My Leica camera affliction stemmed years ago, and like most people my age, I had originally started with some experience on a generic black DSLR.
You know the one. The boring kit lens bundle that every Mom or Dad love picking up because it looks so “professional”. Amazing value!
It was one of those dreary package deals from Costco where you can get an entry-level DLSR that came with a plethora of cheap accessories that no one wanted to actually use.
- Loud and tacky camera bag with the manufacturer’s logo slapped all over it that you couldn’t be seen with in public.
- An equally tacky and ugly camera strap that would rub your neck raw. A flimsy tripod that couldn’t hold a piece of paper still.
- A couple pieces of see-through plastic marked as lens filters.
- A bulky battery charger that took half your luggage capacity, and one battery.
- No SD card.
Super pro-level stuff.
Even as a newbie, I didn’t miss that gear at all when I sold it for pennies on eBay to some kid in Guatemala. Good riddance.
“…initially it didn’t quite make sense to me”
Years later, I had rekindled my interest in photography with a mirrorless camera, the Olympus PEN-F. It stood out from the crowd due to its beautiful design and tactile controls. It had all the modern features I needed to do anything I wanted, a true wonder. You could manipulate the colors, do some Instagram-style filter effects on the fly, and even transfer files via Wi-Fi to your mobile device without removing the SD card.
That’s some black magic right there, even by today’s standards.
Most importantly, it was fun enough and cool enough to inspire me to choose it over a smartphone and to actually step outside and take photos. Any camera that can continuously do that for its owner deserves praise. I would suggest you never sell that camera. Even if you upgrade and don’t plan on using it much anymore, put it in a glass case or on a shelf and just admire it in its sentimental glory. Anyways, I was very happy with the level of technology provided and optimistic about my photography experience here on out.
“…some people even pay more to take the red dot off and replace it with a flat head screw from Home Depot.”
Hello Leica M Camera
Then one day, my good friend shows me his new-to-him Leica M9. It looked very pretty and the brand name was impressive, but initially it didn’t quite make sense to me. It was old, slow, lacked any real modern features and the screen looked like it was taken out of an original Nintendo Game Boy with its atrocious pixelated 8-bit resolution. I halfway wrote it off, as it was just something that was hipster-retro and neat to fiddle with. Not really something I would personally own, especially at the premium price it commanded.
I nodded in approval, but ultimately went on using my Olympus without a care in the world… or so I thought. I totally bought that M9 off of him a half a year later.
Paying the Price for a Leica Camera
You see, the Leica M bug, or sickness is insidious. It takes time, but it twists your mind beyond logic. You start thinking the opposite of what makes sense. You start paying for features to get removed. You start paying exuberant amounts for things like a rest for your thumb, or a place to put your fingers on the body. All because you can no longer see that Leica only designs cameras bodies ergonomic for Lego men. The price of a battery is the cost of a smartphone. The price of a respectable strap worthy of even being on a Leica is also the cost of a smartphone. Logic as you know it, is now dead.
Back to School
Then comes the operation: you have to actually manually turn these dials to adjust things such as aperture and shutter. Then you have to peep through an antiquated viewfinder and archaically line up an image on a rangefinder patch with a manual focusing ring. You have definitely missed the shot of your kids doing something funny or adorable by now. Your wife is now commenting on how you have spent all this money and you couldn’t even capture the moment.
You freaking paid for this torture…and what do you get after emptying your bank account to remove all the modern features?
A red dot.
Here’s the kicker though, some people even pay more to take the red dot off and replace it with a flat head screw from Home Depot. Leica and its sick fanatic followers are absolutely insane. I love it.
“…Leica only designs cameras bodies ergonomic for Lego men.”
It’s a M-ception to Logic
Despite these illogical flaws, you have to hand it Leica to build a beautiful and robust camera. The cool touch of refined brass and fresh grip of leather cladding. The solid clicks of a shutter dial and the refined clacks of an aperture ring. The mechanical “ka-chunk” of the shutter. The legendary looks and elegant design. Image quality and micro-contrast. Legacy and history. Inspiration and emotion. To me, these are qualities the red dot brings: it’s the intangibles that I’m obsessed with. As it turns out, I’m sick too and I had to have one myself… or 2… or maybe more. All I had to do was open my wallet wide, and I could be among the most elite of illogical beings.
I’m pretty sure I tore my wallet in half.
That being said, I mainly use the Leica M (Typ 240) camera on my rangefinder shooting days. It is probably the least hardcore M and I consider it the layman’s M that I could recommend to anyone wanting to try the system. A perfect solid step into the world of Leica’s prestigious hipster-retro family without getting too crazy.
The most enjoyable way I’ve found to use this camera is to absolutely shoot it like a classic M rangefinder. Understand your exposure triangle, frame your shot, focus and fire. Given that you are familiar with the camera, the M240 will then produce a very beautiful image. If you learn to use this camera and caress it enough, it will reward you.
However, when things get tough and unorthodox, it has the ability to go new-age. You can put certain things in auto and turn on live view and focus peaking to shoot with greater ease off the rear LCD. I think this added capability is fantastic because there are just times an interesting shot can be taken where using a rangefinder is just plain awkward. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to lay prone in a puddle of mud to get a low-angle shot of something. Live view can save you from that. Sometimes you have only a moment to capture something wide open at f/1.4 and you don’t want to miss focus. Focus peaking can help.
These things happen.
“Understand your exposure triangle, frame your shot, focus and fire.”
Then under normal operating conditions, you can simply ignore the unneeded features and go about it like a traditional M rangefinder. This is why the M240 is perfect for the everyday shooter who wants a piece of the M experience. Did I mention the M240 is also one of the more affordable digital Leica M models now? Yeah, that helps a lot too. Win-win. For those who live dangerously and want the ultimate sadistic hardcore experience with no safety nets, Leica has a specific punishment for you, the super sick M-D series.
No screens. No assists. A lot more money.
Join the Sickness
I still have and love using my Olympus PEN-F. There is still a time and place for it, and while it may not be as endearing or as “baller” as my Leica M240 is to me now, I do find the time to use it. The technology in the PEN is far greater than found in any Leica M camera, but contrast to how I originally felt when I saw my friend’s Leica M9, I’ve definitely grown to want a bit less tech in my shooting experience. It all comes down to what you are willing to give up, and for me the M240 is just about perfect. If you haven’t had the chance, I’d say find one to try. It can be perfect for you too, if you take the time to learn its image crafting capability.
Overall, I find it interesting and an incredible feat for Leica to be able to capture a balance between old-school and new-school in their Leica M camera models, and that there are many different M sub-models that further separate out certain tastes in what each sick customer wants. It’s so unnecessary and super German, but I guess that’s why it’s so loved and coveted. There seems to be a certain Leica camera model out there tailored for everyone’s particular taste, and that itself promotes and brings out passion and enthusiasm. Sure the price tags are eye-watering, but man are they worth it. This is the M sickness. Have fun buying the glass for it though.
Art of Gear Addiction is a series of whimsical opinion articles written on the subject matter of Leica gear ownership by Chris C., a friend and contributor to Cosmotographer.
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- Leica M9
- Leica M240
- Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH
- Leica Elmar-M 50mm f/2.8
- Carl-Zeiss C-Biogon 35mm f/2.8
- Carl-Zeiss Biogon 28mm f/2.8
- Carl-Zeiss C-Sonnar 50mm f/1.5