This is a short article to address the question of what camera to choose for street photography without taking cost into consideration. I own and have used fuji cameras for street photography (I currently have the x-pro 2) and I recently tried a couple of leica rangefinders : the M240 and the new M10.
Many would say the comparison is unfair or that these two cameras and completely different beasts in philosophy and in use. I now disagree with this since the salesman at the leica store in Paris gave me the same arguments to buy the leica as those I gave to myself to get the x-pro2. I’ll be going through these arguments.
Argument number 1: The Leica M10 is compact.
Yes, it is a feat of engineering to get some much into such a little package. Here is a view from the site camerasize.com . I have on the left the fujifilm x-pro2 with the 23mm f/2 lens attached. I bought this lens because of its comact size compared to the 23mm f/1.4. The package weighs 675g. On the right is the leica M10 with the summilux 35mm f/1.4 On this view it looks about the same size but in reality the leica looks smaller. It weighs more though at 980g. Compact but heavy! The is quite a lot of brass in the leica body whereas the fuji has an magnesium shell. The construction of the fuji is very good but the leica is like a brick.
If you sacrifice the f/1.4 aperture to go for the summicron 35mm f/2, the size difference is greater still.
In conclusion for this part, for the same focal length and same maximum aperture, the leica is more compact. The explanation is twofold. First of all the leica lenses are manual focus so there are no motors or focusing mecanisms in leica lenses. This makes them thinner. Secondly, the sensor in the leica is deeply recessed into the body whereas it is closer to the lens in the fuji. This makes the lens designs shorter for the leicas. I’ll get into comparing the sensors later. Bear with me!
Argument number 2: You can change/check the settings without switching on the camera.
Here is the second reason I like fuji cameras. The lenses have aperture rings, there is a shutter speed dial and an iso dial. (This is new on the leica m10 compared to the previous digital models.) The fuji has a small advantage here with the exposure compensation dial being on top a verifiable. The leica has a wheel for the exposure compensation on the top right hand side of the back of the body, easily accessible with the thumb.
Argument number 3: The image quality is sensationnal.
Well I tested both cameras and I have to agree. The fuji images a great, I love the colours and the x-trans sensor gives very acceptable photos up to 12800 iso. The pictures that come out of the leica are better. Many would argue that the lenses are very special that there is some leica magic. I do not dispute this although I find it difficult to test. The fact of the matter is that leica puts a larger sensor in a smaller camera and with a lens that has a larger aperture, the difference can become huge. Just think of it : f/2 on the crop sensor x-pro2 gives more or less the same depth of field as f/3 on a full frame (that is just over 1 stop). With a summilux f/1.4 lens, that is another stop. Where it is difficult to get a good background blur on the fuji 23mm for a subject at 5-10 metres away, the leica can manage. Lets look!
Fujiflm x-pro 2 with 23mm f/2 at f/2 at 1/950s at ISO 200.
Leica M10 with summilux 35mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 and 1/500s. ISO 100
Notice the better subject separation in the second photo, what they call the 3D pop?
Question number 1 : What about focusing?
I have used a manual rangefinder camera twice in my life for a total of 30 minutes. I find it great fun but difficult to nail exact focus. The two previous photos were taken out of a shop window with people walking across the frame.
With the fuji, I frame first, place a focus square where I want the passer-by to be and then wait and shoot. The advantage is that the fuji x-pro2 focusing very fast and accurately. The difficulty is choosing the focus point correctly. Although the little joystick is fast and easy to use to move the focus point, in the heat of the action it is not fast enough. Here is a 100% crop:
With the leica, I focused on a spot of the pavement at a distance I estimated a person would walk through. Then I composed the photo and waited. The difficulty is choosing the right distance to focus. The advantage is that you can take to person wherever you like in the frame, the focus is already correct. Here is a 100% crop.
The focus is not bad but not spot on. The photo was taken at 1/500s, plenty fast enough to freeze rhe action.
The question is : does precise focus matter? The more I take photos, the more I feel that focus and noise are not important. The main factors that make a photo are the composition and the subject. Depth of field comes into the composition, colours do too. How many photos from the masters of photography like Henri Cartier Bresson do not have the exacting focus digital cameras give us now? What do we get out of pixel peeping? I think that good focus is important, exact focus is not. But I’m not a professional photographer and I don’t do fashion.
Question number 2 : What else ?
The leica doesn’t do video, I don’t either. The lens frames in the viewfinder go from 28mm to 135mm. I like the 24mm lens for landscapes and I use the 50-140 f/2.8 zoom occasionally (for concerts and portraits for example). The x-pro2 has extensive menus enabling Multi / Spot / Average / Center Weighted exposure control. It has an hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, it has manual shutter up to 1/8000s and electronic shutter up to 1/32 000s which is great in bright light. It has dual SD slots, a very wide selection of focal lengths for the lenses you can mount with zoom lenses that leica does not provide. It is a complete package that works extremely well and provides the controls for a very varied number of situations. In street photography, I use a simple setup and few of these bells&whistles but I like keeping my options open.
The leica, although not a one-trick pony (you can mount a wide angle lens and use liveview), is an exercise in restrictions. But restrictions can be liberating can’t they? Is less more?
I tried out a summicron 50mm f/2 recently too and I’ll post a comparison with the fuji 35mm f/1.4. The results should be about the same shouldn’t they?