I am both drawn and repulsed by the whole Leica thing. For the most part I dismiss them as overpriced tools that people get just because they are Leicas and then I see one and I think ooooooo… shiny… and have to stop myself.
I am not in that price range for any of my cameras (apart from the Olympus Pen-F perhaps) and so thinking about them is pointless anyway.
I can’t believe though that it is all hype, there must be something special about them. I know they are well built and reliable and quiet; is that what it’s about though or is there something else?
And I ponder; are they really that good? What is so good about them? You read forums and mostly you get subjective comments about the “feel” or ” you have to use one to understand” and such like but not very much actual facts and the facts you do get are from Leica lovers that won’t hear a negative word about them.
So it’s difficult as an outsider to that world to see what the fuss is really about. I have a lot of cameras and I’m very happy with what I have; I think that I take as good a picture with them as I could with anything else. And yet I still collect, I still browse and buy more. I am reminded of an article by Steve Karsten
brought to my attention and I sometimes wonder, am I subconsciously unsatisfied with my film cameras and is a Leica M3 or M6 the holy grail that I don’t know I am looking for?
If I got one, would I sell all my cameras as their capabilities fall into insignificance? (I would probably need to just to cover some of the cost)
If Leica had got it so right back in the early part of last century, wouldn’t most other camera makers have copied them and got it equally right eventually?
I’m not against the idea of owning a Leica (or maybe I am) I just don’t get it and I need to get it before I could risk such an expense. How does anyone make that decision?… well anyone with a job to hold down and bills to pay that is; is it just faith? Or is it a belief that it is the best tool and the best tool they will have?
I don’t think of myself as a gear-head. I skip over most product reviews of this new lens or that new camera. I got my Pen-F after working out the dSLR I had was bad for me and I have been so pleased with it (despite some poor reviews I had read). I tried it and found it fitted me perfectly; I don’t see me ever buying another digital camera.
But film cameras still intrigue me. If I see a Voigtländer that I don’t have I crave it and try to justify its inclusion in my collection; even if it’s post actual Voightländer and was made by Rollie or Cosina. A few other brands interest me too such as Yashica and even Ricoh but I try to keep within just a few manufacturers.
Leicas have always been beyond reach and that has been a good enough barrier but as Steve Karsten notes it’s possible to spend a lot more on many cameras that don’t make the grade when one Leica would have done.
But then we are back to why? Why buy one? I already have a machine with a small hole that opens and closes at the touch of a button with a lens on the front that focuses well onto a film. I like the pictures that it produces and I do not believe that a different machine that does effectively the same thing) will make my pictures any different. So what is the benefit?
I guess it is a similar story to bikes; I have bikes that are good enough, I could go and spend a few thousand dollars on a nice piece of carbon fibre or vintage Italian steel but would it significantly improve my speed?.. Slightly and briefly maybe, and I might get appreciative looks from other cyclists but I doubt I would take full advantage of the performance enhancements. I am a believer that until the equipment is the limiting factor upgrading is unnecessary. I am happy with my bikes as they fit me well and the same probably goes for my cameras. I haven’t yet got everything I can out of them so no need to invest in something as expensive as a Leica.
As I see it, if I take my little Voigtländer Vitomatic II and compare it to a Leica for what it physically does, there are a couple of things that stand out; 1. the lens because it’s not interchangeable and it’s only a 2.8. 2. The shutter speed is a bit limited at 1/300. Otherwise, it technically does everything a similar aged Leica does. The two limitations aren’t huge 2.8/50mm is far from a terrible lens and shutter speed is manageable for now (plus I have other cameras with better speeds).
But that is compared with one camera; Nikon and Canon also made rangefinders and I have a Fed that has similar specs. I can only think then it does just come to how it feels and the build quality and as my Vitomatic works fine and cost me less than a quarter of a Leica (possibly a tenth) I can’t see the justification of it; at least until those limitations really do limit me.
And that is where this blog post was going to stop. Then here I was in Cologne, Germany and standing outside of a camera shop. A few Voigtländers in the window as well as some Leicas and other cameras. My fiancee says, that’s a nice camera, I’ve always wanted one like that and she is pointing at a Leica; not, I hasten to add a rangefinder, but an SLR. An R4 to be precise. It’s not expensive (relatively speaking) and (slightly surprised at this new revelation) we go inside to have a closer look. We didn’t buy it but it has not helped with this particular GAS related post, and I did for the first time hold an Leica (M2) in my hand. It felt quite nice but not nice enough to hand over significant cash for it. But now there is a door ajar… I can see this subject coming up again some time, especially as now it seems I am looking for a late model R4 as a wedding gift.