Life With A Rangefinder, Plus Street Photography Tips.

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Shoes

These days you are most likely to find me wandering the streets of London with a Leica M Monochrom hanging from my neck. Street photography and Leica have been inextricably linked for decades and this is solely down to Leica’s M system camera and its rangefinder focus mechanism.

This is not to say that you cannot be a street photographer without a rangefinder camera or, transversely, that you cannot shoot anything but the streets with a Leica. It is simply that this style of camera is the preferred tool of the serious street photographer.

If you’re unfamiliar with Rangefinders, the name is simply a reference to the distance oriented method by which you focus the lens. You are presented, within the viewfinder,  2 overlapping versions of the scene and as you turn the lens to find focus, the overlapping images merge together into one, at which point you are focused!

Can you hear me?!

It does raise the question of why use a Leica rangefinder once you realize the camera is pretty much manual. Focusing, especially, is an entirely manual exercise. My camera will struggle to reach 4 fps. The viewfinder is essentially just a viewing frame where the image does not travel through the lens and is not related to the focal length either. It is just a ‘window’ for you to frame the shot. Side stepping image quality, there’s more and improved functionality out there in the DSLR world. And the cost?! US$13000 for a Camera, lens, spare battery and a strap!

It just doesn’t make sense, does it?!

I actually traded my entire ‘bag’ of Canon bodies and lenses for this camera, never more convinced this was the system for me. I have always been a manual photographer, actively disliking AF for its constant need to slave my compositions to specific points in the frame. The mirror system means bodies are big and lenses, good quality lenses, are bulky too. Compare a Canon 5D Mark II and a Leica Monochrom, each with a 35mm f/2 lens, and the Leica is 2/3s the weight and I dare say the size too. Factor in shutter noise and you are a lot more conspicuous in a crowd with a DSLR.

Rangefinder cameras, generally much smaller, quieter and inconspicuous than their DSLR counterparts aren’t just the subjective opinions of a few desperate fans. I recently read that quite a few US court rooms dictate that cameras, “… shall produce no greater sound than a 35mm Leica “M” Series rangefinder camera.”.

For most of you, I concede, not the right camera. For me? Definitely. I want lightweight, quiet, inconspicuous and excellent image quality.

On the streets

I plan exactly where I will take photographs. My style is slightly minimalist and the contextual environment is paramount. With a history oriented to architecture photography, I am picky about my backgrounds.

Tourists

Of course many locations are new to me and, once I get there, I have to establish the best vantage points. How and precisely where are the people interacting with this place?

So I wait. And watch. I am largely ignored and, for all intents and purposes, I don’t look the least bit ‘professional’ just have a compact camera around my neck.

After a few minutes I know where to focus and do so in readiness.

And… nothing!

I can’t count the occasions where the people who are at the scene or walking through it are simply doing just that. If the scene is extraordinary, then the people ignoring it make a good composition. How dare they not notice how wonderful the building behind them is?! Otherwise it will just make a dull photograph.

Patience does pay off and, eventually, you are rewarded with a great image.

Run!

I did mention the downsides of using an entirely manual set up, but there are distinct advantages. The boy, in the image above, ran through the fountains only once. He didn’t think he’d be caught by the water jets as they erupted and he reacted so quickly and ran to escape, but I got the shot. I’d already focused my lens and was just hanging around needing only to point at my chosen scene and press the shutter.

Did you realize that, with a full frame camera, set an aperture of f8 focused to a distance of 3m away and everything will be in focus from 2m to 10m? This is called zone focusing and allows me to focus without lifting camera to eye. Very stealthy! Why 3m away? I am frequently around this distance from a subject when I want to take their photo.

Cigar Break

This business man was clearly checking his phone, probably for emails, whilst smoking his fat cigar. He couldn’t stand still, so I waited, wondering whether he’d step on the larger steps. A good result!

How do I improve my street photography

Whatever your camera, there is some helpful advice I can pass on after learning some hard lessons.

Have a plan, even if it is, “I’m going to walk from place A to B”. Before I head out, I put together a list of interesting places, items, or a theme. When it has rained, I will always look for reflections in puddles. Either way I look for reflections in the windows of buildings. Lately, I have been interested in phone boxes and graffiti.

Just. Keep. Walking.

Be like the tourist, walk confidently, look and stare. Whilst everyone seems to be able to see the skulking photographer, camera clutched at chest height, no one pays the tourist attention… unless they get in your way, which they quite frequently do! Be bold, see your shot, stand firm and take it. If the subjects see you, wave and smile and walk away. Like a tourist!

Look around you. Simply taking random snapshots of ordinary people in normal life situations is not going to be rewarding for very long. Additionally, think about the viewer of your photograph too – what will they see from your image? As I walk around I look at the buildings and signs,  graffiti, bill boards and giant posters. People in front of these can be a great juxtaposition. So look around you and mentally picture a person, or a group, as a foreground subject. Is it worth waiting a few minutes to see if anyone interesting turns up?

I hope this article gives a glimpse into life with a rangefinder camera which, for me at least, is the perfect camera.

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Michael Walker-Toye is a professional Photographer, based in Essex and just outside of London. You can follow his photo blog, The Stormtroopers Are Coming!, on Facebook, on Twitter as @RealMichaelToye and 'michaeltoye' on Instagram.

  • Jay

    Just curious, would a regular (color) M not give you more options?

  • Jim Donahue

    Leica’s are far too overpriced and thusly too expensive to be roaming the streets where the “good” shots are. I can work faster and more accurately with my scaled down DSLR and a 35mm lens. IMHO

  • jay my preference is black and white, but I didn’t want that to digress from this piece 🙂

    I think most would go for a color camera though
    Michael

  • jim, you get what you pay for. Leica’s are expensive and extremely well made. Leica provide some of the best quality glass out there. But these cameras are niche, there’s no doubt about that. There will always be divided opinions on them. Getting those ‘good’ shots as you point out is down to the photographer’s courage and, i hope, not choice of camera.
    Michael

  • With the advent of the Fujifilm X100(S), the Leica rangefinder is losing or already lost its place as the ideal street photographer’s camera. But that’s subjective.

