Confession of a Leica M Shooter: a narrative of how a brief flirtation with the Sony A7rII convinced me to accept the Leica SL

Confession of a Leica M Shooter

Confession of a Leica M Shooter: A Narrative of how a brief flirtation with the Sony A7rII convinced me to accept the Leica SL

This article is by Horatio Tan (Website | Instagram | Facebook). It is written as a parody of a Leica M photographer’s conflicted journey to accepting and getting the Leica SL. Check out his other articles, also available on his website.

I wasn't going to get the Leica SL. I was very disappointed when Leica first introduced it. In fact, I was downright offended. I am a loyal Leica M-body photographer. And like all loyal M-body photographer, I am waiting for Leica to introduce the next generation M-body with a working electronic viewfinder (and not that excuse of a time-lagged external EVF/LCD monitor of the M240 body). So you could imagine my surprise when Leica decided to forsake their core M-body customer by introducing the SL - just for the sake of expanding their customer base. I felt so hurt... so abandoned. I wanted nothing to do with the SL.

It might not be immediately clear, but we Leica M-body photographers are a passionate bunch. We're not going to bail on the Leica M, just because Leica put all their love into a different autofocus lens mount abomination. We are the followers of Oskar Barnack and Henri Cartier-Bresson. We don't take flight just because of new technology. We are photographic purists, unwavering from the original design that made Leica what it is today.

I love the Leica M-body. I know I do, because I am a natural light photographer*. I am obsessed with shooting optimally when there isn't enough available light to take a proper photograph. It is precisely for this reason that I found my way to Leica many years ago, when researching fast lenses. It was on Google that I first laid eyes on the Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux.

Thus began my love affair with the Leica M System.

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I speak of love. Getting my Leica M9 and Noctilux, it was love at first sight. It must have been love. The feeling I had for it was so intense that it led to weeks on weeks of hate and regret for switching ill-advisedly to a rangefinder - all for the sake of gaining a stop or two. Ah, but can love truly be love without great suffering? It was the pain of a million heartaches from many missed shots and out of focus images that hurt me so.

It was only when I finally bonded to the rangefinder process did I truly experience the rapturous joy of getting that fabled Leica look. It made me weak at the knees. I didn't care how much more inferior the rangefinder process was compared to a DSLR. My love for the Leica M system ultimately clouded my judgment with beautifully rendered bokeh.

Figure 1: The sharp focus and creamy bokeh of that unmistakable “Leica Look”.

But even great love can be strained.

That Leica look. It seduces you. Once you have tasted it, you can't go back. So you indulge your Leica. You find ways to replicate that look. And you do that over and over again.  But it's not always easy, because your Leica is a prima donna. You focus in the middle of the screen, and then you reframe your camera for composition. And in that split second of shifting your camera position, you risk losing tack focus.

Figure 2: This isn’t actually a horrible example of missing focus from having to reframe for composition. But to get even this level of focus, I had to try a half dozen time.

Under ideal conditions, you don't think about the hardship love presents, in focusing. It's no big deal. It's what you need to do to get that Leica look. So you accept it. But it's easy to accept love when conditions are good. It's only when things get bad is love ever tested.

And things can get bad quickly. The ambient light begins to dim. There isn't enough light for you to make out any contrast or details to confirm focus in that little focusing window. And the subjects, they're not standing still. You keep on focusing and reframing for composition, because your subject keeps on moving outside that wafer thin focal plane. The situation becomes untenable. You cannot confirm focus, so you begin to fire away, hoping that your true love will be kind to you.

But it never works out that way. An entire night of shooting, and not one image in tack focus. Your heart sinks. Your Leica and Noctilux was supposed to shine in the dark, but instead it failed to deliver. You feel that things aren't working out.

I am ashamed to say this, but my love apparently wasn't strong enough to overcome adversities. So my eyes, they invariably began to wander. They betrayed me as I begin to go online to look around. It was then I become acquainted with a new model that I had not seen before. I'm not proud of it. But it seemed all so innocent at first.

It was a Sony A7s MKII. It was something I couldn't resist. I mean, how could I? It was lauded as the king of the night, given its extremely sensitive sensor for low light capture. And you know just how much I loved low light photography. So I gave in to temptation. However, it was only a brief flirtation. It was fun while it lasted. But it wasn't for me. And so I went back to my Leica M System, hoping to put aside my moment of weakness.

For a while, life was back to normal. My Leica and I were inseparable. However, in those years after the Sony incident, I stopped using my Noctilux. It stopped giving me joy. In fact, I stopped shooting in color altogether, shooting exclusively with my Leica Monochrome bodies, stopped down on a 35mm Summicron.

Figure 3: Zone focusing around the world. This one in New York, in Chelsea. 35mm Summicron stopped down on the Leica M246 Monochrome.

Figure 4: Zone focusing around the world. This one in Hong Kong, in Central. 35mm Summicron stopped down on the Leica M246 Monochrome.

Figure 5: Zone focusing around the world. This one in Paris, off Place de Madeleine. 35mm Summicron stopped down on the Leica M246 Monochrome.

Figure 6: Zone focusing around the world. This one in Tokyo, in Roppangi. 35mm Summicron stopped down on the Leica M246 Monochrome.

