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How My Leica Taught Me To Appreciate My Nikon

How My Leica Taught Me To Appreciate My Nikon

I think that for the longest time, I had neglected the fundamentals of photography with my Nikon. With the introduction of digital photography, my reliance on digital technology made me less connected with the process of taking good pictures. 

You see, back in the day of film, you really had to think about the picture before you shot it. You had to, because you didn't want to waste your 24 to 36 exposures, and because you just didn't know for sure how your shot was going to turn out. For whatever reason, any number of variables could adversely affect your shot. Your exposure could be off. Your subject could blink because the sun is on her face. Or most probably, you missed something. So in that split second before you take your shot, you had to put all those factors into consideration. Any mistake you missed at the decisive moment, you'll only discover it the moment you processed your film.

But with digital photography, you always have the benefit of preview. With preview, you didn't have to think about all those previous considerations. All you had to do was take the picture, and then see how it turned out right away in preview. And if something didn't turn out right, all you had to do was adjust, and retake the shot. As such, you no longer had to think. you just took the picture, reviewed it in playback, and made adjustment if there was a need to retake the picture. And to ensure that the picture you took is usable, you set your camera to continuous firing, at 5 to 10 frames per second, just so you can maximize your chance of getting the perfect shot.

Firing away on my Nikon 2Dx and 70-210 f2.8 combo - and still missing the shot, photographed from a moving car, on the outskirt of Rome.

Firing away on my Nikon 2Dx and 70-210 f2.8 combo - and still missing the shot, photographed from a moving car, on the outskirt of Rome.

I mean, why not, with your Compact Flash Card holding so many gigabytes in memory. Having been freed from a maximum of 24 to 36 frames per film roll, one could shoot hundreds if not thousands at a time, with the new technology.

And that was exactly what I did. I no longer thought about what I photographed. I just fired away. I shot everything at five frames per second. And in order to always be ready for my shot, I had set my exposure and ISO to auto, and my focusing to autofocus.

Pretty much, I became a slave to technology. I made sure that I had the best Nikon professional body. I made sure that I had all the f/2.8 Nikkor zoom lens. I thought that with my Nikon setup that I would never miss a shot.

But of course, I did miss from time to time. Especially in low light situations.

Low light was my biggest problem. I tried everything I could think of. I tried using a flash with a battery pack, but that only helped so much. I mean, at five frames per second, your flash begins to struggle after the tenth frame, and beyond that, some pictures begin to be underexposed, while others are completely black from your flash's inability to recycle in time for the next consecutive shot.

Then I tried higher ISOs, but that is something that I never did like, because of the noise.

It's no wonder that eventually, my love for photography started to decline. It was no longer fun. My pictures no longer looked good.

But that all changed when I got my Leica. (Well, not immediately… it took a bit of effort)

It was a very difficult process for me to get used to the Leica. But after a bit of trial and error, many of the fundamentals that I have long neglected started to come back. An awareness of shutter speed and depth of field started to come back to me. I started to think about isolating the image. I even started to think about framing. And then, getting used to manual focusing, and then scale focusing because of the lack of Autofocus.

But I think it was the bokeh that really brought me back to the basics. I loved the way the Leica rendered wide open. It made me want to shoot better pictures. I loved how, through the process of using my manual Leica M9, how the pictures seemed so creamy and sharp and out of focus all at once.

The moment I fell in love with my Leica. Foreground Bokeh on a China Eastern Flight. Shot wide open at 0.95. No filter.

The moment I fell in love with my Leica. Foreground Bokeh on a China Eastern Flight. Shot wide open at 0.95. No filter.

With much less reliance on technology, I started to enjoy taking pictures again. I started to enjoy it so much that I started to do the same things with my Nikon. I've since stopped using my zoom lenses, and have taken a new liking to my fast fixed Nikon lenses. In fact, I'm even manual focusing on my Nikon from time to time, because I'm so used to manual focusing on my Leica. Although, I wish that those Nikon bodies would have a split image focusing finder for better and more accurate focusing.

In rediscovering my Nikon, I have come to appreciate its low light high ISO ability. I have also come to appreciate the ability to frame through the lens. But most importantly, I have learned to slow down the picture taking process, only because I prepare for each shot well in advance of the shot. But of course, none of this is new. I used to do all this in the days of film. Its just my Leica that made me remember it. And so when I start to take pictures with my Nikon, it's no longer rapid firing, and leaving the best shot to chance. There's much more input from me, and as a result, my pictures are better.

In truth, what my Leica has taught me is the most basic lesson of all. For a good picture, no amount of technological aid is going to replace good habits and solid fundamentals. So for many years, I've been taking my Nikon for granted, and it took an investment in a Leica to make me appreciate my Nikon for what it is - a great DSLR.

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***UPDATE*** I have since switched to a Canon system, because of work, but I still have a Nikon Df for use of my old "aperture-ringed" Nikon AF-D lenses, and a Nikon D800E with an assortment of G-lenses.

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A Eulogy For Film

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Learning Leica In Reverse: From Noct to Cron