Why Leica (M)?

October 13, 2013  •  4 Comments
I don't know if that has to do anything with the fact that first camera ever I was given to shoot was a rangefinder. Sure, it was a "copy" of the "original", my Dad's Russian made Zorki...

Chrome  body with 50 lens and full leather case. Smell of that leather I count as one of "the smells from my childhood". I struggled with that camera to make it in focus. For a teenage kid, rushing to press the shutter button it was unbearable to "wait" and line up that "double image" in the little "window"... But I did it! And I photographed my first celluloid images with that camera...

After Zorki, many other cameras came in to my bag, some stayed longer some not. I was a "Canon guy", then "Nikon guy", then "Hasselblad  guy", then "Nikon guy"... You get the picture. 

My "second encounter" with rangefinder type of camera was with Hasselblad's xPan. I loved that machine! Two lenses only (45 and 90 mm, on two bodies) that's it. I took it with me all around, my perfect travel gear.  I still wish it will come back in to this century as "digital reincarnation" but seeing in which direction the company is heading with latest products, I doubt it will EVER happen. 

When I was a young photographer, one of the first names I learned was "Leica". But, I was never able to get it. Always "out of reach"... I don't think  I even held a little Leica in my little hands until I emigrated to Canada in early 90s. One of the first "things of business" once in Toronto was to go to Alt's and "feel the brass" of German tradition. But,  my professional carrier and style of shooting never led me to Leica M in all my "analog years". 

Once digital became reality, I left film for good. I don't own a film based camera any more except for my father's Zorki. Don't use it for sure.  "Work horse" cameras were here. Big lenses, small lenses, shift lenses, zoom lenses. But, I needed/wanted a different kind of tool. The gear that I can have with me at any time (traveling or spending time with family), that would be small enough not to be a burden. A digital camera that can deliver great results in situations when I needed it. The lens and body or two combo that would not scare away my subjects, while shooting at unknown places. Great lenses. Rangefinder.

Leica M8 came out. Digital rangefinder. Revelation! Is it possible? They were saying "yes"... I got one. The copy I got was a lemon (famous "issues" you can read about elsewhere). Mandatory UV/IR filters came as well. My first body was replaced with the "good one". Then the lenses came along. First modestly "zm" and "VC" until I found great internet deals on used Leica glass. I got the second M8 as well. My "all around kit" was reborn! 
Even with all known shortcomings of first digital M, I was able to create hundreds of personal and stock images that would not exist for a simple fact that at the given moment I would not have had my big Canon (or Nikon) with me. 

Thru out my carrier as a Director of Photography I was fortunate enough to travel to exciting and distant locations. Carrying professional video gear was "load" enough, so having a pro level (still photography) DSLR gear was out of question. Digital Leica M was/is the perfect solution. Every moment possible when not looking thru (video camera) viewfinder, my eye is on a Leica's rangefinder. 

Some of that  you can see in series of my books at Blurb.

Every new generation of Leica M digital brought more and more versatility. M9, the full frame sensor and better sensitivity. New M (Typ240), video capability and live view (and possibility to use other type of lenses on M body). But, when I got new M I did not rush to mount any big-ass lenses on puny M body. No desire. I don't see that as (this camera's) purpose. What I rushed to try out was "new" rangefinder focusing. That, I found improved over the previous digital Ms. That, I love. Better high ISO is great. Not a revelation (I shoot 80% of my work on base level) but good to have when needed. Battery life is improved. That I like. File size/resolution is at my "sweet spot" of 24mp, so my computer doesn't get "chocked up" digesting it. Possibility of properly framing lenses wider than 28mm (when framing is critical) with help of EVF is great. The same goes for properly framing tele lenses, if 100% accurate framing is needed. What I especially like is the fact that the newest Digital M "feels" the same in my hands (dressed up in Luigi's "flap" leather half case) as the first one. I am not picky about the minor thickness difference.