But then temptation found its way back into my life. This time around, it was in the form of a Sony A7r MKII. Again, it all seemed so innocent. But I couldn't believe how much better the Sony A7r was with the Noctilux in low light. It was amazing. I could focus peak, I could set my focus point, and I could magnify my focus. And because I can do that, I didn't need to reframe after focusing for composition. I can press my shutter, once I've confirmed focus, and shoot continuously without any lag.

I really didn't think that I was going to stray from rangefinder photography, after spending so much time perfecting the process. But I did. The Sony A7r EVF showed me how unsatisfied I was with the the M-body's inferior focusing process. I did things with my Sony that I never could do with my Leica. It was very liberating. I was able to get focus with the Noctilux consistently, in low light situations. It made me feel like a photographer falling in love with photography all over again.

Figure 7: In a dimly lit bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get focus on the Sony without having to reframe for composition.

Figure 8: Also in the same dimly lit bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, standing a little further away from the subject, I really couldn’t believe how much easier it is to get focus without needing to reframe for composition.

But then, the summer romance began to wane, as reality started to settle back in. There were problems with the Sony A7r. I started to miss my shots. The camera settings would change, because I kept on accidentally brushing different buttons on the back of the camera - from the ISO, to the frame rate button (setting the camera to timer mode), to the movie record button.  And the process of selecting the focusing point on the Sony - it was maddeningly counter intuitive.

Mind you, much of the friction was my own fault. I guess I was out of touch with the newer generation of mirrorless cameras and its contemporary interface. I really should have known better that the Sony A7r would require more of me to customize it. But being so used to the old school approach of a Leica M, finding the right customization took a steep learning curve of missed shots to figure out.

And learn I did, about the Sony A7r. The more I became familiar with it, the more critical and impatient I was with it. There were traits about the camera that I didn't like.

For example, the Sony A7r cannot shoot continuous burst while in silent mode. And in addition, while still in silent mode, the A7r distorts images wildly when you pan the camera. I mean, what a tease? Offer us silent shooting and then hamstring us with limitations? Plus, there's absolutely no tactile shooting feedback while in silent mode. Half the time, you don't even know if you've actually taken a shot or not. It's anyone's guess.

Figure 9: This never happens with the Leica M bodies. If you can’t do the photographer’s equivalent of a basketball player’s fade-away shot, then what good is the Sony for street photography?

With the Sony A7r, you always had to be on your best. You couldn’t slack off just a little with your shooting fundamentals. With the 42 megapixels resolution image sensor, you just had to be on your toes, all the time. Personally, I would shoot with the A7 MKII instead, but that earlier iteration did not come with a silent shooting mode, and a dedicated rear LCD and EVF selector customizable option - which was a deal breaker.

And did I mention that the Sony A7r MKII is not weather sealed like the Leica M240 and M246?

To be fair, it's not like the Leica M-body cameras have the option of a silent mode. If the truth be told, I think that the Sony A7r MKII is better than the Leica M in almost every measurable way. Yet, I cannot commit myself to it. I'm just not satisfied with it. And I don't know why. The thing is, it's not the camera's fault that I feel this way. It's my fault.

Figure 10: Zone focusing with the Sony A7r MKII. This one shot with the Leica 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux.

Figure 11: Zone focusing with the Sony A7r MKII. This one shot with the Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux.

Figure 12: Zone focusing with the Sony A7r MKII. This one shot with the Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux.

It's almost as if I want to end my relationship with the Sony A7r. Despite how amazing it made me feel in the way it performed with the Noctilux, I just wasn't bonding with it. And having spent so much time with the Sony, it spoiled the Leica M-body experience for me. With the Sony, I've experienced better. How could I go back to rangefinder photography? A person cannot downgrade, once he's found something better.

It was then I found my way to the Leica Store in SoHo – lost and adrift - where I gave the Leica SL a second chance with a first look. It was bigger than I wanted in a camera. How was I going to fit it into my little bag? But then it dawned on me that I wasn't the same person who initially scoffed at the Leica SL. My perspective towards the Leica SL had matured, having had my fling with the Sony A7 mirrorless system. I thought, let's give the SL a try. And so I adapted my Noctilux on the SL.

Immediately, I noticed something special about the Leica SL. It's almost as if Leica has poured all its love into making the SL better. And although the focusing aid in peaking and magnification on the SL isn't necessarily better than the Sony, the improved EVF makes the focusing experience so much better. Never in my life has focusing a Noctilux been this intuitive. In that one magical moment, I was transformed and converted. The SL is better than the M-bodies for focusing wide open. It was then I decided to get the Leica SL - rather impulsively. But isn’t new love always impulsive?

In truth, I know I was wrong to prejudge the Leica SL. And if it weren't for the Sony A7r MKII, I wouldn't have ever even given the SL a chance. Mind you, it's still too early to tell if I would fall hopelessly and madly for the SL, but for now, I know that it's the best camera out there for focusing the Noctilux, and probably all fast Leica lenses wide open. The EVF is better than the Sony, and its weather sealed.

Still, the Sony A7r MKII is more compact. It just makes me wish that the Leica SL is smaller and more compact. But then, no one would buy digital Leica M-body cameras anymore.

* Natural light photographer is a euphemism for lazy photographer who can't be bothered to use a flash when the sun goes down.

