What is the best Leica for you?
So you have decided to take the plunge and get yourself into the world of Leica. But there are so many variants and different versions. What one is the best one for you. Well, with this little guide I hope to give you a clearer picture.
Leica cameras inspire a range of emotions in their users and non users alike. For users there is joy, desire, comfort and often pride. The non users there can be also be desire, often respect and sometimes envy, and in some cases much more negative feelings.
But for the group that would like to own a Leica the overriding feeling seems to be one of confusion. What do you choose? There are so many options out there for you, but what is the right one? Which camera suits you? This is a difficult question to answer properly, as there are so many factors involved.
You could be really clinical about it, and make the decision based on the parameters in which you shoot, but that is emotionless, and I really feel that a camera should talk to you. But be careful, buying cameras based only on emotional responses can be very expensive.
I think that buying the best Leica for you can be broken down into a few simple questions that can make your decision easier.
1. Do you want to shoot film or digital?
Simple question really but one that needs to be answered. This is not a dig at digital users, but if you don’t try a film Leica at least once then I feel you are really missing out on the Leica experience. If you are shooting digital then your choices are pretty simple.
You could spend as little as possible by getting an M8, but they are getting long in the tooth now and some of them will definitely be reaching the upper limits of the sensor lifetime. You can pick up used M9’s for less than you imagine now, and it is still a full frame digital camera that is very capable, despite having a rubbish screen. The M-E is basically the same camera, for a little bit less money. But they are so new you are not really going to see any used ones on the market yet. Or, if money is not really a concern then the M and the Monochrom are all there waiting for you.
Going into the differences between these cameras would be an essay unto itself, and seeing as I rarely shoot with them I will leave it to people who are far more qualified to do so *cough*ThorstenOvergaard*cough*
Shooting film? Well, that is where things get a bit more interesting. Different cameras, different budgets.
2. How much do you want to spend?
Because it isn’t enough. No matter what, you are pretty much guaranteed to spend more than you think on one of these cameras. And if you think you can get one for cheap, think again, as that is exceptional. The general rule is that you will have to spend at the bare minimum $1000 on a body (this depends on the model. The M4 is usually a lot more), then more on a lens. But we are talking about bodies. If you are talking about rare cameras or collectors items, then the sky is the limit. But we are talking about users, cameras that can be used every day and without fear of marking them or spoiling them.
3. Do you need a meter in the camera?
This is a simple yes or no question, but an important one. Some people do, some don’t. I use both metered and non metered M cameras, but I am lucky to have the choice. For some there is only one choice, so choose wisely.
If you do need one, then you basically have 4 options. (And before you lot shout about the CL and the CLE, I am not counting them. As whilst they are Leica’s they are not an M, which is what we are talking about.)
Often called the ‘Lost Leica’ this was the first true metered Leica camera. Quirky and a different it never really gained traction, despite being a great camera. The main failing on this cameras part was the huge leap from the classic design standard of the previous and later models. You can see how Leica felt about this as the M6 went back to the classic styling. The main flaws with the camera are that it is difficult to repair, requires that you use replacement Zinc-air batteries or an adapter and it is heavy. It is not the best designed Leica, but it is fun to use and sets you apart. They are not terribly expensive, but it is better to spend a good amount on one as you really don’t want to have one of these break on you, as some repair places will not handle them any more. Get the two lug version, which you can hang like an incredibly heavy and oversized necklace. A good point about this camera is that all of them were produced at Wetzlar, to very high standards, so if you get a good one you will really have something special. Get one of these if you like to be different.
I have written a lot about this camera. It was my first true Leica and I still consider it to be the best Leica M camera, for a number of reasons, but the main one being accessibility. It is easy to find, not overly expensive, simple, mechanical and sturdy. The only thing is, there are tons of different models. Again, you could write and essay about this. What I will say is that I am not a big fan of the TTL version. The meter is more fragile than in the non TTL models and it is more prone to breakdowns. If I had a personal choice for an M6 I would take the Leitz Wetzlar version, the original M6. This was what some consider to be the last true Leica. It was built in the Wetzlar facility and had a build quality that is far beyond what it should be.
The M6 is a great entry choice for a Leica camera, as despite having a meter, it is still a mechanical camera, so it can be run without the meter without any issues. But just because I say entry Leica it does not mean it is a beginners camera. It is fully manual and you have to test yourself. Bruce Gilden still uses an M6, and for good reason, it is very capable and does not make things overly complicated. I know several people who own or have owned a number of different and great Leica cameras, but almost all of them consider the M6 to be the camera that they will grab if they are going out. Get one of these if you want an all rounder and don’t want to destroy your bank account.
This is a camera that I am not overly impressed by. It could have been so much more, but it is not that much different from the M6. The meter is supposed to be better. It has aperture priority mode and DX encoding, but that is about it. This is not a mechanical camera and if your battery goes you only have 1/60th or 1/125th of a second. Which is a big fail for me. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good camera, but not the camera I would be using. I almost never see anyone shooting them, and that could be because buying one new is almost the same price as buying an MP, which is a far superior camera. Early models suffered with problems in the DX encoding system and temperamental meters. In all honesty if I had a choice I would pick an M6 over one of these any day of the week. The only advantage I can see is that they still make these and you would be able to go out and buy a brand new film Leica. Get one of these if you want the aperture priority mode or the experience of buying a brand new film Leica.
Ahhh, the MP. This is a bit of a different beast. This truly is the best of the best. But you get that at a price and that is why I think the M6 is a better camera. The build, the quality and the styling of the camera is better than the M6, but the price puts it out of range of only the most dedicated of users. The original MP is an absurdly expensive camera and quite different from the new version which is still in production. This is a stunning camera. Mechanical, metered and simple, it ticks all of the boxes. If you have plenty of cash to burn and you really want to get the perfect M, then this is it. Get one of these if you like to light your cigars with $20 bills (or country equivalent currency).
Don’t need a meter? Then your options are wide and wonderful.
There are many different versions of the standard Leica M cameras. But I am going to stick with the basics and tell you the differences between them.
It all started with the M3 in 1954, a revolutionary camera that changed the photographic world. I am not going to wax lyrical about this camera, plenty of people have done that before me, and probably better than me.
