Shawn McGaff
Jul 25, 2016 · 6 min read

The title and subtitle of this post are ridiculous and I really just did it to get your attention. *Cue 100’s of people swiping back on this article.*

Now that only the people who matter and want to dig deeper are left, lets proceed.

Every camera manufacturer markets themselves as the perfect camera for such and such.

From family snapper to professional capture, we’ve got the perfect camera for you!

Waterproof high-speed aerial bokeh-producing machines with 50 megapixels of pure data. We’ve got video. We’ve got customizable settings for days. We’ve got nearly everything that can be dreamed into a camera.

Does any of this make us into a better photographer? The answer, like all things in the world, is yes and no. Yes, these features enable us to do things we were never able to do before. Yes, the cost of creating many things like video have dramatically declined. And yes, we have more flexibility in our workflow than we ever have before.

Don’t feel chained down by light! Our new camera can shoot in complete darkness!

But aside from specialty cameras that allow us to go places we never have before, like waterproof or aerial, features don’t make the photographer. As beautiful as your bokeh might be from your Noctilux f/.95 lens, your cat is still a boring subject.

What does make up a photographer is a deeper discussion than we have time for here so let’s just agree that it is something along the lines of: anything that helps you to create images that stir emotions of any kind in people.

The next question is, what allows us to capture the elements that accomplish that? Technical requirements play a very small role in that. You have to be able to shoot in the current light conditions, nail that focus, etc. but once you meet the basic technical requirements, which just about any camera can do, the hard part starts.

Understanding human connection and perception is a very large part of it. Having the instincts to know what people care about, or at the very least knowing what *you* care about, is tantamount. That is how you know which direction you should be pointing the camera.

Knowing your history is important as well. People don’t want to see the same old thing. They need new perspectives so knowing what has come before can make all the difference. It will steer you towards creating your own style.

The one element that trumps all of these things, the absolute most essential piece to becoming a better photographer, is purposeful practice. Shooting thousands of incrementally less shitty photos is how you get to the one that is good. Like digging for diamonds, shoveling dirt over your shoulder for days until you find that one glittering gem. Endlessly clicking that shutter button until your fingertips bleed. You have to press that button until you no longer even feel the camera in your hand. It must become instinct, like eating or sex.

There is a saying, “the perfect camera is the one that is always with you.” The essence of the saying is absolutely true. The idea is that if your camera is always with you then you can always be making photos. But after years of carrying a perfectly good camera in my pocket every day (my iPhone) and not using it to make photos because I don’t think of it as a camera, I would argue that the perfect camera is the one that makes you *want* to make photos.

The perfect camera is the one that compels you to go outside, even when you have no spare time, just for the opportunity to make a new photo. One that possesses a presence such that when your eyes cross it, you suddenly find yourself holding it.

That is exactly what the Leica M9 is for me. Even as I write this on an airplane, it is sitting in my bag begging me to take it out. Just thinking of it makes me want to make portraits of my fellow passengers. There is no other camera feature that can provide the same depth of benefits to a photographer than that desire to make photographs.

The Leica M9 has many wonderful features such as gorgeous color rendition, utter simplicity, unparalleled lenses and a discreet, compact size despite the full-frame sensor. Yet it has many drawbacks. It is, after all, a camera from 2010 (I bought it used in 2015). It has terrible performance at high ISO unlike the Canon 5D MKiii or the Sony A7. The M9 has a CCD sensor that does not support live-preview of the image you are taking. It is a rangefinder as well, which means you are not actually seeing what the camera sees and there is no autofocus. It is as manual as a digital camera can get.

So what sort of magic enchants me when I use it? Is it the way the shutter button clicks? Or the buttery smooth rotation of the focal ring combined with the finely tuned resistance of the aperture ring? Perhaps it is the manual way in which you select the shutter speed. Ultimately, it is the combination of all these elements that create an experience unlike any other. The camera melts into your hand and becomes part of you.

You spend absolutely zero time reading manuals and setting up all the whirleygigs and whizzpops of modern cameras. You just throw on a lens and start shooting. You have all the essentials at the tips of your fingers and absolutely nothing else. This is the true draw of the Leica M-series. This is what makes the camera truly exceptional. Incomparable to any other camera on the market except film cameras. Here is a camera that takes down all barriers between you and your photo.

A photo is simply a careful arrangement of points of light. The relation of these pixels to one another creates colors and the relation of these colors creates a rendition of reality unique to that exact moment in time from that exact perspective. There is nothing magic about this. Just pure scientific fact.

It is within the relation between the photo and the human viewing it that something magical takes place.

It is the viewing of the photo that actually matters. All other parts of the process exist to serve this purpose and forgetting this fact is what deprives photography of its meaning as an art form. Stressing over the ISO rating of your camera is far less important than stressing over whether you should even be taking a particular photo.

But if you don’t truly enjoy the process of making the photos, if you don’t crave to hold the camera in your hand, then none of this magic can ever happen.

Shawn McGaff

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Photographer, storyteller, cyclist. Motto: “Fuck it. Ship it”