I hope you liked the melodramatic version of my experience from Leica M to Sony A7r to finally getting the Leica SL. For more fun articles, please visit my website. And if you are thinking about getting the Leica SL, I will shortly begin to write about it on my site.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • sperdynamite

    Uh the SL is a downgrade from any A7 body. it’s basically the original A7 in a nicer wrapping, but with a worse sensor. The VF might be higher resolution but it’s not better in reality when you still have to zoom in to focus, and the color/contrast is weird. I get that Leica needed to provide red dot-o-philes with an A7 that also costs 7 thousand dollars, but moving from an A7RII to an SL is absurd. That BSI sensor is the real deal, and giving that up for a red dot at the expense of thousands up thousands of dollars is the dumbest thing I can imagine doing. Good job, you’re dumb. At least I can justify my 240 because I want to use an RF.

    • Horatio Tan

      Dumb is a very loaded word. It depends on whether the decision will have a significant and noticeably negative impact on my life. I suspect it won’t. So dumb I welcome, if for no better reason than dumb curioisity and the curiosity of those who want to know… Trust me, dumb can be a lot of fun!

      • I don’t think you’re dumb if you’re enjoying the equipment you’re using, assuming you can reasonably afford it without bending yourself out of shape.

        I’m considering a Leica SL because I really love the way it is designed, and I really like the beauty of real metal, Leica-style zoom lenses, but the product is staggeringly expensive. Because of the real metal, Leica-style zoom lenses. LOL.

        So the question I find more interesting is this: Do you feel that you’re getting better pictures with the SL than the Sonys?

        That is, are you just getting the benefit of enjoying your camera more, or does it have tangible benefits in terms of output?


        PS I’d appreciate answers from anyone who’s used both systems to answer this question, just just Horatio.

        PPS I do think I’m getting better pictures with the Q than I have with my Nikon D5.

        • Horatio Tan

          David, It’s too early for me to make that assessment. Let me explain myself in a round about way. With regards to the way I use my cameras, I am beginning to feel that the Sony A7 is actually not the right camera to compare the Leica SL with, because of the size of the camera. I’m beginning to feel that a more appropriate comparison is with the Canon 5D or Nikon D800. There’s no flippy rear LCD, so focusing is done in the EVF. And because of the weight, waist level zone focusing doesn’t come as naturally. However, focusing is much easier on the SL with fast Leica manual focus lenses shot wide open. But the real test is when I get the 90-280 later in the week.

          I know I haven’t exactly answered your question. The thing is this, which you already know. Any decent camera can take reasonably good pictures. Whether it’s the SL or the Sony or an M body, they all have the capacity to take wonderful picture. The premium one pays for a more expensive camera system is just a matter of preference. Some may think that paying extra is dumb, while others have the opportunity to make that determination of whether it’s dumb or not. With that said, the SL makes shooting fast Leica primes of any focal length, wide open, much easier, so by that measure, it has the capacity to make me take better pictures. And to the haters, it’s just a tool. But it’s nice to have nice tools, regardless of how dumb it may seem to those whose values are more modest.

          I’m taking different pictures with the SL than with the Sony or even my M.

          • That last paragraph is really what we’re looking at, though. The pictures I’m taking with my Q, for example, are definitely different from those I take with the D5. Part of it is that the camera is smaller and lighter, but of course I could get plenty of more reasonably priced cameras that are even more so. What I notice, though, is that the Leica brand attributes of the Q – a greater precision in photography as well as small size and light weight, as consistent with the best image quality – are helping me take better pictures. So I get pleasure in using manual focus, for instance, which is more of a chore on the D5 thanks to the heavy weight.

            It sounds like a lot of those features are helping you with the SL, except that you get to use your favorite Leica lenses instead of the Q’s fixed one.

            So let me ask a slightly different version of my question. If you have taken different pictures with the SL, in what ways are they different? And if you can describe that I would think it would be a pretty easy step to say whether they were better, worse or about the same in quality terms.

          • Horatio Tan

            With my M bodies, I tend to stop down and zone focus. I shoot wide open less often than I could. Also, I shoot at closer range with my M bodies, when the light condition is bad. I only shoot with normal wide and normal focal length lenses. With the SL, if I like it, I would replace my Canon gear with it. I use my Canon to shoot longer focal lengths, and also action shots. I also use my Canon for studio work. The SL would do that. I suppose another way of putting it is that my M bodies will be more informal and candid while the SL would be more formal and purposed. Quality wise, I cannot fault the M or SL in image capture. They do what they are designed to do. But as you can see in how I use them, they are better suited in certain situations. That is not to say that they cannot be used for all situations. But trust me, if you have options, you’ll use the best tool for the job.

          • Interesting! So these are not really value judgements but creative judgements which can go either way for which is better or worse. I would think you could get better pictures with the SL on paper, because you could make either creative decision (focus with shallow depth of field or zone focus) and the technical aspects would still be taken care of. But I know that sometimes constraints like that can feel liberating, so it’s not all that cut and dried.

            Did you get the SL yet / how long have you had it?

            I hope you’ll come back when you get the 90-280 because I really want to see an impartial review of that lens …

          • Horatio Tan

            Technically, I’ve had it for a month, but I haven’t been able to use it until a week ago. I haven’t shot anything meaningful so far, just pretty much getting used to the settings. But in my test shots, I am satisfied with the image capture. It is superior in focusing compared to the M, and fees better than the Sony, although as I’ve said already, it feels more like a DSLR replacement vs an M or Sony replacement.