The M3 is the standard bearer. Simple, pure and tough. This camera was built to extremely exacting standards. The viewfinder is still so bright that it puts the M9 to shame, with a factor of 0.92, which is perfect for long lenses. The only drawback for this camera in my eye is that it only has frame lines for 50, 90 and 135mm lenses. At the time this was enough, but I shoot mainly 35mm and this makes the camera hard for me to use (although I do own one). If you shoot 50mm and are looking for a non metered Leica then this should probably be your first consideration.
Early models had a double stroke film advance, as there was fear that film could be torn by a single advance. But after development the M3 became a single stroke. Early models of the camera also had a glass film pressure plate, and later models a metal one. If you are a collector these things matter a great deal. But if you are a user then the single stroke, metal plate camera should be enough. They are plentiful and you can find them for good prices if you are not looking for something too pretty. It is not about the looks with a camera like this, just make sure the movement is nice and tight and you will be laughing. Get one of these if you want to shoot 50mm lenses.
Confusingly for the Leica beginner, the M2 was actually released after the M3, in 1957. It was intended to be a cheaper and more affordable M camera, though now you would be hard pushed to see the difference in the prices. The build quality was essentially the same, but there were noticeable differences to the camera. The big one being the disc plate film counter, which has to be manually reset. The rangefinder is also more simple than the M3, with a 0.72 finder. This finder is more prone to flare than the M3. But it does have framelines for 35mm lenses, which makes it a popular choice for street photographers (and in the past photojournalists).
The M2 is an outstanding camera, and often more popular than the M3 simply for the framelines. There were several factory mods available for the camera and later in production the M2-R was released, which incorporated the quick loading system. You can pay a ton of money for one of these with a desirable number, but you don’t have to. Get a beater which has been serviced and you will have a good time. Get one of these if you want to shoot 35mm lenses.
The M4 was a huge evolutionary jump for the M series. Some consider it to be the best of the classic film Leica cameras and the prices certainly seem to share that notion. These cameras hold their value well and are still expensive. The M4 had a new set of framelines for the 35/50/90/135mm lenses, a lovely high speed rewind ‘sidewinder’ knob and a much faster film loading system. This was a revelation at the time. Whilst some love the old type of film rewind, I still find the M4 (and later M6/7) rewind to be much faster. This was the last of the unmetered Leicas, and some say the end of an era for Leica. They certainly are beautiful and extremely capable cameras. Many different versions were released, but the most common are chrome and black chrome. Get one of these if you want a golden era Leica and have a bit of spare cash.
The M4-P / M4-2
Many people discount these two cameras as ‘cheapo’ Leicas, but they have a lot to give. These cameras saved Leica and it would not be here now if it wasn’t for them. True, they are bare bones and they were not manufactured to the same standards as previous models, but they are both great unmetered cameras. The M4-2 came first and was noticably cheaper than the older cameras. Cheaper finish and construction. A good viewfinder though, with a nice range of framelines. The M4-P came later, with the P supposedly standing from professional. It added another frameline to the finder to make a finder for 28/35/50/75/90/135 lenses. This left the finder full and some find it to be overly busy.
You can pick these cameras up for a lot less than the other Leica cameras now. If you get one on the cheap, have it serviced and you will have a Porsche that looks like a Skoda. Buy one of these if you don’t care what people think and just want to shoot.
So there it is, a little bit of info and some advice. I hope you find this useful in making your decision. Just a word of warning, it is a slippery slope. Once you have owned one you will want to own all of the others. And don’t go half measures, get the one that you want because chances are you are going to be using it for a good long time. Would you cheap out on a pair of shoes for a hike across the mountains? Of course not, so don’t cheap out on a Leica, it will pay for itself tenfold in the long run. Get the camera that you deserve. And of course, none of this advice matters if the camera does not speak to you. If you can go and hold one of the cameras that you want. If it calls your name and tells you that you can make sweet images together then that is the one for you.
If you want me to find one for you I can do that. I am rather good at it and many of my customers will say that I have found them their dream camera.
So if you want to get yourself a Leica, drop me a line and I can make sure you have the camera that you have always wanted.
I think the best Leica M is Minolta CLE :D
Zeiss Ikon ZM (yes I am fully expecting Bellamy to have another go at me for saying so.)
I fully agree ! The Zeiss Ikon is a better M7.
I would add a new version of the “buy film not megapixels”, it should be “buy film, not megapixels, neither leicas…”, just kidding of course
except its not a Leica M. it just shares the Leica M mount.
I know. It was meant as a joke.
I wish this guide was out a year ago before I had my Leica. A great write up though. It’s true that once you own one, you want all the others!
Great read, I have a M6 myself but somehow I actually prefer the R8/9. Granted not a rangefinder but a Leica nonetheless:)
Maybe you should change the title of this article to “What is the best Leica M for me”.
I am a proud owner of a Leica M7 and very happy with it. I don’t really care with the battery, a spare battery is not that big and if that was important for ME I would get another model instead.
I would say the M7 and M6 are also more comfortable to use, nothing wrong with the MP it’s just my preference.
An interesting read. I have a very nice M3 that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I use an external viewfinder to shoot 35, 25 and 15mm lenses.
The M5 fascinates me and will probably be my next Leica… perhaps I just like to be different, but I love the front-overhanging shutter speed dial, and the side lugs.
I will still like to owe a CL or CLE.
I have an M3, but it is the M4-P that i lust for… There’s just something about that that I cant point out which intrigues me.
Excellent article for someone who’s thinking about stepping back into film and picking up an M :) Thanks
I am new at shooting rangefinders, and just picked up my M8.2 and the M6 classic over a year ago. Been shooting both film (since late 70’s) & digital (2000) with SLR’s/DSLR’s. As I said, “So much still to learn, and so much to unlearn”, by adapting the rangefinder discipline from SLR’s/DSLR’s. I still shoot both. But what amazes me are the images of the Leica that “jump-out” when they are tack-sharp.
Unlike my early years in the DSLR world, gear acquisition led my desire to continue searching for that image. I had any where from 3 varied focal length zooms to several (5) prime glass that i dreamt of, and had to acquire slowly. Today, I have 3 lenses shared between the M6 & the M8.2; the 35mm Lux, 90mm Cron & a 28mm Carl Zeiss Biogon – and that was enough to produce images that kept me at the edge of my seat.
The quest continues, thank you for this write up.
I have had an M4P since 1987 (my 1st M) and it has never once let me down – the build quality of these Midland camera’s is in practice equal (and in some instances superior) to German made post M4 Leica models.
