Chris Weeks On The Latest 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

A leading pro uses Leica’s innovative new super-speed wide-angle lens on assignment and gives his candid impressions.

Chris Weeks, a seasoned editorial and street photographer based in Los Angeles, is acclaimed for creating photographs that capture his subjects with unflinching honesty and disarming directness. His best pictures are imbued with the very same spirit that characterizes the work of the great photojournalists of the 20th century—a feeling of unmanipulated authenticity, of life captured on the fly, at the incisive instant, as it really is, rather than being shoehorned into a pre-conceived notion. His work hovers breathlessly between an artist’s keen insight and controlled vision, and the spontaneity of life itself as it unfolds in front of his camera. Not surprisingly, Weeks is a lifelong Leica enthusiast and he still runs some film through his well-worn Leica MP, but the Leica M9 is now his camera of choice. “When I first shot with the M9, I was blown away,” he exults. “I knew in a heartbeat that here, at last, was the camera that delivered the totality of the Leica M shooting experience in digital form—all the benefits of digital workflow along with the responsiveness, unobtrusiveness, and sheer imaging performance of the classic Leica M.”

Weeks’ business card reflects the same straightforward approach to life that informs his work—its laconic tag line reads “Freelance Still Photographer.” But while he is loath to toot his own horn, his track record is impressive. His work regularly appears in iconic publications such as Vogue, InStyle, People, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair Italy and many others, both in the U. S. and worldwide. In addition to editorial work Weeks pursues his personal passion for street photography all over the world. He recently directed and produced a documentary called “Street Photography: Documenting the Human Condition,” which has been viewed on the Internet over half a million times.  Exhibitions of his work have been seen in L.A., and upcoming exhibits will include Snap Orlando later this month and a show in St. Louis, Missouri slated for this coming September. Weeks has also lectured on behalf of Leica Camera, about photography in general and street photography specifically. Currently, he’s working on his “reel” for cinematography and motion picture direction, a creative departure from his “still photographer” endeavors.

“I have found through long experience that shooting available light images with the Leica is the most effective way of doing street photography,” notes Weeks. “Because the camera is so quiet and inconspicuous, you can shoot discreetly. The pictures look more natural because they’re far less affected by the act of observation. Using flash destroys the moment, and obscuring your face with a DSLR and a big zoom lens deprives you of direct visual contact with your subjects. With a Leica the camera only covers part of your face—you don’t look like an android and you retain your humanity. Until the advent of the Leica M9, I used the MP for most of my street work, but the M9 was truly transformational—a camera that embodies the timeless Leica virtues but fits into the digital time frame in terms of my workflow. I can now access and share Leica images instantly in the same way I could with a DSLR, and the M9’s performance at high ISOs is outstanding.”

“Basically my mission is honing in on the essentials,” observes Weeks. “Whether I’m shooting celebrity portraits, events, and location coverage for magazines or street images for myself, what I’m trying to do in this world filled with distractions is to find moments that really define what’s going on. I strive to eliminate what is superfluous and to cut to the essence of things, both visually and emotionally. Real moments happen in front of me all the time, whether I’m in the street or at a backstage event with special access. I’m always looking for the moment, especially when I’m shooting with a Leica. The first time I shot with an M9 was a moment of epiphany—the evolution of the design, the full-frame sensor, and the firmware were spectacular. If I could, I would shoot everything with the M9.”

“A good example of what I’m talking about happened when I was covering the birthday party of Sam Raimi (director of Spiderman) in Hollywood,” recalls Weeks. The assignment called for flash pictures, but it soon became evident to Sam Raimi and me that this was inconsistent with the ambiance and flow of the event. After I had shot 15 pictures, Sam came over to me and said ‘I’m not feeling that.’” He was right of course, so I proceeded to shoot my ‘fly on the wall’ coverage with the Leica M9 and the incomparable 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux-M lens. There were 75 candles in the restaurant and that was the sole illumination for the entire family and guests. The light was so low I had planned to make black-and-white conversions but thanks to the extreme speed of the lens and the M9’s superb performance at high ISO settings the results in color were so unbelievably good, esthetically and technically, I was able to provide both color and black-and white images. Yes the camera and lens are only tools, but in this case the tools were integrally related to the art of expression. On assignment you’re often expected to provide flash photographs but I don’t feel that these images capture the reality of what I see. I much prefer sneaking around with the Leica recording what I observe using available light. Real moments seldom react properly to flash.”

Observations on the new 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH

“Of all the focal lengths I shoot with, 35mmm is my personal favorite because I like to be fairly close to the subject, to create an actual and visual sense of intimacy,“ says Weeks. “I want to be right there, and with a 35mm lens I have an extra degree of coverage without having to step back. I know that 35mm Leica frame-line like the back of my hand! Fortunately I had the opportunity to use the latest upgraded version of 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH lens for several months before it was officially released, and I can state unequivocally that it’s a significant advance over the previous version I relied on for many years. Both lenses are tops in their class and yield outstanding image quality at maximum aperture, but the new floating-element design delivers noticeably improved sharpness and contrast in the 0.7-1.5 meter range that’s so critical when you’re shooting impromptu pictures of people. I shoot wide open practically all the time and I have enough hands-on experience to confirm that this new lens is the finest 35mm f/1.4 lens I’ve ever used. For me, it’s a crossover lens because I can use it as an accoutrement to my assignment work and as my primary lens for street photography.”

