Why Leica Rules. By George Sutton

Why Leica Rules by George Sutton

A friend recently commented that the future of photography is the software. I know the marketing people would love hearing that. I like following the new stuff as much as the next person. Without that sites like this would not have a lot to talk about.

But despite the wave after wave of new camera offerings, I am increasingly drawn back to the Leica. It is primitive. The M9 body is ridiculously expensive and lacking in features. It is the anti software camera, which is quixotic to say the least. But I find that increasingly useful (maybe even intentional on Leica’s part) to keep my attention on what remains the truly outstanding quality of the camera–the lenses. It teaches that its the lenses stupid, not just with Leica but with all cameras.

A recent essay on another site discussed the notion that one of photography’s great powers is capturing a kind of hyperreality. Freezing an image gives us an opportunity to see details and things we miss in the flow of perception. Freezing the image reveals how rich reality is. At its best this effect is fascinating and occasionally mesmerizing. The importance of the camera is its ability to capture that effect. An enlarged image doesn’t work if it lacks detail and shows flaws of the lens and the sensor. The flaws are what the viewer sees. The hyperreality effect is directly proportional to the level of detail and depth. That is why lenses are basic followed closely by the camera sensor, and only then does everything else begin to matter.

What differentiates Leica is that it designs a body as an accessory to the lens. Most other systems take the opposite approach designing advanced bodies with accessory lenses. That doesn’t mean the lenses in other systems have to be inferior, but I think only the best professional lenses (Nikon, Canon, Zeiss, etc.) to get close to Leica quality, and even then I think Leica is often better. According to many reports the Nikon D800E may have made medium format cameras obsolete. Imagine putting that sensor in a M9 body. Wow. It would not work as well in other small cameras because the lenses are not good enough.

I was reminded of this after taking some photos of my son and grandson on a recent trip. These were only intended to be snapshots of my family, of no meaning to anyone else. The first is a simple shot of my grandson eating breakfast. Nothing special except it is not posed. The second is a crop of just his face. It is as rich and detailed as if the original was a full frame close up. I can get lost in that face. Of course I am highly biased and this may just be my foolishness but I think it is a good example of this effect.

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114 Comments

  1. Well, you have certainly started a commentary here, but to me all the Leica talk is a plain garbage, completely unfounded in just about every way, from lens quality to, especially, camera feel etc. I say this in relation to the money involved as I am NOT saying that Leica makes inferior products.

    But, it is indeed more like someone is trying to justify the ridiculous expanse of buying into it, then seeing things that don’t exist.

    The photos shown are nice family snap shots that prove nothing regarding the supposed quality of glass they were shot through (have seen at least as good a colour or sharpness from many many lenses that never had anything to do with Leica (or Germany). But like many things in life, you don’t usually pay extra for the extra quality, but rather for the bragging rights, which in no way elevate your photographic skill or achievements. As it was stated earlier, photographer comes first, after that there is huge canyon of non factors, then there is equipment without which photographer would not record anything.

  2. The Leica M240 and M glass produce astoundingly sharp images – sharper than reality, if such a thing is possible. This is great for those seeking to make gigantic prints.

    That having been said, there is more to image quality than just sharpness; it is but one facet of overall I/Q. As Fabio noted in his post (#1), Salgado’s images – made with old tech emulsions and old Leica M glass – offered little in the way of sharpness but had a huge visual impact nonetheless.

    What Salgado’s old school images had was visual texture – they had a fingerprint that is lacing in today’s hyper sharp digital prints.

    Don’t think for a minute that is is not still possible to make beautiful, moving images and prints with old Leica M bodies, lenses and a pocketful of a great emulsion like Tri-X, Delta 100 or Acros. Can’t invest $12,000 in a new M240 and a 35 Summilux ASPH? No worries – get yourself an old, “obsolete” M3, M4 or M5 and an older 35 or 50 Summicron. You will be able to produce beautiful, moving images for a fraction of the cost of an M240 and new lens.

    Leica photography is not only for the rich and fabulous – it is also for real people and real photographers, if you know how to buy wisely.

  3. Don’t care what it was shot with (any more than I care for the article itself) but that really is a great photograph, intentionally or otherwise. P.S. Haven’t ploughed through previous comments as I didn’t fancy losing the will to live today.

  4. At the beginning, I agreed with the idea that this picture was just a common family snapshot made with a utterly deceiving (and expensive, by the way) camera. But after giving it some thought, I disagreed with my previous self and many ideas expressed here. It’s interesting to see how many folks (me included) judge pics: if the portrait if of some ethnic wrinkled person, the pic is invariably interesting and inspiring. If instead of this boy the human sitting there eating their sad breakfast would be a worn out individual covered with tatoos, or an old oriental lady with paper bag skin, it would be great. However, and this was an illumination, this boy is ethnically, culturally and aesthetically as interesting as any street bum, any oriental worker, any hindi semi-guru, any outcast lady from Louisiana, or any oil worker on a deep sea platform.The picture is great: one can see the eyes full of fear facing a full impredictable day, the light blemishes around the lips, the western eggs. One can imagine life behind. Personally, I think the fact it was taken with a digital Leica is utterly irrelevant (The best digital leica pics I have seen come from M8.2, they fool you better than images from M9’s or MM; still, they fool you, whereas film doesn’t). I don’t fall for them, (I fell for my M3 and my GRD2), you guys spend all your life postprocessing to create cute and inmaculate angel photos, so good, so Leica style, but I think this pic could have been taken with any camera, as any great or bad picture in this world. I hate/love Steve’s site, I guess it fills some mental fetishistic spot in me, but all this talk about IQ and brands gets to the point of being sickening. We all are sick, capturing oblivion, that’s for sure too. But this is a good picture nonetheless. But don’t think your Leica makes you any better. Not one single ounce.

  5. I am prone to negativity, and less prone to use it, but…..
    Sentimentality and history are the bane society.
    Fizzy grapefruit juice and an Ipad are not often at the breakfast table of champions.
    Go forth, wayward shooters!
    See with your eyes and your hearts! But…
    Be careful what you post.

  6. Nice image, good detail in the crop, cute kid. But I take a little offense at the title of the piece. To do a crop of, what, maybe 1/5 of the image to prove a sharpness point (and remember it was Cartier-Bresson that said “sharpness is a bourgeois concept”). One of the reasons I still use my antiquated, outdated, but still functioning, D2H bodies is that I prefer to do my “cropping” in camera. I agree that primes usually do a better job but, for me, my little 4MP cameras just keep churning out the images that work for me. I guess for you and your style of shooting the Leica meets your desires. For me, after shooting with a D2H since 2003, my DSLRs work for me. If I wanted to always crop images, I would go full frame but I enjoy getting right the first time and to hell with cropping.

    Just my $0.02 worth. I’ll keep my D2H till they pry it from my cold dead hand. And I am a long time shooter (35+ years), spent time as a staffer for a newspaper until the recession hit in 2008, and continue to freelance and shoot what thrills me. Cheers to everyone and keep clicking!!!!

  7. I think it’s ok to like things more than other things. And there is nothing wrong with liking a very expensive exclusive thing MORE than a cheaper readily available thing.

    I think sometimes people try to justify their very expensive purchase with scientific facts about WHY it’s better.

    *I* think Leica is cool, the take phenominal pictures. Taking phenominal pictures is not a Leica exclusive. However, the exclusicivity of Leica products IS a Leica exclusive.

