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From Canon to Leica: Mark Wallace’s Big Switch – A Familiar Story

By Jay Cassario on February 2nd 2015

Similar to the recent move I made myself, Mark Wallace, best known for his work with Adorama TV and Snapfactory, made a complete switch over from shooting Canon to the much lighter and smaller Leica rangefinder system. Less than a year ago, I made the decision to trade in a lot of my gear for a Leica M9 and 2 Leica M Summilux lenses. Being a working professional, I would have never made this move simply on a whim. There was a lot of thought that went into my decision, and it was made after testing the system for a couple months in all different shooting conditions. It was an expensive move that I’m still very happy with today, and one has ultimately made me a better photographer.

In the video below shared by Adorama, Mark Wallace explains the decision making that went into his move.

While the price tag of the Leica system is on the expensive side, Mark knows that the quality and craftsmanship that goes into the Leica camera bodies and lenses is second to none. With that being said, there are much more affordable options available today if lighter and leaner is what you’re looking for. While I don’t know the answer to why Mark went with Leica over the more popular mirrorless systems of Sony, Fuji, or even Olympus…let me explain mine.


My Thoughts

I had personally wanted a full frame sensor packed in a lighter and smaller body than my current DSLR line up. At the time, Sony was the only manufacturer to offer a mirrorless option similar to what I had been interested in. Sony was still a question mark though at the time of me testing the M9, and there were only 2 options available, the A7 and the A7R. If I had been testing the M9 today, would things have been different? Possibly.

Sony now has the A7S and A7II which are both very desirable options for what I had been looking for, along with the option of using Leica glass. Shooting Leica lenses on Sony bodies has become quite popular, and it’s definitely something that I’ve been interested in looking into as viable option since the Leica does have its technical limitations. Sure, there is something to be said about the experience of shooting on a rangefinder system, but that is something you can only appreciate once you have shot with one. I’ve discussed the shooting experience in my previous articles so I’ll keep this to just a technical discussion.

[REWIND: Why I Chose The Leica M9]

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Leica Magic

Leica is known to have a special mystique, or magic if you will, with the images produced by their rangefinder cameras when used with their M lenses. This has become a popular topic of discussion amongst the message boards and Internet chatter. How much truth is behind this so called magic? Depends on who you ask. Sony shooters will tell you that the so called Leica mystique is nothing more than a rich man’s justification for still holding onto their over priced red dot logo. Leica shooters will tell you it’s real, it’s absolutely real.

The A7 series cameras offered by Sony are undeniably ages ahead in their technology, but there is also something to be said about the simplicity of the rangefinder. Being that I currently shoot the M9 and have access to the newer M240, along with several Leica lenses, I’m currently putting the Leica magic to the test. I’m testing these same Leica lenses on the Sony A7S and the A7II bodies, comparing them to the M9 and M240. It’s an interesting comparison to say the least, and it’s proved to not be as simple as I had previously thought it to be. You should be seeing my results in the coming month or two…stay tuned.

Have you thought about switching over to Leica (or have already?) Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Jay Cassario is a fulltime photographer from South Jersey, owner of the multi-photographer wedding and portrait studio Twisted Oaks, and Brand Ambassador for Leica Camera USA.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jacques Brierre

    Saw Mark’s video. It was lengthy, for sure. He mixed a few issues into his switch reasons that weren’t necessarily related – but that is the nature of conversation – even on video.
    I am not a Leica owner. I do remember my cousins’s and uncle’s units. Wonderful stuff!
    The price is a bit revolting at first take. However, I understand (I hope correctly) that they pay craftspeople instead of low wages via some third party — though, I am sure. that is not the whole story.
    However, there is something extremely attractive about well built and beautifully performing machines. This is no longer Analog VS. Digital, true; it’s a simplicity/quality/size/portability argument supported by well crafted small machines steeped in a well-established tradition of design simplicity.
    We saw the same in the audio fields where the simplicity of low powered tube design contributed to a renaissance in music reproduction. Yes, most of them are extremely expensive. Mostly small companies that do one thing extremely well.
    Were I to consider buying I would have to have convincing direct experience. I suspect, it would be positive.

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  2. Mark Sheppard

    I appreciate your point of view Jay and I doubt I’ll change it, But…

    Compare the Nikon Df vs the Leica M9 and comparable lenses.

    The Df is extremely inconspicuous and it actually looks like a film camera. You couldn’t force a film camera on the thieves since there really isn’t much market for them and Mark did mention “security” via being inconspicuous.

