My Personal Thoughts on the New Leica M, Leica M-E & Sony RX-1

The new Leica M

Leica recently has released a range of new cameras at Photokina, including the Leica M, Leica M-E, Leica S3, Dlux-6, and V-lux 4.

As a street photographer, the two cameras that were interesting to me were the new Leica M and Leica M-E. Here are some of my thoughts of these new cameras as well as the Sony RX-1.

The new Leica M (Leica is adopting the Apple naming convention) has the following changes from the previous Leica M9:

  • 24 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
  • Live view
  • Focus confirmation
  • 1080p HD Video
  • “Thumbs-up”-styled grip
  • Larger 3” LCD screen
  • Improved ISO performance
  • Ability to use EVF
  • Few other cosmetic changes
  • (things I am forgetting)

I know a lot of people are complaining about the fact that it has all these things that are “unnecessary” to street photography. I don’t think the extra features are necessary either for the majority of people out there, but I don’t think it will make the camera so much more complicated that it will be detrimental. I think it is great that the image quality and the high-ISO performance are being improved, while the price-point is still at around the same as the M9 when it was announced ($6,950).

The new Leica M-E

Another interesting camera to be announced was the Leica M-E, which is essentially a new Leica M9 with a few changes. From my understanding these are some of the changes:

  • The framelines for the viewfinder are changed (not exactly sure about the science behind this)
  • The color of the camera and dials
  • A $5,450 pricepoint

Other than that is nearly identical to the M9 (I’m sure I’m missing a few points).

I think this is a great opportunity for street photographers interested in investing in a Leica M-system, as prices for used Leica M9’s are dropping.

If the Leica M-E is going to start brand-new at $5,450, I think it will be a fantastic opportunity to buy a used Leica M9 in the low $4,000 to the high $3,000 range. Of course that is still not cheap, but it is much cheaper than it was ($7k vs ~$4k).

For Leica M9 users, if you have the cash and need better ISO performance (if you shoot a lot at high-ISO at night) and want better image quality, I would say go for the new Leica M. If you don’t find yourself shooting your Leica M9 over ISO 1600, I would just hold onto your Leica M9.

Leica M6, photo credit: Japan Camera Hunter

For those interested in getting a digital rangefinder, I think a used Leica M9 will be the best bang-for-your-buck option. Of course if you don’t have $3-4k just lying around (and you are interested in using a rangefinder) I would highly recommend the Leica M6 and just shoot film!

The upcoming Sony RX-1

Another exciting option is the upcoming Sony RX-1, which is a full-frame sensor with a 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens in a compact camera body. Sure it doesn’t have an optical finder, but I think most street photographers who get used to shooting on an LCD screen don’t really miss having an optical finder. And you can always bolt on an external optical 35mm viewfinder on the top. Starting at around $2800, it isn’t cheap- but I think it is a good deal considering that the 35mm f/2 Zeiss lenses usually start at around $1,000 (so the camera costs around $1800 for the body). At $2800 it is still cheaper than a used Leica M9 at around $4k (and that is without a lens).

At the end of the day, don’t worry so much about the hype of all these new cameras. The camera you bought was still as good as it was when you first bought it. The camera you use in street photography is important (as you want it to personally fit your needs), but having more megapixels or a full-frame sensor won’t make your photos any better (in terms of the power of the image itself).

My personal mantra is the 80% principle: if your camera fills 80% of your needs and you are 80% happy with it (or above), stick with it. If you find it to be anything less than 80% sure go ahead and buy a new camera. Of course everyone has a different internal 80% limit, but try to use your best judgement. If your camera is working for you generally well, just stick with it and save your money to buy experiences to make you happy in street photography (traveling, books, workshops, etc).

Even though I have a phenomenal system which is a Leica MP and a 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH, I still lust for new cameras and new equipment (medium format cameras, new focal lengths, etc). I try to constantly remind myself of the 80% principle to not get sucked into the hype. Trust me, it isn’t easy – it is something I struggle with a lot of the time (but I try hard not to). Just check out my article on how to cure yourself of G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome).

