Leica M10-P vs. Sony A7riii and Shooting the Simon and Garfunkel Story

A couple of months ago I got myself up very early one Sunday and travelled to Plymouth to take some photos for the production company of a stage production called “The Simon and Garfunkel Story”. As I do with most of my professional work, I shot the job with the work kit: the Sony A7riii and various Zeiss lenses. In between the times I was shooting for the client, I also shot for myself with my own camera: the Leica M10-P and the 50mm ZM Sonnar. I got the results I wanted with both cameras, but the experience and reasoning behind shooting each of them was very different.

If there’s one thing I’m an advocate for as a photographer it’s using the right camera for the job – but I do caveat that by saying that I think there’s more to what makes the right camera than the conventional or more objective ways it’s possible to judge the things. I’ve previously reviewed a Sony A7 series camera here – quite unfavourably in some regards – but for all the things that continue to frustrate me about them, I still mostly shoot Sony cameras when I’m being paid. The third generation cameras have definitely improved upon a lot of what used to frustrate me about the second-gen cameras, though the abundance of buttons and features still overwhelms me in use.

Despite this, ultimately, they do feel like the right cameras for the job when it comes to this sort of job. Easy and reliable control over exposure with direct feedback in the viewfinder, good resolution, high dynamic range, good low light performance (both in terms of the results and how well the AF works), and “eye AF” that finds and locks onto eyes when your shooting in continuous AF all make for a camera that’s so easy to shoot that I hardly have to think about what I’m doing beyond framing. This is pretty much what I said about the previous-gen A7rii – all this stuff make my job very easy in terms of fulfilling my goals for the end result and reliably nailing the brief for the client.

That said, process of actually taking the photos is quite a bit less rewarding than I experience when I shoot with some of my other cameras. Now, a lot of the time, I must admit, this doesn’t bother me so much these days. When I’m working I just want to get the job done and get out as efficiently with the best results I can achieve. That in itself is fulfilling enough without so much of a need to enjoy the process of actually taking the photos.

In the case of this particular job, the brief was very simple. I was required to take a series of images that could be used for the reissue of the performance programme and promotional materials. The show has been running for years, but the guys who perform it have changed a few times. As such, I was there in the afternoon before the show started to capture the guys on stage in their outfits as if they were playing in front of a crowd. It’d spoil the show a bit having me run around on stage during a performance, so they just played a few bits of a few songs with the lighting as it would be when they played to the audience later.

The only other shots I was asked to take were a couple that included the audience and one from the back of the stage as they were taking a bow at the end of the performance.

I can tell you one thing for free, running on stage and jumping up onto the drum riser and taking these next couple of photos in front of all those people was quite exciting!

Job done, brief fulfilled, and as it turned out the client was really happy with the images! On this particular job though, I knew there was going to be a lot of time that I wasn’t working. It was in Plymouth, which is 3 hours from where I live, and with the shoot being split into a bit in the afternoon and a smaller bit in the later-evening, I knew there was going to be some time and potential for me to take a few photos that were outside of the brief, just for my own enjoyment. And if I know there’s going to be an opportunity for me to spend some time indulging in what feels to me to be a more true photographic experience, then I will take a camera that can give me those kicks – in this case, the Leica M10-P

I’d chatted to the client on the way down about whether or not the guys would be happy with me taking some backstage shots. He assured me they wouldn’t mind. As it turned out, they were more than happy with me snapping away. To be honest, this doesn’t feel like a complete set of “backstage” images. I think I’d have to follow them round for a few shows to tell a more full story, and really capture the people and activity behind the performance, but I feel like I did manage to capture something of that in the few hours I had.

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

The Simon & Garfunkel Story - Back stage

Regardless of the extent of the outcome, the experience really reminded how different I work with different cameras, and how they impact on my approach – and I don’t just mean in a technical or objective sense. As I’ve said, shooting with the Sonys feels much more about getting the job done efficiently, but shooting them – however used to them and comfortable I am with them – still feels like I’m quite disconnected from a photographic process and am just doing a “job”.

When I pick up a more simple and stripped back camera like my M10-P, I feel much more connected to what I’m doing as a photographer. It’s this that makes it feel more like the right choice for being more creative or telling a story within my photos, rather than just achieving a pre-specified goal for a client.

