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Friday, 11 September 2009


I agree with the thrust of John Camp's arguments. For that reason I am now in the Nikon camp with several bodies and a ton of glass. But every day I miss my old IIIg that I used for 25 years. It was small. I could hold it pressed against my forehead and minimize vibration. After 15 years I could tell where it was focused by the position of my finger on the focusing knob. Half the time I never focused. I looked at the lines on the aperture scale to set the hyperfocal distance.

(How do you do that with a Nikon DSLR? Press the preview button? Forgedaboutit.)

I just finished scanning 50 years of Leica color slides. I was astonished at the resolution of the film images blown up and displayed on my computer screen. I never owned or borrowed a slide projector that was as good as the Leica lenses. So I never knew.

I carried two IIIg bodies and five lenses in a Benser case. It was smaller and lighter than my current Tamrac case with one D700 and one lens.

Enough nostalgia! I do not miss the chemicals and worrying about film fogging. I have learned that post processing can add snap and interest even if you got the exposure right the first time.

On the whole, the overall quality of the photos you take depends on your understanding of what you are trying to communicate to the viewer and why - not on the equipment. The average technical quality of the photos I am taking now is better than my Leica days. But I am still working on the question of what am I attempting to communicate and why.

Comparing the Leica system to what I use now is like comparing my exotic and exciting college girlfriend to the steady, responsible, mature, girl that I married. I would not change, but I still miss the Leica.

sometimes obstacles help creativity....that's what a Leica does...
having too much aids and controls can distract you and make you less responsive to what you're doing...

a zoom lens can cover more then a fix one... but in my case it always make me stand still...and lose things and perspectives..

When I was in high school, I like many of my friends took a shop class. The advanced woodworking classes I would take afterward all utilized power tools but my shop teacher allowed only the use of hand tools in his shop. We learned about shaping planes, wood scrapers, and spokeshaves. We learned the proper use of wood chisels and handsaws, how to sight cut lines, and how to treat defects in fine woods. Many folks may find it silly but most of the species of wood can be identified by taste. We even learned how to trim end grain using wood chisels and block planes without tearing the fibers. I am thankful for my experience of that one shop class many years ago.

There are times when I take four or five minutes to focus an image properly before releasing the shutter. I often take several full-frame style meter readings of the area around the subject I've chosen before I take the photograph, average them by guess-timation, and then select an aperture. And once I have composed a landscape shot just the way I've envisioned it I'll often wait for the clouds to move to their proper positions.

Maybe it's true that we should all be shooting with high-end DSLRs. Maybe my photography would not be improved by my purchasing a Leica. Trees are trees but I've found that modern day second-growth lumber has almost no taste at all.

Eolake: Either, actually. I was originally thinking of using a fixed focus point, and keeping that on the eye while tracking; but in fact there's a focus mode (Nikon D700) that will switch focus points automatically to keep the same thing in focus, if you let it wander off. It does this well enough to be useful at least sometimes.

I think of my web site as having contact links everywhere -- but your view is more accurate; I'll have to do something about that. (There are contact links on the old-format pages, which still make up the vast majority of the site but are hidden behind three obscure links on the homepage; there's nothing on the homepage itself now, and there should be, thanks for pointing it out.)

Mike -- selecting B&W mode and jpeg storage? This seems to fulfill the goal of forcing you to think in B&W. There's no post-processing conversion, and also no hope of changing your mind. And jpeg storage isn't any worse than shooting slides was.

JC raises the issue of focus with a RF; I want to third or fourth that. It is an issue; a high level of astigmatism, a severe eye injury, and until the advent of AF, I was in trouble. Plain and simple, I can not manual focus, so as much I like high end precision tools, the M9 is a not it. As to the true path to photographic artistry, there are many, some going through the Leica, some going by way of the Canon Elph. I see a great photo, my reaction is not to ask what camera and or lens was used.

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

well, er, no.

My car is John Clever's old 914/6, somewhat hotrodded by the same people responsible for this
Words and stuff here
John was part of the crew (and my uncle) and apparently when it was time to rebuild the engine "obsolete race car parts were cheaper than original so we used those". I think that was a joke but the car is very quick.

In any case it's kind of special. And yes, that's Paul Newman in the video

Real Porsches are air cooled though.

A Leica Won't Improve Your Photography

Absolutely true. Neither will any other camera. However the wrong camera will hinder a good photographer. For some of us a highly automated DSLR is the wrong camera, for others it's the right camera. Likewise for a rangefinder Leica, or a Hasselblad, or a 4x5 field camera, or a Holga. Which is right, and which is wrong is a personal decision. I don't see the point of criticizing someone else's camera choice.

well maybe making "better" pictures is not the goal of photography

I think actually rangefinders initially help you make "worse" pictures-and this is a gift.

the world seen through the tunnel of an SLR at minimum focus is a very limited world, and it often leads to "better" pictures of a conventional sort that most people would judge as good.

by losing that control initially you teach yourself all over what it is that the lens does, what dof. is for, framing, timing, foreground background relationships, you get to see again.