    So I say stand proud and say that you love your exclusive camera because it’s special, and having a special product is special to you at any price. The fact it takes stellar pictures just makes it all the better.

    *I* think the nex-7 is the best camera ever invented in the world. Why (standing proud) because I can cary it in my pocket and use old manual lenses with it. And that is FUUUUUUUUUN for me. It takes better pictures than any camera I have ever owned in my LIFE….mostly because I have it with me WAY more often so I take WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY more pictures with it. OH YEAH! (I also like how it looks with the flash up, like a little robot)

    So to wrap up, don’t justify your love of any product. You love it…….done…if someone says “mine is better because” you just say “well, I like mine better because I do.” 🙂

  8. Makes me really angry. Okay. It is an opinion. BUT Leica’s lack in electronic commitment might be grounded in their lack of ability. It was Panasonic which provided them with Know How. Otherwise this company would be bankrupt before the M8 even had been designed.

    I think that Leica has not enough manpower for designing circuits etc. I am very sure that the do not design the body for their lenses but a system as a whole. And as has been stated above. If these two components were so perfect, why is there the need to push those files through LR oder Aperture or whatever?

    The Leica M Tool might be a reason for some people to have an approach to photography that works with their workflow/instinct but nevertheless Leica is not the system that makes the better pictures.

    Leica rules the same way Apple rules, or Coke rules or BMW. They sell myth and dream in a quite good quality package. There is no magic or fairy dust involved. Justification might be the reason for statements like these.

  9. When did clinical rendition of detail become the holy grail? Look at the beautiful old HCB shots. His 50 ‘cron doesn’t even come close to the sharpness and contrast of a cheap Canon lens.

    • George, clinical rendition never became the holy grail , but unfortunately for some, it is.. After all, if you cant be that driver, you can at least buy the car he drove. What is really funny is when people say this camera or that takes “great” pictures. No camera takes ” great ” photos.The just take photos…it is a scientific process. For some people, Its sort of like ” my camera takes sharper photos than your camera so therefore my photos are better than yours”. It is easier for them to worry about how sharp their pictures look than to actually worry about what pictures they take.

      HBC was a foreward thinking man, he used whatever he thought gave him the best tools to do what he did. He used Leica cameras during his career because no one else after the Nikon F made serious rangefinders except Leica. The rangefinder system was better suited for his type of photography he was making rather than slrs. HBC didnt use Leica because it was Leica or that the lens was the sharpest at that time.He liked the benefits of the Leica “rangefinder” system.

      If HBC were starting out today, with digital sensors and fast AF and tiny ps and even cell phone cams, there is no way in hell you would see HBC run around with an M3 trying to shoot pics and then spending 20 minutes trying to load film on those things. For a man who said he didnt even care about photography or post development, it’s hard to see him caring about manual focus and analog films when todays cameras can give him so much more speed and convenience. Imagine how many more great photos HBC could have taken with a nex 7 or a Fuji x1pro or even small ps cameras.

      Even near the end HBC gave up on photgraphy, preferring to go back to drawing. That is a sign of a man who understands art, and is true to the highest ideals of what a true artist is. That the art itself, good or bad, is more inportant than any other thing you use to make the art. Ultimately, it is the art. Every artist, man or woman will be measured by the art they make, there are no exceptions. There is a saying ” The winners celebrate championships while the losers talk about numbers and stats.” As photographers, it’s fun to talk about how fast or sharp a lens is, but in the end, it really means nothing and hold no value what so ever. When the equipmentor its scientific output becomes greater than the actual work itself, than the only ones who are winning are the camera manufacturers.

  10. I really disagree with Leica’s approach to camera body design-as-lens-accessory. That might have made sense back in the good old days of film, when all the camera body really needed to do was meter and keep the film plane flat. That won’t do today. Any digital body that hopes to keep up with the superior performance of Leica glass had better contain the absolute best sensor technology available. In my opinion, as nice as the M9 was when it was first introduced, it quickly fell to obsolescence as superior sensors began to show up in cameras made by the major Japanese brands. Today, the M9 no longer has a clear advantage in all respects over other available bodies that a Leica lens could be mounted to with an adapter.

  11. This whole Leica debate is ridiculous. Leica may make cameras which handle nicely and the cameras and lenses convey a “keepsake” feeling. What they don’t do is take better pictures than other cameras. Given equal sensor formats, focal lengths and apertures, most people will not be able to tell apart the Leica picture from the Nikon, Zeiss or other system picture in a blind test reliably. This includes the picture of the child in this post. It also includes the Jacob Aue Sobol pictures in LFI. Usability of the manual Leica system is worse compared to a modern camera/lens system in terms of focussing speed, exposure, flash capabilities, system versatility, etc.

    That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good reasons to own a Leica system. If this is what pleases you, fine. If you enjoy using it, bragging about it, or just hiding it in your safe, that’s great. No need to explain or justify. It is like owning an expensive mechanical watch: It is something to enjoy, to pass on and it is a status symbol. I love beautifully crafted mechanical watches. However, what they do not do is tell time more accurately than a cheapo quartz watch. People should just seriously get over it that carrying a $10000 camera/lens system will not make them take any better pictures than a system for one 10th of that price.

    Just my 2c.

    • Well said Mr. G !!! Hype does tend to get in the way of FACT on this site rather a lot these days sadly. Thank you for highlighting the REALITY of the matter and restoring some sanity by stating truths.

      Indeed, “This whole Leica debate is ridiculous.” I say this as a Leica user.

    • Amen, Mr. G, you do speak the truth. It is always amusing to read the same old mantra by all too many Leica Lovers. That,

      a- When you use Leica cameras, it lets you spend more time on making apicture, resulting in more creative and better photos.

      b- Leica lenses are the best in the world and are “light years” apart from any other lenses and have a certain “glow” and “3d” effect to them, that their expense justifies their exorbitant cost.

      c- that other camera makers should make their AF bodies compatable to Leica lenses

      d- Leica has to be the best because it is the most expensive

      e-Leica cameras are discreet and quiet, whereas every other camera is not as quiet or as discreet

      f-Leica users are truly serious photography, because they cover up all the shiny bits of their camera like Bresson did.

      g- Leica eschews from automation and gee whizz electronics because that detracts from the ultimate goal

      h- Leicas are made to last a life time, without servicing, and their cloth shutters on their film bodies could take a 9mm round.

      i-if you disagree than you are a Leica hater or you simply have never experiances the joy that is Leica.

      j- the Leica m9 is entirely made from Germany, from the screws to the paint, all made in Germany and assembled by the hands of someone with pure Aryan blood.

      Ok, the last one was stretching it but you get the point. LOL.

  12. You make some valid points, but any kind of “X rules because Y is most important” arguments are going to be restricted to the portion of the market for whom “Y is most important” is true. For others, other attributes of other systems are more important. Many pros have enough invested in their systems that they could have chosen an M9 if it suited their needs … and while the needs of a pro aren’t necessarily the needs of an amateur, neither is the ability to see fine detail in a snapshot printed poster size.

    I’d love to own a Leica kit; if I were to win a shopping spree at B&H, an M9 with 2 or 3 lenses would be a consideration. Yet if I were to win the lottery, I doubt I’d spend money on one because I don’t value the strengths of the system enough. (It’s not a question of affording it; it’s a question of value …) That said, it’s the simplicity and responsiveness that appeal to me. There’s something about bloated DSLRs that makes them a bit “disconnected” (even though I make use of features not available on Leica … and would probably continue to own a DSLR for some things even if I owned a Leica).

