Automotive Photography with the Leica M-system / by Philipp Steinhardt

I've been a professional photographer for quite some time now, and the majority of my work to date has been in the automotive sector. I know my way around, and I know that most editorial and PR guys are shooting with DSLRs from Canon and Nikon (with some having made a partial move to the Sony full-frame mirrorless system). So it's no surprise to me that I get the odd strange look when I turn up to my first shoot for a new customer armed with a small shoulder bag full of antique-looking cameras and lenses. A Leica M is most definitely not what clients in the automotive sector are expecting to see. Because of this, I get asked A LOT about why I choose to shoot with a Leica M.

So why do I shoot so many cars and bikes on a Leica? And why does it matter? There are several technical reasons why I believe the M-system is perfect for me, but mainly it's the way it affects my shooting process. To me, taking pictures with rangefinder is a less distracted process than it is with a DSLR. The way the camera operates dissects my shooting process into distinct steps - meter, focus, compose, shoot. It's less muddled somehow, and I believe sometimes the simplest tools can be the best.

But there's more to it than that. Automotive photography is fraught with reflective surfaces, miniscule details and bright highlights. Shooting process aside, being able to resolve fine detail in varied lighting conditions is vital. The new Leica M(240) excels at this. The camera's outstanding performance is partly down to the proprietary CMOS sensor, which has been designed specifically to deliver optimal performance with Leica's M lenses, and mostly down to the lenses themselves. Yes, everything you've heard about Leica lenses is true, they are (in my opinion) the finest camera lenses on the planet. Period.

The M-system lenses are not only better performers than their DSLR counterparts as far as resolution, sharpness, colour, micocontrast, distortion and bokeh rendition - they are also considerably smaller, lighter and more reliable. There is no autofocus, no buttons or switches, just the best glass on the planet in an all-metal prime lens with a focus ring and an aperture ring.

The camera itself is similar in it's simplicity. Centre-weighted metering - predictable. Rangefinder focussing - accurate. Build quality - teutonic. Everything Leica is wonderfully over-engineered. The way the lenses mate to the body, the near silent sound of the shutter and the feel of every single button and switch. It's intuitive, timeless and supremely effective once mastered.

The inherent design aspects and functional parameters of the Leica M allow me to work to my full potential, and the technical superiority of the camera-lens combinations available reward my efforts with the best looking images I could possibly imagine this side of buying into a medium format camera system.

I have two Leica M bodies and a selection of Leica lenses from 21mm to 75mm that accompany me on almost every job. Sure, every now and again I pull out an SLR because I need to use a 400mm lens or shoot something at 8fps, but I default to my Leicas whenever possible - even for action work.

The bottom line is that, as a photographer, you're probably going to get the best results from whichever system you feel most comfortable with. For me, that's the Leica M-system. It might get me some strange looks every now and again, but the results have never failed to amaze both myself and my clients.

 KTM Superduke 1290 R

KTM Superduke 1290 R

I hope you've enjoyed reading my brief insight and that my ramblings go some way to answering those of you that wanted to know why I use a different camera to almost everyone else in my sector of the industry. It's because I love making pictures on my Leica, and I love the pictures it gives me...

 Porsche 997 GT2

Porsche 997 GT2

If you want to ask me anything at all about this post, about my photography or even my cameras, you can do so via social media - the links are on the homepage. :)