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A Pro Photographer's review of the Leica M6 and lenses for it

by Kirk Tuck, 2001 (updated March 2011)


Everyone seems to have an opinion about the Leica M series rangefinder cameras, yet so few people have actually picked one up and used it for enough time to understand the unique features and benefits that make it one of the finest tools for certain kinds of photography.

The two current models of the M6 are called the M6 .72 ttl, and the M6 .85ttl and they represent the latest in the evolution of a family of cameras created in 1953, starting with the M3. All M cameras are rangefinder cameras. Unlike most popular professional cameras today the photographer does not view the image through the taking lens, rather, there is a viewfinder which displays frame lines that correspond to the focal length of the lens that is mounted on the camera.

In the center of the viewfinder is a rectangular patch of yellow, which is the rangefinder. A rangefinder works by triangulation. The user focuses the camera by overlaying two images within the small rectangular patch on top of each other in the viewfinder as he or she focuses the lens. When the images are coincident (when they match up) the image is now in focus. This system, when well designed and produced, is very superior in accuracy when focusing lenses of 50mm and wider compared to slr cameras. While accurate focusing a manual SLR relies on the ability of your eye to distinguish sharp from unsharp, the rangefinder is much more "binary". The image is either in or out, there is no amount of gray area as there is in an SLR. As light levels drop the ability of the human eye to discern sharpness drops as well, making SLR's "iffy" for available light photography. The rangefinder only depends on matching up two identical images so that they overlap. Focus is much easier to discern in low light or when using optics that have slow maximum apertures. Additionally, the manual focusing puts the user in charge. Often, even the best autofocus cameras lock onto elements that the photographer did not intend and the focus is not what it could be. This "mis-focus" is hard to see in viewfinders that were not intended to be used for critical focusing as in the case of autofocus cameras, which are optimized to create the brightest images in the viewfinders.

While 35mm SLR's have dominated the market, and the camera bags of professional and amateur photographers alike, the M series Leica cameras have been steadily growing in popularity and are often the "personal" camera of choice for top working pros who also shoot Canon and Nikon autofocus SLR's. They find that their favorite photographs are often taken with the camera that puts the least complexity between the user and the image.

While Leica is no longer making the M6, you still can find used cameras available. Search Photo.net's Classified Ads Section. You could also consider going digital with the Leica M9, (compare prices) (review).

The way I use my M cameras and lenses.

The M's are a great camera for situations where you can't stop and set things up. You are capturing moments or documenting events. I often recommend Leicas to other photographers as the perfect wedding cameras. A typical assignment would be the one I did recently for a pro bono client, a People's Clinic. They needed images of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and administrators providing services to their clients. They wanted the photography to be non intrusive and unposed and yet they needed high quality color images for reproduction on posters and in brochures.

I went with three cameras and three lenses. The cameras were two M6's and an earlier model, the M5. All have excellent through the lens almost spot meters. Each was loaded with Kodak's Supra 400 color negative film. (this is a fine grain film that is easily correctable when shot under fluorescent lighting). The lenses were the 35mm Summicron ASPH, the 50mm Summilux 1.4 and the 90mm APO Summicron.

The two M6's, one with the 50 and the other with the 35 are worn around my neck on straps set to different lengths, allowing one to hang above the other. The 90 on the M5 over my shoulder.

I shoot quietly and wait patiently for the moment I want. The Leicas are almost silent. The image through the finder is always bright and in focus making evaluation of the scene easier. The frame lines show the current cropping while the area outside the framelines is visible and available. I start by quickly metering the room with the 50mm camera. I commit certain readings to memory. There are usually only two or three meter differences in each room. I set all three cameras and lenses to the same settings. While the people know I'm in the room I try not to have any eye contact with them. I become boring and try to visually recede so that the health practioner becomes the center of attention. I scan the room through the finder looking for the right composition. I move the camera a little from side to side to see if I can improve the framing. I may use the preview lever to see how the scene would look through one of the other lenses. I focus on the eyes and try to find something to lean against while releasing the shutter. I try to ignore all conversation so that I shoot for the design and composition and not emotionally.

If you hear that a person is a heroin addict, or that a person is dying, it changes your emotional response to the shooting but it doesn't change the scene. It doesn't come across on film. Better to leave the emotion out of it. I shoot quietly and work the scene with several of the lenses. The cameras are so quiet that the patient and doctor often forget I'm in the room. It's the same way I try to shoot corporate meetings and events. I work hard not to become part of the experience, not part of the entertainment. A motor drive in a 12 by 12 foot examination room is like a gun going off.

In most situations I like to shoot at f2 or f2.8, varying the shutter speed when necessary. With my Reflex cameras I'm lucky to be able to handhold the camera and produce sharp photos with any speed lower than a 125th of a second. With the M cameras I routinely produce images that are sharp at 1/15th of a second.

I mentioned that I meter the room and most times I do that by metering the tanned back of my own hand (poor man's incident meter). I then set the cameras and try not to look at the meter again. Funny thing is that I'm getting far more consistent exposure results with the M cameras than I got from my far more advanced Nikon F5 cameras in the same situations.

Here's why. When I meter my hand it meters the light falling on it and that light doesn't change during the shoot. When I shoot with the Leica I leave the exposure alone and since there is no option for auto-exposure I don't have the temptation to use it. When I used the F5 I was always lured by the siren call of advertising onto the rocks of "multi-matrix super integrated" automation. When I pointed the camera at the doctor's white coat the camera tried to compensate, kinda. When the camera pointed at the dark sweater of a patient the camera tried to compensate, kinda. According to my lab, this "kinda" automatic compensation means that most rolls of pro film are all over the map compared with film received ten years ago.

In fact, now my film rarely is more than 1/2 of a stop off and that makes a quality difference even with color negative film. At the end of a shoot like this the biggest compliment I can get is usually, "Gosh, you were so quiet I forgot you were here!"

What are some of the benefits of shooting with a simple, non-automated, rangefinder Leica?

Turns out there are many:

  1. The quietest shutter on the market. The camera is so quiet when the shutter goes off that normal room conversations are often enough to mask the click. In many situations, the less attention called to the photographer and the camera the better.
  2. The quickest, surest focusing with wide angle lenses of any 35mm camera. Photos taken with 35mm, 28mm 24mm and 21mm lenses can be critically sharp even at wide open apertures as the photographer no longer need allow for the slop of misplaced autofocus, or focus that it not critically sharp due to a legion of SLR focusing deficiencies.
  3. While on the subject of lenses, it is important to note that countless magazines, websites, independent tests and the testimony of countless thousands of professional photographers all concur that Leica's lenses (and especially their wide angles) are the finest in the world of 35mm. When you start with lenses that are sharp wide open, you have so much more flexibility in your shooting methods.
  4. A major advantage of the M6 Leica is it's general appearance. It looks so unlike the large professional camera, festooned with motors and prisms and enormous zoom lenses that most people mistake the M6 for an antiquated point and shoot camera. Not taking the camera seriously they relax and let their guard down. Just what you want if you are in the business of shooting candid photos.
  5. The lack of mechanical and electrical complexity, coupled with German engineering and manufacturing make for a camera that is supremely reliable. In fact, an independent magazine report noted that whereas the professional Nikons and Canons are engineered and produced with the target of 150,000 uses before failure, the M6 is engineered and crafted to deliver at least 400,000 cycles before wear makes repair or adjustment necessary.
  6. No moving mirror makes it easier to design lenses without compromise while at the same time assuring a smoother shutter release with less vibration to diminish the quality of the image. It also contributes to the reliability cited above.

The actual review

I have lived with both versions of the M6 camera for a little over two years now. Both are nearly identical but have viewfinders with different magnifications and a different assortment of framelines for different lenses. The M6 .72 has an image magnification in the viewfinder of .72 x life size. It will accommodate and show framelines for lenses from 28mm thru 135mm. The M6 .85 has an image magnifications of .85 x life size and will accommodate and show framelines for lenses from 35 to 135. Of the two, I prefer the .85 as I shoot at least half of the time with the 50mm lens and this version shows the 50mm framelines without any other framelines visible in the finder. The slightly enlarged viewfinder image also makes framing and composing a bit easier.

For the rest of the review I'll just refer to the M6 unless there is a compelling reason to mention one model.

If you've been using automatic SLR's and autofocus SLR's for a good while, the first few sessions with a non-automated rangefinder will leave you shaking your head and wondering what the heck you were thinking when you parted with upwards of $2,500 for a primitive camera body and one optic. Once you've had maid service, it's hard to go back. Most of us have gotten used to a camera that instantly sets exposure and snaps into focus the minute we bring it to our eye.

Even loading the film in a Leica seems awkward and confounding.

But then it starts to grow on you. The ergonomics are so much better than what we've settled for previously and the tight, well defined metering pattern makes metering less guess work and more science. The ability to prefocus without holding down special focus lock buttons seems so streamlined and easy. The depth of field scale on the lenses encourages us to play with hyperfocal distance focusing and to think more about the pictorial effect of depth of field. It's a camera you can take to lunch, a camera you can take on a date or even to a board meeting without attracting much attention or interest.

But it's really the image that you see through the viewfinder that will convince you that this camera is special. Very sharp and very bright. And one of the most delightful things for most serious shooters is the fact that there is one simple exposure indicator in the bottom of the finder and no other confusing letters, numbers, lights or arrows. If you are working with a separate, incident meter (as many pros do) you can remove the batteries from the camera altogether and it will still function. You just won't see any meter indications.

The best feature for me, when I am shooting in the street or in the board rooms of major corporations, is the fact that when I look through the finder of my camera, with a 50mm lens attached, the frame lines float in the finder and I can see on the other side of the framelines. This allows me to see new ways to compose or crop as well as seeing what may be coming into the frame. The SLR seems to impose a composition on it's user while a rangefinder camera shows you, the artist, what is available just a few feet to the left or the right (or the top or the bottom) of the framelines.

When I started to shoot with a manually focused camera again, the first thing I noticed about my style of shooting was that I began playing more with the edges of the frame. Unconstrained by centering the camera and locking focus and then recomposing, I would focus once and then shoot without bothering to focus again until I or my subject changed position or distance. Images started to come alive for me as compositions became more relaxed and I was able to take full charge of what I saw in the viewfinder.

Moving a step further, to a Leica rangefinder, I found the freedom of the viewfinder, with it's "window" to areas outside those shown within the framelines, pushed me to actively consider my compositions. Images are less centered and less formal. While a little lever on the front of the camera allows me to preview the framelines of any other lens whenever I please, without having to actually mount the lens on the camera.

Finally, I became permanently attached to the camera when I began to use it on travel assignments. Two bodies and four lenses took up about as much space in a camera bag as one Nikon F5 and one of it's companion lenses. Smaller and lighter is always better on overseas trips (or trips around the block, for that matter). I used to travel with the following in my bag for assignments:

Two Nikon F 5's, extra batteries, an 80-200 2.8 zoom lens, extra batteries, a 20-35 2.8mm zoom lens, extra batteries, a Noct-Nikkor 58 1.2 mm lens, extra batteries, and an 85mm 1.4 af lens. Almost twenty pounds of stuff, not counting flashes, film, accessories and connecting cords. Usually an extra, smaller body such as an N90 or the F100 went along so I could go out street shooting during the gaps in my working agenda. Let's call it twenty something pounds. The largest Domke bag, stuffed to the gills. Walking a block with this stuff was an exercise in, well, exercise. And back aches. Because of the heavy lenses and the mirror slap, a tripod was always required for available light photography, and you may have noticed that most professional users of autofocus cameras seem to use flash for everything, mostly to compensate for the inability to handhold these monsters securely.

Now I travel with the following: Two Leica M6 bodies. The 21mm ASPH, the Tri-Elmar 28-35-50 lens (Leica's answer to the zoom lens. One small, compact lens with three focal lengths. Very high imaging performance, even at full aperture). A separate brightline finder for the 28mm focal length, the 50mm Summilux 1.4 lens and the 90mm APO Summicron. A small Leica tabletop tripod and one small Leica SF20 flash unit. This kit tips the scale at only six pounds and change, and it fits in a medium sized Domke bag, giving me more room for film. This is a package that, with the exception of long focal lengths, gives me the same image range as the Nikon with results that are much superior.

