I have a secret to confess... I've been obsessed with Leica for around 9 years. Completely unrelated, but I've been a photographer for 9 years. :)
I recently had the chance to finally fulfill my dream of owning a Leica... specifically a black Leica M9 that I picked up used along with a Summarit 35 2.5 lens.
There's just something about Leicas and rangefinders... I can't even explain it, I just love them. Maybe it's the history? Some of the worlds best photographers have used Leicas... Cartier-Bresson, Erwitt, Capa just to name a few. Maybe it's just the lack of automation and options when using a Leica. Either way, it's just fun to shoot with.
You can't talk about Leica's without talking about money. People always talk about how expensive Leica's are and yes, they are eye-watering expensive... unless you're a professional photographer. (we're not even going to talk about the stupid commemorative limited editions!) The list cost of my old Nikon D3 was within a couple hundred dollars of a Leica M9 so that's a wash. For a professional camera body that could last over 5 years that couple hundred dollars is trivial. Then we get to the lenses... yes, they are shockingly expensive. The Summarit 35 2.5 I have is one of Leica's cheapest lenses and is still hundreds more than the top of the line Nikon 35. But they are something to behold. Others have called them jewel-like in their build and finish and I can't argue with that description. Plus, these lenses can last for years... decades even. Because there's no electronics, autofocus or plastic there's very little that can break or wear down.
Right from the get go, this camera just felt right. Sure, there are technical things things that drive me nuts but I think I think most of the other camera manufactures (except maybe Fuji, see my review of the Fuji XPro 1) vastly underestimate the importance of a feel of a camera. Yes it's still just a tool, but if a tool can inspire you then all the better. For me, picking up a Leica was like a first kiss... an electric shock of joy and excitement of new possibilities. Of course, that first kiss was followed by a very steep learning curve. :)
No autofocus, manual rangefinder focussing. This was a huge departure for me from my autofocus DSLR's with their what-you-see-is-what-you-get viewfinders. Hell, you can shoot this camera with the lens cap on if you're not paying attention!
I've had the camera for a couple months now and have been using it exclusively for personal work and bringing it along to all my commercial work... everything from weddings to headshots to theatre photography.
Things I love:
- That Leica look. Let's face it, say whatever you want about the file quality, bad LCD or tiny buffer but I don't think there would be any argument that this is the best looking camera out there... and this is a design that is relatively unchanged since the 1950's. There's a reason all the other camera companies are going retro in their camera designs. I'm not going to lie, sometimes I just like to look at it. :)
- The size. This is one of the biggest reasons I've been dipping my toes in the mirrorless waters... I want something smaller, more discrete than the assault weapon-looking DSLR's with their massive lenses that Canon & Nikon produce. On the other hand, too many of the mirrorless cameras are actually too small, and too light, to work with for a full day of shooting. A camera needs a bit of heft and size. For me, the Leica is just about perfect in this regard. I've already noticed a different reaction from people when I point the Leica at them vs. the big bad DSLR.
- The lenses. As good as the cameras are Leica is actually known as the premier optics manufactures. Even though the lenses are tiny compared to the SLR versions (a big part of that is the lack of autofocus, which I'll get to in a minute) the produce results that are amazing... very little distortion of any kind and sharp wide open.