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Author Topic: Fascination with Leica M  (Read 6446 times)

Offline Hankosaurus

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Fascination with Leica M
« on: January 20, 2014, 05:12:03 AM »
Hi Gang.

Ever so often someone expresses some curiosity about why there remains so much excitement about Leica M, a camera that has changed little since 1954. I have answered that with my prejudiced opinion at least a few times in the past decade. The words below were in response to such a general question from Raj Kumar last September [2013]. I decided to copy them to here for safe keeping and future reference.

If you have questions or thoughts to share about this subject, please feel free to add to this thread.

==============


There are a lot of people who love, hate, admire, and despise Leica. Fortunately, those who dislike them most are not troubled with actually owning and using them.

Raj, I assume you mean Leica M, the rangefinder series, and are not interested in Leica's foray into the SLR domains of APS and medium format.

I appreciate Binoy's sentiments. If I had an infinite sum of money, and which money I didn't feel that would be better spent on other things, I would get a Leica M9. In my opinion, Leica alone has brought the best of the manual rangefinder camera forward into the digital domain. The M9 is the smallest full frame 35mm digital camera on the market. There is rumored to be a replacement for it in the works, called the Leica M (with no digit or alpha appended). Never mind that all the other Leica rangefinders introduced since 1954 are collectively called M cameras as a group. They haven't changed much since either.

To determine and know if a Leica M rangefinder is appropriate for an individual is not easy. There are probably ten good reasons to own one, and a hundred and ten reasons not to.

The rangefinder is a different breed of cat. One views with an optical finder that is not looking though the taking lens. If one buys a Leica M, whether it's an old M3 like mine, or a new M9, he will find it best for images of people, places, and things a meter or more away, seen in angles of view provided by 20mm to about 90mm in focal length. If one becomes accustomed to it and likes the optical viewfinder enough to keep the camera, then he will love its stability, simplicity, direct access to controls, low light performance, sharpness wide open, unobtrusiveness, and compactness.

On the other hand, he can forget about zoom, telephoto, macro, and autofocus, and most automation modes. Those things are not in the Leica M culture. He can forget affordability if he is on a budget and wants to grow the system. A Leitz lens can cost more than a serious dSLR with a good lens. The few available other-brand optics in M mount from Voigtlander and Zeiss will not come cheaply either. All Leitz glass is prime, in more ways than one.

If one buys a Leica M used, he can probably sell it for whatever he paid later... or close to it. In that one sense, it is arguably affordable to those who can put up the price to get it in the first place.

I've never owned a camera better made than a Leica M3. One has to hold it and use it to understand. Very solid, heavy, and precise. It's a precision instrument, modeled after laboratory equipment made by Leitz. It is the kind of thing that has been passed down to descendents.

But it's quite limited. It has just what is needed for that narrow focus too. Nothing extraneous, exotic, or unnecessary. Just bare bones, highest quality mean machine, limited scope, manual orientation.

Having said all that, and taking into consideration actual needs of a young photographer, my recommendation would be to instead buy a good dSLR. The reasons are flexibility, price, and availability of affordable accessories and service. Think mid range Canon, Nikon, Sony, or Pentax.

If one wants the rangefinder experience on a shoestring budget, he should consider a Canon QL17 or similar. If he likes shooting with it, he may be a candidate for a Leica M somewhere down the line. I'm hoping that Fuji will someday have an affordable, digital, Leica-inspired alternative to the M9. I could see myself buying one of them.

:)
« Last Edit: November 16, 2017, 12:25:11 AM by Hankosaurus »
Henry
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D700, F, F2, M3

Some say that those of us who like to talk about cameras should instead go and take pictures. I say we should go and also take pictures.

Offline Arindam Ghosh

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2014, 01:36:59 PM »
Hello, sir.
It was a very interesting read on the Leica M. I agree you with you on all the points except the last one where I would beg to differ. I believe that an opinion formed regarding rangefinders using a Canonet is almost a prejudice. I have a QL 19 which has been lying unused in my cupboard. The viewfinder wasn't very bright, and matching images in that 'yellow square in the centre' was very difficult. It no doubt gave me an idea about how rangefinders work, but it also gave me a view that they are difficult to focus, and certainly not for me. I was, in a way, beginning to hate the rangefinder system.
However, things changed last year when I had a chance to look through a M3 belonging to a relative of mine. The viewfinder is much brighter, and focusing was much easier. In a way, it made me realise why people love this camera. A Leica rangefinder was on an entirely different level. Please note that I am not talking about the quality of images. One search at Flickr and you'll see the gorgeous images made my non-Leica RFs. It is equally possible to make crappy images with a Leica. It is all about the ease of use. No doubt that an experienced hand might find a canonet or yashica RF equally easy to work with. It is entrants like me who need something 'nice' as a first impression. 
So, one must be very careful how he / she gets 'baptised' into a system. Everyone may not get a second chance like me!
Regards.

