When I was 20 years old, I discovered this camera called ‘Leica’. It was fascinating to me (Henri Cartier-Bresson shot with it, and many of the masters).
I had all these romantic notions of it, and my dream was to buy a Leica M9, and in 2011 I bought one (used). Since then I’ve tested practically all the Leica cameras, and I’ve also shot with a Leica M6 (thanks to my buddy Todd), and I also traded my Leica M9 for a film Leica MP.
Let me try to use this essay as the most honest appraisal I can have for the Leica camera (M-series), and Leica in general as a brand.
What is the mystique?
The first thing that seems shocking about Leica is how expensive they are. I personally think the price is justified (they are built in Germany, with higher labor costs), and also:
There is no other camera company with the same build quality as Leica cameras.
If you want the most supreme camera build quality, and ‘camera as a beautiful object’, there is nothing as beautiful as a Leica M-camera.
It ain’t about the ‘image quality’.
You don’t buy a Leica for the image quality. Truth be told, you can probably get superior image quality on a Fujifilm camera, or a Lumix camera (who actually co-engineers cameras with Leica).
The biggest draw about Leica M cameras (such as the Leica M9, Leica M10, film Leica M6/MP) is the rangefinder fully-manual optical viewfinder experience. In theory assuming you’re zone-focusing (shooting at f8, pre-focusing, and shooting with either a 28mm or 35mm lens, you will never miss focus.
So Leica M-cameras (which I consider the only ‘true’ Leica) are best for the simple functionality of manual-focusing, optical finder, and timeless design.
Overrated in what?
1. Is the price overrated?
First of all, is Leica overrated in price? I don’t think so. In terms of getting the SUPREME quality and craftsmanship, it is worth it.
2. Is it an overrated tool for photography?
Now this is where things get interesting to me:
Is Leica the best tool for photographers and photography?
Here is where I will say no. I think the RICOH GR III is superior camera over the Leica M for photography. Why?
- Ricoh GR III is smaller, lighter, and more compact. The smaller lighter and more compact your camera, the more you will shoot. Leica M is still quite large.
- RICOH GR III has a LCD screen which makes it far more flexible for creative compositions (putting the camera on the ground or super high up). The live view of Leica M10 or M240 is quite slow.
- RICOH GR III (and II) have macro mode. Macro mode opens up a whole new photographic world to you. The Leica M (closest) minimum focusing distance is generally around .7 meters (about an arm length away). RICOH GR II as superior for street portraits (has integrated flash). RICOH GR III can macro focus even closer than RICOH GR II.
So the Leica M is a great tool for photography, but not the best. I think the RICOH GR III is the (current) best tool for photographers (camera-wise).
What is the Leica M good for?
Leica M is good for zone focusing, flash street photography, and for “getting in the zone” of shooting. In theory an optical viewfinder will always be “real time” whereas an EVF (electronic viewfinder) will always have a bit of lag.
Why I prefer film Leica M over digital Leica M
I really like the digital Leica M9. I don’t like the Leica M240 (too fat and clunky, and too many buttons). The Leica M10 is fine, but I still think the film Leica MP is wayyy cooler.
Probably one of the best things I did in my growth as a photographer:
Sell my Leica M9 (which was a used tester model), and put the money towards a film Leica MP (bought second hand, sourced by Bellamy Hunt at Japan Camera Hunter).
While now I prefer digital over film, shooting film taught me discipline, to marinate my photos and has also helped me amass some strong photo projects, like:
The best bang for buck film Leica is the M6. Best bang for buck lens is Voightlander 35mm f/2.5.
The best is film Leica MP (I recommend buying it second hand), and Leica 35mm Summicron ASPH (also get second hand).
- Canon SD 600
- Canon Rebel XT
- Canon 5D
- Leica M9
- Leica M6
- Sell Leica M9, buy Leica MP
- Film Ricoh GR1S
- Film Ricoh GR1V
- Contax T3
- Digital Ricoh GR
- Digital Ricoh GR II
- Digital Ricoh GR III (current)
Just try it for yourself
Just rent, borrow, lease a Leica M and see how you like it. You might love it, you might hate it, or you may feel indifferent.
Learn more: LEICA MANUAL >