Best Leica travel camera!? Using the Leica CL as the ultimate travel camera, up against a compact action camera, the Yi4K+ for an active winter training holiday in Fuerteventura.
Just writing this on the 4 hour flight back from Fuerteventura to make use of the time. My first trip away of 2019 and if you read my Poland blog before Christmas it gave a hint that change was on the horizon. (*Yes this was written before the last post I shared so sorry if any parts seem contradictory or confusing!)
Best Leica travel camera!? – Leica CL (+ Yi4K+)
What I learnt in Poland – Recap
When I was in Poland last November I took with me a just purchased GoPro type action camera. The lesser known Yi4K+ action camera which is similar to a GoPro Hero 6. I took the Yi4K+ camera with me when I went for a run and loved being able to capture whatever I saw. (I don’t normally carry a camera when I run, not even my phone as it’s too big)(*and I’ve always struggled with my iPhone 6+ for photography)(though since writing this have used it a bit more for photos for Instagram (*training profile not main model account)).
Planning for Fuerteventura
I’m not sure how I manage it but I always make the task of packing for any trip so extremely over complicated. It becomes a multitude of extended packing lists. Normally I blame the film cameras + lenses, filters, film types etc but I couldn’t this time. (Even with the juicy temptation of a just serviced silky smooth Hasselblad 501C to entice me!) I kept the camera setup super simple and lightweight.
Best Leica camera for travel?
In the past I’ve taken film cameras including the Leica M3, a Leica M4-P, a Voigtlander Bessa R3A (to save a few grams vs. a film Leica!) and a Mamiya 6 (blog still to follow). I still desired something smaller! I wanted the option of wide angle but also telephoto. The Yi4K+ certainly ticks the small box and is fantastic at what it does – carry anywhere, wide angle view and never miss a shot. It does distort easily though and can be a little too wide for my taste. I find only having a super-wide lens quite limiting.
Leica CL travel camera
You probably already guessed from the title but for me the best Leica travel camera is the Leica CL. The CL accepts interchangeable lenses so gives much more flexibility than a fixed lens Leica such as the Leica Q. Both Leica cameras have their advantages of course but I have a soft spot for telephoto lens photos so the CL works best for me. I also enjoy being able to use all my compact Leica M lenses on the Leica CL via the Leica CL-M adapter.
Telephoto landscape photography
So with the Leica CL packed I now needed a lens. I love how a telephoto lens lets you curate a scene. It allows you chose what the viewer does and doesn’t see through careful cropping in camera. For me this makes the task of taking a non-portrait photo much more enjoyable. I think I enjoy this more creative aspect of taking a photo vs. an iPhone or action camera where the wider view results in more of a point and shoot approach.
Best Leica telephoto lens for travel?
My number one requirement for the telephoto lens of choice was great image quality and compact, and ideally as long a focal length as possible! The chrome 135mm Leica Elmar lens is lightweight but physically quite long (in Leica M terms) and too big for my mini camera bag / pouch. The collapsible Leica Macro-Elmer-M 90mm f4 lens however is short. It’s roughly the same length as a Leica Summicron 50mm f2 from memory, so it’s short!). 90mm Macro-Elmer packed. Done!
Leica pancake lens or camera body cap?
Although I favour the manual focus Leica M lenses on the Leica CL (vs. Leica TL/SL or other Leica lenses), the Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm kit lens is no slouch! Image quality is excellent and it is both tiny and lightweight. Rather than pack a Leica body cap I just left the 18mm Elmarit on the CL. This would give me the option of wider Leica images if the desire arose.
Why go digital? What happened to film?
If you’ve read enough of my blog posts I’ve always written words to the effect of ‘for personal photo work it’s film or nothing’. Digital has never held much value to me for my taste and workflow. Digital works well for models to test before I shoot film but other than that I don’t really shoot digital, not even for family photos (perhaps on a few rare occasions).
Poland 2018. The little Yi4K+ camera opened my eyes to the benefits of digital. When the scenery (and light) is THAT good you that you could just use an iPhone or GoPro camera. Nature has already done all the work for you. As a photographer you just need to put yourself in the right places to capture these magical moments. A portable camera just makes getting to a location faster and easier (especially if off the beaten track). If the camera is fast to operate it just helps when the light is constantly changing. (This is the opposite of shooting with a 4×5 film camera!)(Big to carry and slow to operate).