    Leica will always rule … in the minds of the handful of photographers who buy Leicas, just as Canons & Nikons & iPhones rule for people who value what they offer. In the end, Leica offers a different shooting experience, and some will value it enough to drop over $10K on a system and then argue that if it’s worth $10K it must be the best thing since sliced bread with people who insist that anyone who spends $10K on a camera must have more money than brains.

    I actually saw 2 people with Leicas around their necks at our small town Memorial Day parade yesterday. One of them also had a Linhof technical camera on a tripod. I didn’t see either one of them actually take a picture. The guy with the Linhof kept trying to get his kid, who was cheering on the fire trucks, to turn around so he could snap a picture with it. I guess if you were serious about snapshots of your kid, you’d ditch that Leica and move up to a REAL camera 😉

  13. I’m also curious about this FLAT discussion. A photograph is flat. There is nothing to give a photograph ANY depth, unless you are taking 3d photographs.

    That being 100% fact, then by depth, you must mean object seperation.

    Then by object seperation you are talking about depth of field.

    Nex7 sensor has the exact same capability of producing a given depth of field as any other crop sensor given the correct lens.

    I’m not being rude I want to be educated as this has always confused me. Could someone point to an image that is FLAT (due to it being shot on a nex7) and an image that is at least partly simillar that has DEPTH which was shot on a better corp sensor cam? I’m thinking one can’t be found.

    • “..There is nothing to give a photograph ANY depth, unless you are taking 3d photographs. That being 100% fact, then by depth, you must mean object seperation..”

      I THINK, Eric, but I may be wrong, that mentions of “flat” in some comments here don’t refer to the physical flatness of a photo printed on paper (or on a computer display), nor “..object seperation..” created by shallow depth of field.

      My understanding of the “flatness” which people have mentioned is a lack, in some pics, of contrast ..meaning that there’s a lack of outstandingly bright, sharp highlights allied with deep, dense darkness.

      In the boy-at-the-table pic (above) there are highlights on the chair and on the drink can, and below the drink can on the table, and there are shadows on the left and right of the picture. But there’s a smooth transition between all the tones (lightness, darkness, colours) in the picture, and nothing which leaps out of the picture as a sparkling, eye-catching highlight.

      So I think that’s what people are referring to – a smooth transition of tones without sparkling highlights – when they say “flat”.

      (And this is a comment and possible clarification; this is not a criticism.)

      • Ahhh ha, ok this makes complete sense to me. Potentially the sensor isn’t capturing the full tonal range. I wonder if there is a way to test this. Me personally I don’t care, as I am not a pro and only shoot for myself….but I would like to know the facts!

        • No: “flatness” usually does come from capturing the FULL tonal range, and without much to distinguish one degree of brightness (or greyscale) from another. With film, Nikon and Minolta lenses usually captured a smoother tonal range than contrasty Olympus lenses, so Nikon & Minolta pics often looked “flat” (but with more detail) than Olympus pics which looked looked “contrasty”, “sharp” and “punchy” instead, and thus superficially “better looking”.

          But a “flatter” image generally looks that way because there’s MORE very fine detail in it, and that can be “brought out” or enhanced when printing ..or by manipulating a digital pic with software like Lightroom, Aperture, Viveza 2, etc.

          So “flat” is just the original, untouched version of a fine tone, detailed photo.

          A shot of a misty morning, with vapour rising off a tranquil lake may look better when taken with a fine-detail Minolta lens than with a “contrasty” Olympus lens. So “flat” would be much better for that kind of pic. The same photo with an Olympus lens might look sharp and contrasty, but that could kill the soft, “soulful” mood in the pic.

          “Flat” – like, for instance, Leica MM results – with fine detail, like the boy-at-the-table pic above, can be a great starting point, then you can adjust “punch” and contrast afterwards. If “contrasty” and “punchy” is your starting point, with LESS tonal range, then it can be more difficult to change that to “less punchy” afterwards.

  14. These conversations get old, the end goal is an image. The image end goal is in the minds eye of the person creting it. These photos are no more superior than any of the photos steve has taken with his M4/3.

    If I want the smothese BOKEH in the world…I can spend 10K on equipment, or I can spend 10 hours in photoshop editing the ones my nex7 takes. End result would look the same, IF that was the goal.

    BUT if your end goal is to have the single sharpest image ever created…sure some cameras/lenses are better than the other.

    But lord, has anyone ever looked at an amazing image and said when asked why they liked it “well look how fregin SHARP it is”

    Make the art you want, any way you can!

  15. Mr. Sutton:

    Nice grandson and photo. Man is this picture sharp and detailed or what? Now this is what Leica is all about. Did you use a tripod or was the camera handheld? I love this.

    Regards,

    Howard

    • Thanks Howard. It was hand held. f5.6, 1/90th at 1250 ISO, hence the noise. Just playing with the camera at the breakfast table. One thing I will note is that I tend to leave the lens selection at 90mm and shoot at auto shutter speed and let the camera set a higher ISO rather than a slower shutter speed.

  16. Allthough it is a very nice image there are some really bad artifacts (conversion?) mostly seen in the left side of the face and in large parts of the background when viewing the the second image in full size.

    I would say that a D700 could easily produce better technical output than this without any artifacts, so in this case Leica is not better but worse.

    But don’t get me wrong, it is a very nice image no matter what and especially if not pixel peeping.

    • Ok, this is probably due to hard jpg compression. The image is only 1.4MB – would have been interesting to see it full size.

    • Hi Anders,

      This is a conversion from a DNG to jpeg. I only do that to send over the internet. It was also shot at 1250 ISO and the M9 is not a great ISO performer by any means.

      My Canon does have a better sensor. I shot it and the M9 side by side in Monument Valley recently and was able to coax better color and a smoother image of a sunrise out of the Canon. The rest of the time the Leica was producing better shots and that was the lenses and probably the lack of an AA filter.

  17. My .02c

    I bought an M2 +50 Summicron V3 back in 2002 out of Leica Lust. Cool camera, took some of my best, last, film fotos on it before it disappeared into storage (wardrobe) when I went digital.

    Ten years of CANON A70 (yuck) and 30D (better) fotos later, I bought an M8 + 28 Summicron three months ago.

    In the last three months I have shot way more fotos, enjoyed the hobby way more, and had more photos printed than I have in years. The M2 got reactivated, broke and I repaired it, and even a Horizont Panorama camera I disassembled years ago is back together.

    No intention of selling the Canon 4 lens or flash. Still use them for certain things.

    The M8 + summicron 28 often give the same sort of “Wow, this is sharp and detailed” effect that this Blog entry is about. Shame that sharp photos of boring subjects are seen by everyone else as simply boring photos.

    Ken Rockwell has some rant to the effect, “taking photos of your family is as important a photography goal as any”. I really agree with that for the same reason this blog post was probably raised. Most of the family photos I take are probably of no interest to anyone but me and the persons in them. In 50 years, I’ll be worm food, but my kids may be glad that the photos of they childhood:

    1/ Exist
    2/ Are technically competant, (well exposed, sharp)

    If any are actually artistically “good” that will be a bonus.

    On the down side, theM8 and Sumicon 28 were a lot of money for me and, I have wasted way more time reading endless reviews and comparisons, and opinions and blogs.

    To be honest, I am guessing, had I purchased a M43 camera three months ago, I would have had the same motivational boost, and just as much fun. Rather than the wow factor of sharp boring photos, I would be raving about the wow factor of HD boring videos 🙂

    At least the Leica glass has great resale if I ever (unlikely) decide to sell it.