I think this is the greatest strength of rangefinders, they make it a little harder. same with manual focus (an no, manual focus on an autofocus dslr is not the same, putting the red square over the eyeball does not mean the eyeball will be in focus...) which makes you choose where precisely to put the plane of focus and to previsualize what will be in focus depending on f-stop and the finely engraved dof scale that is missing from all other cameras today, same with the averaging manual meter requires you to understand exposure in a way a matrix meter does not.

of course some of that is still available in older film slr's. but ALL of it is available in a Leica.

it might not help you make better pictures but it might teach you what your pictures are.

I am a working scientist. In my professional work some cameras (about which I commented yesterday) are better, and some are worse. How do I know which are which? By the numbers. But I also am an artist, and that is a very different enterprise.

I don't take "better" pictures with my M6 than with my DSLR (whatever T.F. "better" means), but I do take different pictures. And with my GR-1 and my G9, I take different pictures yet again. The cameras use different viewing systems that cause me to see different things and compose different things. They employ different media with different properties. They are fitted with different glass, with different focal lengths and also with different rendering properties. I make good images, images that satisfy me, with all of these cameras. But they are not the same images. They are all different.

Well, way back in the 1980s and early 90s I used a couple of beat up M-4s for much of my newspaper work. Now, of course, It's a couple of DSLRs and zooms. My work back then was simpler and more direct. I miss that look. Just because I can shoot 8 frames per second doesn't mean I get better photos, it just means that now I have to edit 600 photos from an average shoot, instead of about 72. I'm a pixel wrangler.

In a world where so many nice moderately priced cameras have all kinds of great automatic assistants -- autofocus, autoexposure, face-detection(!), scene analysis -- I had no idea that anyone would suppose that a Leica M -- which offers hardly any helpers -- would improve her (or his) photographs. But if so, this article would be a useful response.

I use my Leica M6 because I already know what I'm doing, and I know what I want. For the kind of picture I want to make -- all the great automation is distracting.

I have used some great SLRs and other cameras. For the kinds of picture-making they were designed to make possible, or to make easier, they were very effective tools. And flexible.

But for a certain kind of photography, the Leica does a great job of getting out of the way. So that I can concentrate on the spectacle. I could do the same thing with an auto-everything camera (and I have done) but usually it takes all kinds of attention to turning off all the distracting auto stuff to get down to the optical, audio, and mechanical peace and quiet (and I am not referring to the shutter noise only) which an M offers as its normal operation. Over time I have been more relaxed and I have observed, that -- mirabile dictu it shows up in my work. That is a matter of matching the tool to the job. Having an especially really great tool helps, too.

"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."

It's true the air is thin way up here. My brain sometimes doesn't get enough oxygen.


Why all the emphasis on the result? Because it's obvious? Well, I disagree. Listen, it's FUN to try to get a good photograph with basically the same tool that the old greats used. It's FUN to succeed with odds against you. I'm not saying DSLRs guarantee success---of course they don't. But they CAN all but guarantee many certain important things that a film manual doesn't, and that takes some of the FUN out of it.
Finally, it's FUN to hold metal in your hands, and to feel the winding gears, and to thread the film. For me, it's fun, and it's part of the process. I'm not making this all out to be Zennish; it doesn't have to go there. When I care about my pictures, I like the feeling of believing some cranky old dude had something to do with my camera. I like knowing old dead great photographers used basically the same camera, or the same technology I'm using. I like the challenge of learning it, and the lack of frustration that I get when I'm shooting a DSLR so far below its potential.
I can't afford the house I want, and I've never bought a new car, and I can't live in the town I'd like to, and I can't travel as much as I'd like to, but I can pinch pennies a few years and get a Leica if I want, and it'll last me thirty to sixty years.
I don't HAVE a Leica, by the way. I've got some Bessas and a Zeiss that I like as much. But someday I'll have a Leica, and the fun I get out of it will be my payback--more than the pictures I make with it.

"What is now a $20,000 camera for professionals and the superrich will be the standard SLR five years from now."

I highly doubt that. bigger sensor are only for a very selected group of people who can use them properly, the rest of the user profits more of the crop and as we can see there are great things to be achieved with a small sensor, no mirror and interchangeable lenses.
that's the future for the mainstream cameras at least.

well actually the future of photography is called mobile phone, the biggest camera manufacturer is actually nokia, not canon or nikon. the most popular camera on flickr is the iphone.

well, i do have a leica m6 and i can say it helped me greatly to take better pictures with my d700. and so did shooting with the rolleiflex.
do i take better pictures with the leica than with the d700? i say they are different, neither better nor worse, just different.


In general, I can but agree with John Camp's overall thrust that there is no magical pixie dust in a Leica M-mount rangefinder camera that guarantees to make your photographs better. While I have a Leica M3, the bulk of the rangefinder shots I've taken have been with Konica Hexar RF cameras rather than with the Leica.

