I have thought about it for a while, to write a few words to try to explain to others, or maybe to justify to myself the reason why I at some point thought that the most expensive rangefinder system you seem to be able to get for money would be something I needed. Or, I don't think I ever felt that I needed it, but I have to admit I was way more than just a tiny bit curious to what the fuzz around them was all about.
So, let's just jump inside and start digging to see what we might find.
Leica M3, Summicron 50 on Kentmere 100 film developed in Kodak HC-110. Abandoned oil rig east and north of the Great Yarmouth area, UK sector.
And yes, to call the thing by it's own rightful name for this occasion, we are talking about Leica's. You know the old ones marked M-something into where you would load good old film.
Some of you might want to puke and look the other way, and some of you may dream to get hold of one at some point in time just like I did for many, many years. You may like it or not, but I'm still going to wright a few words about the matters.
You see, there is no way you can both be above averagely interested in photography and never have heard of, or read something about Leica anyway. So I just want to add words to the already considerable number of reviews available out here on the interweb.
The only difference would be that this is from my point of view, and using my own experience of the phenomenon that Leica acually is.
Leica M6 with a dead battery, as usual... Summicron 35 on some kind of B&W film, probably Kentmere 400. This tiny building is still standing after all these years. I have not seen it since the ferry used to dock right here. It stopped doing so some time in the early eighties, and the place became more or less abandoned.
First of all, let's get a few minor things out of the way right here and now. I am not a "Leica man" in the right and true sense of the word. I know a couple of that sorts, and you might know a few of them as well. You might even be one of them yourself for all I know, and if you are just that you would probably know it by now anyway.
If I were a Leica man this blog would be full of brand spesific stuff, some of it true and some would be nonsense, and I would of course own only Leica's and I would use a lot of energy to justify whatever Leica think is a good idea at the moment. There is a huge difference between just being a Leica owner and being a Leica man, or woman for that's sake.
I have nothing bad to say about Leica men, or women, at all. They may, or may not, be like any other person you meet on the street or wherever. Most of them are great people, just like you and me, and some are... well, different. You go figure it out.
Now, with that stuff out of the way let's move on.
To me, the Leica rangefinders are smoothness delivered in a light tight box. I love them for the way they seem to disappear and not shouting out what they really are. I like smoothness, and I like things that are reliable and easy to operate. And I very much like the silent operation of the rangefinders that you will never find in a SLR type of camera, because of the flapping mirror operation inside of them, of course.
And yes, I know there's quite a few other rangefinders on the market that will deliver the same stuff as a Leica do. You don't need a Leica to have all or most of this inside a tiny box. I know.
Leica M6, Summicron 35, on Ilford HP5+ film. An old part of the Devold factory still not touched by any workers. I don't know what the plan is, but we will see at some point. Hopefully.
So why did I personally decide to go for them, and not a Contax, a russian FED, or a Voigtländer Bessa or something a bit cheaper and probably just as good or maybe even better depending a bit on how you look at things.
Well, the truth is that I am not 100% sure, but I might find out some day.
Looking at the different cameras, at their exterior only, there's no doubt that the Leica is the sleekest and best looking object compared to more or less anything made to snap pictures with. There is something about the design and the fit for purpose of the thing that really calls out to me. Engineering stuff, maybe.
Then there's the history and the legacy of this camera system that sometimes seems to be coming from another world. When you pick up a Leica M3 for the first time you feel something you, or at least this was valid for me, have never felt when picking up any other camera.
Then it will become a bit more natural to pick the thing up as the days goes by, and you get a bit down to earth about the whole razzamatazz and will at some point realize that it's more or less like just another camera, but still a small part of that first time feeling never seems to totally let go on me.
It's a fine camera in every sense of the word, and there's no doubt about the fact that it's a camera which oozes out high quality and at the same time is extremely easy to use. There is nothing extra on the surface of or inside the box, and that is what makes this the perfect tool for me, I think. The user friendly and sleek operation of the camera got to have something to do with the design, and that's probably why Leica still produce cameras looking exactly the same today as they did over 60 years ago when the first Leica M3 was put out on the market in 1954.
Leica M3, Summicron 35 on Kentmere 100 film. Inside the old Edøy church located on Smøla, the island where my mother grew up. I like this church...
Any other camera will have this tiny little thing with them that is not always annoying, but things you have to remember to do before you snap a picture, or things that will be in the way or simply never used. I got perfect, or at least close to perfect, SLR's as well. Take the Nikon FM2 for instance, which is a brilliant camera in more or less any way you look at it. I have used them now since the mid 1990's, but I still sometimes forget to pop out the film advance lever to release the lock of the trigger, and the shutter speed adjustment wheel on the thing is not always the best one to operate with one finger while looking through the finder. Then there's the focusing issue which is a bit different to whatever lens you got mounted at the moment. You certainly learn to use them as time goes by, but nothing is as intuitive and easy to operate as on the Leica.