  18. There’s so many comments regarding price, value etc which is cool but I’m wondering how many people have used a Leica on this post let alone own one?

    I have a gripe with the company and also close to $25k of their gear, it’s not a fashion statement for me, it’s my job.

    To solve the mystery for many, $500 will get you an M9 & Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH for 4 days with postage and damage protection. This way, you can experience and compare and see if you’re actually really missing out on something in life…

    I’m not sure what Steve thinks but I’m fairly confident that there will be a real competitor to Leica in the next 18 – 24 months as far as quality is concerned… and priced considerably cheaper.

    As far as the photo, it’s excellent. Composition and the depth of field is perfect. We don’t know George’s son, but if this was Bob Dylan eating his eggs we’d be screaming accolades from the rooftops.

  19. I rather miss the days when the “battle lines” where drawn over what film stock a photographer, keyword being photographer, rather than owner of a given brand digital camera, preferred.

    You could shoot an Olympus OM along side a Nikon f3 user and have a good friend with a Canon AE1 and no one argued how their camera gave them better images, the cameras, while different, were merely tools, and peopled debated the aesthetics of using Velvia vs Provia.

    Images were viewed on the whole, with no one beating their chest for their given brand and posting a huge enlargement cropped section of an image, which is darn well required today if you want some people to enjoy your image.

    “Nice shot, 100% crop?” seems to be the knee jerk response.

    So many today don’t care about what the image is of, why it was taken, or how good the composition is, we merely want to see it at 100% and judge it on noise/sharpness.

    Does it look cleaner than what we shoot with ? Hows the sharpness of a given lens ? Do we need to go buy that lens now because it looks sharp ? Do we own a different lens that we were previously happy with til we just saw an image that threatened that happiness ?

    Sometimes if you can get someone to view an image as a whole rather than a 100% crop of an eyelash its merely so someone can complain about the exposure or dynamic range.

    I miss when exposure used to be a choice. Especially shooting chrome, the photographer picked how they wanted it exposed.

    Now days we expect 14 stops and if we expose for the highlights then we get flamed over the blocked shadows, or if we expose for the shadows we catch grief over how the highlights are blown and how such and such camera wouldn’t of done that.

    Heck, you can’t even shoot HDR to make people happy because then you get bashed by people how they hate HDR.

    Feels you can’t really win most days, unless its a set up fight. You can of course always post any image, even garbage you purposely wanted to post just to see the comments and if you do it in a brand X forum, and say its taken with brand brand X , you will get some pats on the back.

    No for your photo skill though, but just for your camera buying choice.

    Photography has seemingly been replaced with pixelpeeping and brand allegiance

  20. You use very expensive words, e.g. “hyperreality” and that it is “proportional to the level of detail and depth”. Perhaps the only hyperreal thing I can see in this picture is a kid feeding on cholesterol, sugar and information and from this perspective showing at most a hyperreality of part of our (feeding) culture. To say that you need an expensive leica lens and a camera is a little bit overstated here. For many other hyperreal events I could imagine that you need to be able to really freeze time, which our leica body is not very capable of.

    Sorry, I find this article BS – I am a leica owner.

  21. Thanks George for an inspiring article. I quite agree with all your points but just not sure with your title “Why Leica Rules.”

    I am a Leica “fanboy”. I shoot my M8 mainly with a Summicron 50. I do appreciate the patience the M8 has taught me. I am sure we all agree it is such a basic camera that you are pretty much on your own. But that’s not a bad thing for an amateur whose life does not rely on their photo sales. And I do thank the M8 for the creativity I learnt along the way.

    (As an example: http://500px.com/photo/7955458, ” A Butterfly on the Table”, taken with M8 and CV 15 4.5 II).

    However, I can hardly agree with your “Leica rules”. There are just so many limitations to the M system.

    The M body ONLY focuses from 0.70 meters to infinity. It is an absolute pain to use my new Voigtlander 35 1.2 II on the M8 (btw, the second generation is a must buy. Period.) as I can’t focus down to 0.50 meters. I bought a Nex-5N and use this combo instead. There are MANY MANY priceless moments taken by this Sony EVIL camera of my 7-month boy. With the superb high ISO capability and a huge aperture at 1.2, I have taken many photos of him without a single flash in pretty much any lighting condition, from 0.50 meters away (it is a huge difference to take baby photos from 0.50 to 0.70 meters).

    And yet I love using tele-lenses to take street photos. I know many of you may disagree with this but after all, it is just my preference. I liked photos from My M8 and Tele-Elmarit-M 90 combo but when I bought my first Canon 7D with Canon 70-200 2.8L II IS (arguably the sharpest zoom lens from any brand), I was like WOW. The M system is not possible to produce anything like that at 200mm. If anyone is interested, I have two photos taken by this Canon combo:

    http://500px.com/photo/8020304

    http://500px.com/photo/7955980

    When I was taking these two photos, I did have Leica M8 and Leica X1 with me. Why didn’t I use them? Well, I didn’t want to walk too close to scare them away nor I wanted to crop them out from a 100% crop if taken from distance.

    After all that being said, I love my Leicas (I did own a M4-P before so please don’t judge my argument as I only used the “cripple” M8). I would love the M8 to be as capable as my Nex-5N, 7D and 5D Mark II but I knew its impossible from the very first moment I placed my order.

    Will I buy the new M at any price tag? I will, as long as my life does not rely on my photo sales.

  22. To be honest, just buy a minilux or something… probably the cheapest way of owning a real Leica.

    Also, once you own a M, never sell it.

  23. It’s interesting that whenever pix taken with an M8 or an M9 are posted here, three quarters of the responses don’t even mention the images. They are divided between Leica bashing and Leica support.
    It’s like the film vs digital controversy. Film users just seem to go about their business, but anytime film is mentioned in a digital environment, like this one, it has to be made perfectly clear that it’s not as good. It’s becoming more obvious that not only is there constant defence of Leica’s prices etc., there is also a need to defend digital in general.
    Funny, that.

    • It’s not “Leica bashing” (read carefully), it’s critical comments on #… in a long line of posts declaring Leica the holy grail of photography, whilst simultaneously conveniently elevating the poster to the same elysian level.

      Leicas deserve no bashing; they have a well thought out marketing philosophy, that apparently appeals to a number of people. Nothing wrong there.

      The image, in this case, didn’t merit much comment. It’s a family snapshot of good technical quality with a lot of emotional value. For the family.

      As a photograph? Well…

  24. A plea to end Leica-grouching.
    If you can’t buy the cameras, you can always enjoy the brochures and other peoples’ pictures!
    Leicas are as they are, and if we can’t afford them, we can still enjoy that they exist. But I’ve learned so much from following Steve’s real life reviews of these cameras (and others’ more technical stuff)
    that my enjoyment and output from my Nex C3 (and – dare I say it – my Leica D-lux 4 !) have gone ahead in leaps and bounds. If Leica were to go under, I’d be as sad as the day Rover cars disappeared, though my chances of owning one were always equally remote.
    There are lots of good fish in the sea. John.

  25. A plea to end Leica-grouching.
    If you can’t buy the cameras, you can always enjoy the brochures and other peoples’ pictures!
    Leicas are as they are, and if we can’t afford them, we can still enjoy that they exist. Of course it can seem sheer arrogance to offer a 230,000 screen on these crown jewels, but that’s how it is. But I’ve learned so much from following Steve’s real life reviews of these cameras (and others’ more technical stuff)
    that my enjoyment and output from my Nex C3 (and – dare I say it – my Leica D-lux 4 !) have gone ahead in leaps and bounds. If Leica were to go under, I’d be as sad as the day Rover cars disappeared, though my chances of owning one were always equally remote. I look forward to your X2 review, Steve.
    There are lots of good fish in the sea. John.