            I will be shooting tonight for my next post; given that the weather has finally cleared in Hong Kong, and given that my jet lag is not so severe. I feel badly, because I haven’t posted in over a week.

            As for being impartial, as much as I seem to be promoting Leica branded products, I still shoot Canon and Nikon, and freely admit that the Sony A7 cameras are better in most if not all salient measures. In other words, I will poke fun at myself if I start to wax poetics about how much I love the SL.

          • Forgot to say that I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the 90-280. I’m very interested in seeing how that lens works for bird and butterfly photography and the like compared to the 80-400 Nikon. So I hope you will publish a follow-up article here.

    • tjholowaychuk

      Sony’s are also loaded with tons of bad user experience and clunky junk, the things feel like plastic toys compared to Leica gear. You get what you pay for with build, and build is a large part of the experience for some people. I pay the price as well personally, not because the sensors are better (they’re not), but because I enjoy it much much more than the strictly “digital” feel and cheap feel of Sony/Fuji cameras.

      • sperdynamite

        Yeah M9 users got what they paid for with cracked sensors, or if that didn’t happen they corrode all on their own. Leica S users are getting what they pay for with failed AF motors. APO summicron users got what they paid for with a flare problem. Then when you go in for service you get what you pay for with months and months w/o a camera and a dice roll as to whether they fix it. Don’t make me laugh. And don’t congratulate Leica when they push out turds. The Ms and the Q are fantastic and worthwhile investments. The SL, T and S are just copies of other cameras that don’t measure up to cheaper alternatives. I’m not going to convince myself that Leica has outclassed Sony just because they bought an off-the-shelf EVF from someone and and wrapped an underperforming sensor in some decent metal.

        • tjholowaychuk

          Again it’s about the user experience. If you solely care about image quality then sure, just stick with a Sony. With image quality converging build quality and user experience is what will stand out.

        • maralatho

          And now you sound angry.

        • El Aura

          May I ask why the Q isn’t also a copy that doesn’t measure up to it cheaper alternative, the RX1 II? Hasn’t the Q the same inferior sensor as the SL?

          • FountainHead

            Q 28mm.
            RX1 35mm.

            I own RX1. If it dies, I’m getting a Q.

          • El Aura

            By that token, the SL isn’t a copy of the A7x if you use it with a lens not available for the FE system. Though given that you now can adapt many (D)SLR lenses even with AF to A7x cameras and the SL system only has three lenses, there aren’t a lot of lenses this would apply to.

            And I don’t think that the focal length difference was the reason why sperdynamite’s rant declared the Q to be fantastic (while calling the SL an inferior copy). Most likely it’s just the nature of rants that they aren’t completely logical.

          • sperdynamite

            See updated rant for clarification.

          • sperdynamite

            Easy! And I can make a good point along the way. The Q is a 28mm lens, this is a big difference. It’s wide angle from slight-wide-normal and when shooting people this is a huge difference. Neither is better or worse, but that’s the way it is. The Q was made with manual focus in mind and they did a great job there. Someone mentioned UI and the Q does a better job than the Sony, if you want a 28. The Sony is the obvious tech leader though and the 35mm f2 Sonnar competes with any Leica optic easily. Most importantly though, the Q is only about 25% more than the Sony. It’s more expensive, but they’re both expensive. Leica has to do some mental acrobatics to say that the SL is close to the Nikon D5, or 1DXII. That’s completely absurd. You can’t just add a high frame rate (crippled by the AF that can’t work at that speed) and call it a press/sports camera. It really is closest to an A7. The view finder has more pixels, but the color and contrast are not great in the SL, much better in the Sony. On both, you still need to zoom in to see focus wide open. It’s not a killer app. Most importantly, the SL is 75% more expensive than the A7II. It’s more expensive than a freaking M. Why? Because they had to buy off the self tech from Epson? Sure out-of-the-box RF wides will do better but the Kolari mod doesn’t come close to making up that cost difference. I can make the argument to spend 25% more to get the Leica UI and other factors. 50% if it truly replaces and exceeds a cheaper option (the M). But 75% more for a camera that is worse in most ways? Just for a shutter speed dial and access to absurdist zoom lenses? Nope. No way. That’s why you see think-pieces online about why someone bought the SL. It doesn’t make sense but people need to justify it. I want Leica to be the best camera company they can be. I want purist cameras like the M-D and mono, inventive tech cameras like the Q, and an M that pros like me can take to work. I don’t want a me-too mirrorless for the Hong Kong elite that looks good on the seat of a mercedes. You really need to see images from that BSI sensor to see the gap between Leica and what’s possible. I’m not giving up my M for it, but Leica should know there is a high-water-mark and they’re not even close.

        • Mato

          Let him use what he wants. It is an interesting write-up. I have avoided the SL so far (own an S007 and M246) but I get his point about Sony. I have tried the RX1r II – fantastic sensor in certain situations (e.g. landscapes) but weird skin tones in Lightroom, no matter what profile I use (and don’t even start about Capture One). And the camera is fiddly – easy to set the wrong way (I have a bunch of mis-focused images..of course my error but it is so easy to make it with the Sony).

    • maralatho

      You sound butt-hurt and threatened.

    • Les

      Ha! Nice one sperdy. You really captured the spirit of the defensive Sony user from this parody.