What I do find, though, is that I personally take different photos with an M-type rangefinder camera than I take with other camera types. I think this is because with a rangefinder I see more of the scene through the viewfinder (things inside and outside the framelines, everything in focus) and decide what to exclude based on framing and aperture selection. With an SLR I see less and have to decide what to include by changing framing and aperture selection.

So, in theory I could take the same shots I take with an RF using an SLR and similar lens but in practice I find myself composing differently with the different camera types. Neither better nor worse, I think, just differently - and I choose the camera to use based on what I feel will work better for different subjects or just on whim (since I don't do this for a living).

I also find (again, it may be just me personally) that I achieve better focus more consistently where I want it with a correctly adjusted RF camera than I do with an SLR, whether via AF or manual focus - but only within the restricted range of things and distances that RFs are good at.

So for me, for some subjects and in some circumstances, I find RF cameras more suitable than SLRs. So I use them in those circumstances. In most other circumstances I use an SLR - overall I find an APS-C DSLR to be a good "jack of all trades, and master of some" so wouldn't be without one. (If I made less use of long lenses I might prefer a full-frame DSLR.)

So I suspect that for most people, most of the time a Leica rangefinder won't be the best camera to use. But for some people, who work in circumstances suited to RF photography and who find it suits them, it may be that a rangefinder camera is just what they need. And if their needs include digital rather than film, then Leica is almost the only game in town.

Me: I'll stick with DSLRs for most things, film rangefinders for others and occasionally a film SLR or compact digi (or whatever) as well. Others' needs and likes will differ. As they should.



I agree with most of what you say. Though I've never been closer to the Leica experience than an R3 (briefly, duirng the mid-80s), I suspect that the vast majority who covet a Leica do so, like me, in appreciation of its exquisite build and jewel-like precision. Yes, you'd be accessing what are probably the best lenses in the world (though I doubt very much that anyone other than an uber-pixel-peeper could appreciate the step-up), but for anyone who didn't acquire rangefinder skills with their mother's milk, the compromises are, I think, much too onerous for an habitual SLR user to dismiss. Even enthusiasts admit that whole branches of photography are lost to them, and having to guess what the framing actually is at anything other than a metre's distance (in the M9's case) would drive me, for one, mad. Not to mention losing part of the view when you attach a slightly bulkier lens (I love it when Sean Reid enthuses about one that only removes about 8 percent of the viewfinder's image). No, I'm going to keep them as objects of desire, not potential purchases.

Sorry, one more point, re Tom Duffy's post. Tom, the gripe you have re: DSLRs in your point 4. can be overcome by the 'M' setting on the control dial and switching to manual focus mode, as with all cameras. Having the choice of several levels of automation doesn't mean you have to use them.

Actually, the camera that makes the trip and gets pulled out always wins. If said camera is the only one that makes the lenses work right, it double wins.
Most of the places I'd use an M9 (or have used an M8 or M6), no SLR/DSLR was going to go *at all*, or be shown if it did go.
[Which means the Leica focuses faster, since it focuses at all.]
Oh, and in very dark conditions, where both autofocus and manual focus fail SLRs/DSLRs, the Lecia wins hands down.
And the M9 will be *cheaper* than my Eos1DS mark I was a few years ago.... (And probably depreciate just as badly.)

One kind of pointed reality as well.

A lot of us need it to work. If it doesn't work (as well as the M8 but full frame) it will be time to start selling the M mount lenses.

All 20 or so of them. And finding MFT replacements. That will hurt, and I don't like pain.

The only reason to consider RF over SLR is size.
The problem is, this is a main priority (for me at least - I won't even consider a camera that doesn't fit entirely on my hand)
IMHO, size is second only to quality, and big cameras should be a thing of the past, whether they're RF, VF, or SLR, don't you think so?

My first serious camera was a Minolta SRT101b, purchased in 1976. I bought it in preference to the competition - Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Praktica - because I had heard vague talk of Minolta glass being special and of linkages with Leica, then a more magical name than it is today. Unfortunately, I could not not then afford Minolta glass so it was a bit pointless - except that unwittingly I had bought one of the best made cameras of its day. I still have it though many have come and gone in the intervening years.

In more recent years I have been greatly fortunate in being able to indulge myself occasionally and the advent of full frame digital SLR made the Sony a900 a temptation too great to pass up, particularly at a price in real terms (ie inflation adjusted) around half of what I paid for my treasured SRT101b in 1976, and thanks to the miracle of the internet and (flawed) miracle of eBay I have also been able to pick up amazing Minolta lenses at a fraction (in real terms) of their original cost. Oh, great joy!!

And now, bounty upon bounty, we have a full frame Leica M, the M9.

Concurrent with my loyalty to Minolta / Sony I have kept up with Leica, having owned an M6 and an MP along with two of their cheaper lenses (50/2 Summicron and 90/2.8 Elmarit M) and a number of Voigtlander M fits. Both the Leica camera bodies have been sold, the MP since the a900 acquisition, but I have hung on to the lenses (along with the cheaper but still excellent Voigtlander variants) and now that the M9 has come along I am mighty pleased I did.

