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Wednesday, 04 March 2020


If you want a nice German made rangefinder, with nice German lenses, at a reasonable price, I suggest you look at the Kodak Retina. I’m having fun with the IIIS. Nice camera whose lenses also work on the Retina SLR, a feat beyond Leitz.

Leicas are nice but Retinas aren’t exactly chopped liver.

Like you, I learned on SLRs and though I owned three Leicas, because of the prestige of the brand (I was young and stupid) and because they were supposed to have some kind of magic. I never saw it; or, perhaps more accurately, I never achieved it. However, I still have a rangefinder -- An Epson RD-1, sealed up in double plastic bags. I haven't looked at it in two or three years, haven't used it since shortly after it came out, but the last time I looked, the batteries still took a charge and the camera worked. It is, undoubtedly, a *very* cool camera, mounted with a Voightlander 40mm Nocton. I've been thinking about walking around Santa Fe with it; I wouldn't even put a memory card in it, I'd just walk around, being cool.

As regards Leica vs the rest, I'm not entirely sure where your sarcasm ends and your true opinion begins, so I will stay away from that aspect.

Instead, I merely list the "rangefinder-style" cameras I've been using over the years: Rollei 35, lovely; Contax G1, lovely; various "Barnack" screw mount Leicas such as the Leica II, Leica If and Leica IIIg, all beautiful and all true workhorses; the Fuji GW690 medium format giant, utilitarian and wonderful; and today in digital it's the Fuji XPro2. I also once held a Zeis Ikon ZI in my hands and should have bought it. Of the film cameras, the Fuji GW690 was the most powerful and joyful tool to use, so simple. And looking at the whole lot, today's Fuji beats them all in terms of "being the right tool".

Note that in that list, only the Barnacks and the Fuji GW690 had an actual rangefinder. All the others had a RF-style viewfinder and possibly some other focussing assistance. But they all felt like proper rangefinders regardless.

Well Mike...

We all know you have no sweet spots for Leica, and nobody's going to hold a grudge against you for that. It's Mike, and we love him for his quirks. Been loving him for a long time now...

I don't know about others. But I'll tell you why shooting a Leica is unlike shooting any other camera. To me, of course. (And I've shot Nikon SLRs for twenty years through the '90s, and I'm happy shooting the Ricoh GR now.)

It's the viewfinder.

I don't know of any other camera (I may have not been lucky trying enough of them) which makes you forget there's a viewfinder between you and the subject. It's transparent, as in: not there. You're not looking into a finder, you're not looking at an eye-level screen, you're not looking through a tunnel. It's you and the subject, and a gentle hint of where your frame will end. That's it.

I can't stop loving that feeling. Strong enough to make me put up with all of the inconveniences that should push me elsewhere (most likely to Fujifilm these days, have been already swayed once, by the X100S). Strong enough, I guess, to have killed any of those 'other' old rangefinders which did not quite cut it on the viewfinder front (never had the chance to compare).

It may have become a Veblen good as you say. But hey, be what may if that was the way to save the company, and that viewfinder glory.

I've been struggling with my forty year love affair with rangefinders in general, and Leicas in particular.

I've always been primarily a Nikon SLR shooter, but I've traditionally fallen back on RFs for my documentary-style work.

My first Leica was a M4-P that I picked up after the 1984 Olympics along with a few lenses (great deals were to be had for accredited journalists, the old "PRESS '84" gear), and they served me well in my last years as a working small pond PJ - and then paid the mortgage for a ridiculously long time when I sold them to Japan later in the decade after I left the business and had a new bride.

Flash forward to the early 2000s. I was dabbling with RFs via the Cosinas, and fell into a ridiculous deal on a new 35/2 ASPH at a local store that was dropping Leica. This led to a M6 that was sent off to Don Goldberg for an overhaul. I was back into Leica, and with a vengeance - more lenses followed, along with an M3DS that didn't last long. A few years ago I took the leap into a MP-240 and rounded out my lenses with a 21/3.4 and 75/2.

But... after finally ending up with the M kit of my dreams, I found that my eyes weren't up to a low magnification OVF with RF patch any more. I ended up using the MP with the clip-on EVF most of the time.

This led to experimentation with a used X-Pro1, then a new X-Pro2. To my surprise, I found I preferred these in EVF mode instead of OVF. My latest Fuji iteration involves a new X-E3 which is showing strong signs of being the body I actually needed all along. Goodbye, X-Pro2... the X-E3 plus the 16-23-35-50 Fujicrons is outperforming Leica for me.