The end of analogue?
Will the sudden appreciation of digital kill my analogue photography? No. For portraits I will still shoot analogue. I prefer the look (and editing process)(and capturing the image process when shooting film!) I will still shoot some film landscapes too (I have since this post)(to follow when I get time!)
Drawbacks of film
Film photography is great but when you stop it for a short period you realise quite how much time it consumes. Developing the film, scanning film and then editing afterwards (cloning out dust specs as a minimum). I do edit my film images to get the look I like, some more than others. After years of shooting portraits and more specifically pretty (I think) girls usually, it has perhaps become the reason why people view my images. When I know the interest is there it seems almost good use of my time to clone dust specs off a film portrait before posting on Flickr. (As shallow as that might sound, posting people photos to the expecting ‘audience’).
Film landscape photos and expectations
On past landscape photography photo trips I’ve shot film and the dilemma is two fold. If I shoot colour film it can take me seemingly hours (potentially) to colour grade a film scan. On top of that I will likely still have dust specs to edit from the images whether colour or black and white film. To then top it all off, the people that follow my work probably have zero interest in the resulting landscape photo. They came to see ‘boobs and bums’ not a pretty sunset, probably!*
Flickr vs Instagram followers
Just from my own experience, I would say Flickr followers tend to be photographers (no ****!) and my @MrLeicaCom Instagram followers is more social media friends and ‘appreciators of pretty woman’ (I think). I try to sneak in the occasional non-portrait photo on my Flickr and generally speaking they will get well received (if it is a half decent photo). I think us photographers tend to have a wider appreciation for a ‘nice photo’ than the non-photographers on Instagram. Just my 2 cents from the likes received on both social media platforms. (I like viewing portraits but I still like to see a good photo of literally anything if it’s really good. That is what makes a photo good I guess!)
Instagram drives creativity
On my MrLeicaCom Instagram profile I try to keep it mostly portraits. That means if it doesn’t fit the theme I’ll likely never share it. After returning from Poland I wanted to share more of my running adventures. As these photos didn’t fit the theme I decided to setup a completely new Instagram profile – @mrleicarunsbikesexplores. As the name suggests I tried to give it a generally theme of my training antics (for the endurance triathlons I do). In addition to this I can post all the none portrait images there. Having somewhere to post images drives me to create images. This is the same as I do with portraits but it fits the other half of my life when I’m out training/ exploring. I’m planning to do more and more adventures going forward. (I’ve caught the exploring/ get out and doing bug!).
Images for social media vs. Images to print
Shooting with the 4×5 film camera is an awesome process in itself but when the photos are posted to Instagram they probably look the same as digital. Flickr is better especially when images are viewed large on a monitor but on a smart phone film probably looks no different to digital. I’m too picky with what I like / want to print to the extent that I print almost nothing. Baring that in mind the speed and ease of digital suddenly looks quite inviting for non-portrait photos. Often my travel photos will be to capture personal memories from a visit to a destination as much as anything so digital is acceptable (even if I wish I’d shot film once I view the image at home!)
Why only share 1 photo when you can share 10?
One big advantage to me is by shooting digital I can batch processing them all though Lightroom. Just apply a quick MrLeica Lightroom preset then fine tune as needed, and done. The time it would take me to edit one film scan I can edit and export 10+ digital images through Lightoom. This means extra photos to post online whether it is a more visual diary of a photo trip via the blog or just for the usual Flickr and Instagram feeds.
Limited time – more digital?
2019 for me is more time pressured than ever. With an Ironman distance triathlon and my first 50K Ultra (marathon) booked in the diary I need to train. Rather than spend a whole day photographing a nice model, followed by days and evenings developing scanning and editing film photos I might need to cut it down slightly. Cut it down or change it up a little.
Less photos or just different?
It’s not all bad. I’ve taken the need for Ironman training as a great excuse to get out and see more of the world. Time on feet or time on two wheels all counts even if I’m out having fun exploring new places (and taking pretty pictures!). Digital photography for my travels should work well in terms of being more time efficient but I will still shoot some film too.