I have always considered the appeal of Leica to be primarily about the quality of the optics so would have no hesitation in suggesting that a good strategy would be to buy and M4P body and invest the money saved in glass.
It is a great shame that in recent years so much snobbery and superficiality has become attached to an object that, although undeniably elegant, is simply just an efficient tool with which to make images.
Oi!- “It is not the best designed Leica” – I realise this is so personal, but the M5 is a brilliantly designed camera- no dorky angled film rewind that sticks out to get caught on stuff , an ace viewfinder with the shutter speed dial and the lovely over-hanging shutter speed dial. They designed a camera which is a joy to shoot with. Even the strap lugs are well thought out.
The size and weight thing is true but overstated- i have big hands and find the normal M bodies too poky. The weight works well as a primitive IS system. Also, the advantage of size in RF systems over is mostly in their tiny lenses and not the size of the bodies (an OM or Pentax MX are pretty much the same size as an M body and lighter ).
Doh. typed that far too quickly…
I’ve not heard one person with a modern M7 (those that have the optical DX and MP vf) complain about it. It took me over 6 months and 200+ rolls of film for the batteries to die, and when they did I reached in my bag and replaced them. I’ve had a Zeiss Ikon, an MP, an M6, an M6ttl, and I would not give up my M7 for any of them…the AE is just too valuable too often.
You have now Alex. I had problems with my very late M7 with optical DX reader and MP finder (serial no. 3328xxx purchased new in June 2009). It had a horrible stiff shutter release button and the ISO dial was flaky. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Mostly it didn’t. Luckily Leica honoured the warranty and fixed both problems despite me not being the original owner. The camera seems to be working fine now and has become my favourite Leica of the Leicas I’ve owned (M3, several M6s and another M7 – all sold) but when I want to do some serious shooting and don’t want to worry about my camera unexpectedly flaking on me, I use my Zeiss Ikons.
I have a Leica M4 just the normal chrome one.. not the M4-2 or M4-P but the M4. For me it’s the quintessential Leica M. Why? Because it has all the conveniences present in contemporary M’s, but it’s still built like the legendary M3. :) as for my glass.. I have the goggled 8-element version of the Summicron 35. I like the way it calls up the 50mm lines in my viewfinder for an uncluttered view. It even reduces the “magnification” enough so I do not have to remove my glasses when I shoot… for me, this combo is simple PERFECTION! :)
If you made a flowchart it would probably go viral.
My two cents:
If you are a pro and you want to use a fully mechanical Leica Film Rangefinder, the M6 TTL is your best bet. I Disagree with Mr. Japancamerahunter on this one. Add electrical tape to the bright red dot and don’t flaunt it around as if you are wearing a ‘steal this camera’ sign on your neck.
Don’t get an M5 ‘just to be different’, get it because it’s right for you. ‘Just to be different’ is a supremely idiotic reason to buy a camera, or for that matter any other tool, unless you are the display case type, and not a photographer.
I am a pro who uses the M6 TTL and it’s simply wonderful. I’ve also used the M3, and M7. All are great cameras.
I guess the Leica M4-P isn ‘t a cheapo “quality” Cam.
It’s a M6 without the TTL measuring.
But it’s true, you can get a quite cheap one right now.
More Goes Not
I have just read your ‘masterly’ review of the leica camera range. I have of course been aware of leica but have politely turned away, only because of the price compared with other top end camera’s. However, after your review, and comments, I feel a dangerous urge, which from past experience, does not bode well for my pocket. Now starts my own process of defining and choosing the right one for me.
Sorry but just found this great overview–QUESTION: i am looking to get back in film (at present i am in love with my fujix100) but is it realistic in 2013 to consider to buy a film camera, if your not developing & printing the film (which is part of my quandary/decision if to go analog)? Would enjoy a Leica film and would use the lens on a digital one day…
Whats your view? wonder how many buyers have bought film Leica’s knowing that they are not developing/printing?. I am considering it, for many reasons one of enjoying the interaction with the Leica…money no object does not apply here…
thanks in advance for your thoughts?-sterno
The best advice I can give you is to find a place near you that still processes film. If you find a good lab, then ask what they process. At worst that may be just C-41 and you shoot only colour negative film. At best, the lab you find may process E-6 transparency (slide) films, or may offer B/W film processing.
I still shoot film for some of my work, but turn-around time is an issue. Most of my film is now being processed after mailing. When I have work that needs a quicker turn-around time, then I shoot digital.
The other thing to consider is how you share your images. If you want small prints to pass around with friends, then film is a great launching point. If you want to post pictures onto the internet, or through social media, then using film adds another step in the process. Digital can be like fast food, while film can be like a home cooked meal.
It is a curiosity in these days of digital, I guess. I pulled out my old Nikon FM2-T recently and have been rediscovering the power of deliberate image creation, not to mention the joys of a lighter, simple compact device. I live in New York City and dropped by Adorama, handling a film M for the first time. There is something suductively, powerfully tactile in handling such gems of mechanical engineering. I am considering the same (costly) leap and it’s no small decision, having invested heavily in Nikkors over many years and lately, in converted Leica R’s.
von Hayek— looks like you and I are in the same thought process… from a bunch of reading/budget and some unknown reason-km going for the M5-crazy thing is i never held it but have a 30 day return- if i have the feeling. I shoot with a fuji x100 and the M5 is only 1/2 inch wider… its like jumping out of the plane…
Very good overview. I just want to make one more point(s) for the two “middle” or last Wetzlar Leucas, the original M4 and the M5. Both were build by the most experienced staff of all classical (all brass/try and fit) Leicas and incorporate experience with building the M3/2 (M4) or even a decade of thought how to improve the M3 design (M5). The M5 is the heaviest of all Leicas, but holding it for three seconds you’ll have forgot it. I even like its tactile qualitie very much. Also it has probably the best user interface of all M’s with exposure times displayed in the viewfinder and the most practical exposure time setting wheel. Last but not least one special remark regarding the M4, if you have some cash to burn: It is probably the only classical black paint M one could dream of buy AND use – a good user (i.e. some brassing but not to bad and fully working) is about the same price as a used current model MP. Regards, Arnd
A good primer on M leicas. One thing you are missing: Leicavit/Rapidwinder, that great acessory of Tom Abrahamsson. I think it just tops off my M4-2. It is a steady handle, a tool for super quick film advance and an emergency tool if somebody is going to harrass you, just flip the small stilletto out and keep the leica so that it sticks out between your fingers… hehe. My other M leica is a double stroke M3, the glass pressure plate was news to me.. yes ! ablsoutely no scratches or marks after 40 years of usage. Now I remember to polish it with antistatic fluid… I have had my somewhat cloudy M3 finder replaced with factory new M4 finder. yes I have now 35mm frames in my M3… absolutely super… I think I will send it to dan Goldberg to be fitter with an Abrahamsson rapidwinder too…
The M5 is the one for me. It’s lighter than my Nikon F 2 and a joy to use. The big shutter speed dial overhanging the front is a great feature. Good solid rewind handle and I think it may be the easiest to load.. Balances a CV 35/1.2 better than my M3 too.
