Simon Griffee Design Photography Writing Illustration

What Camera Should I Use to Learn Photography?

2014 October 27

Though I use other cameras (currently Fuji X100S and Ricoh GRD), I like rangefinder cameras. The Leica M is — unfortunately — the only digital rangefinder camera that is made at this point in time.1

The great advantage of a rangefinder is this: With some practice and experience you can reliably focus the camera without putting it to your eye or pointing it at the subject. You can do this because the lens rotation stops at both far and close focus points and you can judge the focus distance by feeling the relative position of the finger tab on the lens, or, if you’re less experienced, by looking at the distance markings on the lens.

The other advantage of the Leica is the simplicity of the manual controls necessary for photography: Aperture, shutter speed, focus, shutter release. They are right there as mechanical, tactile controls. I don’t like how Leicas are becoming increasingly complex with the addition of video and so on to the M model. Not that I mind new designs, but I think they should also make a more affordable model focussed on simplicity above all, something like this.

So I recommend a Leica M9 rangefinder, but I do this with a heart weighed down by the knowledge of the price of the thing.2

Leica or not, the best thing to do is choose one camera and use it together with one lens of one focal length for an extended period of time — the camera and lens should feel good in your hands. You will then know your tool and have a point of reference. Tools do matter, but not nearly as much as where you point them and where you stand. You need to know yourself, what’s in your heart, and then you need to make choices about what to show to the world.

  1. Though you may be able to find a used Epson RD-1, they are no longer made, unless I’m mistaken. Someone in Japan please let me know if so! It was a good camera, with handling advantages over the Leica: It had a manual shutter winder, which I am hoping Leica will bring back to the digital M. ↩︎

  2. You can get a used film Leica M3 and be very happy, but the time and cost of film plus development may put you off, though many love the slower analogue process. ↩︎