Model photography vs travel photography
Returning to the same cities multiple times a year, year after year, often to photo the same faces has started to become a little ‘samey’. I still push myself to improve on each visit and find new faces to work with but when I look at my @MrLeicaCom Instagram it is mostly just a long page of faces. I’m not sure how inspiring they are to look at? Don’t worry I enjoy the social aspect of model photography as well as keeping in touch with model friends so I will still do the model photography trips just maybe less frequently. Rather than visit Poland four times in one year I could visit just once then visit three new places instead. Travel photography for me ties in nicely with training and they both compliment each other. The photo aspect makes me want to get outside and the exercise endurance aspect lets me travel further distances at each location.
How I trained and carried my camera gear?
Ahead of Fuerteventura I’d bought various bags and devices to help carry nutrition and fluids when out and about. I also needed to carry my cameras! My setup for running differs slightly from cycling –
Bag 1: Lowepro Photo Sport 300 AW II – An Outdoor Sport Backpack
My go to backpack for cycling or trekking with a larger (DSLR size) camera is a Lowepro Photo Sport 300 AW II. Brilliant backpack that is a hybrid between a normal rucksack and a small camera bag. This is often the bag I use as carry on luggage for flights. There is a small well padded compartment in the side of the backpack to hold you camera and a lens (I would say the size is big enough for a pro level DSLR body (like my Nikon F5) and a normal lens, say my Tokina 100mm Macro f2.8). I have used it several times to carry my Mamiya 6 rangefinder medium format film camera together with both a 50mm lens and 150mm lens. Leica camera gear is obviously much smaller so you could easily fit in two Leica M bodies and 2-4 Leica M mount lenses. The rest of the bag acts like a generic high quality sports rucksack with a small top pocket for wallet and keys (or filters and lens cloth etc if a photo trip!). The straps are well padded so it’s very comfy to wear for a full day of trekking / exploring. There is also a space to insert a Camelbak bladder so you can keep hydrated while you shoot. (I use this option, adding it to the bag more recently).
Excuse the stock photos! I thought visuals would help and I forgot to take any bag photos during the trip. If you are interested in the full specifications of the Lowepro Photo Sport 300 AW II sport backpack you can find them on Amazon:
Bag 2: Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 Race Vest
My preferred ‘bag’ or storage device for running is an Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 Race Vest. There are quite a few different versions but they all offer the same quality and function. The vest is designed to carry two water bottles on the front two chest pockets then there is a storage compartment on the back (and elastics to strap additional clothing too if you run out of space). The vest is designed to meet the needs of nordic walkers/ runners too and I fit my Leki running poles in the side compartments. I would not recommend this hydration vest for photographers using DSLR cameras as I dont think a DSLR will fit in. For Leica photographers however you are in luck! I have used the vest to carrya Leica camera in each chest pocket (with small lens attached)(tight fit), then extra lenses in the rear compartment, plus film, food etc. Like the Lowepro Photo Sport 300 AW II backpack there is a compartment to insert a Camelbak bladder (a feature I look for). This lets me carry my fluids in a Camelbak bladder and use the rest of the vest pockets for camera kit and other essentials. Being a vest rather than a standard backpack the design is quite form fitting so for running it is perfect as it doesn’t bounce around. If you have a small compact camera or an action camera this vest is a great option. For most non-Leica cameras though this will probably not be a great camera-running hydration solution for you.
Again if you want to see more info on the Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 Race Vest you can find them on Amazon:
Running with a Leica CL and/or Yi4K+
When I was running / trekking I had the Leica CL camera and both Leica lenses in a soft pouch, inside a dry bag in the main pocket of my Ultimate Direction hydration vest/ or in the front pockets as described. (Salomon also make amazing hydration vests and with greater capacity if you like the idea of carrying your camera this way). I had the Yi4K+ action camera in my “Naked” running belt (I can’t link to it as they are not widely available but try Googling if interested). The mesh Naked band can be accessed on the move to grab a quick photo with the little action camera. The Leica CL normally involves stopped to take the vest off to get the camera out. When I was trying to keep moving I used the Yi4K+ camera but if I saw something extra pretty or eye catching I stopped to take out the Leica. These photo stops normally doubled as a quick food/ drink/ rest stop so it wasn’t all bad!
This is the closest product I could find to the running belt I use to give you an idea:
Cycling with a Leica camera (Option 1)
When riding with the Lowepro Photo Sport 300 backpack for a day out type of cycle I had the Leica CL inside the pouch in the dry bag. It is perfect for casual rides but as i’m supposed to be training too i’m also looking at my speed. This camera carrying solution is great but not very aero for windy rides. A backpack means it’s also always tempting to fill it! Spare clothes, food, drinks, selfie sticks, additional cameras etc resulting in carrying more weight! (Not great up hills!)