What is your take on the new Leica M, Leica M-E, or the Sony RX-1? Are you stressed out or liberated by having these new options and cameras? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

70 thoughts on “My Personal Thoughts on the New Leica M, Leica M-E & Sony RX-1”

  1. I’d love to have a digital version of a Contax T2 or similar film compact camera. Ultimately, these camera manufacturers are all adding new features here and there, and improved specs/aperture/ISO performance, but they still have a ways to go in terms of usability. I’d also like camera manufacturers work on improving the image quality, depth of field control and pocketability tradeoff – Sony could’ve had a truly pocketable full-frame digital camera with a less ginormous lens; the size difference between the 35/2 Sonnar on the RX1 and the 38/2.8 Sonnar on the T2 is ridiculous.

    1. It would be but Leica stopped supporting servicing for M8 LCDs and M8s have a reputation for having faulty LCDs. If you get one and are unlucky enough to have the LCD fail on you, then you’re in trouble. Leica is offering a trade in service though, since they can’t honour the repairs. Send in the M8 and pay them a certain amount and they’ll give you a used M9.

        1. My M8 is serving me well but I won’t count myself lucky because we haven’t come across this issue. The problem is reported to happen randomly so you might be using it for a while before it rears its head. I don’t have an actual figure but the threads I’ve encountered seem to put it at around two years of usage. I guess it would depend on individual usage of the camera. Leica mentioned that it’s only one lot of the screen that’s affected though. I hope we’ll turn out to be the lucky ones.

  2. Eric, you already got sucked into the hype a while back! ;)

    Personally, I don’t see how any Leica system is delivering “bang for the bucks” when all it’s being used for is street photography. Most people tend to use zone focussing anyway. They close down the ridiculous expensive Leica lens to f/8 or f/11 or more at which aperture most other lenses, costing a fraction of the Leica asking price, will deliver the same image results, especially on film!

  3. Save your money, get the Fuji X100, set it for manual focus, zone about 3-5meters, put the f8 or f11, set ISO to auto and go have some fun.

    1. Mostly agree, but don’t set ISO to auto… Put it at 400-1600, that way you can work in full manual and put the camera to your eye only to frame and snap in less than a second. There’s still this annoying aperture dance on the x100… :(

  4. I think the M is simply beautifull but still too expensive to me…
    I didn’t appreciated this marketing choice by Leica to present this M-E…it looks like they didn’t want to discontinue the production of the M9…so they called it with a new name…they’re doing the same thing that canon and nikon do: the japanese companies launched the 5d mk3 and the d800 and then they decided to launch th 6d and the d600 that are obviously the old 5d mk2 and d700 with just some new features…cheap features…of course I’m complainig about the pricing: 2000$ it’s really too much and the market is offering really good alternatives in terms of IQ for that prices (even with lenses)…just two examples: fuji x-pro 1 and sony Nex 7 or 6…
    I think that I will wait for the fuji or sony full frame mirroless systems or for a dramatic drop of the price of the used leica m9 but by now my actual camera, a 5d mk2 with 24-105 and the astonishing 50 f1.2 are the perfect gear for responding the 80% principle…

    P.s.: many apologies for my bad english…

  5. I have a D700 with 50mm 1.4 or 35mm 2.0, and I am very very satisfied. I regularly shoot at iso 6400 and above without any fear of having too much noise. Of course it does not look as cool as a rangefinder, but I don’t have the cash for a Leica…. The Fuji X-pro 1 looks interesting however, specialy with their new 35mm 1.4 lens. Any thoughts on that one Eric?

  6. Great article Eric! I’m sure the new M will be great and produce beautiful images but why spend the money when you can “recycle/rescue” an used M9.

  7. I think the new “M”‘should not have been named M as it does just not stand in line with the Barnack spirit anymore. Also, if Leica loses exclusivity by selling low(er) cost cameras this will be the death of this wonderful brand soon. I am awfully disappointed of yesterday’s presentation :-(

  8. I have a Leica M6 and would love to get an MP next year. These two digitals really don’t appeal to me, especially the M as the few images I have seen from it could have been taken on a Nikon – they don’t have the distinctive look of the M9 images. As for the M-E, why not just get a used M9? Digital cameras are all pretty much going to be disposables in the end – but to me the M9 feels like it could be an iconic digital camera for Leica, simply because it was their first full frame model.

