« 9/11 | Main | Art Capital and Annie Leibovitz Reach Agreement »

Friday, 11 September 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Thanks for the great article John! Instead of dreaming about the Leica... I can dream about getting a D3...

"As for high-end sound equipment, well, I listen to country music on my Mac speakers, so I have, er, little to say about that."

I loved this part of the article. Thanks for posting.

I am giving a technical talk on digital cameras in a few weeks to a bunch of engineers. One of my first slides will say: "This talk will not help you take better images - but it may help you understand why some of your images aren't good."

Mr. Camp, you tripped over a flaw in your reasoning in the very beginning of your treatise. You say "for the way I drive", a Toyota would move you around as efficiently.

A modern (mid-engined) Porsche WILL change the way you drive. The immense amount of feedback and natural and fluid sense of control that is lacking in almost any other car WILL improve your driving.

A big, bright viewfinder might very well improve my photography. Being able to see outside the frame might very well improve my photography. After years of SLRs and progressively stronger glasses, any rangefinder might well improve my photography.

While I agree with you to a certain extent, no camera will improve your photography. Making photographs with any camera will improve your photography. Although I have seen many examples of digital shooters that pick up an inexpensive used 35mm camera and improve much faster than they were with the digital. It appears to be primarily because with film you have no instant gratification so you tend to slow down and consider what you are doing more-so that with a DSLR. This results in better photography when they are shooting digital. I primarily shoot large format but also shoot DSLR and Leica M6. The Leica is used for urban and street photography and IMO is far better suited to that than any DSLR. I will not be buying an M9 simply because the value it brings is not equal to the cost, for my use. Any rangefinder can be a pain to use until you have enough experience. So without a specific need for a rangefinder, use an SLR.

*Please don’t comment that “I love my Leica, so you’re wrong.” There must be a name for this logical fallacy –
Leicosophistry or if you prefer Tautoleicology… :)

I disagree completely. Your message is that pictures taken with a Leica will not be as good as those taken with a DSLR because the Leica M is not the technological equivalent of a DSLR. Lenses form the image, sensors only can record what they can detect. Horses for courses. I will keep my Canon 5DMkII for sports, wedding and low light event photography but will buy a Leica M9 for photography that is my personal passion: nature, travel and portraits. So what if I have to sell my sports car and stereo. I'll keep the Jeep and my iPod.

"A modern (mid-engined) Porsche WILL change the way you drive."

Kinda funny you'd pick that example. In the '70s when I was starting to drive, Porsches were extremely popular as the stylish car of choice among well-off younger housewives in the area where I lived. I used to amuse my friends with a spoof song called "Porsches In My Way" that I'd sing (to the tune of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes") whenever I got stuck behind yet another slow-moving Porsche.


'Your pictures almost certainly will be worse, and have less range.'

Conflating range and quality leads more photographers down the path of every-focal-length-covered-mediocrity than anything else. A Leica can help you stay off that path; the things are so freaking expensive that it's a rare shooter that can afford to own much more than a couple of lenses.

Generally speaking, John's right.

I got a Leica M3 in 1973, and over the next few years used it extensively with 35, 50, and 90mm f/2 lenses.

For what I mostly shot (candid people; often in late-night parties and jam sessions), it was a big improvement over the Miranda and Pentax SLRs I had at the time. The viewfinder was brighter and bigger, the focusing area was even brighter, I could focus reliably in much dimmer light, I could see if my flash went off (no blackout in the viewfinder). It was useful to be able to see outside the area that would be captured. The lenses were great, especially the 90, and there weren't a lot of f/2 short telephotos available at the time.

Also, the used M3 double-stroke with 50mm f/2 collapsible Summicron cost me $250 from a dealer with a major Leica reputation, as compared to $280 for my Miranda Sensorex with 50mm f/1.4 lens (new) in December of 1969. So the Leica was more expensive (and a new M4 would have been a LOT more expensive), but in the same ballpark as conventional equipment.

(I personally have never understood the interest in 100% viewfinders; I never present 100% of a picture anyway, except online in proofs. When printing in the darkroom there's some inevitable loss, unless you go for the "filed-out negative carrier" look. With slides, the mount crops some of the image, and it varies by mount brand. Also, the editor I was mostly shooting for at the time wanted me to compose LESS tightly, to give more cropping options to the page designers. So the imprecise framing never troubled me. I've never (except for brief custody of a very old Nikon F a few years ago) owned a camera with 100% viewfinder, and I've never missed it. I can now get 100% viewing using Live View, though.)

So, in 1973 I found the Leica suited my type of photography tremendously well; it was a big improvement over the SLRs of the time. It let me get better pictures.

In 1979 my camera equipment was stolen out of my house. When I took the insurance money and bought new equipment, I replaced the SLR first, with a Nikon FM. The FM was small, light, quiet, and had a bright viewfinder, by SLR standards of the day (1980). I hoped that it would be, if not as good as the Leica, at least "good enough", so that I didn't have to maintain two systems. As John says, you need an SLR for telephoto and macro work (and I'll add "zooms"; I got my first zoom in 1975).

The FM, and a later FM2 with Beattie Intenscreen for an even brighter viewfinder, was "good enough"; I never did get around to replacing the Leica gear. I kept looking at it, and considering it, and finally deciding it just wasn't worth the money to me. (This was going on during the period when the Leica prices, including used, really increased spectacularly, too.) I was definitely making some tradeoffs, but as always my income wasn't big enough to get every piece of photo gear I thought I could benefit from.

Then in 1994 I converted to autofocus, based on renting and testing heavily for a weekend. I found I got a lot more decent pictures, and the best ones were strikingly better, than when I was focusing by eye. It was quicker and more accurate, even in low light. (My D700 today will of course blow the doors off the AF of the N90 I used in 1994.)

Recently, using AF-S lenses and continuous auto-focus and non-central AF points has become key to a lot that I do. I can place an AF point over a person's eye and track their head and shoot at interesting moments with good confidence that I've got critical focus -- even with ultra-fast lenses. I've found that the amount of distance change that happens during focus-and-recompose was giving me a significant number of not-quite-sharp pictures.

Also, of course, the D700 can produce usable photos from ISO 25600, and damned good ones from ISO 3200, better than 400 speed color negative film during most of my career.

Today, the Leica isn't tempting to me. I absolutely loved what it did for me in 1973, but the world has moved on. Camera technology has improved immensely since then, and modern cameras have huge benefits over old designs. And of course the prices, today, are appalling.

However much you love the Leica lenses, I don't think there is one single photograph anywhere that's great when shot with a Leica lens but mediocre when shot with a good Nikon or Canon lens. If you're not shooting great photos with what you have now, don't expect a Leica lens to fix that for you!

People shooting Leica now, and wanting full-frame digital, are in many respects a different story. In particular they know exactly what they'll be getting. If that's what they want, more power to 'em.

And people who are emotionally wound up to finally go Leica may well find that the emotional charge carries them through to a new level in their photography -- which may or may not have anything to do with Leica :-).

And if the price is relatively minor to you, then by all means play around if you want to.

Back around 2000 I went through a "rangefinder" phase with my film cameras which started when I bought an original Konica Hexar AF. That camera was great, and lead to me get a Mamiya 6 *and* a Hexar RF, both of which I have sadly and perhaps stupidly sold with the transition to digital.

The draw of rangefinder cameras is that the picture looks so great in the viewfinder *before* you take it. The heartbreak is that the picture looks pretty much the same once captured, and probably worse than it looked in the viewfinder. The cameras are a blast to use, and smaller per film or sensor size than an SLR, and smaller is always better.

But I think the main premise of this piece is right. They will not magically make you take better pictures. They may fit the way you like to work better, which leads to better pictures. But that's a different thing.

I eventually came to realize that they didn't fit the way I liked to work, especially if I had a tripod with me. But I often find myself missing the big bright viewfinders and the nice manual focus action of the lenses. The price of admission into that world is sadly too high now with the digital cameras. But who knows, maybe Cosina will eventually step up.

I can't believe that TOP frequent contributor and commenter John Camp is ALSO an author I really like; And that I didn't know that until just now!

Great article John...sounds like my own line of thinking, but nice to have it confirmed by someone who's really used a range-finder.

Well said.
The reason I like film Leicas is because of the near silent shutter.
Is there a medium or small sized dSLR with comparable shutter noise level?

I completely agree with "Michael" above: no camera in and of itself will improve your photography. So the most accurate response to this post is: well, duh.

Also on the question of whether we should shoot SLR or rangefinder, the answer, of course, is, as others have pointed out: depends.