    What’s not subjective, however, is that Leicas are louder, bulkier, heavier, and more noticeable (size) than the X100S. Things that were ideal for the “serious street photographer” are now met by the Fuji.

    That said, I’d still love to own a Leica one day, but purely for their lenses. For now, my demands as a “serious street photographer” is currently fulfilled by the X100S.

  • Charlie

    I think you made a big (financial) mistake falling for the Leica hype. I’m sorry to say that you could have taken any of those shots you posted with a camera phone for pete’s sake. The notion that you need a Leica for street photography is ridiculous.

  • Leica’s are far too overpriced and thusly too expensive to be roaming the streets where the “good” shots are. I can work faster and more accurately with my scaled down DSLR and a 35mm lens.

  • Valid points Myles and i recognise anyone can be a serious street photographer, even with an iPhone. The cameras are just tools.
    Michael

  • Jay

    Thanks for reply. I forgot to add: beautiful photos!

  • You have some very nice pix posted. The most important thing I’m noticing, now that I have different bodies and lenses is that each combination has a job it does best. A simile: You may be able to loosen a bolt with a set of pliers, and an adjustable wrench would be better, though a ratchet could be faster, but a box end wrench of the correct size would lessen the likelihood of causing damage to the fastener or your knuckles. You’ll get the job done, and one tool is more suitable than another for one person than the other. 82mm’s is a lot!
    I like the idea of being less noticed and intimidating with a smaller camera and lens. I was photographing at a recital with my D300S with the advanced mode dial (top left) set to “Q” for quiet shutter. It’s quiet as I couldn’t hear it on the digital recorder three feet away from me. I think you just have to enjoy taking great photos with what fits your hands and budget and aspirations the best.

  • Eli

    I meant *Leica’s*

  • Terry Byford.

    Quote “…..you could have taken any of those shots…with a camera phone….”

    Oh, really?

  • Dave

    Cult worship.

  • Terry Byford.

    Not at all. It’s a simple fact that the Leica is a better photographic device than a camera phone. Its image quality will be far superior, and it is owned and used by people who actually appreciate this and use it as their tool of choice.

    Don’t knock what you don’t know, can’t afford, or are simply jealous and envious of those who like using it.

  • Interesting stuff, great photos. Street photography is something I’d like to develop. Do I need to ask permission to photograph passing people that appear in my shot?

  • Geoff

    Depending on where you go to get “interesting” shots, a Leica could be a handicap,. I like to go downtown Los Angeles to the fringe of seedy areas. The red dot gear is a theft (or worse a mugging) magnet IMHO. I usually carry an old D40 with 35mm f1.8, shooting black and white. Im happy with the IQ. When I’m in better areas, especially in the company of other photographers, my better gear comes out. But to each his own.

  • Leica will not be far superior to a dslr or mid-line mirrorless.

    I have a German friend that shoots excellent shots with his M9, but they’re not superior to the results I get with my Canon.

    I’ve found that you either love or you hate rangefinder cameras. I started with a TLR, moved to a SLR and finally to a DSLR. I hate rangefinders because I much prefer seeing my subject in the viewfinder as it’ll appear when processed.

  • Terry Byford.

    Dave,

    The original comment was about the daft comparison with a camera phone. Once one moves to proper cameras, the lines become blurred and it is, as you say, down to personal preference. You don’t like range finders, others, like I, do. I like my M3 and M6, but I also have an R7 and SL2, which I like, so my feet are in both camps.

    I think the one reason I’ve not moved to a Leica digital M, is my personal belief that much of the advantages of Leitz optics for film, and which I fully appreciate, could well be lost as part of digital processing and image manipulation which is now the rage.

    I said one reason for not making the move, come to think of it there is another: the cost, which even I as a Leica user can’t justify. Leica film bodies were an investment in that they last for years, any upgrades being down to advances in film technology and optics. Digital to me is almost throwaway in comparison as they become outdated so quickly.

  • Terry, I agree that digital bodies have almost become disposable. It’s interesting that high quality lenses for digital bodies still seem to hold their value and I view my lenses as investments. With film, the lens was the key to getting superior images and represented your only chance to get an accurate image onto film. Now the lens and camera body interact when converting light into bits and bytes. No longer do we have a direct, analogue transfer. What was lens/body/film is now lens/sensor/body/file/software and the software functions can be in-camera or external, manufacturer made or third-party. It’s a whole different ball game.

    I still think that rangefinders are a love/hate kind of thing. I think there’s little middle ground. The potential owner needs to borrow or rent one for a day or two and decide if RF is really their cup of tea or not.

  • Terry Byford.

    Dave,

    I can see we are very much in agreement over the film v digital issues and it is interesting to read your comment about film camera lenses being used on digital bodies.

    I use my Leica R lenses on my Sony Nex 5N using the add-on EVF, and get marvellous image quality, albeit I have to put up with the 1.5x crop factor. But this may be a thing of the past soon as I am in contact with Metabones who, I’ve discovered, do a version of their Speedbooster in Leica R to Nex mount. This adaptor is not currently available here in the UK, but I am hopeful that Metabones’ UK agent may be able to get hold of one for me. From what I’ve seen on dpreview this adaptor works surprisingly well.

  • Ed Law

    Really interesting and different. Not sure about your idea of 3 meters .. none of the images look closer than 10 to 20 meters or more.

    And, I wish DSLRs had the same type focusing .. loved it.

    Hope you keep posting ..

  • Selena

    Love the black and whites! And love the contrasts and architecture. What bothers me just a smiddgen is that the people are centered in all the photographs. Some images may have had a better effect if the subject was a little off kilter. But street photography is unpredictable and I was able to get your point. Thanks for sharing!

