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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
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 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.
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.
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.