Also on that question it seems to me that Mike Johnston might disagree with the premise -- a Leica will not improve your photography -- if the Leica in question were an M2/M3/M4.


I'm sure Mike Johnston will clear this up if I'm wrong.

Interesting that nobody else has compared this post with Mike's post, "The Leica as Teacher", in which he basically makes the opposite argument: that shooting with a Leica can be a great educational experience.

Oy, flame on ;-)

I wrote a bit about "magic bullets" some time back. The thesis is that there aren't many things you can buy that will make your pictures better. I suspect Leicas are included.


A Leica *will* change the way you take photos. Whether that's a better way is your choice, but expecting that the photos will be better would be naive.

Apropos your Porsche story, Mike, I was at a 2-day driving course at Skip Barber at Lime Rock when one of the pupils drove through the indicator lights at the end of the lane change/panic braking straight. One of the instructors turned to me and said: "I would NOT like to be in front of that person in a pile-up", and in a distant voice: "I'm just not sure we're going to have time to help that person much". Fortunately, the panic braking was done in Dodge Neons and not the Vipers!

Dear John,

Another issue with rangefinders: Leica rangefinders are extremely PRECISE, because their unusually long baseline makes it very easy to bring focus to the same point every single trial, with more precision than I could achieve with any SLR I tested.

The thing is, they're not necessarily ACCURATE. That identical focus point you get to every time is not usually spot on the subject.

Important distinction, that: precision and accuracy. Precision is about how finely you can measure something; accuracy is about whether than measurement is correct. Indeed, the accuracy of focus will be different for each lens body, camera body, and focus distance.

Pierce also suggests that curvature of field and focus shift with aperture may further confound the situation, but SLRs are heir to those weaknesses, too.

pax / Ctein

No a Leica will not make your pictures better, but something about the style of shooting with one as well as using such finely made device challenges you to make better photographs.


You argue well enough that Leica rangefinders aren't for everyone, but you fail to make the jump to the part where you say they don't even represent good "Veblen value". I'm one of the people who's said in recent discussions that I'd love to own an M9. And that's not out of some delusional idea that it will improve my photography. It's under the possibly delusional, but hopefully educated idea that it would make my candid photography, done most often with a fast normal lens on a loudy clacky DSLR, more enjoyable. "I'd love to own one" doesn't translate to "I'd consider paying for one". I'm not wealthy enough to spend that kind of money on something that isn't very important to me, and the added enjoyment I'd get out of shooting with a Leica isn't that important to me. (It's also possible that I'd end up enjoying a Panasonic GF-1 or Oly E-P1 even more than a Leica RF for shooting candids, but I haven't had a chance to try these cameras yet). When I say I'd love to own an M9, it's not Leica-lust so much as RF-lust and they're the only game in town. And that's my problem with Leica - not Leica itself, but rather the absence of anyone else in the market. Fortunately, micro 4/3 and the upcoming Samsung NX system promise very reasonable alternatives for those of us looking at certain practical aspects of Leica cameras.

So given that Leica makes the only digital rangefinder and rangefinders do have their own appeal to certain types of photographers (not the promise of "better pictures") I think its existence in the digital camera market as a niche product is perfectly reasonable. You can't say it offers good value based on spec sheets, but if you love shooting with a rangefinder enough I don't think anyone can tell you it's not worth the money.

Having said that, I can understand your concern about new photographers mistakenly thinking that these cameras offer some magic and they should aspire to own one. I saw a post on another forum by someone who stated that in a recent seminar, the instructor told them there's nothing like a Leica rangefinder for shooting landscapes. I replied saying he's probably right that there's nothing like it, but that doesn't mean that it's good for landscapes :)

Here's a radical proposition: you should not make statements about the merits of cameras without stipulating the context in which the camera will be used. So saying "Oh, a Leica M9 is a poor choice compared to a DSLR" is like saying "Oh, a hacksaw is a poor choice compared to a chainsaw" without specifying if you're a machinist or a forester.

There are things I can do with a hacksaw that are essentially impossible with a chainsaw. At the same time, I would never attempt to fell a tree (as I am about to do when I finish typing this) with a hacksaw.

There are photos I have made with Leica rangefinders that would have been enormously difficult or impossible with an SLR or a view camera. There are photos I've made with a view camera that would have been difficult or impossible with an SLR or a rangefinder. There are photos I've made with my DSLR that would have been impossible with either my rangefinder cameras or a view camera.

Horses for courses, and ignore anyone who says otherwise just because they're offended by the weird cult thing that hangs in the shadows around things Leica and have issues with Thorstein Veblen.

As for 'if you're not happy with what's coming out of your DSLR, you won't be happy with what comes out of an M9, because the problem isn't with the camera' - bunk. Would you tell someone "If you're not happy with how easy it is to fell trees with a hacksaw, you won't be happy with a chainsaw, because the problem isn't with the saw"? Of course you wouldn't. The problem may very well not be with the camera - but then again, it MIGHT be.

A Leica M9 is, as you point out, not a magic wand. Neither is a DSLR, or any other camera. They're just tools, like hammers and wrenches, and saws. Pick the one that suits your task, and don't worry that the other guy is using Visegrip pliers but you're using a Snap-On torque wrench. That goes double when someone goes on and on about doing a heads-on test of how fast Visegrip pliers can remove a rounded off nut compared to your very expensive Snap-On torque wrench.

The old adage "crap in, crap out" used to be true. If you are a lousy photographer, then a digital camera allows you to shoot more lousy photos. I currently use an M6 and a Mamiya 7 II, and while I don't think that an M9 would improve my skills, perhaps an intensive course in photoshop would help.

With today's digital technology it is possible to make a lousy photograph look good.

No, an M9 won't make you a better photographer, and it won't make your love life better, but I guess it will make you feel like a better photographer.

John, Bravo very well said--Thank you. I'v shot with F's G's & M's
Everything you have said is right on the mark--Not sure you mentioned "Live View". I still have one Leica, a non working 1A hockey stick and my wife has a F model of her dads--try focusing that one--like looking through a key hole into a dark room.
Great photo's are made by great photographers--I don't think it ever mattered what camera they used. I have never looked at a great photo and wondered what camera was used.
John, Thanks again.

But I told my wife it would and she said "that's ok then". I used the same argument the first time we made love, I'm surprised she fell for it again

I appreciate John's argument, which I think boils down to: "this product is difficult to use well, so be warned." But even if John is correct about Leica rangefinders' inherent technical inferiority, I do not think that is reason not to try to excel with this tool. The search for technical competence and improvement in how I see are important goals for me. I do agree heartily, though, that part of what attracts me to these cameras is a preference for elegant tools. And why not? Ordinary life offers a surfeit of ugly, poorly designed things. Why not choose a rose from among the thorns?

Ben Marks
(owner of M cameras along with a fair bit of wunderplastik)

Ben Marks

"A Leica Won't Improve Your Photography?" You lie! ;-)

I think it depends on what kind of photography you do. I agree with about 90% of your article, but as some of the commenters have pointed out, it doesn't apply across the board. In my case, most of my current photography is shot "from the hip," where framing and composition is guessed at (it's a project I'm working on). So the framing issue is moot.

However, I would definitely benefit from the "full size" sensor, and a rangefinder format is much more suitable for this work than a DSLR. Also, there's something to be said for having controls and a "feel" that really work for you, versus fighting with less intuitive controls that can distract from what you're actually doing (taking photographs).

I use a Lumix LX3, which is mostly up for the job, but I hate the fact that all compacts have a lens that has to extend when the thing is on. That basically tells everyone looking that you're in "shooting mode," which isn't good when you're trying to be inconspicuous. (They also have a habit of turning themselves off if you don't touch them for a while.)

I don't want a DSLR for this project, and most compacts are 50% camera and 50% gadget. I want 100% camera, which is what I'd get with a M9. I'm not 100% convinced it would improve my photographs, but I'm 90% convinced. ;-)

Off topic: has anyone noticed the brilliance of the two dials on top of the X1? (Shutter speed and aperture.) With those two dials, you get your choice of (1) full auto, (2) full manual, (3) aperture priority, or (4) shutter priority, depending on how you set them. It's a ridiculously simple yet brilliant design that isn't cluttered with explanations, and I really applaud Leica for coming up with that. (Basically, no need for a "mode" dial, as the shutter speed and aperture dials do it all.) Again, it shows that it's more camera than gadget, as people who don't know cameras will likely be a bit thrown off by it at first. But if you understand camera basics it's fabulous!

