« Two Questions | Main | A Real Retro Motorcycle (OT) »

Friday, 25 May 2018


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

Better link...


Gordon Lewis wrote, "Wouldn't the more pertinent question be why to buy a film Leica (or any Leica rangefinder for that matter)?" My question as well. Of course, I'd spent a couple of terrific hours last week looking at and touching old cars (two by more than a century) and thinking that it would be nice to have one or two.

Real fun would be to have a Leica and a couple of rolls of film in the glove box of a 1914 Buick.

Ah, the passions stir! Just to add a few different flavors, let me list past favorites:

The Leica M3 single-stroke with a 50mm lens. 1:1 viewing! Keep that left eye open and see your frame lines projected on the world! It's magic! It's like the Borg have implanted a RF in your brain! It works. (Bonus points for those who use the same trick with an old Nikon S2 rangefinder and a Nikon 50mm lens).

The Leica M5 with (almost) any non-collapsible lens. Shoot with the camera that almost tanked the company! Shoot with the camera loathed by the unwashed masses! Shoot with the camera that almost got rangefinders back into the fight! But seriously. Close your eyes though and it just feels right in the hand.

And finally . . . the Leica M6. Shoot with a camera that is your age, rather than your Dad's age. Added bonus: shoot it with a (late, and much lamented) Tom Abrahamson Rapidwinder. Shoot contemplatively at 3 fps! Light meter usage optional . . .

Actually, it is a testament to how over-engineered these cameras were that working examples of all of the above are still available used. I'd modify what Mike says about a CLA. Not needed . . . unless, of course, it is needed. No mechanical device should sit at the bottom of the drawer unused. But if one second on the exposure dial sounds/looks like one second when you trip the shutter, you are probably good to go. I have only sent mine in for service when they were broken. (Marble floor - Union Station in D.C. ouch! Still makes me break out in a sweat when thinking back on it.)

I’ve had the 50mm f/2 collapsible Summicron for decades along with an M3 single stroke. If you like a 50mm , the M3 shines because 50 is the largest bright frame so you use the whole view finder . It’s the combination HCB used. If you prefer shorter lenses the M4 is better.
It’s a good idea to pick your lens first because M4’s were available with different viewfinder magnifications.
In my view Leicas work best when the viewfinder magnification matches your primary lens.

Yes, I too love the Leica M4 and used it exclusively for a while as a young adult in the mid '70s. At the time I paid one month's salary for it. Both the build quality and the optics are first class.

However, even 40 years ago, building a Leica system was cost prohibitive and I have only two Leica lenses: a 50mm DR Summicron and 90mm Elmar.

A few years later I traveled frequently on business and the M4 and my Nikon FE's were too heavy for a 3 week trip living out of a suitcase in a succession of Hotels.

That is when I got a used Minolta CLE with the 28, 40 and 90mm Rokkors. Optically excellent and a joy to take on the road.

Today, I miss loading the CLE with Kodachrome.

It was a "down-market" on M4's right up until you published this! It may be a bit of an "up-market" for a bit, so now may be the time to sell. Of course, if too many hit the market, we are back to a "down-market" again. Buy, sell, buy, sell. What to do?

I have an M4 just like the one in the box with the 50mm Summicron. My father bought the camera and lens in Germany in 1964 and later gave it to me. What a present. Still working. These photos are from this camera lens combination.




Remember if you go for an M4 it has a 0.72 finder, so that it can accomodate framelines for 35mm, 50mm etc. If you shoot 50mm predominately an M3 would be a better choice with that much-vaunted "real life" finder view

@Gordon Lewis and Ken Tanaka: For me, taking a picture starts with noticing a scene, in combination with certain mood or feeling. The latter two are under the influence of the tool I use - there are numberless other influences, most of them probably not of photographic origin, but the camera plays an important part. Imagine walking around with a view camera on your shoulder, the world certainly looks different then. So with a Leica: choosing and setting the focus and the aperture by hand, not seeing a screen in the viewfinder but the world as is, and having to rely on one's experience to imagine the effects of focus and depth of field with that particular lens, puts one in a different frame of mind. And that in an almost paradoxical combination with a super fast action of the shutter release. Somehow I am even willing to accept for all that 'toolness' a sensor that is good but not top notch, so much is the fun (and the photographic inspiration) of not working with a camera that is for 90% a very clever robot.