Consider the case of the 21mm lenses. The Nikon zoom was very sharp, except in the corners, but it does have some pronounced distortion. To make the image as sharp in the corners as it is in the center requires stopping down to f5.6 or f8. This precludes handheld exposures in most interior locations. Out comes the tripod or the flash. With the 21mm ASPH for the Leica the distortion wide open is non-existent while sharpness and resolution wide open in the corners rivals the Nikon image's center at 5.6. Point and game to the M6 and the 21mm. Quick and painless. At the other end of the focal length choices one would assume that the 80-200 Nikkor would have it all over the 90APO Summicron but that isn't really so. Most of my use for long lenses is either for portraiture or the documentation of keynote speakers at corporate events. I'm usually positioned in the first row for the keynote speakers and am expected to get a good range of expressions during the speaker's performance while calling the least attention to myself. I also can't distract the speaker. Flash is strictly forbidden!

I generally use Kodak Supra 800 film with an 80C filter over the lens. This gets me halfway to the proper correction for daylight film with tungsten lighting and the lab can handle the rest of the correction. It also eats up a stop of light. Here's the choice: The huge, heavy Nikkor wide open at 2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/60th or the Leica 90 with an f stop of 2.0 and a shutter speed of 1/125. Guess which one is easier to handhold. Guess which one has less shake? Guess which lens is much sharper wide open? Yes, it's the Leica.

Additional Leica M benefits which are paramount under these conditions are it's much, much quieter shutter, quieter manual wind and a silent rewind.

The one area that the Nikon would seem to be superior is in the reach of it's 80-200mm zoom lens. But, the longer the focal length used, the greater the magnification of vibration from the mirror slap and the shake induced by human frailty. Surprising to me was the fact that a blow up from a partial area of the M6/ 90mm images was sharper than a full frame shot with the Nikon. The combination of the single focal length lens' higher sharpness wide open, the faster shutter speed and the ease with which the package could be hand held all were visible advantages.

Weaknesses of the Leica M System

While the M6 is the camera I choose for a lot of my work, it does have some weaknesses. To wit:

  1. This is not a camera with which to shoot sports or wildlife. The longest lens is a 135. And while it is arguably the best 135 lens in the world, most sports shooters and wildlife experts will tell you that, for them, photography begins at 400mm.
  2. This is not a camera for people who want a point and shoot. You must meter and set the shutter speed and aperture manually. You must focus. And you must master loading film like they did in the old days. No drop-in automatic film loading available.
  3. This is not a camera for folks who like to shoot outside with fill flash! The top shutter speed for flash sync is a paltry 1/50th of a second. About the only film you can reasonably use to do daylight fill flash would be Agfapan APX 25. And it's been discontinued by Agfa.
  4. The M6 would not be my first choice for studio camera as you cannot preview depth of field or attach an after market Polaroid back for testing. That being said, I've shot some great portraits with studio lights and the 90mm. The camera is a wonderful tool for non-intrusive photography, candid portraits and available light documentation, but the body is only half the system. The crucial point for many users is the lenses!

While the famous industrial designer, Alessi, stated that the Leica M camera body is one of the few designs of the 20th century which he thought was so perfect he would never try to change, it is the Leica M series lenses that are the real lure of the M system for most available light shooters. In the next section I'm going to talk about a number of the lenses and compare them with similar lenses that I've owned and used extensively in the Canon, Nikon and Contax G systems. As a corporate photographer I run a lot of film through my cameras and often log 100 to 200 rolls in a week. I get to know my cameras and lenses with an intense intimacy, in a short amount of time, that would take an amateur user years to match. Also, working with tools under pressure brings out the best and worst points in each piece of equipment. The following evaluations are subjective but are based on 20 years of looking and learning.

The Leica 21mm ASPH Elmarit. This lens is absolutely superb. It has a biting sharpness wide open that seems to be a shared family trait of all the newest Leica optics. I own the same focal length in the Leica R lens and find that I must stop down to at least f8 to even get near the ballpark of performance that the M lens gives me wide open. Both the Canon and the Nikon optics lack the corner sharpness of the Leica at any aperture and only come near to matching the performance of the Leica in the center of their images at f5.6 or f8. Also, most of the slides seem somewhat equal in sharpness until you put them in an enlarger and crank them up to a large size (16x20+). Then the differences really become apparent as the ultra fine detail just keeps coming in the Leica optic, the other lenses have no more detail to offer.

My experience with the Contax G series 21mm was relatively limited because the supplied finder exhibited high levels of distortion while the lens lacked contrast and bite. It was quickly returned to the dealer. In addition, the widest focal lengths really cry out to be manually focused and the manual focus of the G system is barely usable.

The Leica Tri-Elmar 28-35-50. This is a wonderful lens. Small and light, yet solid. I use it mostly in exterior locations as the f stop of f4 is limiting for use in low available light. At 50mm it is, to my eye, as good as the current 50mm M Summicron, thought by reviewers to be "the lens to beat" in 35mm normal focal lengths. At the middle apertures, most manufacturer's lenses are very good. Most of the difference is in the way they design for contrast rendition. The Tri-Elmar is a bit "snappier" or more contrasty than the samples from Nikon and Canon, and that is the main visible difference.

I do like the look of the Contax G series 45. It is not quite as snappy as the Leica product, but the colors and tones have a very pleasing, rich quality to them and the sharpness is equal to both the Leica products.

At 35mm the Tri-Elmar has high sharpness but there is a slight decline in contrast when compared to the 50mm focal length. The 35mm ASPH Summicron lens from Leica is the lens to beat in this focal length. The Tri-Elmar comes fairly close. Both are very far ahead of the single focal length lenses from the two Japanese SLR Manufacturers. The Contax G series 35mm lens has a flatter rendition and while the colors are rich, as in the 45mm, the sharpness is not as high.

Finally, at 28mm the lens is on par with the competition's lenses for the most part. The Leica has a bit more distortion but it also has a higher level of contrast. The images, on film, have their own characteristics, but, the ease with which the Tri-Elmar can be accurately focused on the rangefinder cameras becomes a clear advantage at this focal length as this is the point at which the SLR's limited wide angle focus/autofocus abilities start to fail. This is evidenced in the higher number of improperly focused images in both my samples and the samples and anecdotal evidence given by other professional shooters. Contrary to popular mythology, the depth of field of a 28mm lens wide open is not limitless! And it is certainly not enough to mask all focusing errors.

Since imaging quality is at least equal to all the single focal lengths compared, the real benefit is the tiny package this lens presents. The ability to carry three separate, high performance focal lengths in a space no bigger than a small SLR lens is a clear advantage. The ability to focus it accurately under all conditions is crucial to my success with this lens.

The 50mm Summilux. Leica's standard high speed optic of the M.

At this juncture I must confess that I love high speed, normal focal length lenses. I once bought an EOS-1 just to be able to use Canon's 50mm 1.0 L lens and their 85mm 1.2 L lens. Both of these optics were spectacular. It's unfortunate that they were rendered nearly unusable for quick reportage by USM motors that were as slow as molasses. Indeed, if these lenses had autofocus to match their on-film performance, or had a way of being used manually that would give you real time focusing, I would still be using them. They are superb and easily the equal of the Leica glass. That being said, the 50mm 1.4's from Nikon and Canon are nothing to write home about. Not very sharp wide open and not very contrasty stopped down. The 50mm Summilux blows them away at every stop. And it's half the size! The only high speed lens that is better wide open is Leica's latest 50mm Summilux for the R (reflex cameras) with eight elements and glass so cool that it must have been invented for NASA. This lens, the 80 Summilux and the 180 apo's are what keep me with Leica's SLR system for some assignments.

Both the Contax SLR 50's are decent normal lenses but, again, both are not as sharp wide open and both lack the contrast and super fine detail of the Leica products wide open. The only real contender is the G series 45 which, while different in it's rendition from the Leica products, is very, very good.

I use the 50 Summilux wide open for most of my "available darkness" shots. It is resistant to flare and nice and contrasty. The look of an image with a high degree of sharpness in a limited plane is a look that I think emulates the way the human eye actually sees and we are intrigued by all the stuff in the background that just blurs away. I believe that this lens and the M6 are the ultimate synergistic imaging system for me.

The 90mm APO Summicron. Too sharp.

I have owned four different 90mm Summicrons. The original with the tripod mount on the bottom. The next generation. The Summicron for the R series, and the current 90 APO. This lens cannot be compared to any competitor's lens or even other lenses within the Leica system. It is brutally sharp wide open, and retains that sharpness right on out to f16. If you must use this lens for flattering portraiture, be sure to filter it or shoot in low light so that the subject's breathing and slight movement take some of the sharpness out. I have kept the first version around for portraiture just for this reason. The first version is quite a bit softer wide open and has just a little flare in backlit situations. Using the latest APO version I have been able, using Kodachrome 25 and Fuji Velvia, to have 40 by 60 inch LightJet enlargements made that rival the sharpness I get with Hassleblad lenses and with most 4x5 lenses.

The above four lenses that I use most with my Leica M6's. Many Leica fans will be incredulous that I did not include either of the Aspherical 35mm's (the f2 and the f1.4) as they are widely considered to be among the best of the best of Leica's lenses. The truth is that I own the 35mm ASPH and have used it to good effect, but it's just not my favorite focal length. It's an impressive performer but one I use only when the 50 has my back up to the wall. I don't own the new 135mm APO-Telyt but I have used one. It's performance is wonderful, but I just can't seem to get comfortable with such a long lens on a rangefinder camera. The viewing frame in the finder is just too small. More experienced Leica users have told me that the almost life sized viewfinder of the M3 makes this lens a delight to use, but the M3 has no metering and no facility to use the modern lenses shorter than 50mm so I pass.

Contax G2 Versus Leica M6.

At first use the G2 seems to be a compelling choice. As the weeks drag on though, so does the camera. The G2 has a squirrely little finder that is not at all fun for users of eyeglasses. The autofocus doesn't always autofocus where I would like it to and the use of a focus hold button just bores/frustrates the hell out of me. There averaging meter pattern is less useful than the clearly defined pattern of the Leica meter. The rewind is motorized and much too loud to be used in a theater, a board room, a conference, a classroom or anywhere else when discretion is critical.

The limited selection of lenses doesn't include any high speed optics and, while the 28 and the 45 are superb the other choices are less so. The 90 is a nice lens but requires much skill to achieve consistent autofocus.

The manual focus makes the camera chancy for street shooting as many street shooters prefer to keep their lenses prefocused on a fixed distance and then fine tune the actual shooting distance the moment they bring the camera to their eye. The G2's manual focus isn't up to this challenge.

Finally, and this may just be a personal thing, but the G2 doesn't seem to have the right "feel". It seems just a bit off.

Leica M6 Body with Voightlander Lenses.

While I think it would be foolish to buy a Leica body and not buy some of their best lenses to go along with it. I've run into shooters at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles and fashionistas on South Beach in Miami who added more wide angle capability to their Leica kits with the Heliar 15mm lens and the 25mm Skopar lens and were very happy to have them. I must confess that I bought one of the 15mm's and used it extensively for an annual report job in December of 2000. It made wonderful images. Even the vignetting worked for the dusk images we captured. As to some of the other focal lengths, I would test them thoroughly before choosing. The Leica lenses that I've detailed are head and shoulders above most out there and are a great value/performance proposition.

While Leica is no longer making the M6, you still can find used cameras available. Search Photo.net's Classified Ads Section. You could also consider going digital with the Leica M9, (compare prices) (review).

Gallery

Digital photo titled 15mm-heliar Digital photo titled 90mm-coffee Digital photo titled back-90-elmarit Digital photo titled belinda Digital photo titled ben-90mm-f2 Digital photo titled ben-fries Digital photo titled binna-paris-35mm Digital photo titled binna-train-35-summicron Digital photo titled binna-venice Digital photo titled borghese-gardens-50mm Digital photo titled coffee-90-summicron Digital photo titled cops-sa Digital photo titled cowgirl Digital photo titled dr,-50-summicron.-studio Digital photo titled fiesta Digital photo titled france-film-set-50mm Digital photo titled gov.-ann-richards,-50-1.4 Digital photo titled hair Digital photo titled italian-journalist Digital photo titled last-wood-slats-in-metro Digital photo titled lou Digital photo titled miami-50mm Digital photo titled miami-fashion Digital photo titled model-90-summicron Digital photo titled mousumi-90mm Digital photo titled group Digital photo titled parade-girls2 Digital photo titled parade-night Digital photo titled xmas-parade-SA.-50-ummilux Digital photo titled majorette Digital photo titled portrait-of-kirk-r.-tuck Digital photo titled pret-a-porter-paris-95 Digital photo titled renae-tri-elmar Digital photo titled rome-girl-90 Digital photo titled stage-show-work Digital photo titled tivoli-stage-shot Digital photo titled venus

About me:

I'm based in Austin, Texas, been shooting professionally for 20 years and have worked recently in venues around the U.S. and Europe for IBM, Motorola, Dell, The Leo Burnett Agency, GSD&M, Cellular One, USAA, Time Warner Cablevision, Business Week, Elle Magazine and many more. When I started my business photographers were expected to shoot every format and for years we shot most things on 4x5. The 90's was the decade when we shed our 4x5 equipment. We are getting ready to let go of the medium format stuff. 35mm is starting to look incredibly good next to all the digital sfuff. But we shoot that too. The future. I'm shooting with film and Leicas and scanning with a Nikon LS-4000 until the next big thing.

