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Thursday, 02 February 2017


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My first serious camera was in 1951, a 2 1/4
x 3 1/4 speed graphic. Later on I had a Leica reflex, and then about ten years ago an M6. HATED the film loading routine. Went to Zeiss Icon that used the same lenses, loved it. Still tempted to shoot some film, darkroom is mostly given over to digital printing some pt/pd.
I still have six or so Leica M lenses I shoot on my Sony, wouldn't do without them

Maybe your love of RF cameras is generational. I'm from an earlier generation, and my strong preference is for the SLR. My first camera was a borrowed Exakta V, and when I had to return it, I ended up with an Argus C3. YUCK. I liked to do close ups and macros with the Exakta. A real bummer with the C3. Granted, I did learn a lot about photography using the C3, but I never really liked the camera. I sorely missed the interchangeable prism and waist level finder, the ease of focusing and framing. I still have my Pentax 67, although I went digital some time ago. Finally, live view and tilting LCDs offer much of the functionality of that old Exakta. Now all I have to do is raise the money for a Nikon D750 (or similar).

"new articles and revising and re-editing old ones"....regarding this quote from todays post. How about revising a Photo. Don't you "owe" us two more seasons of "The Red Chair" ? How a one taken with a Leica ?

About that endnote: I'd say that the practice of pluralizing those model names with an apostrophe is no longer incorrect. I think it's the logical thing to do. Afterall, the rules, such as they are, were created before we had many nouns that end in numerals! Just as the language evolves to incorporate these model-names-as-nouns, the rules for usage have to evolve too.

I still have, and use my Leica M4 and M6 (Wetzlar)cameras, but haven't yet bought a digital M. Somehow it would seem like a betrayal! And the shutter speed dial goes the wrong way, which started with the M6TTL. Which is a problem when you use a camera by touch, as I can with my Leicas. I have had the M4 for many years and eventually it needed a new shutter, the rangefinder fixing, etc.: Malcolm Taylor did a magnificent job restoring it.

Coming from a Pentax Spotmatic with a 35mm lens, I used only the 35mm Summicron on the M4 all the time, not just some of the time.

Shirley, my wife, says that I love my Leicas and funnily enough, Terry O'Neill, in a Guardian interview last Saturday, said his old Leica was his most treasured possession.

Ah, this is a sweet reminder on Ground Hog Day of another life, back when I was trying to get it right. So, of course, back then (early 70's) I bought a kit of Leicas (both M-4's) and three lenses, bought with loan shark money going way into debt but sure that the Leicas were my path to imaging glory. So it is good to see that the M-4's are still around, just waiting for some young pup to cradle them and dream of documentary fame.
One of those M-4's was black, a special version with a white dot on it that signified that it had been modified with a slot across the film channel that would accept (if you bought it) a way for doctors to write data on a little gizmo that would slide in and then register on the edge of the picture. Never seen another one, nor can I find information on such beast. Should'a kept that one, huh?
But other equipment beckon and I sold the lot when the Olympus OM-1 came out. Lots of other gear floods my memories of that era: the 500mm f4 Nikkor mirror lens, the 400 f4 Kilar I borrowed from a friend, the 300mm f2.8 Topcor I got converted to work on the Olympus. And of course the myriad developers I tried in a vain effort to push Tri-X past ASA 1600 with any sort of quality at all.
Which brings me back to the Leica. The 35mm f1.4 Summilux was supposed to be my low light salvation in dark taverns but it was, in my experience, a lousy lens at f1.4, reputation notwithstanding. But the effort to eke out pictures in tough situations, to bond with a camera and let it guide you to its visual sweet spots, to believe you could become one with the technology – all that is perhaps missing today, replaced by digital perfection and its attendant lust.
I'll not wax poetic much, however, because I was always willing to grab the latest technology (and sell off, without remorse, the old cameras to pay for the new.) But something still tugs at me when I see an M-4 and think of going vagabonding with a brick of Tri-X and shiny new passport. I might just get it right this time around.

I didn't plan it as such, but about a year after I got back into photography (about 8 years ago), I decided I wanted a Leica M. I chose an M2 because they were cheaper than M3s, and also its framelines were more aligned with my wide-angle way of seeing (has a 35mm frameline, and the entire viewfinder window does a nice approximation of a 28mm field of view).

I learned a lot. Loved that camera and the Cosina Voigtlander lenses I used with it (too poor for real Leica lenses). It's still a good piece of advice to shoot one for a year -- as you note, they retain their value so you'll get your money back if you want to limit it to a one-year experiment.