Offline Hankosaurus

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2014, 10:56:38 PM »
Points taken Arindam.

There is a lot of difference between a Canon QL 17/19 and an M3. Finish quality, mass, smoothness of shutter release, and lens interchangeability come to mind.

Thanks for sharing your experience and observation.

:)
Henry
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D700, F, F2, M3

Some say that those of us who like to talk about cameras should instead go and take pictures. I say we should go and also take pictures.

Offline theqca

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2014, 10:30:45 PM »
There are a lot of people who love, hate, admire, and despise Leica. Fortunately, those who dislike them most are not troubled with actually owning and using them.



I agree Henry...i've never had the pleasure of using one...for me its comparable to something like a Rolex Yatchmaster maybe...havent owned one but it still inspires that "wow" factor if you know what i mean..


Hi Gang.


The rangefinder is a different breed of cat. One views with an optical finder that is not looking though the taking lens. If one buys a Leica M, whether it's an old M3 like mine, or a new M9, he will find it best for images of people, places, and things a meter or more away, seen in angles of view provided by 20mm to about 90mm in focal length. If one becomes accustomed to it and likes the optical viewfinder enough to keep the camera, then he will love its stability, simplicity, direct access to controls, low light performance, sharpness wide open, unobtrusiveness, and compactness.


I've used 3 rangefinders - though they've been the el cheapo ones from yashica and rollei - not in the same league as Leica..however i can connect with what you've mentioned..maybe i need to put a roll through one again..its been quite a while..

I loved going through this write up...would love to see a pic of ur Leica whenever ur doing nothing on an idle sunday afternoon..post a pic please :)

« Last Edit: July 13, 2014, 10:32:35 PM by Ayaz »
Nikon FM(black), Nikon FG, Nikon D700, Nikon FM(silver), Nikon FM10, Pentax Spotmatic, Zenith TTL, Minox Wetzlar, Agfa Optima III, Yashica & Rollei rangefinders etc

28mm 2.8, 70-300vr, 200mm f4, 50mm 1.4, 55mm 2.8 macro, 50mm 1.8, 16mm 2.8, 70-210 f4 macro, Lensbaby, Helios 44 f2, 90mm macro, etc

Offline Hankosaurus

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2014, 01:13:27 AM »
Quote
I loved going through this write up...would love to see a pic of ur Leica whenever ur doing nothing on an idle sunday afternoon..post a pic please :)
Hi Ayaz.

Here's a small image of my M3.  It was manufactured in 1959, but the lens is from an early M3, probably about 1954.  The leather case had the top cover riveted to the bottom, as was the standard situation when manufactured.  I removed the connecting rivet and replaced it with a snap.  That way, I can use the bottom of the case as a protective carrier, leaving the top covering elsewhere until it is really needed.  Less clumsy than was the original plan.

To the left of my PC is a flatbed scanner.  The top of that scanner was the setting for the image below. You can see a protective filter below the camera.  I hardly ever use it unless I fear damage of the optic during a shoot. But I always use the lens shade.  Look at those scuffs.  That's why I say use a shade for protection, not just for better contrast. The meter is a Sekonic L308 Flashmate. I use it on incident mostly. The image was taken with window lighting using a D700, 70mm, f25, 1/10sec, ISO 1600.  A paper plate was used as a reflector just to the right of the frame.

A larger image is HERE.  Just noticed that I need to clean the sensor.  Ugh.   :P

« Last Edit: August 24, 2014, 02:40:03 AM by Hankosaurus »
Henry
A Certified Dinosaur
D700, F, F2, M3

Some say that those of us who like to talk about cameras should instead go and take pictures. I say we should go and also take pictures.

Offline Brendon

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2014, 08:27:11 PM »
I had the pleasure to use a Leica M3 once.

A friend had it and gave me to click a photo.

I marvelled at its build and knew I was working with a precision instrument.

So I moved the camera to my eye and half clicked the shutter.