  • Nathan

    The anti-Leica crowd sounds a lot like the anti-Macintosh crowd of 20 years ago.

    But more to the point, I love your photos. I can’t presently afford a Leica, but I had the same objections to a DSLR, and whenever I’ve tried street photography with a D90, I get a lot of anxious looks. Since moving to a Panasonic GF1 I get fewer stares and better pictures. One day I’ll get a Leica. But for now I’ll be sticking with 4/3.

  • I’m kinda surprised the bulk of these comments is centred on the fact that Michael shoots with a Leica…um so did another “street shooter”—-Cartier-Bresson.

    Get over it. Shoot with what you’ve got and focus your attention on your craft, not what camera someone else uses to get their images.

    SO MUCH OF THE stuff I read focuses on equipment, and sensors, glass crop factor, megapixels. I shoot for a living, so I can both afford and justify the finest which makes me even more smug than this already sounds, but for shots as you’re seeing above…in low res on the internet, these shots could be taken with just about anything (um, but not a phone). There is NOTHING in them that says, oooooh, this must have been shot with a Leica….at least nothing you can see at this size; at this resolution; in this post.

    What in GOD’S name are you on about some of you? Go shoot. You’ll be a better photographer for it.

  • Alan

    From what I have read Cartier-Bresson often didn’t look through the viewfinder when doing street photography as he had learnt to pre-focus and knew how to shoot from the hip so to speak and get his shot. The Sony Nex 7/6 cameras would make great street photography cameras what with a fold out screen and focus peaking to aid rapid manual focus and they are small enough to be discreet and with not needing to bring the camera up to the eye no one is aware that you are taking photos. I have a nex7 and will be giving it a go next summer. If I was given the choice and had the money I might be highly tempted go for the new Leica 24 Mp M camera.

  • Wow, some excellent feisty discussion!

    My Leica is my preferred tool for the street shooting job, but I didn’t say it’s the only camera that will do.

    All the best
    Michael

  • I’ve never used a rangefinder. and can’t see any good reason to now even after reading this interesting and well put together piece. I guess i am not a “manual” photographer. I like to see what i’m going to get and without the visual skill to do it myself I prefer to have a viewfinder that can do it (well kind of, more or less, approximately at least haha). Way too much hype about Leicas in my opinion for most of us to make any kind of informed decision. That company gets far too much free advertising in my opinion, but good luck to them.
    This piece is about the ONLY one I’ve ever read that’s even raised my interest but sadly not enough. I like my DSLR. I don’t believe i look “creepy” nor to the photographees who smile or ask to see the images of them, or who thank me for photographing their children etc. I get good images (well some people say I sometimes do haha) even with “big lenses” And I reckon being close is more than just about being a few feet from a subject. Not trying to make an argument. As I say I like this piece and if I get a chance I MIGHT..i say MIGHT try out a rangefinder..for a minute or two..thanks man!!!

  • Stu

    Wow some serious discussion here about kit.
    I too can’t afford a Leica but I do own several old 25mm rangefinders (all fixed focal length lens.
    I shoot on DSLR on for my work but always take a rangefinder out with me when going…pretty much anywhere.

    Personally i like that they are light and inconspicuous but ultimately it is down the the tastes of the user.

    No matter what you shoot on – just enjoy it

  • John Mills

    When I was a kid, too many years ago, I started my photography with a Kodak Box Brownie, and graduated to a Kodak Retinette 1A. The Kodak is, (I’ve still got it), a rangefinder type 35mm film camera with a fixed lens. I spent a long time being annoyed with the fact that I couldn’t change lenses, and since I couldn’t afford an SLR at the time, feeling very frustrated and restricted. Finally joining the DSLR club changed all that. So now I have great difficulty understanding the current craze for going back to fixed lens rangefinders. Mind you, I love the retro look of the Fuji x100s, it’s the spitting image of my Kodak, and the case is identical, but I keep remembering the frustration. No thanks.

  • Clay

    The reason comments are focusing on the Leica brand is because the author did. That and the fact that Leica is the only rangefinder on the market so if you’re going to have a discussion about rangefinders you have to discuss Leica. Myself I admire Leica. I don’t favor B&W photography however. This is a color world. B&W is a cop out IMO. It is much more difficult to create an interesting photo in color. B&W hides so much. I can understand a black and white photo when I know that was the photographers only option (60) years ago. But today I see it as the easy way out.

  • Nathan

    Cartier-Bresson shot in black and white, even after color film was available. More to the underlying assumption though, photography is not an attempt to capture life exactly. You choose what to shoot, how to frame it, within the confines of your lens, your film (or sensor) and available light. If you are controlling all those variables already, color is a relatively small step to control, or even reduce to black and white. Most artists leave out everything not necessary to convey their message. If color isn’t necessary, you don’t include it.

  • Terry Byford.

    I’m not sure that b/w is a cop-out. With colour, you get what you see, within reason, it doesn’t require any input from the photographer, other than to press the shutter button. With b/w it requires a different “seeing eye” as b/w deals with contrasts and shapes, atmosphere, and subject position within the frame, for its impact on the viewer.

    And I’ve noticed that, in general, when viewers are presented with b/w and colour images, they peer longer at a b/w image than they do a colour one. Colour is taken for granted and this leads to a tendency to flit over the image. To me, this is significant. I don’t think it is the “novelty value” of the b/w image, but more a concentration on the subject matter which they need to do in the absence of colour.

    Contrary to the comment that b/w hides so much, all it does is remove colour, and often the photographer has to work harder to make up for this. I certainly don’t respond so readily to a colour image as I do to a b/w. When I look at a colour image, all I really see and admire is the colour rendition as the first thing that strikes me. After that, I begin wondering what this, otherwise, marvellous colour image is all about.

  • Terry, I agree that b/w requires a different “seeing eye”, but shooting color is more than, “it doesn’t require any input from the photographer, other than to press the shutter button.” Composition, contrast and color correctness are every bit as important with color as with b/w. Without paying attention to those things a color image simply becomes a snapshot.

