How I Was Won Over to My Leica


by Hector Ramos

For the last year or so I’ve visited Leicaphilia almost daily‎ looking for interesting reads on analogue and Leica film cameras. I visit other sites, too like Eric Kim’s, Steve Huff’s and Japan Camera Hunter but I like Leicaphilia the best because it helps me discover and remember why I’ve chosen film and Leicas as my medium.

Growing up in the Philippines in the 1970s, one of my fond memories is my dad’s Kodak Instamatic camera and photo albums. Special occasions were recorded and revisited via photo albums. I grew up in a small town without electricity, TV, phone, refrigerator or cars. My dad’s camera was considered a sign of affluence. From 1992 to 2010, I lived and worked between India; the Bay Area in California; Europe; and Australia, and used photography to keep my sanity, doing it mostly as a hobby and part time to earn some money. I had a collection of Nikon bodies, an FM2 (which I still regret selling) , F801, F4s, F5, F3 and D1x, and several lenses.  The F5 in particular was very impressive for its metering. But I remember one day asking myself: ‘This camera is better than me! I wonder how it gets ‘good’ pictures?’  Thus began my search for a more simplified camera that would allow me to make the pictures instead of having the camera do it for me.

I sold all my Nikon gear and ended up with a brand new black Leica MP and a pair of lenses: the 35mm and 75mm Summil‎ux aspherical lenses, bought from B&H. A friend who delivered them to me said ‘I can’t belive how expensive these are!’…. and I thought to myself ‘Is this all I get for selling so many cameras and lenses? What was I thinking?’ Yet, as I began to use the kit  the build quality, simplicity, and concentration required to use the system gave me a photographic rebirth and the greatest satisfaction to date compared to any camera I’ve ever used. I noticed a change in my photos which were hard to explain. But the most important was the taking of a responsibility that when the picture was great it was because of me. And if it was not to my liking it was also because of my skills as a photographer.

Enter the M8. It was convenient and produced film like qualities. I stopped using the MP and my back-up M6. But interestingly the ‘quality’ of my work dipped and I stopped enjoying my photography so much. For important work, like weddings, I always went back to the MP and M6. And always they gave me greater satisfaction than the M8. I eventually sold the M6 and the M8 together with a 28 summicron and a 135 telyt for an M9 a few years back. I tried hard to love digital. But something never clicked. I couldn’t relate to the digital workflow and digital files. I tried to mimic film but in the end I thought,’why not just use film then?’  The M9 gets used by two of my sons when they visit.

I have since tried an M3 and an M4 and have learned to eye exposure. But my current workhorse is the MP and a 50 summilux.  They always accompany me on my work travels to different countries, usually used to record moments for myself.

I am currently going through two big suitcases full of velvia slide boxes,  and Tri-x and HP5 sleeves from the last 24 years of shooting, trying to organize for printing choice images just like what my dad did. Or maybe for a website. But the images which stand out because of a certain ‘feel’ are the ones unmistakably taken with the Leicas.


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9 thoughts on “How I Was Won Over to My Leica

  1. Tony K

    Nice story Hector. I went through the same progression of Nikons only to end up using an M2/35 or M3/50 combo (without the excursions with digital Leicas) for most of my photography for the same reasons.

    Also, I would be happy to use the M9 when your sons are not around, just so it doesn’t collect dust. 🙂

    1. Hector

      I just came back home from Ecuador where I tried to befriend the M9P again. It was good for covering a convention due to ease of sharing digital files. But for personal work and pictures I’d like to print there was the MP with me. A simple equipment which is so reduced to what is a bare necessity is good for focus and creativity. I find that a 50 and a 35 mm lenses are all I need. Simplicity, reduction and limitations keep me at peace and happy. I need not clutter my mind with endless possible photos.

  2. Leon

    Nice story.

    I use the M-A with 35 Summarit every day for all my pictures, loaded with HP5+.

    Our world is completely digital but your photography doesn’t have to be.

    I’m enjoying my photography more than ever.

  3. Andrew

    Film is definitely special. I confess that I shoot a lot more digital than film and use my Canon kit just as often as my Leica kit, but a Leica film body with a 35mm or 50mm lens is still as good as it gets.

    My favorite combination? Leica M5 with either a Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm Sonnar (f/1.5 and f/2 variants) or their Soviet Jupiter 3 or 8 equivalents and a few rolls of HP5.

      1. Hector

        I’m glad you like the picture. I started making black and white prints last night till past midnight from HP5 a Tri-X scans from last year’s photos. It is an amazing feeling to have captured life moments with an equipment which is laughed at and looked down by others as obsolete. There’s a healthy sense of pride that comes knowing you knew what you were doing when you made the picture, that the equipment did not do it for you but instead allowed you to create what you had in mind.

  4. FinnPirat

    Great story and really nice picture! Love it.
    ” I tried hard to love digital. But something never clicked.” – I feel the same. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the 60ies and 70ies with my first Minolta cameras I loved so much. My photo lab I run with my brother for years. Such a good time. I never felt familiar with digital – except with my little Ricoh GR… My every day camera. But to relax, I still prefer my M4 with HP5 or TriX 🙂

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