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best way to focus a Leica M wide open - fast


frogfish

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I've shot journalistic weddings for over 20 years … always with a Leica M … AND … some form of AF camera.

 

I do not know how weddings are where you live, but if you shoot 30+ weddings annually in the US you are going to be involved in some customary expectations, and pretty hectic time-lines along the way.

 

IMO and experience, you pick and choose where to use what tool. If the client expects processional images including the obligatory Dad walking the Bride down the aisle and emotionally handing her off to the Groom, you darn well better get it all, not just the part  you were able to get with a M. Heck, I've lifted a DSLR over my head and used the tilt LCD to get those sorts of shots when forced to stand in some restricted place. The point is, use what is necessary, not some predetermined restriction to overcome while in the middle of a fast changing situation. The client could not care less as long as you get the emotionally charged shots. 

 

So, I pick and choose what to shoot with an M … and a majority of most candid wedding shots can be done with a M anyway.

 

I'm of the school that returns the focus to infinity in most cases (but not all). I don't quite understand what pre-focusing means … other than when anticipating a shot and focusing on something else then making a minor adjustment … which can work IF you have enough time to anticipate a shot before it actually happens.

 

- Marc 

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Heiko - Well this are not easy questions to answer since everyone shoots differently and what you perceive to be the shot would be different from mine. I shoot with two Leica M(240) for weddings 100%.

 

This is an article that might help I posted courtesy of Steve Huff: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2015/09/15/over-100-leica-weddings-by-philip-thomas/

Predominantly I shoot weddings. I shoot moments. I shoot close using the primes. 

 

Your questions:

What is your take on this? How do you focus wide open - fast? Any tips? - I shoot with a 50 Noc or a 35 f1.5 lux on one M, and a 24 elmar on the other. I prefocus 2-3 meters knowing that my subjects will be in that range. I'm certainly not saying that I'm perfect in nailing my focus every time. But I do focus quicker and than my Nikon's. For me, and it may be similar for you knowing that you have used Leica for a couple of years at least (forgive me if it's more), but it is a different philosophy in shooting vs SLRs. My brain is trained is seeing the potential moment in a nanosecond, almost the image in my mind before pressing the shutter, and so as I adjust the lens focus in my hand I bring the camera up to my eye I already have the focus close to where it should be. Then in a fraction I can have the focus precise. The Leica system has retooled my mind for that and I'm thankful. Also, I use the 1.4x magnifier when using the 50mm, this helps enormously as a focusing aid.

 

Really it's just a matter of knowing the camera and eye, so it all become one. Nothing really shouts out 'eureka' as it's slightly different for everyone. 

it really is a feel and knowing your craft, that Leica with your eyes closed. Each lens, be it just the one or two that you own. You're probably going to be think I'm crazy, but I see these Leica's like your first love (perhaps a bad analogy).

 

If you're still getting frustrated by those missed moments, perhaps this isn't the right camera for you. There's nothing wrong with that. The SLR's certainly will not allow you to miss a moment, but I find the Leica's to be like poetry. An organic sublime way of seeing things, no blackout in the viewfinder like a SLR and very unobtrusive. 

 

There are moments that are missed at a wedding. But I move on. However, I never miss the most important must get shots. Those shots are always required at any wedding. It's all the in-between shots, or the 'life' of the wedding that I've been hired to capture. 

.

I hope this helps a little. There are no easy answers for you as this is something that is a process that is a steady learning curve.

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Heiko - Well this are not easy questions to answer since everyone shoots differently and what you perceive to be the shot would be different from mine. I shoot with two Leica M(240) for weddings 100%.

 

This is an article that might help I posted courtesy of Steve Huff: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2015/09/15/over-100-leica-weddings-by-philip-thomas/

Predominantly I shoot weddings. I shoot moments. I shoot close using the primes. 

