What is it about Leica rangefinders that inspire countless photographers to create wonderful images?
You become one with the image your soul sees, without gimmicks to distract it.
I don’t know, but I felt it at 17 when a high school classmate showed me his M3 in 1959. I had been using a Kodak Retina IIC, a fine camera, but with a minimizing, greenish, relatively dim viewfinder. I think, when I looked through the bright, oh so bright viewfinder of my friend’s M3, I might have gasped. I saved my money and bought one and proceeded to become spoiled by the beautiful images from the DR Summicron. I don’t know. There’s something about a Leica.
Or perhaps it was my dad’s Leica Model A with collapsible f3.5 Elmar, later modernized by Leica Wetzlar for the price now charged for a Leica lens cap. Over 80 years old and still in perfect working order. I hope I’ll be able to say the same for myself.
Tactile feel and ergonomics for me! I have owned an M6, MM and currently own the Zeiss Ikon. It comes to small aspects and essentially if the build, controls and detail is aligned you will get more from your photography. Simply because you will seek out your camera and want to use it….as opposed to just owning!
Zeiss v Leica…..the Leica based on how it feels in the hand. Though in my opinion the Ikon has some positives over the Leica. 1/2000 SS. It’s lighter weight ironically! Though that nice solid feeling of the M6 is also a plus…I know…sounds crazy.
Finally I think it should be not underestimate the history Leica M bodies have. They were used by historic photographers and created historic images. People naturally like being part of that heritage and experience the equipment that is associated with this.
Ironically Peter, you are also the owner of “the other” iconic camera over time in the Nikon SLRs – Titan, FM, FM2, etc in the modern day Df…..!!
No longer… hence the 50 ‘lux ASPH you see in the image above.
Would love to see some film pics with the M3 and the 50 Lux 🙂
Plenty of examples of that combination posted on this site — explore at your leisure. Here are some examples:
And one very special one to me, though an M2 was used:
Ahh…wasn’t sure as thought it might be older image. I did wonder that for a moment thought it just might be the lux back.
Yeah not surprised…great sensor but would hardly think it’s a bonding experience in the ergonomic sense with the Df after spending so long with the Ms.
Great sensor in the Df. But was I inspired to take the camera everywhere I go?
Agree regarding the 1/2000 SS of the Zeiss Ikon ZM and don’t forget that huge bright viewfinder! Prefer the weight of the Leica in hand though.
I am not a Leica user but from my other experiences, I know that that these things cannot be quantified, cannot be explained in simple terms. I use Zeiss glass and somehow it feels spiritual to me. Same would be true for Leica only at a higher level (probably).
It is such a beautiful camera, and a joy to use… except for the focusing limit of 1 metre, and the lack of a meter. It will be interesting to see the new M-A, and how close it gets to the feeling of the M3. Still, fine copies of the M3 in full working order are a relative Leica “bargain” for the quality they exude. Like a vintage car or watch.
It’s so true, there is definitely a bit of magic in those Leica rangefinders, certainly it’s not something I’ve truly been able to find in any other camera I’ve used. Each to their own I guess.
In my humble experience, never tried a system that addict so much as the Leica M system.
I have a 1957 M3 and it is the only camera I have ever used that has that “magic” or a “soul” so to speak. Maybe it is thinking about where the camera has been, or who has used it, or the photos it has made in the past, but for me personally it inspires me to try and make that magic happen myself.
Design. Ergonomics, simplicity, materials.
Demands/invites partnership between the photographer and the machine. Each does its/his/her part elegantly and cooperatively. Neither overpowers the other.
The rangefinder joy, I think, comes from the mechanics of rangefinder focusing. The rangefinder brings disparate images together at the hand, eye, and whim of the photographer. Control, discovery, and aha….together at last.
Leica screw mount and M cameras are variations on this theme…each with a trick or two but not deviating from the basics.
Misnamed really. Not a rangefinder so much as a harmony and beauty finder.
Are you going to stock up on M9’s Peter?
I’m going to stock up on film.
Yea, I think you’re starting to run out of digital options… I know it’s based on M9 with some of the frustrations, but Leica MM? Or if really going with fiom only… MP time? 🙂
Thank you for all of your comments
This was a “thinking out loud” post for me, so I was pleasantly surprised to get such thoughtful responses.
Perhaps the combination of high build quality; compact size that encourages general carry; excellent lenses of equally small size; wonderful haptic experience; direct user control of shutter and aperture; a minimalist approach to camera function that encourages discipline and mastery; and a wealth of superb photographers from years gone by who produced some of the most iconic and emotional photographs of the 20th century, who act as our inspiration. Perhaps that’s why. 🙂
Hypothesis: Leica framelines were limited to 35 at the widest for many years, until the M4-P in 1980, which widened them to the current 28mm. Hundreds of thousands of M3s were produced and they had 50mm framelines at the widest. The 50mm focal length encourages you to get reasonably close to the subject and exclude extraneous subjects, but also can include background, as does 35mm. Subjects have primacy in the frame but can also retain context.
While 28mm and wider is my preferred range for general shooting due to my liking for capturing overall scenes and context, 35 and 50 are by their nature more intimate, allowing the photographer to bring out the emotional portrayal of the subject and include context as well.
Maybe this focal length bias engendered by the framelines, combined with the discreet nature of the camera and kinesthetic pleasure of operating it, could account for the fine body of work produced by Leica-wielding photographers over the years.
This is my first reply on your blog. Your love for the Leica made me buy one.
For me that love shows in your pictures.
I like about the camera that it gets out of the way, and it makes me smile when I take a picture.
Your M9 pictures are lovely and with great quality. That will remain so even in 2020, and by then we than have an 88 megapixel sensor with no noise up to… So why not buy an ME. You have your CCD and can continue to take pictures I love to watch 🙂
Sure it’s not perfect, no system is, but it never stopped you from taking great pictures.
Welcome and I’m glad you decided to finally leave a comment!
Thank you for your kind words. At this point, the M-E/M9 is the only digital option I would want. Unfortunately, I can’t justify another major photo expenditure right now, so…
One word: gestalt.
I am actually not that good with rangefinders (I’m practicing with one now, though). But despite that, the Leica, and only the Leica, has a seduction that no camera has.
And unlike, say, Ferraris or Porsches, anyone can afford them. Yes, they cost more, but not that much more. The way some people carry about how much Leicas cost, you’d think they were $50,000.
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