Then I realized that there was no half click option and an image was captured!

I immediately turned to the back of the camera where the LCD should have been and was greeted by a blank piece of plastic.

Then my friend came over and asked me what exposure and aperture combination I had chosen. I was like isn't it on Auto ?

He then patiently explained that there was a incident meter mounted on the ISO shoe and I had to use that to set the shutter speed and aperture !

Then he asked me if my focus was good. I was like yes it looked liked in focus in the viewfinder.

He said "Did you align the two images ?" I was like " align what ???? :P "

Well that was my first and unfortunately last experience with a Leica camera. He never did offer it to me again for some strange reason which I can't fathom.

Offline Hankosaurus

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2014, 02:22:52 AM »
Greetings, Brendon.

I had the pleasure to use a Leica M3 once.
Were you surprised at its mass? Heavy as a brick of its size isn't it?

Quote
A friend had it and gave me to click a photo.
A true friend.  I would only ever lend mine to a person who understands the value of the instrument.  Your friend knew you could appreciate it.

Quote
I marveled at its build and knew I was working with a precision instrument.
Like a microscope or other lab instrument from the house of Leitz or Zeiss.  That culture inspired the high quality Japanese MMMs of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, instruments that could be used for life and inherited ... before plastic and silicon.  Think about this:  The plastic, automatic, battery-driven camera has been around since about bout 1980 or a bit before... about 35 years.  How many plastic cameras from that time are collectable and working today?

Quote
So I moved the camera to my eye and half clicked the shutter.
Half?!  There's nothing half about a Leica M.   ;)

Quote
Then I realized that there was no half click option and an image was captured!
Were you taken aback at how buttery smooth the release was and how quiet the shutter was?  It is very easy to release the shutter without moving the camera.

Quote
I immediately turned to the back of the camera where the LCD should have been and was greeted by a blank piece of plastic.
It only looked like plastic.  That little frame flips out to help with film loading.  Check and see if your friend has gotten an M9 yet.  It will have one of those displays like on a digital camera.

Quote
Then my friend came over and asked me what exposure and aperture combination I had chosen. I was like isn't it on Auto ?
Haha.  There actually are a number of automatic features on the Leica M, but not the ones that come to mind in the present era. To wit,

1. When one removes the bottom to change film, the film counter automatically resets to zero.
2. When one advances the film the camera automatically charges the shutter and automatically increments the frame counter.
3. When the yellow image in the viewfinder is superimposed on the main image, the lens is automatically set to perfect focus an any light.
4. When one then looks at the scale on the lens, it automatically displays the depth of field for that focus setting.
5. When one changes from one lens to another, it automatically displays the correct frame lines for that lens.
6. When one sets shutter speed, aperture, or focus, the camera automatically and faithfully does exactly whatever it was commanded, no more and no less, and no guessing on its part.
7. When one overexposes or underexposes a record of the fact is automatically recorded on a piece of film for further evaluation. Learning happens, automatically.
8. When one uses this (or any) camera for an extended period of time, required actions become second nature.  This is a kind of automation too, like riding a bike, swimming, or shifting gears.
9. The M7, M8, and M9 do have aperture priority AE. This was a major departure from all-manual by Leica. Purists call this "Dentist Mode."

Incidentally, one will see "AUTO" engraved on a lot of old SLR primes, confusing new imagemakers. The lenses automatically open wide for focusing, then automatically stop down to the selected taking aperture for exposure, then automatically re-open again for bright viewing.

Quote
He then patiently explained that there was a incident meter mounted on the ISO shoe and I had to use that to set the shutter speed and aperture !
There are several cute little reflective meters that sit atop the M3, some of which couple with the shutter speed dial.  Most of us old snorts use hand meters instead.  Some people are so good with "knowing their light" that they use no meter at all.  I envy them.

Quote
Then he asked me if my focus was good. I was like yes it looked liked in focus in the viewfinder. .... He said "Did you align the two images ?" I was like " align what ???? :P "
Fascinating how the rangefinder came about; it had its beginning with artillery.  Some of the early ones for cameras were accessories, miniature hand-held versions of what goes on ships to direct cannon fire.  It was a pretty clever thing to put a cam on the lens of a camera to operate such a device.  The rangefinder in the Contax II is probably the best one ever put into a 35mm camera.

