The Importance of a Camera’s Mojo

Am moralizing again. This may sound like heresy to some of you, but I’m rather concerned about a camera’s mojo than absolute top-end specs. Here is why. Money can buy amazing quality these days. Be it for a thousand or several thousand dollars, the choice of awesome gear is yours. You can spend even 10k++ for a Leica and its great build quality and exceptionally good glass — above all, however, the camera feels unique and Leica land makes you part of a great heritage that inspires. Leica gives you hardly anything that’s way better than the rest of the market. But the camera has that mojo.

You can sense this M4-P's mojo. | photoxels.com
Seriously, don’t you just sense this M4-P‘s mojo. | photoxels.com
What serious photographer has never asked him- or herself whether to take the plunge into Leica. Point is, if deliberations are based on methodical analysis only you’ll never find convincing enough arguments to really be assured that you’re taking the right road. Photography, luckily, is not all about rationality.

Mirrorless cameras paired with prime glass can produce exceptional results these days, even though the sensor is smaller and depth of field will never be as shallow.

Or take the Fujifilm X series. Woohoo, even the less well-to-do is finally able to enjoy some of the M magic at a fraction of the price. Still, I have no problems spending 10k for Leica gear. Because it’s at least as important how a camera feels and how I connect to it. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s not only the photographer. It’s also the camera.

Never happened to you that you had great gear but somehow it didn’t feel right? Taking pictures was more routine than joy? And soon you didn’t feel anymore like picking up the camera? This will hardly happen with a camera you can connect to.

A camera lends its own mojo, and that can play an important role in your photography. You’ll be able to produce way better results.

It’s not only the feel, but also sound of the shutter, form factor and certain something that connects together to enable an experience that another camera simply cannot.

Photography is so much more than the sensor, DxOMark ratings, fps and a zillion ISO.

Chances are, once you start working with a camera you’re really longing for, the more it will complement your photography.

And that’s what a Leica offers. The prices are hideous — but only if you ignore the mojo. Somehow the M turns every photographer into an aspiring little HCB. You feel like following in a Magnum photographer’s footsteps. Add the — once you manage it — the ease of use and camera’s straightforwardness. With a Leica, you pay for a different experience with a high level of inspiration juice bundled in the package.

It’s a personal connection to the camera and system that inspires a totally different photography.

Because in the end, all cameras today are technically good enough.

But the shooting experience itself can be so much more rewarding. The camera has the power to change your photography entirely.

Chances are you keep that camera with a mojo. So you might pay more in the beginning, but with no need to upgrade, who cares about the newer, the faster, the better?

To conclude with Edward Weston:

The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don’t know what to do with it.

(Inspired by Marcio Napoli who today is working with a 31MP Hasselblad. Marcio first got hooked by the DSLR mojo. It was a career and life changing mojo. He decided to become a professional photographer.)
  • Tibicen

    Thank’s very much for this article. I agree 100%. The best pictures of my life came into being since I dropped my DSLR gear and went Leica 2 years ago. I even shoot with an M3 from time to time and find it rewarding. Working with a Rangefinder inspired me in an heretofore unknown way, and then there’s the magic of the lenses, too…

    So for my style of photography this decision was the best that ever happened to me, but that must not necessarily apply to all out there, so beware of your bold statements (“…turns every photographer in an aspiring little HCB…”), I’m afraid you might get thrashed for this by the Leica-Haters, so good luck…

    Anyway, there is much truth in what you say, especially regarding the chase for high scores in DxOMark etc.

    Best Regards

    • Thank Tibicen. The HCB and Magnum aspects are, I’m afraid, inseparably connected with the M brand.

      Good to hear that certain gear inspired you while certain gear put you off. To each his own. Other cameras with a great mojo? In part Oly’s OM-D and most older film cameras…

  • Ken Akiva Shapero

    I own a Nikon D7000 and a Leica M3. Very very different cameras. Nikon, bland, proficient and boring. M3, unpredictable, intuitive and tons of mojo.

    • Still, sometimes you have to use the Nikon.

