and then a Leica M4-P and a few lenses and really enjoyed the rangefinder approach to photography. There's a feeling of directly seeing the subject and having complete control of the camera. Nothing is automatic, so if the picture is no good I know its my own fault and not the camera's. Unfortunately, with the rise and rise of digital photography, its become impractical for me to use film for my daily work and so the film cameras were sold.

I've had my eye on a digital rangefinder since the first M8 was announced. That model had too many compromises for my liking, but then the M9 pretty much fixed all the problems and the only thing stopping me getting one of those was the money. These things are not cheap. But all good things come to those who wait and, two and a bit years after its introduction, secondhand prices have started to fall. With no other urgent equipment purchases on the horizon, I decided to go for it.

So, why the Leica M9 and not, say, the Fuji X-Pro 1, or the X100 or one of the other smaller cameras?

I got very excited at the prospect of the new Fuji X-Pro 1 when it was announced, thinking like a lot of other people that it might be the camera that could replace the Leica M9 as the perfect small, high quality camera for unobtrusive documentary shooting. But after reading lots of reviews and trying one in person, it just didn't "click" for me. It seemed like another small black plastic computer with a lens on the front. I'm sure its an excellent camera if you get to know it properly and I've already seen excellent work being produced with it, but it just wasn't for me. I was still looking for that tactile, mechanical feel of the Leica - a camera that I would enjoy holding and using, as well as it being a tool for my business.

As for all the other Micro 4/3rds and similar cameras, none of them appealed to me. I wanted a proper viewfinder and fast accurate focussing. The M9 gives me both those things. Yes, the focus is manual, but its very accurate and after a bit of practice, quite quick. When I focus using the M9 rangefinder I can choose the exact thing I'm focussing on and I know when its in focus. This is not as easy or reliable as you would think with even the best of the high-end DSLRs. I use Canon 1D MkIV bodies alongside the Leica and there's frequent times when the camera's AF misses the focus.

Now I have the best of both worlds - the super-fast, indestructible, high-end digital SLRs with lenses from 17mm to 300mm, and the small, quiet, beautifully constructed Leica, with its tiny, razor sharp lenses.

Unfortunately my budget doesn't stretch to Leica lenses, but there are other really excellent lenses available from Zeiss and Voigtlander. I've gone with the Zeiss 50mm/f2, Voigtlander 28mm/f2 and 90mm/f3.5. So far the Zeiss 50 is my favourite.

So, what's it like using one for wedding photography?

Well, so far I've only had the chance to use it at two weddings. Since I'm in the process of reacquainting myself with the rangefinder approach to shooting and I need a bit of practice at going "all-manual" again, I've been using it fairly sparingly, and only when I know I'm not going to miss a crucial picture. The Canons are still used for all the important stuff and will continue to be used when I need a wider or longer lens, or I need the speed of the motor drive and autofocus. But I've already really enjoyed the ability to wander around amongst the guests with the Leica and snap away unnoticed. The pictures are beautiful with a different "look" to them and I can see myself shooting more and more with the Leica instead of the Canons whenever possible.

The bad news is that after two weddings and plenty of personal test shooting, the lens lock button fell off! So its had to go back to the dealer for repair. I'm hoping to get it back very soon as I'm itching to get shooting with it again.

While I would love to post some pictures from the two recent weddings, I have a policy of not posting pictures online until my clients have had their album. I think its only fair to them that they get their pictures first. So, in the meantime, here's a few shots I did in the process of testing and getting to know the camera. Stay tuned for some actual wedding photos soon.

Shooting film

One of the advantages of travelling around the country photographing weddings is the chance to visit new places and take some pictures for fun. At the moment I'm doing this using an old, manual film camera - a Fuji GW690. Its a large medium format rangefinder that shoots 6x9cm negatives. It requires a completely different approach to the equipment I use to shoot weddings. Everything is manual and there's only 8 frames to a roll, so it forces me to think and shoot more carefully than a digital camera. The disadvantage of film is the time you have to set aside to sit down and scan the negatives. Here are a few pictures from a trip to Aberdyfi last year. I've got a bit of a backlog - there will be more soon.