Now the big question - do I buy an M9? While I owned a couple of film Ms as noted above I have hitherto eschewed the digital Ms because I am convinced that the strength of these rangefinders is in close range photography (ie up to 90mm) and even a 1.3x conversion factor, as on the M8, ruined the wide-angle possibilities (except at astronomical expense for the Leica ultra-wides). The M8 was also flawed in a number of other ways and the 8.2 was a silly and expensive attempt to address these.

On the M9 the rear LCD is a pitiful 230,000 pixel 2.5" screen but Leica is clearly constrained to using this size screen on the M9 and, presumably, the higher resolution screens are not available for 2.5". No doubt there will be other issues but at least we will not have to use special IR filters on our lenses and we can now manually insert details for non-chipped older M lenses.

But as a close up snapper who leaves the birds and balls to others this is the holy grail of photography arrived early. I enjoy taking photographs (not "shooting") but I do not enjoy hefting large bags around. The M9 with a 50/2 or 35/2 on board will suit me well and I can always keep a 24 or 28 and a 90 in a couple of pockets. Try doing that with a full frame DSLR.

The nub of this for me is that I really want Leica to be around in the years to come. This is not just nostalgia - who else makes range-finders? In my view range-finders have their place in ther non-commercial world because they are small, quiet and accurate. And I want a digital body for my Leica lenses; since CV has apparently given up the job there is only Leica. It looks to me as though they are finally getting real and we should really welcome their efforts. Rollei failed (sadly the final incarnation, Franke & Heidecke has just closed its doors) because of complacency in the digital age and insufficient investment. Leica for far too many years has rested on its laurels, content for too long to massage its paper-fine margins with pointless commemoration issues, and avoiding the central issue of the day, digitisation. It has relied on die-hard enthusiasts, (who are often rather defensive and prickly if the Leica forum is anything to go by) for it's relevance but not for its sales. But hopefully all that now has changed.

I am not competent to discuss the marvel of producing a full frame range finder with its close lens to image plane distance but many said it could not be done. Now Leica has done it, in constrained financial circumstances and without the mega-finance of the Japanese competition behind them.

That takes guts and a huge measure of self-belief. Will I support them? Very likely. Price is clearly a big issue but the M9 is about the same as a D3x so it's not in outer orbit, even if the decision to buy is not a no-brainer, as it would have been at half the price. Hopefully depreciation will be less of an issue than with digital everything else; film M's have held their value well over the years and I imagine a full frame digital M will as well. Of course, this partly depends on marketing decisions but I don't see Leica upping the ante every few months like the big Japanese SLR manufacturers, often sending last year's model to the scrap heap. (In this context, as a happy user of the Sony a900 I deplore their decision to bring out the a850, an almost identical camera but at a sharply lower price - that will not help my resale value!). This presents a dilemma. Does Leica need to join this this gravy train in order to survive? Probably it does but hopefully the M9 quality will ensure a good after-market when the next derivative arrives. In any case, for most of us it looks like it will do the job very nicely and I'm not sure there's any point in waiting any longer for a digital M.

I had Leicas in the past, used them alongside my Nikons for thirty plus years. Loved working with them, loved the photos they made.

The photos were not better, or worse, than what I made with the Nikons. Only different ... the different way the camera invited me to work affected the what and how of my photograph making, the lenses had a different look.

Neither made me a better photographer. Both made me a photographer.

"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 an ƒ/4 lens will be able to see in the dark just as easily. Something to keep in mind for those considering the M9"

Unless you want the isolation that the depth of field at 1.0 or 1.4 gives your photos.


Not only is a Leica not for everyone because of its lofty price, but now John Camp has taken subtle elitism to a whole new level: even if you have the money it's probably not for you.

Absolutely amazing. . .absolutely amazing. . . .

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

Thank you, John. I went under water with two M8s but not intentionally! The whole story is over on the LUF: #post1020118

And Mike: "Being *able* to convert a picture to B&W is not the same as being forced to deal with B&W all the time."

There was never anything on the film Leica's to indicate whether you had B&W or color film in the camera. It's all in your head. I carry two M8s - the silver one is "color" and the black one is "B&W". That's the way I think, anyway.



I think I might have screwed up posting a reply to your B&W digital comment, but it looks like a few other readers were on top of it.

You can indeed set most digital cameras, including the M's, to output B&W jpegs (and B&W review on LCD).

The tonal response is not the same as film and paper, if that's what you're after, but it is a consistent and luminance-based response. Also, it is a jpeg-only workflow (though w/ most cameras one can also save and put aside the RAW file). Not ideal in terms of pushing the camera/photographer envelope, but the point is that one is not forced to deal with color output just because one is shooting digital.

By the way, your emphatic denial put such a seed of doubt in my mind that I had to revisit the menus on my 20D to check my memory. There, I rediscovered a forgotten submenu of adjustments for B&W rendition, including color filtration. Interesting!