The MP-240 will go away, and I'll only keep the M6, Leicavit and my main three M lenses (21-35-75.) I'm hoping Leica will some day offer something like a Q2 with an M mount since I do much better with EVFs, and I'm hanging on to the glass because of that wish. But until then, I'll continue with my Fujis for this style of photography. I'm doing just fine.

In my personal "RF phase" I used

1. A Konica Hexar AF

2. A Konica Hexar RF

3. Mamiya 6

Of the three I think I did the best with the original Hexar. The RF was fine, but fiddly, and I like autofocus. The 6 shot great giant pieces of film, but broke a lot. I did use it to take one of my favorite pictures that I've shot...


But I gave it up after the third trip to the shop.

It never really occurred to me to use a Leica because I thought the mythology was overblown, the hardware was an order of magnitude too expensive and frankly I have better things to do than load film from the bottom of the camera.

Eventually I learned that I like framing pictures through the lens of the camera and sold everything off, except the original Hexar. Then the Nikon D70 happened.

Mike, I disagree with your by-line, I much prefer a rangefinder camera and the Leica M is presently the only full-frame digital RF available. The stories about the Epson RD-1 and the Konica Hexar, unless factually-substantiated, should be filed under "fake news". I remember the Epson as having not anywhere enough resolution and features to give up film - at that time. The Konica Hexar was still expensive, as was the Contax RF, such that one easily could find a used Leica M for the price. That being said, if the Contax had gone digital I would probably be shooting it now. I used the Mamiya 7 along with a Nikon D80 and then ultimately the Canon 6DMkII until I gave all of them up for the Leica M9 (along the way I have also transiently owned and used the Fuji G690, Canon 7, Leica M4-2). The M9 finally had the resolution that I wanted, but I think my favorite RF remains the Mamiya 7. Along with the Mamiya I used (and still have) the Linhof Technika 70 which, although a beast, has a huge RF and is probably the most versatile camera ever made. If you need autofocus, then the X-Pro3 is an alternative. However it is as big as a Leica M with a smaller sized sensor and not as good RF or lenses, just less cost. Leica is very expensive and I bought my M10 new (with trade-in's) as I would not buy a used digital camera unless it was re-furbished from the factory. All my Leica lenses have been purchased used and the equivalent Zeiss ZM lenses are just as good. I disagree also with the idea of an M4 for a film shooter. Don't get pulled into the hype of how great this or that camera is based on the criteria of collectibility. Playing "old-school" is fine, but guessing exposures is not to be recommended to someone who wants a high probability of success - advise a built-in meter. If I got back into film it would be a Mamiya 7 - bigger negative that will yield a great print, big bright RF, very sharp lenses and an accurate built-in meter.

I've used a few Leicas in my time, and I have to say that the M3 is still my favourite. Uncomplicated, no batteries, meter or any of that kind of new-fangled stuff. Almost 100% viewfinder. Limited a bit if you want to use wider or lomger than 50mm of course. I liked the combinsation of M3/50mm and M2/35mm.

Lots of mechanics that can service them too.

Well, I must be a sucker for rangefinders as I own all of the cameras that you mentioned except for the Leicas, though I have owned two Leica M's in the past. Yes, I know, it's a sickness it is. It is nice for me that the market has driven up their values as now I can feel so smart about having bought them when they cost less, instead of joining a 12 step GAS group. Oh yes, I also own the Contax G2. =)

Funny. You've said this a few times and every time I have to chuckle. I am sure you're actually correct, it's just that there are those like me that love RF's and not necessarily Leica. I've uses a lot of RF's over the years. The best, bar none, was a pre-war Zeiss Contax II with a collapsible 50/3.5 Tessar. Glorious camera. I've used several Leicas over the years (IIIf, CL, a friends M3) None of them could touch the Zeiss or even Canon RF's I've owned. The Canon IVSb blew away the IIIf and the 7 was far superior to the CL or M3. I fondled a M4 once and while it was easily the best of Leica, it was still not up to the level of a Contax II or that glorious Zeiss glass.

I'd give much $$$ that I just don't have to get a Contax II and a 50/1.5 Sonnar or a Canon P with a Serenar 50/1.5. Because, unlike most, I have loved using them and gotten many of my best shots with them. For now, I'll stick to my Nikons and live with the memory instead.