    One thing that you can get away with with b/w is amping the contrast way up. If I get a contrasty Raw file, the final image may be stronger in b/w because I can emphasize that characteristic without looking garrish and unnatural.

    Still, great article and nice response to all our challenges.

  • Alan Enfield

    To be honest, the article makes good sense, but the images you selected to include are lacking soul… Too many leicafiles out there that can afford great equipment but still cant take decent photos… R

  • Derek

    Judging by your photography, you’re really not qualified to give advise, get off the computer pick up n art book, good to galleries or go to school, your expensive gear is wasted on you.

  • Terry Byford.

    HI, Dave S,

    My initial, over-simplistic comment, wasn’t intended to deny the valid points you make about taking any image. What I’d intended to contrast (pun intended) was that at the moment of capture a photographer has no control over the colour content, however much he may arrange and compose his subject. For example, the colour he sees is the colour he gets. There’s little he can do about the colour of the green meadow at the taking stage. This colour will change over the course of the day and the quality of the light. and he can plan for this, but still the colour element is out of his control and perhaps the best he can do is a judicious use of a polariser, but this won’t work in all situations.

    I’m in complete accord with your second paragraph. A b/w image is an unnatural representation of our world in which we are surrounded by colour. Even great images that rely on colour won’t always “translate” well into a b/w image, and I can tell you know why. Abstract the colour from a scene and one is left with illumination contrast. Old fogies like me, and with decades of b/w work behind us, know how to best use “contrast filters”, aka yellow, green, orange and red to compensate for the lack of colour in trying to achieve a good facsimile, but colourless, representation of the original scene.

    Not every subject matter needs this, but whilst I’d never dream of photographing a flower in b/w, if one had to, the final image can be greatly affected by the choice of filter.

    And because we know the b/w image is only a representation, it can be manipulated a lot without giving the impression it is unnatural. I, too, like ramping up the contrast a tad. Not so with colour. It is for this reason that I have an adverse reaction to HDR images and those where the colours are removed from what I would perceive as normal, even though I don’t have the original with which to compare. My brain tells me something isn’t quite right. I go back to slide film days when we exposed for the highlights and let the shadows look after themselves. If it is going to go off into black, let it. This is often closer to what the eye sees than the detail revealed using HDR techniques.

    But at the end of the day, it is all personal. Criticism has been levelled at Michael’s images by certain posters here and I have no idea of their credentials to do so, but I find them very interesting. Indeed, the one of the guy running through the water fountains is somewhat reminiscent of a Cartier-Bresson image of a guy running in the rain, but in the opposite direction.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful response Terry.

    When you say, “at the moment of capture a photographer has no control over the colour content” I wonder if you’ve taken Raw digital color images and processed them. Most advanced digital photographers don’t shoot “as is”. Many of us “expose to the right” generating an unprocessed image that may look washed out, but contain additional digital information that allows us produce an end product that has greater dynamic range. We use polarizing filters, GND filters at the moment of capture, also to gain DR.

    If we plan to make a b/w image, we too can use yellow and red filters to add contrast or bring out certain colors, but most, like me, choose to apply our filters in post processing. If we apply filters at the time of capturing our image, then we limit the usefulness of the image.

    Using color film is a whole different world. I find it limiting and unnatural, but some still love it. When using those films, you controlled the saturation and color balance very much with selection of film and filters. I look back at those images and immediately say to myself FILM because I find most of the saturation and CB unnatural. With digital color, most people can achieve a more natural and pleasing image with careful processing. Still, with color film you had to do pretty much everything at the moment of capture, but that’s not true at all with digital and we often use techniques in our Raw capture that anticipate our later techniques in post processing.

    Regarding HDR, I’m not generally a fan of how it’s used by many, producing garrish, unnatural images. This is an art firm and a very few do some excellent work. I employ HDR in my own arsenal, but only to gain DR. My goal is to have the viewer look and see something close to what his eye would have shown him. Only another photographer, knowing the DR limits of my camera, might suspect HDR.

  • Terry Byford.

    Hi, Dave S.

    I use b/w film and digital capture and shoot RAW+jpeg, the latter jpeg for convenience. I love the look that good old fashioned film gives an image. I don’t shoot b/w digitally, this can be converted afterwards with software, but I do like the option to apply a digital “filter” replicating the result had a contrast filter been used. And I can dial in any filter colour and value willy nilly to get a look I prefer.

    But on the question of RAW capture, isn’t the colour data captured fixed at the moment of exposure? Isn’t it just that the individually parameters comprising the image can be individually altered in RAW processing, and can be altered without one impacting on the other, so that we can re-visit an image and change just one parameter if we wish?

  • Terry,

    The data in the Raw file is fixed and unchanging, but during conversion from Raw to JPEG, TIFF, etc., we manipulate almost every parameter, including WB, Color Channels, Contrast, etc. EVERY Raw converter, including those inside the camera body, make qualatative changes to the Raw data. The default programs for all third party softwares will yield a different color image from each other, yet most can replicate the others’ look with a little work by the person converting the image. With color film we didn’t have near so much latitude.

    One example is when shooting Raw, you need not worry at all about WB. That is easily and, in most cases, automatically corrected in Raw conversion with the click of a button or movement of a slider. With any film, you’d want to apply the correct filter when capturing the image.

    BTW, I used to shoot Raw+JPEG so that I could have a nice full-screen preview of my images when I was deciding which that I wanted to convert. Since I shoot wildlife, often shooting in bursts, that would fill the camera’s buffer quickly. Then someone told be about a free program, irfanview, for reading Raw files and previewing full-screen or in icons. Since installing that software, I now shoot only Raw files, saving room on the CF cards and in the buffer.

  • Terry Byford.

    Dave,

    I’ve heard of irfanview but never used it. Interestingly, even google’s Picasa can read and process RAW!

