Is a Leica M still a “Leica M” today?

DISCLAIMER:

I’m not against Leica cameras at all. I also used and loved a Leica III (LINK) and probably i will try a digital M. The pursue of this post is to raise good question rather than to give stupid answers.

 

Hi mates,

during the last street photography workshop [Check it out!] I did I was hitting the street of Palermo with my new friend Robert [His website here].

He came to Palermo with a Leica MP with 28 and 50mm lenses and with a Ricoh GR [Review of Ricoh GR ]. After two days with me he no longer used his Leica. We had very interesting conversations about this fact and so i finally decided to write a post about this topic since it was a long time i was thinking about it.

 

leica ricoh robert.jpg

Fig. 1 Robert’s wonderful Leica MP with Elmarit 28, and our two “stupid” Ricoh GR

 

 

FIRST POINT: WHAT IS A LEICA CAMERA?

 

When back in the 1925 (yes, it’s almost 100 years ago!) Oskar Barnack created the Leica I he made a unrivaled revolution: he created the first easily carriable, unobtrusive and high quality camera.

Photography, and especially reportage and street photography, changed forever.

Photographers could now carry their camera almost everywhere without thinking too much about its size. Cameras started to hit the streets more and more: Leicas also went documenting world war II.

 

leica 1.jpg

Fig. 2 The Amazing Leica I (Pic By © Kameraprojekt Graz 2015 / Wikimedia Commons /, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42238256)

 

leica war.jpg

Fig. 3 Robert Capa on the left with his Contax II and George Rodger ( Napoli, 1943). Some year before they founded the epic Magnum Photos Agency.

 

In 1954 a new step was made: the first Leica M, the M3, was manifactured.  A better rangefinder finally in the same window of the viewfinder, new shutter speeds and a bigger body were some of the innovations it took.

It remained unrivaled too for reportage until the small and good SLR cameras started to become better from about the 1970’s.

The M3 was the first of a long series of legendary M cameras, which are still manufactured.

But do they still make sense today?

leica m3

Fig. 4 A pretty Leica M3 ( Pic By  Rama – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4387539 )

 

SECOND POINT: WHAT MAKES A LEICA M SPECIAL?

Let’s analyze what makes a Leica special.

To me the key characteristics of a Leica camera are probably 4:

-it’s small

-it’s quiet

-it makes high quality pictures

-using rangefinder focusing can be quite fast, especially in some situations

 

THIRD POINT : ARE THOSE KEY SPECS UNIQUE OR CAN WE FIND THEM SOMEWHERE ELSE?

Well, now it’s time to compare. And please don’t say it is apple and oranges, because what matters most is the final picture. We will leave the “feelings” we get while shooting out of this room. No one is a famous photographer because he has a great feeling with his Leica! One become famous because of his memorable pictures not because of the equipment he uses. Do you agree? So, if this is true, we need the equipment that make this goal easier.

Let’s compare the last digital Leica – the (M typ 240) – with some of the cameras that the market offers. The answer will come itself. But first of all, let’s ask ourselves if it fits the 4 key characteristics of a Leica M:

-1. it’s small: Not so true! A Leica M240 weights aprox. 700 gr without lens. It is surely bigger and heavier compared to the film M’s. It’s almost as much as a DSLR, and a lot more compared to a lot of other mirrorless cameras (eg sony A7 series).

-it’s quiet: Yes, it’s probably quiet compared to a DSLR. But it’s insanely LOUD if you compare it to a leaf shutter camera, like the Fuji X100, Ricoh GR or Sony RX1.

-it makes high quality pictures: True. It is capable of making very nice pictures. But probably it is a matter of the lenses instead of the camera itself. You can probably get same results  mounting a M lens in a Sony A7 body (not sure about this).