I agree with your basic point, that for most people buying and using a Leica will not improve their photography (presumably we're really talking about "Leica M" cameras and not Leica the brand which have brought to market a range of interesting cameras including rangefinders but also slrs, dslrs, digital viewfinder and digital LCD back cameras. The consistent features of Leica cameras is not the rangefinder but quirkiness, extremely high image quality and high cost).

I would add the corrallary that for most people buying any new camera will not improve their photography. Improving one's photography generally comes through a) increasing the amount of photography one does, b) exposure to other photographer's work, especially those who are better than you and c) persistence. A modicum of apptitude is also important.

There is a fallacy that many people believe that good photography is related to the equipment the photographer uses, eg, sharp is better, big is better, high ISO is better. It's not. Good photography may be slightly improved by better equipment but good photography is done by people with a talent for making images which communicate a compelling personal vision which resonates in others.

It's true that a Leica will not improve your photography. However, it's also true that using a DSLR will not improve your photography. Nor does it follow that a DSLR will result in a higher percentage of "better photographs" than the Leica.

And the types of photos we choose to take may differ somewhat depending on the equipment available, but that's just horses-for-courses. It has no bearing on whether one becomes a better photographer or not. Unless we maintain that a "well-rounded" portfolio is a goal all by itself, which would seem to disqualify a lot of photographers regardless of which equipment they used.

For nature - (landscapes) a 35mm format is just too small. Go 4x5inch and above. Then you get the detail which brings the landscape to life. For (sitting) portraits the 4x5 renders tones much smoother than small format can. Travel&sport, movement photography, is the domain of the small format - always was - and that was started by Barnak&Leitz in 1924.

"The people most likely to really get into [Benzes,] IMHO, are people who love [cars] as [cars,] and love the [status] of [driving them] perhaps more than the [transportation] they get."

Yep, I see your point now.

What about the other part of the equation that you so completely dismiss, professionals who not only prefer Leica's, but have made many of the most memorable images over the past 70 or so years with them?

It's true, a Leica will not make you a better photographer, neither will any of the wonder tekno auto digi cams out there. They might make you better at taking vastly more bad images that are properly focussed and exposed, but that's about it. Your brain is usually your only limiting factor in making good images, not the camera.

Some people just prefer Leica's. I prefer DSLR's to put food on the table, but geez, do I hate their bulk. But then, I prefer film loaded Hasselblads for my personal work, so I guess I'm stuck with the bulk.

Dear Rick in CO,

Back in the film days, there were people who said the camera body didn't matter, it was just a box between the lens and the film. Ignored some minor details: that "box" was responsible for focusing, exposure determination, film (sensor) and lens alignment, and accurate exposing. Yeah, just a box [grin].

Ditto: great lens, poor sensor? Crappy photos.

A good lens, a good camera body, AND a good sensor (or film) are equally important to making (technically) good photographs. No one is more important than the others.

pax / Ctein

Tonight on TOP's alliterative hour: Velbon's Veblen-value.

As in this article, everybody seems to love the bright line viewfinder of the Leica much more than the rangefinder focus. Buy accessory bright line finders. Put them in the accessory shoe of your DSLR, your little pocket camera, whatever.

I'm going to get an M9. Having gotten burned with the M8, I'll probably wait for the M9.2. And I'll put an accessory bright line finder for a 50 in the M9 accessory shoe because I think it is a better finder than the one in the camera. Being an eyeglass wearer, I'll have to use an accessory finder for the 28. I'll use the same Leica finders I use on my Canon G10.

I'm not into Leicas. I don't want or need their Veblen value and I certainly can't afford them. But I do want a (digital) rangefinder. I've never been happy shooting D/SLR's. In some ways I like the imprecision of the rangefinder. It's oddly liberating. I get frustrated with an SLR when I don't get the framing right because I know I _should_ be able to get the framing right. But mostly what I love about a rangefinder is the view of life and the world outside the frame that can subtly influence my composition.

Separating the different functions in cameras, DSLR's Leica, pocket digicams etc, the main difference in Leica's (M-series) from all others, is the optical wiewfinder with optical manual focus.
Reflect on the following: In use, in photographer feel, Leica S2 is just a DSLR, and X1 is just a digicam. Fast, high quality, yes, but in user feel no more than this.
The debate centrepoint in all this is that the M-series is different from all other available cameras today, it is the optical wiefinder and manual focus.
The tools one posess shapes the man using the tool. So maybe the M-Leica is a self-imposed handicap. So what: maybe the man learns new skills because of his use of special tools?
Mikes suggestion of buying one camera, one lens for one year to educate oneself is an illustration of how the Leica M works? Maybe you like it, maybe you learn, but staying indifferent is probably not an option.

I mostly agree.

But, the camera that WILL improve your photography is the one that works the way you want it to, and helps you see the way you want to see. Or, the one that challenges you to see differently, and thus expands your visual experience. Or, is that a contradiction?

I've tried to like Leicas. As you say, sometimes the allure is that some people just enjoy cameras, and a Leica is a mighty interesting gadget. I found, though, after owning an M7 for a while, that i just didn't like viewing/composing through a rangefinder. I sold that camera. Two years later, after looking at a lot of very nice rf images online again, i convinced myself that i should try again. But, largely, i believe it was the allure of the device itself. It certainly wasn't an attraction to how they actually worked. I also loved, and still love, the fact that you can choose from so many different varieties of lenses, with a range of vintage to modern renderings....

But, i sold the second M7 for the same reasons as the first. Another year passed, and i bought a Zeiss Ikon. Again, the allure of vintage imagery got me to come back. I enjoy the Ikon more than the M7. It just makes more sense. The M7 has the pedigree and the build quality. But, the Ikon is a better camera. Still, i hate rangefinders. I'm selling the Ikon and i hope to be done with all this business. The fantastic lenses for the M-mount (Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander) just aren't enough to compensate for the disagreeable nature of the process of focusing them. It's almost a tragedy.

But, i've found consolation. My new favorite lens is a 50mm 1.8 Nikon SLR lens. Cost me about $50. I had to buy a Nikon body to use it, though. But, it's that good. I think i'm done.

I'm also happy, now, to leave that 'Leica Club,' with members who actually are either proud or unaware of their arrogance. That's the bonus. Some schmuck recently posted "if you can't afford it, just walk away." Whatever. I DID afford it. Thrice. And, i'm walking away.

I have never owned a Leica, but I suspect I would really like many aspects of photographing with a Leica. How do I know? I know I like rangefinders. I learned photography with one. The first camera that was my very own was one. I understand the limitations. It seems to me that the nicer viewfinder on the Leica compared to the one on the old Nikon I loved would be a huge improvement and make it easier to use. The only problem is that the Leica is the only game in town, and it and its lenses are too expensive for me. I don't begrudge them that. I just keep hoping that someone will come up with a suitable substitute.

If I could afford one, would I dump my other cameras? Of course not. The rangefinder has its limitations, so it could never completely replace them. I think most knowledgeable photographers know that. You use the right tool for the situation. I just think that the right tool would often be a rangefinder. In other situations I will use one of my view cameras, or my wife's digital SLR.

I don't understand why these kinds of posts aways involve Leicas, Mercedes-Benzes or anchovies... What's the point?! Anyway I don't like anchovies...

It's funny that Porsches and Leicas keep coming up together. Porsches and Leicas will both do pretty much exactly what you tell them to do, even it results in death or crummy pictures. At least Porsches of the 1970's or before, and Leica until pretty recently dipped their toe into 1970's tech and sort of got stuck there.

I have a 1970 Porsche that I inherited that is sort of the psycho girlfriend of cars. If you don't give it your undivided attention it is so responsive to your input that it will spin or blow up the engine in a fraction of a second. It's only about 48 inches tall giving you an unobstructed view of the underside of SUVs and trucks. It's earsplittingly loud inside, scares the hell out of passengers, and can carry lots of baggage as long as it's packed in garbage bags and is sort of squishy. It also has a reputation for spontaneously catching fire. In other words it's perfect in its own terms except for the fire part. As far as transportation goes it pretty much sucks. I love mine and will never sell it even though it's worth about 6 times what it cost new.

New Porsches seem to mitigate stupidity on the part of the driver, are much better cars in terms of going from point A to B safely without the occupants smelling like gasoline, oil, or fear itself. And what's the fun in that? I have zero interest in new Porsches.

Leicas are also capable of doing amazing things as long as you know exactly what you are doing but if you aren't paying attention they make pretty bad photographs compared to a $200 camera, and there are subjects they are pretty awful for like sports or birds.

Did you ever notice that Canon is always advertising how good they are for sports and birds?