My business philosophy is, Photography is a physical sport. Stay in shape!

To see more of my work, go to www.kirktuck.com


Article revised March 2011.

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



bruce wong , June 10, 2001; 09:35 P.M.

For me, digital photography looks awfully good next to 35mm.

John Blodgett , June 11, 2001; 01:58 A.M.

I quote: "I try to ignore all conversation so that I shoot for the design and composition and not emotionally...Better to leave the emotion out of it."

I'm curious of the rationale of this viewpoint.

Brian Stryker , June 11, 2001; 03:08 A.M.

I'm not doubting that Leicas are good cameras, but the comparisons you make are not necessarily the best in my opinion. I use a Nikon F2 and find it much less obtrusive than an F5, and lacking the noise of a motor drive. Also, it is completely mechanical and mf/me so it forces you to focus on taking the picture rather than being lazy as an F5 can lure one into doing. As far as weight, it is within i believe a couple ounces of the Leica with a comparable lens. Granted, it's louder than the M6 and is not as sharp due to mirror slap, but it has its advantages. For starters, i can get a much wider variety of lenses (e.g. >135mm) for much more reasonable prices. Also, instead of paying a couple thousand for my body i paid a couple hundred. I bought a new body, a 24/2.8, a 50/1.4, and a 180/2.8 for the same i would have paid for an M6 with no lens. Again, the Leica is a great camera but I would say that for the price one might be better off investing in a mechanical SLR.

Mani Sitaraman , June 11, 2001; 05:54 A.M.

A very sensible review that really gives you a feel for why this camera's fans like its ergonomics.

There is of course a TON of material on the web on the Leica M cameras. Be sure also to read the 80 odd pages (!) of user comments one menu level up from this review at

http://www.photo.net/photo/leica/

Some minor nitpicks...

"The quietest shutter on the market..."

Of all focal plane shutter 35mm cameras. Leaf shutters such as those in TLRs are inherently quieter, and the leaf shutter on a Rolleiflex GX makes the Leica sound like a rifle shot. The Leica shutter does merge into the background in most events, compared to the loud SLRs and whiny P&Ss of today, on the other hand. But its not totally unnoticeable at a quiet moment, at least within a 10-15 foot vicinity.


James Harvey , June 11, 2001; 07:58 A.M.

I think the bast validation of this review is the wonderful photographs at the bottom of it: you clearly get stunning performance our of your equipment, and that, in the end, is all the justification you need

T T , June 11, 2001; 11:51 A.M.

The rangefinder focusing patch on the M6 and M6 TTL is not yellow. At least on a new clean body, it is white/clearish.

Kirk Tuck , June 11, 2001; 11:53 A.M.

John Blodgett asked why I would separate the emotion of a situation from the photography. It's an interesting question. I find that if I get emotionally involved in something I'm shooting that the emotion and lack of objectivity tend amplifiy my visual reaction. But it never comes across on the film. To oversimplify, if I'm in a bakery and everything smells great and I'm feeling great and I shoot a photo of a loaf of this great smelling bread, I'm usually disappointed in the photograph as my memory contains all these other pyshiological clues that will never be there for the third party viewer. If I am affected emotionally by the plight of a clinic client I seem to develop a tunnel vision that distorts and changes my photographic seeing. I would try to establish the same emotional distance if I were writing about a patient. Just my thought on it.

Kirk Tuck , June 11, 2001; 12:02 P.M.

I've gotten several posts and Tom's reply above about my description of the rangefinder spots being yellow. My M3 frames and center rectangles are quite yellow. My M5 indicators are somewhat yellow, and both of my M6's seem to have lines and rectangles that are just barely yellow. In filter language they are about 2cc y. This is just the appearance to my eye. They are not profoundly yellow, just the barest hint. I don't know why. Other users say they are color neutral. Perhaps my eyes are incorrectly filtered......

Pete Su , June 11, 2001; 12:42 P.M.

A nice overview of the tradeoffs between M's and SLRs.

Although, complaining about the huge size and slow speed of the Nikon zooms seems a bit odd. There is nothing keeping you from using much faster and much smaller Nikon prime lenses. The stuff is still bigger, and louder, but the difference is not as great.

While I love rangefinder cameras, and truly appreciate how they make you see pictures differently, one other disadvantage that I would mention that I didn't see in the review is that none of the Leica lenses focus particularly close.

A Nikon 50/1.4 or 35/2 will focus closer than one foot. Most of the Leica lenses focus to about 3 feet. This is a big difference, especially with the wider lenses.

Robin Smith , June 11, 2001; 02:45 P.M.

Responding to Brian Stryker's point about the Nikon F2, I think this is a very natural way to think about this issue, but what it fails to understand is that Leica optics are really in a class above others. Arguably with the M system they are the best available in 35mm photography. Nikon's optics, in my experience, really cannot be compared, particularly comparing (presumably) older manual focus Nikons with the current crop of M lenses. Until you have investigated this, Bryan's argument seems sensible, but once you have had an opportunity to compare them, the truth of the superiority of most Leica lenses becomes apparent and hence the main reason for owning these cameras reveals itself. As in so much with photography comparisons are very difficult to do. Few of us have the opportunity to use both systems for extended periods without financial risk. I suggest to anyone wondering what all the fuss is about that they rent a Leica and any lens and compare it to the exact equivalent lens on the reflex (or any camera) of their choice. The difference will be clear. Then you will understand why so many people swear by their Leicas (M and R), despite the expense. Then in addition there is all the stuff about the superiority of the rangefinder...

ben ray , June 11, 2001; 03:43 P.M.

There is no such a film as Kodak Supra 400 or 800. 'Leica feel' is nothing but just self-chating. The film advance is not upto Nikon F3's silk smooth, the shutter is not as quiet as most leaf shutter rangefinder like a Olympus 35RD, Konica Hexar. Is Leica M good? yes you bet, it is just like a wanderful toy to me.

Mark Wilkins , June 11, 2001; 05:18 P.M.

No such films as Kodak Supra 400 or 800? What are you smoking?

Here you go! Read up!

bradford daly , June 11, 2001; 05:37 P.M.

ben ray claims there is no such thing as Kodak Supra 400 or 800. I have a roll of each sitting here on the desk in front of me. They both definitely exist.

Nathaniel Paust , June 11, 2001; 10:18 P.M.

While the M6 is undoubtably a great camera and has some definite advantages such as reduced vibration and noise, easier-to-design wide angle lenses and so on.... However, this review gets into the "magic camera" land a little bit too much for my taste. No camera will give you better pictures than you can imagine.

Second, while the lens reviews seem to really enjoy words like "sharpest" and "best" it seems like these are completely subjective. There are ways to measure the performance of a lens and it doesn't look like the reviewer has taken advantage of them. Also, some of the comparisons are just plain wrong. Why would you compare a 20-35 zoom with a 21mm prime? The prime is always going to be sharper simply due to a smaller number of glass elements in the lens.

Third, the review doesn't talk about the main drawback to rangefinder cameras (at least in my mind) --- their complete inability to do macro work. If you never take close-up pictures, this may not be an issue for you. However, I assume that many photo.netters occasionally try taking close-up pictures. The problem is that when you don't have a through-the-lens (TLR) viewing system like in a SLR, you can't get a good idea of your photographic subject. Rangefinder cameras suffer from parallax errors, the viewfinder sees a different image than the lens. Even for non-macro work this has to be accounted for. You can always losely frame an image and crop during printing, but that will cost you valuable film real estate.

Last, as a separate issue, while film technology has improved in the last 20 years a well composed and exposed 35mm frame is never going to have the quality of a well composed and exposed 4x5 frame. Similarly, digital is a long way away from matching the quality of well done 35mm. (Point and shoot 35mm is a different matter.) I think that the real issue is convenience. Whether you're shooting portraits or news, your clients want results _now_ and they're willing to trade some quality for the speed. 35mm isn't better, but it may be a lot faster and cheaper. People just need to make sure that they realize what trades they're making.

kyle martens , June 12, 2001; 03:06 A.M.

Hey, did you see that camera that Hasselblad made for $50? How about the lens by Carl Zeiss for $99? Me neither. I think the phrase “you get what you pay for” seems obvious and appropriate here even though everyone is aware of it. If you can afford 15-20K of equipment and make it pay for itself as 20 years of experience shows, then keep it up. I think you made it very clear that each camera (and lens) has an ideal application. Based on the superb images above I think you have shown the situations in which the Leica works the best, which is a fairly broad range. Thank you for the information. It is nice to read an unbiased opinion from someone with real life experience with the object being reviewed. I grew up with my dad’s Canon AE1 system and when I was 15 I got myself a complete EOS 600 system (then $2000 for everything). In some situations I am able to blow that old AE1 off this planet. In other situations when there is time for manual settings, my EOS can’t hold a candle to that rock solid shutter and a manual 50mm 1:1.8. I think that a lot of the disputing above is comparing apples with monkeys. Just because Sigma or Tamron get a lot of awards for producing the best “bang for your buck” and “most versatile” lenses doesn’t mean that they are the best at any one thing. Some people prefer the crutch of technology and will pay the same $ for a zoom with 21 elements and an image stabilizer. Personally I think that your pictures look the most natural and still very sharp of all the pictures I have seen in my life. I think that when people shell out 2-3K for a lens they want that security or insurance that technology gives them instead of making every dollar go toward the quality of the elements.

Dave Jenkins , June 12, 2001; 07:03 A.M.

Kirk Tuck wrote:

"Unconstrained by centering the camera and locking focus and then recomposing, I would focus once and then shoot without bothering to focus again until I or my subject changed position or distance. Images started to come alive for me as compositions became more relaxed and I was able to take full charge of what I saw in the viewfinder." _______________________________________________________________

I'm an owner, user and lover of rangefinder cameras, including Leica. However, I and many other commercial photographers find it necessary to supplement our rangefinders with an SLR system in order to handle the variety of assignments that come our way. I use Canon EOS.

Custom Function 4 turns my Canon into an "electronic Leica." Instead of doing the awkward focus-and-recompose or hold-down-the-button dance necessary with other makes, I simply aim the center focus point at whatever I want to be most sharp in the photograph, press a button conveniently located under my right thumb, release it, and presto! focus is locked at that point until I wish to change it. In practice, it works exactly the same way as focusing a Leica on a given point and then shooting until you decide to focus on some other point.

This one feature caused me to dump brand N a few years ago.

Other reasons Canon EOS is the best SLR supplement to a Leica system include the fact that the Elan series and the A2/A2e/EOS-5 are probably the quietest SLRs made (see Phil Greenspun's review of the A2e). And, while I'm not an expert on bokeh, those who are seem to agree that the bokeh of Canon's lenses is much more Leica-like than that of other makes.

ben ray , June 12, 2001; 08:12 A.M.

Sorry about the Kodak Supra, I think it was call Ektacolor Supra

Andrew Moore , June 12, 2001; 08:39 A.M.

> Second, while the lens reviews seem to really enjoy words like
> "sharpest" and "best" it seems like these are completely subjective.
...
> Why would you compare a 20-35 zoom with a 21mm prime? The prime
> is always going to be sharper simply due to a smaller number of
> glass elements in the lens.

...then sharpness doesn't sound "completely subjective" at all. ("best": yes, very subjective).

Andrew Moore , June 12, 2001; 08:48 A.M.

> Third, the review doesn't talk about the main drawback to
> rangefinder cameras (at least in my mind) --- their complete
> inability to do macro work

The M6 is perfectly capable of taking macro photos using bellows and a mirror housing. It may not be as convenient as a SLR when you're on location, but to say the M is completely unable to do macro work is simply incorrect.

Perhaps a real main drawback, at least to press/event/wedding photographers as an example, might be the 1/50 sec flash sync speed. There are, however, ways around that too, at the expense of convenience.

Mike Smith , June 12, 2001; 09:13 A.M.

I use M6s almost exclusively, and have created many wonderful photos with them. I agree the lenses are, generally, the sharpest that normal folks can buy. However, a great photo isn't great because it's sharp -- it's what's inside the frame lines that count. Sometimes the lack of sharpness adds to the photo, e.g., Robert Capa's D-Day pictures, almost ruined in the darkroom and technically unacceptable by the standards of today, and of 1944. Think of the photos you remember, and then ask yourselves if they're sharp -- chances are you won't care.