-using rangefinder focusing can be quite fast: …Not true anymore. Yes, rangefinder focusing can be fast when you know how to use it…i mean zone focusing and other techniques you learn after a very long learning curve. But it makes really little sense by today standards. Have you ever shot a 5d Mark III? AF speed is crazy and crazy accurate. You don’t even notice that the camera is focusing! We must also add that the closest focusing distance is usually long with a rangefinder camera…like 0.7 m.

leica sony.jpg

Fig. 5 Leica M240 with EVF side by side with Sony A7RII (Pic By http://aboutphotography-tomgrill.blogspot.it/2015/10/what-sony-a7rii-taught-me-about-my-42mp.html)

 

…Last but not least, until now we didn’t talk  about the price.

A Leica M typ 240 costs about 6500 $ without lens!

It is insanely expensive.

There is no rational reason for its cost.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

Going to conclusions, we can easily affirm that a M is probably not anymore the “most M” camera out today. There are lot of smaller, quieter and still great quality cameras over there in the market. If I had to go documenting war or something else in assignment, I’d buy something else.

So, yeah, there are probably no rational reasons to choose a Leica M today.

But we have to be honest and say that it’s still damn so sexy and functional, and most of the time we don’t need “results”, we just shoot for the pleasure we receive during the process. Considering that, Leica M is still a super nice camera. Try to put your eye through a M’s viewfinder and you will be fucked up.

I want one! 😉

 

Did I confuse you?

 

I hope so.

 

Giorgio

 

 

 

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Is a Leica M still a “Leica M” today?

  1. Great piece Giorgio. I remember our conversation and the good points you made very well. And I still agree with you. Clearly on the criteria of size, stealth, speed and ease of use (where the original M film cameras were winners on all counts) a digital M is nowhere near the leader on such criteria. And yes, a Ricoh GR that slips into the palm of the hand, that has silent shutter mode and aperture priority as well as snap focus preset is a stealth weapon for street photography. But as you say, photography is not just about rational criteria, especially when it comes to Leica. I for example no longer use my GR. I have gone the other direction and now own and almost exclusively use 3 fully manual Leicas (M3, M2, M4) together with a recently acquired pocket light meter. Even the MP, nicely pictured above, with inbuilt meter gets much less use these days (unless I really need 28mm which is rare). Why? I think I have discovered what my natural style is as a photographer. A little bit of distance, not so in your face “street” photography. Almost a bit more languid, trying to isolate moments of beauty or stillness via 50mm frame lines or sometimes 35mm. And always film. I went to Japan recently for a week and shot 19 rolls of film with 2 Leica film bodies on me at all times, one around my neck and one around my shoulder. I didn’t even take the GR with me. And I have also found that actually although an M is not as small as the GR, people seem to accept me more when I am shooting with these M cameras and I have had less negative interactions. And probably more positive interactions. I take a camera with me almost all the time now and in restaurants or other places I always get positive reactions and engagements with people asking “hey, is that an old Leica?” Or exclaiming “nice camera!”….and then even more positive reaction when they realise it is film not digital. So for me, the question of stealth and size are no longer key for my style of photography. The time I spent with you was a great learning experience for me on many different levels (I really learned a lot from you) and also imitating you (which is the best way to learn) and naturally that meant using the Ricoh when we were shooting together in Palermo. But the emotional connection and feeling I get from shooting a 50 year old camera with 50 year old glass is what I realise that I enjoy most and what I don’t think digital can deliver. I also love the sense of anticipation from not knowing what the captures will be like until I see the negatives or the scans rather than constantly “chimping” at an LCD screen. And the effects of different old glass. It’s not just GAS it’s something more spiritual in the mechanical than in the digital. I don’t even shoot with my phone anymore. I like being fully manual in the shooting process. Sure I might miss shots but the ones I want I seem to get. And I know that in 5 or 10 years I will still be using the same equipment and no upgrades (except maybe if I can ever afford an original steel 35mm f1.4 summilux!) Would I ever buy a digital M? Maybe if they get the size and weight down to the classic film M, but I doubt it (though rather a digital M than an A7). The digital M edition 60 they launched without the screen was a great idea but really an overpriced attempt at producing a collectors item and it is still a digital masquerading as the film experience. Film and digital are different mediums and it’s a personal choice. I have heard great things about the M262 and I wonder how far Leica will go or can go in synthesising the original M ethos of simplicity and minimalism whilst at the same time producing a camera that stands on its own merits as an excellent choice for digital shooters in the present day. For the time being I stick with the M3, M2 and M4, with the GR in my back pocket in case!