I’m about to get a M5. Someone is selling it for a very good price and it includes a Sumicron-m 35mm f2.
Do you think this is a good lens?
I’ve been using the M3 for almost 2 years now. I adore it. But recently, I’ve beginning to notice a big problem. It doesn’t focus closer than 1 metre. Or it doesn’t focus accurately closer than 1 metre and the framelines will be less accurate too. I’ve been doing a few more portraits on occassional and I’ve been missing a few because of the close focusing limitation. A small part of me is beginning to lean torward the M6.
There is also the other limitation of the flash; which is only relevant if you use it. Some people find the film loading mechanism annoying (since you have to remove the spindle to respool the film. And if you lose it, it is expensive to replace) But I don’t mind – however that might be because I’ve never owned a M6.
I bought my M3 System in 1963 with summilux, summicron and elmarit lenses. I now shoot digital but in special cases I do sepias and grays with the M3 just to feel the smooth zip of the ribbon shutter and enjoy the red glow and smell of the dark room. And those bulky Omega enlargers. What a way to spend a weekend! Except for some spider webs on the optics the lenses are still pretty sharp. I still have the original meter and visoflex but the tele that came with it (Canon M mount) is long gone.
Great page with lots of info!
Im currently looking to buy a Leica and I have my eyes for the M6, which I thought would be a nice entry model (like it is mentioned here).
My problem is that there are myriads of version. TTL, 0.72 etc etc and I was wondering which one would be best for my needs?
I will use it for street photography mostly, perhaps some portraits. So the lenses I will be using are 35, 50 and 85 maximum. Which of these Leica M6 would be a good fit for me?
Thanks in advance!
Nice read, but i noticed none of these have frame lines for 40mm lenses. I suppose one could just use the 35mm lines on the M3 and just guess where the 40mm lines would be. I say this because the only Leica lens i could probably afford would be the 40mm f/2 ‘cron. So i’d have to buy a body that would allow me to use this one. Suggestions?
Both CL and CLE show frame lines for 40mm lens. They are excellent petite RF cameras both under the brands of Leitz (Leica) and Minolta. It is definitely a joy to use. IMHO, It’s a miniature M7 if not better. I end up carrying along my CLE when out and about more often than my M9.
Having bought and sold (and shooting) with several RF cameras myself (including Leica IIIf, M2/3/6/7/9), I had never looked at the CL and CLE. The change came about when I had a chance to really examine a CLE. And after only a few days of shooting with it, I know this one is for keeps.
Been looking at an M4 and MP but the look of an M6J had me think twice!
I have a few leica M4 cameras, Two of the M4’s and one M4-2, The two lens I have are a 75mm 1.4 summilux and a 28mm minolta m-rokkor. These cameras where given to me, I’m new at film and new to leica’s. I was wondering how the Frame lines for these lens would work on these camera’s.. Is there view finder’s I would need to buy?? I would really like to start to shoot film with these camera’s Or should i just sell one camera and go buy a 50mm lens… I don’t know
It always irritates me to read another M7 vs. MP debate. Complaining about the electronics of the M7 as a deficiency is something never heard of when discussing digital cameras…including the Leica digital Ms. True that I’d never take my M7 out in the rain, but I wouldn’t do that with any of my other Leica bodies (M3, M8). Automatic shutter speeds shouldn’t be sniffed at in changing light situations. And who among us really thinks the M3-style rewind knob is superior/faster than the angled, lever-enhanced M7 (and M6) design? I certainly admire and respect the MP, but the M7 does have certain superior elements going for it…as does the MP against the M7.
Also, it should be mentioned that the M6, M7 and MP all come with viewfinder options of .58, .72. and .85 magnification. This is of special importance for those who either shoot wide, or normal “plus”. My favourite 2 body combination would be an M3 (for 50, 90, and 135mm lenses), along with a .58 M6, M7 or MP. That way, one has the widest range possible for rangefinder viewing without an external viewfinder. Just something else to consider in the purchase decision.
I like your comment. Well, actually the second part of it.
The M7 is just too expensive for what it does (aperture priority) and it came too late. If you want aperture priority for your M mount lenses, just get a Minolta CLE, which was around 20 years before Leica bothered to introduce the M7, get that serviced and you have the same in a smaller package, cheaper and just as capable. Sure, the 40mm versus 35/50mm argument remains, but both the Leitz and the M-Rokkor 40mm are as good as the Summicrons for 35/50mm and it doesn’t hurt to step back or forward to get the same field of view.
But that’s the whole point, right? In the end, it’s not about whether you want digital versus film or metered versus unmetered. If you shoot an M camera, it’s all about the lenses. The camera itself is nothing more than a box necessary to record the image, but true Leica photographers buy Leica for the Leica lenses, so their first choice is which lenses they want, then they choose the body that matched the other preferences best. The viewfinder magnification is probably the most important preference as you mentioned.
My M combination is a Minolta CLE currently used with a 40mm (saving up for a Leica 28mm) and a Leica M3 with a Summicron DR 50mm.
For 28mm, there is probably no M mount camera more comfortable to shoot with than the CLE.
As for the CL: forget that crappy overpriced camera and go for the CLE instead. Both are not “true” Leica cameras, both have been produced and designed by Minolta on behalf of Leica, the CL is more expensive for the wrong reason: it says Leica on it.
I haven’t tried the Zeiss M mount bodies yet, I hear they are nice too. I tried the Voigtlaender Bessa bodies and they feel cheap. I don’t like them.
Mp all life long
My favorite is my M3-MOT. Next would be my M4-P which is an M6 without the meter.
