How difficult is it to transition from AF to M10 rangefinder?

JohnSantaFe

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I have been shooting mirrorless autofocus for years, mostly landscape, travel, architecture , but never on a rangefinder. I’m drawn to acquiring a used M10 because so many photographers rave about the shooting experience and image quality. But I also see posts where some go back to AF cameras, after being frustrated by manual focus. How difficult is the transition, and how long does it take to master the Leica rangefinder? Thanks.
 
Can't speak to the M10 specifically but rangefinder focusing is easy enough that millions of amateurs like my grandmother managed, back in the before-SLRs-ruled time. Doing it very quickly may be difficult, but you don't have "street" or children or sports in your list.
What many don't like is that you don't see your composition through the lens, with precise framing and dof preview. Might be a non-issue with an M10 for your more static subjects, I believe it offers live view or you can just gimp and retake if necessary. Then again if you don't use the viewfinder, you might as well use any other camera.
 
My journey was from film SLRs to DSLRs to mirrorless and gradually film alongside mirrorless with a mix of autofocus compacts, TLRs, SLRs and rangefinders. Manual focus takes both time and mental processing power that autofocus doesn't. Rangefinders are an antiquated technology from a bygone era and yet we have decades of techniques developed and passed down from many thousands of master and amateur shooters who used rangefinders for fast action capturing candid shots. There are two main tips for speeding up manually focusing with a rangefinder:

1. Zone focusing
This is where you use the distance scale on the lens barrel to set your focus in anticipation of how close you expect the action will be. You usually have to be shooting with a 50mm lens or wider and have the lens stopped down to at least ƒ/5.6. But do this technique enough and you basically get to use the camera as a point and shoot. It's faster than any autofocus.

2. Focus tab
A lot of lenses for the Leica M system have what's called a focus tab, which on Leicas is a semicirclular slot on the focus ring for your finger to fit in. This way, you can adjust focus with that one finger. Across most M lenses with a focus tab, the focus distance is consistent at different points, so the 6 o'clock position is one consistent distance, the 4 o'clock is another, etc. I forget what distances they are; neither of my Leica lenses have focus tabs. It's also common for Leica shooters, when they have an eye on action coming up, to move the focus tab as they're getting closer or farther to keep it floating on the subject. The fact that the viewfinder image doesn't get blurry when the lens is out of focus can help prevent you from being distracted while doing this.


Rangefinders are just cameras with one type of focusing mechanism. They're still a box that a strip of film or a digital sensor to goes in. Leica wasn't the only company to make rangefinders, but it's one of the only one who still does. They're not inherently better than SLRs but the rarity of rangefinders and the fact that one of the only companies that still makes them charges a premium for them has created a mystique around rangefinders. They have not been goods with mass appeal for decades now. Some people who try them just don't like them and that's fine. I have an M3 and the build quality is really nice, but the density and mechanical precision don't seem that much more magical to me than a really nice mechanical SLR. I enjoy shooting rangefinders, just as I enjoy shooting SLRs. As far as how long it takes to get used to shooting, that will depend on how much you practice with it. Rangefinders aren't for everybody but I think the particular challenges of shooting with them are overstated. It's fine to not like them but getting the hang of one isn't that hard. Like with anything it takes practice.
 
My journey was from film SLRs to DSLRs to mirrorless and gradually film alongside mirrorless with a mix of autofocus compacts, TLRs, SLRs and rangefinders. Manual focus takes both time and mental processing power that autofocus doesn't. Rangefinders are an antiquated technology from a bygone era and yet we have decades of techniques developed and passed down from many thousands of master and amateur shooters who used rangefinders for fast action capturing candid shots. There are two main tips for speeding up manually focusing with a rangefinder:

1. Zone focusing
This is where you use the distance scale on the lens barrel to set your focus in anticipation of how close you expect the action will be. You usually have to be shooting with a 50mm lens or wider and have the lens stopped down to at least ƒ/5.6. But do this technique enough and you basically get to use the camera as a point and shoot. It's faster than any autofocus.

