For five and a half years I photographed almost all jobs with a Leica M. That even led to a Leica advertisement with my pictures. So I can truly say that the Leica is an adequate camera for all kinds of photography. It has its strengths especially when it comes to documentaries. But portrait photography is also absolutely feasible: on location and in the studio.
In retrospect, it was a great time, but there were also surprises that I hadn’t read anywhere before. Hence my ultimate list of experiences that I would have liked to have known before I got myself a (digital) Leica M.
The first pictures with a rangefinder camera are rarely sharp. Especially with longer focal lengths – i.e. from 50mm up – and open apertures, the focus area is very small. And you have to practise with the mechanics more than with autofocus cameras. How a sharp image looks in the rangefinder is an interesting learning process. The advantage: later you can get sharp photos even if the rangefinder mechanism is misaligned. I dropped the camera very early in the day at a wedding. After that, nothing looks right in the rangefinder. Still, all the images were sharp because my brain was able to compensate for the mistake. Try to quickly adjust the AF fine adjustment of your super awesome electronic camera in case of a hectic event.
Leica impresses with glass and less with technology. So if you buy a Leica M, you should also have the money for Leica lenses. The great look of the pictures from a camera is mainly due to the use of the lenses. Leica optics often have the best look. Three-dimensionality, bokeh and sharpness can be found here in the smallest of spaces. If you’ve ever photographed with a good Leica lens, it will be difficult to shoot with other glasses again. The problem with showing the pictures on the net: hardly anyone sees the difference – especially not on mobile devices.
Not all Leica lenses are good, but they are all very expensive. Gathering empirical values can therefore eat very large holes in the savings stocking. My favorite optics include the Super-Elmar 21mm, Summilux in 28mm and 35mm, the Noctilux 50mm and also the Summicron 90mm. At current new prices, that amounts to € 28,750 – without camera. Yes, there are also cheaper lenses, but do you drive your Porsche with 165 tires? If so, I can Zeiss Sonnar 50mm * very recommended…
Leica optics get more and more expensive over time. The Noctilux, for example, has seen an increase in value of 10% over the last 6 years. So buy now – never wait.
If you use your Leica camera frequently, you often have to send it to the factory. The focus is done with precise mechanics. Adjustment is necessary due to external influences. This is done in the Leica factory with wonderful meticulousness. However, all equipment must be sent in. I sent in my Leica cameras and lenses around every 9 months.
With the fast and convenient professional service, adjusting your Leica M in Wetzlar takes around two weeks – including post. You only get professional service if you are also a professional. (Fair enough) Before a Photokina, however, there are professionals with super special status and you wait three or four weeks despite professional status. If you need your Leica to make money, the free service becomes very expensive. Without professional status, you wait around 8 weeks in Germany. Outside Europe even longer …
Buying used equipment is a dream with Leica. After two hours in my hands, a lens I bought looked more used than I bought it. Lots of people out there have money, but probably no time to use Leica cameras or optics. It is always worth keeping an eye on the used market.
Leica brings out a new camera every two years. The technology in it only changes roughly every four years. 6-year-old technology can sometimes be hidden in special models. This is then often marketed with sounding names. Currently the “Drifters in Lenny Kravitz Design” – a 2013 published M-240 without Bayer Matrix foil. Even with the appearance of a new M camera new Leica Technology does not achieve particularly good values in dynamic range and noise behavior.
The needle eye is the rangefinder, which replaces the autofocus with mechanics. Despite the best tolerance ranges and ever more precise fine adjustment, it will present the user with problems when inventing even higher-resolution sensors. Even now, after a long period of photography, the eye hurts because it has to concentrate very much. It is not for nothing that the rumor has been circulating for a long time that the next Leica M will have an EVF installed. (Edit: it hasn’t.) That makes sense, but the attraction of a rangefinder camera will be lost with it. (Edit: thanks to Andreas Kaufmann they’re following my apprehension and didn’t use an EVF in the M10-R) (Apart from that, even two and a half years after the introduction of the current M10 series, it is not possible to use the retrofit EVF together with a studio flash system.) The good Leica M optics also play with higher-resolution sensors without any problems. 50MP + are possible with the ASPH glasses.
Leica M cameras are small and very portable, but also surprisingly heavy. They are terrific in combination with lenses that have this finger holder on the lens. At some point, your hand will know what it feels like when the lens is in focus at a certain distance. In connection with a Noctilux, however, your hand will hurt after a long day of photography. It is the right hand that hurts and the left hand that you train.
For commissioned work in the high society area, working with a Leica M is a door opener. Very often I got relatively easy access to rich people because their fathers used to take photos with Leica …
Conclusion for taking pictures with a Leica M:
Taking photos with a Leica M is something special. A lot is possible with this rangefinder camera. However, there are also some compromises in the way. If you are aware of it and accept it or can avoid it, you will be rewarded with great photos.
The asterisk * indicates that it is an affiliate link to Amazon – if you buy there after clicking the link, it won’t cost you a cent and I will get a small commission.
Edit early 2020: I kept my analog Leica M anyway and continued to photographed with it . But with the turn of the year, a digital Leica M has returned to the household. It has quickly become my favorite hobby camera. You can find the first pictures of mine New Years Walk .