Next is my IIIF with CV 21mm lens. Sorry it’s not an M – but it hangs around with M cameras all the time!
Where to start? I use a M7 with the 0.58 finder for the 28mm/2.8. And a Leicavit. Thats ideal. Second-hand its a bargain but always buy a near-mint example thats only seen amateur use. Be careful to test the on-off switch. The classic M6 is a great camera – possibly the best user Leica of all, and a great back-up to the M7.
M4 / M3 / M2 are beautiful machines, but its getting harder to fix the shutter curtains when they detatch – and detatch they will – they are 50 years old now. But nice to use at home perhaps.
And finally -There is zero point using ‘other brand’ lenses on a Leica M. The value of Leica is the glass and the very tight film plane tolerances, hence film flatness in the gate. The Leitz asph. glass is mindboggling in the tonal detail that sets it apart from any other lenses. Nothing else comes close.
Great lenses are the 28mm/2.8 Elmarit, 35mm/2 Summicron [pre-asph], 35mm/1.4 Summilux asph. The earlier 60s Summicron glass can be very nice for portraits and on digital, Im told. It has a softer feel. Cheaper than a Noctilux.
whoa! My brain is burning, I’ve been reading the history of the Leica, The TAO of Leica, and Ken Rockwell’ article on Leica lens and now this article. Also I’ve been on ebay where I was overwhelmed buy the variety – I found a M6 with a Elmarit M 28mm lens for a $1,050, another M with a Summilux M 35mm ASPH lens for $5,000, a black KE-7A Military with a 50mm Elcan f2 for $11,999, and finally a titanium M9 limited edition with a 35mm f1.4 M ASPH mint condition in box bid at $32,000 or buy it now at $41,600. Which one to buy??? I don’t know if a Leica is a dream or a nightmare!
I’ve always been a Nikon guy. I still have my original F with a 28mm, and 85mm lens that I bought in 1970 when I was stationed in Japan. I also have all the goodies you could get with like the popup finder, multiple viewing screens, macro bellows and more. After returning stateside I purchased two motorized FE’s with the macro 55mm, the 35-85mm zoom and the 80-200zoom. I also went large format 4×5 and 8×10 for a while as I was still completing my degree in art. I earned part of my living with them for ten years or so then I went down another fork in the road and hardly shot any photos at all. A few years ago I was forcefully retired so I got out my 4×5 Wista and began to renew my skill, but large format is difficult. I wasn’t having much fun. I wanted a small rangefinder camera to carry around. In fact I just bought two – a Yashica GSN and a Canonet QL17 GIII, the poor mans Leica’s. But down at the gallery I met a friend and he had a Leica M. Now I want one…. I’m adrift in a sea of Leicas on a limited income. Oh woe is me! What now?
Leica M4-2- dependable, handles well, not too expensive.
I also have a Soviet ‘Mir’ camera which is very good, and you can use Leitz lenses on it, or vice versa with an adapter.
I’m looking to invest in a Leica, yet to decide which. Likely this will take some time, however can anyone give me any pointers on what to look out for re. potential problems with second hand bodies.
I’m fairly comfortable performing some straight forward repairs, so I wouldn’t be overly bothered by buying a damaged or faulty body – provided that I can source parts or repair them, and obviously locate a service manual. (repaired a couple of leaf shutters, including a rare copal 2 sized one).
A few years ago I bought a pair of Leica M4-P cameras. I had looked at one in a dealers in 1984 when they were current. Unable to afford one then. So, after a legacy in 2006 I bought two and a Leica MD2. This latter is permanently paired with a 21mm f3.4 Super Angulon. This is the second version of the 21. I see now that we are on the fifth version that has reverted to f3.4! I managed to get a 21mm finder cheap as it’s been dropped. Crack up the centre, but it’s the edges that matter with a super-wide. Great in cities. The two M4-P bodies have 25mm f4 Skopar, 40mm f2 Summicron and 90mm f4 Elmar. Teamed with a Leicameter MR4 and a VC 40mm viewfinder, these fit neatly into a black Billingham Hadley Original bag. Very discreet in use, especially in urban areas and on public transport. The bag just about disappears if I wear black or dark clothing. Can strongly recommend these bags, especially in black – khaki with tan trim looks nice but does SHOUT! Be warned. Fil, notebook, pens etc and that’s it. Bag is not heavy and a delight to use.
Never had anyone take any notice of me with the M4-Ps in action.
For me the Leica M4 was the best leica. It had all the best bits from the M2 and M3 with lots of improvements too. Some say the M3 was Leica’s best, but I didn’t like the frame lines, it’s frosted glass framelines window (M2/M4/M4-2/M6 etc gave brighter frame lines with it’s light capturing freznel-type window, which I’ve also saw used inside of Arriflex) or it’s looks. I also liked the M4-2 and M4-p which shouldn’t be dismissed due to the fact that some of the improvements and cut back were carried on into the M6 so essentially the M6 is a M4-2 with a meter. The M4-2’s satin black chrome is so much nicer than black paint which looks awful after a time, unless your one of these who likes loads of brassing to show your a hardcore user.
I have an MP and M7. Both are great cameras, but the M7 is the camera I take everywhere with me. The electronics were obviously made by Bob the builder, and have let me down once or twice by doing their own light show when I needed to just take a shot. But, quirks aside, I love it. The MP is beautiful, but the M7 feels REALLY solid and the electronic shutter is very quiet in use.
It’s just so cool that this has been getting posts for two years now. So here’s mine:
I have an M6 – with the .72 finder and an M2. The M2 is actually excellent for 50mm if you were glasses. Of course you also get 35mm lines, so it is more versatile than an M3. I mainly use a 28mm Zeiss with the M6. I use a 50mm and a 21mm with an external finder on the M2.
I found my perfect camera a few years back, it’s a Leica MDa. I use it with a 3.5cm f3.5 Summaron lens and the SBLOO 35mm viewfinder. The finder gives me a brilliant image and very precise framing. The MDa is based on the M4 so it has the fabulous build quality of that camera but without the delicate range/viewfinder mechanism. This makes it both lighter and far more rugged. I liked the MDa so much I bought a second body to avoid having to chain films while out shooting.
As each body has a strap already on it, it’s a couple of seconds to change lens and finder over. People are amazed that rather than carry a camera body and a couple of lenses, I carry a lens and a couple of bodies. Btw, I can recommend the Billingham Combination bag M for Leica. I have the Khaki one and it carries 2 bodies (one with lens) Weston Master V + Invercone, 4 rolls of film, small brush and the front zippered compartment carries a Mulberry Agenda diary/organiser and pens etc. Bag is pricy but once bought, can be enjoyed. All the best.