Of course, to a degree, this is probably a load of nonsense – there are certainly a lot of people out there who’s experience and preferences are different to mine. And it’s true I could have taken the backstage images with the Sony and likely got the exact same – if not objectively better – outcome. The point I’m trying to make though there’s more to me in terms of what makes a camera the right one for the job than just the objective factors. The right camera for the job can also be the one that gives the greatest sense of connection to the process and subject matter. Ultimately, the right camera for the job is the one that – for whatever reason – feels like it’s the right one to the photographer who’s taking the photos… and in my case, that can be two very different cameras, even on the same day!

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26 thoughts on “Leica M10-P vs. Sony A7riii and Shooting the Simon and Garfunkel Story”

  1. First of all great images Hamish, I hope the client was happy with your stellar work.

    I totally concur with you. The Sony’s are great image making tools when you need to get the job done. The horrendous menu trees and superfluous options just make the camera less enjoyable to use making me feel somewhat disjointed from the shooting experience – I might as well be shooting with my phone.

    When I’m shooting with a Leica or a more manual offering everything feels more personal and considered, which I like to think is reflected in my images.

    1. Cheers, Adam – they were definitely happy, which is always nice!
      And yeah, I think we see eye to eye on this one!

  2. I would only use a Sony a7 if I was paid to do so. I had an a7R. The technology seems stunningly good, but the ergonomics and software stunningly bad. Ultimately my son trashed the camera on a long trip in China and I sold it for loose change. Leica M, on the other hand, is of course largely about ergonomics because it makes taking photographs easy and fun, whether film or digital. I was walking around on Saturday with Leica III and M10 and use them much the same, even though they were made over 80 years apart. Most modern consumer cameras are designed to do everything and have buttons everywhere. The M10 has only three named buttons (LV, play, menu) and two dials (speed, aperture). I was using 28mm on the M10, on infinity lock switching occasionally between f5.6 and f11. Point and click. So you are definitely not alone and whereas you a& images do a job, I much prefer the M10 images. I hope they get used.

    1. I actually find the third-gen camera ergonomics quite good, but yeah, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the first one which didn’t even enhance the shutter button in the right place.
      That said, I completely agree with you about the m10. I too shoot old barnack cameras I find them little different to shoot to my most modern Leicas. They just work.

  3. Charles Morgan

    Lovely images. May I ask – the B&W images from the Leica M10 with the Sonnar – are they as they come from the camera, or do you any post processing beyond the normal? They are really very beautiful, and almost enough to persuade me to try some digital black and white!

    1. There is a chunk of sonnar character here for sure, but yeah, I post processed them in lightroom to my taste. For me, digital black and white needs a bit of lens-softness to work. I often add a little bit of digital-fake-grain too to soften the image more. I think I did that here

  4. The experience that you describe here is very familiar to me, though in my case I shuttle between shooting Fuji-X cameras and shooting a broad array of manual film cameras. The limitations of various types of camera have a distinct impact on how I shoot, which certainly alters both the results and my experience. Sometimes I fear that my opinions on this topic are partly just a justification for GAS, but then I spend a day alternating between approaches, as you did in Plymouth, and I’m reassured that having a variety of tools to choose from is a good thing. There is an often repeated argument that a serious photographer should work with just one type of camera so that it becomes so familiar that using it is entirely automatic. I used a single camera for more than two decades, so I tried that way of working too. I feel certain that I have learned a lot more, with real benefits in my work, by stretching to adapt to the extremely varied tools I use now.

    1. Yeah, it’s one of those cliches that gets repeated as fact. Cameras make great teaching tools I think – they push you to think differently and approach the way you work with a different mindset. This might not comply with rules that most people set out, but we are all different, so there’s no reasons folks like you and I wouldn’t get something more out of not just shooting with one lens/camera

  5. Some superb images with full tonal and contrast range: Fine work, Hamish. Have you ever tried a Fuji XPro body in lieu of the Sony? Would like to hear your thoughts, as I am considering a purchase.

    1. Thanks Roger. I did shoot a Fuji xpro for a while. I use lightroom and didn’t like the results from the Fuji/Lightroom combo. I also found the focusing a bit hit and miss. I know a lot of people who rave about them though…
      I’m the wrong person to talk positively about Fuji, to be fair ????

  6. Those are great pictures. When I look at them I don’t really care what you used to take them, only that they’re good. Wouid your client have specified the subject must’ve been shot with a Leica? (if it was me I would… :D)

    I guess if I’m being really objective you perhaps feel ‘safer’ using the Sony kit for professional assigments as you know with all it’s features and assistance it’s going to hit the mark more than the M, but the M is just a better device to use for personal stuff because it’s so simple and well designed.