    • Jay Cassario

      I have owned the Sony A7II, A7RII, and now the SL, for the same reasons as this writer. I never fell in love with the Sony’s using my Leica glass that I already own for my Leica M. They always felt like I was holding and shooting a little cheap plastic computer with buttons and knobs always in my way. I love the feel, build, and simplicity the most with the SL. Yes, its ugly, but there is nothing to get in my way. I don’t need a million functions, buttons, and options to choose from. Leica stayed true to its M simplicity, and made the SL a joy to shoot.

      • sperdynamite

        Well if it all basically boils down to the fact that the Leica is harder then maybe you should just squeeze steel beams and marvel at their solidness before you start shooting with a better camera, made of softer materials. All the exterior build quality in the world didn’t save M9s from cracking sensors and corrosion. And they’re not saving M8s from screens that can no-longer be replaced.

    • TwoStrayCats

      Mmm hmm. And, besides, the Sony is more versatile: you can’t fry an egg on its sensor after a burst of shots.

  • TwoStrayCats

    *you are not a lazy photographer. You are a feeling, sensitive creature who likes to record a low light scene the way your heart and eyes see it – rather than blasting it with a wave of garish electronic sun that changes everything you saw into a 1953 Time Magazine cardboard cutout.

    • Horatio Tan

      I like it the way you say it… We’ll go with that 🙂 But lazy is pretty accurate.

      • adam singer

        Horatio what a lovely story. I recognize the journey having M’ed for over 40 years, and as my eyesight gets poorer it gets hard to focus– and btw love your definition of low light, photography. So I too find the Noctilux SL combo magical, and the truth is, its not just about about the sensor , as it don’t matter how good the sensor is if you can’t achieve focus, nor if you are fortunate is it about money , its about one’s very own personal sense of haptics, (which are not sea side towns in New York State as in I spent Labor day weekend in the Haptics or biological as in I gave him a damn good kicking in the haptics) and if the SL gives joy to you, as it does to me, and it all results in taking more pics, then that’s good. So thank you.

        • Horatio Tan

          Adam, I really didn’t know how readers would respond to this write up. So I am thankful that you did enjoy it. I had fun writing it, as a way to poke fun at my initial disapproval of the SL. It was silly, and it made sense to write it in that voice.

      • The way I think of low-light event photography is that you are respecting the look venue owners wanted to provide, and so you show the true experience of attending.

      • Nick T. Mere

        “I love the Leica M-body. I know I do.” and “I am waiting for Leica to introduce the next generation M-body with a working electronic viewfinder” ???

        • TomV

          I too love the M body and feel that if there had been an M with the EVF of the SL, myself and the OP would have been happy. There is a legacy user base of the M that would have screamed “it’s not a RANGEFINDER”. When the M was introduced, it was a design and technical marvel. It was adopted by pioneers, artists, and working photographers. This is no longer the case, as much as I love the M, it’s shedding its professional base and the “it’s a RANGEFINDER” crowd is becoming more exclusive. I think a great compromise would be to fork the M lineup so that we get new M which are more or less untouched, but better sensors (keep the monochrome going please), and then a “digital CL” line that minimizes the body size, maintains M mount compatibility, has the SL class EVF in a “rangefinder style or position” and does outlandish things like adding a dedicated ISO selector and focus point joysticks”

          • Derek W

            “a dedicated ISO selector and focus point joysticks” … sounds exactly like an X-Pro2. Except the X-Pro2 only has apsc sensor and no “real” rangefinder focusing.

  • I enjoyed this photographic journey. Thanks!

    • Horatio Tan

      Thank you. I’m relieved that most, like yourself, appear to have had fun reading it.

    • Lenny Carlson

      I wouldn’t call stumbling upon a camera store with a protruding wad of money a journey but hey, words tend to lose their meaning over time.

  • ZMWT

    Sounds like a useless rant against nothing in particular and then against everything too. For such boring photography samples and pointless attitude, even having a smartphone is an overkill.

    • maralatho

      Speaking of useless rants.

      • ZMWT

        What, to say that something is useless is qualified in turn as useless too? In which universe you live? Please take a look at those photographs: ALL of them could be taken with Huawei P9 — all of them. Any Leica and any Sony 35mm camera then are a waste of money for such photography. The whole article shows bad attitude.

        • TwoStrayCats

          I found the article entertaining, tongue-in-cheek, and thought it was great fun! Methinks you are taking yourself way too seriously.

        • Horatio Tan

          Your logic is faulty, based on certain self evident truths you believe in, which are inalienable to you. You are pragmatic, and assess the world accordingly. I get it. But you shouldn’t mistaken uninspired pictures to a waste of money. The value one puts on their purchase is subjective, and this expectation is not necessarily the same as yours. But I understand your point. There are many supporters of your perspective, and I don’t blame you or any others who feel the same way. Excess or overkill can sometimes appear perplexing, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means that values are different. I don’t pretend that I will win over your values, nor do I want to. I am happy that there are people in this world like you. But where your logic is faulty is assuming that your values are universally correct. One person’s waste is another person’s enjoyment. But you are right, I’m not particularly beaming with pride with my images. But I don’t pretend that what I’m shooting is art either. It’s just to demonstrate what I’ve been shooting for the last couple of weeks, (and the two years prior for my black and white photos) which is street style, for the sake of gauging fashion and style that’s trending.

