Every photographer at one point in their life should own at least one Leica M mount camera. That doesn’t mean it necessarily needs to be made by Leica though–Voigtlander and Zeiss offered very solid options that you can get in great condition. While some may scoff at the prices, it goes without saying that many M mount cameras are built exceptionally well and are essentially timepieces. But if you’re going to get one, don’t just get it based on price. You’ll need to look at what the viewfinders can offer and a few other options.
The viewfinder of an M mount camera does a whole lot. First off, you’ll need to think about what focal lengths you tend to use. If you shoot 85mm lenses, then guess what: you’re going to NEED to go with Zeiss unless you want to opt for 75mm or 90mm lenses. Why? Well, there are framelines in each rangefinder that conform to recognize focal lengths and then give you framelines accordingly. So if you attach a 24mm lens to something like a Leica CL, then you won’t get anywhere in terms of the framelines. You’ll be able to focus using the rangefinder patch, but that’s pretty much it. This is because the Leica CL has framelines for 40mm, 50mm and 90mm lenses. What most cameras seem to have in common though is the 50mm focal length. It’s more or less a standard lens in every way. But there are so many of us who reach for 35mm lenses, and so only certain cameras have that focal length in its frame lines. Then it gets even more complicated.
If you’re a photographer with not such great eyesight then you need both a bright rangefinder (paying for a good CLA is always worth the money) and one with magnification that can suit your eyesight. For example the Leitz Minolta CL doesn’t have such a strong magnification because of how small the rangefinder mechanism is comparatively to many others out there. In contrast, the Leica M3 and the Voigtlander R3M/R3A have very good viewfinders with very high magnification of the scenes you’re looking at. While the Leica M3 is one of the most affordable M mount lenses, it’s only best with normal to longer focal lengths whereas the Voigtlander does the same but with an extended range.
Then lastly, you’ll want to consider the shutters. I prefer options that don’t need a battery to operate the shutter. But if you don’t mind the batteries, then you’ll be rewarded with faster shutter speeds at the cost of arguably lesser reliability.
Below is a list of a variety of M mount cameras sorted by shutter types and offering up a list of their framelines and magnification. This should help a number of photographers figure out what’s best for them and their eyesight based on what you may have tried already. More of this information can be found by going through CameraQuest.
Leica M Mount Cameras With Mechanical Shutters
Leica M3: .91 magnification; 50mm, 90mm and 135mm. 35mm lenses designed for the M3 optimize the finder’s magnification.
Leica MP: After Photokina 2004, the only standard production choice was the .72. The .58 and .85 finders became available only via A La Carte
Leica M2: .72 finder magnification; 35mm 50mm and 90mm frames
Leica M1: No rangefinder but there is a parallax corrected viewfinder.
Leica M4: The M4 finder can be changed to the later 28/35/50/75/90/135 finder system of the M6 as a standard Leica upgrade. But it usually has a 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm frameline system with a .72 magnification viewfinder
Leica M5: 0.72 viewfinder magnification. Like the M4, the M5 viewfinder features bright-line frames for 35 mm, 50 mm, 90 mm, and 135 mm lenses. The 35 mm and 135 mm frames appear together as a pair.
Leica CL: 0.60 viewfinder magnification. It’s some of the least of any M mount rangefinder. 40mm, 50mm, 90mm framelines.
Leica M4-2: 35/50/90/135mm frame lines 0.72x viewfinder magnfication
Leica M4-P: 28mm/35mm/50mm/75mm/90mm/135mm in a 0.72x finder
Leica M6: Variety of options for the magnification. The 0.85 is often the one in demand. 35mm, 50mm, 90mm and 135mm framelines but some also include 75mm
Leica MP: 0.58x, 0.72x, 0.85x options offered. 28-35-50-75-90-135mm frameline
Voigtlander Bessa T: Depends on a whole lot of stuff. It more or less uses a viewfinder for each lens.
Voigtlander Bessa R2: 0.68 magnification with 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm frame lines
Voigtlander Bessa R2M: .7 magnification, 35/50/75/90 framelines
Voigtlander Bessa R3M: 1:1 life size, 40/50/75/90 framelines
Voigtlander Bessa R4M: .52x magnification with user selectable 21/35, 28, and 25/50 parallax corrected brightline frameline combinations.
Leica M Mount Cameras with Electronic Shutters
Minolta CLE: 28mm, 40mm and 90mm focal lengths. 0.58x magnification.
Konica RF: 28, 35. 50, 75, 90, 135mm framelines. 0.6 magnification
Voigtlander Bessa R2A: .7 magnification, 35/50/75/90 framelines
Voigtlander Bessa R3A: 1:1 life size, 40/50/75/90 framelines
Zeiss Ikon: 28, 35, 50 and 90mm framelines. 0.74x magnification finder
Leica M Mount Cameras with a Mix of Both
Leica M7: .58, .72, or .85 Finders are available. Of course, this also determines the focal lengths that you can use.