'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. Almost any DSLR.'

one of the flaws of this sort of argument that many bring up is that a rangefinder is not as versatile as an SLR (Macro, sports, nature etc.) While true, it seems to completely ignore that many photographers are only interested in in a certain range of photography. It could be nature photography, but just as easily, it could be reportage in the tradition of many Magnum photographers. For them photographing a plant at 3 inches or a critter half a mile away just doesn't inerest them. Nor does snapping away at a politician or a celebrity in a throng of other 'pros', nor does catching the latest heavyweight throwing a left hook. In otherwords, there are photographers, for whom the versatility of a DSLR is irrellevant, and the bulk and weight an incumberance. Even the automation can get in the way.

A leica, with its immediatly visible settings and graspable dials and rings, in its utmost simplicity, is another tool altogether. Some people get on with it very well, and find it superbly suited to the type of photography they do, and learn how to use it quickly and accurately. Some would even claim that it does improve their style of photography.

Please don't try to persuade us that we need to have a jack of all trades' camera, when many already realise the value of the simpler, smaller camera they prefer.

Some well thought out replies from Pete Myers and Tom Duffy.

Wow, a lot of responses. John Camp did a great bit of writing summing up why I don't like Leicas, and more so the cult that follows them. Many thanks Mr. Camp!

There's a reason why rangefinders went into decline after the Nikon F came out. Fact is rangefinders are inferior for many types of photography. They're certainly different, as mentioned, but not better.

I find the concept of "changing the camera will result in better photos" weird. I think that's something tied to gear lust than to photography itself.

The complaint about complex gear reminds me of how Bjorn Rorslett would superglue the control panel switches on the Nikon AFS superteles after he was done setting them. Shows that you can simplify complex gear!

for a lot of people, perhaps or even probably not most but a lot of photographers, including me, a leica will very likely change and improve my photography.
i don't own any telephoto lenses as it is, and have no plans to get any. (okay, so i rent a 135/2 whenever i need it, occasionally.) most of the photography i care about these days is essentially documentary, much of it done in far-away places where i have to carry the gear with me constantly. the size matters, both for carrying and because it matters to the people i am around, and whom i photograph. the fact that it doesn't cover my whole face matters. the fact that it is quiet matters. the fact that there's no blackout matters, the fact that i can see outside the framelines matters. the fact that it is fast, with no shutter lag matters. and yes, i can focus a leica faster than my 5d2 most of the time, because i focus it before i've even brought it to my eye, which you certainly can't do with an autofocus slr. and besides that, i can focus the leica in very low light where the af on my fancy dslr is completely helpless. (whether the files will be adequate at iso2500 is another question.)
so of course you are right, if you're talking only about some abstract general camera consumer, the same people who all want longer telephoto lenses and longer zoom ranges. (is that really top's demographic, though?) but then your point boils down to "an m9 won't improve your photography, unless you are one of those people who actually do the kind of photography for which a leica is intended, in which case i am not talking to you." so why not drop the pseudo-provocative title and instead pose a far more useful question, something along the lines of "are you one of those people, doing that particular sort of photography, who will actually benefit from an m9?"
if you're not, well, there are other choices, which is nice. but if you are, until now there really wasn't any digital choice.
i know the m9 isn't what i would have made it. i hate the stupid detachable baseplate, i don't understand why they haven't added a mechanical dial to the top left corner for iso. a better lcd screen would be nice, along with some real battery life and a fast-clearing buffer. but i am still considering how i can finance this camera, because it would, in fact, improve my work (provided it is what they say it is, which the m8 wasn't).

I used to think the world was essentially black or white. As in, "getting a Leica will improve your images". Or, "it won't."

Technically, John is probably mostly correct. But - and this is potentially a BIG but - I think the personal creative process is so incredibly complex and subtle, that I don't think anyone can make a decisive statement like "this equipment choice will or will not improve your photography".

In the past, I have purchased new or used cameras and/or lenses that forced/allowed me to work in new ways that have affected the way I make images as a hobbyist. Some of these (even minor) changes have affected the quality (not necessarily technical quality) and type of my images.

That being said, however, I am still a pretty crappy photographer, and no Leica is going to change that.

I have to take issue with your main point. A Leica can improve your photography. Here is why.

I learned photography with an M3. After many years it was stolen and I bought a single lens reflex which I had been wanting for its versatility. What I noticed was that my images with the SLR were not as strong as they had been. This was easily seen with slides on a light table.

The key is in the seeing. The Leica couples a very accurate focus window smack in the middle of a busy mess of a viewfinder with frames and a tiny, difficult to see view except for the widest lens. When you put the camera to your eye it has to be a very strong composition to get you excited through all that "stuff". Any composition that is "busy" and not honed to its essential elements does not look like anything in the viewfinder. It is almost like a strong composition filter. Composition, something that seems easy with a Leica, becomes a very conscious effort with my DLSR because I can see so much in the viewfinder even when there is not a strong element in the composition.


What would Lucas shoot (and carry in his Porsche)?