“Another great characteristic of this lens is its beautiful image quality in the out of focus, negative space areas of the image,” explains Weeks. “I don’t like the term bokeh, so let’s just say the new 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH delivers out-of-focus areas of the image that look absolutely gorgeous and natural, with smooth transitions and outstanding form retention. This is a Leica tradition of course, but it’s especially important when you’re shooting images that have a very limited depth of field. When you consider that I shot well over 10,000 rolls of film with my 10-year-old 35mm f/1.4 Summilux, I like to think that Leica designed this new lens with people just like me in mind. The barrel is just a hair larger than my old lens, but it feels just as good in my hands and optically it’s everything I could possibly have wanted. I find that the new lens works better with digital capture than my old lens and it has virtually no linear distortion, so you can shoot attractive-looking close-ups of faces positioned near the edges of the frame. For me this is a big plus because I hardly ever place the main subject smack in the center of the frame.”

“In the context of the overall Leica-M system perhaps the greatest thing that can be said about the new 35mm f/1.4 Summuilux-M ASPH is that it brings this critical focal length up to the same exquisite level of performance as the 21mm, 24mm, and 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH and the incomparable 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux. Like these stellar optics it can justly claim the proud title “best in the world.” As for me, I now use it for about 90% of the pictures I shoot, and, in the immortal words of the credit card ad, I don’t leave home without it!”

-Jason Schneider

For more information on Chris Weeks, visit his website, http://www.chrisweeks.net or read his blog, http://www.aphotocontributor.com. To see some of Chris Weeks photographs printed on paper, please make sure to check the current issue of LFI (05/2010).

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17 comments

  • A good series of images. Street photography is one of the real golden lights in modern photography. Be it digital or traditional photographic techniques, with street photography we are seeing the relationship between human beings and our environment. Every city and space is unique, and with a unique vision, we can begin to understand, what for most people is the reality or modern life.

  • A good series of images. Street photography is one of the real golden lights in modern photography. Be it digital or traditional photographic techniques, with street photography we are seeing the relationship between human beings and our environment. Every city and space is unique, and with a unique vision, we can begin to understand, what for some is the reality or modern life.

  • For many years now, Chris has been an inspiration to me as I have developed as another freelance photographer. Invariably when asked who I consider most influenced my development as a photographer, I refer to Chris’s work with his Leica in the editorial field. He doesn’t ring his own bell, displays impeccable ability, ethics and has been a mentor both by direction and example.

    Chris has firmly placed Leica products into my wish list and I look forward to adding an M9 to my imaging kit in the coming years.

  • Chris is very opinionated and straight-forward when it comes to talking about street photography.

    The difference between him an others, however, is that he can back it up by delivering consistently fantastic images.

    Check out his film on Vimeo. Search “Street Photography” and it will come up.

  • There are so many talented photographers working with Leica M cameras today producing interesting work in the tradition of the groundbreaking Leica street shooters of the past or going off into new artistic directions.

    I’m surprised and saddened that Leica presents these unchallenging, uninteresting amateurish street grabs by Chris Weeks. It’s really an embarrassment to anyone working seriously in the field of fine art. Surely Leica you can do better.

  • They don’t come more pretentious than this guy… And his street work is terribly banal.

  • To the previous comments,

    “unchallenging, uninteresting amateurish street grabs”

    “an embarrassment”

    “pretentious”

    “terribly banal”

    may I reiterate that they are a poor representation of what other examples have shown to be an excellent lens.

    It’s curious that someone at Leica User Forum would refer us here, emphasizing the demanding circumstances of the pictures rather than their quality or the quality of the lens.

    Chris Weeks’ supposed “candid impressions” read more like a promotional brochure. Oh! It’s The Leica Camera Blog! What did I expect? I expected better.

  • I looked through the images accompanied, but I’m very unimpressed. I also looked at the street photography photos at his web site and I wonder why he call himself a “street photographer”. He seems very fervent about street photography but his images are just ordinary street grabs in BW.

  • Totally agree with the last few posts. I’ve known about Mr. Weeks for a few years now and have been very unimpressed with his work and repelled by his arrogance. He seems to work hard vocally at trying to be the next HCB or Frank but doesn’t seem to come close to their work. I sat though part one if his street photography video but had to stop myself. I commented on the video about the pretentiousness of the narrative and noticed that the next day my comment was deleted. I am saddened that he gets so much exposure.

  • Bottom line is this, if half the photographers were as generous with their time as Chris is, the photography world would be in a different place. Some of you think he’s arrogant? I just think he doesn’t put up with useless BS. As far as his talent goes, I’m certain that all the haters have never even held a rangefinder camera… let alone shot with film. Some people learn and others fester in mediocrity and ignorance for the rest of their lives.

  • I just came upon this and agree that Weeks is super self-absorbed and simply not that good. If you think he’s arrogant here or in his self-promotional videos, you should try to stomach a page of his tome of gibberish entitled “Street photography for purists”!

  • I’m sorry, is this a joke. Good pictures always speak for themselves, unfortunately I haven’t seen one photograph from Chris Weeks that comes remotely close to being good or even slightly interesting. His Video’s are an insult to the tradition of street photography and not one intelligent sentence is uttered during the whole ordeal.
    I love and shoot Leica (film) but frankly think Leica is doing themselves no favours by producing this embarassing rubbish.
    I know a lot of leica photographers producing amazing work, if Leica can’t find anyone interesting to promote their gear they shouldn’t bother at all It will put people off.
    Shame on you Leica1
    And Chris Weeks, well…….

  • I like Chris Weeks a lot, but the pictures chosen here don’t do justice to his talent. Look up his stuff on tumblr, and you will see some very nice street shots indeed.

  • Maybe Leica should take care of the more talented, yet less pretentious guys like Matt Weber. Seriously, the environment of Hollywood has nothing to do with the real world, where Chris puts so much emphasize for street photography. True to say, there are people there, like in Las Vegas, who live on another planet. The reality of the world is different. I did not see this showned by Chris.

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