  26. Thanks George. I totally agree that still photography has the power to stop time and give you access to something hyperreal. However, what makes a photograph interesting is the way it _isn’t_ reality but an abstraction and interpretation of it.

    For me the Leica culture and pro-Leica arguments really come to life with a film M body. Its smaller in size, handles better, built tougher and radically more minimal than M8-M9. When you can stop worrying about sharpness, sensitivity, white balance, noise, sensors, jpegs, heavy pp, immediate sharing… you start getting more driven by the subjects and ideas of your images.

    My daughter is now 10 months and as you can imagine, I have taken quite a few shots of her growing up using both digital and analog Ms. Its the Tri-X shots that I find myself looking at over and over again.

    • Agree! Love the tri-x photos of my 1.5 year old. I brought out my film-leica because I am really not sure I will not do something wrong when backing up and/or converting my digital pictures – but it is the tonallity and rendering…and the simplicity in handling that makes me continue to use film (acros 100&tx) and my M6 with hexanon glass. I continue to use m43rds, 43rds and a x100 to cover my digital needs.

    • Completely agree. I shoot with an M3, 35 and 50 crons, Hasselblad 503 cx for film. Always meter with a handheld Sekonic or Sunny 16 rule. Don’t trade any for an M9 or MM –flat still video images despite the good glass. I have a digital, though, a Ricoh GRDII. I basically use it all manual (focus included, snap option good too) and B&W jpg’s out of the camera. Good ones. Don’t feel I’m missing anything. Not even an upgrade to GRDIV, so far. I’ve always felt that a photographer is a photographer, and a camera fetishist a camera fetishist. I appease my fetishistic tendencies with Steve’s page. Thanks man, thank you all.

  27. I fully agree with your assesment George, and not just because I have a Leica.

    It has long been the case (moreso since rapid developments in sensor technology over the past twenty years) that the camera body is King. As such thought about lenses has declined and people can no longer grab their favourite portrait lens from a drawer, but simply grab the right focal length lens for a portrait. Long gone is the concept of choosing a high or low contrast lens for a given look or given situation, new lenses all need to be high contrast to better show off the pixels. The exception to that rule are CV, who can embrace single or multi coated options within their lineup.

    But I think things can change. Witness the rapid price increase in Leica lenses, and other ‘interesting’ lenses, from all era’s. Brought about by the EVIL revolution. Photographers are now experiencing the signatures of different designs in a way they never could before, so perhaps your apposite message will be short lived.

  28. All the Leica vs the world talk aside, what a great portrait. Just shows the power of an unposed portrait.

  29. Meh, some of my favourite ever photos were taken with my £8 Olympus XA2 & a £50 Canon A60. Equipment generally means SQUAT. Hardly world beating glass on either of those two cheapies.

    It does not matter what gear you shoot but rather that YOU SHOOT. End of.

  30. All these debates and arguments go away with alternatives. The absence of alternative to a FF sensor in a handy body size and comparable lens is what let’s Leica get away with irrational pricing.

    Given there is a largish market of enthusiasts its a mystery why few have stepped int offer alternatives and take Leica’s business. It’s obvious with fair priced alternatives few will spend that kind of money on Leica. Its moved beyond function to purely ‘luxury’ pricing only a few can afford or justify.

  31. I shoot with both a Nikon D3s and Leica M9. Increasingly, I find that I’m mostly using my Nikon. The reason is that I primarily like to shoot with my own off-camera added light via speedlights (or in the studio). The Nikon is such a more complete system for allowing for creative lighting possibilities. I may be wrong, but the majority of Leica photographers don’t understand how to use flash and think that it is an unneeded accessory because they have fast lenses, when in fact controlling the quantity, quality, and direction of light in photos can really make the image.

    • I can say that I’m one of the Leica users that you’re describing. I don’t own a flash (or a tripod for that matter) and I’ve never shot anything in a studio. I think it’s all about what you’re trying to create. Working with available light to create an image also takes skill.

      I think a Leica M isn’t ideally suited for shooting fashion, macro, studio, most wildlife, or anything you need a long focal length for. I would guess that the Nikon is probably a much better tool for the work you’re doing.

      Bruce Gilden relies on flash to get his look. I think he uses Leica because they’re a much smaller package than the equivalent SRL with a distortion corrected wide angle lens.

  32. You know what just came to me?
    A company should design a modern, AF, digitial M mount body. Make it full frame for less than $3K, perhaps like a Fuji X series (but made by Cosina or some other such company). Give it focus peaking- so you can focus those Leica rangefinder optics if you need to. But then have a whole, more reasonably priced (say less than $1500 or $1000) line of AF M lenses made by the camera manufacturer.

    Why would this not work? This might even work as an APS body.

    • “..This might even work as an APS body..” ..Have you tried an APS Ricoh GXR with its M-mount?

      There are no “..reasonably priced (say less than $1500 or $1000) line of AF M lenses made by the camera manufacturer..” to go with that body. But if you’re using manual M lenses, it does exactly what you’re suggesting.

      It has excellent focus peaking, and magnification for super-sure focusing, takes virtually all M mount lenses (or screw mount with the usual screw-to-M-bayonet adaptor), shoots excellent b&w (..as well as colour..) and is really a smaller, lighter, easier to carry M8.

      Those theoretical “..AF M lenses..” would be rather bulkier than normal M lenses of course, as full-frame autofocus lenses are.

      But try a GXR and M-mount ..it might be just what you want!

  33. I think George is right, that many excellent cameras are supplied with lenses, that hasn’t nearly as much thought put into them as the cameras. Here’s a few of my own experiences:

    Take the amazing OM-D that with the right lenses is astoundingly sharp, but on the whole, the Olympus lenses is not of the same quality as the camera, but, happily, there are other suppliers, like Panasonic (not least famous 20/1.7 is superb), Sigma (as yet I’ve only tried the marvellous 30/2.8), and there are more suppliers, like Tamron.

    The Nikon V1 is a bit different, as it is locked to Nikon lenses (maybe a firmware hack one day will solve that), either Series 1, or G lenses (so a Sigma 150-500 does not work, even if it has a Nikon Mount.

    But, the Series 1 lenses are very well designed, and all among the sharper on the market (according to Photozone.de), if we discount the motor zoom (which is designed for video, and nothing else, so doesn’t need to be as sharp as the others!

    • Really? I thought Olympus and the Micro 4/3rd and 4/3rds system were know for the high quality of their lenses.

  34. Very nice essay George. One could tear apart the visible noise/grain, but that’s exactly what photography is not about.

    Inspiring writing.

  35. A very nice picture showing a beautiful lens rendering and skin tone. However, the same picture could have been taken with quite many other camera and lens makes and models. At lower iso, the M9 still produces impressive RAW files, and not just with Leica lenses mounted. Some of the ZM and CV lenses are quite remarkable and anywhere as good as the x-times more expensive comparable Leicas. It’s 2012 and whilst the idea of simplicity behind the M9 still is a great one, its execution needs quite some rework as technology and the marketplace have changed considerably since 2009. High iso performance, buffer, write speed, shutter noise, lcd screen, weight, ergonomics, lack of dedicated iso wheel are all significant weaknesses. And not even FF, dedicated m-mount and a beautiful optical VF window and mechanical RF would make me buy the M9 for USD 7000 today as competition started to release cameras with AA filter free sensors (which is part of the Leica magic. Compare files taken with m-lenses and the GXR-M-mount and hopefully soon the X-Pro 1 and be surprised).

