I have switched to using a Leica M11 rangefinder and I must live with that decision, there is no going back, for many expensive reasons.
My first trip of the year was to Venice. If there is one city suited to using a small, compact camera, it’s Venice. The trip started well, the check-in staff ignored my small Billingham bag with its one body and four lenses and the usual battle for overhead luggage space, for once, did not happen.
Working in Venice with the M11 was a joy, all my images were shot handheld, in fact I hadn’t taken a tripod at all, a few years ago this would have been heresy. Yes, it meant I wouldn’t be shooting bobbing, blurry Gondolas at dawn, but I had done that when shooting stock images many years before. Working with the Leica seemed to give me a newfound freedom and I started looking for images that were for me, different. And yes, I looked smugly on as I watched photographers lugging heavy rucksacks and large tripods around the narrow streets. Size does matter.
North Wales followed Venice; a more traditional landscape-orientated location shoot. I packed the Leica, three lenses and a couple of filters into a small, padded insert that sits nicely inside my rucksack. It’s a proper hill-walking rucksack, not a camera bag trying to be a rucksack or a rucksack pretending to be a camera bag. Hiking to locations in the mountains of North Wales is an absolute joy when carrying the minimum amount of kit, but am I worried that I would miss a shot because I am not carrying every lens and focal length under the sun? Not really. My attitude is that I will shoot the subject matter I can, not worry about what I can’t.
After a few days at home, my next journey was to London. Another Billingham bag, no tripod shoot. I must admit, by this time, just four weeks into the year I was thoroughly enjoying working with my camera and small bag set up.
After London came the Isle of Skye, a purely landscape trip. A heavy-duty tripod was going to be a must, the Hebrides can throw a huge amount of horrible weather at you, usually in a single day. Using the tiny Leica M11 on an industrial-sized tripod looked ridiculous, and felt very strange and unwieldy, perhaps total overkill, but I was not going to risk my precious Leica on a carbon fibre travel tripod which had knitting needles for legs.
As it turned out, the wintery conditions of Skye proved to be a practice run for my next location shoot. Three weeks in Iceland was going to be a good test of battery stamina, weather sealing and general all-round useability in what would be tough conditions.
Extremely high winds, snow, rain and plummeting temperatures made life interesting, and not just for the camera. The battery life was a revelation, going all day without having to change it except for freezing night-time forays to capture the Northern Lights. As for the weather sealing, well, I do have a soft leather cover, just to help protect it from the rain and snow.
A small bag, minimal kit and being able to work fast in atrocious conditions made the M11 the ideal companion. Perhaps not entirely designed for these conditions, but it didn’t blink, flicker, stutter, or let me down once.
Now, here’s a simple thing. An ‘old fashioned’ screw-in cable release. No batteries, no trying to find some multi-hole plug thingy in the freezing cold while wearing gloves. Just wonderful simplicity, the Leica rangefinder ethos, and it suits me perfectly.
A few days in London followed Iceland, before heading off to Northern Ireland and the Giants Causeway. More small bag smugness as I boarded the plane. A mixture of handheld work and some very static tripod work, just inches from the sea followed. I know its strange and hard to explain, but I love using the M11 for landscapes and seascapes, even with all its little quirks.
May found me working in one of my favourite areas of the UK, the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire. Early spring warmth, fresh vibrant greens and a few Bluebells. Perfect. Close-up work with the rangefinder is not its strong point, although, with the tilting electronic viewfinder now available, it has become easier.
Roads are less travelled in the summer months. For me, this is the time to stay local, catch up on the admin, and actually enjoy where I live.
Autumn takes me to Dartmoor, Cornwall, Dumfries and Galloway, and the Somerset Levels, shooting landscapes, mostly with clients who seem to have very large, heavy camera bags.
Late autumn and I am in Northern France, photographing the Somme battlefields, mostly in a panorama format, and often handheld. I’m not sure if I am getting lazy or just enjoying a newfound freedom but working with a small camera and tiny lenses lends itself to a bit of experimenting, wandering about and exploring locations without the hindrance of a tripod and large rucksack.
The year ends with a bit of a special trip, pure self-indulgence. I head for New York. It’s a holiday, of sorts.
Switching to and using the Leica M11 for over a year now, has been a joy. In some indefinable way, it has brought pleasure and enjoyment back to my photography that perhaps I was beginning to miss. I now want to go out and explore, shoot and produce new images as much as I can. The enthusiasm is back, just like when I started out 38 years ago.