Is there a modern day equivalent of a Leica?

Henri Cartier-Bresson and Leica

I  watched this T.V. movie about Ernest Hemingway, and one of the characters was the photo-journalist Robert Capa, running around with a Leica. At the time many of his contemporary photographers would have seen this as little more than a toy. Its easy to forget that what is now regarded as the height of expensive luxury and photographic excellence was probably regarded as a tool for a professional job in much the same way as turning up with a CSC these days. It was small, it was light, it was radical. Lots of people didn't take it seriously. However as we all know, it did the job very nicely.

So whats todays equivalent? And yes there is the possible answer that its still a Leica. But is that really the case? 

Leica's were the small light camera of their time, but of course no zooms, no autofocus. They became a favourite camera with photojournalists, and were seen as a way of getting into the action with the minimum of fuss. They were of course film cameras, and didn't require finding a source of electricity to charge up the battery. This meant that they could be carried for days through hostile terrain without a problem. Digital Leica's are obviously just as dependent on batteries as everything else, so that kind of rules them out.

Its obviously difficult to see a digital equivalent of the film Leicas, but then there was something extra you needed to carry with you. Film. Its interesting how some of those of us who use the Sigma DP2 Merrill, think about carrying spare batteries in much the same way as we used to carry film. Since the changes can sometimes be as frequent! So is it possible to walk for days, embedded with a military unit for example, with a digital camera, couple of spare cards and a few batteries?

Well the answer to that is yes, if your digital camera is a DSLR. When using my Nikon D800E for example, I can shoot for a day and still have 80-85% of the battery power left. There are obviously smaller lighter CSC / Mirrorless / Cameras that would do the job, but with most of them the battery life is poor. So its a pocket full of batteries if you want to do that.

But now we have the GH3. Indications of up to 1000 shots per battery. Does that then make it a digital equivalent of what Capa used to shoot the Spanish Civil War and World War Two? and what Henri-Cartier Bresson used for his jobs all over the world? Well it may be the closest we have currently, but the question can't be answered until it has been around for a while, and has been used in equivalent conditions. But I think it may be a possibility. 

Leica's shooting film certainly weren't great in low light, as fast film either didn't exist or was pretty bad. Fast lenses were the order of the day. They also sprang a few surprises when people saw the prints, which turned out to be very good indeed. Both of these attributes could be seen as being present with the GH3. Though its difficult to think of a GH3 as being capable of going where a film Leica can go, a lot of that is down to perception. There is no doubt that a metal, mechanical Leica would seem to have the advantage for reliability. But there is no real evidence to back that up. Certainly modern digital Leica M's are known for looking sturdy but they certainly don't like water much. 

I've got no agenda here, and I'm in no way saying that something like the GH3 is some kind of  ideal "Jungle / War photographer" camera. But if you want small and light I can't see many other alternatives to it, and it may well be that people are still obliged to carry D4 type kits around with them, to do what Capa and Cartier-Bresson did in digital form. 

From what they say and how they advertise the camera (See video stills below) it seems that might be an area that Panasonic are looking to move into, and whether they succeed is something only time will tell us. But its an interesting thought and an interesting direction for this kind of option to come from.  

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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