-by Lopamudra Talukdar
The full frame rangefinder style Leica Q is a unique camera. It feels lovely in my hands, is small, lightweight and very well-built. These elements of Leica’s minimalistic design served me extremely well in an event as massive, chaotic, and demanding as the Kumbh. The allure of the Kumbh is both captivating and daunting at the same time. For a documentary and human-interest photographer, there is probably no other occasion to capture India’s diverse diaspora in one place.
In the last decade or so, the Kumbh has probably been overshot and getting compelling images is no longer as easy as it used to be. For this reason, I was determined to focus on fewer events and people in search of those singular moments rather than chase and capture a lot. Such an approach meant centering around conversations, people exchanges, mundane everyday activities, and constantly observing moments. I needed a camera that would eliminate or minimize settings, buttons, menus, and all such things that often can become a distraction to the main task at hand–that of storytelling. The Leica Q’s simple design with the basic aperture ring, exposure dial and ISO button vastly takes away one’s attention from “settings and technicality to the story and content.
As a woman photographer, shooting at an event like the Kumbh does raise a question or two around safety. In this regard, having a camera that discreetly and quite easily slid into my purse was of immense convenience. Often times, I found myself amidst busy crowds, next to a prayer fire, close to or in the river or on a boat, dusty alleys, and crowded rickshaws – Occasions where quick access to my camera was key and having it around my neck or in my hand was not optimal. This is where Leica’s form factor, perfectly balanced weight, and sturdy build quality impressed me.
Even beyond all of the above, it ultimately comes down to the image. And this is where the Leica Q’s optics and files truly shine. The 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens is truly sublime, renders gorgeous bokeh and micro-contrast, at the same time proving its chops in low-light situations, including an extremely fast and reliable autofocus system. Many Kumbh events, and therefore those singular moments, happen late in the night or pre-dawn. Time after time, I was in areas lit only by a dim bulb or a fire. Or situations where high-shutter speeds necessitated shooting wide open. For a documentarian or street photographer, 28mm is probably all you need and the Leica Q has a stellar 28mm lens built into it.
The Kumbh remains a one-of-a-kind experience for anybody attending, and it was no different for me. The diversity of this occasion makes photography here both a challenge and a unique opportunity. Ultimately, it’s the photographer pursuing a story, observing interactions, and capturing moments, yet if there is a roll for a camera it is to be as simple and unobtrusive as possible. The Leica Q is a universal tool for me during my travels, documentary work or street shoots – for its utter simplicity and exceptional competence