Professional grade cameras tend to be a little more difficult to use than consumer cameras, but are still designed on the theory that every exposure might be important so don't screw things up too badly.

Leicas on the other hand are good for photographers who are fine with the idea that if one photo in 36 is perfect the other 35 that suck don't matter at all and are willing to pay the price in money and in learning to adapt to their tools.

It's an argument of rangefinder vs SLR, really, isn't it? Not about brand or even cost.
That argument seems to have been resolved in the late fifties when Nikon took over the "professional" market with the F. And Leica almost went to extinction. Yet, we still have lots of rangefinders around, mostly film.

They do what they do best and no SLR can match them in their game. Likewise, no rangefinder will do what SLRs do best.
In the film days we had this incredible choice of different "boxes" for different kinds of photography. It took longer than a century to get there. We lost all that to the cost and growing pains of digital, but we are catching up (just not as fast as we'd like).

The cost of an M9 is currently disproportionate to what an old-school rangefinder would have cost in the film days. But then again, the whole pricing range for what used to be 35mm cameras has been thrown out of whack. Even medium format cameras used to cost less than the current top of the line "full frame" digitals.

That's what triggers these debates over the value of rangefinders vs SLRs. If you need two bodies to go out on assignment - where are you going to plunk down some $15,000 + lenses and accessories? And would you pay double that to have 2 systems along?...

Meanwhile, for just exploring the benefits of rangefinders, there are "user" Leicas out there that cost less than a Micro Four Thirds body. You just have to wind some celluloid through, that's all.

Dear John Camp,

As many before me, I would like to disagree. I agree that a rangefinder will not improve your photography magically in the way that a top-of-the-line Nikon or Canon body would improve your sports photography if all you had was an older, entry level DSLR. TOP, and many others have previously made the point that a rangefinder camera, any rangefinder camera, will improve your photography. That is, make you a better photographer. As Mike says about Porsches, this will not be the case if you only have it for its Bling-factor. If you work at improving your photography, some time spent using a rangefinder camera will be very effective.

You do say that those who do improve their photography with a rangefinder is not your audience, but I think quite many of those you would like to consider your audience actually work hard at becoming better photographers and would benefit from working with a rangefinder camera.

So, yes. The M9 is not a magic wand. It will not suddenly make your pictures better. It will however make an excellent tool for improving your photography if you work hard at it. Better than a DSLR.



I look forward to Davenport debating this in the next Prey book.

Though it's not quite his kind of camera, at least he can afford one.

I Totally Disagree too.

This is one of those situations where Veblen value gets confused for something that has a highly specialised function. If you understand the photographic reasons for having an M Leica then the tool WILL help you take better photos. Albeit in a limited range of applications. I don't think H-C-B would ever have used a D3, despite its fast AF. I have a D3 and the AF is fantastic, but still not instantaneous. It is an intimidating beast too.

I'm one of those A$%^&*#s that drives an M3, although I get comments that I'm too nice a guy to own one. It too is a fairly specialised tool. On the average commute it is a pain, the ride is bumpy, trunk and passenger space is limited. BUT give me an open mountain road and it really comes into its own. It doesn't make me a better driver, but the drive is way better than most cars. Everyone assumes I drive it for the status, until they come into the mountains with me.

Congrats to Leica for finally getting it right. I hope enough people understand the M9's advantages to keep them going for a long time to come.


PS My photos got better when I migrated D70-D200-D3, at each step! I think it was mainly the better viewfinder.

What I like about Leicas is their small size and the even smaller lenses. I like to carry a camera everywhere, and my M3 is small enough to clip to my belt. Not even my rather small Miranda MS2 can pull that off comfortably. (Honourable mention to my collapsible 50mm summicron in this matter).

As I like backpacking, the small size and weight of a Leica and lenses appeal to me. I currently only own one of both, but comparing them to my EOS 30 and lenses, I'm seriously thinking of expanding my collection into a versatile travel set. (After my Leica Year is over).
For landscapes, the less accurate framing will be a downside, but being able to carry more lenses (or carry less weight) might compensate that well enough to be worth it. I'll just have to try...

For sports I'd prefer my SLR though. Likewise for product-photography.

PS: @Ed Hawco: The Pentax 645 medium format SLR camera's share a similar arrangement of controls. It is, indeed, the best way to implement auto-anything (IMHO).

'leicas are not as good at making professional level shots'

As we say down South,HOGWASH!

i love my epson, so you must be wrong ....

well, actually i agree to most of what you said. while the rangefinder style of taking pictures will be not right for most photographers, it may also be just right for some. i don't know whether i take better pictures with a rangefinder - may be i do not take good pics after all? but for sure i know, that using a leica III taught me quite a lot, including joy, and .. the uselessness of the concept of "exact framing".

just my thoughts.

"...that 'box' was responsible for focusing, exposure determination, film (sensor) and lens alignment, and accurate exposing. Yeah, just a box..."

The crappy view camera I used to have didn't do any of those things, and it worked out pretty well as long as I wasn't in a hurry.

Hell, it wasn't even a box!

Looks like the used M8 prices are crashing, maybe I'll get one. Right now "mint" examples are going for as low as 2300 on Ebay. When "user" cameras start showing up they should be pretty reasonable.

I am a fine arts photographer by profession--mid career. At least half of my work has been shot on Leica M cameras. I have a few points that favor its work for me, and will so again if the M9 proves out to be all that it looks to be.

First, its all about the lens. Not Leica lenses per se, but rangefinder lenses. By not having a mirror box to project through, rangefinder lenses can be made nearly symmetrical in design. This allows the lens designer to cancel out most aberrations, including chromatic aberration. This is a critical issue, as in my experience, CA is resolution robbing and limiting and cannot be corrected with software. I feel that upper resolution with digital cameras is directly related to how low the CA level can be held in the lens system, not just the pixel count of the image sensor.

I currently shoot a Nikon D3x. The only lens that I could find that did not have chromatic aberration was the Zeiss ZF 2/50 Makro. It was real eye opeer to shoot with it and find the camera coming into its own with full resolution. I would rather shoot CA free with the D3x then an MF back with CA.

Wide angle lenses are hard to limit on CA. That is why the 50mm is the widest CA free lens I could find for use at 24MP. But the M9 is showing promise of delivering CA free, full resolution images with much wider angle lenses.

Second, simplicity is the heritage of the M camera system, and once again it is showing in the M9. Ninety-five percent of the software functions on the D3x are simply not needed and I dont want on my camera. I just want to be left with the lens and a means to record what is behind it with great fidelity. If I cannot figure the complete camera out without an instruction manual, I dont want the camera. Simplicity is underrated, and in my view is what makes M shooting elegant in form and function.

Third, field work is brutal. Gear takes a pounding. The more complex the camera, the easier it is to break. Leica M's have proven themselves for generations as "tank-like" in strength.

Fourth, size matters. Last month I was in Montana photographing high up in the mountains above 9000 feet. The Nikon D3x came along, but at twice the bulk and three times the weight of an M system. My new law--Myers' Law--is that for every doubling of the camera weight, the camera use drops to 1/4.

About a year ago, I had a story proposal into a major photography magazine about shooting rangefinder cameras. The editor responded and said, "does anyone still use rangefinder cameras?" I thought the response was interesting, as it really never took into account that retrofocus lenses are the critical problem in resolution with digital photography, and indeed the future of digital photography may well be dominated by rangefinder cameras--either such as the M9 or the 4/3rds cameras.

There is good reason that the M camera system has been painstakingly refined along the same path for more then 80 years. I think any photographer can benefit greatly from the M experience if they take the time integrate with the camera system and learn its benefits---which takes on average a year. Perhaps patience is a sorely lacking virtue in an on-demand society, but it has its rewards.


Who, exactly, invited John Camp to our party? :)

Several comments:
1. Totally agree about focus. Rangefinder focus is precise with normal to wide lenses, but not fast. Trying to follow focus a moving object or person is an exercise in frustration.
2. Any person who would consider an M9 probably owns another camera that will use his 800mm or macro lenses. You wouldn't sell every other camera you own to buy a Leica unless you weren't interested in bird, flower, or perspective control shots, anymore.
3. A rangefinder camera WILL change the way you look at the world and the kinds of photographs you take in it. You may not take better pictures, but you will take different pictures.
4. If you know the basics of exposure, focus, composition, etc., a Leica rangefinder will stay out of your way, i.e., not screw things up, better than any other camera out there. (I always wished DSLRs had a "I'm ready to take the shot, don't change any of your settings as I depress the shutter button" button). You are in control, not the camera.
5. Over time you gravitate towards cameras that you enjoy using. In this regard I've never used a better camera than a Leica.