  • paul

    All BS. The reason that people buy Leica is that they have more money than sense. And so much for “the best pics I took were with Leica”. When I see such “best shots” they often turn out to be less than impressive. If you just spent 10k on a camera then of course you will think it makes you take great pics. The alternative is to believe yourself to be an idiot. Leica do a great job of marketing and love the idea of mojo. BULLSHIT

    • While it may true that many good quality Leica photographers don’t post their work online, this post is also not titled The Leica Mojo. Any camera can give that extra kick that inspires. To each his own. It just happens that many feel attracted by these — granted — overpriced cameras. But as long as people keep on paying these prices, only a foolish camera maker with much more capacity would give in to pressure. Market demand proves the Germans right.

      Other cameras with great mojo? Oly OM-D, most film cameras, Contax G2, Fujifilm’s X series, D800 and 5D MRK III… the list could go on.

  • Tibicen

    Well, here they come out of the woodwork…the Leica-Haters. Very rational guys. They keep things simple, so wide generalisation is no problem. An entire range of photographers dismissed as idiots…

  • Tibicen

    Well, here they come out of the woodwork…the Leica-Haters. Very rational guys. They keep things simple, wide generalization is no problem.
    An entire range of photographers dismissed as idiots…

  • PWL

    Well, I do shoot Leica (both M and R), but I can see both sides. I do have a problem with the “Cult of Leica”: the idea that a Leica is infinitely and ineffably better than any other camera, and that using one somehow leads one to make better photos than otherwise. Believe me, I’ve taken some clunkers with my Leicas.

    But just as the Cult of Leica goes overboard, so do the crowd of rabid Leica-haters…as expressed by “paul”. Is this just …jealousy….speaking? Just because you buy a Leica doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a camera-snob or a rich retired dentist who thinks shooting a Leica will make them Cartier-Bresson the Second…(I’m glad to see Olympus shooters aren’t the only ones subjected to scorn and vituperation). Me, I’ve found Leica Ms to be just what I need to take where SLRs can’t go…just try shooting a solo acoustic act in a tiny club with a hulking, noisy SLR, and you’ll see what I mean.

    I guess what notice in certain of my cameras is what I call “juju”. Some of my cameras seem to have “good juju,’ as opposed to others. And it has nothing to do with the brand. Years back, I had a Konica Hexar RF–a poor man’s Leica, I guess–but I always seemed to have good luck with, it, and seemed to get an exceptional number of good photos out of it. Not so, on the other hand, with any Nikon I ever had, so I gave up on that illustrious brand…

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    Leica M type 240 review – F8 Photography

    […] Quality Anything shot whit a Leica will glow. All shots are processed with the © MOJO+++ engine, which means whatever you shoot, since it is shot with a Leica will be considered art. Since […]

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    • Russ

      Grab whatever camera feels good in your hands, and go shoots1

  • Scarlet_Billows

    Just a tiny correction regarding the image – Paul Audestad’s camera is an M4, not an M4-P (see his original Norwegian post: http://bit.ly/16MN0iX). It is not so much an error in his interview as an apparent misunderstanding. He says (http://bit.ly/kGd2oy) that (my own rough translation) “I started to take pictures relatively early, at the age of 14, and without knowing why Leica quickly became the big dream. It was the M4-P which was the coolest thing I could imagine me then. I found the Leica in a used shot in the centre of Oslo in 1987, and the camera cost 2200 Kroner, which was amazingly cheap at the time.”

    A talented photographer can likely take good photos with any camera, but I agree that if one “gels” with one’s equipment one will feel more motivated, inspired and, simply put, creative.

    Sadly there’s a lot of purported “magic” about the Leica and this brings out both overly enthusiastic fans and overly rude trolls. It’s just a matter of ignoring both kinds, forming one’s own opinion and using whatever camera one likes and can afford.

    • Thanks for the correction and clarifier, Scarlet. Fact is, I love my iPhone camera as much as shooting with an M Monochrom. Have camera, will shoot! Haven’t found the gear yet that pleases me all-over. But without any doubt the feel of a camera is as important as the end result a.k.a. images — both depend on each other inescapably.