Der Leica

There comes a time in every photographers life when they consider getting a Leica. The draw of that legendary build quality in both the bodies and the lenses, the rich history behind the Leica branding. The draw of both the M mount and the lesser chased R mount glass is strong. 

Last week I was looking at several models in the Leica M range: M6, M8, M9, Mtyp240, and also the Leica Q had a look in. Being both a film and digital shooter, all of these appeal to me for different reasons. I will give you a quick breakdown of why I was looking at them, and the reason why I chose the one I did. 

Firstly, let’s talk about the only 35mm film camera on this list, the M6. The M6 is a classic rangefinder camera, with fantastic build quality, a lovely sleek black look, and the presence of a light meter. This camera was built to be a work horse. Why go for the M6 over the M7 or MP models? The simple reason of money. Those two models used are around the same price as a used M9/ Typ240. They do offer Aperture priority, but that is something I never really use.

Secondly, lets look at the M8 and M9. The M8 is probably the cheapest option on this list, is the oldest out of these digital M’s I am looking at, but produces beautiful pictures. At 10mp on APSC, I could not justify spending this amount (and I am not MP/ pixel peeping whore). The M9 is the best option of the digital M’s in terms of value for money. It has a competitive 18mp full frame sensor, and if you can find one that has had a sensor replaced it is worth picking up. The M9 was high on my list.

Thirdly we have the Leica Typ240. The Typ 240 is a 24mp full frame beast. The ‘black out’ of the screen after taking a shot is much better than the M8/9, and this camera can go head-to-head with other brands for street shooting. The drawbacks being the price, and it has a louder shutter. 

Lastly, is the wild card. The Leica Q. Now this camera suits me down to a T. A fixed 28mm full frame lens on a smallish body, does macro, and is built for street shooting. Fantastic! Except the price. This beast is very expensive for what it is, and although I reckon I would love this camera, I did not end up choosing it for several reasons. The first being price. The second being that I really wanted an M mount camera this time around, and thirdly it would give my Ricoh GRII a run for the money, which comfortably owns the compact 28mm equivalent street camera position in my roster.

If you haven’t noticed any of my videos by now, it will be a surprise to learn that I went for the Leica M6. Firstly, this is a camera that would not go out of date or need to be replaced, it is the only camera on the list you could consider ‘timeless’. The version I picked up was the M6 classic, and it is a beautiful camera. I am happy with it, but I wouldn’t say no to picking up one of the other M cameras in the future.

Now, I will admit, this is not the first time I have thought about getting a Leica. In fact, the first time I nearly bought one was about 2 years ago, and it was one of the SLR cameras that take the lovely Leica R glass. If you are looking for the Leica experience and are not keen on rangefinders, the Leica R series of cameras is where it is at (much cheaper too!).

Speaking of glass, no matter what M body I went for, I was always going to pick up a Voightlander lens. I did look at the Leica 35mm F2 Summicron, but after looking into other 35mm lenses for the M mount system, I found that there is quality glass in this range. I chose the Voightlander 35mm F1.4 Nokton, which is based on the classic Leica 35mm F1.4. This is a wonderful lens, that even dwarfs my Zuiko OM lenses in terms of size! (Yes it is that small).

There is a myth that if you own a Leica camera you must use it with Leica glass as that is the ultimate combination, however after doing a lot of research I have found that truly is a myth. When you have huge quality brands like Voightlander and carl Zeiss also making lenses for the Leica M system at a cheaper price, you start to realise you are paying a lot for the name. Don’t get me wrong, you cannot go wrong with Leica glass, and there are a load I would love to own, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must match body and lens brands, always shoot with your eyes and your heart, not necessarily your wallet!

Any tips for someone wanting to get into the Leica M system? Yes! Go for the 35mm Leica CL, is a lovely camera, and is a great way to break into the system. You get a lovely Leica 40mm F2 lens with it, and it costs half the price of an M6 body on its own. Even now I’d love a CL, as the focal length 40mm is something I love shooting. 

Seriously do you need to own a Leica? Well, no. Quite honestly, if you want a top quality 35mm rangefinder but you only want to spend a couple of hundred pounds on one, i would recommend the Olympus 35SP. Hand on heart, this camera gives Leica a run for its money, with a sharp 42mm F1.7 fixed lens and the ability to go from manual to auto and anything in between. It also has both a light meter and a spot meter, although the light meter is for Auto modes only (Aperture priority, shutter priority, fully auto). For less money you can pick up the 35RD, my personal favourite, or the baby brother the 35RC. 

If you are wanting digital, then your only ‘cheap’ option is an M8. I would suggest saving up and getting an M9 with a replaced sensor. 

Whatever you want to do, just make sure you are using it. Cameras are meant to be used!