I agree with Murray. By far, Leica MDa! I also have two camera bodies. Wonderful when combined with Visoflex II or III for macro or astrophotography.
Leitz should consider making a digital MDa.
I have owned many M bodies since 1973, the CL, M4-P, M7, M3, M2, MDA, M8 and M9. I have also tried the M 240. My first choice M is the M9. I see no benefit to the M 240. I would rather spend the money on lenses.
For shooting film, I own a Konica Hexar RF and Minolta CLE, both of which are better bodies than their contemporary Leica equivalents, the M7 and CL. I have owned two M7 bodies and both were extremely unreliable.
I’ve been using Leica M’s since the early 1980’s. These days I use an M9, not perfect, but a basic picture making machine, when compared to many modern cameras.
However my favourite is an MP with an .85 finder, much better with my favourite 50mm. Meanwhile Leica continue to come up with bloody collectables !
Bought a banged up (lots of little bangs and scratches and torn leathering) but serviced and great-working M2 with an Elmarit 90mm 2.8 (the old thin one, made in germany with leather band at the end) for 450€. Sounded like a great deal to me and the dealer even threw in a Leicameter MR. But i rarely need it and in case i do, there’s an app for that. :)
Thanks for the helpful article!
What’s the app for it pls ?
My favourite M is the M6J with the small Elmar. Build like or even better than an MP ( it the the father of the MP, the first one wich renew with one piece arm lever, the first one wich renew with chromed brass for top and base plate, the one sith an unique and funky retractable lenz with serial number matched to the body, the first one with 0.85 view finder, the first new one with the leica signature engraved on top, the one with just a 50mm frame line, build with a lot of effort in quality….) still affordable, with the ultimate M3 window look, but with a light metter, and fully mecanic.
A piece of history, now not anymore for collector but for photographer.
I have the M3 and I love it so much, I don’t want another model. I’m quite satisfied. And, I use it a lot. I have no complaints.
My favorite Leica (sort of) is the CL. It’s small size, viewfinder & meter make it the film camera I use the most. I have a clean 28mm M-Rokkor mounted on it most of the time, although the f2 40mm is an incredible lens also. With this camera & lenses, plus my Ricoh GXR-M, I can shoot nearly anything.
If shooting film, any Leica M body would be a good choice. Rather than obsess about which is the best one to buy, identify what features you really must have and buy an M body that has the features you need at a price you can afford.
Over the years I have used Leica CL, Leica M2, M3, M4-P and M7 bodies, starting in 1974. The CL suffered from meter failure and my two M7 bodies from multiple DX reader, meter and LCD failures. The pair of M7s were without doubt the most unreliable cameras I have ever owned.
While my two M7 bodies were at Solms being repaired for the final time, which took some weeks, I bought a Minolta CLE and a Konica Hexar RF. I still have them today.
The 1980 CLE is a much improved CL (which was also made by Minolta under contract to Leitz) with advanced features that did not see the light of day in the Leica range until the 2002 M7; aperture priority AE, off-the-film metering and TTL auto flash control (although the 1998 M6 TTL had that). It is a lovely camera to use and the 40mm f/2 M-Rokkor is, like the 40mm f/2 Summicron M, a superlative lens.
The Konica Hexar RF is the camera that the Leica M7 should have been. Unlike the M7, it is robust and reliable. It offers a 1/4000 sec fastest shutter speed which is ideal for using fast lenses wide open in daylight. The M7, like all film M bodies, really struggles to give a true 1/1000 sec, even when new. The best you can expect reliably from any Leica M film body is about 1/700 sec..
I bought a second Hexar RF and sold my M7 bodies. I have never regretted this; to me, Leica shooting is all about the lenses and I want the most reliable M body with the best features, not necessarily the one with the Leica branding. I am sad that Minolta could not develop the Konica Hexar RF any futher, and bitterly disappointed that Sony disposed of most of the spares after taking over the failing Konica Minolta camera line, but I keep faith with my Hexar RF and CLE while also owning a near mint Leica M4-P.
If shooting digital, Bellamy’s advice (see article) is very sound. I shoot with an M9 and am considering what to replace it with. My most often used lens is a 35mm f/2 Summicon version 4, but if my favourite was the 28mm focal length I would not hesitate to abandon the M range and buy a Leica Q. It is the wrong focal length for me, but that aside it is probably the best full frame digital camera Leica has yet made.
I like Bellamy’s flow-chart type analysis, but here is my take:
The Leica M3 is the purist’s camera and a good choice if you’re the kind of person that likes beautiful cameras but can also put up with its ‘olde worlde’ film change procedure and 90% shoot 50mm. I don’t like the double strokers; it’s a personal thing. They cost less than they should.
The M2 is a simplified M3. The finder is a little busy with framelines and some call it flare-prone (I don’t), but the camera has a charm to it. This camera lends itself well to artistic refurbishment projects. It also has a 35mm finder, but the M3 is best for fast fifties. These were once a cheap option, but I have seen prices rise a lot in recent years.
The M4 classic is the last of the brass-tops. This is the camera to buy if you want hand-built perfection and all-manual exposure but want a half-way simple film loading procedure. This was my choice.
The M4-2 is neither hand-built engraved brass like the earlier cameras, nor does it have a meter. Buy this only if you see a crazy low price and don’t need a meter.
The M6/M7 have simple light meters, but I prefer the M6 non-TTL. Few modern Leica users use flash, let alone TTL flash so why pay a significant premium for it? If 28mm isn’t needed, the M6 0.85x is pretty optimal. My friends with M7s have had horror stories of expensive repairs and the black finish isn’t bullet-proof. On a regular camera this is no biggie, but the M7 is a prestige camera and many users find scratches make them physically sick.
The M5 is a strange beast. Like anchovies on your pizza, you either love it or hate it. 80% of people I know can’t stand them. The other 20% rates them above all other cameras in the world. I’m in the majority, here.
The CL is an alternative option with a meter, but I bought the CLE instead as I find it more modern in every way and better to focus. Both models are tiny and light weight. My CLE serves as a pocket Leica with a low-profile collapsing lens.