Ctein, Sorry, I didn't mean by omission to undervalue the camera body. "A good lens, a good camera body, AND a good sensor (or film) are equally important to making (technically) good photographs. No one is more important than the others."
However, not to be again mis-construed, there exist photographs of high regard which were taken with lenses having lousy optical qualities (don't mean to dismiss pinholes here), mounted on cheap/decrepit cameras and/or using mis-processed film.
Given the usual over-engineered Leica M body construction and the quality of the M lenses, and the initial reviews that suggest Kodak and Leica have (finally) got the sensor right, all of the essential elements may be there.
One additional point to the overall conversation is that there are some people, myself included, who "see" better (or visualize, whatever you would like to call it) using rangefinder cameras (or even view cameras) than when using SLRs.

"About the style of shooting" style is david hemmings with is nikon and hasselbald Leica have a lot of economic problems spiller want that leica workers sacrifice their christmas hollidays and the extra bill because they need to save 1 million euros and he threaten with I don´t know what can be happen in 2011 a shame maybe is near the end they are well constructed and beautiful cameras but the status is the status a lot of myths surrounded like the lie of the decisive moment and much of romanticism a pentaxolympuspolaroidalphanikonmamiyac330minoxmjueos6001n´s user then aiptek powershot and today ixus inside my domke only a minox gt sleep with new battery inactive since 2000 and inside my pocket the ixus
sorry I forget the romance with Hermes leica cameras for rich rich people my rich wife have beautiful green eyes and red hair or blond etc and I need a camera for she...

Several years ago, I went to Venice, equipped with a Nikon F 4 and a few “pro” Nikon zooms. I took a battered second-hand M6 with a Summicron 35 mm for backup. Much later on, I scanned a series of impressions from the laguna at dusk and put them on my Mac as a screen-saver slideshow.
The 8-year-old daughter of friends watched the entire slideshow recently. She then remarked upon the “marvelous hues” of some pictures, which she found quite unlike any other she had sheen on a computer screen. We checked, although there was no need to: she had pinpointed each and every one of the photographs taken with the Leica.
I don’t believe in magic; I believe in lenses. And here, I’m foolhardy enough to take on not just John Camp, but Ctein himself: the Leica’s meter was often way off, the shutter would deviate as much as +/- 1/3 stop from nominal speed, and yet the camera did not interfere with my shooting the way the F4 did (or indeed any other SLR, before or since, digital or analogue). The M6 was just a film box behind the Summicron. And the Summicron captured exactly what I wanted it to capture, in a way that no other lens in my experience ever has.
So, a Leica may not improve your photography. Leica lenses may.
The M9, unlike the M8/8.2, may just be the first digital box you could attach behind your Leica lenses without the nagging feeling that a film M would have been better, that it would not have got in the way.

Three things, in reverse order:
1. Bill Pierce says: Buy accessory bright line finders. [if you love them so much.]
Sounds great. How about [cheap] accessory distance finders? Or should I just hack off the prisms and mirrors from a junked rangefinder?

2. psu said: The draw of rangefinder cameras is that the picture looks so great in the viewfinder *before* you take it.
Amen. My Olympus XA lets me see some beautiful photographs, but...

3. I came into photography through the use of my dad's Retina IIa, and subsequent plastic-y autofocus rangefinders in the eighties. I hated them, because the two things I most wanted to do with them, I couldn't: zoom in on something far away, or something really close. Thus, the popularity of SLRs, which are the mostly-right tool for almost everything.

Except for being small, quiet, light, and fast.

Leica's big win with the M9 is that they actually got the last part right, provided you need full frame. A decisive moment camera that you don't have to spend time reloading is clearly faster than one you do. (Particularly one as involved as a Leica.*) Oh, to me light is relative to SLRs; I can't say I'd trade in the heft of any metal rangefinder for the lightness of my XA.

*disclaimer, I've never reloaded one, but I swear, I'd be lucky not to drop the base plate down a sewer grate. Do professionals carry a spare, or just a spare camera?

I've learned to place a certain value, however irrational, on the regret factor.

When I tried 4x5, I struggled with a crappy entry-level model and took a few keepers. Always wondered if I'd bought an Ebony and felt better about myself, if the keeper ratio would have increased. Did the same with square, of course, opting for a Bronica instead of a Hasselblad. I mumbled the mantra that the FP4 and Ilford paper didn't really care, but when you're mumbling mantras like that, maybe you're not clicking on all the cylinders you should be, either.

mike b

Title..."A Leica Won't Improve Your Photography"

Neither will a DSLR...duh. Only you will improve your photography. Toward that end, it helps to have the right tool(s) for the situation at hand, and to know how to effectively use them.

Luke: You’re the kind of person I most worry about. You say, “Being able to see outside the frame might very well improve my photography. After years of SLRs and progressively stronger glasses, any rangefinder might well improve my photography.” A fellow on the L-Forum, the Leica users group, who wears glasses, has posted to say he can’t see the frame lines on the M9’s 28mm (and wider) lenses, because they are too far out to the edges. People like you need to carefully research rangefinders to see if they will actually solve that kind of problem. As to the Porsche comment, no sports car would change the way I drive, except to make it slower. Again, it’s that personal factor that makes a difference – I’m 65, have stents in my heart, and take Plavix. If I get in a bad auto accident, I might very well bleed to death with what would ordinarily be routine cuts. I drive very carefully. A Porsche would do nothing for me at all.

Rick in CO – That was not my message. A Leica M8 (or M9) can take pictures every bit as good as any DSLR. The difference is that it takes extensive and persistent training to do that. When I got my M7, I would walk up and down my street in the evenings, focusing on tree trunks, which are a very easy target for a rangefinder. Not shooting, just focusing. I’m still not nearly as good at it as lifelong Leica users. Using a rangefinder well can be hard. There’s also a whole range of tech in a DSLR that simply helps--doesn’t help you see better images, just helps in housekeeping. For example, with a Leica, the sensor is exposed when you change lenses (and you may change lenses more frequently than with a DSLR--no zooms.) A DSLR’s mirror covers the sensor when the lenses are changed, somewhat protecting it from dust. Dust removal also helps. Leicas don’t have dust removal, although they arguably need it more than DSLRs. So what part of having dust spots on your sensor really makes rangefinder shooting more enjoyable? A lot of DSLR tech is transparent--you don’t see it, but it’s working for you. Does that make a DSLR more complicated than a Leica? I don’t really think so.

Christoforos: I’m told that the Pentax K7 is essentially as quiet as the Leica. I don’t know that personally because I haven’t been able to get my hands on one.

Ctein: I once took a year long course in land survey (don’t ask) and they pounded into our tiny brains the distinction between precision and accuracy. You could get a steel tape, be told to measure the distance between two stakes over rough ground, and come up with a figure like 97 feet, 3 ¾ inches. Very precise. Accuracy? You were lucky if you were within a foot of the actual distance. On tests, they would dock your score if you did this: they called it false precision, because it seemed implicitly to guarantee a level of accuracy which was not valid. A better answer would be 97 feet, plus or minus a foot.

Paul Butzi – You’re knocking down a straw man. I didn’t imply any of that, and I wouldn’t cut down a tree with a hacksaw. I’m interested in your statement “There are photos I have made with Leica rangefinders that would have been difficult or impossible to with an SLR…” I confess, it’s hard for me to imagine that. I can imagine it the other way around, but exactly what would you do with a Leica M8 that you couldn’t do with, say, a Pentax K20D? The Pentax is about the same size, has better ISO response, more resolution, is weather-sealed, has an excellent viewfinder, etc. Surely you could have found a way to struggle through with it.

Bryan C – You say, “It’s also true that that using a DSLR will not improve your photography.” Not true. A DSLR will distinctly improve your photography if you want to shoot longer than 135, or macros, or use a sophisticated flash system, none of which a Leica even has. I agree that there are some cases in which a DSLR will not improve your photography – especially if you’re using a Leica to shoot static or slow-moving subjects using lenses ranging from 28mm to 90mm.

David: Your point about cameras and Benzes is exactly the point I was making, yet I sense sarcasm. Was it intended that way?

Mike Peters: there have been lots of famous images shot since DSLRs came in. Show me one in that time that was shot with a Leica (Not good images, famous images. Of course you can shoot good images with a Leica.) You say that many of the most memorable images in the last 70 years were shot with Leicas. I’ll bet if you graphed them, most of them would fall around the 50-70 year mark, and they would become progressively and rapidly fewer in number and percentage the further into the century you got.