  36. Ok this man loves his grandson it is a snapshot yes but the detail is pretty darn nice in this day and age we have forgotten are manners as well as the simple pleasures of life like enjoying time with love ones chill out people you’ve been jaded by being barraged with so much you don’t know what’s real anymore memories are real not some artsy shot or HDR they are to get a reaction well we certainly got one here

  37. Do you really need that sharp for a photo? In the film days, you rarely made a photo with a size of 10″x8″ . Now, everybody wants it to be sharp in 100% crop (for NEX7, it is 6’x4.5′ size).

    • John

      It really depends on the effect that you want for your particular image. Sharpness may not be necessary or even desirable for many images. On the other hand for many images sharpness is an issue. The key is having tools that will provide you with the effect you whan when you want it. Particularly if you want to make larger prints, as the sharpness of the original plays a role in determining the upper limit of how large an image can be printed. This was very true when priniting from film. Though even with digital there is an upper limit, which is related to the number of pixels, to enlargement on paper where the image really does not work any more.

      For many people here, myself included, the quest for sharpness can take on a life of its own because the selected tools may not give the expected effect. This can be made worse by not really knowing which tool (camera, lens, operator, etc.) is the culprit rendering an image less sharp than expected/desired.

      The big differences between printing large and looking at a 100% crop is cost and convenience. Unless you had access to a darkroom, making large prints from film was expensive, and evaluating film directly required a good 10x+ loupe. Digital changed all of this. With a digital file zooming in to huge enlargements is free and easy. Plus it is definitive, in that the file is what was produced in the camera, all of the sharpness variables (enlarger alignment, lens quality, film flatness, etc.) in making an enlargement have been eliminated.

      PaulB

    • Good comment. Lets face it for most of Leica’s lifespan it was forced to image onto awful 35mm film which you can’t get a good sharp image out of- not anywhere near compared to what’s coming out today. Admittedly a good lens gave a better looking image.

      • 35mm film is capable of outresolving the M9 sensor with no problem. Modern emulsions provide the equivalent of 25MP, and transparency film is even sharper. Check out some of Ibraar Husain’s G2 pics on this site.

          • It is not a fairytale. Look it up on the internet. It should be possible to get the equivalent of a 25MP digital image when scanning 35mm film on a drum scanner.

          • It will depend on the film (naturally). I calculated equivalent pixels for several films a few years ago using resolution information published by both Kodak and Fuji. Of course these calculations are theoretical and I would not expect this from a real camera in the field as there are too many variables that will affect the results.

            With that in mind, off the top of my head some of the results for a 35mm frame size were as follows:
            Kodak Ektrchrome 64 ~10MP
            Fuji Fujichrome 50 ~12MP
            Fuji Velvia 50 ~ 20MP
            Fuji Fujicolor NPS160 ~40MP

            PaulB

        • Well, yes that is a fairy tale! Those images don’t even look as if they were shot on a 4 megapixel camera. I used 35mm film for years and years and I know if you want a sharpish image you need to go up to at least a 645 camera.
          Why did pros use Hasselblads, Pentax 6x7s or the Mamiya RB67s for quick convenient shooting and 5×4 up to 10x 8 for studio work. I know certain well known pros shot with 35mm, but their stuff always looked soft.

          • martin, seeing as you’re such an expert, show some of your images. Lets have a laugh.

          • Well I’ve heard this 25Mb thing about 35mm film a few times but no-one has ever produced an image from a 35mm neg/tran that approaches anywhere near what you could get from a 12Mp digital camera. Take for instance the accompanying image to this article- you’d never get that image quality from less than slowish speed 120 film. I don’t need to show my own images for you to ‘have a laugh at’ any mutt can press the shutter of a digital camera with a modern sensor and all things being equal you will end up with a ‘sharper’ looking image than is any where near possible of duplicating with 35mm film. It’s no good talking about theoretical possibilities- the reality is that digital will give you sharper looking images than 35mm film. It was about six years ago that I first tried a cheap 4Mp digital camera after years of using film and I was astonished at the image quality available even at the low end. My last 35mm outfit was a Contax with a set of Zeiss lenses which gave nice bright punchy images but not what I’d call ‘sharp’, not in the same league as a good 645 camera which I consider to be the bottom end for film image quality.

        • I love and prefer film but my M8 with its 10MP sensor outresolves every single film I have put through my M6 with the same lens and high quality 4000dpi scans. It takes slow microfilm, laboratory setups, and industrial scanners to outresolve digital sensors with 35mm film. The appeal of film has nothing to do with resolution…

          • Maybe a bether scanner would solve the problem. I have the Minolta Dimage 5400dpi. It outresolves every DSLR ever yet made, it be APS- or Fullframe sensor. I can do 70X46 cm at a printquality 300dpi. Doing that on a digital camera demands approx. 48 MP.
            This scanner is so good that you can easily see the cornstructure in fast films like Ilford 3200. The Nikon and canon 4000dpi scanners do have probelms with that kind of film.
            If you want topquality scans then try Kodak Ektar 100, but set the speed to 64 ASA

          • You can scan at any resolution you want, but more grain is all you resolving after a while with 35mm film. I can do a 70cmx46cm enlargement from a 6 megapixel camera. It all depends on your standards.

          • Hi Mikael,
            Here is an article showing Kodak Ektar 100 in 35mm outresolving the 21MP EOS 5D Mk II:

            http://www.twinlenslife.com/2011/01/digital-vs-film-canon-5d-mark-ii-vs.html

            You are right that you need a good scanner (good, not great), to do this, but slow microfilm is not required. You can use microfilm of course, and wipe the floor with an M9, and I assume M9M:

            http://www.imx.nl/photo/Film/page169/page169.html

            The problem is of course that film can only do this with slowish ISO film, like the ISO 100 Ektar or ISO < 10 B&W films. Once you go over ISO 400, digital really does run away with it very easily.

            ISO 100 film like Ektar 100 should be able to get significantly more detail than your Leica M8, perhaps check your scanner.

            Cheers

            Garry

          • That is one bizarre test they devised. They seemed much more focused on the dynamic range, BTW. And they should have metered for the highlight, the sky in digital, though two stops under still didn’t work out as well.

            That being said, I think the guy’s face looks equally poor in both the film and the digital shot. I’m not sure about this outresolving claim.

          • Well, if you don’t like the test conditions, that’s fine, but let’s say the Ektar 100 does OK against the 21MP EOS, it would be safe to say that it should outresolve a 10MP digital camera.

          • Interesting articles. In practice, in the day, you wouldn’t scan a neg before you printed it- obviously that work flow was not available or conceived of in your average darkroom- high end scanners were the preserve of the litho printer. The point is that with digital and the post processing tricks currently available you will end up with an A4 print that looks ‘sharper’ than a darkroom print made from a 35mm neg/tran. I can only speak from my experience as a printer of many years- you’d need a good neg from a 120 camera to get a good looking sharp print preferably from a Hasselblad or Rollie.

  38. There are so many valid comments being made here, but I just wanted to offer another thought on the original post. I looked at the 100% crop and really paused to look at it, considering the OP’s comments. It actually triggered an emotional response. Here’s why.