If you carry a Leica rangefinder around your neck and is a bit on the alert side, it should only take you the time needed to lift the camera above the level of your nose to snap a nice enough picture of the scene in front of you. That's if aperture and shutter time is kind of pre-adjusted, of course. Like it will be if you're on the alert side of things. Having the focus ring readily adjusted mid ways will leave you with three choices; either to leave it be, pull it a bit to the right for closer focus or a bit to the left for further away. Depending a bit on the chosen aperture settings and the amount of available light you will most likely have a good enough focused snap saved onto the film. Even to adjust the shuttertime a click or two can be done at the same time if needed, as everything is there right at your fingertip and easy to both reach and operate as you lift the device to your eyes to compose the snap as you like it. It's like a P&S camera, but with the possibility of fully manual adjustments to be made. And when you press the shutter the picture will be taken no matter how much or how little light there is available. Nor will any other warnings be given to you in any way. It just does what you ask it to do, when you want it to be done, and that's it.
M3, Elmarit 21 on Kentmere 100 film, again. The old church at Edøy, exterior this time. Nice, huh?
And there's more as well. In addition to the easy operation and sleek design you also get the nice possibility to change the optics if you so like. And I like that. The brilliant thing about the lenses for the system is the fact that they don't take up a lot of space inside any bag.
I got quite a few camera bags laying around the house, and the smallest one of them all will fit my entire Leica equipment. That's two camera bodies, three lenses and a few bits and bobs... and three or four rolls of film in addition. All this joy cramped together inside a quite tiny green web messenger bag.
And the lenses themselves is of course another reason why Leica has become popular. They are simply great, they cost a fortune, and are probably not worth the price you will have to pay for them. Period.
The nice thing is that there's a bunch of sollutions to this issue, and I will have a short look into that point as well.
M3, Elmarit 21 on Kentmere 100. Still the same church. Crop from a little bit larger photo...
Before the Leica M bayonet became standard with the M3 model (even though it was invented and patented already back in 1948) Leica would use the M39 screw mount on their lenses. The old Leica lenses can be found, sometimes with a nice price tag, and will fit with an adaptor to be used on any more or less modern Leica M camera. Also, and this is quite cool, you will find a bunch of old Soviet era lenses using the old M39 screw mount, giving you the oportunity to make something really different. Run out and have a good look for a nice example of a Jupiter 3 or 8 lens, and you might be up for a quite nice surprise. I say might, because I have heard a few different things about the stability during production of these things up through the year. They will not cost you anything close to a fortune, but then again they are not been given away either these days.
I don't own any of the Jupiter lenses, but I really would love to get my hands on one or two of them. Prefereably the 50mm and 35mm versions, which would be either the Jupiter 3, 8 or 12. There might be a handful others that will do the trick as well, but it's all out there for you to find on the web if you would like to go down that road.
Then you got all them fine Voigtländer lenses. They come readily fitted with the M bayonet and all, and is a breeze to use on any Leica M, as they will click directly into place, ready for use.
Some would probably want to start discuss why you use a Leica camera but not their lenses, but that's the wrong way to look at it, at least from my point of view.
Their old cameras is by design the best thing ever happened to manual photography, and if you can find a slightly beat up camera house going for a good price it might be worth taking the risk. After all, form and function is what we are looking for here and now.
Their lenses are great, but comes with a price tag making people think twice before buying. And there is no way to come around that fact, and no way you can start a big discussion around it and come out as a winner. Their lenses are too pricey, and that's a fact. Still they are being sold, every day, around the world. But then again, Leica is also selling their new digital M bodies every day around the world, and that's even a bigger mystery to me. But enough of that, as that is far outside what we are talking about here and now.
If I were to buy a good and reliable as cheap as possible film M camera today, I would aim for a slightly rotten but fully functional M2, M3 or M4, or maybe even the ugly duckling, the M5.
The M5 is the exception from the rule and the exeption from the template from where all other M cameras were made to fit. It still is a very good camera, and some even claim it's the best one of them all. I don't know, but I know you can get a good one for a fair price out there if you do your search. It even got a light meter, if that's something in your area of interest.
M6, Summicron 35. Summer solstice late at night at Ona, Norway.
To try sum it all up then, I chose this particular system as my rangefinder line because of history, legacy, the user friendliness and the sexy looks of it all. And because of the fact that it really fit my hands. I might be an easy man to fool, but if so I'm certainly not the only one falling into that category.
The thing is, I don't feel like being lured into anything, and I still think I got the best rangefinders in the world to play with when I use them.
I have thought about it a bit lately, which cameras to keep if I had to sell most of them for some odd reason. The natural thing would be to get rid of the ones easy to sell for a nice price, but I have to admit that the Leicas would probably be the last ones of the 135 sized cameras going out the door.
Just because they are some damn good cameras made to fit exactly into my (and a lot of others) hands, and the fact that I can get anything out of them, any time. They are not in the way, but just there when you need them... if you got the slightest idea what I'm talking about?
If not, go try one for a week or two...