I personally don’t rate the digitals very highly; at least not as highly as most leicaphiles do. I own a M240, but I prefer my Sony A7R, even using Leica M lenses. The M240 is big, heavy and feels like the Leica equivalent of the Nikon Df to me. The M9 is similar but you need two cups of Kool-Aid to convince yourself that it’s worth the asking price in today’s market.
The M8 and 8.2 are quirky, being crop frames and I can only see myself buying this to shoot near IR. Google all about this before you buy. Don’t buy just because they’re ‘cheap’. They’re not cheap to anyone but a Leicaphile, but if you do, buy the M8 because the 8.2 advantages don’t outweigh the price differential.
The other Leicas I don’t know all that well. As for the non-Leica M mount bodies:
I have owned three Konica RFs and still own one. It makes sense on paper to have a motor wind, but I can’t abide it. I keep trying like a bad marriage and I’ll stick with her, but … I can’t bring myself to actually use the camera and just keep it around the house as a backup.
The Bessas are good and functional, but they suffer from a hereditary fault: They were originally based on the generic SLR body design that was the Cosina CT-1 that was the basis of the cameras that they OED’d for Nikon (FM10), Canon T60, Olympus (OM-2000) and many others once these brands had pretty much given up on film and wanted to milk the last few dollars out of the more frugal SE Asian markets with the cheapest possible camera that would work with their lens mounts. The problem is Cosina simply replaced the pentaprism with a rangefinder and that bodge didn’t lend itself to a long baselength because they couldn’t run the optical path for the RF patch window through the shutter mechanism. It was a stroke of marketing genius; with minimal R&D and new tooling, they made cheap rangefinders, the Bessa L (which I own), T and then the R. These all used screwmount so their lenses could be used with all other Leica screw and M bodies. However, surprisingly none of the subsequent M-mount models fixed this major flaw.
The R2 was better built, but still no Leica. I haven’t owned one, but I have the Rollei 35 RF, which is a rebranded R2 in yucky wee-wee yellow. The only reason for owning it is the rarity of the camera body and 40mm kit lens. I also have the quirky R2S in Nikon S mount. Later, Cosina brought out the R2A with an electronic shutter and aperture priority. They then re-released the R2 as the R2M anniversary edition, which sounds like a more expensive way of buying the older R2. If you are on a budget and shoot no wider than 35mm, then the R2 an OK choice, but you can probably buy a Leitz/Minolta CLE for that price so compare the two before buying.
The R4A and R4M are the cameras of choice for shooting ultrawides in Leica M mount. The built in finder has 21mm framelines! Framelines go up to 50mm, but if you are silly enough to use fast fifty up close with a camera with a short baselength and 50% magnification, you’ll find you’d be better off with scale focus than the RF patch. It’s a specialist tool; If you only need to go to 28mm, buy the Zeiss Ikon ZM.
If you want to focus accurately, the R3A and R3M have better EBL by virtue of their 1:1 magnification finder, but it’s still not up to Leica’s focussing accuracy. Note the finder only offers (40/50/75/90) framelines and the 37mm EBL is usable but sub-par for an M body… not that a rangefinder is ideal for close up portraiture anyway. If like me, you are a practical shooter, doing daylight street photography I’ll take the Bessa’s life-size magnification over the Leica’s 35% more accurate focussing any day of the week!
For me the pinnacle of the M mount world is the Zeiss Ikon ZM. Yes, it’s battery dependent and made of aluminium under a paint skin that chips, but batteries are small, cheap and easy to find. In all other respects, it beats the M7. M7 users I show it to are swayed by its far superior finder (<-flame fodder) and the price is less than an M7 factory shutter repair. If only it had a Nikon FM3A type electronic-mechanical shutter mechanism, it would be perfection. I own one in every colour (black and silver).
Maybe another time, we can discuss Leica screw-mount cameras. I am much more focussed on screw mount cameras than M-mount cameras.
Of course, all our debate and information does little to help the new buyer to pick his ideal camera. All our opinions differ because everyone has their own sense of the ideal camera. Leicas and Leica aficionados are even more prone to this than most.
Even if we decide on which camera suits us best, preferences change over time; our priorities change, even the kind of photography that we do changes.
The solution is to hunt about for a good deal on a camera in good condition. The difference between models is a lot less than we make out. Try out a few models if you can but just buy a camera (any camera) and use it a lot; let the camera affect the direction your photography is going in. Find out what you would rather change about it and what model would better suit you, because most people who buy a camera end up buying another later.
The beauty with Leicas is that if you buy a common model and maintain it in a similar condition to when you bought it, you are unlikely to lose much money selling or trading it.
The trick is not to buy a camera that needs work only to find it needs more work than it’s worth spending. For this reason, it makes sense to buy from a trusted and knowledgeable seller, such as Bellamy.
@ZDP-189 Let’s talk screw mount cameras ;)
Seriously, we need this sort of insight article.
My back to film camera was a Canon P and 50/1.4 and soon realised that old screwmount lenses produced characterful images and were universally compatible with both screw mount and M mount bodies. I ended up falling in love with Barnack cameras and progressed to other unique models from other brands and amassed a noteworthy collection of Canons. I plan to do two articles: a general overview of LTM cameras and another on Canons, but that’s for another time. The site also needs an article on Leica Barnacks, but I have only 2 and wouldn’t presume to be an authority on that topic so I’ll leave that one to Bellamy.
Just recently I’ve been tempted by a secondhand M8. After all, I have a few lenses that will fit on it? However, I’ve come to my senses. These digital Leicas are OK for someone able to buy them new and have the benefit of the full warranty. So many people are saying that if it packs up, you’re left with a paperweight! So, if buying used, keep to the manual film cameras and avoid the M7. At least they can be serviced and repaired.
I’m pretty sure that an article like this will never please everyone but I did enjoy it.
I came to Lieca last year. They were always out of reach and a pinnacle of camera and lens design. My first fix was a iiic which I got cheap but it wasn’t perfect and had a few issues but I loved shooting with it.
I then got a iiif which , this is my pocket street shooter and I totally love it, I got a 35 f3.5 and a nikkor 5cm 1.4 LTM.
Then last month I went to Tokyo and bought a M5 with a Ziess 35 f2 and it is my main shooter, in my opinion a wonderful camera and an end of an era for Leica . I tried all the film M’s and for my money (I got a excellent condition later serial #) I couldnt be happier .