    • Horatio Tan

      Enjoyment of the trivial is what makes living wonderful… Otherwise life can be as boring as my photographs 🙂 Yes, that I admit.

      • stevieg

        An informative and enjoyable write up. You dealt with “Mr Sony fanboy Sperdy” with grace and dignity. I congratulate you in this! I am awaiting Photokina before deciding whether an SL joins me as well. Your article has been very helpful. I hope you continue to enjoy your “dumb enjoyment of life’s trivialities!!”

        • Horatio Tan

          When you put yourself out there into the world, you’re exposing yourself to criticism. Sometimes you receive kind warm comments, while other times, your receive comments that’s not so kind. And sometimes you get constructive criticism. But I learned a long time ago that comments, or rather things that people say have more to say about themselves than the recipient. You learn a lot about people from what they say.

          I’m happy that you enjoyed my write up.

          • Daryl

            Please keep putting yourself out there, enjoyed every word….and the art of listening has been stated perfectly.

          • Horatio Tan

            I will. Even when comments are negative, it keeps you on your toes.

    • TwoStrayCats

      Gosh, imagine if Cartier-Bresson had a Samsung Galaxy S7! AND Facebook! Just think how great he would’ve been!!!

      • ZMWT

        Bresson had lots of visual talent. He was practicing traditional art and drawing, was excellent at it, and he then had few technological means to practice photography. So he used a tiny Leica to the maximum of its abilities.

        Today we have the opposite problem: we have too many cameras and technological means that can do anything, but little real talent in people.

        That is why we read such random rants of the bedazzled and confused people in the endless poppy fields of camera choices.

    • Ya might as well give up, like why clean the kitchen it’s just going to get dirty again.

    • Lenny Carlson

      Well put! Everything said in the post is completely invalidated by those samples. This would be a laugh if it wasn’t so sad (shot with 20k gear no less)

      • Horatio Tan

        You have an expectation that shooting expensive gear expects inspiring results. It doesn’t. Its something you won’t appreciate, and I get it. But I’m still happy that you voiced your opinion. It shows that I should be more sensitive to those who have a problem with waste, or what I would call indulgent behavior.

        • Lenny Carlson

          No, you don’t need to be more sensitive, just more talented.

          • Horatio Tan

            Lenny, I’m glad you mention that. Please define what you mean by talent. Please be specific in your explanation.

          • ZMWT

            Talent means have immediate response, active common sense to recognise what is soup and what is turd. If you don’t know whether you need a spoon or a 10ft long pole to handle the object you see in front of yourself, you have a problem.

          • Horatio Tan

            Come on, you can do better than that. You’re still generalizing. You need to be more constructive in explaining yourself. Otherwise, you just come across as incoherent. But I know you can do better, because you appear to believe you have talent enough to make an assessment on what talent is. Show me that talent of yours. If you require a couple more days to reply, that’s okay!

  • The writer had me going at the mere mention of quality of light he was capturing with the Leica M but comparing that to a Sony?
    Then I find the SL to be an alternative body and most certainly not something to give up the M for especially with the 1st SL version.
    Now next month after the announcements maybe one would have a choice, but for now I’d rather have the new Hasselblad than a Leica SL.

    • Les

      I’m not sure what the X1D and SL have in common, other than they are both mirrorless.

      Do you want a super-rugged, super-quick camera that accepts just about every Leica lens ever made (and most non-Leica 35mm lenses too), or do you want a slow and steady medium format with two slow lenses announced, and another possibly available early next year?

      • El Aura

        They are both very expensive mirrorless bodies. They are both low-volume (as a result). They are both from European companies. They are both technologically behind (eg, in terms of AF) compared to what Japanese companies offer (I realise that there is no direct Japanese competitor to the X1D).

      • If I have to carry the Leica SL I’m not going to shoot it at 15fps and its big you were better off with the Sony so I would rather have the X1D.

  • Jonathan Slack

    HI Horatio
    Fun article, and I can only expect that you’ll grow to love the SL with use (I know I have).
    It’s speedy, responsive, tough, intuitive and a pleasure to shoot with . . . even if it doesn’t have such a good sensor as the A7r II . . . . personally it’s a lot of years since I’ve had a shot spoiled by the quality of a sensor, certainly never with the SL . . . on the other hand I’ve missed multiple shots using an impenetrable interface or a camera which doesn’t respond quickly enough.
    . . . . but you are a lazy photographer – I know one when I see one (being one myself) . . . but you can always wear it with pride (I’m proud to admit that I no longer even own a flash gun!)
    All the best
    Jono Slack

    • Horatio Tan

      Finally, a photographer who understands my limitations! Thank you Jono.

  • Lofote

    There is a technical reason for the wobbling effect in silent mode. You need to understand why limitations are, like with all cameras to know what mode and camera is good for what and bad for what. And yes, EVERY camera has limitations, Even $20.000 ones.

    • Horatio Tan


    • Les


      There is a technical reason (no global shutter), but the reason why Sony had to implement silent shutter is because their mechanical shutter caused a lot of vibration.

      Instead of fixing the first problem, they created a second problem.

      The Leica, on the other hand, uses a quiet and low-vibration mechanical shutter. I’m sure it costs a little more to build it that way, but this little detail really shows how the two products are different.

