I recently had a trip to Door County for a long weekend getaway thinking that it would be warm enough to enjoy spring weather, but unfortunately winter has been brutal this year and a cold spell was hovering over the Midwest. Spring was definitely not there yet and even as I am write this blog post the area is just starting to begin spring weather. We arrived in Door County only to realize that many of the quaint shops and local restaurants were still closed down for the winter. Not letting the chain of events spoil our trip I saw this as a positive to test out the Leica SL in sub zero temperatures. To my surprise Lake Michigan in Door County was still mostly frozen over and this would give me some really great shots of a frozen, quiet and desolate landscape. This weather would also give me the opportunity to test out the camera in freezing, snowy and downright chilly weather. I also did not pack appropriately so this was a test of my body capacity to handle the freezing weather, I also left the gloves at home so I already knew to expect my hand to feel like ice with the aluminum body of the Leica SL.
Cold, snowy & wet conditions
For those of you who have not been to or heard of Door County, its somewhat considered the cape cod of the Midwest. It full of small and charming towns, state parks and scenic views of the Door County bays. The peak season times are usually in the summer and when it really gets packed is the fall, when autumn arrives and the area becomes a leaf peepers dream. Winter is the harshest time for locals as business activity and the overall community becomes dormant. Our family usually likes to go at least once a year to door county, and more recently twice a year (spring and fall). For this year, we decided to try and go a little earlier than spring to try and avoid the crowds, but to our surprise and bad timing, we arrived while it was still brutally cold and dead. With this the show goes on and we decided that this would just be some good quiet time.
To our surprise there was some delight as we started to drive around. A winter storm was coming in and upon looking at the water, most of the bay water was still frozen over. During peak winter, the water freezes over so much in Lake Michigan that you can actually drive your cars across. So here I was, somewhat excited to do another field test of the Leica SL, but only this time in some frigid cold temperatures. I could also capture some isolation winter shots to depict the cold weather. As I used the Leica SL, everything just worked. No issues with battery drain or issues with wet snowy conditions. The sealing on the Leica SL is perfect, even with M lenses that I use. Its not as fully weather sealed as using a native Leica SL lens but its damn good either way. I left my camera lying on the snow or lake shoreline and never really questioned if it was a bad idea. That's how much trust I have at this point with the Leica SL. The only thing that will get you, especially if you are not wearing any gloves is that camera gets crazy cold, sometimes feels like an ice block in your hands with all the aluminum on the body. I literally had to let go of my camera a few times to get the feeling back in my fingers.
Frozen bay of lake michigan
In the image below you will basically see as far as your eye can see, and its all snow or frozen ice. We were in the area while a winter storm was passing through so this gave this image a different feel of just having blowing snow everywhere. This picture really captures both the isolation feeling of the area along with the winter storm effect. The red life ring box to the left is probably calling for me at this point....
All bright whites
For those of you who have shot in snow before know how the camera metering behaves with snow. Often times this is the perfect time to use exposure compensation. The one test for myself with the Leica SL was to see how the camera handles bright whites with a small amount of color in the image. Would the variation in whites be prevalent and give me the tones in the snow I was looking for? Outside of how the camera handles the cold weather, the biggest test is the image output. To my delight the images that came out of the Leica SL were perfect, I really could not ask for more. The white variations were great, giving me distinction between snow, ice, sky, clouds etc. The colors that I captured in the images popped and stuck out, giving me the contrast to make the image.
Trees and Shores
Even when I converted one image of this lighthouse below to black and white, the white and black contrasts were great. The tones in between black, white and grey just work and the Leica SL just continues to produce rich images for me.
Black and White Lighthouse
long exposure test
The last stop on my weekend getaway trip to Door County was to get a long exposure test with the Leica SL. I have been trying to get myself to do a long exposure with camera but time and time again I don't get the opportunity to. Here I was, hellbent on getting a long exposure shot, only to realize by the end of it that I asked for too much. Let me explain, with the weather at sub zero temperatures, the entire walk to the water front pier was an ice rink. I was literally doing a small penguin walk the whole way down, terrified that I might slip and go into the lake or slip and smash my Leica SL. Upon arriving at the edge of the pier, I start to pull out my aluminum tripod and without my gloves as I mentioned earlier, I start to lose feeling in my fingers. I could not feel what I was touching anymore on the tripod, it was literally that cold. I would need to take a break and stick my fingers back in my jacket to try to get a tingling feeling again.
I push forward and get the tripod set, mount the camera and finally am ready to go. The sunset is amazing and I have done all this work to get the camera setup so no turning back now. I would spend about 30 min in this spot, battling the elements. Having only 10 seconds at most where I can keep my hands out of my jacket. I have not experienced the numbness in my fingers like this before, I thought I would get frost bite with how cold the Leica SL was to the touch. The camera was fine battling the elements, it was my own body that was struggling. Overall I got through it, with some battle scars, my face ended up having a few skin burns from the cold which took a week or so to go away. Here's my final shot from this experience, unfortunately there is no moving water, but you can see the slower shutter from the flag.
Long Exposure Sunset
In summary, the Leica SL passed all my tests for it in the cold weather, landscape and wet and snowy conditions. The Leica SL is built like a tank and beat the elements, unlike my own body which was breaking down trying to keep up. The Leica SL made the weekend for me and gave me more memorable shots to keep in my portfolio. The one takeaway is the cold body, it gets super cold and hard to touch barehanded. Maybe this is a scenario where a camera case makes more sense.