I fear you may have stirred up the villagers by comparing just plain old cameras to Leicas. Check the front lawn for torch bearers every evening for a while.

I have had some experience with RF cameras, beginning with my father's Retina. I later tried the Kool Aid with a Leica iiig and a Canon VI-t, but the guys that were against digital because of the tunnel vision VF's in the crop sensor cameras will spend eternity in hell shooting with those old cameras. Then thy will truly understand tunnel vision.

Later I shot with an xPan, truly a pleasure to use, and then with an M9. It produces fine results, but I'm not sure the RF was able to stay calibrated very long, and as I aged, I realized it was made of expended uranium.

Oh well...

Mike, Mike,

haven't you got some working cameras? Just grab the nearest one, load it up, and get on with it! Cease this prevarication! : )

On the subject of prevarication, It's time I stopped web surfing and got on with all the things I need to do! ; )


If Leica was directly responsible for killing off the Epson RD-1, then, money aside, I don't think I could ever bring myself to buy a Leica product. I had such high hopes for Epson to continue to update and develop the RD line. If they had released a 10-12MP version, I probably would have bought one. This makes me sad.

Well, I thought this post might be about aging eyes and improved confidence that the photo might actually be in focus. I currently have three rangefinder cameras: a Fuji ("Texas Leica") wide-angle, a modern Fuji 6x7 folder, and a Polaroid 900 converted to 4x5. It takes me a little longer to focus these cameras, but once those rangefinder images come together, I am confident that the camera has achieved focus, even if, perhaps, I have not (

I bought the Konica Hexar RF as a kit and sold the 50 lens which has now become a collectible of sorts.

But I still have the RF camera and - with its aperture priority auto exposure & MOTOR DRIVE - is still miles ahead of any film Leica M camera that either Wetzlar or Solms can make.

I don't make excuses when I use my RF. Them M6 users now ogle at it. But to give credit to Leica, I still use it and the shutter's real quiet.

The Leica M is a tool for capturing a photographic subject that it is very clear and obvious to the photographer's mind before he raises the camera to the eye.

The clear finder of the Leica M is not flattering to subject as could be the finder of a SLR or an EVF. A photographer using a windowlike finder will not wander through the eyepeice to find out if the subject is interesting or not. He will trip the shutter if he already is interested in or compelled to.

I love shooting with a clear finder. There are not many brands making them. So I have bitten the bullet many years ago and use leicas to this day.

The "Leica Freedom Train":


Ernst Leitz was one of the "righteous."

Hmmm....something must be wrong with me. I’ve been a Leica shooter for 25 years, but:

I LOVED the Hexar RF. I thought it was the camera Leica should have made. I was sorry when Konica/Minolta gave up the ghost.

I liked the ZM, too , despite the nasty cracks about its build quality.

I’m a fan of the Fuji XPro caneras. Call them my “E-Leicas.” As far as I’m concerned, they run circles around the digital Ms (an OVF you can use with a zoom lens? Incroyable!), and at a fraction of the price. They’re the reason I sold off my digital Ms, which seemed like sluggish dinosaurs in comparison.

Oh, yeah, to compound the heresy even further: I also enjoy shooting SLRs.....

Oooh, I love my Mamiya 6. Medium format 6x6 that doesn't require me to pretend Im standing on my head. It folds down beautifully into similarly sized slot in the camera bag as my M3. I'll take it over any Hasselblad or similar 6x6 SLR on any day of the week.

I still cannot understand why Lecia RFs are ... well ... RFs. What purpose does an optical RF serve when focus peaking or magnification work so well and are not subject to any of the potential mechanical problems of RFs? I just don't understand its use in a modern digital camera. FWIW I used to shoot a couple different types of the old fixed lens RFs in the film days so I have nothing against the breed in general.

Well, I enjoy many Leica products just because they provide me with a wonderful camera experience. The common traits are a terrific viewing experience, combined with a simple control interface, in a robust package. The S system (I think you once called the ‘best’ camera) demonstrates this with its glorious optical finder and 4 unlabeled button controls (borrowed from Phase). The SL shared the same interface and top level EVF, and its successor SL2 shares a design heritage with your well respected R4. And I love M viewing; a clear window to the world, with easy focusing and ultimate simplicity; film or digital.

I’ve used Ms since the 80’s, along with film cameras from nine other brands, 35mm to large format. After transitioning to digital in 2009, I used digital Ms exclusively for 10 years, with my same few M lenses; not because of the brand per se, but because of the cameras. Yes, because I enjoy the viewing and shooting experience as well as my (print) results. Go figure.