Mike, M3's are quite desirable these days. Some argue it's a better camera than the M4. Later single-stroke versions (SN 900,000 and higher) sell for more money than original M3's that used a double-stroke film advance gear.

Regarding the term "mint", in most cases, buyers are simply looking for well-cared for examples. In either case, any M3 or M4 is likely to need a CLA. One in really nice condition can make the cost of an overhaul slightly less expensive.

As evidenced by the number of M3's and M4's that Kanto Camera (Japan) shows being serviced via their Instagram feed, I'd argue the market for these early all-mechanical Leica's has actually increased over the past 5 years.

For those that don't know of Kanto, all their technicians were trained by Leica and they do a superb job overhauling early M's. Here are two snapshots showing the overhaul of my M4:



There's an interesting corollary between early M's and pre-1973 Porsche 911's and even 912's. (Not sure if your blog allows reference to a car other than Miata) In both cases, the number of available examples is finite, and the desire to have one is stronger than ever. And one thing is true for both of them. Buy the best one you can find, enjoy it for as long as you want. And if you decide to sell it, you won't lose any money, and in many cases you'll see a nice ROI. You can't say that about too many other 50 year old cameras or cars.

". . . to avoid such awkwardness as the 1Ds being pluralized as '1Dss.'"

Even worse, I think it would be 1Dses in plural form. I agree with your decision.

That's curious - I never had an M4 but I had an M4-P and I always thought they both had the same nasty film advance with the black plastic bit. That lever in the picture is the same as the one on my M3 which I still have and use. (The silkiest piece of mechanical perfection in the camera world - mine is single stroke)

I'm not a Leica archaeologist but I'm sure someone will be able to tell me the history

I have never fallen into Leica infatuation or, for that matter, the rangefinder manner of picturing. However, when I lived in Japan in the late 60s, a friend gave me the long term use of his Canon rangefinder camera - a7s or VT, don't remember which, with Leica screw mount - with a very nice 21mm lens. At that time there were also quite a few Nikon rangefinder cameras in use.

For those wanting to experience the rangefinder mystique, there are plenty of used Canons available for far less than the cost of a used Leica. With the money saved, the purchase of Leica glass is a real possibility.

Not sure posting this here is allowed Mike, but I posted my recently CLA'd M4 with 50mm f/2 Summicron Rigid & accessories for sale (or trade) a few days ago.


Buying an M6 today and filling it with tri-x would be more economical than buying a monochromatic M wouldn't it?

As you may recall, I spent a "year with a Leica" twice; once in film with an M6 in 1986 but I admit I had more than one lens. I bought it used from a guy who had gotten married and needed money to remodel their kitchen. He sold it with a used 35mm f1.4 and a 75mm f1.4. Nice.

I sold it in 2007 for about what I had paid as a down payment on a M8.

Then in 2011 I used the M8 as a downpayment on the Leica S2.
And the S2 had only the 35mm for the first year. So that was the second year with a Leica.

The only reason I am not getting rid of my M3's and M6's is rhat I know sometime in the future, a geek will come out with a device that you will put in these bodies and will conect somehow with the IPhone whatever and we will all be able to use our cameras again. Meanwhile I am in love with my XPro 2...

Q: What's a worse word than mint?
A: Minty
You can put minty in with the other flesh-crawlingly embarrassing words/expressions commonly written in photo discussions:
'nifty fifty'
'jaw dropping'
'nice capture'
and 'post-processing'

Back when I shot film, it would have been fun to have had a Leica M4 or M6 just because they were cool designs back then. But, to be honest with you, I think beginning photographers could have learned, and did learn, the same exact key principles of photography using an Olympus OM-1, as I did many years ago. In fact, I would wager that many TOP readers did.

[I did too. But to be fair, I didn't say beginners should start with it. I didn't say that at all. I said photographers should use one for a year as a learning experience. I had my first photo show when I was 16 (Konica T3) and didn't start my three years with a Leica until I was 32. --Mike]

Anybody need an unloved R4, R4s or R5?

To answer Richard, I believe the M4 could have an all-metal lever from another model retrofitted. That might be what happened to the one in the picture.

I can say that I'm a digital photographer that found value in experiencing a film Leica, for the reasons you highlight and likely more. Still do, in fact. Truth be told, digital's a bit of a convenience thing for me and I'd rather be using a film-loading Leica most all of the time.

Chris H

I dunno, Mike; in these troubled times, I'm enjoying your writing more and more. Not the content, per se, but the writing. It's a graceful pleasure that I look forward to every day and miss on weekends.

