Let's talk about the weather. People often ask about weather sealing, and my answer is that I have taken my Leica's out in rain, sand storm and snow, and they've always survived. More or less.
In other words, the question is not if the camera can deal with the rain, but if you as the photographer can. Hence, I made this article on how to make art out of bad weather, and the importance to take chances.
(Warning: Also, this article is an account of camera abuse of different Leica camera models).
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Being smart with the Leica M10, maybe wasn't that smart
Recently I decided to drench my Leica M10 in water. Photographer Ray Kachatorian in Los Angeles and I had talked about for some time that I should come by his studio for some portraits. Besides traveling the world photographing, he has his portrait project where he invites people to his studio and does their portraits. You can follow his adventures on his @ray_kachatorian Instagram.
I had recently bought an oilskin hat in New York when it had been raining really badly. You can't really use an umbrella in the rain when you are photographing (more on that, later), but a large hat was a good idea. And it worked, too.
Amongst other things, I brought that hat with the idea to recreate the day I had walked in New York in pouring rain. Ray wasn't that happy about the idea of water and cameras, he looked like he suffered physical pain from the idea. But he eventually played along and we filled a large water bottle with water and then we went on with the project.
It was fun, and got very wet from top to bottom, inside and out, as we made several attempts. As I had stated, the camera could handle it. It's a Leica, after all.
How to dry a wet camera
1. Put the camera in a box with (unopened) fresh rice and wrap the box so it is sealed. The camera is covered in rice.
2. I left the box for almost 24 hours on a table inside, then I put it out in the sun for a couple of hours to warm up the process.
3. When the box was "steaming of humidity" inside it, I took out the camera.
4. I opened the camera as much as possible and left it in the warm sun for the last humidity to boil off..
How to dry a wet Leica M10
A day later I picked up the Leica M10 from the table and went outside. When I had come home from Ray, I had wiped the camera on the outside, like I would if I had been in rain or snow, and then I had taken out the battery and left it on the table without bottom plate. To let eventual dampness get out.
I took a few photos, and as expected the Leica M10 worked flawlessly. But then after a few photos, the shutter wouldn't work properly. I took off the lens, and then I could see that there was actually quite some frightening large water drops on the sensor which was visible as the shutter was stuck. To be frank, it looked as if the inside of the camera was full of water.
Having never been a boy scout, I got help from the maid who provided me with a large box of fresh rice, and then she wrapped the whole thing in plastic. The idea is that the rice will suck up humidity, and if you don't isolate the rice from the environment, it will suck up the humidity in the air as well.
I left it like that the rest of the day and night, and next morning I put the whole box outside in the sunshine as I thought some heat would help the process.
A couple of hours later the box was all wet inside, the humidity was standing on all sides of it. I opened it and the rice was quite wet, whereas the camera was quite dry and warm to touch.
I could still see a little bit of fog inside the viewfinder, so I took off everything and left the camera as open as possible in the sun, and then I waited a couple of hours again.
The final stage of saving my Leica M10: Leaving it all open in the hot sun. I could follow how the viewfinder showed a little moist, then more, and then finally it had all left the camera.
A Leica never dies
I told you. Of course, a Leica can get wet and keep working. I put on a lens, inserted a battery and it was fine. The sensor needed a cleaning though.
I'll admit I had my doubts a few times if this would be the case this time. I had engaged in it in the spirit of play, to hell with it if something really happened, and apart from worrying how I could get another camera if this one failed, I thought it was quite a fun thing to do.
And I got a great photo from it.
Thorsten Overgaard by Ray Kachatorian. Hasselblad with 80mm and Phase One P45 CCD back.
The Noctilux was fine
Leica never specified that their Leica M lenses are weather sealed. Technically they aren't, but they are so tight in tolerances that they effectively keep out sand, water and snow.
I've seen (or heard would be a better word in this case) Leica R lenses that had gotten sand in the focusing mechanism after sand storms in the Middle East. Where London has a fog hanging over the city, they have sand hanging in the air almost every night. It just gets in everywhere and while it is not pleasant to listen to the sand grinding inside the lens when you focus, it doesn't affect the pictures.
I've been at it before. When in Bali with my Leica SL, I decided to test the weather sealing of theLeica SL and the lenses. I wouldn't do this with a Leica M lens, but the Leica SL lenses are perfectly sealed for rain and sand.
I have never experienced a Leica M lens with water or humidity inside it, except one time in London. A 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4 lens (not mine) had gotten some humidity inside it and was blocked by fog. What do you do? Well, you can't really do anything but wait till it's gotten out again. In this case, it took a full day standing on a table inside to evaporate from inside the lens. It's hard for it to get in, and evidently also very hard for it to get out.
When there was a snow storm in New York in 2016, I went out in the middle of the night to catch the first chaos, and again the following days to get more of it. You can't photograph a snowstorm without getting into it.
I've been fortunate to experience the 2010 and the 2016 blizzards in New York first hand, and it's been equally rewarding each time.
I never feared to ruin a camera, and I never feared to get one stolen. Most likely that is why it never happened to me.