Stop worrying about sharpness. The real question is, when you drop your auto-everything down a flight of stairs, will it still function? Chances are, your M6 will.

Kirk Tuck , June 12, 2001; 10:33 A.M.

While I didn't go into much detail about the various lenses I have used through the years, the Nikon system was my last non-German camera system and I did own many of the primes that one person mentioned, including the 85 1.4, the 135 DC the 20, the 28 1.4 etc. and they are all very good optics. The have a much different signature than the Leica lenses. They are smooth. I want real. The Leica R and M optics follow different design targets than their competition and it is a matter of taste. I have a freind who thinks the highest performance vehicle any one needs is a Ford Explorer. I prefer 5 series BMW sedans. Most who profess to like explorers have never driven a BMW for any period of time. They will not understand the difference. Ditto with lenses. Also, if you shoot handheld, with iso 400 color print film, you will most likely not see a difference just as both cars, at a dead standstill in Austin rush hour traffic will have equal performance.

But, that said, the bodies and lenses form a synergistic system. It's not just better or worse optics. It's how they work together in your hands.

Kirk Tuck , June 12, 2001; 10:36 A.M.

In answer to several of Nathaniel's critiques: Sharpness is not subjective and can be easily measured and compared. Having owned many of the better optics in several systems, my judgements were made with many Kodachromes to judge by. I chose to compare how a professional uses the Leica M system versus how most professionals use autofocus SLR's. And that is most definitely with fast zoom lenses. Finally, as I remarked in the review, I own and use the Leica SLR system for close-ups, long lenses, macro, etc. As I say in the beginning of the review, most pro Leica M users use these cameras in conjunction with AF SLRs, to augment them and to take adavantage of all the things rangefinders do better.

As to the magic. Yes, Leica M series have a fabulous ability to make money disappear while at the same time making photographers believe they can take better photos. As any zen master would tell you, "Your focus determines your reality." (actually a quote from the newest Star Wars movie). Leica M is a tool in the tool chest of working pro's. Sometimes you need a hammer, sometimes some needle nosed pliers.

T T , June 12, 2001; 12:03 P.M.

i've done direct comparisons between the contax g zeiss lenses and leica lenses, having owned both.

in general, the contax zeiss lenses yield results which appear more blatantly sharp, but have less character than the equivalent leica lenses. the leica lenses just have the certain something that gives their images a uniquely classic desirable look.

when comparing a contax g image with that of a leica m image, the leica m image will always evoke more feeling. call it the leica mystique, the rare earth lens glass, the red dot, call it what you will, but there's a ceratin subtle beauty in leica images that is unattainable with any other system.

Patrick Smeaton , June 13, 2001; 10:20 A.M.

I'm going to go to bat for Mr. Tuck here. While comparing Nikon zooms and Leica primes may not be a good technical comparison, I believe it was the proper one. Although some Nikon (or Canon) shooters use primes primarily (pun intended), I believe they are the exception. Therefore, the comparison was more real world than technical.

bradford daly , June 13, 2001; 04:14 P.M.

Andrew says that an M6 can be used for macro work with a bellows and a mirror housing.

Andrew, can you please explain this further? I.e, how much does it cost, how cumbersome is it, etc? I'm dying for an M6, but I do a lot of weird little macro still-lifes. I've been thinking of selling all my EOS equipment except my 100mm macro and getting a cheaper EOS body for macro, while getting a wonderful M6 for everything else. If macro isn't that much of a pain with an M6 and the stuff you mention, I might just take the plunge.

Thanks, Brad

Mike Johnston , June 13, 2001; 05:06 P.M.

Hey, I thought Kirk did a very nice job with this review, and I've been reviewing cameras since 1988. My experience over the years is that many Leica naysayers aren't speaking from experience...even if they own one, they've never "come to grips with it." Comparing the specs, the features, ease of loading, the shutter noise--even the lenses--it's all beside the point. Macro work? Telephotos? That's not what it's _for_.

If you want to see an example of what it _is_ for, check out John Brownlow's stuff at luminous-landscape.com/auteur.htm .

Personally, I think the Leica is a mechanical photography teacher. I think every photographer--whatever kind of photographer they are--should use a Leica for a year at some point in their lives. And I'm talking really *use* it, too--put the rest of your gear in the closet and shoot 200 rolls with the Leica. I can almost guarantee you'll come out of that year a better photographer than you went in.

It's even cheap. Buy a used Leica, you can use it for a year and sell it for more or less what you paid for it at the end of the year and come out even (believe me on this--I've done it four times <g>). At worst, you lose a couple of hundred bucks. No big deal.

But all this theoretical talk--heck, it just don't mean a darn thing.

Good review, Kirk.

Yuriy Vilin , June 15, 2001; 03:20 A.M.

Modern Leica gear is way out of my reach, so I ended up with Voigtlander Bessa system. I know, I know but still... Almost everything that Kirk said in his review applies to Voigt stuff as well. I completely abandoned SLR area (I used to own an extensive EOS system), never really looked back since. Compactness and simplicity of RF camera combined with superb lenses are the greatest advantages of RF system. Too bad that most modern photographers are obsessed with "useful electronic" features don't see this... Anyway, I am not trying to convert nobody, I am just confessing and praising my choice. Time to get out and shoot some low-light photographs (handheld, of course…). Peace.

Gerald Hsu , June 15, 2001; 08:16 P.M.

Brad brought up a question about using Leica M for macro work. The easiest way to do macro with M is to use the Dual Range 50mm Summicron. Another approach would be the Visoflex. There is an excellent Visoflex website maintained by Gary Elshaw. Be careful in choosing the right type of Visoflex adapter to use for M6 TTL since the increased height (top cap) with the new M6 TTL has caused it not compatible with much of the Visoflex system adapters. I have a Visoflex II and it has worked quite well with my M3.

Kirk Tuck , June 16, 2001; 10:16 A.M.

Thought I was kidding around about the reliability of the M6??? See Van Riper's article in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/index.htm

A non-biased, first person account.

Christian Becker , June 17, 2001; 07:32 A.M.

good review, kirk. pictures aren't (to me).

Tony Rowlett , June 18, 2001; 12:21 P.M.

The photographs are quite good - by any reasonable measure. They represent a nice diversity of styles; perfectly appropriate for an generalized article such as this.

Pedro Vasconcelo , June 19, 2001; 07:13 A.M.

Like some previous other coments, I'd like to say I don't completely agree with your views on Zeiss vs. Leica lenses. In particular I own the Biogon 21mm for Contax G and it's a superb lens. Although I haven't directly compared it to the Leica 21mm ASPH, several reviews on the net and magazines have suggested that both are of similar performance (although the Biogon is much cheaper). Sure, the external viewfinder has a bit of barrel distortion but if I wanted WYSIWYG viewing I would go with an SLR! BTW, I find myself "manual focusing" the 21mm quite a lot: I use the electronic rangefinder to set the distance and then the external viewfinder for composing--- no problem.

John Clark , June 21, 2001; 07:36 A.M.

Great review. I've always fancied an M6, and one day I might own one (anyone want to buy a mint Bronica ETRSi system ;-)

One thing you (and everyone else) failed to mention is the excellent Mamiya 7 camera. What you describe of the Leica echos what I found to be the case with the M7-II, which I have had for around 18 months. It's not so much that it's technically better than SLR-based MF cameras (it lacks, for instance, fast standard optics), it's just that its primary ergonomics seem 'just so', and the obstacles in the way of a decent shot seem to vanish. AT times with the M7, I feel I can 'do no wrong', and the chromes are spectacular, beyond anything I've ever had with the ETRSi or my EOS system.

For me, rangefinders seem to suit; however, that 'certain something' which Leica has is not confined to Leica; the M7 (as many here will testify) has a similar effect, and most of the benefits you mention as well (although being a MF 6x7 camera, 10 shots per roll means frequent film changes and more expensive prints, etc.)

One day I will test drive the M6 and perhaps buy one; secondhand seems the natural option, but I couldn't leave my EOS and I would never dream of selling the Mamiya...

Good article, happy shooting!

John

Karl Yik , June 21, 2001; 10:49 A.M.

Although good for low light focussing, range finders are harder to focus than manual SLRs under normal lighting as you can focus on the area you are interested in while framing at the same time. With a rangefinder you have to point that tiny rangefinder square at the area you want to focus on, focus, then recompose. I have both a M6 and Contax RTSII and generally will use the RTS when I am photographing moving objects, unless that is I can rely on depth of field on the wide angle lenses of the M6. Both types of camera are good in their own right, just depends on what you are most comfortable with and lens wise, Leica is better, better made that is. Optically, I cant really see much difference between Zeiss and Leica

Robert Goldstein , June 21, 2001; 07:13 P.M.

Having cut my teeth on Olympus and Nikon systems, I can readily accept the superiority of Leica glass. I had the pleasure of using a borrowed M6 for awhile; it was great fun, and I got some terrific photos. The crispness, contrast and three-dimensionality of the images are all there.

However, I also own a Contax G2 system with all of the lenses, except for the zoom and the 16mm Hologon. The Zeiss lenses are equally superb, IMO, and I would bet that even the most ardent Leicaphile would have difficulty distinguishing images created with one camera or the other in a blinded test. I'm not alone in my high regard for the Zeiss glass. "Photo Techniques" magazine opined recently that the G lenses are arguably the finest in 35mm photography. Sure, the Contax system lacks the variety and ultrafast lenses available for the Leica, but most photographers use only a basic few lenses and do not require f1.4 very often.

I use a G2, because I happen to like automation. With the G, automation facilitates my ability to get the image I want onto film; it alters, but does not dictate the creative process. Personally, I have found the focusing system on the G2 to be extremely accurate with all lenses. However, I agree that in situations where one is shooting wide open at close range and the depth of focus is measured in millimeters, an optical rangefinder is preferable.

Both the M6 and G2 are outstanding photographic tools, each with its own relative strengths and weaknesses. To choose between them, an individual photographer must know his own needs, preferences and style. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a period owning and using a camera before one discovers that it does not suit him. This explains why there are a substantial number of former M users now loving Gs and vice versa.

Tito Carlos Maria Sobrinho , June 24, 2001; 10:43 A.M.

Forgive my intervention but I do not see any difference in quality, luminosity and local contrast between your portfolio or any other 35mm camera in the professional level. I have 3 Leicas M4 (1972 new, M2 (1977) and a M5 (1980), but the images done with them, show me the same quality as my Nikon F (1978 new) or my Retina IIc (1958 new). Since I follow a view camera discipline,(5x7, 8x10 for 20 years) the Nikon F fits the slot with "penache". What you see is what you get, DOF preview button. Ground level exposures with ease. Macro lens that leave my Dual Range Summicron in the dust, some wide angle lens that have floating elements since the early 70's. Nikon went to the space program (Apollo 15, Apollo 16, Apollo 17, Skylab I, Skylab II, Skylab IV, Apollo-Soyus and the Space Shuttle) together with the Hasselblad. The Leica mystique started in the 30's when only a few 35mm "professional" cameras were available -Contax, Leica, Ektra and Exakta. They were the kings of the road until 1959 when the Nikon F was unvailed as a full system. Are the new Leica aspherical element done with glass or a polycarbonate material?

Kirk Tuck , June 24, 2001; 01:16 P.M.

Responding to Tito, above: Please be aware that the images you are looking at are Jpegs that contain about 1/100th of the information that is recorded on the film. Of course you won't see a "difference" in quality between images scanned for screen res just as you might not see a difference between various 4x6 inch prints shot with various camera systems. The limiting factor will be the size of the files and the resolution of the screen. The images were appended to the article to show the kind of photographs that I think the Leica M cameras and lenses do well. The detail is much "finer, brighter, more sparkly" on large prints or when projected.

Second, comparing a Dual Range Summicron from 1959 with various lense from the 60's, 70's and 80's is, well, dumb. The Dual Range Summicron was a breakthough in it's time but technology has moved on. The latest lenses from reputeable manufacturers easily beat the DR Summicron in a number of ways. That being said, the latest lenses from Leica are still better than their competitors' offerings. Some people won't see the difference as all current high end optics from most manufacturers are very, very good, and sometimes the small differences are masked by inadequate technique. The comparison between brands across decades is very much like saying that your new Camaro will beat a 1950's Porsche. Yes, it will. But will it beat a 2001 911 turbo???? No, it won't.

I have owned countless Nikon cameras and lenses and found them to be good enough. I have no doubt that astronauts find SLR's easier to use, initially. I have no doubt (after having read in Hassleblad publications the NASA requirements for instruments to be taken into space) that Nikon was willing to spend the money to build cameras to order for NASA. I hardly think that NASA's use of a camera consititutes the ultimate endorsement as they are looking for cameras that are simple for amateurs to use under stressful conditions. They may have been looking for systems with zoom lenses. Who knows? Who cares? It seems obvious that the Soviets used Nikons out of a need to save money!

