Harnessing The "Force" inside the Leica S

Last Friday the sky was gray and soft as a slightly trampled fleece blanket. Ideal conditions, it turned out, to discover how much shooting a Leica camera is like blowing up the Death Star.

With the Photoplus Expo in town, Milk Studios was hosting a demonstration of the new Leica S medium-format camera. My goal was to get my hands all over the sexy thing as well as anything else with “Leica” on it. First up was the M9 digital rangefinder.

The trick to shooting a rangefinder camera like the M9 is to prefocus, four different people told me, including my dad who also came along on the highline walking session after jokingly offering his firstborn — me — as collateral for the new M9 Monochrom. In both cameras the viewfinder remains in perfect focus at all times, except for a rectangular box that hangs in the center and splits the image into two blurry versions as if you’re staring at a subject cross-eyed. Focusing means aiming the box and then swiveling the lens ring until the two images align — pretty much exactly like the targeting system Luke Skywalker uses on the Death Star run (RIP Biggs). The Force wasn’t strong with me that day, however, and I never quite nailed my shots, even when I pretended that I was collecting intel for the Rebel Alliance on a new ultra-secret weapon.

My dad knew what he was about though. The M9 Monochrom trades in the ability to shoot color for a higher resolution and better max ISO, and you could see it in my dad’s pictures. Crystal photos with buttery bokeh are the prize when you capture a shot with the 35mm f/1.4 lens wide open.

Back in the studio, a model was getting lathered in lotion for Leica S test shoots. I found an unattended camera marked with a “prototype” label — it doesn’t go on sale until the end of the year — and started pawing my way through its features. Like the S2, the camera is almost completely devoid of labels. Presumably you know what you’re doing if you’re able to get one of these bad boys, but flipping through the menu and adjusting settings was relatively easy even for a padawan like me (sorry). There are expensive cameras that have rinky-dink lightweight bodies, but this one felt expensive, like the night-vision goggles in Jurassic Park. This is a classy camera, and I highly recommend touching it as much as you can if you ever get the opportunity. In the end I wasn’t able to take a photo with the Leica S, but I can without a doubt say that holding the heavy, beautiful camera in my hands made me feel like a better photographer. And that’s basically the most important thing, I think.

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