    I’m not into image manipulation and for general use I use a European programme, Zoner Studio Pro 15, which I now use in place of Lightroom as I prefer how it works. Last year I bought the Special Edition of Silkypix Developer Pro 5 for Panasonic. This is exclusively for “developing” Panasonic RAW files, or jpegs/TIFFs derived from a Panasonic RAW file or a Panasonic camera. I’ve found it simply the best for developing Panasonic images. The only negative is it won’t recognise any other camera RAW file.

  • I feel like while part of the article did deal with the author’s use of the Leica, the more salient point was about watching and … waiting. I liked the author’s point that you should find an interesting place, then apply PATIENCE to wait until something interesting happens in the frame. That is what Cartier-Bresson and other great street photogs do so well, and that to me, is a great lesson and reminder for the rest of us. 🙂

  • Axel Rodriguez Överby

    Contax T2 does the job for me, fantastic little camera for the fraction of Leica price.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    Excellent. I wander the rangefinder has the focus indicator bar as what nikon has? I wander why leica is so expensive.. i love manual focus and always manual focus using my nikon. Recently i also learn the zone focusing, but some out of focus where i don’t use eye to focus, and not even framing sometimes.

  • TedCrunch

    Quote: “…this style of camera is the preferred tool of the serious street photographer.”

    That is just a personal opinion, right?

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    They are doing zone focusing, so manual focus is more useful and easier. Then you could focus on composing, lighting IMO. And, it takes no time to capture photo, so responsive, without having problem of focusing problem due to low light, high background contrast etc. Sometimes you don’t even have to frame by looking through the viewfinder, especially when u don’t want to get the subject’s attention that u are capturing their photos. Again, IMO. At least, i always do that, never focus, never framing by looking through the viewfinder.

  • Bubba Jones

    Sorry, a few years late to this conversation:
    This is in response to Clay, he made some good points
    Clay June 26, 2013 03:12 pm
    “…I don’t favor B&W photography however. This is a color world. B&W is a cop out IMO. It is much more difficult to create an interesting photo in color. B&W hides so much. I can understand a black and white photo when I know that was the photographers only option (60) years ago. But today I see it as the easy way out…”

    Allow me respectfully to disagree with your comment B&W is a cop out, and B&W hiding so much. That applies for color images as well. Many of the color images we like it is the color not the content that is outstanding, color hides what the image is about, if anything, the color catches ones eye, not the scene. We go oh-ah about the image when it is truly the color we are excited about. That is much the same to what Ansel Adams said about sharp images “nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy idea.” Thus we can produce gorgeous color images of nothing important, not captivating, nor what can stir our emotions, passing them off as wonderful images.

    For some images it may be important capturing in color especially where we want or need to replicate the color of the item; think plants and animals. Thus color becomes the important element not the item. With black and white, it is the item the scene that becomes important not the color. Thus black and white is not at all a cop out.

Some Older Comments

  • Elindaire July 26, 2013 11:26 pm

    Fuji x100s is amazing!

    http://500px.com/elindaire/sets/street

  • Deb Scally July 5, 2013 06:05 am

    I feel like while part of the article did deal with the author's use of the Leica, the more salient point was about watching and ... waiting. I liked the author's point that you should find an interesting place, then apply PATIENCE to wait until something interesting happens in the frame. That is what Cartier-Bresson and other great street photogs do so well, and that to me, is a great lesson and reminder for the rest of us. :)

  • Terry Byford. June 29, 2013 03:50 am

    Dave,

    I've heard of irfanview but never used it. Interestingly, even google's Picasa can read and process RAW!

    I'm not into image manipulation and for general use I use a European programme, Zoner Studio Pro 15, which I now use in place of Lightroom as I prefer how it works. Last year I bought the Special Edition of Silkypix Developer Pro 5 for Panasonic. This is exclusively for "developing" Panasonic RAW files, or jpegs/TIFFs derived from a Panasonic RAW file or a Panasonic camera. I've found it simply the best for developing Panasonic images. The only negative is it won't recognise any other camera RAW file.

  • Dave Stephens June 29, 2013 02:06 am

    Terry,

    The data in the Raw file is fixed and unchanging, but during conversion from Raw to JPEG, TIFF, etc., we manipulate almost every parameter, including WB, Color Channels, Contrast, etc. EVERY Raw converter, including those inside the camera body, make qualatative changes to the Raw data. The default programs for all third party softwares will yield a different color image from each other, yet most can replicate the others' look with a little work by the person converting the image. With color film we didn't have near so much latitude.

    One example is when shooting Raw, you need not worry at all about WB. That is easily and, in most cases, automatically corrected in Raw conversion with the click of a button or movement of a slider. With any film, you'd want to apply the correct filter when capturing the image.

    BTW, I used to shoot Raw+JPEG so that I could have a nice full-screen preview of my images when I was deciding which that I wanted to convert. Since I shoot wildlife, often shooting in bursts, that would fill the camera's buffer quickly. Then someone told be about a free program, irfanview, for reading Raw files and previewing full-screen or in icons. Since installing that software, I now shoot only Raw files, saving room on the CF cards and in the buffer.

  • Terry Byford. June 29, 2013 01:31 am

    Hi, Dave S.

    I use b/w film and digital capture and shoot RAW+jpeg, the latter jpeg for convenience. I love the look that good old fashioned film gives an image. I don't shoot b/w digitally, this can be converted afterwards with software, but I do like the option to apply a digital "filter" replicating the result had a contrast filter been used. And I can dial in any filter colour and value willy nilly to get a look I prefer.

    But on the question of RAW capture, isn't the colour data captured fixed at the moment of exposure? Isn't it just that the individually parameters comprising the image can be individually altered in RAW processing, and can be altered without one impacting on the other, so that we can re-visit an image and change just one parameter if we wish?

  • Dave Stephens June 29, 2013 12:10 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful response Terry.