Yes, the Nikon F shows 100% of the image in the viewfinder. So what? I was very clear in the article to state that there are many photographic applications that are better suited to SLR cameras. I further stated that we own and use a Leica R systems and a medium format SLR system in our work, IN ADDITION TO THE LEICA M CAMERAS.

The M's are a specialized tool and if, indeed you own M4's, etc. you certainly understand this. It's not the appropriate tool for shooting football games or macro images. M's are not good motor drive cameras.

They are made for candid photographs, quick shots, snap shots, art shots, quiet shots, etc. And, as such, they have a number of benefits that were well defined in the article. Not the least being a series of (current) lenses that handily outperform most or all of their competitors at their widest aperatures. If you always shoot at f11 or f8 you do not need Leica glass. If this is your shooting technique (well stopped down) you should go right ahead using the cheapest lenses you can find. If you want superior performance at f1.4, f2 and f2.8 you will quickly realize it with Leica lenses. Not with lenses from the 1930's, 40's or 50's, but Leica lenses from the 1990's!!!! (remember that silly apples to apples thing you learned about in science glass at school?)

Finally, according to Erwin Puts' new book on Leica Lenses, no plastics are used in their aspheric process. The companies that use plastics in their aspheric production include Canon and Nikon, but exclude Leica.

Please read the article again. It does not say that the owner of an M6 will need no other camera. It does not say that M6's will replace view cameras or SLR's. It does point out how useful, practical and well this KIND of camera is for certain subjects and situations.

Kirk

Isaac Crawford , June 27, 2001; 12:11 A.M.

I think that the review was done very well. It showed what kind of photography the M6 is good for, it isn't for everything, but it is mighty good at what it was designed for. One thing that I think deserves mentioning is the effect it can have on the more casual shooter... The camera is such a joy to use that I find myself using it a lot more often than any other camera I ever owned. Every SLR feels clunky and awkward in comparison. It was a full two years after I got my M6 that I picked up my SLR again for a macro shot...

Isaac

Olivier Domon , June 28, 2001; 12:28 A.M.

Well, i'm a user of the M6 and i'm surprised that none of you talked about this new Hexar RF made by Konica, look like an M6 and accept Leica lenses... I bought one of this Hexar 3 months ago, and i didn't believe it was so useful in reportage, the semi-auto mode (aperture) is saving you some precious seconds...This one of the best things on this camera with the possibity to climb up to 1/4000 S and can take 2.5 frames per seconde! Of it's a bit noisier than the M6, but everything is relative...Anyway this is what leica should have made 2 years ago, a kind of new M6 like this!

J. Salisbury , June 29, 2001; 03:43 A.M.

I've recently purchased a Contax G1 kit (body + 45mm + TLA200 flash) new with 3-year warranty for $750. Additional lenses can be purchased via mail order for less than $300.

Without wanting to enter into the Leica vs. Contax, manual vs. automatic, etc. debates, I would suggest that for some users the Contax would present an interesting and relatively inexpensive alternative to the M (see http://www.photo.net/photo/contax/g2 for a review of the successor to the G1, the G2). This is especially true if, like myself, you are changing to a rangefinder from an automatic SLR and like the ability to use the camera as a point and shoot when the situation permits.

Esa Harma , July 03, 2001; 03:50 A.M.

I was able to play with the whole Leica product family in Photokina 1998 and it made me to choose the Contax G2+21+35+90 set because

(i) I am using my left eye for viewfinding and I also have glasses. Therefore I just cannot place my eye close enough to the Leica viewfinder in order to see the largest bright line frame in 0.72x or 0.85x making M6 effectively a 50/90/135mm system camera for me. And my favourite lens is 35mm.

(ii) I had great difficulties in using the focussing with 50mm Summilux ... somehow I was now always able to quickly adjust the frames on each other.

(iii) I noticed M6 to be a "cult product" and it is common sense not to buy such products and with those prices.

(iv) Contax has the legedary range finder lenses (Hologon, Biogon, Planar and Sonnar) in a modern construction (and for the Leicaphiles, the 35mm is an improved copy of the non-aspherical 35mm Summicron).

I have also noticed that there is a new 0.58x magnification M6 out today, but how useable is the bright frame finder for 90mm????

Esa

Bio Gon , July 03, 2001; 07:18 A.M.

Well, the review was one in which for the first time I have ever heard anyone say anything negative about the Zeiss 21mm Biogon for the Contax G. Most accounts I have heard suggest that it is superior to the Leica 21mm, or at the very least equal. Quite frankly, the article carries so much contempt for the Contax G system, I can't believe the comment flatly dismissing the 21mm Biogon is any more than sour grapes. Besides, how could the Zeiss 21mm Biogon be the equal or better than the Leica? It costs so much less.

While I am happy to believe that the Leica carrys with it some useful advantages in limited situations, you do pay quite a price premium for it. While it is claimed it is good value because it will be here 50 years from now is misleading. Yes, it will work 50 years from now, but with all the advances to be made in the next 50 years, would you want to? I suppose with the Leica you will have to because you spent so much buying the lens. With the Contax G lens providing comparable perfomance today at a mere fraction of the Leica price, I'll have more than enough money left over to go out and buy a new lens a couple times over that 50 year period. At the end, not only will I have a new lens that would outperform the 50 year old Leica, but I'll have enough money left over to buy a new camera body and year's supply of film. Seems to me that the real value proposition is the Contax G. But I suppose that depends if you want to use the cameras and lenses to create the best possibile images over the 50 year period or whether you just want to have an antique collectible to look at after 50 years.

Bio Gon , July 03, 2001; 07:54 A.M.

Good points. Richard.

To further your comments, the Quote,

"Finally, and this may just be a personal thing, but the G2 doesn't seem to have the right "feel". It seems just a bit off."

I thought this was a review of the Leica M6?? Is the only effective way to critique a camera is to go out of your way to trash a different product? Perhaps if we are going to have a review of the Contax G2, perhaps we should have a review of it by someone who actually uses it on a regular basis, understands how the camera works, and is reasonably objective.

Is every Leica owner and user so insecure that every time they talk about their camera they have to criticize the Contax G2. Sounds to me like the Contax must have something going for it.

Toti Calr , July 03, 2001; 09:20 A.M.

MY OWN REVIEW.

Dear Sir, I'm an Italian editorial photographer (I apologise for my English in advance), and I wholeheartedly reciprocate the first part of your review, as it describes the same reasons why I shifted from a huge SLR system to a light & tiny RF one myself; but when you started with your comparisons, the weather became really bad: "Here we go again, another metaphysical-fetishist photographer comparing apples and oranges!", I said, and here is why.

You claim that: "countless magazines, websites, independent tests and the testimony of countless thousands of professional photographers all concur that Leica's lenses are the finest in the world of 35mm." You guess it: I could claim the same as for Zeiss lenses, and, on your kind request, I could give the exact bibliographic references, both on the Internet and on paper; I could even "prove" that each G lens beats its Leica counterpart by speaking volumes. What's more, lots of MTF graphs (which I do not consider that significant, but which, anyway, are the only science and not opinion based method to measure a lens), "prove" that the Zeiss lenses beat (or, at worse, equal) the Leitz ones, which are, BTW, copies of expired patented projects by Rudolph and Bertele for Zeiss. You said the Tri-Emar is the Leica answer to the zoom lenses: well it is a naive answer, if it is an answer at all, being it nothing else than a zoom with click stops coincident with the frames of the Leica viewfinder, that's to say the only kind of zoom that a Leica user could use; and don't be misled by the focal sequence: it is a zoom anyway, only you can't use any intermediate value of its range; nor it is the astonishing lens you're describing.

The fast lenses issue - here I must ask you a question: why did Leica discontinue the Visoflex? It is even obvious to replay: because since the SLR cameras became available, there were no reasons for it to be produced anymore. Now: the M system was designed in the 50's, when it was the only serious choice for any serious photographer in that film format. The G sys, instead, was designed in the 90's, in the very middle of the SLR empire. Don't you see what I mean yet? Ok, I'll try to explain: if you have not any other possibility to go with, a very fast lens (or a Visoflex and the like gears) is pretty welcomed even on a camera which doesn't allow you to properly verify a very narrow depth of field (and sometimes even the *real* focal plan you're using, but that's a different story), and the DOF of a wide open fast lens is very narrow, indeed; exactly as a RF camera is not the proper tool for shooting with macro, long tele and tilt&shift lenses, also it is not the perfect tool in order to manage a very narrow DOF, and, please, don't say you can manage it by using the hyperfocal distance, since, that way, you have to close the diaphragm, loosing so all the advantages of a fast lens, and not all its faults as well (they're normally less sharp than the slower ones, and definitely more expensive); if you buy a ƒ1,4 or faster lens, it MUST be because you really need to use it wide open the most of the times, and if I needed a very fast lens wide open, today's SLRs are the perfect tools of choice, as they're now largely available. That's why Zeiss doesn't produce any fast lens for the G sys but produces very fast prime lenses for the CY mount SLRs (well, honest, I'm venturing a guess here, but for sure that's why I wouldn't buy a ƒ1,4 lens for my Gs as I did for my SLRs). Why does Leica still produce such lenses for the M cameras? And why they shouldn't, until lots of fetishists out there are still willing to buy them?

The manual focus issue - you said "The G2's manual focus isn't up to this challenge"; this is simply wrong and proves you didn't spend enough time with the camera: you must get used to it, as you have to with the Leica RF under different perspectives; the greatest mistake one could do, consists in trying to use the focus system of the Gs as if it was a mechanical RF (as for the manual focus) or a SLR (as for the auto focus). These are both very common mistakes, and everybody would be disappointed by these cameras in doing that way. The myth that the Sonnar 90 "requires much skill to achieve consistent autofocus" is simply, just so, a myth, which has its roots in the above mentioned behaviour; I've taken tons of shoots with it, and NEVER had a focus problem, in ANY condition, since I spent a few days in understanding the way the camera works.

The batteries issue - do you know that lithium batteries last for years (YEARS) without loosing any (or a barely measurable) amount of energy? Are a few spare batteries a so huge weight/encumbrance in someone's bag? Does it exist an assignment long enough for a lithium battery to run down of its charge? This really seems a fake problem, used to prove the would-be superiority of only mechanical products, and it isn't worth spending more words.

There are lots more things I could say, but I guess this rant is long enough, and so, finally, here is the truth: Leica M and Contax G cameras are different beasts, they provide superlative image quality, and have their own drawbacks in comparison the one with the other and both with SLRs; this makes ANY comparison nor possible neither intelligent. Those who claim "the X camera is the best in the world", prove only their arrogant ignorance, not providing any useful contribution in increasing the photographic culture. Understand they're different, and you're on the right path. Please, don't think I'm a Contax evangelist, as I regularly use several other brands, and the day I'll need to shot in a theatre or in a classroom I'll probably buy a Leica; until then, since my shoots are mostly outdoor and, when needed, taken with a tripod, I'll stay happily with my Gs, as I, for one, think that the Leicas are overpriced pieces of industrial archaeology (and, BTW, Oliver, Leica should have made a decent camera having a semi-auto mode and a 1/4000 sec. shutter speed twenty years ago, not just two), but please, stop comparing different things on the basis of ineffective and misleading self-serving mental masturbation. Sorry for the length and have a happy shooting, whatever you shot with.

Rich 815 , July 03, 2001; 10:56 A.M.

Bravo Toti! When I read this article I was really peeved myself that this author chose to perpetuate the long disproved myth of the 90 focusing problems. As to some of the rest of the article I have some real problems too:

"The autofocus doesn't always autofocus where I would like it to"

It does for people who understand how it works. And it does it well.

"and the use of a focus hold button just bores/frustrates the hell out of me."

Nice irresponsible comment for a reviewer to make. Just what are you saying here? It "bores" you? In what way does it *bore* you that other auto-focus lock buttons don't bore you? Do the others play music or something so you don't get bored? What are you talking about? It locks the focus (once you learn how to place the focus, that is) and does it effectively. Frustrates you? Obviously not knowing how it works, or taking the time to figure it out, I imagine it must.

"There averaging meter pattern is less useful than the clearly defined pattern of the Leica meter."

It's a classic center-weighted averaging metering pattern. But you did not even bother mentioning that, instead just leaving everyone mysteriously wondering what IS this "special" but "less useful" Contax G metering pattern? It's the same type of metering used in such classics at the Nikon FM2 and FE2 and continues to be a well-used option on most of the newest and most modern SLR bodies! No, it's not spot-metering but can be effectively used to lock AE in and re-compose no problem.

