Repost 1 – Do Leica Cameras Have A Soul?

I am in the process of moving some old articles from my older site over to this site so for the next few weeks you will be seeing some “re-posting” of these articles. This one was originally posted on April 5th 2009 at the old site. The question was “Do Leica Cameras and Lenses Have A Soul?”

Re-Post of an Article from April 5th 2009

For years I have heard that a Leica camera has something special about it. The “Leica Glow” as some put it, is something you see in images taken with Leica cameras. Do Leica cameras have a soul? Well, no, of course not.

The camera bodies themselves are pretty much the same as any other film or digital body in regards to image taking. With an M6 or M7 you load the film, focus, meter and take the shot. With an M8 it is the sensor that makes the image and Leica does not make the sensor on the M8, so they can not be responsible for any of this “glow” or “magic”..or can they?

The first Leica camera was introduced to the public in 1925. For a cool history of Leica camera, check out Thorsten Overgaards site. Lots of fun facts there about Leica and he is an avid Leica guy himself. I recommend his Leica Digilux 2 review! (You can also see my Digilux 2 write up here.)

Magic. It is my belief that the magic with Leica lies in their lenses. Their experience with making fine lenses goes back a long way and many people today are still using 50+ year old lenses on their cameras. I had an old 1942 135 Hektor I paid $90 for and used it on my M8 with GREAT results (most of the time) but really, not much magic in it. Nothing a good Nikon or Canon lens couldn’t do.\


So yes, you can find a cheap, inexpensive Leica lens if you look around ebay. I found this Hektor at a camera shop in Phx, AZ. But in all honesty it was only good for outdoor, in good light though when it worked, it did well.

So on to my search for photos with “soul” or the “Leica Glow”…

I have used so many cameras but now, I am pretty much hooked on the rangefinder way of shooting. My M8 provides me with the light weight, and easy manual operation (with a few hiccups at times). I love it. When I compare the shots from my M8 with almost any DSLR I do indeedy (yes, I know that is not a word) see a difference in the quality of the files.

There really may be something to this, but again, it is in the lenses IMO. Leica makes THE BEST lenses in the world, and they are priced accordingly. Many complain about the high prices but they are low production, made with the highest quality glass, and many of them do have that “magic” and not all of them are mega bucks.

Lets start with the new “starter” Leica Summarit line. I recently picked up a Leica “budget” lens, the 75 Summarit 2.5. It’s funny because it is almost Leicas least expensive lens at $1500 (I paid $1100 for a demo model) but its focusing is much smoother than my big bucks Leica 50 Summilux ASPH, which is pretty stiff. I was surprised to see the same great build quality and the image quality is really really good.

LEICA M8 and 75 SUMMARIT at F2.5

That 75 is also the sharpest lens I have ever used. Ever. When shot at the minimum focus distance, look out. Its RAZOR sharp. My particular copy has a defect as it is off when shooting at infinity or anything past 10 feet. I will be returning it this week, but man, I am telling you…if you are into sharpness then the 75 Summarit is crazy sharp and has the character of the Lux line but slower at 2.5. I’ll have a full review of that lens soon. I do see some magic in the few shots that came out in focus when I used it at the Seal show last week, and when side by side with my Nikon D90 shots from the show, the Leica ones do stand out IMO.

One other lens I love is the Leica Noctilux. At F1 (new version is 0.95) it renders in a way that is different from any other current DSLR lens. It’s painterly, creamy backgrounds render in a magical way and when people see a Noct shot, they usually are impressed.


One lens that has gained a huge following is the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH lens. This one is stellar. Sharp, even when shooting wide open but with a smooth, creamy background. It’s expensive, with todays prices running about $3500, and there are many alternatives to it from Zeiss, Voigtlander, etc. But, do they have the “glow”?


One thing I have noticed after using so many cameras is that for some reason or another, my leica files seem to breathe. They seem to have captured the moment with more reality, and tend to be a bit more powerful. I really can not put my finger on it but its true.

People tell me the camera has nothing to do with the shots you take. Well, that is true and false. The camera, if it has lousy image quality can make your images look lousy. Just like an artist, you start with a nice, clean, and big canvas (the sensor) and you paint with your brushes (lenses) – If your paper is crap, and your brushes are the el cheap-o’s then your painting, while still being good, may miss that little something extra.

