Wedding Photography: Leica Rangefinder vs DSLR Autofocus

Wedding Photography: Leica Rangefinder vs DSLR Autofocus

DSLR vs Rangefinder Cameras – Focusing
Although I now shoot mostly with Leica cameras I taught myself most of my photography with Nikon DSLR cameras (D90 > D700 > D800). When I first moved over to Leica at the end of last summer the Leica rangefinder focus patch was alien to me and quite daunting. I suddenly missed the through the lens DSLR/SLR focusing that many of my digital cameras and film cameras have.

Leica Cameras for Wedding Photography (vs. a DSLR camera)

Before I bought a Leica I could not imagine using a Leica camera for fast paced wedding photography as I would expect I would miss too many shots. I often used manual focus lenses on my Nikon D800 for model photography such as the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-s and 200 f2 AI-s. For wedding photos however I thought I would be safer with Nikon autofocus lenses so own lenses such as the Nikkor 24mm f2.8D, Nikkor 35mm f1.4 G, Nikkor 50 f1.4G and Nikkor 85mm f1.4D. These lenses were only dusted off to use for weddings as I preferred the manual lenses for my personal work. Once I realised the Leica cameras were easy to use I started using my Leica M9 for wedding photography. I haven’t looked back and now use the Leica cameras for 98% of all my photography. The high megapixel Nikon D800 camera (36MP) can still be useful in the studio for fashion photography on a white screen.

So what has changed?

I have started to do more and more freelance wedding photography working with other photographers who are using DSLR cameras. (The most popular camera I see being used for weddings is the Canon 5D Mark III. The high ISO is good but I don’t like Canon so would get a Nikon D4 if needed higher ISO). As the wedding clients will receive photos from both me and the other DSLR photographer(s) I am often asked to use my Nikon D800 for their wedding gigs rather than my Leica. This of course makes sense so I agreed for the recent weddings. On the actual wedding days I often think in the back of my mind “I could do this better with Leica glass” but I didn’t really ever consider missing shots. After reviewing photos taken with Nikkor autofocus lenses I noticed I had misfocused on perhaps 1 in 20 photos and lost some great images. To make it worse this was with me shooting with lenses stopped down to the likes of f4-f8 to keep clients happy. To misfocus at f8 is impressively bad and not forgivable.

Leica Noctilux Wedding
To put it in context further, the weekend before last I shot one of my own wedding bookings in Coventry and Warwickshire with my Leica M9 camera and the manual focus (all Leica M photos are manual focus) Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0. I shot the entire wedding at f1 (excluding the group photos) and I don’t think I misfocused a single image. I know that if I line up the Leica rangefinder patch I have got my shot. I had hoped the same using DSLR autofocus but I was let down by the camera/ lens combo.

So how can I produce CMOS sensor looking images at a higher ISO (potentially) for freelance weddings?
I would ‘need’ to buy a Leica M 240 with the CMOS sensor (rather than the M9 Kodak CCD sensor). The Leica M (as it is also known) would let me mount my high quality Leica M mount glass from the likes of Zeiss, Leica and Voigtlander yet give me modern looking CMOS images that will blend better to a second photographers photos who is using a DSLR and at ISO higher than 800. I feel some of my autofocus Nikon glass is often substandard vs. the leading Leica and Zeiss glass I use on the Leica. The older Nikkor glass is to me the best and my favourite of my Nikon gear (50f1.2 and 200f2 AI-s).

Do I ‘need’ a Leica M 240?
For personal work, no, not at all as I think the B&W images from the Leica M9 are as good as it gets, especially the M9 B&W JPEGs.
Would a Leica Type 240 benefit my wedding photography? Yes, without doubt as most clients are looking for colour wedding photos rather than black and white images.

Could I use my Nikon D800 and trusty manual focus lenses instead?
Yes this would overcome the autofocus issue, the CMOS look issue, the high ISO issue and save me lots of money. However, despite all that I still think I can nail focus easier with a rangefinder focus patch at any distance greater than say 1 meter. Up close focusing is easy with any camera, even at f1. The blog post header image is shot with a paper thin focus using a Leica M9 + Leica Summicron 90mm f2 lens at f2.

You may comment well almost all sane wedding photographers use a DLSR camera and they do not complain?
Well I guess I didn’t complain before I got a Leica camera either. Once you get a taste of something better it is hard to lower your standards, whether image quality or simply missing easy images.

A Leica M 240 might be my next purchase going forward..

Did I learn anything from revisiting my Nikon DSLR for wedding photography?
Yes. Despite sounding like I am 100% bias to everything Leica I remembered just how good the 200mm f2 Nikkor lens is. Leica is nice and all but sometimes you need a longer focal length. The 200/2 produces super sharp images at f2 from afar with a subject background bokeh that just melts away. The large size of the lens doesn’t really fit with the minimal look of my Leica setup however it should not be ruled out especially in larger wedding venues or churches where the 90mm f2 lens focal length is not long enough. Lens of the day without doubt for the Nikon freelance weddings was the Nikkor 200f2.

7 thoughts on “Wedding Photography: Leica Rangefinder vs DSLR Autofocus”

  1. Just out of curiosity, do you find something wrong with the CCD for color wedding photographs? I personally prefer the look of the CCD (but I also prefer slides to print film). Is there a reason why for your professional work you would change to the M240 and CMOS? Is the reason only for consistency with other photographers? By the way, the Portra 160 you ran through your M2 was tops! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Kevin, yes I was just thinking of matching my colours to other DSLRs. CCD colours are different hence I mentioned the M240. I use the M9 for weddings now in colour and it is fine in it’s own right.

      Thanks re the M2 Portra. I love B&W so much I struggle to get the same enjoyment from colour film. I’ll be loading the M2 with T-Max/ FP4 for my personal work 😉

  2. that was a brilliant read. well today is the day where i will shoot my first wedding. i got the the d700 with a 70-200 and 24-70 packed. and my m9 with 35/50/75 and elmarit 90. i hope that i can capture a lot with my rangefinder. your photos are a great inspiration.

    1. Thanks mate. Have a good one today and my top tip is don’t forget the M9. It is so easy to stay on a DSLR all day if that is what you are used to. 😉 Have fun. You sound like you have it covered!

      1. thanks matthew, i won’t forget it for sure. the only thing i use my dslr nowadays is sports :). one question, when you shoot couples with the nocti, do you stop it down a bit or shoot wide open ?

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