 

Your questions:

What is your take on this? How do you focus wide open - fast? Any tips? - I shoot with a 50 Noc or a 35 f1.5 lux on one M, and a 24 elmar on the other. I prefocus 2-3 meters knowing that my subjects will be in that range. I'm certainly not saying that I'm perfect in nailing my focus every time. But I do focus quicker and than my Nikon's. For me, and it may be similar for you knowing that you have used Leica for a couple of years at least (forgive me if it's more), but it is a different philosophy in shooting vs SLRs. My brain is trained is seeing the potential moment in a nanosecond, almost the image in my mind before pressing the shutter, and so as I adjust the lens focus in my hand I bring the camera up to my eye I already have the focus close to where it should be. Then in a fraction I can have the focus precise. The Leica system has retooled my mind for that and I'm thankful. Also, I use the 1.4x magnifier when using the 50mm, this helps enormously as a focusing aid.

 

Really it's just a matter of knowing the camera and eye, so it all become one. Nothing really shouts out 'eureka' as it's slightly different for everyone. 

it really is a feel and knowing your craft, that Leica with your eyes closed. Each lens, be it just the one or two that you own. You're probably going to be think I'm crazy, but I see these Leica's like your first love (perhaps a bad analogy).

 

If you're still getting frustrated by those missed moments, perhaps this isn't the right camera for you. There's nothing wrong with that. The SLR's certainly will not allow you to miss a moment, but I find the Leica's to be like poetry. An organic sublime way of seeing things, no blackout in the viewfinder like a SLR and very unobtrusive. 

 

There are moments that are missed at a wedding. But I move on. However, I never miss the most important must get shots. Those shots are always required at any wedding. It's all the in-between shots, or the 'life' of the wedding that I've been hired to capture. 

.

I hope this helps a little. There are no easy answers for you as this is something that is a process that is a steady learning curve.

 

 

 

Thank you Philip for the insight in how you work and how it works for you. This is one of the few kicks I need to go in this direction.

 

I assume it is about dedication. As long as I compare the focus performance of the M with my DSLR I will always doubt. Of course there are situations where the Nikon will be easier. Still, I believe, and others show, that it is doable.

 

 

heiko

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Excellent web site Philip, and wonderful photography. It provides inspiration to those, like me, who struggle to perform RF focusing at anything approaching the speed of a decent AF system, if not a top range DSLR.

 

One problem for me, I'm not able to focus without overshooting and thus having to reverse to get the required setting. But practise I must, and also develop the ability to better estimate distance. 

 

The other thing for me is the inability to set exposure without the need for trial and error. I've tried two methods: expose from what I perceive to be an average grey in the scene, and, separately, meter off the palm of my hand in the prevailing light.

 

I know the answer: more practise and yet more practise.

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I think, this generation M users, coming from an AF camera are not used to manual focussing on their old camera. Most of them could not build up practice on a Nikon/Canon/ Sony etc. because all of them are AF nowadays.

Maybe the former generation, had it easier.

 

As for me, it was not such an issue,  coming from a Nikon F3. You had to manually fast focus all the time, while you could shoot with 6 frames / second.

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As much as I like my Leica and M lenses I would not attempt to photograph something as important as wedding. At times I fail to get a sharp photo of my dog. For wedding I would get a nice AF DSLR. Customer does not give a hoot as to what brand of camera was used, but certainly expects in focus photos.

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I think, this generation M users, coming from an AF camera are not used to manual focussing on their old camera. Most of them could not build up practice on a Nikon/Canon/ Sony etc. because all of them are AF nowadays.

Maybe the former generation, had it easier.

 

As for me, it was not such an issue,  coming from a Nikon F3. You had to manually fast focus all the time, while you could shoot with 6 frames / second.

 

I think you could be right. I spent years with  Nikon FM2s and Hasselblad, I also spent some time shooting kids football with a manual focus Tamron 300mm F2.8. So manual focus is nothing new to me, however on a few jobs where there have been other photographers, a few have asked for a try of my Leica. None of them have yet gotten a sharp image! I do find that if I am off on holidays for a couple of weeks that it takes a bit of practice to get my eye back in.

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Have a look at this video:

 

Kai Wong seems to be able to focus a Leica VERY fast, and he does it wide open!    