Quote
Well that was my first and unfortunately last experience with a Leica camera. He never did offer it to me again for some strange reason which I can't fathom.
Me either.  If ever you travel to Atlanta, let's meet up.  You can shoot with mine for the day, and I'll even thaw some film for the occasion.  I'll take your picture with my dSLR.  ;)

:)
« Last Edit: September 03, 2014, 09:09:07 AM by Hankosaurus »
Henry
A Certified Dinosaur
D700, F, F2, M3

Some say that those of us who like to talk about cameras should instead go and take pictures. I say we should go and also take pictures.

Offline Hankosaurus

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #7 on: August 27, 2014, 08:05:31 AM »
Hi Guys.

I ran into a couple of interesting articles today about Leica and its history.  Thought you might find them interesting:

Why I love my Leica by John Naughton of the Guardian/Observer HERE, and 100 Years of the Leica Camera in Pictures HERE.

Happy Day.

:)
Henry
A Certified Dinosaur
D700, F, F2, M3

Some say that those of us who like to talk about cameras should instead go and take pictures. I say we should go and also take pictures.

Offline theqca

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2014, 11:34:16 AM »
Thanks Henry for the additional information (especially ur humorous take on Brendon's misadventure), links and the photo of your Leica - it allows me to connect better with what you've explained in the write-up.

I've linked your write-up to the PCI website...check when free - http://photographyclubofindia.com/

Here's an old advert i came across -





« Last Edit: August 30, 2014, 12:13:29 PM by Ayaz »
Nikon FM(black), Nikon FG, Nikon D700, Nikon FM(silver), Nikon FM10, Pentax Spotmatic, Zenith TTL, Minox Wetzlar, Agfa Optima III, Yashica & Rollei rangefinders etc

28mm 2.8, 70-300vr, 200mm f4, 50mm 1.4, 55mm 2.8 macro, 50mm 1.8, 16mm 2.8, 70-210 f4 macro, Lensbaby, Helios 44 f2, 90mm macro, etc

Offline Hyperdrive

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2014, 12:16:56 PM »
Thank you for sharing these links Henry. Very interesting reading. Believe it or not, I've never held a Leica in my hands but looking forward to doing so some day.

Cheers!

Offline Brendon

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #10 on: September 02, 2014, 01:47:11 AM »
Greetings, Brendon.

I had the pleasure to use a Leica M3 once.
Were you surprised at its mass? Heavy as a brick of its size isn't it?

Quote
A friend had it and gave me to click a photo.
A true friend.  I would only ever lend mine to a person who understands the value of the instrument.  Your friend knew you could appreciate it.

Quote
I marveled at its build and knew I was working with a precision instrument.
Like a microscope or other lab instrument from the house of Leitz or Zeiss.  That culture inspired the high quality Japanese MMMs of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, instruments that could be used for life and inherited ... before plastic and silicon.  Think about this:  The plastic, automatic, battery-driven camera has been around since about bout 1980 or a bit before... about 35 years.  How many plastic cameras from that time are collectable and working today?

Quote
So I moved the camera to my eye and half clicked the shutter.
Half?!  There's nothing half about a Leica M.   ;)

Quote
Then I realized that there was no half click option and an image was captured!
Were you taken aback at how buttery smooth the release was and how quiet the shutter was?  It is very easy to release the shutter without moving the camera.

Quote
I immediately turned to the back of the camera where the LCD should have been and was greeted by a blank piece of plastic.
It only looked like plastic.  That little frame flips out to help with film loading.  Check and see if your friend has gotten an M9 yet.  It will have one of those displays like on a digital camera.

Quote
Then my friend came over and asked me what exposure and aperture combination I had chosen. I was like isn't it on Auto ?
Haha.  There actually are a number of automatic features on the Leica M, but not the ones that come to mind in the present era. To wit,

1. When one removes the bottom to change film, the film counter automatically resets to zero.
2. When one advances the film the camera automatically charges the shutter and automatically increments the frame counter.
3. When the yellow image in the viewfinder is superimposed on the main image, the lens is automatically set to perfect focus an any light.
4. When one then looks at the scale on the lens, it automatically displays the depth of field for that focus setting.
5. When one changes from one lens to another, it automatically displays the correct frame lines for that lens.
6. When one sets shutter speed, aperture, or focus, the camera automatically and faithfully does exactly whatever it was commanded, no more and no less, and no guessing on its part.
7. When one overexposes or underexposes a record of the fact is automatically recorded on a piece of film for further evaluation. Learning happens, automatically.
8. When one uses this (or any) camera for an extended period of time, required actions become second nature.  This is a kind of automation too, like riding a bike, swimming, or shifting gears.
9. The M7, M8, and M9 do have aperture priority AE. This was a major departure from all manual by Leica. Purists call it "Dentist Mode."

