The Cameras I used on my Ladakh Adventure

  • iPhone XS Max.
  • Leica M-A with a Leica f2/50mm Summicron.
  • Nikon D850 along with Nikon f 2.8 24-70 and Nikon 2.8 70-200 lenses.

I had initially planned to bring along a Leica TL2 with an f1.4/50mm (equivalent) Summilux, but somehow that didn’t work out, and at the very last minute, I decided to rent a Nikon kit from a camera rental operation in Bangalore.

iPhoneXSMax: As a tourist, the camera on this new iPhone is so good that you won’t need anything else. It does struggle in low light, especially if like me you hate the flash, but it is otherwise brilliant. It is baby genius of a camera for anytime photography. Here is a set of photos made with my iPhoneXSMax. Lightly editied.

Leica M-A: One camera, one lens, and one film stock (Kodak Portra 400) is all you need to have fun with photography. I love this combo, and even when I accidentally forget to wind the full roll and destroy my work. I have 16 rolls (thirty-six frames each), and I am hoping for 30 good images and three great ones. But they can’t make up for the joy this camera gives me, every time I bring it up to my eyes. I mostly expose as f2, wide open at infinity focus. It gives me images very close to how my imperfect eyes see the landscapes.

Nikon D850: This might be one of the best cameras on the market right now, it might deliver the cleanest files and has a sensor that has the dynamic range of George Clooney. But man, it’s user experience, and its user interface is like the medieval torture. That said, it is built like a tank, works like a truck and is as good as it gets. I am looking at the JPEG files and am amazed by the quality. Tiny contrast, reduce brightness. Job done! The RAW files are amazing, and the 45-megapixel sensor generates files that leave a lot of room to crop – and that’s not a bad thing if you like to simplify things as I do. The files are a lot cleaner compared to my Leica SL which has a 24-megapixel sensor, but not enough to sell the SL.

I also liked the fact that Nikon doesn’t force me to sit through a noise cancellation process which turns a 15-minute long exposure into a 30-minute job on my SL. And by then you have lost the light. It is the most frustrating thing about SL for some odd reason Leica thinks professionals (who they target SL with) can’t deal with noise and as such, need to be nannied.

I am used to Leica SL (mirrorless) and its Bauhaus design. And perhaps that is why Nikon was tough to master. Even their mobile app is a disaster, and only a committee of engineers could design that app. I am used to Leica camera app — it too sucked when I bought the camera three years ago, but now it is perfect and does everything I need right from the app. From switching to manual to focusing on setting up time for long exposures, SL app is spot on. Nikon needs to rethink it all and double down on software simplification.

By the end of this trip, it is clear; I am not an SLR guy. I am not a Nikon person. I don’t need a new camera – SL is all I need.

What about the lenses? This trip only reinforced that I dislike zoom lenses as they cause my brain to lose all sense of composition. They make me lazy, and I am not happy I used them as often as I did on this trip. I prefer primes — 50 mm at the most. I want to add a manual tele-prime – either a 135 or 180 mm Leica-R lenses. I don’t need anything fancy because most of the digital long exposures are exposed at an aperture of f8.

Nikon lenses, despite my preference, are pretty amazing regarding quality and image sharpness. I now finally understand why many of my serious landscape photography heroes use Nikon.

A letter from Om

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