 

Impressive results even if the method was not scientifically sound. I would have at least liked to see a number of shots tried and the average of those shots.

 

However, the entertainment factor was well worth it.

Edited by Loren
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Personally, I've learned a lot reading this thread. I would say that many of you are far better with focusing the M than I am but Just to be a little bit contrarian here what I personally find at least with my own work is that it is less about being really fast at focusing than it is being so emotionally aware of the experience that you see things beginning to evolve into a beautiful shot. This gives you a couple of seconds to get the camera setup for the composition that you want. Then at the precise moment you trigger the shutter.

 

So for me the process is less: "That's a cool moment! Focus. Click"

and more of: "That is going to be beautiful. Position myself, focus, wait for it. Click"

 

To me that is part of the magic of the M. It doesn't allow you to be emotionally distant. It forces you to be emotionally present in the environment and connect with the subject. You can't just float around the room going "click click click click" following some basic rules of composition and formulaic narrative flow for a kind of quasi-reportage for that particular kind of event e.g. a wedding and a wedding book. You are reaching out with your feelings and using the mirror-neurons that implement the social empathic side of your brain to feel the experience and connect with the subject and it is that which allows you to anticipate the moment enough that you can make the camera ready for the shot including focusing it.

 

So I would say that the ultimate drill is not getting from infinity to in focus very fast or whatever but spending time in cafes or at parties or wherever watching people reading their expressions and anticipating what is going to happen next. You don't even need a camera for this.

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It seems this thread boils down to those who are comfortable focussing wide open under pressure and those who aren't - both are fine really. Personally I can focus quickly in all light with a rangefinder, if for whatever reason I found I was getting shots out of focus due to age, or deteriorating eyesight etc, I would stick with Sony's only (which I already use as well) but buy autofocus lenses..

 

I get 'better' shots with Leica's because of their size discreet nature and I find the shooting experience with the Leica much more fun than an auto focus camera. If its more fun, I work harder at the wedding and thats to the clients advantage, every time. 

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Hi guys,

 

 

I wonder what you think is the best way to focus a Leica M wide open:

 

To my knowledge there are two technics:

 

 

- always come from the far end and lock focus by view, so you always know witch way to turn

 

- prefocus and then do tiny adjustments when you see you are off.

 

 

 

 

(for your information, I am a professional documentary wedding photog who concentrates on being close and capture real emotions - latest blogpost if you care: http://hamburg-hochzeitsfotografen.de/heiraten-in-der-bucht-in-hamburg/

I have been shooting with Leicas for many year snow.

 

 

I can´t make it work for me though - yet. When I use my Leica for wedding work I get frustrated by the missed moments and get back to my AF set-up. But after some time I get soo bored that I come back and try again. There are many fellow wedding photogs who use the M at weddings, but honestly, and with all respect) I have yet one to see that really shoots dynamically, get close and get the moments).

 

Non wedding stuff, like personal work, is a different thing, when you miss a moment, no problem, there will be many more another time. But at weddings, you must get your stuff right - like: " Oh, you mean the moment your father kissed you on the forehead at the ceremony, right before he gave you away? Sorry, missed it..."  (0:

 

Please remember, we are talking wide open here, like 35 mm at 2.0. DOF at 1.2 meters is 12 cm. So zone-focusing does not work.

 

 

 

What is your take on this? How do you focus wide open - fast? Any tips?

Do you believe that one can get so good that you can set focus by feel reliably at, say, 3 given distances?

 

 

Thank you for your input and your expertise.

 

heiko



 

Great photos, Heiko. Which camera do you normally use? I like the tones of the color photos you've linked to.

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  • 3 months later...

Let's say you 'have to' use an M.  I'd shoot at around 4.0 and play artistically in Pshop, like tilt/shift in the Blur gallery.  If no eyes are in focus, they'll be disappointed - and you're not going to sell any prints - if people even buy them anymore.

