Blog – Leica M, the best camera in the world?

leica-camera-logoDon’t get too excited about my blog title and I am not writing the latest Leica M digital camera. I am writing Leica’s M system cameras, though this blog is very much related to the Leica M too. If you want to know about my feeling towards Leica, then read on…

Leica – One of a kind.

To many photographer, camera collectors and the riches, Leica (aka, the big red dot) is THE NAME of DESIRE.  Many mature photography enthusiasts worshipped Leica because they knew it was used by all great journalists in the world and many young ones worshipped Leica because of its luxurious and image and unaffordable price tag. Whatever you are, as long as you consider yourself as a true photographer, you are likely to worship it because of its ingenious and perfect optical designs and clever mechanical photographic tools.Covent Garden 135

Why am I writing about Leica M cameras?

A little about myself again, I am a photographer from the-last-batch-of-film-cameras-era. I got into photography from buying my first ever SLR in 1995. It was a Canon EOS 50E and then I turned digital when Canon released the famous ‘affordable’ full frame DSLR, the Canon EOS 5D, in 2005. That was also the year I turned professional. After many thousands of photos, I am now a full fledged portrait and wedding photographer and I have a huge selection of pro-optics and bags of experience that qualify my opinions on photography reviews and opinion. But then again, it’s totally personal.

I want to write about Leica because I am on the verge of adding Leica into my professional work. Most of my jobs surround portraits and weddings. I also do street photography during my assignments oversea. I never worry about size and weight because I always think “SIZE MATTERS!”. When I shoot a portrait session or a wedding, I usually wheel around my equipment in my ThinkTank Airport International v.2. The case alone, with all my necessary equipment is around 18kg!!! That excludes any tripods or stands, which usually carried by my helper on the day.Paris in rain Ilford HP5

Ok, at 38 I am not exactly old but I am not getting any younger. I am a frequent gym goer and pushing all those weights helps developing my stable hands for taking all those heavy camera equipment. However, the arrival of the latest bunch of compact system cameras changes my mind. I recently bought an Olympus OM-D EM5, see my review here, and it stunned me with its image quality and I loved the size of the camera. The mirrorless design also allows me to shoot at much slower shutter speed than a mirrored counterpart before I start to worry about camera shake. There’re only two drawbacks – depth of field, it just can’t match the bigger sensors and high ISO performance. However, the gap is closing and upto ISO 3200, smaller sensored cameras can really match the full framers these days.

But after buying the OM-D, I thought about something else – Leica. I bought my first Leica, the full mechanical M2, two years ago and then ‘upgraded’ to M6 last year. Still, I haven’t shot a digital M until I met Brett at the Leica Store in Mayfair. I was impressed, so much so that I screamed, “I have never seen any images this sharp before”. The image was printed on an A1-sized photo paper and produced from a 18 mega pixel M9 and a Leica 50mm Summicron. Brett told me that the print had no post processing and was shot at f/2.8! None of my Canon L lenses could produce such sharpness without a little sharpening during post processing, ok may be with a couple of exceptions but still I was stunned.

More importantly, it’s mirrorless and “FULL FRAME”! There isn’t anything out there that can come close in terms of optic quality and with a large full frame sensor. I know you may say ok, what about APS-C sized Sony NEX or Fuji X-Pro? Well, yes but since they are cropped sensors, any full frame optics will need to be ‘magnified’. Plus to the truth, I can still get an old Leica lens that is cheaper, better built and sharper than any newer Sony or Fuji lenses. Beat that! And… and it’s an investment too because secondhand Leica lenses don’t tend to lose too much of your money! In some cases, some older lenses only appreciate in value instead of depreciates.

So what Leica can bring to me?

Well, Quality!

Yes, top image quality. Leica lenses are definitely among the best in the world. Leica M system is legendary. It revolutionised 35mm photography and that M-mount was the pioneering solution for mounting and securing lenses.Paris IIford FP4

Leica glass is always a topic for discussion among photographers. Why a tiny little lens can cost thousands of pounds? Well, simple. Each is hand built to perfection! The undeniable perfect optic design couples with micro adjustment by hand before it leaves the factory. Other manufacturers simply use a system of tolerance in the manufacturing line. So the quality can vary from one lens to another. Also, Leica lenses are design to shoot wide open, not stop down. That’s good for available light photography and perfect for today’s weddings.

Leica’s reputation in journalism is just perfect for modern reportage style wedding photography. Discrete and unobtrusive, unlike the giant DSLRs and big lenses that often offend guests.

What you will miss from DSLR?

Well, a few things. It doesn’t matter how perfect Leica M system is, it is still a 1950’s design. It may have evolved into digital but it doesn’t have many of the modern features such as matrix metering, auto focus, fast burst frame and focus tracking. But then Leica is a photographic machine that let a photographer do one thing and one thing only, shoot. But Leica has its limits. It may be fast but that’s 1950’s fast. That’s before all the latest AI Servo auto focus, face-recognition tracking and focus were invented. Also, it isn’t WYSIWYG. DSLR users have the luxury of an optical viewfinder that allows them to see everything including the very important depth-of-field preview that’s so useful in portraits. Shooting a rangefinder is a guesswork in most cases.Corridor  Fujifilm Sensia 400

The lack of auto focus also means that shooting ultra thin depth-of-field lenses (ultra fast lens or very long tele) very difficult. The focusing accuracy is utterly depending on the perfect calibration of the rangefinder in the camera and the lens. That also means that shooting anything 90mm and longer will be difficult with Leica M cameras.

Final words.

Leica is best with films, in my opinion but modern digital M’s allow you to truly exploit and experience what all those fuss about Leica’s fine lenses (this is for pixel peepers!) For me, I may want a digital M for work but a film full mechanical M for pleasure! I currently shoot a M6 with a few lenses from the 5o’s and 60’s and I love black and white with these little gems!

Leica may not be the most advance camera anymore but shooting a Leica is an experience, like worshiping god, a peaceful and mindful experience. It lets you forget about everything else but shoot. There are fewer options for you to fiddle about, only ISO, aperture, shutter speed and a trigger button between you and the perfect picture. Sometimes, “LESS IS MORE” is very true and Leica will continue to be a classic whether in film or digital form. Its lenses will continue to be legendary (but expensive). There will be times I miss some convenience and speed from SLRs but I love Leica, a true and pure photographic experience.Leica M6 Panda

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2 responses to “Blog – Leica M, the best camera in the world?

  1. Sorry but any DSLR which has (all) have Auto-Focus have screens where it’s almost impossible to really see anything, never mind depth of field..if you can find that feature. M lenses have real depth of field scales and experience with one or two lenses will do it.The IQ factor at Leica will for me be doubtful..

    • Hi Jason, can’t quite make out what you were trying to say but thanks for dropping by.

      If you are talking about depth of field scales, all pro optics in DSLRs have them. Only the cheaper kit lenses don’t have distance scale.

      But having said that, manual focus on a DSLR is a nightmare unless you have a split screen or matt screen but not every DSLR today features a changeable focusing screen. Then again, I am talking about DSLR that uses optical viewfinder and not digital overlay or the Sony’s SLT cameras.

      Leica sensor is optimised for its lenses because they are so much closers than any traditional DSLRs. Modern mirrorless camera’s sensors are not full frame and even so, they are not optimised for the lens design which makes a real difference in details and sharpness.

      All in all, I am enjoying my experiment and I will be posting a new blog on using a M6 for a wedding later. Thanks again for your comment! Jimmy

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