    When you say, "at the moment of capture a photographer has no control over the colour content" I wonder if you've taken Raw digital color images and processed them. Most advanced digital photographers don't shoot "as is". Many of us "expose to the right" generating an unprocessed image that may look washed out, but contain additional digital information that allows us produce an end product that has greater dynamic range. We use polarizing filters, GND filters at the moment of capture, also to gain DR.

    If we plan to make a b/w image, we too can use yellow and red filters to add contrast or bring out certain colors, but most, like me, choose to apply our filters in post processing. If we apply filters at the time of capturing our image, then we limit the usefulness of the image.

    Using color film is a whole different world. I find it limiting and unnatural, but some still love it. When using those films, you controlled the saturation and color balance very much with selection of film and filters. I look back at those images and immediately say to myself FILM because I find most of the saturation and CB unnatural. With digital color, most people can achieve a more natural and pleasing image with careful processing. Still, with color film you had to do pretty much everything at the moment of capture, but that's not true at all with digital and we often use techniques in our Raw capture that anticipate our later techniques in post processing.

    Regarding HDR, I'm not generally a fan of how it's used by many, producing garrish, unnatural images. This is an art firm and a very few do some excellent work. I employ HDR in my own arsenal, but only to gain DR. My goal is to have the viewer look and see something close to what his eye would have shown him. Only another photographer, knowing the DR limits of my camera, might suspect HDR.

  • Terry Byford. June 28, 2013 07:09 pm

    HI, Dave S,

    My initial, over-simplistic comment, wasn't intended to deny the valid points you make about taking any image. What I'd intended to contrast (pun intended) was that at the moment of capture a photographer has no control over the colour content, however much he may arrange and compose his subject. For example, the colour he sees is the colour he gets. There's little he can do about the colour of the green meadow at the taking stage. This colour will change over the course of the day and the quality of the light. and he can plan for this, but still the colour element is out of his control and perhaps the best he can do is a judicious use of a polariser, but this won't work in all situations.

    I'm in complete accord with your second paragraph. A b/w image is an unnatural representation of our world in which we are surrounded by colour. Even great images that rely on colour won't always "translate" well into a b/w image, and I can tell you know why. Abstract the colour from a scene and one is left with illumination contrast. Old fogies like me, and with decades of b/w work behind us, know how to best use "contrast filters", aka yellow, green, orange and red to compensate for the lack of colour in trying to achieve a good facsimile, but colourless, representation of the original scene.

    Not every subject matter needs this, but whilst I'd never dream of photographing a flower in b/w, if one had to, the final image can be greatly affected by the choice of filter.

    And because we know the b/w image is only a representation, it can be manipulated a lot without giving the impression it is unnatural. I, too, like ramping up the contrast a tad. Not so with colour. It is for this reason that I have an adverse reaction to HDR images and those where the colours are removed from what I would perceive as normal, even though I don't have the original with which to compare. My brain tells me something isn't quite right. I go back to slide film days when we exposed for the highlights and let the shadows look after themselves. If it is going to go off into black, let it. This is often closer to what the eye sees than the detail revealed using HDR techniques.

    But at the end of the day, it is all personal. Criticism has been levelled at Michael's images by certain posters here and I have no idea of their credentials to do so, but I find them very interesting. Indeed, the one of the guy running through the water fountains is somewhat reminiscent of a Cartier-Bresson image of a guy running in the rain, but in the opposite direction.

  • Derek June 28, 2013 01:04 am

    Judging by your photography, you're really not qualified to give advise, get off the computer pick up n art book, good to galleries or go to school, your expensive gear is wasted on you.

  • Alan Enfield June 28, 2013 12:48 am

    To be honest, the article makes good sense, but the images you selected to include are lacking soul... Too many leicafiles out there that can afford great equipment but still cant take decent photos... R

  • Dave Stephens June 28, 2013 12:08 am

    Terry, I agree that b/w requires a different "seeing eye", but shooting color is more than, "it doesn’t require any input from the photographer, other than to press the shutter button." Composition, contrast and color correctness are every bit as important with color as with b/w. Without paying attention to those things a color image simply becomes a snapshot.

    One thing that you can get away with with b/w is amping the contrast way up. If I get a contrasty Raw file, the final image may be stronger in b/w because I can emphasize that characteristic without looking garrish and unnatural.

    Still, great article and nice response to all our challenges.

  • Terry Byford. June 27, 2013 11:47 pm

    I'm not sure that b/w is a cop-out. With colour, you get what you see, within reason, it doesn't require any input from the photographer, other than to press the shutter button. With b/w it requires a different "seeing eye" as b/w deals with contrasts and shapes, atmosphere, and subject position within the frame, for its impact on the viewer.

    And I've noticed that, in general, when viewers are presented with b/w and colour images, they peer longer at a b/w image than they do a colour one. Colour is taken for granted and this leads to a tendency to flit over the image. To me, this is significant. I don't think it is the "novelty value" of the b/w image, but more a concentration on the subject matter which they need to do in the absence of colour.

    Contrary to the comment that b/w hides so much, all it does is remove colour, and often the photographer has to work harder to make up for this. I certainly don't respond so readily to a colour image as I do to a b/w. When I look at a colour image, all I really see and admire is the colour rendition as the first thing that strikes me. After that, I begin wondering what this, otherwise, marvellous colour image is all about.

  • Nathan June 27, 2013 02:57 pm

    Cartier-Bresson shot in black and white, even after color film was available. More to the underlying assumption though, photography is not an attempt to capture life exactly. You choose what to shoot, how to frame it, within the confines of your lens, your film (or sensor) and available light. If you are controlling all those variables already, color is a relatively small step to control, or even reduce to black and white. Most artists leave out everything not necessary to convey their message. If color isn't necessary, you don't include it.