Wow!Im nearly dizzy from reading all these responses,however in my humble opinion I genuinely believe every one who responded either openly or secretly wants an M9 so bad they can taste it,including Mr.Camp.

Player, "Subtle Elitism." I like the concept. So elite that nobody can tell. 8-)

Winsor, you make me laugh. I've never heard this argument before -- a crappy viewfinder helps with composition.

Jack, Lucas uses a Nikon that his wife bought him. I can't remember which book it's in, but it's there. My other main character right now, Virgil Flowers, writes outdoor journalism in his spare time, and shoots a D3.

Danny, I called my local camera store this morning to ask when they'd have M9s in stock. They said probably not to the end of October or November. They said, "You know Leica..." So, I might get one, but I might not. I'm carrying a Panasonic G1 around in my car and I'm becoming quite fond of it.

Danny Chatham:

"I genuinely believe every one who responded either openly or secretly wants an M9 so bad they can taste it,including Mr.Camp."

I don't. The M9 isn't the best camera that Leica could make. And at $7K (plus glass) the chances of it getting into the hands of those with talent is slim, let alone having it banging around over one's shoulder when photographic opportunities arise. The benefits are largely illusory. Not to say that one's imagination can't be fired by nice gear, or a radically different approach to photography. Just that if you're focussing on a specific camera to do this for you, your aspirations are likely misdirected. Which is John's point.

John - "...with a Leica, the sensor is exposed when you change lenses ..."

Sorry John. I think you forgot about the shutter.

Mike - ""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."

Don't we see in color? Every B&W image is a conversion. It happens in the brain. I welcome the fact that I'm not limited to one type of film in a single camera body now, or forced to carry two cameras. Most of the time, I know whether a shot will be B&W or in color before I lift the camera to my eye – I've shot enough B&W to be able to anticipate how the tonal values of a scene will play out. *But*, every now and then, a shot will surprise me, and a *conversion* to B&W after the fact will make a better image. Sometimes, it's a toss up – I've got a few pictures that work equally well with either treatment. The same idea applies in the opposite direction.

I like the ability to hedge my bets sometimes, and to delay the final decision until I've got more time, or more information. I've got one picture that I always feel the need to explain to everyone that sees it. It was shot in B&W, and I think it works well in B&W, but for the last 30 years, I've felt compelled to tell people that the post was green, the guy's hat was green, his leather jacket was green, the balloon was green, and it was all set against a background of green foliage. Thankfully, I don't need to do that any more.


It's amusing in threads like this to watch people stretch and twist their rhetoric like pretzel dough, trying to "prove" that the camera that's best for *them* is best for *everybody*. Or worse, that people are "stupid" or "elitist" for liking what they like.

Me? I started using a Leica M in the 1970s because I found that I took better pictures with it than I did with an SLR. My eyes just did better with rangefinder focusing and framing. And I liked to play where the rangefinder does better anyway--people photography without flash. I loved the rendition of Leica lenses. I still do.

I have a DSLR, which I use when only a DSLR will do, or when only autofocus will do. But when I have a choice, it's always the Leica that I take with me.

I like to work with a simple machine that gives me the controls I need, directly. I'd rather set an f-stop than program a computer to (hopefully) make the same decisions I would have. I don't mind some automation, but I want it to get out of my way unless I need it.

You have different needs? Different preferences? You prefer a DSLR? Fine. If you're happy, great.

But don't confuse marketing with photography. Don't confuse feature wars with photography. Don't confuse snobbery or reverse snobbery with photography (this is a big one whenever the word "Leica" is mentioned). And don't confuse your needs, preferences, strengths and limitations with everybody else's.

Michael Walker: "I highly doubt that. bigger sensor are only for a very selected group of people who can use them properly, the rest of the user profits more of the crop and as we can see there are great things to be achieved with a small sensor, no mirror and interchangeable lenses.
that's the future for the mainstream cameras at least."

Bigger sensors are for those who can pay for them. Using equipment "properly" has never been a barrier to entry for most people.

Moreover, medium-format was the standard for amateur photography for years. Remember the Brownie? The idea that 35mm is some sort of ceiling simply because it's been the standard format for most of our lifetimes means very little. Indeed "formats" in general -- 35mm, "medium", et al., are just vestiges of another technological era.

When "full-frame" i.e. 35mm becomes the standard (and Sony's sub-$2000 A850 suggests we may already be getting close) Canon/Nikon et al. will have to redefine the high end to keep the upgrade cycle going. They will introduce an S2-type SLR to take the place of the D3Xs, and suddenly 35mm sensors will seem like what they are -- just another spoke on the hamster wheel of the neverending upgrade cycle.

Tina Manley: "Unless you want the isolation that the depth of field at 1.0 or 1.4 gives your photos."

True that. But I question whether people will continue to pay $10,000 for a depth-of-field effect alone, after these lenses' primary selling point (low-light photography) is rendered moot.

Dave R,
Great shot! I like it. I'm thankful it's not GREEN. [s]


Something to consider...

