What makes photographing with a Leica M so special?
The Leica M was long known as the best camera in the world, but the competition has caught up and now produces comparably good cameras. So what is it about the Leica that makes it so special these days? Is it just a cult, the glamour of a bygone era, or is there really something to the special magic of taking pictures with the Leica M?
Leica - a different kind of photography?
Criticism of Leica M cameras is voiced again and again. It mainly revolves around the price of the legendary camera, which is much too high, and the fact that professional photographers hardly ever use it as their camera for daily work. Moreover, it is repeatedly said that the Leica M used to be lonely top, but nowadays it is not much better than other cameras with more features and a more moderate price.
Nevertheless, generations of photographers love their Leicas and professionals, even if they work with other cameras in their daily work on weddings or reportages, often have a Leica at home for the private joy of photography and beautiful pictures. This apparent contradiction is quickly resolved when the all-important phrase is uttered: Leica simply means a different way of taking pictures.
And what makes the Leica so different from other cameras of comparable quality? One of the main themes that Leica enthusiasts cite is the focus on the essentials that the brand has been committed to since the beginning of its camera production. Particularly important in this context is that Leica has dispensed with autofocus and the multitude of function modes that often characterize modern cameras, and instead continues to use manual focus and fixed focal length.
There is nothing about the Leica that is not essential, nothing that is not really needed for photography. This allows a Leica photographer to merge with the camera in a special way, similar to a simple but perfectly balanced tool that he knows down to the last detail. Thanks to this purism, the Leica camera is still one of the smaller camera models, which is why it doesn't get in the way when taking pictures. As a good tool, it is rock solid and does not break easily, so there is no need to worry about the camera.
A Leica for life
A look at the Internet proves that Leica cameras are solid and can last a lifetime: Used Leica cameras and accessories are sold here on numerous portals, and at good prices. Anyone who has ever photographed with a Leica M3 from the 1950s or 1960s knows that it still feels like it did on the first day, no rattling, no problems. The simple, timeless design of Leica cameras, from which manufacturers have not deviated to this day, contributes to the timeless charm of the camera, which simply does not go out of style. Everything here is designed according to the Bauhaus motto "form follows function" and processed in Wetzlar in central Hesse with proven quality.
Admittedly, the topic of sustainability is booming. But Leica Kamera AG didn't just take up this cause yesterday. Long before the term became a buzzword and sales argument, manufacturing with a high proportion of manual work and the use of selected high-quality materials were already high on the agenda here. At Leica Kamera AG, they are convinced that this is the only way they can continue to guarantee the robust everyday usability and special longevity for which the company stands. And a look at the Leica second-hand market and its prices clearly prove them right.
The Leica demands
Above all, photography enthusiasts who have the wherewithal but still lack experience often find it difficult to get to grips with the Leica without autofocus. Experienced photographers, on the other hand, are used to the fact that everything has to be set beforehand with the Leica. They know in advance exactly how close they want to get to a subject, because the camera's fixed focal length has no zoom. The shutter speed also needs to be set, and a professional can determine the lighting conditions, also called available light can estimate the lighting conditions precisely. And finally, you have to decide on the right aperture so that the focus is correct when you take the picture.
All of this sounds cumbersome and may feel that way for beginners during the first few attempts. But it also means a special freedom when actually taking the photo. Once all these decisions, which were important in advance, have been made, the camera moves completely into the background and the photographer can approach his subject directly and undisturbed. Thanks to the special feel and the easy-to-understand design, the photographer will also quickly find his way around, so that possible incorrect settings can always be readjusted and corrected afterwards.
A special feature of the Leica M is its rangefinder, which is even found in the name with the "M". Here, the photographer neither sees the image through the lens via the mirror as with an SLR camera, nor does he see the subject on the screen, as is the case with mirrorless cameras. Through the rangefinder, the photographer can see past the lens as if through a small window, and thus cannot see what the finished image will look like, but perceives a larger section of the image than the camera. This allows him to react to something coming into the picture at an early stage and, depending on the lighting situation, he may be able to see better than the camera. Through the rangefinder, the photographer is part of the action, framing with the camera only what he wants to capture - a scene, a mood, a moment.
The Leica is demanding, because without the option of zooming, you have to get close to the object of photographic desire and know your craft intimately to take good photos with it. However, the effort of learning this craft is rewarded by very special photos that always stand out and draw attention.
The Leica Look
Because pictures taken with a Leica camera are clearly different from others, the term "Leica Look" has evolved over the years. Of course, it is important to realize that even the best camera is not magic, and simply pressing the shutter button does not immediately produce the Leica Look. As described above, taking pictures with a Leica - whether with a digital Leica like the M10 or an analog one - requires craftsmanship, knowledge and, above all, experience.
So the magic of that special Leica Look remains in the hands of the photographer, whose work often looks simple but requires a great deal of precision. With the Leica, such wonderfully spontaneous-looking images are made possible by the absence of autofocus and the mandatory focusing in advance. You don't have to wait for autofocus after setting, and there are no mistakes because something else was in focus than intended.
Certainly, the special look of the images is also related to the workmanship and quality of the tool. Leica lenses still have the reputation of being lonely tops and enabling a particularly sharp image. They offer particularly good light sensitivity as well as outstanding image and processing quality. With Leica lenses, focusing is possible for much longer even in fading light, and you can also shoot through obstacles like fences and window panes, allowing for interesting perspectives and multi-layered photos. It's also worth noting that not only are the lenses as stable in value as the cameras, but all Leica M objects built since 1954 can be used on the latest digital Leica M camera.
Of course, what makes a good camera is ultimately entirely subjective and depends solely on how and what someone wants to photograph. The Leica remains special, even though you might be able to take similar pictures with other cameras. It is not only a beautiful camera that impresses with its simplicity and pleasant feel and has good lenses, but it also challenges photographers to think about the subject and situation in advance. Last but not least, it is the last but not least, it is the camera par excellence for street photography, because with the small camera in oldschool design, photographers remain more relaxed, it is discreet and stylish.