In the past, I had never fully understood my obsession with Leica M mount digital cameras. It just did not make sense to me. Could not attribute it to the typical reasons.
Many swear by Leica glass which is understandable. Have heard nothing but good things about them. Newer, higher spec, and legendary Leica glass is simply too rich for my blood. I owned an older Leica lens once…
…(Thank you Manu.), but I have gotten along just fine with third-party M mount lenses so that is not it.
The Pixie Dust Angle
I will just say it. When folks start waxing poetic over the subjective attributes of Leica I am inclined to wretch if it goes on for too long. I did not make it through a video by one of my favorite Youtubers about the release of the new Leica M6 recently when they went off of the rails while talking to a Leica high muckity-muck. A barrage of feel something, something heritage yadda-yadda so on and so forth. Felt my eyeballs rolling to the point of a strain and stopped the video… So that is not it. I still watch the content provider. Just could not hang on for that one.
Nope. Just not the way I am built. Back when I briefly had a Q someone nearby barked out, “Is that a Leica?!”, out in the wild. The look I gave him said it all. Have seen some put tape over the logo, but that does not make sense to me. Those who do not know about cameras would not know any better. Those who do would recognize the distinctive looks tape or not. So that is not it.
Sort of covered above, but this is not it. Yes. Leica cameras do feel great in hand. But that alone would not do it for me.
Maybe. I cannot speak for newer Leicas as I have no access to them. Older Leicas like the M9 may have a special “vintage digital” look due to their CCD sensors. The Leica M Type 240 has a standard issue CMOS sensor. Additionally, more common brands make images that look just fine with the same glass.
Add to that my preference for shooting and editing RAW files and this does not seem a likely difference. But perhaps.
If those are not it, what is it then?
Why won’t film M mount cameras do it?
Why won’t adapting M mount lenses to full frame mirrorless cameras, the “sensible” thing to do, cut it?
Those are the questions I have long asked myself. But now that I have had access to a digital Leica M for more than a few minutes I think I finally understand. And it is fairly simple.
- I did not want to use an M mount lens adapted to a mirrorless camera with an EVF.
- This became clear when I realized the M240’s rangefinder was out of calibration and I completely lost interest in it. It did not matter that it had the Leica name. It did not matter that the sensor may have the Leica look. It did not matter that it was a handbuilt gem of a camera. Without a functioning rangefinder it was of no interest to me.
- I wanted that analog rangefinder goodness with the immediacy of digital reward.
Does that mean I no longer have need for an analog M?
No. Of course not. One has nothing to do with the other. Given the opportunity, film will always be my preference. But I do enjoy having the option of streamlining my workflow when I wish to.
Was right in front of me. But I did not see it until now.
Oof. Hard to put this into words without drifting into rambling on like those folks in the Youtube video I mentioned above. Let me try and give it a go. Brace yourself for eye rolls.
- Rangefinder Manual Focus
- As much as makes no sense I like being forced to manual focus.
- More specifically by way of two patch matching rangefinder focus. I heard Canon made this available in some of their mirrorless cameras. I may have liked this, but suspect that I would have still preferred to have honest mechanical linkages behind it all.
- Rangefinder Field of View
- As mentioned by many I do enjoy seeing outside of the intended lens’ field of view. I do use it to anticipate someone or something entering the frame. This cannot be seen with a more common SLR or mirrorless set up.
- Mechanical Linkages
- By inclination and education, I have an Engineering background. A simple mechanical focusing solution is right up my alley. You can pick up the camera at any time, power on or off, and twiddle with the focusing. Oddly satisfying. While this is an attribute shared with nearly any non mirrorless digital camera I prefer this implementation.
- (Eye roll warning!) It Lets me Shoot Differently
- I have no explanation for this one. While my preference is real that does not mean I am able to properly quantify it.
That last one is odd for me. I cannot fully explain it. But let me try and share a few examples.
There is a portrait I took of my wife that I do not believe would have come off the same way with a more traditional SLR or mirrorless camera. I am fairly certain it would not have been taken. We met for lunch one day. I had the Leica M3 at the time. The lens of choice was easy. It was the only one I had. The Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5.
A lovely lens. If I were not so smitten with the technically inferior, but wonderfully goofy 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1. With the M3 50mm frame lines leave quite a bit of real estate on each side to take in the surrounding environment. We were in a garden lunch area and I was peering through the viewfinder. I saw that my wife was entering the frame from right to left looking elsewhere. I quickly panned slightly right, acquired focus with the focus patch, returned to my initial framing, and then called her name.
I LOVE this photo of her.
Sidebar: Why did I sell the M3? I really liked it, but the Leicameter did not cut it for me. I wanted an M mount camera with internal metering. After a few attempts, I found the right feature/feel/balance with the Konica Hexar RF.
This is tied to another rangefinder advantage many have alluded to. For reasons I cannot fully explain rangefinders typically do not garner the same reaction from the general public. Maybe it is the smaller body, the design, the smaller lenses? I cannot be certain. But whether DSLR or mirrorless of similar specifications Leicas do tend to cast a smaller shadow. As cringy as it is I suppose it may come down to aesthetics as well. But where I have seen folks tense up with mainstream offerings I have conversely been either invited to capture images, been asked about the camera, have had kind comments or compliments about rangefinder cameras (More discrete exchanges than the Leica shouter mentioned earlier.), or have been utterly ignored and allowed to snap away without notice.
Again, I cannot explain why. I have long been too aware of cameras to discern the different natural reactions myself. But I find it easier to roam about without raising a fuss with rangefinders.
And there is something about using rangefinders in low light that I enjoy.
And lastly, there is this cringe inducing, even for myself, observation.
I may have focused and framed easier with other systems I have never focused and framed better.
I just see scenes differently. <Wretch.> Wow. Here I go now. Anyhoo. Onward.
As frustrating as this is I cannot put my finger on a reason why. I just do.
And all of the images above are with film. I enjoyed capturing every frame. I will not say that rangefinders are better. Just different.
And I like them a lot. Looking forward to the same shooting experience with digital
In the end, to heck with common sense. That is enough for me. Your mileage may vary.
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