    Leica M9 18 mp 3.1×1.5×5.5 @ 1.3 lb $7000
    Nikon Df 16 mp 4.3×2.6×5.7 @ 1.7 lb $3000

    Leica 21mm f3.4 manual 2.1×2.1×1.7 @ .6 lb $2750
    Nikkor 20mm f2.8d Auto 2.5×2.5×1.7 @ .5lb $560

    Leica 50mm f1.4 manual 4x4x4 @ .75 lb $3745
    Nikkor 50mm f1.4 auto 2.7×2.7×1.7 @ .6 lb $350

    Leica 135mm f3.4 manual 4.5×4.5×7 @1lb $3600
    Nikkor 135mm f2 auto 3.1×3.1×4.72 @ 1.8 lb $1500

    Leica kit 3.65 lb @ $17,000 vs Nikon kit 4.6 lb @ $5410 <—- to most people, that alone would be a tough sell.

    Cost wise the Nikon is less than 1/3rd of the Leica and I would call that an easy win for Nikon. In the video he specifically mentioned making more money with the Leica because he would have it in his hand more, but he failed to mention the deficit he would begin with due to higher cost equipment. I would hate to guess what Leica charges for repairs.

    Size wise they are close but it looks to me like the Nikon would actually pack smaller, but I would be OK with calling that a tie.

    Weight, the Leica wins by 1 lb.

    Image Quality I think would would be a long argument but, I think that the Nikon's AF advantage is significant though dependent on the type of photos your taking. I also think the Nikon would demolish the M9 in low light.

    I think the clear reason that Mark Wallace changed to Leica is that same reason all the other people that are making similar videos are switching. Because they want to.

    I don't personally care what he shoots with and it's his money so he can spend that any way he wants, but in this video he omits all the reasons NOT to change and there are plenty. That's why I think it insults all of our intelligence.

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    • Adrian Jones

      You should make a video in response to Marks Video with this Kit Vs. Kit comparison and do all the test, IQ, low light, etc. I’d love to watch that.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I shoot both the Df and the Leica. I like them both for different reasons, but I can tell you my Leica shots garner more attention on flickr than my Df shots. They looks different. Even untrained eyes can see the the difference between my v.II Summilux and my 50mm f/1.4G.

      If I were forced to sell on e of my kits, it would be the Df in a heartbeat. The Leica is special.

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  3. Mark Sheppard

    I shoot Nikon and have never shot Canon but, I have to call bullshit on Mark.

    He talked about the size and weight he was losing by switching systems but he was comparing apples and oranges.

    His audio capture is a unrelated to the camera system.

    He went from a 16-35 (F4?) and 2 zoom lenses that would shoot from 24 – 200 mm at a constant 2.8 to slower and more expensive primes. Why didn’t he just buy some Canon primes?

    The Leica body is 2 times the cost of the 5D Mk3. Simple math tells you that getting robbed of the Leica once is as bad as getting robbed twice with the 5D.

    The 50mm summilux 1.4 is THIRTY SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!!!

    The 135 mm 3.4 is… THIRTY SIX HUNDRED BUCKS!

    Then there’s the 21 mm………. SEVENTYFOURHUNDRED!!!!!!!!

    Easily twice the cost with far less versatility but he saved 8lbs. Then he threw in the 70-200’s empty case to make the Canon kit look even bulkier and skimmed over the fact that the Leica lenses are all manual focus.

    Where does he store a $7500 lens, in his sock?

    What about a Nikon D750 and some primes? He could build that kit for something like 1/5 the cost of the Leica system and WAY cheaper if he used manual focus lenses. Smaller lighter and he could get robbed a LOT, before getting anywhere near the cost of even a part of the Leica kit.

    Does he walk the streets with all his gear and no insurance?

    I like the videos that mark puts out but this is insulting to all of our intelligence. I’m offended that he even made it.

    Jason Lanier made a similar video and it was almost as bad. I really wish they would try a little harder than this especially when they constantly say “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer”. Which is true, then they try and justify a $20, 000 kit with 3 focal lengths.

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    • J. Cassario

      Mark, you make all valid points, but I think to say this is insulting your intelligence, or even mine is a little off base. Here’s the thing, he never once mentions that price had anything to do with his switch, so money may not be an issue for him, especially when he makes a living from his gear. The other key point is that he never mentioned that getting robbed was about losing money either, he specifically says he has read about photographers getting held at gun point, which I have heard many similar stories. Mark is talking more along the lines of safety, I’m sure money doesn’t come into play since he has insurance. Your other point of why not just get smaller prime lenses, the Canon 135 is still triple the size of the Leica, the Canon 50, twice the size of the Leica, and heavier. In regards to the price of the lenses being outrageous, they are on the higher end, but unless you have shot with them, you wouldn’t know how good they actually are. The 50mm Summilux ASPH is a lens that is considered to be one of the best ever made, 2nd only to the Noctilux costing $10k. Is it worth $3700, well if you compare it to the newer Zeiss Otus line, it’s cheaper, yet there are plenty of plenty of photographers dishing out the money once they have tested the lens and seen how good they perform. I own the 50mm Summilux and it is a better 50mm lens then any I have ever shot, lighter, and worth every penny to me.
      The bottom line is that he is simply sharing with us why he switched systems, I would never look at it as an insult to my intelligence. If I didn’t shoot weddings, I would strictly shoot a leica as well, but there are times when I need the newer technology and more advanced sensor. This is also the reason I am testing my Leica glass on the Sony bodies. Thanks for reading and watching the video.

