Leica Camera allows you to frame your special moments forever.
Leica Camera AG is an internationally operating, premium-segment manufacturer of cameras and sport optics products.
The legendary status of the Leica brand is founded on a long tradition of excellence in the construction of lenses and optical devices. And today, in combination with innovative technologies, Leica products continue to guarantee better pictures in all situations in the worlds of visualisation and perception. Innovative products have been the driving force behind the company’s positive development in recent years.
Basics and usage
The Leica M is a full-frame, 24 megapixel digital camera wrapped in a tough brass enclosure.
Leica M cameras are ‘rangefinder’ type cameras, which is something different than an SLR. The main difference between an SLR (‘Single-lens reflex’, like Canon or Nikon’s cameras) and a rangefinder is the viewfinder and focusing mechanism. With the SLR, the camera user always sees through the lens. Effectively, your view of the world is entirely the same as your lens, and once you release the shutter a mirror moves the image onto the sensor or film. Rangefinder cameras are mirror-less and do not operate in this way: they have a little window which shows a set of lines overlaid on the image that correspond to what your lens will capture.
The benefits of rangefinders are multiple: for one, as you can see more than just what your lens sees, you can frame your image more effectively. You never have to hunt for your subject as you see things the same as you would with your eyes. When you take a photo, the viewfinder remains unobstructed; contrast with an SLR immediately interrupts the image as the mirror moves, blacking out your view for a moment.
Personally, I also feel like looking through an un-magnififed image directly into the world with your framelines overlaid gives you that particular hard-to-explain feeling some people wax poetic about when it comes to rangefinders: it becomes an extension of your eye. As there’s no adjustment in perspective, it feels like adding a little overlay to your actual eyes to shoot a photo. You feel part of the scene, involved, connected. You can think of the photo more conceptually than you would when you would look through the lens. The end result, I’ve found, is that it forces you to think about your shot a lot more.
The drawbacks are also real: for longer focal lengths like telephoto lenses, it can be quite difficult or impossible to even see what you are shooting. Rangefinder cameras just weren’t made for longer lenses — well, until this particular one. More on that later.
Leica has an excellent reputation as one of the best camera lens makers in the world, and the M line of cameras has an incredible variety of glass. Thanks to the all-mechanical aspect of the lenses — no autofocus, all-metal — even some of the oldest Leica lenses from many decades ago work perfectly with the modern M camera. With the new M, you can also adapt a huge variety of lenses from established camera brands like Canon, Nikon, Sigma and even Leica’s old R-line of SLR lenses, thanks to the new camera’s sensor being a CMOS.
The previous Leica M camera, the M9, used a CCD sensor. While it gave it lovely colors and a more pleasant-looking noise pattern, it had poor high ISO performance and no movie or Live View capabilities.
The newer M, with its CMOSIS CMOS sensor can indeed now record movies or show the photographer exactly what the lens is seeing with ‘Live View’: a video feed right from the sensor. It’s a fantastic addition: not only does it offer more options for focusing and exposure checking, it also eliminates one of the drawbacks of a rangefinder camera: putting a long telephoto lens on it is now completely viable through the use of the electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the screen on the back.
With Live View, you’d think the battery life of the M would suffer, but as the battery in the M is significantly larger than the older generations of digital Ms, it shoots for a significantly longer period of time on a single charge. I don’t measure battery life in my reviews, but when I use it intensively I only have to charge it once every few days. In my experience the battery lasts longer than a Canon 5D Mark II / III and far, far longer than the Sony A7S / A7R II in a similar day of usage.
What also sets it apart in daily use is weight. Despite being tiny, it has quite a bit of heft: the Leica M is pretty much a solid piece of brass, and it feels like it. People who handle mine often exclaim ‘wow, this thing is heavy!’. Comparatively, though, a Canon 5K Mark III body is 860g (just shy of two pounds) whereas the Leica M is a svelte 680 grams (24 oz). What fools you is the difference in size: the Leica is just so damn compact. Before the Sony A7 series, there was no smaller full-frame digital camera on the market, and it is still impressively small coupled with its small lenses.
Leica makes some of the world’s most beautiful cameras, which has the somewhat sad side effect that what seems like a majority of Leica shooters don’t really go out and use their cameras. I often get called out at serious shoots on sets or at music festivals by astonished photographers that find it insane that I actually take it out to shoot with. A bit embarrassing, isn’t it? If you aren’t going to use your camera for its sole purpose — taking photos — what good is it?
But sure, it looks gorgeous. I’ll hand it to the ‘stable queen’ keepers who baby their Leica on a shelf in their home: it looks beautiful just sitting there. It’s a camera that doesn’t just take photos well, but also photographs well. My friend Garrett Murray hilariously observed that his most popular photo on Flickr was a photo he took *of* his Leica while it’s being held by his wife.
The M comes in two colorways: silver chrome and and black. I have typically opted for chrome-finished Leicas. Some people swear by the notion that a rangefinder camera, being the tool of the street photographer, should be as stealthy as possible and thus black. I have found the chrome versions to be a bit nicer looking and reactions much nicer if people are aware their photos are taken anyway — not to mention putting any camera up to your eye will get you noticed, black camera or not. They seem to hold a higher value, too, for a reason I am completely unaware of.
An added benefit of the classic look of silver chrome and black leather is that people almost always assume it is a film camera, which is generally received with a more warm attitude as well as having the great benefit of letting you take photos without people wanting to see them immediately after.
Functionally speaking, the M has a very minimal take on camera controls: it simply has one dial for setting exposure and a shutter release button. The two buttons on the front are a lens mount release button and a button you can use for focus assist if you use the electronic viewfinder.
Aperture is controlled on the lens itself, and a smattering of buttons are on the back of the camera to view images as well as adjust ISO other and settings.
Leica’s lenses are something else entirely as far as design goes, as well. ‘Design’ is often misunderstood to be a mere aesthetic flourish or a lick of paint, but for Leica it’s not just the impeccable color highlights and typography on the lens that makes them a design leader. Their products have a tactile sensation that’s not quite unlike the feeling of an ultra-high end car door, or a finely tuned motorcycle gearbox. I can’t actually think of a single physical object that has as pleasant and satisfying of a tactile feedback as the aperture ring on Leica’s top tier lenses. You may only have manual control — Leica’s M lenses are simply metal and glass, with no electronics — but the treat is that the manual controls feel exceptionally good.
Where many camera lenses offer a shoddy feeling plastic hood, Leica’s lens hood literally just slides out, and completely vanishes into the lens barrel design when not in use.
Newer lenses even have the hood lock into place – and thus, putting a hood on your lens is as simple as 1, 2, 3:
These are but a few of the small things you run into that make you hopelessly fall in love with the Leica Way of Doing Things™ once you get (un)fortunate enough to use one of their cameras. Optional hoods, like the one on the Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE, can be removed, but also ship with a small metal ring that can be screwed on to maintain the smooth design of the lens barrel and not leaving the lens hood thread exposed. When screwed on, these hoods have a patented detent that ensures the lens always locks flush with the camera body, and the hood itself features a small cutout to minimize blockage of the viewfinder when attached.
These details are so impeccably detailed and well thought out that it sometimes feels like you’re just spoiling yourself a little too much. It’ll certainly make you smile if you appreciate great design.
By Ride earth
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