As you wrote the other day regarding Leica, Mike, it’s a cost issue for you. And I can’t disagree that Leica prices are often absurd (especially now with increases due to tariffs). But, cost aside, Leica’s camera priorities often match my own, the M range no exception, and that’s worth a lot. At least resale values are generally commensurate.

[And while most photographers don't like rangefinders, some of the *best* photographers do. --Mike]

OK, who here has an Argus C3 in their past? I have a box of Kodachromes my father shot with one while serving on a fire base in Korea during the war. The pictures are rather nice.
Anyway the "brick" seems to get almost no love from serious photographers even though it probably served as "training wheels" for more than a few.

Red dot? I got yer red dot right here. Cost me all of $35 I think.

Kodak Signet 35

Seriously, although I’m not really a rangefinder person, some of those 1950s metal fixed-lens rangefinders are beautiful and have great lenses. I also have a Voigtlander Vitessa L which is beautiful, has great ergonomics and the Color Skopar lens renders wonderfully. All these fixed-lens beauties are cheap and cheerful these days.

In selecting a Leica, it should also be mentioned that some were better than others with different lens choices. If your lens of choice is 50mm it is hard to do better than an M3 --50mm is the widest Bright frame so you use the whole viewfinder. But if your lens of choice is 35mm then an M4 or later camera which were available with different magnification viewfinders-- some as wide as 28mm.

I think the whole rangefinder / Leica thing stems from how one originally trained, and that age (the photographer's age, that is) is therefore a major factor (presumably helped by Leica's being - um - not cheap). The first camera I bought with my own money was a Ricoh 500G. I attribute my ongoing love of optical viewfinders with rangefinders as a means of seeing images and quick and accurate focussing to my having learned photography on that camera. Come to think about it, my fondness for the 35/40 mm focal length probably stems from the fixed lens on the camera too. I am pretty sure that if my first camera had been a modern autofocus DSLR (say my D3, or more recent), I would would now prefer optical TTL viewfinders but not see the point of manual focus at all; and if it had been any modern, high quality mirrorless, I would prefer EVFs to optical finders too.

[No doubt you're right. I used an Instamatic first. But even though I've made it a point to try many different cameras over the years, almost all of my early experiences were with SLRs. They're what I got used to. Feels like home, right? --Mike]

I selected a Zorki 4/Jupiter 8 for my one camera, one lens, one year attempt. I doubt that a genuine Leica, which I can't afford anyway, would improve my photographic results. Put differently, the Zorki, for all its quirks, doesn't make it any worse. I'm looking forward to seeing the fruits of your efforts.

I actually owned, and shot with, and was glad to be rid of, Hexar RF (awkward to hold didn't focus right with my lenses), Minolta CLE (not that much smaller than an M6), Epson RD1 (a temp measure), and I am sure others.
And then, I sold my M10s...
And went to Fuji E3 - lacks the wizzy dual mode viewfinder of the Pro3, but is smaller, quite quick, and basically what I always wanted from Lecia - without the stuck in 5 decades old tech decisions.

Not every Leica shooter did or does buy/use them as Velben goods Mike....

Great piece, Mike. I tried for, no kidding, 41 years to be a Leica photographer, buying my first, a IIIC in 1969 and selling my last, an M3 in 2010. I wrote about it recently on my blog A Life in Photography. http://alifeinphotography.blogspot.com/2020/02/i-like-leica.html

As I wrote, "In my heart I’m a globe-trotting, Leica-toting, black & white documentarian of the human condition.

Well, I have indeed done the globe-trotting documentation thing, and some (but not much) of it was with Leicas. But mostly it was done with a bag of Olympus OMs. Because in reality I am an SLR-shooting, zoom lens, color photographer."

Never had the opportunity to use film. Do love LEICA and use x’s w OVF. Had gas attack got two Ricohs GRD4, GR 2, boy are they fun. Love the color and the High Contrast B/W. Enjoy any photos by Daudo MORIYAMA, can any one tell me if his film Ricohs rangefinder (?) were anywhere near LEICA in ease of use and do any of you film photogs use Ricoh film cameras. Mr. Giovanni M. With your Ricoh GR do you use back screen or OVF. Thank you.

Leic-eh? I've been told it's the glass, the glass (prohibitively expensive, of course)rather than the camera itself. To each his own.