2. Focus tab
A lot of lenses for the Leica M system have what's called a focus tab, which on Leicas is a semicirclular slot on the focus ring for your finger to fit in. This way, you can adjust focus with that one finger. Across most M lenses with a focus tab, the focus distance is consistent at different points, so the 6 o'clock position is one consistent distance, the 4 o'clock is another, etc. I forget what distances they are; neither of my Leica lenses have focus tabs. It's also common for Leica shooters, when they have an eye on action coming up, to move the focus tab as they're getting closer or farther to keep it floating on the subject. The fact that the viewfinder image doesn't get blurry when the lens is out of focus can help prevent you from being distracted while doing this.


Rangefinders are just cameras with one type of focusing mechanism. They're still a box that a strip of film or a digital sensor to goes in. Leica wasn't the only company to make rangefinders, but it's one of the only one who still does. They're not inherently better than SLRs but the rarity of rangefinders and the fact that one of the only companies that still makes them charges a premium for them has created a mystique around rangefinders. They have not been goods with mass appeal for decades now. Some people who try them just don't like them and that's fine. I have an M3 and the build quality is really nice, but the density and mechanical precision don't seem that much more magical to me than a really nice mechanical SLR. I enjoy shooting rangefinders, just as I enjoy shooting SLRs. As far as how long it takes to get used to shooting, that will depend on how much you practice with it. Rangefinders aren't for everybody but I think the particular challenges of shooting with them are overstated. It's fine to not like them but getting the hang of one isn't that hard. Like with anything it takes practice.
I really appreciate you taking the time to flesh out my question in detail. Extremely helpful, thank you!
 
I primarily use autofocus cameras, but I also shoot many different rangefinder cameras including a Leica M10. The Leica is really my favorite, providing I don't need to shoot fast. It really depends on what you are going to photograph. Most of what I shoot are static subjects, so taking time to focus is not a problem and I enjoy it, but if you're shooting fast moving kids or sports I would stick to AF. ---jb.
 
I'd add one thing based on something @Evergreen States said:

The fact that the viewfinder image doesn't get blurry when the lens is out of focus can help prevent you from being distracted while doing this.

People rant and rave all over the internet about the ability to see things outside of the frame with a rangefinder, but this is the single biggest reason I keep using them. No matter what you're shooting, being able to bring the camera or viewfinder up to your eye and see through it clearly without any delay is a huge benefit. Quite often I'll be walking and bring the camera to my eye without even trying to focus just to see if I like the framing.

Another way this is especially useful is that the clarity of view is exactly the same regardless of what I'm using from 15mm to 135mm. A lot of people don't like using 135mm with a rangefinder, but I like being able to see the whole frame clearly (instead of just the slice that's in focus) when I'm framing.

As for the actual focusing part of the equation: with practice (and especially with a focusing tab), manual focusing a rangefinder can be faster and more reliable than autofocus. Half the time I'm almost in focus before I've even lifted the camera to my eye thanks to muscle memory alone, and I never have to worry about a computer chip deciding a leaf in the foreground is more important than the actual subject!
 
Terrific run down on RF by Evergreen States, and Coldkennels. I’ve never read their particular points before. Ask a good cabinetmaker why he uses a particular type of plane, chances are there is a very good reason, but he’s interested in the result and can’t tell you why.

Picking the eye to focus on, or picking a particular brick corner for hyperfocal focussing for maximum sharpness across the depth of a scene are compelling reasons for manual focus with a rangefinder. It’s quick and makes use of your photographic intelligence acquired from experience. Even with sports this works and changes the sorts of photographs achievable. I used my M9-P and a 50 for my son’s school basketball. The shots were not the usual centred crisp subject against a background blur. There was more of the context. And if you wanted one particular player in focus, you know you got it and don’t have to check.

Just as the lenses and focus practice and experience take the technology out of the link between photographer and subject, any Leica body and lens works similarly for control of exposure, even, or especially, with automatic shutter speed setting. Quick overrides with a half press and tilting the camera down to obtain a slower speed provide instant exposure compensation adjustment. But many of us shoot manual as we did with film to remain in control when we know what we want and remove the possibility of automatic exposure interfering.

Leicas with manual focus lenses and manual exposure settings, both set in advance, are incredibly quick and reliable. Go back to the pre-M rangefinder era and use accessory finders, the SBOOI for the 50 especially, and you get the fastest and most discrete street shooter there is. The SHOOC finder for framing is brilliant for the 135 too.
 
