View Full Version : hype?

Richard Schlesinger
10-Jun-2005, 10:41
Periodically I receive gorgeous brochures from Leica and find myself sorely tempted to spend a fairly large size fortune on one of their M cameras. They are so seductive!

My question is this: have any of you (I'm sure you have) used Leica, and are their lenses al that good. I've been using Nikon forever; mostly their lenses are excellent, with some a bit better than others, but never a problem. Do Leica lenses really show no flare? Do they resolve as much as an 8X10? Is the bokeh always superb? In other words, is it mostly hype? I fooled with one and can't see the full 35mm frame as I wear glasses. I can with the Nikon, but that could be lived with if the images are so wonderful.

I would appreciate opinions before I go out and spend my life savings on an M7 and 35mm lens.

Paul Butzi
10-Jun-2005, 11:28
I use M6's and Leica lenses for things that call out for hand cameras.

Yes, the lenses are good. Are they better than, say, top notch Nikon or Canon lenses? Probably not, although they do provide a somewhat different 'look'.

Are the lenses flare resistant? Yes, pretty much. Are they free from flare? No, Leica have not found a way to get around the laws of physics.

Do they resolve as much as 8x10? That would depend on a lot of things, including what lens you're using on the 8x10, but in general, no, they won't.

Is the bokeh always superb? No. My 90mm summicron does not have the lovely bokeh of my 50mm summicron. And the 50mm f/1.0 Noctilux is, well, different.

My extended thoughts on Leica M stuff at www.butzi.net/reviews/leicam6.htm (http://www.butzi.net/reviews/leicam6.htm) and at www.butzi.net/reviews/mlenses.htm (http://www.butzi.net/reviews/mlenses.htm)

Mark Sampson
10-Jun-2005, 11:37
I've used both Leicas and Nikons for over 20 years. For the most part I agree with Mr. Butzi's post above. I would add that the current Leica 35/2 ASPH is a superb lens, and I'm not sorry trhat I bought one new a few years back (1st new lens in all that time, btw.) A thing to note is that RF cameras help you see differently than cameras that use a groundglass, and to my mind are a useful counterweight to controlled, tripod-mounted view camera work.

10-Jun-2005, 12:01
I also asked myself the same question. I finally got myself a Bessa R2A. I do my serious work with MF and LF. I could not justify the expense because I use the Bessa for snap shots, color/BW. The Bessa and its lenses are very good.
I also just got back from a trip to Egypt, and going through Cairo and small villages where military scort is a must, I can not see myself walking around with a 3,500 camera.
Although M series are great, well built, etc. I think they are overkill for 35mm. Another though is to get a Mamiya 7 for those shots that may make it to big enlargments.
Good luck,

Oren Grad
10-Jun-2005, 12:10
The short answer: M-Leica cameras and lenses are fabulous tools. But they're also very distinctive in what they do and how they do it, and they're not a good match for every person, or every purpose.

The longer answer:

Do Leica lenses really show no flare?

No. The newest ones are first-rate in that respect, but there's no such thing as a lens with zero flare.

Do they resolve as much as an 8X10?

No, although the latest "ASPH" lenses are spectacularly good and exceptionally refined as lenses for 35mm format go.

Is the bokeh always superb?

No. There's a lot of variation in this respect across the different M-Leica lenses.

In other words, is it mostly hype?

No, M-Leicas really are very special. But whether an M-Leica is right for you really depends on your shooting style, what your hand finds comfortable, and your taste in the subtleties of optical rendering - or indeed, how much you care about the latter at all. I used to own a Nikon system (N90, N8008s, lots of fixed focal length AF-Nikkors), but I sold all of it. I found the bodies too big, too heavy, too unwieldy and too noisy. To my eye, the lenses were consistently too harsh for monochrome work, in terms of both bokeh and tonal gradation. Finally, for out-in-the-world snapshooting, I just came to dislike the finder blackout and shutter lag associated with an SLR. FWIW, I've also owned Pentax and Canon EOS equipment, so I'm familiar with a range of 35mm SLR systems and optical "personalities".