I’m glad they aren’t popular otherwise it would have cost me double. I think I have found my Leica and I enjoy shooting film even more .
A few guys have mentioned the Barnack Leicas. I saw one in the window of a dealer in York (GB). For £300 I got a 111 (slow speeds and top speed of 500), 5cm f2 Summar, leather case, 5cm external viewfinder, a close-up device and a Leica manual dated 1947 – The Leica Way – Matteson.
I use this camera as a very discreet street shooter. For those new to Leicas, these are quite a bit smaller than Ms and I’ve made a wrist strap out of thick cord stitched onto the strap lug. I zone focus using the DofF scales to around 15 feet, lens well stopped down. Keep it in my coat pocket, walking along until I see an interesting person walking towards me. Camera comes out, up to my eye, click and back in my pocket. And keep walking. Been doing this for a couple of years now. Never had any problems. Even took a lot of shots at the Bicester Designer Outlet near Oxford recently where there are security guards on some of the shops, e.g. Prada, Dior, D&G, etc
and never as much as a glance. Want to start Street Photography? Try.
Over the years I’ve owned an M2, M3 and M6 but always hankered after an M4 so, after a recent small windfall one had to be acquired with the lens I wanted-a late silver chrome Elmar-M 50/2.8-and now I have my all time dream camera/lens combo.My M4 feels just so much nicer than any other M I have owned or used and is truly a beautifully built machine that
goes everywhere I do.Absolute perfection for me.
I may as well join the conversation.
To me the leica m5 is really a great shooter, I have had an m2 before, but the m5 Just let’s me take photos.
Having a light meter, and that overhanging shutter dial is great, and really everything else is the same as all the rest of the m cameras.
Bought mine broken and took it apart, fixed it like new, so now I have a certain relationship with it.
But they are all lovely really.
I am looking to buy an M3, M4, or M6. probably an excellent M3 is my first choice. I live in sapporo Japan so i thought best to but from a Japanese seller. Can you recommend a dealer?
Actually, I’m from austria and i really like cameras especially Leica’s. I own a leica ii and i thought that it would give me that feeling of a leica but it doesnt, so i want a leica m analogue camera. I have about 1200-1600€ to spend plus a lens. I know its not a lot when you want to biy a leica but if you could help me to find one it would be amazing. I hope you can give me some advice or you know some good websites which sell leica m cameras worldwide. But i dont want a leica m5 or m7. thanks in advance… i hope you write me back. greetings,Leon
Is there anyone who may have tried the Leica C ?
As it is under 700 $ I am a bit worried. Comments welcome please !
Totally agree :
Best reliable M mount for shooting : ZEISS IKON ZM
SECOND CHOICE : M3 for fun
THIRD CHOICE : MINOLTA CLE
LAST CHOICE : ROLLEI 35 RF
Lenses : Zeiss ZM, planar 50, Biogon 35, Biogon C 21/4’5, Leica Tele Elmarit 90/2’8
21 with external viewfinder.
Nice camera, no problem now, fast shooter. Stupid DX, we dont need, stupid batteries, most of Leica stores dont have !!!
If we want a safe shooter, this is it !
But, BW film with external meter or nornal meter, one meter reading before shooting, fixing speed, aperture before, as f 8, 125s, 4 meters, all things in focus, … just shoot, what is the interest of metering body, or automatic body on a RF ?
I got a 1949 Leica III F, with a f2 summitar. Pretty basic gear, found in Amazon. It’s amazing how the photos I took look old, but super bright… I will be posting in my ig account some of the shots
Ok so here’s a stupid question : how does the light meter works on a Leica ?
For example I shot with a Canon Ftb and it’s a super simple “put the needle in the circle” system (wich is awesome imo)
Can Someone compare it to that to explain ?
Also I am looking for the most simple and instinctive Leica, which one would you recomend ?
“if you’ve got money to burn get an MP” – come on mate, Leicas are the cheapest cameras on the planet. I bought my MP new 10 years ago for gbp1800; it’s worth more than that now. There’s a capital commitment but minimal depreciation.
To be fair this articles was written quite a while ago. You are quite right.
The one Leica M not mentioned is the M1. This is a really brilliant M. No frills, not even a rangefinder, but a wonderfully bright viewfinder with frames for 50mm and 35mm lenses, for use with a 35mm lens it is just about the perfect camera; all the build quality of a classic M fast and simple to use what more could you want?
About Leica M choice, we must be clear ! Leica will not change your pictures, but it will change your portable gear, your way to photography. I explain, a Leica M is a small camera and lenses are little. Why ? Rangefinder saves mirror and pentaprism, also, the way to focus, look at the image from viewfinder. Image quality ? Whaou, wide debate, but using a Leica, Zeiss or other gem you have nearly the best lenses on earth and compact. There is other rangefinder as the Rollei 35 RF a great one with one of best metter, or a Zeiss Ikon great one, better than a M6, but, but, … The Leica touch, … When you have a Leica M in your hands, nothing compare, I have own all cameras and Leica provides the best touch because it is very very well made : brass, … Except a few one. Brass is a noble material. And the making … This is at the same level than top mechanical swiss watch. So with a Leica you have the best. So which one ? For me there is 2 choices meter or no meter.
– meter : Leica M6 classic (forget M7 this is a mess, I dont use mine)
– no meter : the king the M3, I only use M3 now, this is a gorgeous camera. It is not the cheapest but not the most expensive. I love it. Just try one. If you prefer 35mm lenses go for one M2. I use my M3 with a Voigtlander Super Heliar 15/4’5 mk 2 with external viewfinder, a Summicron-C 40/2, a Canon LTM 50/1’4 and a Leica Tele Elmarit 90/2’8, my M3 is a black one n 1134138 simple stroke all the combo is not so expensive. Weight : less than 1,5 kg, and a little bag enough (I use a Harddley Pro from Billingham in black). Lenses : outsanding from 2’8 to 11. The 40 mm it is ok because it is nearly all the viewfinder outside lines, just see larger than 50. Metering : sunny 16 rule or hand meter !!! Efficiency, pleasure, history, and great results, we walk on the foot prints of HCB.
This is really awesome. Thanks for giving us such a article to choose what is the best for us.
But for the group that would like to own a Leica the overriding feeling seems to be one of confusion. What do you choose? There are so many options out there for you, but what is the right one? Which camera suits you? This is a difficult question to answer properly, as there are so many factors involved.