"while the 28 and the 45 are superb the other choices are less so."

"Superb"?? Does this review even attempt to have some objectivity or use phrases that can be considered useful in describing or comparing such lenses? Ok, let's suppose you meant "really good". By your description then the other lenses of the Contax G line up must be bad, or un-superb. Now go look at the MTF charts on photodo of the 21, 28 and 35. Compare them to your 300% more expensive Leitz honeys. I'll leave you an example. The Contax G 35/2,0 is rated at photodo at 4.1 (and costs $349 USD). The Leica M 35/1,4 aspherical is 3.8 (costs $2,945) and the Leica M 35/2.0 (non-aspherical) is 4.1 (costs $1,495). Yes, MTF is not the end all of comparisons but I'm at least *trying* to use an objective comparison. MTF grades are not *everything* and many happen to like the personality of one brand over the other. But MAN, that's a lot to pay for some personality!

"The manual focus makes the camera chancy for street shooting as many street shooters prefer to keep their lenses prefocused on a fixed distance and then fine tune the actual shooting distance the moment they bring the camera to their eye. The G2's manual focus isn't up to this challenge."

Nevermind that the Contax G1 and G2 happen to have a large following of people who use them almost exclusively for street shooting. "isn't up to this challenge." you say? Another woefully useless description and opinion.

"Finally, and this may just be a personal thing, but the G2 doesn't seem to have the right "feel". It seems just a bit off."

Personal is right but you are posting a review and critique here. "just a bit off"??? Don't post such drivel and wonder why others critique your critique.

Dan Brown , July 03, 2001; 12:06 P.M.

The Leica M and Contax G1/G2 comparisons are of little moment. Kind of like comparing Windows ME to Mac OS9, why bother? Sure, the G2 has tons of useful features, and, if it is features you want, then get one, or get a Nikon or Canon. For me, I would take a 1954 M3 and vintage 50 mm lens over any feature laden camera, as the Leica is much more satisfying to own and use (for me). Freedom of choice! I am just happy they still make brand new M6's, and that the 1954 M3 can still be serviced by a qualified technician.

Kirk Tuck , July 03, 2001; 01:33 P.M.

Dear Richard, Bio and Toti, a response to your vitriolic remarks. A few observations. I bought and used the first G1 in Texas. I have owned a complete G2 systems and a redundant black system. I still own and occaisionally use the black system. I am keenly aware of it's capabilities. I may have gotten a bad 21mm Contax lens but I can only speak to the units I have personally used. I have run several thousand rolls of slide film through the G products. They do load film faster. They are much noisier which obviates their use in not only theaters and courtrooms but also many of the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies. The lenses are not fast enough to compete with the f 1.4's and f2's available for the Leica M cameras.

If you choose to trot out third party assessments of lenses we might as well just refer to Consumer's Report and buy whatever they recommend. While I mentioned that Leica lenses have historically been called the "best in the world" by many magazines does not change that fact that I actually used and compared the lenses that I discussed. Including the SLR lenses from Nikon and Canon.

The three of you seem to think that Leica users are somehow "tricked" into buying $15,000 or $20,000 dollar systems. You seem to presume that a working professional running a business would not have the good sense to make a critical evaluation before parting with large amounts of cash. You are of course quite wrong. You further seem to think that once duped we feel the need to assuage our anquish at being "conned" by duping other innocents into embracing our point of view---the "misery loves company" argument.

You would be quite wrong. I would much rather put the money into my IRA or my kid's college fund, but my style of photography demands certain tools. Quiet, reliable, fast lenses, precision focusing. You also remark that the Leica's are sooooooo expensive but, as I recently sold older Leica Lenses to buy newer ones I found that I was able to almost always get more for a five or ten year old lens than I paid for it in the first place. If you want to be in business you can't always depend on the cheapest alternatives. I never want to fly on the airline that advertises the cheapest planes on the market!!!! The airline that advertises, "We pay our pilots a lot less so you save money!!!!" In the same vien, my clients are willling to spend a lot more money to wring out the last 5% of quality. That is my market. Yours may be different. The truth is that some professionals grow more and more discerning as the years go by and try to maximize quality in every step of their process. I would love it if the G2 outperformed the M's. I would be happier if the G2 had a 75mm 1.4 or a 50mm 1.4 or a etc...... but it doesn't and they don't.

As to the Tri-Elmar. If you compared it to the three equivilent focal lengths for the G2 you would find that it is as good as the 28mm from Kyocera, much better than the Kyocera 35mm and almost as good as the 45mm. While we're at it, "Superb" means very superior---better than 90% of it's competitors. The G lenses are uniformly superb (with the exception of my 21) but they are not as good as the current Leica glass.

Read Erwin Puts recent book where he discusses the science (not opinion) behind rangefinder and slr focusing. Up to 90mm the rangefinder is superior from a technical and quantitative point of view. It is also quite superior in focusing faster lense up to the 50mm range. Science, not emotion. If you have trouble focusing a 50 mm lens with a leica rangefinder, you are either looking through the wrong side of the viewfinder or you are seriously impaired.

Any G2 user will tell you that using the G2 in manual focus is a pain in the butt. I don't have to hold in a button with the M, I focus it once and it stays there. And do you know what? When I focus my M it doesn't make any distracting noises.

Richard, I don't know where your battery issue came from but I found myself replacing the G2 batteries twice a year or more. Maybe your batteries last a long time because you don't shoot professionally with the camera. Shoot a couple hundred 35 exposure rolls in a month and I guarantee you will be changing batteries. I don't mind batteries. I actually use them in my M6's.

Again, these reponses are the reason that I wrote earlier about the need to actually experience the cameras and lenses under tough user conditions to actually make an assessment. Seeing them for 10 minutes at Photokina doesn't really count. In fact, that's like telling me that you saw a Porsche and in the show room it didn't look one bit faster than your Hyundai so you don't understand why anyone would want one. Borrow a Leica M with a current set of lenses and shoot them side by side with your Contaxes. Shoot several hundred rolls of film in each and them spend a couple of hours with a good 8x loupe and you may see a difference. If you use your tripod and shoot slide film and are careful with your technique.....

As I stated in a reply above, I have friends who will tell you (and believe) that a Ford Explorer has the equivilent performance of a BMW 5 Series automobile. They cannot understand anyone choosing to pay more for a car than what they paid for their explorer. According to the magazine tests, both engines have the same horsepower, so how can one be better than the other????? They "test drove" a BMW in a parking lot for 10 minutes and delared it "no faster" than the explorer. Camera buyers can be the same. Some compare the performance of lenses by looking at 4x6 inch prints from the corner drug store and delcaring that their 100 dollar point and shoot is the equivilient of a Leica (or Contax G). Well my freinds, shoot a good photo on a tripod with your lens wide open and print the resulting 50 asa chrome as a 24 inch by 35 inch print and I guarantee you will see some profound differences. that's what real pros pay extra for.

If you want to write a comprehensive article about why you feel the G2 is so great I'm sure the folks at Photo.net would be thrilled. And as one of the (seemingly) very few professional users who owns both systems, and has used them extensively, I will be more than happy to critique your article.

You may not be the right market for a Leica M camera, but that's a personal assessment that only you can make........

Kirk

T T , July 03, 2001; 06:47 P.M.

i find it funny that some of the leica bashers above haven't even used the m6, yet they feel qualified to make the comparison between the contax g system and the leica m system.

i've noticed that people tend to always favor what they have purchased themselves. they naturally want to feel validated in their decision to purchase said item(s).

i already posted some other observations above (scroll up to read them), but let me state again that i've purchased and used the both contax g2 AND the leica m6ttl extensively. i have compared the ease of use, functionality, and bottom line results of each system side by side in the field and in the studio. the leica won.

it is quieter and feels more pure and unclutterred to use. it yields photographs that had a much less sterile feel, a more romantic look. it is more fun to use and carry with me all the time. it seems much more sturdy and better built for the long term. it has great and interesting longstanding history behind it. it is made in germany largely by hand.

so now some of you may say that i'm biased towards the leica. the truth is that i am biased towards works better for me since i purchased and used both systems.

yes leica is more expensive, but it's worth the money to me. i'd much rather pay that kind of money for something that i enjoy using and like the results of, rather than buy something that might cost less but that i don't like. the leica is worth every penny i paid for it, whereas the contax is not. i bought both and and felt some real buyer's remorse with the contax. as expensive as the leica is (and i acknowledge that is is expensive) i do not regret it at all.

Howard B , July 03, 2001; 10:16 P.M.

You might find an additional hands-on review of the M6TTL helpful: I spent six months working with one every weekend in order to write a really comprehensive review.

At the time, I was trying to decide between the best of 35mm and the best of Medium Format. The result is rather extensive reviews of the Leica M6TTL, Hasselblad 501CM, and other quality cameras.

Feel free to visit: http://www.voicenet.com/~howardb/photography.html

Choose Leica from the menu at the bottom.

Gavin Lock , July 04, 2001; 01:26 A.M.

Hi Kirk

Good review! Even better responses to comments! I like your style!!

Nice day Gavin

Toti Calr , July 04, 2001; 03:37 A.M.

Dear Kirk, it is not an intention of mine to start a personal war against you, and no vitriol at all here, but it seems you've encountered a few misunderstandings which are worth explaining. First of all I must admit I have an advantage over you as I know who you are, while you don't know a clue about me; well: I'm a professional editorial photographer, I have six books signed with my name only already published, and a couple are coming soon, on the next Autumn; I rarely work on someone's behalf, producing almost only editorial projects (mostly books, of which I often write also the texts, mostly about archaeology, history, architecture and social reportages), going then contracting directly with the publishers; when I work on someone's behalf my clients are not multinational corporates, but public administrations, care takers groups, cultural foundations and publishers; occasionally I hold conferences and seminars with high schools and universities; I manage a pre-press agency and editorial service also; nowadays I don't have the problem of the kid's college since mine is 17 months old only. Ok? Ok! Now, the first economic lesson I've learned from my work (thank you for yours, anyway) is that, in order to "survive", you have to reach as soon as possible the famous "break even point", so you must very carefully weigh the costs/benefits rapport of each investment you do for your equipment: IMHO this rapport is completely unfavourable to Leica; you see: I'm speaking in business terms, and from the perspective of a pro. I don't think what you stated as for pros who are "tricked" by the Leica's prices (please, don't consider me so naive), but I do think that Leica's business is for the 90% held not by pros, but by "tricked" collectors and old romantic fetishist, and there must be out there an American magazine which measured this percent more exactly than me, but I'm close. This doesn't mean that you and lots of others good pros belong to the latter category: you belong to that 10% whose needs the Leicas, and only them, are able to fit. You're right when you say that Leica gear keeps its value more than any other brand, but I think it is because of the above mentioned 90%: I don't know ANY pro who uses a IIIc, nor a M2 and so on; on the contrary I know plenty of colleagues who happily use their M5 and 6, as you also do, and... as I use my Schneider Super Angulon 65 ƒ5,6 on my Toyo 45C, which I paid for, and reached its "even point". It was me and not Richard the one who spoke about the batteries (please, if you want to replay me again, feel free to, but do it "ad personam" and not in a collective reply), and I was not talking about those one uses in his bodies, but of the spare ones one should always have in his bag, unused, as a backup: the normal alkaline batteries, have a natural run down time, and it doesn’t matter if you use them or not: their charge will run down anyhow and soon; the lithium ones, instead, last for years if you don’t use them: their "decay curve" is almost flat, but when they run down, they do it swiftly; please, reread what I wrote, now. You're lucky to change your batteries only twice a years. As for the Tri-Elmar, "as better as", "almost as good" and "much better" are not terms I want to discuss further; I'll look forward to you to provide some "couples of lines per mm" data; until then, you could consider to visit the photodo.com site (but please remember what I already said about the MTFs), and allow me to inform you that the most prestigious Italian magazine for pros only ("Il Progresso Fotografico", they're the guys who have online the "Classic Cameras" web site, in English) rated it "very good", but there were "optimum" and "excellent" above that rate, and it is there that you find the prime lenses you mentioned. As I already said, I rarely work on other’s behalf, but the few times I had to take photographs of conferences and reunions, the only pillows I’ve seen were under people’s ass, not under their heads, so no way I could awake them with my noisy Contax, as they were not asleep at all (and anyway there always were dozens of colleagues who were using their clanky F4: if you find the Gs noisy, how would you call them? Terrorists?). Who's right? Your eyes only are, but this is true for everybody's eyes. As for your review, please, the next time simply tell us how *good* the Leica stuff is, and not how *better*, and everybody will wholly appreciate your contribution. Accept my compliments for your beautiful work, and forgive my macaronic English: I'm doing my best.