My M4 sports a W Nikkor HC 50mm f2 lens, I sold my Mk5 50mm Summicron and my ASPH 35mm Summicron that together cost me more than ten times what I paid for the Nikon. I prefer the Nikon. The out of focus bits are sort of in focus but less than the in focus bits, rather than just fuzzy... My taste I s'pose.

My affair with film Leicas began with me reading and acting on your piece about the OCOLOY. So thanks for that Mike.

Despite owning various digital cameras, and it being easier (for me) to make pictures with them than with the unmetered M4 (or previous M2,iii), it is definitely a more fun, and more meditative exercise with the latter.

David Alan Harvey on Leica rangefinders...
"It is not just a camera, but a whole way of seeing……there are many “Leica style” cameras equally “loose”….that being a more freestyle approach….that ground glass (SLR) makes everyone, i mean everyone, too “aware” of things being “right”…..sometimes “right” is “wrong”…too tight…too composed… go optical if you wanna be free…. it is indeed a tool, but a tool of finesse and fineness..i can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are indeed some pictures that i could only take with a Leica..the handling, the viewing system , etc. do make for a different photographer behavior sequence and shutter timing envelope…the dance or ballet with the Leica is just flat out different than with my D700…yes, my eye is the same..should take the same picture with both cameras…but alas not in a heartbeat…Leica much looser…much more playful….and any serious Leica user will tell you the same…an acquired taste to be sure and not for everyone, but for those who know, they know…."

Concerning manor / manner: it's a beautiful pun by Shakespeare, particularly so because it would only be apparent to people who read the plays, or, in his time, to the actors he worked with and almost no-one else.

'To the manor born' (which I think is how a native British English speaker would hear it now (I am such)) means 'born into the English middle upper class, which has a very different connotation to the American upper class, who would live in something often called a 'manor'.

'To the manner born' means someone to whom a certain style -- 'manner' -- is natural.

And there are other shades of meaning in the phrase as well: someone who has lived in a place (a manor, in a slightly different sense) all their life, or perhaps was just born there. And so it goes on: it's just wonderful.

The biggest reason I am appreciative for the Leica M3/M4 is that it was the design inspiration for the Fujifilm X100-series.

Particularly from the T (for Third) model on, these are, IMHO, amazing cameras, with a "Fujicron" that no one talks about, but is sublime in its own way, nonetheless.

They provide the quintessential "Leica experience"; are a joy to use, and with state of the art image quality that can be rendered in all those gorgeous Fuji film stocks (Oh Acros! be still my heart...)

I still have my M2. It still works and I have a couple good old lenses for it. And I have the add-on crank for the rewind knob. Why would they go back to the knob after putting a crank on the M4? That makes absolutely no sense. I always lusted after an M4. It is pretty much perfect. But I agree that there is really no reason, other than irrational fun, to use a rangefinder film camera these days.

Any guide on buying a Leica, film or digital, camera or lens, should be studied at much earlier age than your readers are. At a time when you can still make appropriate plans for the future, how to get an excellent education, obtain whatever skills one needs to become rich, realize that even the rich can not randomly pay that much for a camera, wait some more time to become very rich and then maybe you will buy a Leica for your grandkids so that they would not have to read the guide.

The Leica M7 is the best. Super quiet comparing to the digital Leica (until the M10? Not sure). Small, has perature priority....

As for why film Leica, or film anything: because I love my XPan, I have gotten a Pakon that can scan a roll in a minute. Once I have that, then shooting 35mm is really not much a chore. I process my own roll, so everything is pretty easy...

Piling on even more, I'd like to point out that Gordon Lewis's question, "Wouldn't the more pertinent question be why to buy a film Leica?" is just that: A question, not a condemnation or rebuke. Whether it's for experience, education or just fun you should consider why you're doing it before just buying one. Well, unless you're fabulously wealthy and capricious, I suppose.