Come on, Mike, the Leica was a top of the line, very expensive camera; the Mazda M5(!!!) is a relatively cheap car, which takes nothing from it, in fact, adds to its charm, in my view. A year with a Leica? I had a Canon 7s with the f1.5 35mm lens and enjoyed it, except for the crummy differentiation between the rangefinder bits so it was hard to focus. Recommend someone else do that? No way!

Mike, sorry mate, but I reckon you are two generations away from reality. A year with a Leica now? Nah! A year with a Leica back when? Only if you were into photojournalism. There were so many things an RF camera could not do.

And I always thought the M3 was the peak of Leica. :)

Cheers, Geoff

Chrome M4s are very tough, you can buy a much prettier one and it will not show any kind of wear for decades, mine hasn't, and I bought it in about 1985. Same for my M6, bought that one in the mid 1990s and it looks about like it did then. And I shot a lot of film with them.

It's not the looks that count though, the shabbier ones I've owned, and there were quite a number of them, had issues like finders that were dim or had a bit of dust, crap or something in them. Or the mechanical action wasn't quite as smooth as it should be. These cameras need to be in pretty good fettle to be the camera you want to use. The Roberts' camera might be OK, but I will bet I would send it back.

Repairs are available, expensive but worth every penny. You really do want a good one though. A bright clear finder, smooth mechanical action, accurate RF and finder view, these are not trivial considerations. I've had Leicas that really just were annoying. I should have kept my black paint M4 (my first M4, back when they were really expensive, maybe 4 times current prices), the finder was dim and dirty (just a tiny bit, not enough to knock the value) but who cares that it would be worth a few thousand dollars more than the better chrome camera I kept. The one I kept is a better companion, a better tool, a better camera. It's smooth sweet responsive and reliable. But it will not impress anyone. And that is OK with me. Better that way.

In January 2005 I was on the press platform of the Presidential Inauguration. I have never seen so many black enamel Leicas in my life. And only M2 and M3 were cool enough for that crowd. I didn't have any kind of hand held camera with me, nothing 35mm or the like, but it was quite a show to see what the "smart set" had.

Oh, and the other "flashy camera" to have at a major news event like that? Holga.

If you want a Leica M camera, don't settle for a crummy one, Get a good one, it's really important.

> The Leica is a still a good teacher; it just has fewer students now is all.

Maybe. Or maybe current tools are great -- as opposed to just good -- at teaching.

The cameras are affordable, the lens(es) not!!

During my BA in Cmmunication Arts in the mid-seventies, there was this course called "Visual dynamics" given by a wonderful professor, Denis Diniacopoulos, who insisted we used an Olympus 35 RC, a small rangefinder camera. The Professor insisted on the teaching virtues of clear viewfinder.

Later as we kept contact after University, he mentioned that he used Leica M4s. I felt in love with these cameras but he did his best to discourage me from an expensive addiction. Of course, I bought layer a M4-2.

I have kept the practice of rangefinder ever since.

As a reader from your generation who learned to photograph using film and simple camera (not a Leica but a Pentax Spotmatic), I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that a camera like that for a year is the best method to make one a better photographer. It's all about the feedback loop; which is very difficult and requires diligent note taking and often doesn't allow someone the luxury of trying different settings under the same conditions with film (by the time you develop it, noodle what might have gone wrong and return to the scene, the object of your desire may have changed forever).

Digital photography, on the other hand, has an instantaneous feedback loop allowing on the spot experimentation under the same conditions. My photography progressed more in the last 15 years than in the preceding 30+ and I attribute this to digital technology which accelerates the feedback loop and automates (and more accurately captures) the note taking so you can examine what works and what doesn't. I do agree that manual control of the exposure parameters and commitment to a certain FOV (aka one lens) for a while is critical to this development but I think pushing someone to a film camera is just dead wrong with this magical technology at our disposal. Now, once one "masters" the capture of said photons, going to film for nostalgic reasons can be rewarding but in my world, not worth the effort and expense. Would love to hear what others think.

Why do we find Leicas and Miatas mentioned together? Olympus and Miata. Leica and Porsche Speedster.

Leicas have an undeniable quaint charm of mechanical precision and durability, even the newest digital models (which are not nearly as durable as those old film Ms). I own "several" and enjoy using them when appropriate, even though I did not grow up admiring photographers who used Leicas (or any other photographers, for that matter).

But no, Mike, I do not share your theory that Leica M cameras are good "teachers" of photography. Or your philosophy of learning one-camera-one-lens and film. Learning photography of nearly any type is most fundamentally about learning to organize relationships in rectangles, learning to create ever more sophisticated frames of such relationships. Any limitations imposed by the camera to pursuing such exercises are counterproductive to learning. Leica M cameras all intrinsically impose more practical and operational limitations than nearly any other camera made today. I would want my students to use use a far less limited platform than an M.