Wee Keng_Hor , July 06, 2001; 12:38 A.M.

I’ve always believed that quality of light is one of the most decisive factors in the making of a good photo. Film plays a part too. As for lens, its role is never crucial as long as they are of acceptable quality. And thus I’ve ignored and rejected all those Leica discussions. I’d seen pictures taken with Leica but had never bothered to do a serious comparison.

However recently I began to develop an interest in cameras (not photography). Since I can’t be travelling and shooting seriously after the arrival of my baby boy, I have diverted my energy to try different types of camera. After reading this article in particular, I decided I should try Leica to see for myself what all the raves and rangefinder are about. But after checking price of Leica, I ordered the Contax G. Hey, a G1 body with several lenses and flash are cheaper than a M6 body alone! Since I gathered that both offer the very best lenses in 35mm, it is just rational for me to buy the G.

But for sure my photography will NOT improve immediately with the new equipment just because the lens is better and sharper. It will be naïve for anyone to think so.

Gary Voth , July 06, 2001; 03:40 P.M.

I briefly owned a Contax G2 system with a passel of lenses. At the time I purchased it, it seemed (to me) to be the perfect modern update to the classic "rangefinder" style of photography. After all, the camera is impeccably made, uses high-quality materials, and has lenses that are at least the equal of the best from Germany or Japan. I thought I would really appreciate the modern AF system, the viewfinder that zooms automatically with the lens in use, and the built-in motor.

Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that I struggled with nearly everything about the camera. As for autofocus, my EOS SLRs focused far faster and much more quietly. The viewfinder was squinty and difficult to use with eyeglasses. The lenses were very sharp but I was always trying to focus closer than the system would allow. And the motor just seemed superfluous. In short, the technology was encouraging me to use the system the way I would use an SLR, and it was a very poor substitute for my SLR system. I traded it after about 6 months.

What does this mean? Nothing really, except that the Contax G was not for me. (Horses for courses--your mileage may vary.) Just be aware that the Leica and Contax systems are not directly comparable.

I have recently been using a Bessa-R with the 35mm f/1.7 Ultron and 50mm f/1.5 Nokton. For those having an interest in "classic" Leica style rangefinder photography but unsure about the considerable $$ investment, look into the new Cosina/Voigtlander product line. It has some deficiencies compared to the Leica but it is very affordable, and the lenses are quite nice.

Tito Carlos Maria Sobrinho , July 06, 2001; 09:38 P.M.

Kirk, here are replies to your answer to me. 1)- DR Summicron a breakthrough? C'mon! Awful images a close range. The real breakthrough was the Micro-Nikkor of 1961. The same formula is still applied to the latest Micro for the AF. 2)- No, the Russian Cosmonautas used a Kiev and not a Nikon and that's the reason you seldom see space pictures by them! 3)- Yes, Leitz could adapt a Leicaflex for the space program but instead, they transformed Leitz Werke into producing instant collectors M cameras a la Franklin Mint. 4)- No, in portraiture I do not use f8,f11 but IMO, your still life tabletops sure could use more DOF. 5)- E. Smith, A. Eisenteadt. Y. Karsh, E. Weston, B. Weston, W.Bullock, Cartier-Bresson, Ataget, J. Sudek, R. Doisneau, W. Evans, P. Strand, P.Caponigro, M.White, P.Halsman,A.Adams etc all used vintage lenses. Due to this fact, your comparison between an old Camaro X 2001 Porsche 911 Turbo applying to lens is ludicrous. Also your saying that a Leica 24x36mm resolution is equal to a 6x6 and 4x5 is an unreal presumption. 6)- Interesting that there is a surge of aspherical designs in the market. It is very difficult to manufacture the moldings for a glass aspherical lens (Kingslake- A history of the Photographic Lens) and the price of the final product would be exorbitant. I would expect to pay more than $5.000 per lens, for real glass Leica aspherical optics. Is Leitz still in agreement with Sigma? Vario-Elmar and maybe asphericals too? Or Minolta? Continue writing about the Leica cult creed and instead of helping Leitz, you will jeopardize them. Tito.

Len Wiener , July 07, 2001; 12:50 A.M.

Kirk's description of the M6 covers a lot of ground and answers a lot of questions, but the headline is inaccurate. It should read "A Pro Photographer's LOVE LETTER to the Leica M6." There is nothing wrong in that, but this isn't an unbiased, dispassionate analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Leica cameras in particular and rangefinder cameras in general. That kind of analysis could be very useful and educational. Kirk's piece is fun to read, but it is a brief by an advocate or perhaps the pro-Leica case to be made at a debate club. Once we understand that context, the discussion on this thread makes more sense as statements of beliefs, preferences, and even supporting evidence--but not as revealed truth.

Daniel Taylor , July 07, 2001; 02:20 A.M.

mission accomplished. an excellent overview that affords the reader a glimpse into the passions of a photographer and the bond between camera and artist. the images tell stories and show a purity that is striking. if you look closely, you can almost sense the smiling photographer behind the lens. when this comes through, you have found the right camera. it's more than optics .. it's magic.

August -- , July 07, 2001; 08:32 A.M.

I don't think insulting Contax users is going to help end this whole Contax versus Leica discussion, Kirk.

I admit that I use a G2. Did I buy it because I was afraid of all that "daunting" technical detail and all I really wanted to do was take snap shots? No. I bought it because I wanted the highest quality lenses, the compactness of a rangefinder and did not want to spend a fortune. The G lenses are at least as good as their Leica equivalents and a fraction of their cost. The body is also much cheaper and can be set to manual exposure/focus, which means I can control almost every aspect of the image should the need arise. By your argument someone who uses, say, an F5 instead of an FM2 doesn't want to learn technical detail. I'm sure many professional photographers would beg to differ.

I also admit that, if money were no object, I would probably buy a Leica. Perhaps I could then become a "real" photographer and join you on that Leica high horse you sit so comfortably upon.

Yuriy Vilin , July 07, 2001; 04:09 P.M.

C'mon Tito... You are trying to write about something you aren't really familiar with. Leaving aside "Leica vs. everything else" type of things, your comment about space photographs made by the Russian space agency is as dumb as your comment about Camaro/Porsche. If you'd be familiar with their policy just a tiny bit, you'd realize that any kind of information related to the USSR space program was highly classified. Even if it is just a picture cowshed photographed from the orbit somewhere in Wyoming.

<p>My apology to other readers...

Kirk Tuck , July 08, 2001; 11:20 P.M.

Several posters have questioned my assertion that 35mm can appear almost as sharp as 4x5 inch format film. They might be interested in this article I found on the Photodo.com website. It is in this section: http://www.photodo.com/nav/artindex.html and it readily confirms my stance about the relative sharpness between formats when concentrating on proper technique. Since many have sung the praises of Photodo in supposedly downrating the performance of Leica lenses I'm sure they will be surprised by the (objective) conclusions of this article. It is the one entitled "35mm, Medium format and large format, quality?" To summarize, the sharpness of 35mm against 4x5 using same depth of field, on tripod, same film is very close. Close enough to clearly disappoint large format users.

Again, some people are not getting with the program. You can't really discuss a lens until you personally have shot with it. The case in point is the feedback this comment list has gotten about the Tri-Elmar lens performance. I have compared it's performance against the 28 biogon, the 35 planar and the 45 planar and, on film it is as good or better (depending on what parameters are important to your work). in the case of the 35mm planar, it is better. I recently read in Erwin Put's Leica Lense Compendium that he finds the Tri-Elmar to be a better performer at f4 and 5.6 than the previous generation of Leica's 28 Elmarit and the recent 35mm Summicron (pre-ASPH). These are my findings as well.

If you go by what you read in one of the mainstream photo magazines you will find that all lenses tested are "best in class", You must test for yourself. If you don't see a difference you don't need to buy the product. It is sad that Kodak has chosen to discontinue Kodachrome 25 as it is a film that is superb in showing off small differences in premium optics. If you really want to prove your point of view to yourself you should do your tests at the max aperature, on a tripod with this kind of film.

Finally, to all the people who have complained about price of the Leica M system, I've shot in places were I didn't want to call attention to myself and, yes, I would willing pay the difference in price between a Contax G system and the Leica system on the issue of noise alone. If you don't need to be discreet it doesn't matter.

But, get a reality check. The G2 has a loud rewind (with no option for manual rewind) and it makes a lot of noise each time it fires, just focusing the lens, not even counting the motor drive advancing. I was horrified the first time I used my G2 for work. I was taking candid shots of a Chinese Delegation meeting with top officers of Motorola. There were only twelve of us in a small conference room. You could hear a pin drop. The film hit the last frame and kicked in the auto-rewind. Every head in the room turned around and stared at me. I shoved the offending camera into a camera bag and covered it with my jacket. You could still hear the mechanical whine. That rewind lasted an eternity. (yes, after reading the manual and pressing several buttons etc. I was able to program the beast only to rewind on my command........) I've never taken a G into a board room or a theater shoot again. Incidently, one of the senior Motorola executives took me aside and asked me if I knew about Leica cameras.......was my face red. What's that worth in dollars and cents to a working pro? The difference in cost between the two systems is only one or two days of corporate day rate fees.

Josh Schneider , July 09, 2001; 12:52 P.M.

Kirk,

You have provided us with a good review of the M6 and were doing quite well in defending your opinions but now you are becoming a little silly. I don't think referring to the G2 as a lazy point and shoot camera is going to get you anywhere. In addition, your persistent reference to Erwin Puts as proof of your statements is rather unfounded. As a professional, I am sure you realize that he is on the Leica payroll. Any objective review of his work quickly uncovers his bias and instant satisfaction with any Leica product.

I think you are quite right in asserting that the M6 is a great tool and definitely has an advantage when it comes to noise. I have also used both systems and I have come to the conclusion that the M6 is engineered for stealth and durability while the G2 is engineered for speed and spontaneity.

As far as the lenses are concerned, it is all academic. I havent done any stringent scientific test with K25 and a tripod but I believe your assertion that the Leica may be ever so slightly better. But hey, do we actually shoot like this in real life? I think your man Erwin Puts even admits we pretty much negate the advantages of Leica optics by shooting handheld.

Great review and nice images.

Josh

Kirk Tuck , July 09, 2001; 06:09 P.M.

Josh, I agree with almost everything you say. I would disagree about Erwin Puts. I am willing to believe in his objectivity until someone proves otherwise. I don't take his work at face value--I prefer to do my own tests. My results seem to echo his results, and I know I am not on Leica's payroll. I don't think the G2 is a point and shoot and I don't think the camera has no value. It is different from the M6 in precisely the way you pointed out. Pity you didn't post this earlier, it would have saved a number of responses and counter responses. Thank you for taking time to help clarify what I really meant in recent responses.

Out shooting in the Texas sun. Let's see if we can melt some glass before we drop over........

Chris Battey , July 11, 2001; 12:27 A.M.

Hi Kirk, what a hullabaloo...!

Firstly can I just say how much I like your pictures. I think your experience as a working proffesional is of course valid, and if someone asked my opinion of why I used a particular camera, I would just honestly tell them why I prefer it over something else.

I used to own and use a Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron, it was a beautifully designed piece of equipment, sadly I had to sell it several years ago.

My experience with Leica was positive, yes they are quiet however if noise is your concern then you could also find a modern Eos suitable.

But the lenses. Well your pictures remind me of how rosy those reds used to look.

I work in a smilar market to yourself, Large corporates in Sydney. These days, for me, being inobtrusive on a commercial assignment doesn't bother me, and quite often I am using flash indoors with transparency.

One disadvantage of the M system is it's unsuitability with fill flash, but that's another camera and another story.

I've never been interested in the numbers game, comparing statistical data across various lenses, and I readily agree with you that first hand experience using your equipment when somebody's paying you to be there, this is really the only true test of proffesional equipment and it's suitability for the job.

I did borrow a Contax G1, and found the viewfinder appalling when compared to both my Nikons and the Leica Window, there seemed to be little eye relief, I really had to position my eye in one spot in order to see the viewfinder. This was my experience, I just found it unsuitable for my type of work.

Once again Kirk, thanks for the memories.

CB.

Tom _ , July 11, 2001; 02:43 A.M.

While cameras are generally not that easy to use for left-eyed users, I found the M6 particularly inconvenient. I also found the rangefinder significantly more difficult to see than the focussing aids on the manual SLRs I used to use. I hope some other manufacturers will get back into the 35mm rangefinder market so that there will be some other designs to choose from.

Charles Dunlap , July 12, 2001; 10:12 P.M.