If you have never used a rangefinder previously, it might seem odd at first. Only a tiny center portion of the image area is used for focusing and the rest of the image area is always in focus. If your use of AF cameras has been to use the center AF sensor to focus and recompose, you can understand this well because it's the same type of handling. But if you've only allowed the AF camera to pick the focus points, it might be a bit traumatic first out of the gate. When I bought my first Leica back in the 1980s I was using Nikon F and F2 cameras that were completely backwards with the controls to the Leica. It was frustrating and I ended up selling the Leica gear because it felt strange to me. Later in the early 2000s, I bought another Leica and loved it. At the time I was using Canon AF SLRs and using the focus-recompose method. Plus Canon's controls were the same as the Leica as far as direction of focus and aperture rings were concerned.

I don't own a Leica these days. Too expensive for a retiree. However I enjoy Fuji X-Pros with their faux rangefinderness that I can use with AF Fuji or manual focus Voigtlander lenses. They pair up well with Nikon DSLRs that I also use.

Enjoy the M10. It's a great camera and you will adapt to it in time.
 
One extra point: despite closing in on 50 years of rangefinder focussing for me it’s only quick with the camera horizontal. I don’t know why or whether it’s the same for others but I lose the two images so often in portrait orientation. I focus horizontal and then rotate the camera.
 
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I started making photographs with a fixed focus camera around about 1963 when I was about 9, had my first rangefinder focusing camera two years later, had my first reflex focusing camera two years after that. It never seemed to be that difficult to focus an RF camera at all, easier in many lighting circumstances than a reflex camera. I didn't own an autofocus camera until somewhere in the early 2000s, and still find autofocus much harder to get what I want out of compared to RF or reflex or EVF manual focusing; I still usually turn it off on those of my cameras that have it.

Even just simple scale focus by guess can be extremely accurate, fast, and easy once you develop the skill of estimating distances well. And then there's the simple technique of zone focus which is so easy to do with RF cameras since nearly all RF lenses include a DOF scale on them... :D

What I'd suggest is that if you buy an M, forget about what anyone has said about how easy or hard it is to focus. Read the owner's manual instruction on how to focus the camera, and go out to practice and make photos with it. A little time in the field practicing ... and remember that with a digital camera you have an infinite number of frames to practice with at no cost and with no delay to seeing what you have achieved! ... and you'll get the hang of it in no time.

G

BTW: I now own and use an M4-2, an M10 Monochrom, and an M10-R as my main kit. They are, to me, just about the perfect cameras for the vast majority of what I use a camera for. And the M10 Monochrom is my 90% "grab and go" choice now... it has supplanted all my previous favorite M cameras, both film and digital.
 
Adding a bit more to @Evergreen States and @Coldkennels I use (film) rangefinders as my primary cameras. I also have a pair of mirrorless cameras that get used with manual focus lenses at least as much as auto focus. I also have, inevitably given my age, a small number of mechanical manual focus film slr’s and have had af dslr’s.

The key elements of rangefinder shooting for me are:

1. The window finder - as noted it’s always clear from side to side and front to back. The viewfinder is just a window with some framelines that indicate, approximately, what you will ‘cut’ from the scene when you release the shutter. As such, the viewfinder encourages you to see the world and the subjects place in the world, unlike an slr that isolates the in focus subject as a consequence of the limited depth of field of a wide open lens. This is a very different and, in my view, intimate way of seeing and framing. You need to accept it’s not accurate like mirrorless or slr. Also, that the view bears no real relation to a photo - almost the opposite of mirrorless and slr.

2. Manual focus - I just like manual focus and being able to choose the spot. Only having focus at the centre can lead to less accuracy as you may need to focus and recompose, but there’s no need to move focus points around the screen and so on. Relying on camera selection of focus points can be a bit hit and miss, although af with eye selection is quite something in the right place (if I was a pro shooting people and families I think that would be pretty indispensable these days). Even with my mirrorless cameras I mostly use manual focus lenses. I do use af with af lenses though, as I don’t find fly by wire focusing pleasant.

Rangefinders are, generally, easier to focus than manual focus slr’s at shorter to standard focal lengths and harder with long focal lengths. There also better with short large aperture lenses.