For my purposes in 35mm, M-Leica bodies and lenses are as close to ideal as any camera system is ever going to get. But again, they may or may not be for you. If you've never used one before, I wouldn't "spend my life savings" for a new M7 and lens. I'd buy a used M6 and lens for half the price - or even a used M4-2 or M4-P and lens for even less, if you can get by without a built-in meter. Use it and see for yourself whether the strengths and weaknesses of an M-Leica are a good match to your purposes. If not, you can sell them for what you paid.

10-Jun-2005, 12:45
The viewfinders of the M6 and M7 show only about 80% of what you will record on your negative at real-life working distances. Is that what you want?

10-Jun-2005, 12:58
Leicas are great if a rangefinder is what you are looking for. The lenses excel wide open. I recently went to Nepal and India with an M6 w/ Noctilux / 35mm Asph f1.4 and a 15mm. It doesnt get better than this. Emile/www.deleon-ulf.com

Paul Butzi
10-Jun-2005, 13:14
The viewfinders of the M6 and M7 show only about 80% of what you will record on your negative at real-life working distances. Is that what you want?

I have no idea what this means.

With a 35mm lens mounted, my M6's show about 110% of the area - the actual image area is defined by the brightlines and is surrounded by a narrow margin of stuff that falls outside the image area. The brightlines are automatically selected when you mount a lens.

With a 50mm lens mounted, the image area is centered in the frame and surrounded by a generous area that falls outside the image area.

With longer lenses (75mm, 90mm, 135mm) there's increasingly large non-image area surrounding the image area, which is defined by the brightlines.

To say that it doesn't show the entire image area is just wrong. The fact that MORE than the image area is visible in the viewfinder is one of the defining characteristics of the Leica M bodies.

Now, there ARE some issues with parallax error for images made up close. The rangefinder moves the brightlines to compensate but...

Richard Schlesinger
10-Jun-2005, 13:25
Playing with an M6 and a 35mm lens (I wear glasses) I found I couldn't see all the frame for the 35. This was the .72 or whatever model. Is the .58 one better? With glasses can one see the whole 35mm frame? That is the lens I use most. Here (San Diego) there is only one Leica dealer and he doesn' seem to have the various models. It will require a trip to LA to look at other models, and if I can't see the whole frame with my glasses on it would seem not too wonderful a prospect.

Oren Grad
10-Jun-2005, 13:29
Paul -

When you're focused on distant subjects, the field of view shown by the framelines is substantially less than what you'll actually get on the negative. Exactly how much less, I don't recall. I'm sure the particulars are well-documented over in Leica-land.

Bill Hahn
10-Jun-2005, 13:31
I've been using a leica 6ttl for about three years. (I also shoot 4x5 LF and a Pentax 6x7 MF formats.)

Went to Paul Butzi's site and read what he wrote about the Leica camera, and found myself in vehement agreement.
(Particularly the bit about rewinding film.)

I bought my Leica out of curiosity and grew to like/love it. But I don't believe it greatly improved the
quality of my photos. It *did* allow me to photograph in low light situations where I couldn't photograph
before (except using flash, which I dislike).

(It's a facet of human nature that once having made a large financial commitment to
a piece of equipment, we feel forced to justify the expenditure by assigning the equipment (or what it helps
us produce) with special and mysterious qualities.)


Ed Richards
10-Jun-2005, 13:51
While the lenses may be great, think about the use - rangerfinders are handheld cameras, and, except for the rare times when you use the top shutter speeds, no handheld camera can take advantage of the resolution of a great lens. Even on a tripod, a perfect 35mm lens hits the wall because film is not perfect. It is just a different camera for a different use. If you want serious resolution in a rangerfinder, just pick up an old Linhof Technika. I will match my handheld rangerfinder shots with any Leica.:-)


Richard Schlesinger
10-Jun-2005, 14:36
Thanks to all. I guess I'll have to make a trip to LA to see if there is one through which I can see the whole 35mm frame with glasses on. Taking them off etc. would seem to defeat much of the purpose of 35mm.