I do like Leicas, though, believe it or not. I just don’t like the myths around them. They are great tools for some things, and are fun to work with.

Can you say something about the image quality of Leica lenses vs. Nikon/Canon...? I often hear the argument that if you use a DSLR, you'll never experience the nirvana of Leica glass. True?

I enjoy using a rangefinder, it completely changed the way I took pictures. That's why I love my Bessa R3A!

Thank you John, for pulling us down to earth. I was getting light-headed after reading the hands-on preview on Luminous Landscape. Really light-headed.

I used to be a wedding photographer and used rangefinders. Everything you said is about SLRs vs Rangefinders is right on. I must admit there three really wonderful qualities that rangefinders offer that I adore: 1) Rangefinders are so quiet--great for shots in the church, 2) Because the mirror doesn't pop-up during the exposure, you actually see the picture you are going to get when you take it--you can see the people blink when you take the picture, you can see the flash in their glasses, and 3) Rangefinders are great for low light focusing--the viewfinders are so much brighter.

Sometimes you own a rengefinder and sometimes you don't.

I think some people are conflating John's argument of "buying a Leica M9 won't make your photos better, and you probably won't like using it" with "use an M9 for an extended period of time and you still won't be a better photographer". Or maybe with "DSLRs are always superior to a Leica in every way". John didn't actually say either of those in my interpretation, and in fact owns a couple of Leicas.

I think there's some logical fallacies going on in the comments, but, not knowing Latin, I can't be as eloquent about it as Mike. ;)

Paul Butzi said "There are photos I have made with Leica rangefinders that would have been enormously difficult or impossible with an SLR or a view camera."

Paul - Can you give an example? I can't think of any right now, except maybe if you spied something outside your frame with a range finder that you wouldn't have been able to see with an SLR? I don't know how common that kind of thing is, given that I've never used a range finder.

"I’m told that the Pentax K7 is essentially as quiet as the Leica. I don’t know that personally because I haven’t been able to get my hands on one."

I held an M7 and K-7 the same distance from my head and listened closely--the K-7 is not as quiet as the M7, but close.

As I recall, though, the M8 was somewhat louder than a film Leica, so the K-7 might be closer in sound level to the M8 and M9.

The K-7 is very quiet for an SLR, though, no question.


I was going to buy an M9 in order to make me a better looking Street Photographer, but I hate anchovies.

Nice one John

Yes, a Leica M won't take better pictures than a DSLR. A Leica is different and I think owning one (M6 and latterly M8) has improved my photography.

The viewfinder lines aren't that accurate - so you learn to read the frame your lens will see without having the camera to your eye;

Focusing isn't always faster than AF - so you go back to ranging and selecting aperture and focus to get the depth of field you, as a photographer, want;

All skills most modern AF SLR users have forgotten as you battle with the technology, head down in the viewfinder!

They make you think - as most pre AF cameras did...

I mostly use mine now when out walking as it less clumbersome, and hangs nicely round your neck (not something a DSLR+zoom does when trekking - even if its lighter)

Whoa! I get it, and good point, but I think the sensationalist headline and polemical tone go too far and are misleading. This reads as an attack on the Johnston year-of-Leica theory, yet without ever actually engaging that thesis, plus (while we understand gear talk is gear talk) could be misconstrued as very gear- and metrics- oriented approach to photographic quality. And how can I let that go by?

OK, so even if Leicas are more about the process of shooting, the process of shooting involves skills and practice and intuition and eye. Mike's point, as I understood it, was that shooting a Leica was more purely and directly about those things than shooting just about anything else, and in a very portable package, thus offering an excellent means to develop those skills and qualities.

I don't know about Ms Manley, but I am sure that Mike never suggested that everyone--or even anyone--will take better photographs with a Leica than with a modern robocam, let alone do it any easier or faster, or even more enjoyably; rather, I understood him to mean that many of us, after being forced and allowed to develop certain skills and knowledge by shooting a film Leica, would take better photographs with our 50D's, D3's, iPhones, or any other camera we might pick up (even a Leica).

Improving the photographer seems to me a perfectly valid and effective way to improve the photography, and one of the better options to invest in. Maybe there's a good argument why that's not true, or why a Leica won't help you do it, but that's not what this essay was about.

Porsches with mid engines are not even real Porsches. It's sort of like making a AF 4/3rds Leica DSLR.

The irony of course is that for most people of modest skills, a Leica Digilux 3 or a Porsche Cayman will yield much better results than their higher end counterparts.

As in this article, everybody seems to love the bright line viewfinder of the Leica much more than the rangefinder focus.

Not I.

Leica & rangefinder seem to have become confusingly synonymous. I love my Zeiss Ikon and would never have splashed for a Leica. (And I agree with Mike that the Zeiss is the best camera Leica never made.)
I'd love a digital version, however.

RF works much better for me out and about in town than does the DSLR despite the latter's range of function and control.

I have no dog in this fight, but it has been fascinating. JC, surveying? What an eclectic career; I love the difference between accuracy and precision.

Do I have this right, liking anchovies improves ones Porsche and Leica driving skills?


"This reads as an attack on the Johnston year-of-Leica theory... Mike's point, as I understood it, was that shooting a Leica was more purely and directly about those things than shooting just about anything else, and in a very portable package, thus offering an excellent means to develop those skills and qualities."

'Kay, maybe it's deep enough in the comments now that I can respond to this without stepping on John's point. It actually raises a whole new point...namely, how alike is shooting with a film Leica and a digital Leica?

I only shot with the M8 for a month, but it didn't feel all that similar to me. Plus, one of my points concerning the "one camera one lens one year" post was that it's worthwhile being forced to learn to see in B&W, something I think would continue to confer benefits after you move on to color.

I don't think I'm going to go back on my "one camera one lens one year" argument, although I will say that you can probably get 85% of the benefit by doing the same thing with a film SLR. How much benefit would you get from doing the same exercise with an M8 or M9? I don't know, having never done it, but I don't think as much as 85%.

Anyway, my comments in that post were really specific to a *film* Leica, and shouldn't be construed as being automatically transferable to a digital one. To evaluate that, I'd probably need more data and more experience shooting "for real" with a digital M.


"Porsches with mid engines are not even real Porsches."

Amen. I once spun out an early 911 at breathtaking speed on a curve, and saw a tree flash past my eyes so close it felt like I could have reached out and touched it. Drove it back to the garage of the guy who owned it VERY, VERY slowly and gingerly [*LOL*]. Real Porsches are rear-engined. I loved Hugh Crawford's comment about his.


I'm waiting for the M9P:

- same mount and legendary optics
- same precision rangefinder
- same excellent build quality
- removal of the screen, all buttons/dials from the back of the camera
- restored remaining frame counter LCD to top of the camera
- integrated sculptured hand grip
- slimmed down by a few mm and now the same body depth as the M7
- significantly improved battery life
- integrated 802.11n wireless communication for image transfer, setting options (of which there's only a few)
- incorporates the latest firmware fixes to address middle ISO noise, purple fringing etc. that plagued early M9 models
- new production line to fulfill anticipated demand
- cost $2500

You read it here first!

Well, doesn't this just piss on my parade.... I was hoping that, at the cost of 10 grand for an M9 and a couple of lenses, I finally could advance from my Worthless Phase to my Mildly Tolerable Period.

Amen, brother John, amen!

I've lusted after Leicas for as long as I've enjoyed photography which is about 40 years, now. Recently, my daughter's dentist let me have a look at his M7 or M8 and I was thrilled. Held it up to my eye and discovered that my eyes aren't good enough to focus a rangefinder unless I've got some strong perpendiculars to work with (which I instantly remembered from my Voigtlander Vitessa days). - (Also I'd put a big nose-grease stain on his screen which I rapidly attempted to wipe off without scratching it or letting him notice!)

For me, it's that simple - I'm a street photographer and I grab my shots running to work and running home. Having a camera that sees better than I do and focuses faster and more accurately than I ever could is an absolute necessity. If a Leica lens can take a sharper shot it doesn't help me - 'cause I can't focus it!

When I first went digital I scanned all my negatives from my old Minoltas (srT101, XE-7, xd-11). The main thing I learned reviewing my old negs? I couldn't focus!

Give me autofocus every time. And autoexposure is pretty handy a lot of the time too!

@ Mike "As I recall, though, the M8 was somewhat louder than a film Leica, so the K-7 might be closer in sound level to the M8 and M9."