    1. The client, like pretty much every client I’ve ever worked for, couldn’t give the first bit of shit what camera I used, why, or how.
      I do feel safer with the Sony, you’re right – but it’s almost entirely a speed thing. These were taken in 10-15 second snippets of songs with the camera on continuous AF and shooting. With multiple people, it’s way easier being able to take 5 shots in a second and pick the one where neither of them are blinking (or whatever), than having to get them to do the same thing repeatedly.
      These were shot at f8 at least, so focusing wouldn’t have been an issue, and I’d have been able to get the exposure fine in the exact way I did with the Sony, so I expect I could shoot them with the Leica… it’s just, yeah, safer, quicker, easier etc to rely on the automation in the Sony

  7. Must be said it’s a shame you couldn’t have referenced S&G and done the gig using a Ni-kon camera on Kodachrome, but seriously some film stock with a 50 1.4 would have added atmosphere from the Simon and Garfunkel era. Did you think of pitching that as an idea? I wonder if editors and art directors will ever specify film at some point in the future.
    I thought it was odd and maybe a bit of shame that the Ryan McGinley shoot of Brad Pitt for GQ was digital when McGinley is known for shooting 35mm film, but there you go.

    1. Thanks David, I didn’t – not least because from previous experience of this client, he likes to see the shots on the shoot and have his creative input. I find this more and more these days. I trust film, clients less so

  8. Good article and photography, I enjoyed it.
    I went from Leica film, to Canon digital, a flirtation with Sony and now back to Leica. Funnily enough on the subject of focus, I find more shots in focus now than when I shot Canon or Sony, either on the M10 or SL (with M Lenses) if you commit to a set of lenses then focussing is very intuitive and fast, even at f1.4 or even 0.95 its rare images are out of focus and I wear glasses.

    All my professional work is now on manual lenses and I find, because it is harder and requires more concentration, I get better pictures.

    For me autofocus was a solution to a problem that never was a problem, there’s nothing wrong with Sony or Canon of course, but the results I get from fast apertures on the Leica glass is definitley superior.

  9. Totally agreed Hamish. Great article. Since getting my M10-D, I’ve been shooting almost every job on it. With my Canon’s on standby. But 95% unused. There is something quite organic about the images it takes. But more than that I totally agree with the user experience. So much so, that clients have noticed, expressed great interest, and in one case – after four days shooting this way, even asked for me
    To carry on shooting on it when I suggested we shoot fast on a 1DXii (as we were extremely time restricted on that last day)!

    Also the D version has allowed me to almost eliminate the computer for editing. I’ve been selecting, downloading and editing the RAW files onto my phone, finishing them and providing the client with HR Tiffs or jpegs right from my phone! It’s also allowed a rudimentary form of wireless tethering.

    I hasten to say – for reasons that get branded around a lot these days when using digital cameras, that the final pics almost seem like film. At least to my eye, and after years of shooting both film and trying to emulate it with digital.

    Great article and great shots. Look forward to seeing more that you shoot on this camera.

    1. Thanks Simon – might you be able to tell this story in more detail in the form of a guest post? I’d be quite interested in hearing more

  10. the backstage photos are phenomenal…I’m not sure if using the Leica made that difference or not. The sony photos are good but generic. If I were your client, I would pay you good money for the backstage Leica photos and dump the sony photos. Just my opinion.

    1. Thanks Joseph – unfortunately, more “generic” images are still a lot more suitable for the task of promoting the show to a wide audience. Thanks though

  11. There’s no doubt that when I make pictures using either my Leica M7 or M9 cameras that I feel much more connected to the photographic process. This became apparent to me when I did all the still photos for the 2010 film The Rig. The images made with my Canon EOS-1Ds inside a sound blimp were perfectly fine. However the photos I made with my M7 had a feel to them that made you feel like you were right in the middle of the scene, which I was.

  12. It’s good to see from the other side that the Leica is generally worth the bang for the buck, as someone with a Sony A3iii this is refreshing comparison. The M7 definitely looks like it had the edge in the photos you took. I really feel I need to update my kit and get a nice Leica when I have the chance!

    Thanks Hamish

    1. Honestly, it’s great to have access to both! I’ve been using the sonys a little more for personal work lately after bringing home a retired one from work. There are definitely downsides, but sometimes it’s nice to work with a camera that does almost too much for you… sometimes…

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