Incidentally, one will see "AUTO" engraved on a lot of old SLR primes, confusing new imagemakers. The lenses automatically open wide for focusing, then automatically stop down to the selected taking aperture for exposure, then automatically re-open again for bright viewing.

Quote
He then patiently explained that there was a incident meter mounted on the ISO shoe and I had to use that to set the shutter speed and aperture !
There are several cute little reflective meters that sit atop the M3, some of which couple with the shutter speed dial.  Most of us old snorts use hand meters instead.  Some people are so good with "knowing their light" that they use no meter at all.  I envy them.

Quote
Then he asked me if my focus was good. I was like yes it looked liked in focus in the viewfinder. .... He said "Did you align the two images ?" I was like " align what ???? :P "
Fascinating how the rangefinder came about; it had its beginning with artillery.  Some of the early ones for cameras were accessories, miniature hand-held versions of what goes on ships to direct cannon fire.  It was a pretty clever thing to put a cam on the lens of a camera to operate such a device.  The rangefinder in the Contax II is probably the best one ever put into a 35mm camera.

Quote
Well that was my first and unfortunately last experience with a Leica camera. He never did offer it to me again for some strange reason which I can't fathom.
Me either.  If ever you travel to Atlanta, let's meet up.  You can shoot with mine for the day, and I'll even thaw some film for the occasion.  I'll take your picture with my dSLR.  ;)

:)

Ha ha, well written Henry ! :)

Would love to make a visit to the USA. If I do will definitely look you up ! Maybe ill get another crack at a Leica camera.

Offline Hankosaurus

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2014, 12:50:28 AM »
@ Ayaz
Quote
I've linked your write-up to the PCI website...check when free - http://photographyclubofindia.com/
You're doing a nice job with the top page at the PCI website, Ayaz.  Salute!

@Brendon
Quote
Would love to make a visit to the USA. If I do will definitely look you up ! Maybe ill get another crack at a Leica camera.
Crack?  Reminds me of when late-night humorist Jay Leno said that he had heard that OJ Simpson was thinking about "taking another stab at marriage". ;)
Anyway, it would be a pleasure to meet you face to face someday.  And, of course, you can shoot with my M3 when you do.

:)
Henry
A Certified Dinosaur
D700, F, F2, M3

Some say that those of us who like to talk about cameras should instead go and take pictures. I say we should go and also take pictures.

Offline PixelHunter

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2014, 12:27:22 AM »
Henry I think the following video will add a little bit of petrol to the fire (Warning- Kai destroys another leica M9 )  ;D

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM2GD0PiBJ4
"The best camera is the one that's with you" Chase Jarvis

Offline Hankosaurus

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2014, 11:29:06 PM »
Henry I think the following video will add a little bit of petrol to the fire (Warning- Kai destroys another leica M9 )  ;D
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM2GD0PiBJ4

Hi Binoy.

Kai's budget for entertainment must be enormous!  For sadness, that video is even sadder than when he painted one Pink some time back.  It hurts to think about it.   :P
Henry
A Certified Dinosaur
D700, F, F2, M3

Some say that those of us who like to talk about cameras should instead go and take pictures. I say we should go and also take pictures.

Offline Hankosaurus

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Re: Like a Leica M?
« Reply #14 on: November 25, 2014, 02:37:29 PM »
Hi Gang.

A few years ago there was a discussion on the Mothership about Leica M versus the SLR.  One Member was painting the Leica M as an irrelevant anachronism, outdated, defeated, a status symbol, and so forth.  The other was trying to convey its continued relevance within the narrow scope within which the Leica M excels.  Nikon gets a lot of credit for having displaced the Leica M as the photojournalists' camera of choice when Nikon introduced the F in 1959.

To my amazement, that very exchange reappeared on a Leica enthusiasts website just recently.  The dialogue was renamed Are Leicas Still Relevant? Two Gearheads Debate.  I wonder if any of you old timers would remember reading that thread.  Click HERE to see the article.

:)
« Last Edit: November 27, 2014, 01:07:28 AM by Hankosaurus »
Henry
A Certified Dinosaur
D700, F, F2, M3

Some say that those of us who like to talk about cameras should instead go and take pictures. I say we should go and also take pictures.