I've owned both film and digital Ms. The shutter sound is one thing, but both the M8s and M9 have a small motor to re-cock the shutter, and that never existed with manual film advance. So, overall, the digital versions are unfortunately much louder. (Yes, there is a discreet mode on the M8.2 and M9, which delays the motor engagement, but eventually it's there.)

The nearest motoring analogy I can think of is not Porches but the Morgan. A traditional company with loads of history, handbuilt, outrageously expensive, impractical for many purposes but a blast to drive (if you like that sort of driving). Many everyday drivers lust after one - but will never buy one. And after years of the Plus 4 they stick a V8 in it and so now we have the Plus 8. Now we also have the M9.
I have a IIIf but can't really afford anything newer in Leicaland. Don't really need it. I regularly use my Voigtlander RF's which essentially do the same job without the "feelgood" factor. My Nikon FTn, although a great camera with great lenses stays in the cupboard. And I don't often get the Rolleiflex out either.
Why the switch? Eyesight and convenience. The RF viewfinders gave me back the ability to focus and the smaller weight and size mean I am much more likely to have the RF with me, so I take more photos and enjoy my hobby more. And it is a hobby. I don't earn money from what I do. I suspect for a lot of others it's also a hobby even though they like to believe they're "professional" or nearly so. If I was a professional or even a "wannabe" I'd go and buy the best DSLR I could afford. It's the only game in town for a professional when all the factors of being in that business are taken into account. (Ignoring view cameras and studio setups).
Horses for courses, freedom of choice. I do what suits me and if someone else is happy with some other choice of equipment then great. Just don't tell me I'm mistaken or inferior in some way because I don't happen to make the same decision.

@Ed Hawco: The Panasonic L1 had the same way of selecting exposure modes via the aperture and shutter speed dials (in 2006), so it's certainly not unique to the X1.

Big thanks to David Dyer-Bennet for that valuable comment.

David: when you say you're tracking the eye of the subject, do you mean the camera can track it for you, or that you're continually moving the camera to place the (off-centre) focus point on the eye?

(I went to your blog, but I didn't find a contact link.)

OK, I get the idea that lusting after gear isn't very closely connected with making better pictures.

But I don't like the sentiment in this sort of thing:

"There's a reason few professionals use Leicas, and that's that the Leicas are not as good at producing professional-level shots as a DSLR"

Why the hell is "professional-level" what you should be aiming to imitate? Professionals (let's imagine wedding or newspaper stuff) have to make things which please many people. They have to be sure of coming home with something, whatever the event throws at them.

But, doing this only to please myself, these are precisely the sort of things I don'thave to worry about. In fact this is a big reason never to want to do it for money. I'd rather get nothing 3 weekends running and one shot I love on the 4th, than have a reasonable record of all that happened on all 4.

And if this is the goal, then limitations are welcome. I don't have to be able to make a plan to deal with glaring ugly sunlight, I just put the camera in the bag and save my energy for when conditions are right.

Clearly the Leica is a specialised and somewhat limited piece of gear. And it may or may not line up with the few photos you'd really like to take. But if it does, then it may very well improve the number of shots you love.

(Actually, I lie. This is the approach I aspire to. But I'm not there yet. I haven't quite washed the need to document fully out of my thinking. The need to duplicate what's on the postcards. The need to please those who don't understand the shots I really treasure. But I'm working on it.)

A Leica won't improve your photography? That's too categorical IMHO.

Dare I say that at some point in my life Leica did exactly that - it improved my photography?

Funny that every time Leica makes something newsworthy we should be reminded without delay that Leica can't make us better photographers! What is it, some law?

Any new camera may or may not improve your photography IMHO. Leica is no expection.


"how alike is shooting with a film Leica and a digital Leica?"

Yes, this did give me pause. But I felt John Camp had already conflated the two and I felt it was simpler and easier to go along.

I can't speak to M vs M, but as for seeing and shooting B&W, that is available in digital as well. Obviously, not the same as B&W film and paper, and as discipline rather than a medium, but perhaps offering at least some similar benefits...

For me, the radical difference between film and digital is chimping. I only started to get comfortable with shooting digital when I turned off instant LCD review and pretty much avoided chimping while shooting for about six months. It made a difference, and immediately. (I shot RAW, of course.)

Funny about all the Porsches. I cut from my first comment a couple paragraphs about how Leicas are more like Porsches than Mercedes, and how the proper car analogy clears up some things.

"but as for seeing and shooting B&W, that is available in digital as well."

No, it is emphatically not. Being *able* to convert a picture to B&W is not the same as being forced to deal with B&W all the time, which makes you learn to see luminances and not get distracted by colors. It is not the same thing at all.


And here I am lusting not after an M9 or Canon or Nikon brick, but a new iPod touch with camera module! Apple let me down, and now I'll have to buy an iPhone 3GS in order to satisfy my latest urge to "think differently" about photography! That built-in touch screen focus thingy is way cooler than an SLR or rangefinder apparatus :-).

My only partially tongue-in-cheek point is simply that any camera can excite one's creative juices and in the process enable one to push past often self-imposed barriers in creativity. So, I think the author was fundamentally correct but merely placed his emphasis on the wrong stroke of the missing M9 film crank. It's not that the M9 won't make you a better photographer. It is the fact that any camera can conceiveably make you a better photographer! Many things in life serve as a catalyst to higher creativity, so why not an M9... or an iphone 3GS?

Mike, you can easily make it so that you never see the color on a digital camera ever. At least on Canons. You set the picture style to B&W, and not only does the jpeg preview come out B&W, you can set your initial settings in lightroom to already be B&W as well.

I could see an argument for film vs digital leica not being the same, (though I'd love to hear more as to why, cause I'm not getting it) but I'm pretty sure you can keep your digital experience 100% B&W and never even glimpse a pixel of color.

Ugh, another straw-man Leica post.

The notion that "There's a reason few professionals use Leicas, and that's that the Leicas are not as good at producing professional-level shots as a DSLR" is provably false in many ways.

Yes, in the hands of the typical "turn it on and press the button" photographer any dSLR can produce a better photo than will be made with a Leica treated the same way. But is that the audience of this blog? Will the typical beginning photograper even consider buying a Leica? If not, what's becomes of the premise of the article?

I shoot with both a d700 and an M8 and they're both capable of producing equally excellent photographs. I enjoy using the M8 more, but that's because I've been shooting with rangefinders for over 30 years. I admit that even on the d700 I use a manual focus lens 90% of the time, but that's just because I don't like it when the camera focuses on the wrong damn thing.

Leicas have always cost a fortune, and have usually been used by a minority of photographers, and yet they have been, and continue to be, used by many fine photographers who are, paradoxically, more concerned with their images than their equipment.

John Nack (Adobe) quoting colleague Bryan O'Neil Hughes ...

•Customer: I want to buy a Hasselblad.
•Me: Sure, we have those... Let me ask you, though: what don't you like about your current camera?
•Customer: It isn't sharp enough.
•Me: What sort of things do you shoot?
•Customer: Landscape.
•Me: Do you shoot from a tripod?
•Customer: No.
•Me: Do you own a tripod?
•Customer: No.
•Me: Let's start there.
...And invariably they'd buy the Hassy.


Interestingly, he then links to a TOP piece titled, If You Think You Need This, Kill Yourself.

This is all so confusing.

It is sorta like saying owning a Mac won't make you a cooler person.

However, I got one and all my Mac friends seem to consider me cooler. Most of my PC friends are curious but don't really care. Some openly question whether or not the expensive Mac made me cooler or just more of a snob.

Other PC-owning buddies wanna buy one too because of the mysterious, hard-to-define advantages of owning a Mac. (Well, other than the fact that they are less susceptible to viruses which allows one freedom to safely cruise monkey porn sites.) I love my Mac.

As confused as I am, I gotta hand it to John for being a brave man.

Of course, with any change in technology comes changes with how we use any apparatus, Leica rangefinders included. I think the fair comparison would be to compare rangefinders with rangefinders and SLRs with SLRs. Knowing what I know now about film SLR's, I would have bought the cheapest good SLR with the features I wanted. Basically any top name brand. By the end of the film era they were much the same. Every pro could speak eloquently about their favourite brand. So if there are or will be cheaper digital rangefinders on the market and I wanted one, it would be the cheapest one going and I will not get caught up again with all the hype about any camera. And I have a hunch that most range finder users shoot street or people photography in social settings and that's where it seems to thrive best. Did I mention I have a Pentax DSLR, probably the cheapest high quality DSLR on the market. My photography neither improved nor suffered, but I am able to do things that my Nikon film camera was not able to do.


