On PhotoWalking: Why I Think Leica Is King of the Land

On Photowalking is a short-lived series where EIC Chris Gampat shares his thoughts on using various camera systems.

There is the obvious idea that someone who owns a Leica is a rich photographer (or they’re a rich person, etc.) But the less popular belief is that they’re someone who really values aesthetics. I’ll never forget the words that Reviews Editor Paul Ip conveyed to me when I told him to use my Leica M4 for a while. He said, “It’s a tactile thing.” and he’s right! You can use a Leica and approach it from the standpoint of shooting like one would with any other camera, but you’d be doing your purchase an injustice then. No other system can do what a Leica can, and that’s why I think that they’re a fantastic product for photo walks. Specifically, the Leica M series are so great because they’re designed for you to be in the moment. You enter a completely different type of zen that you wouldn’t otherwise because you’re that much more involved in the photography process.

Shooting with a manual lens does this to begin with. You need to zone focus on subjects and shoot. And to zone focus, you need to have a sense of everything that is going on within a specific circle around you. You’re not necessarily paying attention to something across the street, but you’re in tune with what’s going on six feet away from you in any direction. If you want that scene across the street, then you need to move. Otherwise, you’re in the zone. And specifically, you’re in the zone that’s immediately around you. With a Leica, you can see a subject move in and out of the frame, and you can line it up in the viewfinder perfectly. You’re not getting a depth of field preview unless you use the EVF. And you’re not otherwise using the system to capture every single thing. But instead, you’re using it to get more keeper shots.

My philosophy is this: if you know that you have to shoot within a specific zone, then you’re willing to let things go. There are tons of great shots that I’ve lost, or I’ve let go. The tradeoff is that I guarantee myself much better images within the specific little bubble I’m shooting in.

For everyone else that still doesn’t get it, let me address it to you this way. If you’re an American, you’re probably only reading American based news. If you’re located in Minnesota, then your news has a more local slant. Chances are you don’t care about what’s going on in Germany at a specific time. The same goes for those in Barcelona. You probably have a more worldly view than my fellow Americans, but your news is probably still closer centered around where you are. That’s what a Leica is like. You’re hyper-focusing (pun intended) on an area near you. You’re not going after something in Nepal from where you are as the chances are slim.

Let me relate it to you in another way: if you’re driving in a car, you’re probably paying attention to what’s around you. That’s precisely what’s in your periphery, your mirrors, etc. You’re probably not paying attention to what’s going on on the other side of the highway unless it’s an accident you are rubbernecking. Shooting with a Leica M is like driving in that way. Specifically, it can be like an automatic transmission where you set the aperture, keep the shutter in auto, the ISO in auto, pre-focus to a certain distance, and then just focus on what’s happening. It’s a set it and forget it situation.

If this sounds like an ad, it’s not. This is my trying to clear up some fake news and false pretenses about the system. That’s also not me telling you to sell everything and go buy a digital Leica. I don’t even own a Digital Leica, but I plan to one day. Instead, go shoot with a film Leica.