If you haven’t yet heard, I bought another camera. Yes, another digital camera. That’s another article in itself, but for now let’s stick to the fact that it’s a Leica. I bought a M Typ 240. My Holy Grail camera for many years now has been a Leica M. But before the eye-rolling begins, let me state that I’m not a Leica-or-nothing photographer. I am brand agnostic. I own expensive German cameras and cheap Soviet ones. But I’ve been struggling to find the right camera for me.
It’s Not Complicated
I want a few basic things in every camera I use. First, I need the exposure controls on the outside of the camera. I’m not a menu-centric photographer. It’s not a hindrance or a blessing, it’s a preference. I appreciate a good universal jog wheel as much as the next person, but I prefer individual controls.
Second, I like my cameras to take photos without interference. While I love all the controls on the top plate, there are only a couple I actually use. Really, there needs to be one dial on the top of the camera for shutter speed, otherwise I find myself fumbling for the right one. An ISO dial, while a fine addition, is not a necessity. A couple months ago I adopted ISO 400 as my set-it-and-forget-it option in the camera. The reason is twofold. First, I shoot mostly 400 on film, so I’m used to metering — in my head — for 400. Second, ISO is the least impactful on image composition and overall quality. Shutter speed controls how much motion blur I desire or how much I want to freeze the subject. Aperture controls how much of the subject will be in focus, called the depth of field. For all practical purposes, ISO sensitivity just gives me a reference point for getting my lens and shutter to a proper exposure setting for the particular image. Therefore, a lot of controls is not necessary.
As you can see above, the Leica has all the top-deck control I need in a digital camera. Notice it does have an A mode for shutter control. It’s possible to set the shutter speed and ISO to Auto on the Leica M. I’ll admit I’ve dipped my toes in A mode shooting on it. I was not disappointed.
It’s a Real Digital Rangefinder Camera
It’s not rangefinder-like as so many like to point out about the X100T or the X-Pro series of cameras from Fujifilm. This is an actual rangefinder camera. There is no autofocus and no split-screen prism. It has a set of mirrors that reflect and overlay of the image in a small patch in the viewfinder window. Line the patch up with the image so when overlapping they become one image and I have a perfectly focused shot. It’s not nearly as fast as autofocus, but it’s much more accurate than manual focus on an SLR or DSLR. For instance, the Nikon Df has the ability to switch to manual focus, but then I must use the live view with no focus peaking, or I have to use the actual image through the lens and backfocus (move it in and out of focus to judge your accuracy) and that’s just costing shots. Sure, I can use autofocus, but I prefer the manual control. Sometimes I want to focus on something and it’s much easier to just center-focus on it and move the camera a quarter-inch to recompose than it is to fiddle with focus points with the camera up to my face.
I have shot rangefinders since 2015. I’ve had multiple Canon 7 rangefinders, a couple of Zorkis, Olympus XAs, FED 50, Petri Racer, and 4 Leica cameras. I prefer shooting a rangefinder, and the only modern digital rangefinder camera currently in production is the Leica M. I could have gone with one of my top 5 bucket-list cameras, the Epson R-D1, but then I’m shooting a really old digital camera that isn’t made anymore. The niche for Leica isn’t the brand, it’s the type of camera. Only Leica makes it right now. Everyone else ditched rangefinders for D/SLRs and now mirrorless. But Leica still holds the trophy for being the first (and only) full-frame digital rangefinder camera, so if I want to shoot digital rangefinders, I have to shoot Leica.
Time-tested and Unchanged
My Leica M3 was built in mid-1955. It’s a 68 year old camera that still works. I’ve wrenched on this camera, adjusting the rangefinder accuracy, tightening the shutter speeds, and even fixed a pinhole in the shutter cloth, and it still loads and exposes film without issue. It also can use any M mount lens from 1954 to 2023 without adapters or missing features. My Nikon is similar, accepting old and new F-mount lenses, except putting old glass on the Df means the light meter is now useless and focusing is totally manual but without a split prism aid.
The M is also solidly built. Even at 68 years old the camera feels like it’s brand new. That’s largely due to the quality of materials and the fact that the camera was hand made in Wetzlar, Germany. The new M digital I just bought, albeit a used one from 2013, is of the same build quality as my 1955 M3. It has the same brass top and bottom plate, and was hand made in Wetzlar, Germany. There’s a third, almost facile argument that Leica doesn’t practice making their own cameras no longer work after X amount of years the way some phone manufacturers do. Leica will still fix any camera from 1954 to present. Try sending your 30 year old Canon or Nikon in to the manufacturer for repair. Modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are disposable. Nobody is throwing a Leica away or dropping one off at the local thrift store.
I See Your True Colors Shining Through
The sensor in this camera, made by CMOSIS, renders RAW in amazing color. I’m not talking over-saturated aqua-blue skies and eye-shattering yellows and reds, I’m talking natural colors that reflect what I’m seeing in the viewfinder.
Don’t Hate the Player
I get the eye-rolling. If you’ve followed Street Photography channels in the past ten years, it’s saturated with Leica shooters, only the occasional hat-tip to Fujifilm or Contax, or Nikon and Canon. If you don’t believe me, search YouTube for “Street Photography DSLR” and watch the intros. Likely you’ll hear something to the effect of “If you’re familiar with Street Photography, then <insert some reference to Leica here>” and then some mention of Henry Cartier Bresson. There are a lot of kool-aid drinkers it comes to Leica. That’s not my bag. I like rangefinders. I like the simple act of photography. And yes, I appreciate Leica. It’s not the be-all-end-all camera for me, but it scratches that itch that I’ve had for a long time. Even my wife said “You’ve been wanting one forever, just get it already”