If you have considerations that you carry an expensive camera and that someone might steal it? Get rid of them - I use it normally - most people don't know anyway.
You are afraid that you migth damage the camera? It's possibl, I drop mine on the floor "all the time". But Leica M cameras and lenses are hand-made, and as such they can be repaired with new spare parts, not in some xotic repair facility, but in the factory that assemled them in the first place. It's not even expensive (in the view of someone who can afford a $7,000 camera and a $4,000 lens). I've had front lenses replaced at prices from $250 to $550 after they had been hit and scratched. I've had the front tubes and lens shades of Leica lenses replaced (after I dropped them on the floor) for $50 to $200. My Noctilux has been repaired four times and my precious 35-70mm Leica R Zoom (the rare one that cost $12,000) had the front replaced twice.
If I had kept them safe, nothing of this would have happened. With nothing, I refer to both the repairs and the pictures I made.
My precious Leica M9 showing some usage. This one had the bottom plate and part of the body replaced. So far it has taken 140,000 pictures.
Rain is photography weather
It's fairly annoying when it rains, but it can make some great photographs. I wouldn't bring an umbrella, unless I had a plan for how to use it. For one particular photo, for example. You need both your hands for photography, and you need to be able to move with speed.
Walking in the rain in a city, you can often find shelter for the worst rain, and dress for the rest. A jacket that can hold out the most of the wetness, and eventually a hat made for rain.
I'll have a microfiber cloth or something similar I can use to dry off the camera from time to time, and I'll have the camera on the side with my arm resting over it when I don't use it. It works pretty well.
Also, rain causes some chaos, or at least different scenes and possibilities. In Shanghai, traffic breaks down when it rains. In Los Angeles, a little rain results in the chaos that a snow storm with 6 feet of snow in Norway would. In all places, people behave differently when it rains.
If one notices, it's not easy to photograph falling rain, even when it is raining heavily. You may see a few drops around the headlights and such, but in the overall you only see rain in pictures if you put strong light behind so the scene gets backlit, and shoot at very slow shutter speed so you get lines of rain. And even that usually doesn't show the rain you experienced.
The point is that you use reflections of wet surfaces to show that it rains, or that it's wet.
To communicate rain and wetness in a photograph, you usually have to go down and photograph from a low level to capture the reflections. I will also usually try to shoot against the light to get more dramatic reflections, high contrast and edge light.
It's given that after a really good amount of rain - thunder preferably - the light and colors will look amazing. My favorite light is when the light comes from "a large panorama window from the side", and after thunder the sky is dark, with the light coming from the horizon.
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A little rain is not the end of the world
Next time it rains, take your camera and get out and about. It's fun, and you will get unusual pictures. The camera will get wet, but it will get dry again.
When I was using the Leica M9 back in 2011, I had an one hour long photo session in London where it was really raining. It was part of the model shoot that there was rain, so there was a point be be in the rain with the camrea. But it was more of an Italian heavy rain than the normal London rain.
That caused the shutter release to be sticky for two days. The shutter release would work, then not work. For the next two days I just had to expect that the camera would take oictures only half the time I pressed the shutter (so I pressed to twice as many times than normally).
After those two days, it was back to normal. I've been told Nikon's will have the same, and the shutter release on the Leica M9 was the same model as the Nikon. The Leica M10 is a different model of shutter release.
Leica film cameras in the rain
I rememeber once - also in London of course! - where I had to photogrpah in heavy rain for about an hour. Back then in 2006 I was using a film Leica R8, a film Leica M4 and a Panasonic DMC-L1 (the sister camera to Leica Digilux 2). Everything went fine, and I was out and about for several hours after this event. Where the film cameras were fine, the Panasonic DMC-L1 never woke up again after a night in the photo bag.
Whether it was the rain, or the saulty sensor, I will never know. Panasonic replaced the sensor under the warranty program, and then the camera worked again (the Leica Digilux 2 and Panasonic DMC-L1 both used faulty Sony sensors that would go black, and a replacement program was in place for year where Sony paid for free replacement of sensors that caused the camera's to go black).
I won't get into that in this article. But here is an overview of the different models. Currently Leica Camera AG offers some discounts on Leica M 240 with lenses that might make that camera the choice while Leica M10 is on waiting list.
2.4 MP Typ 0020 Visoflex with GPS device.
The "Viewfinder" issue contains user report by Jono Slack, interview on the Leica M10 with Leica Camera AG Global Manager Stefan Daniel and Leica M10 Product Manager Jesko Oeynhausen, and more. Sign up for a print membership or digital membership at lhsa.org (Leica Historial Society International).
Limited time offer for my readers from Serge Ramelli: When Serge Ramelli attended my workshop we spoke about letting my readers have some of his courses in Lightroom at special prices. This is the first one. Simply click on the link and use the code: THORSTEN to get 60% off the price.
Index of Thorsten von Overgaard's user review pages covering Leica M9, Leica M9-P, M-E, Leica M10,
Leica M 240, Leica M-D 262, Leica M Monochrom, M 246 as well as Leica Q and Leica SL:
Thorsten von Overgaard by Mort O'Sullivan (Milano, May 2017)
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator.
Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.
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