If you think a Leica will allow you to make better photographs, perhaps it will. That is, the statistical effects of an (admittedly expensive) placebo is not to be ignored.

What would Lucas Davenport shoot? Well, I know what he shoots, but what would he shoot?

Dear Antonis,

This is somewhat tangential, but I felt I ought to address one comment of yours:

"Even medium format cameras used to cost less than the current top of the line "full frame" digitals."

Interestingly, this is not so, overall. I bought my Pentax 6x7 in 1970, which is a nice reference point because all the premium medium format SLRs cost about the same then. In today's bucks, a base body would run you about $7,000. I bought a body, metering prism, and 105mm and 300mm lenses for about $14,000 (current filthy lucre).

That's comparable to the price of the high end full frame DSLRs, which, not so incidentally, will produce images of comparable quality to my Pentax.

It's still a hell of a lot of money! But it's traditionally been such.

pax / Ctein

So I was right - you were planning a buy here link to Leica, and that was why you didnt publish my remark about real value as opposed to the irrelevant fact that rich people can and will afford an M9.

To summarise again, it is utterly irrelevant that rich people can and will afford one or more M9s. Value, and thus objection to Leica prices, is not gauged by the habits of rich people. It is gauged by other factors like development cost, market comparisons, and the results achieved by any given camera.

On that basis, I made the other comment that 'Leica' is much like so called designer clothing: you pay for the name, and Leica inc. have been exploiting this for many years.

If I were rich, I would buy an M9 myself. The fact that I am not, and will not, does not mean I am "jealous" of other people it means they have the financial power to find the issue irrelevant, whereas on both counts I do not. But that is not the point - the point is the issue about exploitative Leica prices, not whether I or anyone else can afford one, or not.

Thank you Mike. It's not easy being green.

Warning! Shameless Self-Promotion Follows:
My portfolio site has only been up for about a week, and I'd welcome visitors and comments. It's my first step toward achieving a goal that I had set aside for a couple of decades.


Of course they won't improve your Photography.
A Leica is a tool for a Photographer who knows about Photography, not for a beginner. Like a Porsche 911 GT3 is not for a beginner either.;)


I'm not even going to mention the L-word, and I'm not going to raise any arguments. Instead, I'd like to offer the results of an accidental empirical experiment I conducted last year:

I photograph a lot of dance performances, usually using either a fairly modern Nikon D300 and a battered old Epson R-D 1. This time I decided to try using both at the same event. I wound up with more than 1,000 raw-file images.

I dumped the files into Lightroom, sorted them by capture time, and renamed them according to my sequential file-numbering scheme. Once I had done this, there was no obvious way to tell a Nikon shot from an R-D 1 shot without examining the EXIF data.

I then went quickly through the thumbnail images and marked the ones I thought were good, on a pure gut-reaction basis.

Only after that did I look at which camera had made which pictures. I found:

-- Of the total take, about three times as many frames were shot with the Nikon as with the Epson. This didn't surprise me, since the Nikon is faster-operating and I had a wider range of lenses for it.

-- But looking only at the "good" frames, about twice as many were made with the Epson as with the Nikon.

I'm sure this doesn't prove anything for anybody but me, and it may not even prove much for me. But concrete examples have been rare in this discussion, so there's mine.

In the 90's I used a friend's M2 plus 35mm and 90mm lens for about 18months with the option to buy. I realized then that I am one of those that dont 'get' leica. At the time I decided that 4x5 suits me better(even for people) because the focus and small frame lines (for the 90mm) was a headache! Then I got a T2 and liked it and then a Hexar and liked it even more and then a Contax G1 with 28,45 and 90, and liked it the best of all! All the things that impressed me with the Leica, build quality, shutter sound etc were on the G1 plus the lenses were superb and focus(and framing) much quicker(for me, easier and accurate. I didn't want to be slowed down. Haven't used film much since 2004. Picked up the old Hexar yesterday and it felt large, plasticky, viewfinder was so so etc etc. the g10 felt better quality(and smaller), I dont even miss the viewfinder, and print quality is fine even on A2! I suppose I still dont get it. That new panasonic rangefinder sure looks good though....small, autofocus, affordable, good quality images etc etc almost like x1?

Yeah, I'd like a M9, but at $7,000, it's a little out of my price range for now. The M8 will have to do.

One other thing is that my Olympus E3, at a quarter of the price of the M9, can do pretty much everything the M9 does, and a few things it can't (love that image stabilization). And it's not that much louder (IMHO) than a (digital) Leica.

RF focusing IS faster if accurate manual focusing is required.

I never use AF on my 5D2, I totally dislike the idea of relying on some inaccurate open loop system. The Eg-S screen plus Nikon DK-21M eyepiece magnifier (1.2x) make the camera somewhat usable for manual focusing, although 1970s/80s SLRs like the Olympus OMs or Canon FD bodies are still a lot better.
Of course you need to have very good eyesight to be consistently more accurate than AF.

Anyway, this is what's great about Leica: they manufacture a 35mm digital camera body that is geared towards MF. No other manufacturer currently does that.