Cycling with a Leica camera (Option 2)
Half way through the Fuerteventura visit I had an amazing discovery. The Leica CL would fit inside the new Naked running belt (wrapping it in a small freezer bag). I could fit both the Leica CL (with 18mm lens attached) and the 90mm Leica Macro-Elmer in the rear section of the belt. #GameChanger! Woo this was big! (Good). For any fellow Lycra clad cyclists you may have found that most cycle jersey rear pockets are too small to fit a Leica camera in. That and / or they are already full with energy gels, inner tubes, pump, emergency gilet etc etc. By wearing the Naked belt under my outer cycle jersey I had the jersey pockets free for bike stuff and the belt free for the Leica CL free for other bits. If you are less brave or crazy than me it’s worth noting the belt has no secure zip or Velcro so the camera is just held between two layers of elasticated mesh. It worked fine for road cycling but I wouldn’t try it for running I think (haven’t yet). This means when I’m on my own bikes in the UK on a long ride I can now potentially take the Leica CL if I think I will see something worth photographing.
Yi4K+ lightweight option
For completeness it’s worth noting when I was trying to cover more miles and take less photos the Yi4K+ action camera was the perfect solution. For a mountain section I wanted to pack lighter and get round the route within a set number of hours. I had the Yi4K+ camera in my cycle jersey rear pocket and my gilet in the Naked belt round my waist. (I’m so glad I took the little action camera. The views from the top in the morning light were just stunning!).
Fuerteventura – Trip details
After babbling on so long already for anyone still reading I’ll try to make the remainder of the post a little more concise! In brief Fuerteventura was 3 nights, almost 4 days away thanks to the economic Ryanair prices. Geoff at Caleta Cycles kindly sorted me out with a Fuji Roubauix Carbon road bike for the visit. I stayed in an AirBnB just outside the main UK populated resort of Caleta de Fussa. (I prefer peace and quiet!). Each day involved cycling and running and I took a camera on every outing. Sometimes the light was better than others and I passed the same specific locations on a few outings so took photos with both the Yi4K+ and Leica. It might make a nice comparison if wondering how the images vary (if I ever get chance to review them side by side!).
Fuerteventura – Trip summary
My biggest oversight when it came to camera gear was not taking a polarising filter with me. I took a CPL previously when shooting with film cameras but completely overlooked it when thinking about a simple digital setup. In hindsight I should have trained (running and cycling) more before the trip to give me more miles in my legs each day (to cover greater distances/ see more places/ more photo ops!). Other than that I was pretty happy with my planning and really enjoyed the few days away. As soon as I got back to the UK I was instantly struggling with winter blues again. I’m not a fan of the cold dark and miserable UK winter months.
Did I miss film?
It would have been awesome to have a film camera with me for some of the photo opportunities but in practical terms it would be less easy. The Leica CL and Yi4K+ action camera provided a tiny setup giving the option of both wides and telephoto shots. To shoot similar photos with my Hasselblad cameras I would need my Hasselblad SWC/M as one setup for super crisp wide shots and then perhaps the Hasselblad 501C for longer shots. My longest Zeiss lens for the Hasselblad is the 180mm Sonnar which would give less compression/ range vs. the Leica M 90mm on the Leica CL. The Zeiss 180mm f4 Sonnar CF lens also weight over 1 kilo so is a bit of a beast! I could shoot the Hasselblad handheld vs. a lightweight 4×5 setup using the Intrepid large format camera which needs a tripod. Hmm. I often feel 35mm film doesn’t do a landscape justice in most cases but a Leica film camera would be the smallest lightest option (as I’ve used previously).
Medium format film – as a comparison
Here is a medium format film photo using a Fuji GF670 camera (in 6×6 film format) from my trip to San Francisco (that I still haven’t blogged). I was running/ trekking all day trying to see the city and get lots of photos. After waiting for the sunset at the Golden Gate bridge I had to run along the front back towards the city in the pitch black and managed to get a night bus once I got into the more populated areas. I was glad to get home after a tube back to Mission District where I was staying. The folding Fuji GF67o is perfect for travelling lighter and can give a photo similar look to a Hasselblad with the 6×6 format option. It is also more compact so fits in the LowePro rucksack easier.