    My son is currently 18 months old. As a young dad, holding him close and staring into his face & eyes really moves me. I had largely tired of photography until my son was was born and all of a sudden, the passion was reignited. When I take photos of him, I want them to capture his very essence at that point in time.

    I shoot a Nikon D700 with pro Nikon glass. I have no issues with the sharpness of my lenses or the resolution & dynamic range of the sensor. It’s fast, responsive and a far better camera than I am a photographer. Yet, there is a quality to the OP’s portrait that makes me keep looking at this photo in a way that doesn’t happen often with my own photos. The 100% crop shows excellent depth, detail and a 3D quality almost. The way the boy’s face is rendered is just beautiful and so lifelike. When I looked at it, it triggered memories of holding my son so close and staring at every detail of his face.

    On the one hand, it is a tremendously “ordinary” image. But on the other hand it is great to stop, remember the ordinary and find beauty in it. There are thousands upon thousands of amazingly stunning photos online – landscapes, macros, portraits, etc – but few of them really make me stop and stare.

    This doesn’t make me want to sell all my Nikon gear and go buy Leica. It does, however, make me want to go through all my existing photos again and re-enjoy them, looking for details that I might’ve missed. It makes me want to take less photos (as it is, I’m not the trigger happy rapid fire type). It re-affirms my passion for photography. Most importantly, it reminds me that I should obsess less about the gear & the technicalities of it all but after I have captured the moment, I should enjoy the moment and savour it myself. Otherwise the moment itself will have no meaning and it will simply be another irrelevant photo.

    This comment was much longer than I intended it to be, but thank you for reading it if you did!

    Peace.

  39. So he posts a picture of his kid eating…What is that… An omelet? Such great photojournalism man. Way to keep up the Leica spirit!:D

    And obviously I am being sarcastic. Why? What you people think of photography… I see photo students with their D3000s churn out more meaningful images.

    No troll but truth. Learn about the history of Leitz before getting 5 M bodies or complaining about how the M9 doesn’t make good JPEGS…

    • It is a rather depressing thought that one feels free to ridicule a person creating a memory of what is dearest to him and thus creates an image that has and will continue to have a meanigfull impact on at least a small group of people for now and for many years to come. In fact for some of us it is even interesting to see “mundane” pictures from strangers showing everyday scenes, if not now than in the future. In addition using such a pleasant non-distracting tool as an M camera adds a tactile quality to the process of taking the picture, which I’m certain adds to the experience and the picture resulting therefrom – for now leaving aside a simple qualitative benefit of e.g. shallow depth of field with sharpness, which is easier to create with a high quality tool. I also don’t understand why one should have to study leicalogy first before enjoying it, where do I take the exam? I also fail to see glaring technical or compositional failures. On a final note it seems to me the object of the photograph is from a favourable combination of genes expressed well and in addition the object of love and caring by his relatives, which can only be beneficial. A sense of quality of life that fits well with a leica.

      (canon eos with perfectly enjoyable crappy kit lens and old russian lens for supercolor portraits)

  40. Well, I am the same photographer, good or bad, whatever camera and lens I use. Have used Leica Summicron 40mm-C and Tete-elmarit 90 mm on the NEX7 for several months along with Sony and Zess lenses. Get what I consider excellent results with all. BUT, there is something special I can not define about the Leica lens images. Yes, for me, focusing these is a challenge, but when I nail it …SWEET.

  41. There is no doubt that from the moment we press the shutter, the lens is the starting point of the image and with all sensors being equal, the most important.

    Before we press that shutter, we’re looking through a viewfinder. This is where our imagination wakes up, and back in the day, the visual information we needed to either invest in a frame of film or not. With this said, Leica has been unable to give us an accurate view on life and other manufacturers (OVF, EVF) are ignoring the importance of advancing the quality of this function.

    The lens is only important if you can see what you’re capturing.

  42. That’s a little nasty. This is sort of a community and people should be able to express their opinions and show their work without being insulted.

    • Agreed, but it seems like certain individuals have lost or never possessed the ability to provide criticism and opinions with civility. Steve’s site is great in that photographers of all skill levels can share work and gain insight on the latest photographic equipment. But, more importantly, hopefully pick up tips on how to improve “their” photography, not someone else’s idea of what photography is. If someone posts a family picture as an example of what a camera’s capabilities are, why jump all over them? From Annie Leibovitz to Sally Mann, what photographer has never shot the mundane to test out their equipment and hone their skills?

      I didn’t know this site was about defining what photography is or that every posted image from a Leica had to be the pinnacle of reportage.

      • There are some caveats of what you said. True, most all photographers have shot mundane stuff to test their equipment, but any photographer who insists that a camera takes” great” photos better be able to back it up with ” great ” photos, not just tack sharp photos.

        Derekdj,true..this site is not about defining photography or that every Leica image had to be the pinnacle of reportage, but when Leicaphiles go on and on and on about how Leica makes” great” pictures, they better be able to back up what they say, or at least take ojection by others who disagree.

        No one is disagreeing that Leica lenses can take sharp pictures, or even that they have this mystical “glow” but when someone says that Leicas take ” great ” pictures, whoa whoa whao, lets back up a bit now and define what a “great” picture is. If sharpness means “great ” then let us all dump our stuff and buy only Leica. Then tjhat way we will ALL take GREAT photos. If only it were that easy.

  43. Is there any need to be quite that rude? In any event I wouldn’t go crowing about the NEX-7 vs an M9. They are very different cameras aimed at very different people, but I really hate the sensor in the NEX-7. The output is as flat as a pancake (or as flat as a smartphone, to steal your metaphor). The output from the sensor in the NEX-5N is far better. The sensor in the Leica is different class and the output is lightyears beyond any APS-C camera.

  44. I too have used Leicas since around 1965. The current M8-M9’s are fun to use but also very clumsy. They are slow start, slow to process and cannot shoot quickly enough for rapid sequences. The lenses are far ahead of the bodies. I have turned to using adaptors for my M lenses to other cameras, i.e. Sony NEX series cameras. I get similar results to the Leica with much better predictability of the final product. The current Leica M9 would be a good deal at $3500 (maybe) but not at roughly $700. Would I get rid of my M9? Never, but I use it sparingly for landscapes and portraits.

    • Choice of tool should always depend on personal needs and requirements. I also use M glass on a NEX and it gives me nowhere near the performance of the M8. The M8 is fast and accurate. The NEX is slow and clumsy but does great video. That’s just how I work and what I need, though. There are obviously exceptions, e.g., it is much easier for me to get snaps of what I’m having for lunch with the NEX and a macro adapter than with the M8 and a lens that only focuses to 70 cm.

      I do agree the M9 would be a good deal at $3500. Nothing would hold me back from buying one at that price. (Except perhaps Leica’s ability to make them fast enough.)

  45. “It is the anti software camera, which is quixotic to say the least.”

    Is it really, though? I know of no other camera that so absolutely requires the user to do processing afterwards because it’s not capable of outputting good enough jpegs…

    I would rather say anti-automatic perhaps, as it force you to do all the work yourself, to your own preferences.

  46. Leica is now a niche player at best: if even 1% of the photos of London 2012 are shot on an M series camera I would be surprised.

    Here in NZ the Noctilux sells for $15,000 (yes, fifteen thousand!) and that just seems to me to be insane.

    Were I to be re-investing in Leica, I would be buying the S series not the M I suspect.

