The Leica M and the M9

The Leica M and the M9

The Leica M is an evolution from the unique culture of rangefinder cameras. At present there is no other digital rangerfinder camera on the market in common with the Leica M. Every innovative company cares the sustainability of its product and Leica is of no exception. The birth of the Leica M (Type 240) has proven that the company catches up fast with the latest technology, making a slight departure from the tradition, albeit it is essentially a camera of still photography.

Switching to a rangefinder system is not an easy decision. The price of the Leica M and lenses may not be the main concern (The Canon flagship 1Dx plus a L lens differs not very much in price with a Leica M with a Summarit-M). I guess in reality the shift from a SLR or DSLR to a rangefinder is perhaps not comfortable to everyone, not to mention other features such as manual focusing or exposure. The learning curve of using a rangefinder is harder. One of my friends expected a lot from Leica but when he held a Leica M body in hand and knew the features of it, he lost his interest.

Leica is a camera that you must think before you press the shutter.

Leica is not only making rangefinder cameras. As you can see there are expanding numbers of Leica branded Panasonic compact cameras. The Leica D-Lux 6 is apparently a Panasonic LX-7. The latest Leica C is also a Audi designed, rebranded Panasonic LF-1. Why does Leica rebrand these small wonders? The answer is obviously simple. Firstly, you don’t expect everyone can afford a second Leica M body. Even if you are a professional photographer, you may find a Leica compact camera a reasonable and decent backup in your pocket. Although these compact cameras deliver excellent quality pictures, many people still find it hard to justify the cosmetic differences (although by cosmetic it means a stylish design).

If you need a bit divergence from the compact cameras, the Leica X2 and Leica X Vario are quite compact but are true and original from the Leica family. The Leica S is also a very capable medium format SLR camera system. No matter how to count, in terms of market share, Leica is still far from being a major player of camera manufacturers.

The strength of the Leica M is the fine optics of the M lenses especially in the focal length of wide angle ranges: there are 11 lenses from 16 mm to 35 mm including the Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21 mm f/4 ASPH “zoom” lens. Bear in mind, the Leica M may not be an effective tool for close-up photography. There is a Macro-Elmar-M 90 mm f/4 set with the Angle Finder M and Macro-Adapter-M offers the closest distance of 55cm and a reproduction ratio of 1:3, but most of the other M lenses are with a minimum distance of 70mm.

The Leica M is also not efficient in wildlife photography. The maximum focal length of the telephoto lens is the APO-Telyt-M 135 mm f/3.4. It is not quite capable of taking photographs of being close enough to the wild animals in the safaris: think of how to focus them in action.

So what is the Leica M for? Its strength is on the reportage: to capture, to document and to explore. It is best for landscape, people and architecture. It is still less noticeable in events in terms of size (not sure how many professional photographers have switched to the mirrorless system) . I have read in the past some said quite a lot of photographs of the featured articles on the National Geographic were taken from Leica cameras. Now this may not be the case as many digital cameras are fully equipped and engineered. Even the DSLRs can make really wonderful quality pictures.

One must agree that the features on the Leica M are evolutionary not revolutionary. It has responded to the request of many photographers using the previous models. If you are already the Leica M owner, you must have noticed that it is a far more versatile camera than ever . What is making this camera so unique is the way you see through the viewfinder(s) as a master of capturing light, not a slave of modern technology.

Featured image: The mailbox.  The Leica M with Summicron-M 50 mm, ISO200, f/2.8, 1/1000sec

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