  • Clay June 26, 2013 03:12 pm

    The reason comments are focusing on the Leica brand is because the author did. That and the fact that Leica is the only rangefinder on the market so if you're going to have a discussion about rangefinders you have to discuss Leica. Myself I admire Leica. I don't favor B&W photography however. This is a color world. B&W is a cop out IMO. It is much more difficult to create an interesting photo in color. B&W hides so much. I can understand a black and white photo when I know that was the photographers only option (60) years ago. But today I see it as the easy way out.

  • John Mills June 25, 2013 08:29 am

    When I was a kid, too many years ago, I started my photography with a Kodak Box Brownie, and graduated to a Kodak Retinette 1A. The Kodak is, (I've still got it), a rangefinder type 35mm film camera with a fixed lens. I spent a long time being annoyed with the fact that I couldn't change lenses, and since I couldn't afford an SLR at the time, feeling very frustrated and restricted. Finally joining the DSLR club changed all that. So now I have great difficulty understanding the current craze for going back to fixed lens rangefinders. Mind you, I love the retro look of the Fuji x100s, it's the spitting image of my Kodak, and the case is identical, but I keep remembering the frustration. No thanks.

  • Stu June 23, 2013 08:31 am

    Wow some serious discussion here about kit.
    I too can't afford a Leica but I do own several old 25mm rangefinders (all fixed focal length lens.
    I shoot on DSLR on for my work but always take a rangefinder out with me when going...pretty much anywhere.

    Personally i like that they are light and inconspicuous but ultimately it is down the the tastes of the user.

    No matter what you shoot on - just enjoy it

  • Paul's Pictures June 23, 2013 04:45 am

    I've never used a rangefinder. and can't see any good reason to now even after reading this interesting and well put together piece. I guess i am not a "manual" photographer. I like to see what i'm going to get and without the visual skill to do it myself I prefer to have a viewfinder that can do it (well kind of, more or less, approximately at least haha). Way too much hype about Leicas in my opinion for most of us to make any kind of informed decision. That company gets far too much free advertising in my opinion, but good luck to them.
    This piece is about the ONLY one I've ever read that's even raised my interest but sadly not enough. I like my DSLR. I don't believe i look "creepy" nor to the photographees who smile or ask to see the images of them, or who thank me for photographing their children etc. I get good images (well some people say I sometimes do haha) even with "big lenses" And I reckon being close is more than just about being a few feet from a subject. Not trying to make an argument. As I say I like this piece and if I get a chance I MIGHT..i say MIGHT try out a rangefinder..for a minute or two..thanks man!!!

  • Regan June 22, 2013 04:25 am

    http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/cartier-bresson-there-are-no-maybes/?_r=1&

  • Michael Toye June 21, 2013 03:38 pm

    Wow, some excellent feisty discussion!

    My Leica is my preferred tool for the street shooting job, but I didn't say it's the only camera that will do.

    All the best
    Michael

  • Alan June 21, 2013 02:55 pm

    From what I have read Cartier-Bresson often didn't look through the viewfinder when doing street photography as he had learnt to pre-focus and knew how to shoot from the hip so to speak and get his shot. The Sony Nex 7/6 cameras would make great street photography cameras what with a fold out screen and focus peaking to aid rapid manual focus and they are small enough to be discreet and with not needing to bring the camera up to the eye no one is aware that you are taking photos. I have a nex7 and will be giving it a go next summer. If I was given the choice and had the money I might be highly tempted go for the new Leica 24 Mp M camera.

  • Michael June 21, 2013 12:00 pm

    I'm kinda surprised the bulk of these comments is centred on the fact that Michael shoots with a Leica...um so did another "street shooter"----Cartier-Bresson.

    Get over it. Shoot with what you've got and focus your attention on your craft, not what camera someone else uses to get their images.

    SO MUCH OF THE stuff I read focuses on equipment, and sensors, glass crop factor, megapixels. I shoot for a living, so I can both afford and justify the finest which makes me even more smug than this already sounds, but for shots as you're seeing above...in low res on the internet, these shots could be taken with just about anything (um, but not a phone). There is NOTHING in them that says, oooooh, this must have been shot with a Leica....at least nothing you can see at this size; at this resolution; in this post.

    What in GOD'S name are you on about some of you? Go shoot. You'll be a better photographer for it.

  • Nathan June 21, 2013 08:47 am

    The anti-Leica crowd sounds a lot like the anti-Macintosh crowd of 20 years ago.

    But more to the point, I love your photos. I can't presently afford a Leica, but I had the same objections to a DSLR, and whenever I've tried street photography with a D90, I get a lot of anxious looks. Since moving to a Panasonic GF1 I get fewer stares and better pictures. One day I'll get a Leica. But for now I'll be sticking with 4/3.

  • Selena June 21, 2013 05:57 am

    Love the black and whites! And love the contrasts and architecture. What bothers me just a smiddgen is that the people are centered in all the photographs. Some images may have had a better effect if the subject was a little off kilter. But street photography is unpredictable and I was able to get your point. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ed Law June 21, 2013 05:14 am

    Really interesting and different. Not sure about your idea of 3 meters .. none of the images look closer than 10 to 20 meters or more.

    And, I wish DSLRs had the same type focusing .. loved it.

    Hope you keep posting ..

  • Terry Byford. June 21, 2013 03:02 am

    Dave,

    I can see we are very much in agreement over the film v digital issues and it is interesting to read your comment about film camera lenses being used on digital bodies.

    I use my Leica R lenses on my Sony Nex 5N using the add-on EVF, and get marvellous image quality, albeit I have to put up with the 1.5x crop factor. But this may be a thing of the past soon as I am in contact with Metabones who, I've discovered, do a version of their Speedbooster in Leica R to Nex mount. This adaptor is not currently available here in the UK, but I am hopeful that Metabones' UK agent may be able to get hold of one for me. From what I've seen on dpreview this adaptor works surprisingly well.