Stephen Best
Sir,Trust me I perfectly understand Mr.Camp's contentions.However that has absolutely nothing to do with wanting the LEICA M9.Want and need are two entirely different things.Will the LEICA make better photographs,or me a better photographer?certainly not.Will it provide deep sastisfaction,pride of ownership and downright fun?Absolutely!case closed.

You are right.
In the, not to distant, film era, I bought an olympus OM-2 slicing an important chunk of one of my first salary payments as a recently graduated engineer. So I started my love affair with photography. After some years I was doing pretty good photography, including some pretty successful exhibits.Then, as I became more affluent, I bought a leica M6, and after a couple of years I compleated 5 last generation lenses (21 aspheric, 35 summicron, 50 summicron, 90 summicron and 135 apo telyt). Well, to make things short, I have never been able to take a better picture with the Leica than those I got with the Olympus, in fact, my Olympus pictures are far better. I'm not talking about sharpness or color or other technical issue, I'm talking about the emotion I'm able to create with the Olympus just because it fits me right and I got used to it. I find the outdated rangefinder and the split image focusing a plain pain in the neck ( I don't do street photography though).
Today in the digital era, I use an Olympus E3 with 3 Oly zooms which are fantastic, and I will not make the mistake again.


I buy my Leicas from "photographers" who have to try them, hate them, then sell them at discounted prices. Please do not ruin this for me.

O.C. Garza

“Actually, the camera that makes the trip and gets pulled out always wins.”

A number of posters to various blogs since the M9 came out have suggested that it is close to an ideal travel camera. Personally I would prefer to use an M9 for travel as it appears to be the only digital camera of reasonable size with negligible shutter lag. Unfortunately on 3 of my last 4 overseas excursions in the past 2 years I have had close encounters with crime (pickpockets, bag snatchers and ‘bandits’ who held up a rural bus). None of these incidents were in places that could be considered lawless. I am careful and the only loss has been a pair of spectacles which were covered by insurance. So for me the ideal travel camera is one that I can afford to lose, not the one that I could afford to buy. I don’t want a $10,000 invitation to crime hanging around my neck, so I use a G series Canon. Does this make me a better photographer? Perhaps not, but I’m a more relaxed and less paranoid one.

I used to have a Leica M3 double stroke. I bought it cheap and had it serviced expensive. I took it on business trips and walked around London and places at night. Got good hand held shots at 1/10. 35mm lens F2.0. Everything looked good (to me). Quiet as a mouse (have they gotten noisy?) Elegant, even with the 35mm's eyeglasses. A Beefeater told me while posing -- "That's a nice old camera."

I just started using an LX3 and it is a little like my M3 (to me) But I can't imagine buying an M9 (is it thicker? It looks thicker.) I paid $350 for my M3 and then another $250 at Marty Forcher's place in NY to have it reconditioned. The Panasonic G1 I recently bought cost more (ok inflation I know).

Now the new Leica X1 -- only 2 grand for a prosumer/non-pro effete looking little do-dad -- now that I could spring for. I know -- I'll sell everything I have camera wise and get an X1 -- good idea?

(BTW -- I sold the M3 and lens a few years ago to 'go digital.' Got enough to buy an X1.)

As for the article: get the camera that makes your creative juices water. I have friends who moved from point-and-shoots to DSLRs and started making worse photos. Write an article titled "A Nikon or Canon DSLR won't improve your photography", why don't you -- you won't even have to change much from the original article. *wink*

Roll on 2012, John Camp.

Regarding "A Leica Won't Improve Your Photography":

40 years ago I was shooting with a Nikon F, and I used Tri-X and Plus-X. I never worried about grain. It was all about "seeing" an image and recording it. A 16x20 print in a gallery, viewed from a normal distance looked good enough to sell, and some did. Funny thing is, they still look good (to me).

Skip ahead 40 years. Pixel peeping has become an obsession in our world, and I, at 71 years old, tend to get caught up in it. Sure, we want the best bang for the buck - but where does it stop? A few years back I was able to market successfully some landscapes taken with a lowly Nikon D70 (16x20). Noise, yes - but not from a gallery viewing distance. If you're above a basic level sensor (say 6 megapixles) and have decent glass, it's all about the image. If you compose poorly and have to crop, that's another story. Gordon Lewis said it right:

"So if you ever find yourself getting too obsessed over what camera has the lowest noise at ridiculously high ISOs or which lens has the flattest field or the best MTF, I offer a humble suggestion: Turn off the computer, get out of the house, visit a museum or gallery at look at some real photographs produced by real photographers. You may find it an eye- and mind-opening experience."

As a Leica/SLR user, I think some of your points are valid and well taken. It also true, though, that an advanced D-SLR will not improve your photography compared to a good point and shoot camera. We can have an endless (and useless) discussion regarding advantages or disadvantages of each system or even film or digital, but the bottom line is that the secret of a good photography or photographer is not in the camera. You have to use what you feel better with. Thanks.

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