I have a soft spot for rangefinders - I spent five or six years shooting with them when I started getting more serious about photography. I was learning on a Nikon D100, and was reading online about these rangefinder things. Bought a beat-to-hell Canonet from a used camera shop in Osaka, learned how to zone focus, and had a lot of fun, so "splurged" on a slightly-less-beat-to-hell Yashica Electro, so I didn't have light leaks all over the place. After two years or so I found a reasonably-priced-for-the-time M6, and still have that one, though I don't take it out too often any more.

But I wonder in retrospect if it was just the simplicity of the things I liked. That D100 was an annoying thing to use for sure. Zone focus, sunny 16, and fairly aimless wandering of every bit of Osaka a subway could get me to sums up a good chunk of a few years for me.

Thanks to focus peaking, I feel that the Leica M lenses work best on the modern mirrorless bodies like the offerings from Nikon or Sony. The USP of Leica, to me, was always the lenses, and now we have state of the art bodies to use them on,at a fraction of the price of a Leica M10, so why buy a Leica digital body at all?

After reading TOP for years, and absorbing many posts that seem to be anti-Leica M rants but really aren't and always seem to include grudging declarations of respect tempered by citations of Veblen, I begin to wonder if the photographer doth protest too much. Now that his one bad eye is fixed, will he finally succumb to the long-denied urge deep within to return to the Leica rangefinder fold? Or perhaps a nice used Ikon, just to play the contrarian? Particularly in light of this most recent promise of a film commitment? Hmmm. I believe I'm on to something here. As for the issue at hand, a Voigtlander film rangefinder was the gateway drug for me -- after years of shooting SLRs (Pentax then Nikon) I thought I'd give it a try circa 2002. I found the way of seeing with the rangefinder was much easier on my eye (especially with wide angles, I have always had trouble with manually focusing wide angles on SLRs), and the sizes of the camera and the lenses were under control. The camera itself was a little chintzy so after deciding I liked the rangefinder, I moved to an M6. Eventually I moved to the painfully expensive digital versions. Why? As we all know, any camera is a compromise. Almost any other brand is less expensive than a digital M. But the whole package adds up to a shooting experience I want to repeat. The main factors in its favor are the rangefinder, size of body and lens, heft (sense of solidity, not so much actual weight), and simplicity of interface. The last is an enormous concern these days -- even the digital Ms with a screen are 100 times less complex than the average DSLR or mirrorless, and if that's too complex there's always the screenless models for the really hardcore types. Mirrorless displays are fantastic now but there's still a feeling of watching what just happened, not what is happening.

Time to get out the pitchforks, tar, and feathers. Some time ago, a friend brought by his new full-frame digital Leica to show me that new Leica four new prime lenses. I shot a few images and then went back and shot the same images using an Olympus E-M5 ( original Mark I model) and Olympus 12-40 zoom.

Comparing the images in Lightroom, I was surprised to see how much sharper the Olympus images were despite using an earlier model camera with a lower MP count, a sensor only 1/4 as large and a zoom lens rather than four Leica primes lenses.

It was all about accurate focus. That fairly short baseline rangerfinder just doesn't focus as well as on-sensor contrast detection focus. As I shot outdoors in bright sunshine, camera shake and aperture were not a factor.

I enjoyed the Mamiya 6 - there is something about the square format. It's so round! The 50mm lens (28mm equivalent) is to die for. It really stands out.

I suspect you are correct about people (i.e., photographers) liking Leica more than rangefinders. In my case, I've owned three Leicas over the years. The first was an M4-P that I found impossible to quickly focus compared to my Nikons when on news assignments. Later, as a civilian, I owned two M6 bodies that I carried at the same time with 35mm and 50mm Summicrons. By then I had discovered zone focusing and I didn't worry too much about precise focus or exact sharpness--that was for the SLRs. It was a nice experience, working loose and shooting candid photos. Carrying two Leicas also gave me a degree of street cred among other photographers, something I admittedly enjoyed as well.

Years back on the Leica Forum at photo.net I was shouted down in a discussion of what a digital Leica should be like. I said it had to have autofocus and I recall being attacked for such slander. Of course I was wrong, Leica M digitals are still rangefinders. Seems a bit archaic to me these days. But I suppose it plays well with the younger crowd with good eyes and deep bank accounts. For my purposes, I found my favorite Leica of all time in the Fuji X-Pro2. Of course it's not a "real" Leica but to me it's better, having autofocus that's faster and more accurate for my use than a rangefinder but maintaining the OVF with frame lines that are good enough for loose shooting and quick framing.

