Recently, the awesome dudes at DigitalRev (Kai, Lok, etc) did a video titled “Why the Leica M is so unique” (video at the end of page). It brought back memories of when I took my first shot with a Leica M9 and the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH. Needless to say, it was a magical experience equivalent to the birth of my child. I don’t have a child, but if I did, I’d say it would be pretty damn close.
Like most people, my road to appreciation (and eventually love) of the Leica M system was a long journey which involved a large amount of ignorant questions and the bad mouthing of various Leica owners. Forgive me, I was young. Despite my fondness of the Leica M system, I definitely understand the argument from the other side of the fence. For example, if I was to purchase the current Leica M9 ($6995) and 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M Aspherical Lens ($4995) from B&H Superstore in NY the total would be about $12,000. For that amount of money I can buy a Canon 5D MkII ($2499), EF 24mm f/1.4L ($1699), EF 50mm f/1.2L ($1599), EF 85mm f/1.2L ($2099), and still leave me with about $4000 to spend on any 2 of EF 16-35 f2.8L, EF 24-70 f2.8L, EF 70-200 f2.8L IS II. When I put it this way, you can have 1 full frame camera and 1 lens in the Leica system, or a full frame DSLR with a pretty serious kit of L glass.
It’s almost a no brainer.
The Leica also has no auto focus, the view finder isn’t through the lens, and it’s completely manual. There is no taking a break when using the M9. However if these are the reasons putting you off the M system, man the fuck up! Only pussies use aperture priority! Jokes, I use a DSLR too so relax, I’m not haring.
If you are serious about photography, not serious in the way that you want to make money from it. Serious in the way that photography is a gateway into another world, and the drive to take the perfect shot is out of love for the art over economical reasons, one day you’ll understand where I and many others are coming from. Taking a photo with the Leica M brings you right back to the roots of photography, there’s no AF, no program modes, no high spec processing unit or even a TTL viewfinder to hide behind. If you are not a capable photographer, this camera will eat you alive in front of the world, people will stop and stare as if you were R2D2 with a spastic colon. Be prepared to bare your soul. The timeless design originally created by Oskar Barnack who started at the Leitz camera department in 1911 has remained more or less unchanged. It hasn’t given in to peer pressure, criticism, the huge movement when the Single Lens Reflex became ever so popular. No, it stood its ground and said “One day you will all appreciate me”.
These Leica M cameras and lenses are so beautifully hand crafted and assembled that it feels as if the soul of Oskar Barnack is within every single Leica sold. Many natives and Aboriginal people have a religious belief that a photograph can steal the soul of the subject. With the M9, not only can I steal your soul, I can also make you feel happy, sad, angry, and inspired. All at the same time. Every photo I capture with the M9 also takes away a small piece of me. I’m perfectly fine with that.
Although my time with an M9 was short lived, it gave me a taste. It reminded me of what photography was really about, I didn’t worry about making money or being the guy people want to be around at parties and events. No, the M9 was an extension of me to help me face the world. Life was different on the other side of that bright, massive viewfinder that is so quintessentially Leica. I took 5 photos of seemingly meaningless subjects, but each shot had a lasting effect so difficult to explain that you have to experience it to know it.
Yea, I’m in love.
I can say with utmost confidence that I will certainly own a Leica digital rangefinder before I die. Until then, I can only try to help others appreciate and understand what I have come to terms with.