I think you diminish your life if you diminish and deprioritise “fun” in pursuit of your life’s pleasures and passions. And there are as many ways to contentment as there are people, and if you isolate the ways there to just your own way then you will lose most of what you enjoy from others (creators and relationships, art and love, etc.). And if you isolate your own ways so as deprioritise “fun” to insignificance, then I don’t know what to say - maybe it’s time to ask yourself why you’re doing things.

It’s okay to have “fun” (add shading into contentment, satisfaction, joy, purpose, meaning, etc.) . In “special interests” (as they are sometimes known in autistic circles) it’s likely the defining characteristic. Within whichever breadth of privilege you occupy, fun is a tasty, satiating, palliative good that deserves better respect than “garnish”.

Also, if a secondhand Leica is a stretch, a Voigtländer R3A (or its similarly somewhat modern siblings) isn’t a bad choice.

Just for the record, I have no issue at all with anyone wanting to buy a Leica. I owned a Leica M4 myself for a few years, along with two Leitz lenses, and got a lot of use of them. When photographers refer to "the Leica experience," I know what they're talking about and can honestly say I enjoyed the experience. But I'm also well aware of the drawbacks to shooting with Leica rangefinders, of which there are many.

None of this may matter to you if you can afford practically any cameras and lenses you want, but if cost-benefit ratio is of any concern of all, then it only seems rational to have a good reason for spending that kind of money on what is essentially just a very specialized and idiosyncratic type of film camera (as if film cameras these days are not already specialized and idiosyncratic enough).

I've owned my fair share of Leica M cameras over the past 28 years and for me the single stroke over 1,000,000 M3 is about as good as it gets... but anything up to and including the M4 is great, everything after the M4 is not the same build quality... goes for lenses as well.

Personally if you wanted to ruin your life with antiquated technology, getting a 4x5 or 5x7 would be hard to match for a magical experience. The Leica will be different but not altogether a different animal than shooting with a Fuji digital rangefinder. The LF camera will be an entirely different and hopefully sublime experience that is impossible to reproduce digitally. Just magic.

If the day was 50 hours long and I had less things I wanted to do in life, taking portraits with a LF camera would be the thing to do. I miss it very much.

Likewise with a TLR. That would be possible to reproduce digitally but as yet, alas, it hasn’t happened. But as soon as there is a Digital Mamiya C330 I will return to the game.

Back in the 1980s, Modern Photography columnist Jason Schneider wrote an excellent article about Leica M3s that piqued my interest in rangefinder Leicas. At one time I seriously thought about trading in my Olympus OM-1 and lenses for a Leica M2 and 90mm f/2 and 35mm f/2 lenses. I loved the solidity and smooth operation of the Leica gear. But I didn't much like the lack of lens choice compared to what was available for the more-popular camera systems at the time. I passed on the opportunity to become a Leica owner.

I have to agree with Ken Tanaka's point about film. A few years ago I tried shooting film again. I shot and developed two rolls of B&W film. A third roll remains in the camera. I just haven't had the desire to finish shooting, developing, and scanning it. I have instead been playing with the Monochrome mode plus filter settings of my Nikon V1 bodies, and having fun doing it. The much unloved V1 is small, unobtrusive and quiet, which Leica M cameras were famous for being. May I encourage you to do a post some time in the future about Leica M alternatives, both film and digital?

A friend in college got me into Leica briefly, in 1973, with a used M3 body (right around my own age) and the 50mm collapsible Summicron.

In 1973, it was absolutely perfect for the kind of photography I did seriously, which was basically photojournalism / event photography (I was doing much of the work of the pro photographer the college alumni office had lost and was unable to replace due to a hiring freeze, plus shooting what went on around me for my own purposes off-campus). Over the next couple of years I added a 90mm Summicron, probably my favorite lens ever, and a 35mm Summicron, both new unlike the body and 50mm. I still remember -- the body and 50mm cost me $250, the 90mm cost me $360 new, and the 35mm cost me $240 new from a local store no longer extant (but, yikes, I see a processing envelope from them from 1976 out on my desk). It was high-end but not wildly extravagant at the time.