  • dear Horatio, i visit your blog many times and like your huge sensibility of technical use you have. i see you know all about the sensors,lenses and bodys, you try a lot of stuff, but when i see your pictures: i don’t understand, it’s a kind of snapshot gallerys, you cut the legs and it’s just (for me) simple “clics” in the street, please explain me: what will you tell with your ‘clics”? sorry, but it seems for me just hundred’s of girls walking in the streets and no care of light or frame…for me taking photos with a Leica is also a process of research of an artistic shot….(sorry for my english)

    • Horatio Tan

      Your criticism is very well received. I work in fashion, and I primarily take style shots on the street as a way to guage what’s in style. My concentration is more on form than details, if I were to be compared to someone like Bill Cunningham – who I rightly can’t compare to. Given that, my day to day isn’t in photography, I don’t concentrate as much on other types of images – but I have made an attempt with my recent black and white series with musicians.

      With that said, I enjoy putting to use my formal photographic training. And also, I enjoy writing and creating content. It could just as well have been on health or politics, but because of my inventory of equipment, I thought that photography would be a fun place to start. Besides, I do have some rarer lenses, and combinations of it, that I figured that such content may be of interest to others. I just didn’t expect so many more people. But still, I’m gratified that there are more people interested than not interested, citing the example of the tree falling in the forest. In my case, I’m relieved that my falling tree is heard. And with regards to your criticism, I’m also gratified with your candor. It’s what going to make me improve on my craft. Thank you.

      • SAMC

        I completely feel comfortable with all his photos. Not everyone need to compose like The Sartorialist. Those in Hong Kong with Oxana are great.

        • Horatio Tan

          SAMC, what’s ironic is that shootout with someone willing to model is so much easier than shooting on the street. I shoot on the street just to increase my level of difficultly. With that said, thank you for your encouragement. I do less street photography in Hong Kong anyway, and usually shoot with a model.

      • thanks for your nice answer and your interesting blog, really different, that also shows that we are all different with different eyes…

  • Bo Dez

    Thank you, I really enjoyed your writing!

    • Horatio Tan

      It’s gratifying to receive encouraging words. I’m gratified that you took the time to read my write up.

  • Daryl

    Horatio, you obviously have made some poor camera decisions lately, how do we know this is really “The Camera” and not just a passing affair?

    • Horatio Tan

      Daryl, you have no idea the extent of my affairs. Look at it this way, someone has to make the mistakes for the rest of us who has to be more sensible. It’s the only way to know. But knowing if one has made the right choice isn’t all that easy. I shoot Canon and Nikon in addition to the various Leica and Sony bodies, and the truth is they all take wonderful pictures. I can only offer a glimpse into my decision making process and experience. But I’ll say this much, if I like the 90-280mm lens. I will most likely replace my Canon with the SL. But I don’t think I’ll replace my M with the SL. Question now is whether I’ll replace my M with the Sony.

      • Daryl


  • tony

    I find the arguments in this article against the Sony A7R II to be poor except possibly for the argument about ergonomics with using Leica M lenses.

    To caveat, I don’t own a Leica SL or M and do own a Sony A7R II so take it for what it’s worth. I’ve enjoyed adapting Leica M and R lenses but I’d imagine they’re even better on the native platforms. Based on my read through, the authors issues with the Sony A7R II are based on 5 points:

    1. Weather sealing. According to Sony, the A7R II is weather resistant. What sort of incremental weather sealing is on the Leica SL and where are you planning on using it? I’m not sure I’d subject a $7.5k camera to truly harsh weather like a hurricane or using it in a combat zone. For all other conditions, the Sony A7R II should perform well enough – it’s not going to melt on the first contact with water or moisture.

    2. 42mp BSI optically stabilized vs. 24mp. I don’t think complaining about too much resolution is a valid complaint. You can always down sample and it’s an image stabilized sensor, which should allow you to get better shots than using the Leica SL. Your lowlight performance will suffer with the switch too.

    3. Silent shooting mode limitations. Does the Leica SL or M even have anything similar? Not really a valid criticism if the competition doesn’t have this feature. I may be wrong here but don’t think so.

    4. Better EVF on the SL. This is fact but I don’t think 4.4mm pixel EVF vs. 2mm pixel EVF is going to be the deciding factor between which camera to buy when you’re jumping from a camera with an OVF.

    5. Ergonomics: This is the one valid argument I can see. I don’t know how the Leica SL or M handles but the A7R II definitely isn’t the best ergonomically. I’m used to it at this point but I can see how new users can be unhappy.

    Maybe points 4 and 5 outweighs everything else for you but I find the justification for owning a Leica SL to be weak. If I wanted to spend money on a Leica camera and taste the Leica magic, I’d buy the M. The Leica SL doesn’t really perform well on tangible metrics when compared to the competition at Sony (A7R II, A7 II, A99?), Canon (5DSR, 5D MK IV), and Nikon (D810, D750, D610).

    • Horatio Tan

      I agree. Like I said, I really cannot fault the Sony, and that in every salient measurable way, the Sony is probably better. I’m not going to lie about it. But with that said, I never bonded with the Sony. I really tried. It just doesn’t feel good to the touch, which isn’t a good reason. Think of it as cars. A Lexus is a great car, but a Maserati Quattroporte is a pleasure to drive, even if the equivalent Lexus is better in every measurable way. We’re human and were effected by irrational needs. Liking something that’s comparable and purpose made for Leica lenses even at a premium isn’t wrong or stupid if it makes you happy. Because in the end, if all you want is to take a good photograph, there are more sensible options than the Sony, like the Canon 5D3.