Ted Harris
10-Jun-2005, 15:09

You can shoot with your glasses off if you want too. The rangefinder patch on a Leica M is so sharply defined that it literally snaps into focus. Beyond all that has already been said they are built like tanks. When there is a need and a reason I shoot with an M3 that I have owned since 1964. It has done things liek fly across the Sea of Japan from Seoul to Tokyo tied to the strut of a single engine plane (yeah yeah yeah taht was one of the stupider things I have done in my life in terms of forgetfulness) and after a through dryout kept on going. It was no youngster when I got it and it has been beaten and battered and been back to the factory for cleaning and service only three times in 40 years. An enviable record of performance. I have to say though that it stays in the closet these days; all the otehr 35mm gear is long gone and even the Leica is oft forgotten in favor of a digital SLR when I need that fast shooting.

Darin Boville
10-Jun-2005, 15:23
Of course, you can get those great Zeiss lenses like they had on the Contax G series in the new Zeiss-Ikon that just came out. Takes Leica lenses, too, I believe.

That would be my choice if I was buying an "M" type camera.



10-Jun-2005, 16:01
Richard, does this mean that you're giving up LF, after all these years?

Tom Westbrook
10-Jun-2005, 16:41

I can see the 35mm framelines fine with my glasses on using an M6 classic with a .72x viewfinder. The 28mm lines would be a problem, though.

I second what Paul wrote, except I don't find the film loading and rewind that bothersome, at least compared to loading 120 roll film. I can reload the Leica one-handed while driving. Can't do that with the MF (yet).

Paul Butzi
10-Jun-2005, 16:58
I second what Paul wrote, except I don't find the film loading and rewind that bothersome, at least compared to loading 120 roll film. I can reload the Leica one-handed while driving.

Wow. I'm impressed, seriously. Do you put the camera in your lap and load it?

My biggest problems loading an M6 occur during theatre photography, where you're (a) loading in almost complete darkness, and (b) typically loading in a hell of a hurry.

And when I complain that an M6 is hard to load, that's a relative thing. Loading an M6 isn't finicky in an absolute sense but it is more finicky than loading, say, an EOS-1.

Laura Lea Nalle
10-Jun-2005, 17:31
It's been said that the answer to the long standing Nikon vs. Canon debate is Leica! My father has an old, wonderful Leica that takes just spectacular photos. Like you, I have shot Nikon for a looong time. It seems to me the Leica will retain it's value well, so if you don't like, resale will not be a problem. Good luck.

Tom Westbrook
10-Jun-2005, 18:12
> Do you put the camera in your lap and load it?

Yes, but I admit to restricting that activity to rural streches of the road and am not in much of a rush. I just pop in a roll and pull it through so the end of the film is in the middle of the little take-up sprokets, seat the film properly through the pressure plate hole in the back, close it up and wind it on to the #1 frame. It takes a bit of faith, but I've never had it fail to wind properly.

And, very true, it's not nearly as easy as a modern auto-wind body, but the last 35mm I owned was an OM-1 and the Leica is easier to load than that was. I do agree with you about the lttile rewind lever--it always jumps out of my hand near the end, too.

Even with it's faults, it is an amazing camera sytem, and once held in the hand is hard to walk away from. The only thing to give one pause is the tiny little negative. Compared to 4x5 you've got to laugh, but it is a different sort of photography.

Steve Clark
10-Jun-2005, 21:43
With my glasses on and the .58 viewfinder on the M6, the 35mm framelines are easily visible, give that a try.

David Van Gosen
11-Jun-2005, 06:36
Folding the film leader into a tiny "W" (or "M") simplifies loading the Leica M. You shove the crimped part up into the takeup spool, and the tulip on the bottom plate does the rest. This isn't necessary in most cases, but can be a lot of help if you have to load quickly or in the dark.

Roger Richards
11-Jun-2005, 09:04
Richard, I would not spend the cash on an M system Leica unless you have a chance to use one for a bit. They are really not for everyone.