Why it was perfect for me: I could focus in considerably dimmer light than with an SLR of the period, which was important both for late-night party work (film pushed very fast, sometimes to EI 4000) and for flash work in dark rooms. I could hand-hold at lower shutter speeds since there was less mass flapping around at or just before exposure. It made less noise if I happened to be shooting at a performance or something. And I didn't have and didn't know about anything like the 90mm f/2 for an SLR (I don't know how I managed to be ignorant of the Nikkor 85mm, but I was even through 1981 when I bought the 105/2.5 instead and never liked it). And I did also have an SLR for the longer focal lengths (and slightly wider, I only went to 28mm on the wide end and hardly ever used even that). (I'm aware of the issues with focus accuracy with rangefinders, but wasn't then. In the 35mm to 90mm range, I don't think it hurt me.)

Had it until about 1979 when it was stolen out of my house, probably by somebody at a party (and I've never had the slightest suspicion of any particular person; still know most of them and none of their trajectories since point me at them either, it remains a mystery).

Since all the photo gear was stolen, I started by replacing the SLR first (with a Nikon FM) hoping that maybe the modern brighter mirrors, pentaprisms, and focusing screens and the better-damped mirrors would get me much of the benefit of the Leica, if not all, and thus I could avoid the expense of maintaining two systems. I never did get another Leica, though I kept looking a bit longingly at them, especially the M4P. The prices were getting crazy already, too, plus I was also looking longingly at serious medium-format systems, which I also never bought. So it was actually quite a brief sojourn as a Leica photographer, but at a very key period for me.

Never did have or use the clip-on meter; I just hung a Gossen Multibeam around my neck. In a room, I'd go around early and pick my exposures for different areas, and not have to re-meter for each shot, so it was also rather faster than how I tended to work with an SLR (yes, of course one can do exactly the same thing with an SLR; in fact I do with digital gear now).

I have a really nice'64 M2 that is crazy heavy and slow to rewind (even with the speed knob) and I adore it as an object.

But, for my $630.00 the 80's M4-P and 1974 Jupiter-8 have been my all-time favorite film Leica set-up. The fact that I got it for Canon Rebel money, just makes it all the better. Perhaps I got lucky with the lens, but for $30.00 at a camera show, it performs right up there with my Zeiss Sonnar C.

Here's my M4-P tagged pix on flickr

I'm sure most of you have seen my portrait of the rig:

Leica M4-P With 50mm f2 Jupiter-8 Lens, April, 2010

Eight years after taking that photo it's seen a lot more use and is much more of a German-Russian Wabi-Sabi delight to use and gaze up on. Like most of the gang upthread has said- it's just plain fun to play it. Because that's what my little rig reminds me of- playing a Telecaster.

Re comments from Gordon Lewis and Ken Tanaka -- I can't speak for anyone else but the reason I keep going back to the Leica rangefinder, either digital or film, is the rangefinder. I simply see better through the window than through SLR viewfinders or electronic displays. The Fuji window is a close second. There's a clarity to the window that nothing else matches, and the extra space around the framelines does help me anticipate a changing scene. Of course, it's not the tool for every photographic purpose but for most of what I choose to shoot it's my preferred compromise.


As a Leica M 246 (monochrome) and M 240 shooter, I would go for a Nikon F6.

I was in a layover in Los Angeles when I gpt that issue of Photo Techniques magazine. I was considering buying my first Leica and on the flight back home, the captain saw the cover of my magazine and tols me that his father had one of those cameras.
-Would he be willing to sell it? I asked.
-Let’s see, he answered.
Next time I fly with him, about a month later, he said that his father said yes. He gave me his adress and set a meeting. On the day I met him, he was waiting for me. He got the vinyl bag that had been sitting in a closet for years and showed me the goods. It was a single stroke M3 with a 5cm collapsible summicron, a 3.5cm f3.5 summaron, a 9cm f4.0 elmar and a 13.5cm hektor. Leather case, original manual and sales receipt from the shop in Germany where he bought the camera in the late fifties. Body and lenses green with years of fungus, but otherwise perfect. He told me to take the camera with me and play with it and we would talk later about the price with his son. Few days later I decided that I was going to buy it, no matter the price. His son told me to give him 500 us for everything. I still have the camera and two of the lenses. And the Photo Techniques isuue, of course...