      • tony

        Fair argument although for an irrational purchase, I’d personally still get the M over the SL! To me, the Leica SL is kinda like if a classic builder of manual transmission sports cars suddenly decided to make their first automatic transmission sports car. Looking forward to your assessment of it.

        I also think the Sony is far better than a 5D Mk 3 outside of AF (I prefer using the native Loxia lenses and Leica MF lenses, which I consider on par or better than Canon lenses outside of telephotos) and again possibly ergonomics but I understand your point.

    • Les


      Remember that you are arguing (post-purchase) based on your own criteria.

      For some, weather sealing is important, because they take pictures in the rain, or snow, or heavy dust.

      Resolution is nice if you are shooting in a controlled environment, with your camera on a heavy tripod, and all the time in the world. Even then you have to make enormous prints to tell the difference.

      Sony’s silent mode is an attempt to turn a negative into a positive (as all good advertising is). Their mechanical shutter is loud and vibration-prone, so they decided to turn this mode on. Most sensors can do this, but it’s not used because of quality issues. The Leica is already quiet and steady, so it doesn’t use “silent shutter.”

      The EVF is a big deal to many. We photographers are a visual group.

      • tony

        A few follow up points:
        1. Horatio is also arguing post purchase but my point is that even if I decided to sell my a7r II and wanted a new camera, the Leica SL screens poorly based on tangible metrics relative to the competition including the Leica M.

        2. Neither camera in my mind has adequate weather sealing. Leica M lenses also aren’t fully weather proofed and the M adapter adds another weak point for moisture. Bottom line is that the weather sealing is at most about the same especially if you are adapting lenses.

        3. Fine if you want to stick to 24mp, the a7 II, Leica M and Nikon d750 all have better or comparable sensors when you factor in dynamic range.

        4. Silent shutter – I’m kinda meh on this feature. The shutter sound on the a7r II isn’t better or worse than the Leica SL. They’re all noticeable.

        5. The EVF is better fair point but I don’t think 2mm pixels is shabby either. I prefer looking at my photos on my monitor.

        • Les


          Even DXo thinks that the SL sensor is among the best available.
          It was funny here when the news came out. All the Sony fans who usually gloat about DXo were very very meek that week… Then they promptly forgot all about it and went-on claiming that Sony has the best sensah evah, despite evidence to the contrary.

          Having tested all of those, I don’t think there’s much in it for my style of photography. The Leica sensors give me better skin tones out of the box, just like Agfa film used to. To me that’s more important than the ability to go to six-figure ISO numbers. Obviously, someone who specializes in landscape, tabletop, or astro will have different priorities.

          • tony

            You’re mis-quoting DXOmark. Their review says the SL sensor is the “best performing Leica to date.” The reality is on DXO, the Leica SL sensor rates below the Sony SLT-A99 sensor, a 4 year old design. When you look at the metrics broken down, the Sony A7 II and Nikon D750/D610 sensors are on par or better than the Leica SL sensor in every attribute. The A7R II sensor is at the very top of their entire database so there is no comparison. Bill Claff runs a site called photonstophotos that also has a lot of sensor comparison data and the Leica SL performs poorly there too.

            I can’t argue with you about your preferences over something like skin tone or comparison to your preferred film colors as that’s highly subjective, but the sensor performance reinforces the fact that the Leica SL is an underspec’d camera in 2016. As an M-lens camera, I find the Leica M and yes, the Sony A7R II, more compelling. As an AF mirrorless camera, it’s really not there given the limited lens selection and performance compared to the best Canon, Nikon and Sony has to offer. I would love to see Leica up its game and offer something much more compelling in the next 2-3 months so we’ll see what they cook up.

  • TwoStrayCats

    I have been a (can I say this name here?) N i k o n shooter for 45 years. Just recently I have gotten disgruntled and want the D810 and D5 to merge into something I actually want. If this does not happen at Photokina, I am now seriously, really seriously, considering a… a… yes… Leica SL, making the big jump. I’ve never owned a Leica. I’ve admired them – from the M3 series forward – but never owned a rangefinder. The SL solves that problem.

    I have owned a Sony. And it was one of the best televisions I ever had… great big, 27″, Trinitron.

  • danakincaid

    I like the idea of the Sony cameras, but I can’t get used to their user interface. And it’s not just cameras, it’s things like Playstation too. Sony marketing apparently thinks “different” than I do. So, I’ve been using, quite happily, with the Fuji X cameras last few years. I am also seriously looking at a Leica T.

  • Lenny Carlson

    Dear Horatio, having looked at the photos I feel compelled to help you with your next camera purchase 🙂 Have you considered a m43 camera? I hear they have autofocus to help the lazy photogs out there. And when it gets too dark, those cameras just won’t shoot, saving you from embarrassing yourself.

    • Horatio Tan

      My dearest Lenny, embarrassment isn’t the end of the world. You should try it sometimes.

  • PeterS

    Thank you Horatio, it was a nice write up. I understand your frustration with cameras because I have a similar one. I understood lately that I wan’t bother and loose my time with workarounds but focus more on enjoyment. I wish you good light.

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