Personally, I love them and have been using them for years. I currently own a new MP and an M6, as well as two M3's. My lenses range from 21mm to 50mm. I had several versions of the 90mm but found that I preferred SLR cameras for aything over 50mm. These are serious little cameras for reportage-style photography. I currently use them for only black and white work. I prefer the compact 35mm and 50mm Summicron lenses over the very fast Summilux types. The bokeh of the 35mm lens I use, the generation just before the current ASPH versions, is distinctive and special.

I have a Mamiya 7 6x7 system as well as an Ebony 45s 4x5 for MF and LF use; these are used in tandem, one for handheld and the other for tripod work. The Leica is a totally diferent animal. The old adage of horses for courses applies. I have owned or used all versions of the Canon EOS 1 series cameras, including the film and digital bodies, as well as all the premium lenses, some from loans from Canon pro services; the same for Nikon (I worked as an AP photo bureau chief and as a newspaper staff photographer for several years). The current and previous generation Leica glass is superior, IMHO. The only lenses comparable to the Leica that I have used are the Mamiya 7 series glass, such as the 80mm and 43mm, both of which I own.

I don't feel that you will regret buying a Leica. For me there is nothing else quite like an M camera. It is as pure a photographic tool as one can use.

Paul Butzi
11-Jun-2005, 09:55
One more point to throw into the mix: the M series cameras are the only ones I've been able to use left-eyed successfully.

I wholeheartedly agree with Roger - don't go and invest in the M system without using it first. As he says, it's absolutely stellar at being what it is, but it's not some sort of panacea. If it doesn't match the sort of photography you do, it's just not going to be for you.

Richard Schlesinger
11-Jun-2005, 10:26
You are all being exceedingly helpful. I don't know where I can borrow/rent one as I don't know anyone who owns one. I think the biggest problem, as I remember, was that taking off and putting on glasses in order to make a photograph just doesn't seem an option. I am handicapped; I only have two hands, and by the time I take off the glasses etc. it's all over. My eyes used to be wonderful, but now walking around without glasses is not very comfortable. Contact lenses? There has to be a limit somewhere. Maybe I should attend Paul's workshop and steal his Leica? I'd given up on that as arising before sunrise is no longer in my repertoire. Come to think of it, attending a LF workshop to learn about Leica is nearly as perverse an activity as some others I have engaged in. Enough free associating! I will contact Paul otherwise. And again, many many thanks to all!

Gene Crumpler
13-Jun-2005, 08:43
I recently sold a contax G system. The lenses are as good or better than Leitz glass and a hell of a lot cheaper. There is an excellent comparison of Leitz and Zeiss G glass on www.photodo.com.

I quite shooting 35mm and my hand camera is now Hasselblad. When Tech Pan disappeared, I could no longer get B&W quality I wanted. Color print quality was never really good.

I would suggest if you are willing to spend the money for a new leica, consider a haselblad and equilivent lenses. The Blad is not much heavier than a Leica(in my case Contax G) and the film results are markedly better. I still have a bunch of film nikons and lenses but I have not used then in about 5 years.

If you are thinking about the camera as a future investmente, I'd suggest you might look into Investment grade Rolex Watches. Much better investments and much greater snob appeal! So far I have 4 and love then as ultra precision machines. The four are worth $30-40k and the prices keep rising, 25% in the last 4 years.

Another option is the up coming Zeiss Ikon. I have been talking with some insiders and the new lenses being produced are going to make all current 35mm lenses look very bad. But it is still 35mm.

Been there and done that. I tried for 25 years to make 35mm look like 4x5, so I've tried most everything in the way of exotic films and developers.

The best of all film worlds would be gigabitfilm in 120. But we may never see it as Ludwig can not get backing to produce it. He needs $120,000 to produce it and no one is interested in backing any new film ventures.

14-Jun-2005, 16:23
hey gene, look on the bright side... if you wait a few more years, maybe you can bankroll the film with some of your rolexes.