  • dave June 21, 2013 02:45 am

    Terry, I agree that digital bodies have almost become disposable. It's interesting that high quality lenses for digital bodies still seem to hold their value and I view my lenses as investments. With film, the lens was the key to getting superior images and represented your only chance to get an accurate image onto film. Now the lens and camera body interact when converting light into bits and bytes. No longer do we have a direct, analogue transfer. What was lens/body/film is now lens/sensor/body/file/software and the software functions can be in-camera or external, manufacturer made or third-party. It's a whole different ball game.

    I still think that rangefinders are a love/hate kind of thing. I think there's little middle ground. The potential owner needs to borrow or rent one for a day or two and decide if RF is really their cup of tea or not.

  • Terry Byford. June 21, 2013 02:31 am

    Dave,

    The original comment was about the daft comparison with a camera phone. Once one moves to proper cameras, the lines become blurred and it is, as you say, down to personal preference. You don't like range finders, others, like I, do. I like my M3 and M6, but I also have an R7 and SL2, which I like, so my feet are in both camps.

    I think the one reason I've not moved to a Leica digital M, is my personal belief that much of the advantages of Leitz optics for film, and which I fully appreciate, could well be lost as part of digital processing and image manipulation which is now the rage.

    I said one reason for not making the move, come to think of it there is another: the cost, which even I as a Leica user can't justify. Leica film bodies were an investment in that they last for years, any upgrades being down to advances in film technology and optics. Digital to me is almost throwaway in comparison as they become outdated so quickly.

  • dave June 21, 2013 02:10 am

    Leica will not be far superior to a dslr or mid-line mirrorless.

    I have a German friend that shoots excellent shots with his M9, but they're not superior to the results I get with my Canon.

    I've found that you either love or you hate rangefinder cameras. I started with a TLR, moved to a SLR and finally to a DSLR. I hate rangefinders because I much prefer seeing my subject in the viewfinder as it'll appear when processed.

  • Geoff June 21, 2013 01:53 am

    Depending on where you go to get "interesting" shots, a Leica could be a handicap,. I like to go downtown Los Angeles to the fringe of seedy areas. The red dot gear is a theft (or worse a mugging) magnet IMHO. I usually carry an old D40 with 35mm f1.8, shooting black and white. Im happy with the IQ. When I'm in better areas, especially in the company of other photographers, my better gear comes out. But to each his own.

  • Sharon June 21, 2013 01:38 am

    Interesting stuff, great photos. Street photography is something I'd like to develop. Do I need to ask permission to photograph passing people that appear in my shot?

  • Terry Byford. June 21, 2013 01:27 am

    Not at all. It's a simple fact that the Leica is a better photographic device than a camera phone. Its image quality will be far superior, and it is owned and used by people who actually appreciate this and use it as their tool of choice.

    Don't knock what you don't know, can't afford, or are simply jealous and envious of those who like using it.

  • Dave June 21, 2013 01:12 am

    Cult worship.

  • Terry Byford. June 21, 2013 12:55 am

    Quote ".....you could have taken any of those shots...with a camera phone...."

    Oh, really?

  • Eli June 20, 2013 01:30 pm

    I meant *Leica's*

  • Regan June 20, 2013 09:06 am

    You have some very nice pix posted. The most important thing I'm noticing, now that I have different bodies and lenses is that each combination has a job it does best. A simile: You may be able to loosen a bolt with a set of pliers, and an adjustable wrench would be better, though a ratchet could be faster, but a box end wrench of the correct size would lessen the likelihood of causing damage to the fastener or your knuckles. You'll get the job done, and one tool is more suitable than another for one person than the other. 82mm's is a lot!
    I like the idea of being less noticed and intimidating with a smaller camera and lens. I was photographing at a recital with my D300S with the advanced mode dial (top left) set to "Q" for quiet shutter. It's quiet as I couldn't hear it on the digital recorder three feet away from me. I think you just have to enjoy taking great photos with what fits your hands and budget and aspirations the best.

  • Jay June 20, 2013 01:24 am

    Thanks for reply. I forgot to add: beautiful photos!

  • Michael Toye June 19, 2013 09:37 pm

    Valid points Myles and i recognise anyone can be a serious street photographer, even with an iPhone. The cameras are just tools.
    Michael

  • Moudi Photography June 19, 2013 08:59 pm

    Leica’s are far too overpriced and thusly too expensive to be roaming the streets where the “good” shots are. I can work faster and more accurately with my scaled down DSLR and a 35mm lens.

  • Charlie June 19, 2013 08:49 pm

    I think you made a big (financial) mistake falling for the Leica hype. I'm sorry to say that you could have taken any of those shots you posted with a camera phone for pete's sake. The notion that you need a Leica for street photography is ridiculous.

  • Myles June 19, 2013 08:17 pm

    With the advent of the Fujifilm X100(S), the Leica rangefinder is losing or already lost its place as the ideal street photographer's camera. But that's subjective.

    What's not subjective, however, is that Leicas are louder, bulkier, heavier, and more noticeable (size) than the X100S. Things that were ideal for the "serious street photographer" are now met by the Fuji.

    That said, I'd still love to own a Leica one day, but purely for their lenses. For now, my demands as a "serious street photographer" is currently fulfilled by the X100S.

  • Michael Toye June 19, 2013 04:54 pm

    jim, you get what you pay for. Leica's are expensive and extremely well made. Leica provide some of the best quality glass out there. But these cameras are niche, there's no doubt about that. There will always be divided opinions on them. Getting those 'good' shots as you point out is down to the photographer's courage and, i hope, not choice of camera.
    Michael

  • Michael Toye June 19, 2013 04:50 pm

    jay my preference is black and white, but I didn't want that to digress from this piece :)

    I think most would go for a color camera though
    Michael

  • Jim Donahue June 19, 2013 12:12 pm

    Leica's are far too overpriced and thusly too expensive to be roaming the streets where the "good" shots are. I can work faster and more accurately with my scaled down DSLR and a 35mm lens. IMHO

  • Jay June 19, 2013 10:58 am

    Just curious, would a regular (color) M not give you more options?

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