    1. Ciao Robert, first of all thank you for the very interesting comment. It’s nice to hear that everyone has a different shooting style and this is also a good point for a discussion. Sounds like you found your style, and most of all that you really enjoy the process of shooting itself – is there anything else that really matters? I know the feeling one gets while shooting film; the wait for seeing the results surely add value to the result itself. And of course there is nothing “better” than seeing the world through a M’s rangefinder – you feel connected to the scene you look at. The consideration you make about reliability is also very important. A film M will last probably forever, and could be repaired easily. But how long does a digital M last? As you said, i hope Leica camera will go “back” to the origin and produce a simple – and affordable – new Leica M.
      Have a great day my friend,
      Giorgio

  2. I had the luck to hold and try an M9 for a short time yesterday at my daughter’s wedding, and I was definitely awed by this camera. The feel it gives, the reassuring weight, the sheer impression of quality it exudes….

    But then again, I carried a 5 years old Fuji X10, used and abused by my kids (I wanted to take my Canon A-1 film camera but considering the low light situations I preferred to take the Fuji – I regret this today). The X10 did it’s job perfectly! I got about 50 keepers out of 196 photos I shot – a very good ratio with a digital camera for me.

    I carried the camera in my hand the whole evening with no problem, which would have been difficult with the M9.

    It is much less intrusive than even the Leica and above all, for the used price of the M9 I could buy about 5 Fujis, of the new X30 variant. And I’m talking about a used M9, not an M240….

    A no-brainer in my books!

    1. Ciao Frank, first of all thanks for stopping by and many positive wishes for your daughter! M9 is an incredible camera and to me it couldn’t be compared to a smaller sensor camera like the X10. Btw, as you said, cameras like the X10 (that i owned and used with very good results) can do the job 98% of the time and it’s easier and more comfortable to carry.
      Have a great day,
      Giorgio

  3. il pezzo che hai scritto è divertente, una view diversa, senza i soliti patemi dei leicisti sul “piacere tattile”, il “click” e altre menate. Hai centrato il punto scrivendo che sono gli obiettivi che determinano la qualità delle immagini Leica. Aggiungerei anche la perfetta integrazione corpo – obiettivo, e la totale assenza di correzioni geometriche via software (che piagano Fuji e anche Sony). Nessuna mirrorless, A7R2 inclusa, riesce a far funzionare le ottiche M allo stesso livello di una qualsiasi M digitale. E vale anche il contrario: la M240 funziona splendidamente con le ottiche da telemetro, malissimo con tutte le “adattate”. Incompatibilità reciproca. Chiaramente la A7R2, ma anche una A72, con un’ottica M a tutta apertura nasconde i problemi ai bordi e da f8 li rettifica per forza di cose. Ma come hai puntualizzato, costa una frazione della M240 e, con un Loxia 35 (otticamente derivato dallo Zeiss 35/2 zm) mette il fiato sul collo alla M240 con un Summicron 35. Oggi come oggi, dovendo partire da zero, non mi infilerei nel sistema Leica M se non in forma “leggera”: M9 e Summicron 35 usati, spesa intorno a 3000 – 3500 Euro, con la consapevolezza che il telemetro delle M digitali è molto meno resistente di quelle a pellicola. La Q, per citare una compatta, ha la rapidità di un serpente a sonagli e una qualità di immagine abbastanza vicina alla M, ma resta indietro su un paio di cose. Però costa 4000 Euro e usata è introvabile. La Gr è una proxy accettabile della Q, e forse migliore di qualsiasi altra compatta apsc. Per chi cerca l’esperienza dello zone focusing (e occasionale messa a fuoco manuale), oggi esistono alternative credibili come Nikon Df, la Sony A72 e la A7R2 che offrono qualità di immagine comparabile al binomio “M + M”. Le Leica sono purtroppo diventate giocattoli un po’ barocchi, occorrono passione, dedizione (e anche soldi in eccesso) per apprezzarle appieno.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s