My Leica M lens kit is modest, comparing to some. Minuscule even, comparing to all new "Leica aficionados" that are flooding numerous Leica group pages on Social Media with snap shots of tree tops and pets, done with fastest possible optics ever made. I don't own Noctilux, sorry. Don't get me wrong! I would love to have it in my bag. But, at this moment I can't (i am open to donations, of course!). At the same time, I get by just fine with basic layout of 15, 21, 28, 35, 50 and 75 mm lenses. It is a fine mix of Leica brand with some "spice" of Zeiss and Voightlander. Both my M9 and New M can work magic with these focal lengths. When I use Leica digital rangefinders I have no need for zooms, and other "specialty" glass. I see the world around me in "primes". There is something unexplainable when I mount my old 50/1.4 Lux on Leica M: it just "fits" like no other DSLR and the same focal length. Same for 35/2.0. Yes, I have 15 and 21. Both are needed since I shoot extensively (travel) architecture and interiors. And that tiny Voightlander 15/4.5 is so hard to pass. Even with all post production needed after, the versatility and usability of that "micro" wide is worth it. It was a permanent lens on cropped sensor (one of my M8s had it on, all the time!). With full sensor, it is a "must glass" in my bag for any serious shooting. 

For portrait "department", I am on Summarit 75mm. I had 75/1.4 for a few years. I found that lens to be just like a Super Model: so beautiful when all "done up" with perfect make up, perfect wardrobe, and with all entourage, in ideal advertising campaign. Meaning, I missed too many shots because of finicky focus shift, too heavy to be on camera all the time. Too exotic and too bulky to be in the travel kit 100% of the time. On the other side, little Summarit is with me all the time. Got hundreds perfect shots with it. Never missed a focus! And you could argue the "look" of one against the other. But, as I mentioned before: I look thru my Leica more in focal lengths only rather than what "look" particular focal length will produce comparing one "tele" to other lens of a same type. I needed small and accurate 75mm, and Summarit was better fit. I could not keep both. One of each, otherwise I would "morph" in a collector rather then photographer and again in my bag there is room only for one 75. Lens is there to be used and to produce, if it stays home on the shelf and I am in Amazon Forrest shooting, it is just a glass ashtray left at home. An expensive ashtray!

Digital Imaging technology is rushing. No, make it speeding. Life span of the gear is becoming increasingly shorter with every new x-mas. Even just looking at professional video gear advances, makes me nauseous... Other camera brands are trying hard to get the piece of action from Leica. Some better than others. One man can't have it all! Options are numerous. But, being an "old school" guy who started in prehistorical age of analog photography, I always wanted to shoot with Leica. I waited for digital to come around and get my Leica. Yes, system is not perfect and IT WILL NEVER BE PERFECT. If you want the latest and greatest "menu options" and features, pass Leica. The most megapixel? The best video features? Not Leica again. Rangefinder concept is not for everybody. But, I find I will be using my already "mature" Leica M9 far longer than any other DSLR. Same with Leica M (Typ240). With Digital Leica M, I have no need for more stuff to be part of the features. If not, I like less.

I just need optical rangefinder (hope it will stay on with any other new generation of "M"), M mount, great quality files, same physical size, proper build quality and reliability. Red Dot and all.

I got all from Leica M. 


How do you choose the best choose the best product among the ones listed here?
I use a lovely Zorki 4 from more than 30 years... after a recent CLA is still 100% reliable and it is a pleasure to use together with a small Industar 22. I have also a Fed 2 and a Zorki 6 as a "backup" cameras, all nice. So, I don't need the "German" clone... Zorki are so fun, so cheap, so great that I won many prizes with these humble cameras. Open eyes and an opened mind are more important than camera model! When I was a boy, a professional photographer suggest me: Spend 95% of your money buying books of great masters and 5% about cameras and lenses!
I've got one of those Zorkis. That leather smells like heaven... And yes, nothing compares to the tranquility of shooting/owning a Leica. Yet, one should be able to afford it! ;)
Wonderful images !!!
Your images are inspiring me on so may ways.
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