The method I described, on shooting with the Fuji X-Pro1 in Part I, didn’t emerge from a vacuum. It’s closely based on how I learned to shoot with a Leica M rangefinder, over three decades. In turn, that was something I learned from reading how the great masters of street photography, people like Josef Koudelka, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Joel Meyerowitz, used their Leica’s for their work. Today, Leica M rangefinders are still being made. There are various models, including a gorgeous 35mm film body called the MP, and the high-end digital M (Type 240).
Of the Leica M bodies throughout history, my all-time favorite body to use for street photography, is the Leica M3. I’ve never disliked a Leica M film camera. Even the “cheap” Canadian M4-P was a wonderful, reliable tank. The M6 had the convenience of a meter, and I’ve never owned a more drop-dead gorgeous camera than a black paint Leica MP from 2003. I don’t have an opinion on the Leica M digital bodies, simply because I haven’t used them. I’ll be testing a digital M (Type 240) soon, and will do a complete article after I use it extensively. Here are Amazon’s links to the film-based Leica MP and digital Leica M (Type 240) –
The quality of the early M’s (M3, original MP, M2, M4 and M5) are legendary, and for good reason. They’re beautifully build, extremely durable and their smooth running, brass internals are wonderful to operate. While I would argue the tougher steel internals of the Canadian-made, M4-P are likely more durable, there’s nothing nicer to wind on and operate than the mostly brass internals of a Leica M3. The feel and smoothness of its operation is a tactile delight. Separate spindle loading – a huge hassle? Perhaps because I’m so used to it over nearly 30 years of use, I would say, not at all. I actually prefer it to the quicker loading, open cage spindle (which doesn’t have to be removed) of the Leica M4’s and onwards.
With the old school, separate spindle on the M3 (as well as M2 and original MP) I know I’ve threaded the film into the spindle securely each time, every time.
I’ve only failed to load the film leader on Leica M bodies with the open cage a couple times in three decades, but one of those times cost me dearly. So I’m one of the few M users who genuinely prefers the primitive, separate spindle of a Leica M3 or M2.
OK, the slow, cylindrical rewind of the Leica M3 is a bit annoying. But the attachment of an accessory rewind handle makes it almost as quick to rewind as an angled M4 (or newer) knob.
The M3’s optical finder has a magnification of 0.91x life size, which is the highest magnification Leica that was made for production purposes. It’s easy to keep both eyes open when viewing through an M3, as the magnification is nearly identical to actual size.
Someone once said that there is nothing better to place behind a 50mm lens than a Leica M3. And I would agree with that. With a 50mm mounted, the finder shows only the 50mm frames and the rangefinder patch. Simplicity itself – frame and focus, with a clear view of the world.
The rangefinder patch is the most clear, reflection and flare-free of any Leica M. Even today’s Leica’s, with the condenser restored on the M7 and modern day MP, aren’t as clear as that original rangefinder on the M3. Combined with the high magnification of 0.91x, the M3 also has the longest rangefinder base of all the Leica M cameras, for superior, focusing accuracy.
On paper, the lower magnification 0.72x viewfinders, which accommodates a 35mm wide angle lens (starting with the Leica M2) and 28mm (from the M4-P onwards) or the very low mag finder of 0.58x (which started as a option with the M6 TTL) which allows eye glass wearers to properly see the 28mm frame, would make sense for anything wider than a 50mm.
But I’ve found, over the years, that an accessory optical finder, slipped into the shoe, is even better for street photography. The reason is, during the day, I always use the hyper focal distance scales on a Leica with a wide-angle lens.
This is the same technique I described with my Fuji X-Pro1 that I described in Part I. I use the distance scale while setting the lens to around f8 or f11, which gives me a good, usable range of objects in focus. With Fuji’s XF 18mm, I use the depth of field scale on the LCD screen. With Fuji’s XF 23mm or XF 14mm, or virtually all of Leica’s wide-angle M lenses, they have a DOF scale etched into the barrel – even better.
As I described in Part I, using the DOF scale instead of trying to focus each time one is ready to shoot on the street, makes a camera very reactive to life, whether it’s the latest Fuji X or a classic, mechanical Leica M film camera. Since focusing again, isn’t required, the only thing that’s left is framing.
As simple as the finders are on Leica M bodies, there’s nothing that beats the clarity, brightness and simplicity of a quality, optical accessory finder. If you choose one that has the frames only for the focal length you’re using, with your Leica M pre-focused using its DOF scale, you look for subjects within the depth of field that are in focus, you raise the Leica M3 to your eye to view through the accessory bright finder (and not the camera’s finder), and frame the subject.
Differences in shooting between the Fuji X-Pro1 and the Leica M3
I sincerely believe that Fujifilm has done a great job with the X-Pro1 (and its close cousins in the X100 series line) in making an affordable and modern camera that has a rangefinder experience. I’m not just talking about the styling, but the fact that they created a contemporary digital camera that uses an optical finder.
Especially with wide-angle lenses pre-focused using a DOF scale, it makes the Fuji X-Pro1 a very fast reacting and smooth operating street photography camera. This was a genuine achievement on the part of Fuji, and no mere styling exercise. Setting aside the obvious difference that the Fuji is a digital camera and the Leica uses film, I’ll compare the following operational differences when shooting street photography between the two cameras.