To start with a lot of those non Leica RF’s don’t actually sell for those ridiculous prices. When I first got interested in Photography as opposed to developing film as a chemistry experiment, I shot with two Yashicas,An A twin lens reflex and a YF Leica clone. All the while what I really wanted was a SLR but couldn’t afford it. A few years later I did buy a real. Leica, a IIIf with the Summitar 50 mm lens. Guess what the Yashica has better ergonomics, is easier to load film into, and the viewfinder is much superior. As for the lenses, guess what, when you shove the enlarger up to the top the film grain becomes unbearable long before you can see any advantage over that Yashinon lens. I should dig out the IIIf and throw the Yashinon50 f/1.8 on it and go out to take a roll. I can tell people I need the extra speed to get better bokeh. HA

People don't like photographs. They like film.

I agree with you that in general, most people do not like Rangefinders, (I'm sure some folks do) but I was always amazed at how many people zone focused their Leicas. A better option (in my opinion is to use whatever lens fills the viewfinder on your Leica of choice and , as you did memorize the 'clock position ' of various distances and use the button or tab to pull focus. I own a beautiful M3 with the collapsable f/2 Sumi, which has the wonderful button with infinity lock. But they do like the viewfinder or window finder way of shooting.
I loved the camera, but in truth I didn't make many good pictures with it. I am better with a ground glass or reflex finder.

My all-time favorite camera was my Leica M6. Although I still have it, I'm a digital shooter now. I've also kept all my Leica lenses, just in case I splurge on a digital Leica someday. I think my best pictures were taken with the M6 and my previous Leicas. I don't know why. And I don't know if a digital Leica would restore the magic.

I have always liked and used SLRs, too, but there's something different about using a rangefinder camera. Before I could afford a Leica, I used other RF cameras, such as a Konica Auto-S2, Ricoh 500G, Olympus XA, and Canon GIII. They're all good, but a Leica is even better. I can't explain it.

@ Mike Plews said "OK, who here has an Argus C3 in their past?"

I don't have one though I am considering it for no other reason except they were made in my town, Ann Arbor. They sold millions of the C3's. Argus closed many years ago, but we do have a nice Argus Camera Museum stuck into a floor of the Argus 1 building which I visited for the first time just the other day. It has a very interesting set of displays as well as a contemporary photography gallery.


I'm with Kirk Tuck on this one.

...and, the Epson RD-1 is to digital rangefinders what the GM EV-1 is to electric cars: interesting starting points needing a lot of development. And, just to be clear, I've used both of those device for a number of weeks, and I've shot with a Leica M10 and driven a Porsche Taycan.

Thanks Mike for another great and controversial essay. I would like to point out though that the Minolta CLE was not a rival to Leica at all. It was the result of a close collaboration between the two companies at the time that also spawned the XD7/11 and the R4. The Leica version of the CLE was of course the CL. Arguably the Minolta was the better camera.

Back in my college days, I bought a used Nikon rangefinder. I was never sure which model it was, but I also had a 50mm lens (marked as 5 cm) and I had a lot of fun with it. I used the sunny 16 rule for exposures and got some really good 35mm transparencies. It ended up somehow with my ex-wife and I regret letting her put her hands on it.

I had also owned an Exakta VXiib, purchased from Seymour's Exakta in the camera district in NYC around 1967. Seymour's was the only camera store in NY (and likely elsewhere) that only sold Exaktas. You can imagine how that ended.

I sold the Exakta when I moved on to Olympus SLRs, working my way up from OM-1n, 2n, 4T, 4Ti plus a ridiculous assortment of lenses before boing to Canon film and then digital.

But a few years ago, I decided to go back to film and my wife indulged me, allowing me to buy a Leica M7 beginners kit that included a 50mm lens. The kit was discounted from full price and Leica was offering an additional discount based on the favorable exchange rate or something like that. I love that camera, rangefinder and all. I had thought about buying one of the Voigtlander rangefinders still available then (either the Bessa 3 or 4 series) for a lot less, but I hungered for Leica.

Any issue with a rangefinder? Not for me. The only issue is that I had double cataract surgery last year and had to swap out the diopter correction viewfinder lens I had bought pre-surgery for a weaker one (my vision improved from about -13 diopters in both eyes to about -2).