Can we make a distinction between "getting the shot" and "becoming a better photographer"?

A DSLR will undoubtedly let you "get the shot," but a Leica (or any good rangefinder ... not that there are many of 'em) CAN make you a better photographer. Why? Because it won't do all the thinking for you.

To me the definition of being a good photographer is being able to make and execute all of the necessary photographic decisions yourself in a fraction of a second. With a technology-laden DSLR you're letting the camera do most of that for you. And don't give me the usual "well you can set your DSLR to manual mode" line. What's the point in that? Most people simply won't bother.

Even the idea that autofocus is better than manual focus is not always true. Autofocus will conveniently and quickly focus on *something*, but it might not actually be what you want to focus on. Do you want the front edge or the rear edge of the flower in critical focus? I'll bet you I can do it faster with manual focus. And for some people (myself included), precisely identifying that point of critical focus is easier with a rangefinder.

Exposure is similar. Full auto exposure is fine for snapshots. Aperture-priority improves creative control considerably. But being in total control of *both* aperture and shutter speed is really the only way to capture images that match the artistic intent. How can I get the DOF I want without ending up with motion blur? Or how can I get the right amount of motion blur plus the right DOF? Sorry, but cameras rarely come up with the right answers on their own. That's what the photographer does.

So basically, unless you're specializing in sports, long telephoto, or macro photography, as has been mentioned ad nauseum, a Leica or other basic rangefinder really does have everything you need to make great photographs. The difference is that you, the photographer, has to make the decisions, and that is why such a camera can indeed make you a better photographer.

The lenses are nice, too. :-)

Tina Manley: I understand you went swimming with your M8. Is that true? I do like your stuff. A lot.

Improbable said:
Why the hell is "professional-level" what you should be aiming to imitate? Professionals (let's imagine wedding or newspaper stuff) have to make things which please many people. They have to be sure of coming home with something, whatever the event throws at them.

By professional level, I meant well-composed, well-exposed, vibration-free, decisive-moment capture, etc. I meant coming home with what you want. I didn't mean, "Crowd pleasing," although that's not always bad, either. You may have different standards.

I do somewhat disagree with Mike Johnston on the efficacy of one-year, one lens, one camera, but not entirely. His idea (somewhat simplified) is by eliminating all extraneous BS, you can really focus on image-making -- really thinking about it -- and really get to know your camera-lens combo, and, perhaps, break out of the gear acquisition rut. Not a bad concept, but I favor the constant-work model: if you took a hundred shots a day, for a year, and tried for the best exposure and the best composition and the best overall-quality you could get, using all your equipment, you'd be further along. In other words, more is better, and too much is not enough.

However, in studying drawing and painting, I went through a period where I was pushed into doing everything in black and white, in an effort to pound "value" into my head, even when it involves color. I think some time (but not a year) shooting nothing but B&W, and looking at value structure vis-a-vis composition, would probably be exceedingly valuable.

I just don't entirely understand how MJ, looking down upon us mortals from the penthouse suite of the TOP tower, can in good conscience set himself up as an advocate of simplicity.

Couldn't have said it better myself pretty sure I couldn't have written it any better either.

I'm tempted to try a Leica or similar rangefinder because I suspect it would suit me and what I like to shoot. Especially the way I shoot but money limits me to a mid-range DSLR and in my current circumstances I may be selling that soon and sticking to film. I have a few vintage compacts/rangefinders that are limited by their age and specifications (I get they are film but only ISO400!?) but I love using them. I see an M9 and it seems to me to be just the right mix of old and new but will likely always be out of reach. I'd like one, even to try but I will have to make do with what is available to me and mostly that makes me happy :)

The process is more important the specific tool. The camera type determine quite largely what type of photo you can take.

8x10 camera is not better than any other but some still use it for some reasons (tonality, what-you-see-what-you-got-in-contact-print, ...) and no one say that having a 8x10 will mean you take good picture, just different type.

Also, lens is very important.

Hence, one shall not compare Leica M series with SLR. Also if have to start a old M3 or a new CV R3A is a good start to know whether you like this kind or not.

P.S. It is very hard to manual focus a SLR (especially low grade one); the older camera has focus screen but all we have a green dot and a trust of the auto-focus while manual focus! Leica is not better but was designed to manual focus. That is why people ask for a FM3DM (monochrome digital FM3 with ability to change focus screen) for a long time.

Geez, I've been away all day and am getting to this very late. 83 posts already?! Wow.

I've not yet read all 83 so forgive me if my brief remarks have already been scribed.

John, you took a lot of words to convey the apparently self-evident truth that camera price is unrelated to owner's performance. Most camera owners, pro or amateur, are pretty mediocre regardless of what cameras they use.

There is one exception to your argument; the impact that a very different camera design may have on some owners' style of photography. Personally, I do not take the pictures with my Leicas that I take with my other types of cameras. I know of other photographers who also change their style, for better or worse, when they have a rangefinder in their hands.

But generally speaking you're right; the fellow that can't find an image in single lens reflex viewfinder won't find it in a rangefinder viewfinder, either.

One tip I can offer that's almost certain to improve many folks' photography is to get in better physical condition. Being overweight, having a perpetually strained back, low stamina, and limited range of motion all deteriorate your photography and a variety of ways. Get down to a genuinely good body weight, better nutritional discipline, work-out to revive your general physical condition and you may be shocked at how much better your images become.

But, oops, that's off-topic.

Oh, but it is available, Mike. At least on the M's. I am talking about shooting B&W jpegs. The M9 has two B&W modes; the M8, one. Most cameras I've come across, in fact, offer one.

When my 20D is set to black and white, even the review image is greyscale. I don't have to see color at any point, as long as I stick to jpeg.

As I said, this isn't the same as film and paper B&W. The tonality is different. And, granted, the camera is technically converting a color capture to greyscale and often in-camera conversions are unexciting--older cameras just straight desaturate. But tweaking a B&W jpeg after the fact at least is different than dealing with a color file oneself.

And it is a discipline. Color is always available at the push of a button, and files from at least some older cameras I've used can actually be re-saturated. But, at the very least, with a little discipline, one is not forced to deal with color output just because one shoots digital.

I find it interesting that there's all this focus on the M9. The far-more-important camera in Leica's line is the S2, because it represents a larger-than-"full-frame" sensor in what is essentially an SLR body. What is now a $20,000 camera for professionals and the superrich will be the standard SLR five years from now.

Why is a "full-frame" Leica important? What makes a sensor "full-frame"? Because it roughly approximates the size of a piece of 35mm film that was itself considered small when it was introduced? Today's full-frame is tomorrow's "small".

Sensors will keep getting larger, better, more efficient, and cheaper. High-ISO performance will continue to improve, until today's ultrafast and ultra-expensive lenses become meaningless. Today's $10,000 Noctilux will represent a very poor investment, because a F4.0 will be able to see in the dark just as easily.

Something to keep in mind for those considering the M9.

improbable said what I wanted to say. I'm an amateur and Leicas are great for us amateurs who don't want or need to make money off our photography.

I like to shoot B&W and fought with this "shoot in color and convert" problem a lot. I finally settled on the following scheme, which almost works well enough...

Most DSLR cameras and some point and shoots that shoot RAW also have "B&W" mode on the camera that does a canned conversion. Put the camera in this mode and you will only ever see the shot in B&W while you are interacting with the camera.

When you bring it into Lightroom, it will initially be in B&W because Lightroom picks up on the camera-generated preview. You then have to tell Lightroom that you want those pictures to be B&W before it does its initial conversion.

Worst case the previews pop up in color for a second before you quickly convert them back to black and white.

If LR could read the meta-data the the camera writes for its proprietary RAW processing software that the shot should be B&W we could avoid seeing the picture in color at all. But alas this is a technical hurdle that has as yet not been conquered.

" "but as for seeing and shooting B&W, that is available in digital as well."

No, it is emphatically not. Being *able* to convert a picture to B&W is not the same as being forced to deal with B&W all the time, which makes you learn to see luminances and not get distracted by colors. It is not the same thing at all.


Absolutely! can i have a b&w RAW mode please?!

@Mike...Some digital cameras, including the digital Ms, allow continuous bw workflow by shooting RAW plus bw jpeg, thereby seeing bw on LCD, importing (for example, to Lightroom) with bw, and editing/printing in bw.

Sean Reid is evaluates digital cameras on the basis of this capability, to ensure a total bw experience, similar to film.

Personallly, I would love a monochromatic M, with no bayer array over sensor. I think Sony once had a monochromatic digital camera.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007