More viewing options with the Fuji X-Pro1, simpler frame lines with the Leica M3
When framing an image on the street, I have two options to frame with the Fuji X-Pro1: either use the viewfinder (on OVF, most of the time) or the LCD screen on the back. I find I tend to use the viewfinder about two out of three times, and that it’s nice to have the LCD screen as an option for framing.
With the Leica M3, I find the frame lines in the viewfinder for the 50mm, and in the accessory finder for the 28mm, to be clutter-free and easier to frame. There’s almost nothing else in those finders (especially the accessory finder) and I can do my framing very easily.
An interesting idea that was suggested recently on a Fuji X forum, is to use a Leica or Voigtlander accessory optical finder, and slip it into the X-Pro1’s hot shoe. I’ve tried this and it certainly works, although I’m so used to the X-Pro1’s OVF now, I’m comfortable in using that. But this is an interesting option when using Fuji X bodies that don’t have an optical finder, such as the X-T1 or the X-E2.
Depth of Field Scales for pre-setting focus on both cameras I really like using Depth of Field Scales on barrels. Virtually all M lenses have them, whether those lenses are made by Leica, Zeiss or Voigtlander. It’s a quick and easy way to check your depth of field at f8 or f11, and with a moderately wide lens, one has a good range of distance in focus while shooting on the street.
The Fuji X system has DOF scales on only two prime lenses, but they’re great ones – the XF 23mm (35mm full frame equivalent) f1.4 and the XF 14mm (21mm equivalent) f2.8 lenses. Once the collar on the lens barrel is pulled back, they work in a similar manner to any DOF scale on a lens barrel.
As I wrote about in Part I, for X lenses (both from Fuji and Zeiss) without the DOF on the barrel, there is the option of using the electronic DOF scale on the LCD panel. Not quite as convenient as a barrel DOF scale, but still usable.
M Lens focusing handle and the Fuji X AF Lock button
Some M mount lenses (again, not just Leica but also Zeiss and Voigtlander), particularly 50mm and wider (which tends to be the range of choice for street work), have focusing handles. Experienced M photographers know where to rotate that handle to achieve focus at 1.5, 2, 5, 10 meters, etc. This is a much handier feature than one would think initially.
Like a pre-set DOF scale, if you get good at estimating the distance the lens is focused at by the position of its handle, you can have your subject in focus before you even raise the finder to your eye for framing. None of the X lenses have this handle.
The closest equivalent to this action, is setting the X body to Manual focus, and then using AE/AF Lock button on the back of the camera to momentarily focus on your subject. If the camera locks on properly, focus is likely more reliable than estimating with a handle. With that said, the Fuji doesn’t lock on 100% of the time, especially in dim lighting conditions. And, the camera still requires a split second to focus, once it’s up to your eye. Still, this is the closet digital equivalent the Fuji X has to the Leica focus handle.
The Fuji X-Pro1 is always primed for the next shot, the Leica M3 reacts faster
Since I set the Fuji X-Pro1 to shoot a single image, it’s ready to shoot the next one immediately. There’s obviously no need to use a film advance lever.
The Leica M3, on the other hand, still reacts a split second faster (from trigger the release button to the shutter activating) than the Fuji X-Pro1. And that’s with the Fuji X-Pro1 set at manual exposure and pre-focused using the DOF scale.
It’s not unheard of, however, to forget to wind on the advance lever to prime the shutter and move to the next, unexposed frame. It’s happened to me a handful of times over the decades and is mildly annoying.
Leica M with lens is noticeably heavier than a Fuji X camera with an equivalent lens
The Leica M body with a prime lens is noticeably heavier than a Fuji X-Pro1 with an equivalent prime. I don’t want to over-emphasize this, as a pro quality DSLR with a fast prime is much heavier and bulkier than a Leica M camera, let alone a Fuji X camera.
But it’s worth noting that, after eight hours walking on the street, I feel less fatigue when carrying a Fuji X camera versus a Leica M camera. This feeling is even more noticeable when carrying the equivalent small systems. Let’s say, two X-Pro1 bodies, one with an 18mm lens and the other, a 32mm, compared to two Leica M bodies, with one mounting a 28mm and the other, a 50mm. The Fuji X system is not a burden to carry.
Size wise, the bodies are roughly similar. Mirrorless lenses for the Fuji X, on the other hand, while lighter than their M equivalents, tend to be larger. Again, not anywhere near the size of a pro quality DSLR prime lens, but they do tend to be a touch bigger than M lenses (but lighter).
Leica M & Fuji X-Pro1 experience
The Leica M is a classic design, with a long-proven record as a superb instrument for street photography. Shooting one in film form, is still a great choice for today and the established techniques of setting your exposure, your focus (through the DOF or focus handle) which means all that needs to be done is to bring the finder (either built-in or an accessory bright line finder) up to one’s eye for framing.
The Fuji X-Pro1 was inspired in terms of styling, after the Leica M series. But its Optical Viewfinder makes it a functional, and not merely style, inspiration too. With its Optical Viewfinder and pre-setting the X-Pro1 manually in a similar manner to a Leica, the experience between these two cameras are amazingly similar, when it comes to capturing images on the street.
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