I’m not sure how long it would take to get used to. The biggest element for me in moving from my (by then) DSLR set up, was that I found the window finder completely compelling. If you like that then you’ll learn to focus quite easily. If you find you prefer the precision and view from an slr/mirrorless then you will likely revert.

Hope this is helpful

Mike
 
You guys are terrifically helpful. And encouraging.....i do like the idea of slowing down and seeing the entire scene/context before snapping the shutter. I am beginning to think that a rangefinder would take my photography up a notch. I guess the only other downside is the lack of telephoto lenses, but most of my shooting is wide or normal field of view. I've learned with my Q2M that there is plenty to shoot even with a fixed lens compact. thanks again, everyone. I should just go for it, lol.
 
The difference between AF and RF MF, no thinking involved and you are really know what you are doing.

For example, no AF really needed for landscape. But to know it you need to know what DOF really is.

Start with understanding of DOF by using, practicing of DOF Master.
Once you will get the feel of DOF, RF lens focusing is easy for landscapes and such.
Because quality RF lens has good focus and DOF scale.

Once you will understand DOF and how to set it visualy on RF lens according to what and where it needs to be in focus here will be last and optional step which will set you free and confident to get away from AF once and for all.

It is scale focusing by the RF lens focus tab. Very easy with practice. Remember which position of ficus tab is related to which distance. And because you will master the DOF already, focusing will be done without looking at RF patch and without looking at lens scales.
Just by touching tab you will know where focus is.
Keeping tab at same position means you always know where to move it. It is split of the second focusing then.

More you will practice, more easy it is going to be. Like taking picture of someone walking towards you while you are walking and it is 50mm RF lens at f4 or even larger apertures.

On my travels I often miss my M4-2;and Summarit-M 35 2.5. Fastest FF rig I ever had. No wake up, no focus hunting.

So, it is very important to have lens with smooth focus ring and well done, placed focus tab.

Without this, people struggle and switch to AF :)
 
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I have both DSLR's and RF's. You will have more in-focus photos with DSLR's. You are just not as fast as autofocus, nor as accurate.
You speak entirely for yourself in this regard, Boojum. I hate shooting stuff like this with anything that uses autofocus; manual focusing is faster, more predictable, and more reliable:

Leica Ic - Roll 10 - Rollei Retro 400S - LC29 (6) - FINAL EDIT.jpg

These lads were going about 35/40mph, if I remember right. I was obviously panning with them as I shot - no time for AF hunting or shutter lag.
 
If you decide that the RF is the way to go I would recommend using only it for some goodly period of time until the focusing becomes second nature. Of the three things you photograph mainly, travel is the only one that will challenge your ability to focus quickly so if that's very important you might want to consider sticking to AF gear. The only thing that sets a Leica apart is the lore of Leica shooting and it's history. Just about any good camera of comparable specs will do images just as well.
 
Rangefinder shooting with a Leica M brings its own special rewards and challenges. I have to say that while I was a dedicated Leica M guy in my 40's now that I am in my 60's I do sometimes struggle. I say this for a few reasons. Back then I always shot with a Leica M3 which had the best viewfinder and I found it eminently workable.

-The M3 had a finder magnification of .91. Since then it has all been downhill somewhat - I bought a Leica M8 digital without quite realizing what impact a viewfinder magnification of a paltry .68 would have on my shooting. The M10 has .73 I believe - better than my old M8 but not by a hell of a lot and I do find it restricting. Possibly OK if you shoot 28mm or 35mm where the depth of field is greater and focusing accuracy less critical but if you are like me and like shooting 50mm and 90mm then - bad luck! Shooting with these slightly longer lenses is a bit of a crap shoot. Of course, you could use a top mounted accessory EVF but these are hellish expensive and of course kind of defeat the purpose of using a rangefinder camera. Or you can do as I do a use a screw in accessory magnifier for the viewfinder. But the best ones are Leica and again cost $$$$$$$$$$$.

-My eyes have aged significantly and Leica M cameras do not have any inbuilt diopter adjustments. Of course you can buy a suitable Leica screw in diopter but last time I checked my local camera store these Leica ones are $400 Australian (not sure in USA or Europe but you get the idea.) And if your eyeglass prescription changes over the years as mine did then you must once more buy a new diopter as the Leica ones each only come in a single level of adjustment. You can find some 3rd party adjustable ones and buy one of these, but these tend not to be as good as the Leica ones (of course) through they can work. BTW finding the right diopter is a bit of an art and a science in itself due to the way Leica calibrate their finders. That is to say if your eyeglass prescription is for -2 diopters do not assume the diopter you need to buy will be the same - it is not. (I will leave you to do the research on the intricacies.) I would advise that if you go down the Leica M route and need eye glass correction then consider buying a variable diopter one - it's just easier although it comes with its own issues.