 

I'd use something with AF during 'action' time - my little Sony RX100III does a great job in situations like that.  You can off 100 shots to give yourself plenty to pick from.  Fast and accurate, f: 2.8 - but due to the small sensor, not the extreme background blur you want.

 

I also agree with the other old pros - its about them & their big one day, not you.

 

And I guarantee no one will care what you're using if they can see you know what you're doing, are in control of your job and produce great results.  Years ago there was hot fashion photographer than became very successful using a $10 Kodak Instamatic.

 

He had great fashion sense but more:  timing and great lighting.  The camera is secondary

 

Good luck!

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If fast RF focussing is difficult ....and you have been using Leicas for many years, it simply is not the tool you can use .... for that type of work.

I think you realize that, but hope there is some method you can apply; that will allow you to do what you seem not be able to do.

Sounds confusing.

Sorry.

You might find a way, (but I doubt it),

 to have your Leica, ....(which you obviously love to use!) equal AF efficiency.

 

You have used Leicas for many years. Maybe you need to practice fast focussing ? 

If so  practice ,practice ,practice.

Good Luck

Rafael

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If you watch the video properly, you'll see Kai focusing during his countdowns.  I think the whole timing thing with different cameras was very suspect. Who knows when he was catching focus with the autofocus cameras.

One of the most "uncontrolled" tests I ever seen. Don't get sucked in by his easy banter and charm.

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T

The key might be the 'off and on' part.....I think one must dedicate time, without distraction, to have the M become second nature, especially for purposes such as yours.]

 

I will 2nd that. In learning the M I made a quantum jump when I loaned my Leica T to a good old friend for a month for a special trip. It went from a lazy "I'll take the T because I don't really expect to shoot and I don't want to work that hard." To achieving a level of at capability with the M that I'm happy with.

 

Three other thoughts:

When you trained up did you do it in a similar environment? Low light dynamic reaching for the decisive moment? The drills in work your Leica M tend to be fairly static.

 

How many different lenses do you use? I think that this can be greatly assisted by sticking to one lens and getting it wired into muscle memory. There is a guy who was featured at the Leica gallery SF named Vlad. He is currently rolling out one of his projects on IG called birds. Where he captured people in the city amid stride when both their feet are off the ground. Evidently he got it to the point where he just knew the distances by feel and didn't use the RF to focus. He'd adjust his pace to be be at a particular known focal distance by eye at the right moment. He didn't even use the RF to focus a 1.0 Noctilux. To me that is amazing but it does say it is possible. The point is. You can calibrate your binocular vision and muscle memory into not even needing to use the RF. As great as Leica lenses are they are not all calibrated the same way. The people in the movie industry who pull focus on moving subjects basically demand lenses of different focal length whose focal distance changes in exactly the same way.

 

the process with a RF is fundamentally different than on an AF camera and from the sound of it the problem the OP is having may be more related to that. With an AF camera the process is something like perceive, compose, communicate salient point to camera, AF, then click. With the RF, it is more anticipate the situation based upon an understanding of human patterns, find the right vantage, lock focus, wait, click the decisive moment. It is less, "oh that is interesting swing camera lock click" it is more, "that will be cool setup click" it isn't really about lightning lock on focus. It is more about reaching out with your human empathy and experience of observation of patterns to position yourself and be ready to hit the shutter at the decisive moment.

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Dial in the focussing range subconsciously with your index finger (push left - close, pull right - far) then micro adjust at eye level when you are framing.

 

All my Leica lenses have tabs (tiger paws), 28, 35, 50 which makes it very easy to nudge the focus tab to micro adjust.

Edited by Rapierwitman
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If it's the lenses, rather than the rangefinder experience, that excites you go for an SL or a Sony. The ability to focus off centre, rather than focus and recompose, makes the fast Leica glass, which tends to have non-flat field of focus very usable. The SL has the better viewfinder, but the Sony A7 series has IBIS, which allows you to get sharp shots in even darker situations (although there is still subject movement to contend with). The Sony will also give you higher dynamic range, which I imagine can be an advantage for white dresses and dark suits. 

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