But, yeah, they're fun to use and nostalgic to nearly all camera buffs. I can't wait to give that new M10 a go myself.

Oops! I said the M3 was the peak of Leica. Looking at Peter's post, I see I was in error -- it was the M2 with its wider angle of view in the viewfinder.

Actually, that was one of the attractions of the Canon 7s.

I should confess here that I tried using my Olympus E-PL3 with accessory direct vision viewfinders -- a heavy lump of Voigtlander glass for the 14mm (28mm equiv) and a neat Leitz for the 45mm (90mm equiv) lenses. My thinking was that I would set focus in the middle of the frame and be notified by the audible beep when it hit focus. I calculated without my burgeoning deafness. The only really good pic I got with that was a selfie with a big mirror out in the garden.

Went back to the Oly VF2 accessory EVF with some relief after a dozen outings and sold the two VFs on eBay for a quarter of what I had paid for them only a month before.

Story of my life.

Cheers, Geoff

I never had a RF Leica, just too expensive for me. I do use some Leica M lenses in my Sony A7II now and then:)

Back in 1999 I had the small compact Leica CM camera, which had a fixed 40mm lens. Great little camera. I suppose the equivalent today would be the X113?

I do like the M mount lenses very much; matter of fact, I recently got a used Zeiss ZM C Sonnar 50 1.5:)

While revisiting old postings I would like to remind you of the companion piece you wrote Mike about the inexpensive alternative, the Pentax MX and the 50mm 1.4 or 1.7. i just reread this post a day or two ago as i wait for a new to me MX arrive. It is a cheaper chrome one for all the same reasons as you stated. I hope to put in some Tri-X and see what happens...

I like mine mint. Before talk to someone just take a big lick to freshen up your breath. Oh wait, maybe I thinking about something else.

Maybe you wanted this:

In his review of the Panasonic GX8 David Thorpe says (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he never liked using his Leicas, but likes the Leica that Panasonic makes!


I once bought a Leica and a 50mm cron. I was thinking of making it my main camera. After a lot of missed shots I came to the conclusion that I was a "reflex person". I felt it was similar to my experiences in languages. I speak and write in both English and Portuguese after having lived in Brazil for many decades, but feel that since I learned English as a child it seemed to be a more natural way of expressing myself. I learned photography on 35mm reflex cameras and they seem to be a more natural form of photographic expression to me. Funny, lately I've been using my old Hasselblad Xpan which is a range-finder. To me it is a total tripod experience. I slow down and think about composition and find that focusing is time-consuming. I love it too, but my favorite camera now is my Sony RX1 with a digital viewfinder permanently attached (with gorilla tape). Mirrorless emulates the reflex camera experience so closely that I find that it's the perfect substitute for reflex cameras. Seemless transition from image in view to image on card. The size of the RX1 is very Leica-like - the main advantage I was seeking when I delved into Leicaland.

How about a year with a Holga? Anyone ever tried that?

[Of course. Although probably most during or near the high point of that fad, which probably occurred sometime during the 1980s I would guess.

A couple of months with a Holga (and a Kodak Instamatic, with which I shot color negative film, from which I made B&W prints using Panalure paper) was enough of that for me.

BTW, the world is ripe for a book of the best of the serious artistic work done with Dianas, Holgas, and other flagrantly cheap toy cameras during the '60s and '70s. That would be a treat. --Mike]

I've been thinking more about learning to photograph with B&W film. I come back to it when feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled by my digital and technical career. My issues are having no art background and not being able to frame photos without the camera up to my eye. My artistic wife says I should learn to draw because that will teach me to look past color and look at shading. I see what she means. I look and see red and blue, but on B&W film or in a pencil sketch, those are shades of grey. Is that a medium or dark red? Where is the light hitting the object to create lighter areas and darker, shadow areas?

I have a Pentax MX with 50mm f1.7 and a yellow filter to learn with, but I see your point about the rangefinder. The SLR frames for you, whereas the rangefinder just gives an approximation and distracts you with what is outside the framelines. The SLR allows you to mimic monochrome a bit with seeing through the filter. As for the 50mm lens, it shows you the world the way it is without putting an interesting perspective on things. It also does not typically have good bokeh so if the subject isn't interesting then bokeh won't save it. It really is an unforgiving focal length as my opinion of my few photos can attest to!