So, as I have already stated, I believe the magic with Leica is in the lenses. They are not incredibly better than the Nikon or Canon pro lenses but they are better, and for that little bit extra they give you, only you can decide if it is worth it. For me they are.

Me? I LOVE Leica lenses for their world class quality, color rendering, and Bokeh. Even their less expensive offerings can be great, and some, like the $10k Noctilux 0.95 are simply incredible. I will never be able to shoot one, but those who do will have one hell of an artistic tool.


Speaking of capturing the moment or the “emotion” in the shot, I have provided samples here that do just that. From Seal’s expression that shows his true feeling while playing that guitar, the little girl looking at me with curiosity as she holds on to her Mother, to my wife’s warm smile while doing her homework just before the Seal show. Finally, my nephew holding his new cousin, baby Faith with the little girl in the background wondering what it is I am holding in my hand.

Leica’s just seem to capture that moment more than any camera I have ever used. No zoom lenses, no fancy autofocus, just the one on one user experience with the camera that becomes a part of you. I became an even bigger believer in this whole “magic”, “soul”, “glow” thing after I shot that concert last week.

I did see something in those shots, and even though I already was a fan of Leica, I am now even more so. So, do Leicas have a soul? No, but they do bring out the best in you. Using a Leica will inspire and really let you enjoy shooting. To me, this is what it is all about!


Of course, these are just MY opinions. Any camera today is capable of taking phenomenal shots, much better than my skill level at least. Use what you own and make it yours. Learn it, feel it, and live it. You will then be rewarded for your efforts with great images you can always look back on with a smile.

[ad#Adsense Blog Sq Embed Image]


  1. Hey! I can read; you put in the film in the older Leicas and shoot? You get the “Leica glow”. OK. Nexst time it’s digital and Leica doesn’t make any sensors? Correct, and now “glow”?
    As far as I knew, Leica never made any film. So where is the differance? Sensors and film, same same?

  2. @ gary,
    any camera can make a great image, a great camera simply makes it easier and more fun to do so and this includes the lenses.

  3. before everyone gets all weepy remember that 99% of all photographs made with a leica (or any other camera for that matter) suck – in my experience i’ve found photographers in general to be more prone to “object worship” than the common dolt – how about a little “if you meet the buddha on the road kill him” ? that goes for the diana, wet plate, leica and the rest of it . . . . get real.

  4. @Shaul N.

    I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote on the “high level of involvement.” As I was writing today at the DPreview forum, when I use the EP2, it just doesn’t feel the same as using the M. I have a hard time describing the difference in feeling, but it’s there for me. I’m sure it’s purely psychological. But it almost feels like the EP2 (or any of my other 4/3 cameras and point & shoots) is artificial while the M is more … “human?” Weird eh? Maybe that’s the “soul” that Steve is referring to?

    No knock on the EP2 as a camera, but the feeling is just different than the M. Bottom line is that I enjoy shooting with the M much more, even though it is so much easier to shoot with the EP2 (especially now that the AF is improved).

  5. A passionate read. I was almost convinced. But then I thought: what is it about Leicas that brings out the best of you as a photographer?
    The red dot itself is certainly a factor. Perhaps you feel more commited when holding a Leica than when it’s a Bessa or something else.
    The lenses are also demanding. Their rendition has a special way of revealing human emotions and thus the images they produce extract emotions from the viewer. Is that what we call ‘camera soul’? could be.
    However, I think that the main factor is the photographer’s high level of involvement in the process of making a photograph: with a Leica you have to work hard. Forget about zooming in on your subject. You have to compose by walking, kneeling and climbing. The lack of telephoto lenses means that your images will be often shot from a short distance, having strong linear perspective. The manual focusing will often slow you down and make you actually pay attention to your subjects, helping you expose at the right moment.

    You can adapt the same ‘workflow’, even state of mind, to any equipment, but the results will rarely look the same. You see, it’s in the lenses.

  6. My 85 1.4 has a soul, and I call it charlene. Alright well maybe it doesent have a name but still its got one. Something about a good prime lens brings the best out in everyone, just feels right.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. 135mm Lens on M8? - Seite 3 - Leica User Forum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.