My digital is a Canon 5D4 with all the bells and whistles of controls and settings. My Leica is pure simple, electronic shutter, set the ISO (or use the DX from the film), and set the aperture and shutter speed.

Why Leica? To make me think more about what I am photographing than just machine-gunning the Canon and hoping for something decent.

And while there are those who feel that film developing is a pain in the ass, I enjoy the zen tea ceremony-like routine of getting the chemicals mixed, loading the film onto the reel in a changing bag (and zoning out vision to concentrate on the tactile film to reel process), pouring and emptying chemicals from the tank, and agitating every minute.

Now that I think about it, it is the tactile experience and intuitive handling of using the Leica that makes it seem like an un-camera.

There is still no interchangeable digital FF rangefinder camera other than leica. This is 20 years into the digital “revolution”. Seems mighty odd nobody has even tried it. Xpro is garbage because its aps-c, we all know it’s impossible to get a good shot with a crop sensor camera.

For me a camera is first and foremost a tool. It has to do the job, at best elevating the process with some synergistic value added, and at the least, to not get in the way.

I bought my first rangefinder, because I was looking for a camera that was less 'in between’ than an SLR, when making portraits. I fell in love with an old, used Leica M2. The fact that I could look through the window (which is what it is) with my right eye, while seeing the entire field with my left eye, which could also look directly at a person
while making an exposure, was very useful. But probably the best part of the M2 was the sensual experience of using that modest little body. The worst part, of course, was when it came to change the film.

Over the years I have shot with a lot of different cameras and formats, primarily Nikon SLR’s that are excellent workhorses, in film and digital eras. But a rangefinder made another big appearance in my life in the form of the latter Mamiya 6. I didn’t get this because I loved rangefinders, but because it was a light compact camera that enabled me to freely walk around and shoot medium format. It’s a wonderful camera, that if you didn’t have to change rolls of film every 12 exposures would be perfect. The rangefinder helped loosen up my photographs by directing attention to the subject, not getting obsessed with composing what was projected on the ground glass or LCD.

Despite the absurd prices, the Leica M10 Monochrom still beckons from a corner of my brain. There’s a lot to be said for fewer options.

On a related note, a somewhat sad fact is that most Fujifilm camera users who buy an X100 or X-Pro end up using the EVF most of the time. There are not many people who appreciate the reverse Galilean viewfinder.

In searching for an explanation, I've come to the conclusion that part of it must be due to the fact that they are autofocus cameras. If you can't scale focus by feel (SFxF) with a focusing tab, you don't have the same certainty that the focus is set correctly, while an EVF shows you where focus has been set.

A lot of Leica M and Fujifilm hybrid viewfinder camera users don't do photography that benefits from SFxF, but they appreciate the small lenses and form factor. People have been wishing for a rangefinder-style Leica M with an EVF because the SL is just too big, and using adapted M lenses on it is a bit of a kludge.

At the end of the day, I think the prolonged slump in street photography owes something to the absence of a truly practical (i.e., digital) and accesssible (i.e., affordable) rangefinder camera, besides the more widely acknowledged problems like privacy and security concerns in public spaces. As urban spaces have become gentrified, so too has the genre of street photography with the conversion of Leica into a luxury brand. It might be a stretch to say that a full frame digital Voigtlander Bessa will help save street photography, though. ;)

Well if people love Leicas and hate rangefinders, then this should really get them excited.

From back when a Leica MD was really the low end.
I have a leica in the drawer that is so striped down that it takes 35mm sheet film and has no shutter

Mike Plews,
My first interchangeable RF was a Argus C3 too.
My unfulfilled lust was for a Mamiya 7II RF.
However, these days when a smartphone can take pictures better than the Argus, I find that unless I am shooting for pay, I want to handle a camera gives me pleasure to use. The smartphone cameras are very effective but are horrible ergonomically. So not at all a pleasure to use.
I suspect Mike will choose a film camera that is a pleasure to hold and use.
I am most curious to learn what he chooses.
My guess is a Mamiya RF will be in the running. Nice big negative to work easily in a darkroom. The fact that I think he has that Rollei 6008, which I also once lusted for, suggests it will be in the mix. But I have no idea what camera he finds most pleasurable in his hand. If it is pleasurable, he will finish the 20 rolls and make me smile.


For a few months I decided to be sensible and trade my Leica stuff for Fuji. I admire Fuji's focus on what matters to the user and their cameras are clearly great and well thought out.