    I will be interested to see what the results are like using the new Fujifilm M adaptor on the X-Pro 1 body, as if they are good, that could dent M9 sales a lot.

    • Here in my New Zealand I know at least half a dozen Leica photographers, none of us wealthy, but all loving Leica glass. And that is just the bottom of the North Island. I was a Nikon owner but all that stuff and auto focus, now I can roam with an M9 and 1 lens 🙂 50mm 1,4 a happy camper indeed!

      • There’s at least four of us in Auckland who I’ve seen with my own eyes, two uni students, one 30-something, and one old man. I think only the 30 something is well off

  47. Nice family snapshot, it will make a great memory one day.

    Other than that the usual Leica sermon and plenitude of rationalizations. What I can’t really understand is why people have the compulsive need to defend the fact that they spent so much money on camera, it is free market and free world (well sort of) so you can do whatever you want if it makes you happy. However, if you want to convert other people and make them see the light (and I think that religious terms are quite apropriate here) it would be better to show number of images, after all I haven’t ever heard Eliot Erwitt or Steve McCurry or other accomplished photographers spending more than a minute discussing cameras they use and even then, only in passing and in terms of being a tool, not a goal itself.

    Some of the “arguments” are weak at best-you say “I think only the best professional lenses (Nikon, Canon, Zeiss, etc.) to get close to Leica quality”, wow, it is indeed a wonder that £60 kit lens can match £3500 prime lens.

    Also, like a true believer it is touching that you are trying to defend and justify the greedy company for skimping on their faithful customers by not even caring enough to put decent resolution screen at the back of the camera by implying that this might actually be intentional on part of the Leica (it is indeed intentional and intention being making even more money) so that photographers can concentrate on what is important-what is important is producing photos as a work of art, right? something that above mentioned and many other photographers have produced over the years and that is somehow usually missing from this type of articles

    • I have to agree with much of your sentiment, but I have a different take.

      I use a Leica for the handling. It’s small, the lenses are small, and focusing is quick. With a rangefinder, I never worry that my picture will be out of focus, because I do the focusing myself. To add to this, my Leica has been extremely reliable in some punishing circumstances.

      To me, the problem with Leica is the price. I don’t think their lenses are $2k better. I actually preferred the look of the Zeiss lenses for the G2. My Minolta Hi-Matic 7S also has a great lens, but very poor ergonomics.

      I’m still waiting for a camera that matches an M for a lower price. I’d be more than happy to sell all of my Leica gear to a collector.

    • Mika,

      Don’t read so much into it. I am just making an observation about lens quality. That is all. I have enjoyed photography for nearly 50 years and I am just saying that the Leica lenses are the best I have ever used and make the M camera a very useful tool for taking certain kinds of photos. Take it for what it is worth.

  48. Not taking anything away from Leica lenses, but it’s the photographer first. The lenses and the bodies are a distant second and third to a brilliant, imaginative photographer. I like your enthusiasm for Leica but I think they manufacture retro cameras and then charge too much for them for no other reason than they can.

    • I was remiss in not putting the photographer’s skill and imagination first in importance. Of course that is the case and I fully agree.

      I suspect the reason the M series is so retro is the fact they are designing everything around the lenses which are all manual focus and manual aperture. They are also heirlooms, so good that their quality outweighs the advantages of autofocus when you have time to focus manually. They are just too good to make them obsolete and that is the only justification for the whole system. My point in all of this is the importance of the lens in the camera itself. Lenses are more of an afterthought for many manufacturers. I also have a top of the line Canon DSLR system with a range of lenses from fisheye to long telephoto and I can get about the same image quality in a portrait with a Canon 85mm f1.8 that costs less than a quarter of the 50mm f2 I used to take the photos in this blog. But with any other lens a shot with the Leica is often better than I can get with the Canon. The Canon body is far more versatile and with equal lenses I can get a better photo with the Canon. But I marvel at photos I have taken with the Leica. They are amazingly sharp and rich and the detail is equally good across the whole frame. It doesn’t begin to soften and degrade at the edges like too many DLSR lenses do. The 50mm Summicron is the best lens I have ever used.

      The M9 sensor is actually pretty good. The photo in this blog was shot at ISO 1250 so it shows a little noise but not bad. And designing a full frame sensor for a rangefinder was apparently an engineering feat in itself. But the cost, although high, is not out of line when the IQ often (certainly not always) compares with medium format and the least expensive medium format I know of — the Pentax 645 — runs about $10,000. Hasselblad, Phase One and the Leica S systems are way north of that. Because the Leica M lenses are already as good as any, an improvement in the M body up to the level of the D800E could result in photos comparable to just about any other camera at any price.

      So the quest for ultimate IQ is a bit of yin and yang. Canon and Nikon struggle to produce lenses equal to their bodies, especially the new ones. Leica struggles to produce bodies equal to their lenses. I look forward to all of them closing those gaps.

    • do agree with you. it is the photographer. though i am a gear-porn, i still don’t think keeping comparing different gear is pointless anyway.

  49. Leica’s glory is too much mystified. I would like to know, what price were for M3, after what LEICA’s glory started.
    Similar, like LOMO LC-A+. Comprare lens LEICA’s and LOMO’s and you will see similar result.
    I’m looking now a new camera after my LEICA C1 has brooken. Only one option is for real quality photo camera, not looking to digital horror (sure, I sometimes need it and use it – it is my mobile phones 2MP camera), it is LOMO LC-A+. Russian lens is made in factory, where space photo cameras and sniper riffles’ optic are made, so do not blame. Just price bites – 240 €.

  50. So, a crap body (your words) coupled to a great lens results in great images.

    That’s a novel point of view, one for the true believers.

    Leica year is perfectly able of producing mediocre and sub mediocre images, as has been proven on this site time and time again.

    • I absolutely agree with you – which is why I believe there are better alternatives to a Leica camera. As you say, the camera is just an accessory to the fantastic lenses, so why churn out 6000 or 7000$ for a Leica M body, when you could adapt your Leica lenses to a much cheaper camera with more functionality, and possibly have enough money left over for an additional Leica lens? The so called “Leica colors” can be applied to any photograph in PP, so I really think Leica’s lenses are worth much more than their cameras.

  51. Since adding the Ricoh A12 Mount with an “ancient” (all I could afford) Leica Summicron-C 40mm lens, I am a true believer in what you say. The glass is able to extract or refract the maximum ability of the sensor in the unit. And the way the lens “draws” just amazes me every day.

      • “…and a true normal perspective.”

        Not on the ricoh it isn’t. And while it is a serviceable lens optically, I don’t think it warrants “fantastic”.

        Which is the problem with surton’s thesis. It isn’t the lens, so much (most lenses, even cheap ones, are perfectly fine), as an effective way to use it.

        Of course, all else being equal, a great lens is a wonderful thing.

  52. Beautiful photo and I agree with mostly everything you say. However, take a look at an old film b&w from Salgado and you will be surprised at how little sharpness and resolution has to do with the overall effect the pic has on you. I fear one day photos will be so sharp that they will merely be mirrors of what you see on the street. I love Leica but I prefer to put my love down to other aspects than just resolution. I could be wrong of course… Great post in any case

    Ps. I am a M2 and M7 but use the best Leica has to offer on lenses

    • I agree. Sharpness has its limits. There is more to an interesting foto than that. A lot of Henri Cartier Bresson’s fotos lack sharp focus.
      While I like Leica lenses, I am not happy with Leica’s sensors, the M 8 and 9. My Canon does a better job. I home the new M has a better sensor colorwise.

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