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    • Ben Perrin

      I don’t know. The Jason Lanier video was definitely worse in my opinion. ;)

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      @ J. CASSARIO: “If I didn’t shoot weddings, I would strictly shoot a leica as well, but there are times when I need the newer technology and more advanced sensor.”

      The last wedding I shot I did with a Leica M9-P and a 50mm Lux Pre-ASPH. That’s it. And it was wonderful. It was for my sister.

      Take a look.

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  4. Basit Zargar


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  5. Scot Tumlin

    “The A7 series cameras offered by Sony are undeniably ages ahead in their technology, but there is also something to be said about the simplicity of the rangefinder”.

    To your point about simplicity, I’m enjoying the Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 with it’s clickable aperture dial. This feature and manual focus takes me back to manual film SLR’s and a slower shooting pace. But with the benefits of modern tech when I need it :)

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  6. Eric Sharpe

    The real question for me is what he’s going to use when he comes back from the world traveling, and he’s back in the studio. I watched the video a couple weeks ago, and it sounded like he switched to reduce the overall weight of his gear, and have a little bit of a less noticeable camera. I suppose there’s a tool for every job, though.

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    • J. Cassario

      Eric, I think he will still use the Leica system. I use my Leica a lot in the studio, and I say a lot because I still shoot Nikon and Canon DSLRs. I don’t see why Mark would need anything different in the studio.

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    • Eric Sharpe

      I just took a look at some of the images on your site, and I would never have considered using a range finder in studio. Awesome work, and now my bias towards studio camera systems has been shifted!

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    • J. Cassario

      Thank you Eric, I appreciate it :)

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  7. Ralph Hightower

    Okay, Mark lays out that yes, the Leica is less bulky in size and weight compared to Canon. Also, on the issue of security, yes, generally, criminals are damn stupid with the “bigger is better”, but Leica cameras and lenses are significantly more expensive than Canon or Nikon.

    I’ve never considered switching systems except if one considers buying a DSLR after shooting film; but I still use my film SLRs besides my DSLR, so I haven’t switched systems.

    I may consider buying a rangefinder, but it would be a used film rangefinder and certainly, not a Leica. Leicas on the used market still command a premium price.

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  8. Ben Perrin

    I really don’t get the whole switching all the time mentality. Surely it’s more to do with GAS than it is with image quality or comfort. Also, why do people feel like they have to video or blog it when they do? Is it about trying to justify the decision to themselves?

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    • J. Cassario

      Mark Wallace is a very popular and well known photographer, I can guarantee that if he didn’t put this out, he would have received hundreds of emails asking if he switched systems. Rather than answer each one, a video takes care of it. Plus, making videos for Adorama is what he does for a living. I too received tons of emails when I posted a photo of my Lieca camera asking me questions, so writing about it is an easy way to explain my decision. Nothing to do with trying to justify anything.

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    • Ben Perrin

      Yeah, fair enough I suppose. I’ve heard about well known photographers getting swamped with emails about why they switched. I suppose what I was trying to say (although poorly), is that there is too much focus and airtime given to this stuff. Just get out there and shoot and stop worrying about if someone is shooting on a different camera to you.

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    • J. Cassario

      Ben, I completely agree that it shouldn’t be a concern, making a big deal about what gear you choose to shoot. For Mark’s case, he makes a living on making videos, and he knows that his followers are interested in knowing what he’s shooting with. Mark has a much bigger following then myself, but trust me, between Facebook messages and emails, it can be a little overwhelming and much easier to simply write an article. I honestly do try not to talk too much about what I personally shoot with, but when I write reviews, it simply makes sense to talk about it.

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  9. John Cavan

    Not sure I buy the assertion that shooting with a Leica makes you less of a theft target…

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    • J. Cassario

      Honestly John, most thieves, unless they are photographers themselves, know what a Leica is. To them, bigger = more value.

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    • John Cavan

      @J. Cassario – I wouldn’t assume as much these days. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to surf a couple of sites like, well, Adorama to discover the relative worth of the different camera bodies and lenses. 10 years ago I would have agreed, today not so much.

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  10. Tanner Zachem

    I wish I could switch!

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  11. Vince Arredondo

    Nice article… I think Leica will retain its magic forever. Doesn’t matter if it is just a fairy story. The fact you are shooting with a red logo camera makes that fairy story true… ;)

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  12. Orlin Nikolov

    Makes sense :) I would switch to Leica too, if it wasn’t for the money

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