Holding it and looking through the EVF though, I couldn't do it. That M viewfinder and tactility of mechanical focus, aperture and shutter are an addictive curse. The only camera I find myself eyeing off now is one with even fewer features, the M-A.

Around the time of the M9 release was when I first got my hands on an M6. I remember thinking that Leica users were unique indeed because they feature everyone seemed to be praying for online was that they didn't change anything. People wanted a new M, but with nothing changed. The thing they hated about the M8 was that it was different (slower, louder, cropped).

Like Fuji, and true to form, Leica have been slowly iterating back toward this vision for years. Sadly though, as they've continued to push price upward, I'm seeing more people clamour for more (resolution, dynamic range, EVF, stabilisation). "Leica photography" as you've dubbed it — wasn't about those things, but about humanism, closeness and immediacy. It makes my heart heavy to think that "Leica photography" as defined by the Instagram age is about Porsches, bags and expensive watches.

When you stop and think why LEICA I think of ROBERT FRANK and his book THE AMERICANS. 27000 + photos whittled down to 83 that were published makes an awfully good argument for LEICA, why not? Then I look at the photo of him at his house in Canada and he is holding up a Minolta! So whatever works for you is the camera to buy!

Hi Mike,
In response to your reply, it seems my edumacation continues. You have gathered incorrectly - I did not know of that.
Ooooh, a toy Leica camera. It’s almost too tempting. I must bite my tongue, I must bite my tongue....
At least it doesn’t have a red dot :~)

Pierre Charbonneau in his comment has nailed it. The main thing about shooting with a RF is the fact that you aren't given a flattering preview: you have to know what you are doing. For some photographers, this is a design flaw. For others (me included), it is the key to unlock a source of creative tension.

The RF view puts my mind into a heightened alertness, and it does so because it forces me to pull together all the elements that will produce the image that I want. That "pulling together" has to happen in my mind, and this becomes easier if the viewfinder is not yet a nice-looking 2-dimensional image. The viewfinder shows me what I need to know to compose the shot, but it does not yet show me the visual effects. For some of us, this works better than WYSIWYG. Hence when using the XPro2, I will normally use the OVF, not the EVF.

I have a Zeiss Ikon, a Leica M9, two Mamiya M7s, and an Olympus 35RC. If fate permits, a Leica M6 or M5 is in my future. Yeah, I must really hate rangefinders.

PS: I thought Sherry Krauter was of the opinion that the M5 was the best Leica.

I openly admit I'm a strongly biased to use Leica because it is what it is.

The comments that the digital Ms are bigger / heavier and less consistent partners are fair. My M9 was unreliable, noisy about ISO 400, terrible electronics, but the photos were nice. My M Mono 246 is heavier and larger, but at least the electronics play nice now and the sensor is in the 20th century.

Alternatives?I used an X100F the other day and I think that would have been an adequate alternative.


Here's a thought experiment: shop for a 10 roll camera. One you would be satisfied owning if you only took 10 rolls of film in the first year of ownership.

The camera may not be as capable. You may have to work a bit harder to get the photos you want.

On the other hand, "future you" won't have to try so hard to live up to your current expectations. The second 10 rolls might be more relaxed, more fun.

So, it turns out that I do like rangefinders.

In particular I have three rangefinder cameras which I use very regularly:

  • a CLE which I use with a 40mm lens and which is probably the camera I would rescue in a fire (after rescuing my negs, and assuming my various Pentax MXs would laugh off a mere fire);
  • a Zeiss Ikon ZM with various lenses which was the camera I would have rescued until I had the CLE;
  • a Kodak Retina IIs which belonged to my grandfather and works really well, including the lightmeter, also has a really-good focal-length lens (45mm) and is probably actually the camera I would rescue, because it belonged to my grandfather.

(I also have a Leica IIIc, but it's just a toy, and a Contax G2 which is only technically a rangefinder.)

I've used Leica Ms and ... no thanks: they're lovely but they are way too heavy for me as I need a camera I can carry in one hand, all day, for which the CLE and Retina are ideal and the ZM nearly so. If I want to use a 'full-sized' rangefinder then the ZM has a viewfinder which eats any Leica I've used alive. Finally, while the ZM is the camera I use which attracts most attention, by far (well, OK, apart from the Chamonix, but that's a special case), people lose interest when I tell them it's not a Leica: carrying a real Leica, today, is a way of being noticed.

So there are people who both like rangefinders and actively avoid Leicas: I am one.

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