Leica cameras are beautiful, but I thought I grew out of them.
Everything I can do with a Leica camera I can do with any other camera. What makes Leicas so special are their lenses and how they work specifically with the sensors in their cameras. I’m referring specifically to the M series. The L mount cameras and the Leica Q series are nice, but with their price points they don’t make a lot of sense for the type of work I do. If I did a lot of photojournalism in war zones, the Leica SL would be a mainstay. I still own my Leica CL film camera, and after selling my Leica M4P I have come to be at peace with letting it go. But, the itch came roaring back. And as a gift to myself for the site turning 10 years old, I bought an old Leica M6 TTL. I’m sure no one would be able to tell what came from my Hexar AF and what came from the Leica M6 unless they really knew the differences of the images straight out of the camera. To that end, I accepted that the Leica M cameras were a luxurious item for me and my film photography–but film in and of itself is really a luxury.
If I really wanted to flex my film love, I’d bring along another snazzy camera or a medium format film camera. Anything that a Leica M film camera can do is possible with a current Leica digital. But most of what is possible with a Leica digital camera is possible with many other options out there. Again, it has to do with the lenses and how they interact with the sensor. What’s so special about the system overall is that the rangefinder lets you see what’s outside of the frame. To use that to full effect you need to be careful and skilled. Additionally, the camera’s mechanisms deliver a potentially faster experience than autofocus offers. You can seriously capture the moment, but you can with any other camera if it is in the hands of a skilled photographer. Arguably, a Leica M is better at capturing if the photographer is willing to do a bit more work.
In general, I think the world needs to move beyond the idea of capturing the moment. Capturing moments is wonderful when you’re on vacation or hanging out with friends. You could do it at a more cost-effective price point with a lot more technology built in that would make sharing easier. I think photographers need to move more into the world of creating instead. A Leica M can do that, but so can any other camera out there. Additionally, other cameras can do it better with features like a faster flash sync, a flash system that is actually effective for things like rear curtain sync or HSS, multiple exposure modes, timelapse modes, face detection, and the ability to have an eye in focus when shooting with a lens wide open without needing to focus and recompose. The Leica SL and the Leica S series of cameras have more technology packed into them for sure, but they’re still outdone by other options on the market today.
So then why did I buy another Leica? To be honest, it’s a tactile thing. One of my best friends made me realize that, the same way folks geek out and fetishize watches, people do so with cameras. In the end, a camera is designed to accomplish a specific goal that hasn’t been outdone by more affordable technology yet. While a Grand Seiko watch can have the face done in a special way that is truly a work of art, it’s not going to tell time better than your phone. But a dedicated camera can outdo your phone in many ways. A Leica specifically can be a much better image taking device than any phone. I’d even say this about the Film Leicas. I’ve started to believe film isn’t as practical as digital, but I think some of the best film photographers can make the most of it. I’m not talking about the Emily Soto types of the world: I’m talking about the Kate Hook types who experiment with different processes and films to get looks that a digital photographer will spend lots of time asking fellow Reditors how to get.
Aesthetically speaking, a Leica M camera is a masterpiece in many ways. I used to think that everyone who went Fujifilm instead of Leica did so because they can get the same aesthetics for cheaper. But that’s simply not true. The X Pro series is a far more capable camera, but they have a smaller sensor and deliver a completely different look. They can do most of what a Leica M can do in a very reliable body that is lightweight and has even more capabilities. Seriously, use a Fujifilm X Pro 1 or X Pro 2 for a weekend while on a getaway or vacation and you’ll see how effective of a tool they can be. But despite all this, nothing on the market feels like a Leica. Owning a Leica is a tactile thing. You enjoy the look and feel of it slung around you. You know that you have the skill to get the shot. On top of all that, you know that your camera will be very reliable. The moment I got my Leica M6 and strapped it around me, I felt complete again.
If we’re talking about Leica Digital cameras, the Leica M9 did something that no other camera on the market does with its sensor. The inherent look of slide film is there and it’s beautiful. Folks may say that it can be done in Photoshop. But I’m much more of the belief that we should be photographers and not Photoshop artists.