  9. As I’ve just said in a tweet, a M-E with a 35mm/Summilux is now at the same price a Monochrom with a 35mm/Summicron. I only shoot in B&W so I would prefer the second combo but I’m not sure to receive my ordered Monochrom before my departure of Washington DC, so … The summilux is one stop better than the summicron and the M-E doesn’t need a color filter (at least one stop less). So the first combo could be near of the second one. And you, what should be your favorite combo ?

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  11. I never knew that you set used camera prices as if the bottom of a used M9 would be around $4k. You are forming opinions about shat that you have not touched….come on man! If I was a betting man I woul PREDICT the M9 price to top by end of next year at $2500 scince many used ones will need to be sent back for lof and possible sensor changes. This will be costly and something that must be seriously considered as well as other things when buying used. So, please quit popping off a bunch of BS that you are not an authority on and popping off opinions on gear you haven’t touched!

  12. I’m not after all of those Leica M digital cameras that are coming out. I’m more after the upcoming Ricoh GRD camera. Seriously, the Ricoh GRD IV was and still is a perfect camera for street photography, especially hip-style shooting. The snap focus is the best feature any camera company has every created. The question now is when will Ricoh release the GRD V?!

  13. Leica is too expensive when the RX1 will do the same thing (with an OVF) and you won’t have to deal with all that dust that sits on the Leica sensor (and you have to spot it like dust on a negative) when stopping down to F16/22 etc.

    Sorry, Leica is still aiming the M at rich Doctors, Bankers, Dubai types and not actual working photographers.

    Leica also but up their game RE: Quality control, cause from what I have heard and seen at present it is terrible and camera & lenses are getting to distributors and retail with problems that are down right embarrassing and unprofessional (and Leica should be ashamed).

  14. I am neither stressed out nor liberated, Eric. My point of view is quite simple: I buy what I can afford. As at present I have no money for a digital Leica M, I stick with what I have: a Fujifilm X100.
    Anyway, investing in a digital camera (not necessarily Leica) gets me quite perplexed…

    1. Quite a lot, if you want that M with all the accessories! I agree, I much prefer the experience of film. I shoot with a Nikon DSLR and find it more and more disappointing – I end up taking the same old crap that looks like everyone elses crap on it!

  15. minnichphoto.blogspot.com

    Let’s not collectively let technology drive our industry leaving behind the most important factor, the artistry.
    The legacy of your work should be more of a priority than the momentary spark of the latest and the greatest.
    Challenge yourself to jump off the consumer treadmill and create a body of work that will survive for generations.
    Use a simple light tight box and be there in the moment.

    1. Hey there, yes- I have been sponsored by Leica in the past by teaching workshops with them, attend their events, contribute to their blog, and have a good working relationship with them. But trust me, I didn’t get paid to write my personal and honest thoughts about their new cameras above. After all, I recommend getting used M9’s!

      1. “yes- I have been sponsored by Leica in the past by teaching workshops with them,”
        Do you mean Leica organized a workshop and appointed you teacher for that?
        Please provide us a link to that workshop.

  16. Although I have a Leica M4-P and the
    Fujifilm X-Pro 1 I always have my Ricoh GR 3 in my pocket. A perfect
    take everywhere street shooter. It’s fixed F1.9 28mm lens is a Street Shooters dream.

    Eric as you mentioned, when I
    look over my street work I would honestly say that at least 80% of the
    images I like are taken using my Ricoh.

    The following links show some of the street work taken with this small P&S camera of Perfection.
    http://www.simonjohnsonstreet.blogspot.com
    http://www.simonjohnsonphotography.com

    Now if someone could make a full frame equivalent of that …….Sony does not count with no viewfinder, what were they thinking ????