The one issue I have is with the Leica- too expensive. I can buy a used Panasonic GX7 and 50mm-e lens for $700 and then I don't have to spend on film and processing (but that's not B&W). So I have some questions about alternatives, Mike. Should I use my Pentax MX or go with a rangefinder like an Olympus 35RC that I have? Anything newer than the 35RC that is somewhat cheap? I'm worried about the shutter speeds and other things being off on an old camera from ebay. I don't have any interest in photojournalism or photos involving people other than my family and friends, so is a rangefinder still better for learning? Lastly, I am on septic so I cannot put photo chemicals into my backyard. Will I not learn B&W as quickly if I don't develop my own film?

I really want to learn B&W. I love analog- I use a fountain pen, love manual cars, and have a mechanical watch. Thank you for writing about film occasionally, Mike. Getting valuable opinions that you can trust is difficult online with the weeding through the trolls and baseless statements presented as facts. As others have said I just enjoy reading your writing no matter the topic. Sorry for the long comment!

[Hi JonA, I would stick with the MX for your purposes. The "Leica Year" is increasingly impractical for many reasons these days. --Mike]

I have 3 M3's. My first one, a double stroke with the old speeds and lens preview. I will never part with that one. The second, a single stroke that I got from the original buyer, serviced by Leica New Jersey, which I would love to find a new owner, and the third, also bought from the original owner. A double stroke with old speeds and no lens preview. Never serviced. I know I will never use that one.
I started with SLR's but for me a rangefinder is much more easy and natural to use.
I was in Hong Kong recently and had the chance to handle the new M10. The closest thing to a real M I have seen from Leica digital bodies.

I used to want a Leica more than anything, and sometimes (like when I read something like this), I still do. But I got a good deal on a Mamiya 6MF about eight years ago and still use it fairly regularly, which (I'm probably missing something here) mostly leaves me thinking there's not much good reason to spend money on a Leica. They are wonderful, however.

Comparing Leica M cameras to Porsche 911s may have some validity. Both are expensive, high-quality German machines that prioritize handling and performance. And obsolete designs (RF, rear engine) that the demands of the customer base keep alive.
I think of the many Nikons that I've made my living with as SUV's; big, capable, do almost anything, but big trucks still. Whereas the Leica is a light, responsive, fast machine different from the competition, and all the better for it.
I write this having bought my first Leica M in 1978, and having used it regularly until 2010 when it was splashed with saltwater; now it sits atop a Leitz table tripod on my desk. I will also say that I have never owned a Porsche, but have known a few and driven several, and would gladly have one.

Several years ago, I was shooting a mix of film with an OM-1 I bought new in 1979 while in high school. I had always had an unscratched Leica itch. I sold the DSLR on both the theory that when I came back to digital it would be cheaper and better (I was mostly right) and your theory that you are really just renting equipment. I bought an M4-P and found it wasn't to my liking, but the M2 I replaced it with was and still is and is my main camera. I filled my freezer with film as silver prices rose and have enough film to last my lifetime (bearded and in my 50s, so there's that). I scan my negatives and couldn't be happier with the results. Long live Leica M film cameras.

Mike, the more I think about it, the longer I spent with one camera, one lens. My second camera was a Canon FTb with an FD 50mm f/1.4 lens. That was all I had for a long time, until I purchased an FD 85mm f/1.8. Not much difference between a 45mm and a 50mm, so more of the same!

I wonder if all those years seeing the world through 45-50mm explains why I am not a huge fan of 35mm lenses (or their equivalent) or wider, but enjoy using lenses just a bit longer than that. OVer the years, that would include a 40mm Pancake on a Pentax MX and 120mm to 150mm lenses in 4x5.

Along with the very slightly wider than normal to normal lens, I prefer to go long, with my favorite 35mm focal length at 85mm, micro 4/3 at 45mm, and 4x5 at 210-240mm.

Jon A,

I have had both Pentax MX and a fixed lens rangefinder. Since you have the MX, I would use it. I loved and still love my Dad's old MX that he gave to me. I recommend that you pick one film too. A 400 speed film is ideal. If you are going to develop your own and have never done it, I recommend Ilford HP5+, Ilford Delta 400, or Kodak Tri-X 400.

I have an M4 and an M6 that I seldom use today, but when I do, I prepare my favorite two bath developer and each time I see the results, I wish I have time to do only film and forget about digital.

Does getting something for free for being a Patreon supporter that would otherwise cost money, and announcing that in advance, get in the way of the "it is a gift because they get nothing back" tax loophole?

[Very good question. But my tax preparer used to be an auditor for the IRS, so I'm going to trust him.... --Mike]

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