I own a M3 Double Stroke with the collapsible ELMAR 50mm. I have used it maybe 5 times since It was given to me which was over 25 years ago. I just never got sucked in by the LEICA mystique but I understand why many others do. I often think that I should be shooting film, medium format but then common sense prevails, WHY ? Purchase film, worry about airport screening, processing, then scanning and at the end of the day who really cares that the image was shot on film. Digital sensors have gotten so good in the last couple of years it makes no sense to use film, that ship has sailed a while ago.

My advice to NIKON & CANON, if you want to catch up in the mirrorless camera market, do this: launch your mirrorless camera offerings as a monochrome sensor along with your color version. You may be selling two camera bodies to each customer, yes like the old days one for color and one for B&W. I think that may be too simple for the marketing division to comprehend, my 2 cents worth.

Sorry to be practical rather than nostalgic about old-style but I am in my 80th year and hugely enjoy using manual focus lenses much of the time - both good glass collected over the years and some excellent modern manual focus glass (e.g. CV 65) and for my old, but still pretty clear, eyes rangefinder focussing is the most accurate, by far, way to go. Highlight and magnification work OK but split image is far more accurate for me. So old-style can have practical advantages besides !

M4 cameras apparently known to to have shutter curtain separation histories:


Few seem to like the odd format Hasselblad X-PAN. I used to rent it from a local camera store about 10-15 years ago, and my experience with it was stellar. Unfortunately they sold the camera on ebay and soon thereafter the camera store went out of business. This camera model still fetches a good price on ebay.

There are collectors and there are photographers. Same with cars and motorcycles. Drivers and collectors may overlap, but mostly don't.

If you are a collector, utility is irrelevant. It's a different world with different rules. And no, I would not pay $3k for a mint M4.

Why does the Amazon listing for Leica M7 say
"Transportation regulations restrict this item to ground shipping."?

Because it's a smokin' hot commodity, Philip.

'absolutely no rational reason' to use film or rangefinder cameras? the reason isn't 'image quality', if that's what one thinks; the reason is image, as in, the presence of one, vs not getting one at all. not sharper, or more pixels or dynamic range--this kind of picture, vs not getting this kind of picture (getting a different kind, or nothing).

rangefinders are --rationally, and objectively-- better at some things than slrs or evfs, and not as good at other things. they are different. if your photography suits the things that rangefinders excel at, then there's your reason, right there.

the last film camera, the last medium format camera, and the last digital camera I bought were all rfs--m6ttl (sorry, the m4 shutter dial turns the wrong way), gsw690, and m10, respectively, fwiw--and I am pleased with all three. they have each gotten me photos I could not have gotten with a d800 or a7 whatever, and some of those were exactly the photos I am interested in taking. I know I am supposed to pretend that it's just subjective preference, let a thousand flowers bloom, etc, but that wouldn't be honest; rangefinder photography puts you into a different relation to the world, your subject, than ersatz-preview-approval-click photography does, and there is no way you can be intimately involved in the actual photographic process and have the differences not affect your results. that does not mean rf photography is better, or that rf cameras are better for all photographers; those are truly subjective questions. but it just isn't accurate to pretend that there's no difference, and equally, that the differences cannot amount to reasons to use (or not use) a rf camera.
having worked with an m9, m240, and now m10 extensively, I will offer the opinion that it isn't insufferable that the m7 is on the way out. the m10 is exactly the camera film m users wanted in a digital camera; there is literally no reason I can think of to use an m7 when the m10 exists, something I would not have said of the previous models. of course, in a perfect world Leica would find a way to make a right-way shutter speed dial an option on the mp, and then we would truly have the best of all worlds: a completely mechanical film model, and a completely compatible digital model, and the inelegant and unreliable electronic-film m7 camera would fade from memory. in the meantime we will just have to hope that the supply of m6ttl cameras doesn't run out...

As to why shoot film, my rational reason is that I cannot stand inkjet prints for black and white, I have to have silver prints from my wet darkroom, so film is the best way to achieve that. As to wasting money on Leicas, all of my bodies and particularly lenses are worth way more than I paid. If I sold up today I would have been paid to use them! All my Nikons and Fujis lost money bigtime.

Mark L. makes an excellent point: the Leica collector market has been an amazing boon to those of us who have owned the gear for actual photographic purposes. I don't want to sell my few pieces, but if I did, I'd make about 300% on the deal.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007