On the Myth of the Leica Photographer Who Doesn’t Have a Ton of Money

Despite how folks like to jeer at Leica photographers on the web, you don’t have to be rich to own one.

I bought my first Leica camera when I was in college, and I wasn’t rich. I then sold it because I needed the money, and only in my 30s did I really start buying into their cameras again. But, I’m not rich. I purchased used cameras. I bought film cameras. I bought third party lenses. The system is easy to get into if you just go third party or used sometimes. Sure, there’s the idea and the pride with having the Leica badge on your camera. But if you’re passionate about the cameras and photography, then the badge won’t mean a thing to you. Why you’d buy a Leica in the first place isn’t all about the tech, it’s all about you.

There’s this beautiful theory in communications that as we create technology, we become the technology. It’s pivotal to explain how generations work. My generation is probably the last one that will remember what televisions were like before they all became flatscreens. We’re also the last generation that will remember blowing dust out of Nintendo cartridges. So, as time advanced, we become those pieces of technology and we use them as crutches. A Leica brings us back to a time when the photographer had to rely on their own skills to shoot. You have to be in the zone–which applies to zone focusing and the mental state in this phrasing. You have to accept that you won’t get some shots, and you need to let it go. But in exchange, you’ll work harder on getting better photos and more keeper shots than everyone else these days. You have to manually focus.

Nowhere is it more critical that the moron behind the camera be aware of what’s going on than with a Leica. Anyone can use technology these days. Camera manufacturers are trying to dumb down their products to make them easier to use for greater adoption. But Leica M cameras don’t change. They require you to actually be skilled in using them. The tech isn’t the newest all the time, and when it is, you still need to work in a different way.

With a Leica film M camera, you become part of a whole tactile experience. It’s about the ergonomics, the shape of the camera in your hand, and the experience of using the rangefinder. You’re wired into the scene a lot more. You’re not just telling the camera to focus on something moving and to capture it. You’re instead, making an effort to be more involved in the capture process.

That’s why you buy a Leica M. Because you want to be more involved in the process, test your own skills, and have that beautiful tactile experience. It’s hard to go back to other cameras once you do. I’m not saying it should be your only camera system. Instead, the Leica should be a complementary camera system to what you have. You should use it as a learning tool and as a hobbyist item. It should remind you of your love of photography. If you get the shot or not, it will teach you that sometimes life is just about enjoying the experience rather than the results.