- Success with a Leica M depends on what your shooting habits, expectations and subject types are. You need to be quite slow and deliberate. If this does not describe your style of shooting then maybe a Leica M is not for you. If it si - then have at it!

- You need to budget for a recalibration of your rangefinder - many people do it annually (which also means being without the camera for a time and if you send it to Leica that might be for quite a long time. But it is something a good technician can do if you can find one locally. Again there will be a cost (I would guess around $100+ for the service) BTW I have had mine go out of calibration even though I "baby" the camera. But if your camera takes a bump or sometimes even vibration (as in an overhead storage on a long flight - this happened to mine) then this can do it too. And that can ruin a holiday - believe me, I know.

- I own some modern digital cameras but only have one or two AF lenses for them. My preference is to shoot manual focus in any event as I like trying out old vintage lenses (including Leica M glass and Leica LTM glass) on them. AF comes in handy when I know that the shooting success is likely to depending on me being able to focus and shoot quickly. I have nothing against AF and enjoy using such equipment when the need and opportunity arises. MF does take some getting used to but it's not by any means an insurmountable hurdle. And with Leica M cameras there are relatively few settings to worry about and once the camera is set up for the most part you just need to think about focusing, aperture, shutter speed and that's it (and even then these days shutter speed can be left to the camera - but you still need to be cognizant of what happending with the other two variables.)

- Shooting Leica M cameras are a labor of love. If you fall for it you will willingly tolerate all of the crap that comes with it. (A bit like being married). :) BTW one good thing is that Leica glass is excellent (of course) but if you are not able to ante up the kind of cash needed then these days there are lots of alternatives (there are some very good Leica vintage lenes some of which are pretty reasonably priced, some vintage glass by other makers which are likewise (e.g. Canon rangefinder lenses in Leica Thread ZZMount which work brilliantly on Leica M with an LTM_M adapter) and modern glass out of Asia some of which is very good. So there are some great options here. Most of my Leica M glass these days are a combo of all 3 of the above including some very good glass by Voigtlander (Cosina).

I know I am sounding far too negative over-all but I just want you to understand the downsides of shooting Leica M cameras as well as the upside. As for me if I were shooting film still, I would probably have kept my M3 and still be more or less happily shooting this Leica M camera but as I now shoot digital exclusively, this is not on the cards. I was a couple of years back seriously tempted to buy a Leica type 240 M but was put off by all of the above considerations drawn from my own prior experience. My next Leica (if indeed there is one in my future) is more likely to be one in the SL mirrorless range. And there is another option that many people have chosen who crave a rangefinder like experience.........buy a Fujifilm X Pro 2 or Xpro 3 which is not a bad compromise when the rangefinder bug bites.
 
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You speak entirely for yourself in this regard, Boojum. I hate shooting stuff like this with anything that uses autofocus; manual focusing is faster, more predictable, and more reliable:

View attachment 4834837

These lads were going about 35/40mph, if I remember right. I was obviously panning with them as I shot - no time for AF hunting or shutter lag.
You still can shoot this with auto focus super easily. That is what back button focus is all about. Take AF off the shutter button. You simply press the AF on button to focus where you predict the motion will be and then hit the shutter when it is there. Almost exactly the same way as you took your shot with MF.
 
You speak entirely for yourself in this regard, Boojum. I hate shooting stuff like this with anything that uses autofocus; manual focusing is faster, more predictable, and more reliable:

View attachment 4834837

These lads were going about 35/40mph, if I remember right. I was obviously panning with them as I shot - no time for AF hunting or shutter lag.

Yeah, right. That must be why the pro's cover action sports with manual focus Leicas, huh? Oh, wait, they shoot AF Canon, Sony and Nikon. They sure do not know much do they? You had better get in touch with them so that they can improve their skills, yeah, right away. Sheesh.

You are not even in focus. LMAO
 
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