Getting Back Into Film Photography

leica m6

Leica M6 - Taken with Fuji X-Pro 1

For the last few years I’ve been in a creative rut. That could be from a number of things. I’ve been trying to settle into a career after going back to school in 2010. During art school I was able to do almost anything I wanted. I had a seemingly endless amount of equipment and studio space available, plus loads of talented people pushing me to be creative. But after graduation you have to be more self-motivated. I’m fortunate to be in a career that allows me to get the creative juices flowing a bit, but it isn’t the same and it arguably isn’t as hands-on or physical. Also at work I don’t get to be weird. I missed being weird.

So I wanted to get back into photography. It’s something I did for many years and still kind of do. Typically I only carry my camera with me on trips, and we don’t make a lot of those. My only camera has been a Fuji X-Pro1 practically since it’s release date almost 10 years ago. I’ve had a single lens, the 35mm f/1.4. Stunning lens and tack sharp. But, needless to say, at about 10 years old, the Fuji was starting to feel a bit dated.

This had me looking at the Fuji X-Pro 3 that had just been released. I also knew the X100V was just around the corner, too. I really love Fuji’s X series cameras, and the rangefinder style. I did get to test an X-Pro 3 at the local camera shop, and the feeling was much like when you upgrade a smartphone you’ve had for 3+ years. It was incredibly snappy in comparison to my old Fooj. Do I scoop this up or wait for the X100V? Also ~$2,000 for a new camera body, plus I was interested in getting the smaller, 35mm equivalent 23mm f/2 lens. That’s a good amount of money for something I’d need to replace again in the future.

With that in mind I held off on the purchase. I watched countless review videos on the X100V thinking it may be the better choice. It’s certainly a bit cheaper with the lens built in. The focal length is perfect, weather-sealed with an adaptor, small size and easy to carry with arguably nicer dials and features than the X-Pro 3. But again, in the back of my mind it felt like I was going to be buying something temporary.

What I really wanted was a pure, stripped down experience when making photographs. I wanted the rangefinder style and ergonomics. I wanted a build-quality second to none. I wanted something that would last me forever. I believe what I wanted was a Leica. But which one? My only experience with Leica in the past was holding one of my art history professor’s M3. At least I’m pretty sure it was an M3. The weight alone is something I’ll never forget. How does a camera this small weigh this much? It had heft.

kid doing a wheelie on a bike

Kodak Portra 400

So began my research. I’ve always loved the 35mm focal length at full-frame, as in not on a cropped sensor. This right away knocked the M3 off the list. You can use it with a 35mm lens, sure, but the lack of framelines would definitely take away from the experience. This had me looking all over for an M2, which does have the framelines for 35mm. And after seeing how much Leica’s sold for on the internet, I didn’t dare look at anything above an M2.

It’s no secret that Leica’s are expensive. The price did prevent me from buying one right away. I figured I’d find a deal if I waited long enough. I felt that I was in no rush to buy a new camera so I just kept researching. After a few weeks I wasn’t so sure the M2 was for me. The lack of a lightmeter for someone getting back into purely manual photography would mean wasting film. I’m aware of the Sunny 16 method, but trust me, I’d have lost a lot of shots. And film isn’t cheap, which I soon found out.

Some how, and I’m not exactly sure why, but I started drooling over the M6 hard. And honestly at first, I thought the style of the body was kind of ugly. It has more branding, it has a weird corner film rewind knob thingy and it isn’t painted brass like the M2, M3 and some M4’s. Speaking of, why did I skip the M4 and M5? Well the M5 is ugly. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s like the ugly Leica M stepchild. The M4 is much like the M6 in looks, features and ergonomics but no built-in lightmeter.

The Leica bug bit me even harder at this point and I just went for it. I purchased the first M6 I found for a “good price” (which is relative, I know.) I justified this by comparing it to the amount I would have spent on a new Fuji kit and a 40th birthday gift to myself. Plus I don’t have to replace a Leica. I paired it with a used Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Nokton Classic. I really love this lens. The aperture ring is a bit fidly, but it’ll do. The image quality is fantastic, and really, it’s the lens that’s making the image, not the camera. If I ever go for a “forever” lens it will be the Summicron 35mm f/2.

people standing in line to buy ice cream

Kodak Portra 400

So, does the M6 or probably any Leica for that matter live up to the hype? After using it for a few months I’d say yes. This isn’t something I’d have bought if I were, say, 1-5 years into my photography journey. But at 15-20 years, I knew exactly what I wanted. The camera is rock-solid and feels extremely rigid in the hands. It’s features are simple and straight to the point but executed in such a way that you can’t argue with it. This is why their designs have barely changed since the 1950s. I carry it almost everywhere. I love this camera so much that if film photography dies out completely, I will happily fork over the dollars for a digital Leica M.

Originally this post was to talk about getting back into film photography and honestly this was my first step. I’ll update this post when I’ve written part two, which will talk more about my experience actually shooting film again and how things have evolved to where it is in 2020.