  17. Hi Jen…..Just read your post. I have an M8 and would want to exchange it with a used M9…Do I have to contact Leica directly or is there any other way

  18. The M-E doesn’t have a USB port.
    (BTW you should moderate the obvious baiters and trolls like a lot of other blogs do — and quit being so nice to them! )

  19. Hey! Something nice about the new M and its EVF that no one seems to have mentionned: no more need for the monstuous Frankenfinder for those who’d like to buy/use the gorgeous tri-elmar 16-18-21mm. Disclaimer: haven’t yet bougth any Leica Camera, still piling up my money while complaining about the weight ang bulk of my DSLR kit. I’ve had a Nikon DX, then went FX, and came back DX for having smaller goodies, and then -still unsatisfied with the bulk- started to think about Leica M… Just think about the difference in weight and bulk between a whatever-brand-16-35mm mounted on a FF DSLR and a M9 (or “M”) equiped with the “WATE”?! And for that specific lens at least, no one would convice me that that huge finder which usually comes with is better overall than an EVF. Sure it would be brighter, cleaner, but you can’t focus with it, and -let’s be honest: it huge and hideous… The EVF is small, won’t have any paralax (yes, even at 16mm it makes a difference if you’re close to the minimum focus distance) and will provide help for focusing… Good trade-off. I think that’s one of many examples of new features included with the new M that will make more people go to Leica, strengthening that company finances -which is good news for anyone who has invested in that brand…

  20. The Leica M is the first digital Leica I could own. It’s a nice packaging of features, especially live view and the optional EVF, both of which permit any lens that’ll fit or adapt to the mount to be used. Macro even. It’s a welcome update no doubt for digital M users but not revolutionary – just evolutionary.

    I like the RX1 myself. Sure, it’d be nice if it took interchangeable lenses and it’d be fantastic if it had a built in finder even if it was an EVF, but after thinking about it after my first reaction passed, Sony probably made the right decisions here.

    They made it very compact but not stupidly so. It appears that it’s been built out of strong materials. Hopefully the lens feels like a real Zeiss 35/2 and not one of those plastic things Zeiss and Leica sometimes allow their names on.

    Between the rear LCD, and optional finders, there is plenty of choice to suit many types of photography and photograpers, provided of course you dig 35mm lens on 35mm film/digital. Bonus: thanks to a high pixel count and what will no doubt me a strong performing sensor, you have in the RX1 not just a 35 on 35 but also a 52.5mm (effective) lens on an APS-C sensor, since in-camera crop or in post there’s enough pixels left from the 24.3MP sensor to deliver a very respectable result from what is, effectively, an APS-C crop.

    Bottom line, it’ll probably a much more effective camera than some of its detractors make it out to be.

    Looking forward to some hands-on reviews that show off lens performance. I know what my ZM35/2 Biogon can do, and can guess at what the 35/2 Sonnar on the RX1 may turn in.

    Given the price point maybe it is safe to take a wild leap and assume Sony has spared no expense here to create what may well be a classic, out classic-ing even the X100. I bet they get the firmware largely right the first time, quite unlike the X100 experience. :)

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  22. Appreciate all the effort you put into your writing and photography, Eric.
    I recently purchased a Leica M3 and will do some extensive shooting with that for a few months before investing in a digital M (likely the M-E). Cheers.

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  24. I have Nikon D3 with 50mm 1.4f and very happy with it. However, I want something same or better performance in the smaller package. As soon as I raise my D3, people look at me because I have this big massive professional looking camera, definitely not street photography friendly per se.

    I was seriously considering getting fujifilm x100s but after reading whole lot of reviews, I decided to get Sony RX1. It looks like it gives Leica like performance with Zeiss Sonnar T Lens and yet it cost less than M9 body only.

    And, as much as I wanna get fuji x100s, I know I won’t be happy with still not as great as full frame image quality. Plus, it’s soft at f2 which a big deal breaker for me because I shoot wide open all the time.

    Thanks,

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  26. Rich in San Francisco

    Actually, the ME has been a fine choice for me! I use the 24mm 3.8 and 35 f2 mostly, and prefer to consider the full frame, non-photoshopped image as “My photograph”. The ME drops the “low pass” filter of the M9s altogether – a $300 option on the Nikon D800, my favorite SLR. This means the edges of my full-frame images ARE NOT “enhanced” by camera electronics. The result is nature stills and scenes are “perfect” – border to border. At $1500 less than the new M it’s good value for this perfectionist. Handsome, too.

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