I owned an M6 (0.85, pre-TTL) for 4 years before selling the system for a Contax G2 system. Reasons for doing that: the M6 rangefinder focusing was slow and caused me to lose a variety of shots; the M6 rangefinder patch was subject to flaring out and disappearing in backlighting or certain angles in full daylight (same on 4 bodies that I used); fiddling with exposure under changing lighting conditions also caused me to lose shots. The G2 allows me to shoot just like the M anytime that I want to, and I do from time to time.

Concerning lenses, I can't echo your observations. In many important (to me) aspects the G lenses are preferable. 1) They're out of focus blur is very very nice, compared to the acceptable but not amazing performance of Leica counterparts (I used Summicron 50, ASPH Summicron 35, Elmarit 90, the latest befor ASPH, and 20/2.8, again before ASPH). 2) Resistance to flare is better in the Contax lenses: my 50 Summicron had ghosting and flare in the exact same shot in which the 45 Planar that I had borrowed did not. My Elmarit 90 had ghost images in night shots (the full moon breaking through clouds) and when I sent the lens to New Jersey they told me that the design produced visible internal reflections under that lighting--the lens was normal. 3) sharpness is equal (after making observations under a microscope of slides of the same scene, same time, same film, same exposure). 4) Color separation is much better in the Contax lenses. Again, under a microscope I saw very clearly how the Contax lenses were resolving the subtle hues of green and red in an outdoor mural that the Leica lenses were giving very little separation to in comparison.

I've noticed on numerous occasions that my Leica lenses tened to produced cool color renditions (shooting Fuji Astia and Velvia). In one set of test shots with the Contax, the warm yellows of our porch in late afternoon took on an ugly blue cast that wasn't present in the Contax shots (same film swapped between the two cameras). Whenever I look at some of my Leica shots, I wish I could reshoot them with my Zeiss lenses.

I don't regret having owned the M6 and lenses, but I don't regret having giving them up either. There's no perfect camera, but the Contax G2 comes closer for me than the M6, and my bank account is substantially happier for it.

John Rabkin , July 14, 2001; 12:19 P.M.

I have just come back from the "Requiem" photography exhibit in London, England. It showed picks 25 years of war photography. All the Photographers involved had Leicas, not Nikon coolpix cameras. Any questions?

L Zhou , July 14, 2001; 10:46 P.M.

And for over 10k years ppl only used sticks and rocks in wars...please tell that to the US Army. The tax payers will thank you. And we could all use some extra cash to buy some Leicas.

Another war photo exhibition can be easily organized in which all shots were taken by Nikons. And yet another one where captured frames from video footages are shown.

Tyler Pierce , July 17, 2001; 04:19 P.M.

Kirk, your review was excellent and it shows your love for the equipment. Beautiful images. It's easy to see that the optics are top notch. Fortunately you shoot enough photos to justify the expense, more than can be said for many rich photographers.

Personally, I'll never be able to justify a Leica (Or a G2 for that matter). Oddly enough, some of my favorite photos were taken on a crappy point-and-shoot camera. It was all I had at the critical moment, and that moment is long gone.

I love the pictures of your family. Those are the important ones, don't you think?

Peace.

Karim Ghantous , July 24, 2001; 08:03 P.M.

A nice article, Kirk. Having owned a IIIc for a while and having a great love for Leica M cameras, I was anxious to read your review. I found it well written and entertaining while demonstrating your experience as a professinal. I laughed at that story about using the Contax at Motorola. That was a classic, man!

Bringing up the Contax was arguably not a good idea as your review was supposed to be of the Leica, not the Contax! Yet the comparison was still interesting because it allows readers to understand the perspective of someone who has owned both.

My only comment on the G1/2 is that it is too wishy-washy. One-third p&s, one-third rangefinder and one-third AF SLR does not make an elegant solution. I have never used or even seen one and I'm sure that they are no minor deal - many obviously use and enjoy it. But I am more interested in design philosophy here, and I am not sure how it can be such a successful machine.

To those who expressed concern about the cost of a Leica, remember that elegance is not cheap. For example, a Subaru WRX depending on the model may match a BMW M3 in all areas: handling, acceleration, speed, cornering, NVH, braking and stability. The Subaru would be much cheaper.

Yet turbocharging is not an elegant solution to power output, which is why BMW does not produce forced induction engines. They use very clever engineering to make a normally aspirated motor produce astonishing levels of power.

I am not sure whether the BMW needs to be so expensive (depending in which country you live, of course) and nor am I sure whether the Leica needs to be, either. But the fact of the matter is that the Leica M is on paper an elegant design. The thing is that it needs lots of precision to make it work at all, and precision costs money.

A more serious problem is the lens quality issue. Leica's lenses are so good in part because they can be more freely designed. By that I mean that there is no mirror to work around. But the problem is that they don't focus close enough (which, Kirk, I don't think you pointed out). And I'll bet that this was deliberate. Because if they could focus closer, the design would have to be compromised and they'd lose their advantage over SLR lenses. Just a thought...

Kirk, you stated that your Leica frames have showed comparable results to 4x5s. I am not so sure that I can believe it. Yet those few posters who challenged you on this point should not be so sure, either. After all, granularity aside, a large neg is not necessarilly sharper than a smaller one. As when a lens spreads its image across a larger area, resolution decreases. Maybe you know this but you should have taken a line or two to explain your claim so as not to have caused confusion on this issue.

I think that the issue of filters should be discussed briefly. I only use two types of filter (as I consider other options gimmicky): primaries for b&w use and a polariser. I'd never try to use a polariser with a rangefinder. It's way too impractical. However, using coloured filters (say, a deep red or yellow-green) with a rangefinder is actually better, as you don't lose light coming into the viewfinder as you do with an SLR. This makes composing and focusing much easier. This applies to Contax and Voigtländer owners, too!

I would like to make a comment on shutter noise. I used a twin stroke M3 once (for one lousy day...) and the shutter didn't impress me that much. I expected more silence. And once I saw a guy with an M6 at a university open day. When he fired I could clearly hear the shutter. It wasn't intrusive and I was glad that he wasn't using a motor drive or flash. But for a camera like that I expected better.

Yes, I am biased towards the Leica. Perhaps I'll never afford one. But it is clearly the Rolls-Royce of cameras. I had a dream once where I was holding an M6 and sobbing in reaction to its beauty. When I woke up, I was really crying! I am not so sure that the Contax could inspire such a reaction.

Anyway, the Queen of England uses an M6. Um... so there! ;-)

The only reason I wouldn't buy a Leica is if some multi-national conglomerate bought out the company. Then it would just be another cog in someone else's machine. It would be like Ford owning Jaguar, or BMW owning RR or Samsung owning Rollei. I'd be like, 'Eww'. (Yeah, I'm a romantic idealist, but what can you do?)

Still, I use Olympus OM SLRs, and there is something interesting to be said about Olympus SLRs and Leica rangefinders: with only one exception, the OM lenses are lighter than their Leica M equivalents, even if some are bigger. And the OM body is shorter, narrower, less deep and lighter than an M6. And maybe just as quiet.

Once again, Kirk, a great review. I'd like to hear more of those stories of yours, too... ;-)

Yongfei Lin , July 25, 2001; 12:19 P.M.

One question: why woman needs expensive diamond ring for wedding? Will a glass ring serve the same purpose? If yes, then a point & shoot will do too in photography. Diamond is girls' best friend, Leica is boys'...

Zapata Espinoza , July 26, 2001; 03:14 A.M.

Observation: Dealer's shelves are full of Contax G bodies. They are also full of Leica M bodies, preferably M6, some M4-P.

If the rangefinder would be such a great concept, the Nikon F would have failed. The rangefinder 'renaissance' is rather indication of a growing number of people who want to distinguish themselves from others by buying different, only to find out later they do not adapt to the numberous limitations of a rangefinder, hence the observation.

This all has nothing to do with photography, except that a camera that distracts you from taking pictures is certainly the wrong one. The review therefore should have better carefully outlined the limitations of the RF concept in general (such as unprecise framing, limited close focus, problems with RF alignment,...) and the limitations of the Leica M6 particular (film loading, tiny speed knob, WWII shutter construction...). So overall the review gives a biased, distorted view of the M. Which certainly results in another wave of typical 'used' (only six films through it!) Leica M on dealer's shelves in a few month. I think Kirk should have better pronouced that the Leica M is a useful camera for approx. 0,001% of the photogs.

John Clark , July 26, 2001; 06:45 A.M.

Very interesting developments in the comments here. As I stated further up, I was interested in buying a 35mm rangefinder. I ended up going for the Contax G2 based mainly on the price - the M6 plus lenses is simply overpriced.

However, I did try both in the shop - to me, the Leica is very nice indeed, but although the build quality was robust, the finish didn't seem to be particularly high quality (given the price). The G2 is a much nicer looking camera, although slightly bigger. I bought the G2 Millennium kit (G2, 28/45/90/flash/case) for around the same price as the cost of a new M6 body alone. Whilst the AF is quirky and it's certainly not a 'quiet' camera, eveything so far suggests quality.

I have to add that at this point I haven't received the slides back from my first test rolls, but once I have I will comment again.

It's a case of horses for courses. Given that the RF/pseudo RF market is so small, it was inevitable that comparisons would be drawn between M6 and G2. However, they are fundamentally different cameras in most ways, the lack of a mirror and reputation for supreme 35mm quality seems to be the only common thread between the two.

If money were no object, I'd have both. However, part of my rationale behind buying a smaller camera was that I could entrust it to family and friends when I wanted to be in the photo - my EOS system scares people for some reason, the Mamiya 7 RF is difficult for beginners (admit it - RF focusing is a strange concept when you've been used to point+click as most people have ;-) and the ETRSi is usually back home in a cupboard (sadly :-( )

Ultimately, I bought the G2 realising that it would be a small, light, high-quality 35mm camera. Neither it nor the Leica would be in the same ball-park-of-quality as the Mamiya 7, so why worry? The Mamiya is 6x7 and has perhaps the sharpest lenses in MF. So I have my ultimate manual rangefinder, which is as quiet as an M7; in my mind, the M7 and M6 are closer together (film aside) in purpose than the G2 and M6, so I went for something to fill a gap I had rather than duplicate the M7 in 35mm. If you get my drift.

In the end of the day, it is of course, the lenses which count and the general consensus is that there's very little to choose between the Leitz and Zeiss offerings respectively, and neither camera is really that suited to tripod work (which in turn implies that I'll be mainly handholding, leading to differences vanishing in the tiny imperfections of my shooting style). So, I've saved myself approximately £2000 by going for the G2, which buys me a 43/4.5 for the Mamiya, which will wipe the floor with the lot of them :-D

John

Robin Smith , July 30, 2001; 06:24 P.M.

Good review and great photos Kirk. I think Kirk put over why Leicas are legendary cameras. I agree with Kirk when he says that until you have used them they might well appear overpriced and it is "so much more sensible to buy a G2/Voigtlander/etc. etc...." (insert your camera brand name here). The point is to rent one for a week and look at your results carefully and then you will see why their lenses are so legendary. I do not really understand this passion against them - but it is clearly linked to their high price. Is it ever worth paying for the extra 10% of quality? Not for all people, but for some people the answer is yes. Once you get used to it the difference is intoxicating though.

Also the M-Leicas are just the best there is at quiet accurate low light 35mm photography, there is not really any sensible debate about this - why resist it? Of course, you can argue that you do not necessarily need these qualities to get great low light shots (I myself argue this as I prefer R Leicas), but nevertheless the M Leicas are just the kings of this kind of photography in their capabilities. The Contax owners commenting here seem to have an inferiority complex for some weird reason I don't understand. The Contax Gs are excellent cameras, but different and not so well suited for what the Leica M is best at doing. Kirk is not saying they are awful and "bad" cameras - he just prefers Leicas for what he wants to do and he says why - why get all hot under the collar about it? Why don't some of you agitated Contaxophiles write your own Contax review for photonet? I would love to read that myself.

Kirk Tuck , July 30, 2001; 11:19 P.M.

Thanks to all those who've posted comments to the article. As an update, I had the chance to shoot a job here in Austin this past month that required me to shoot over 100 rolls of film. Most of it was shot in my favorite camera, the M6. Some was shot in one of several Leica R8's. Ten rolls were shot in Contax G2's. In bright sunlight all were superb. The G2's the R's and the M's turned in superb images. Now to the crux of the matter. Part of the job required that I shoot a stage show of blues singer Jimmie Vaughn. With iso 400 Supra and an 80C filter over the lens. Shot the 90 Summicron on the R. The 90 apo aspheric on the M and the 90 2.8 Sonnar on the G2. Here's what happens in the real world: With the G2 we are shooting wide open (f2.8) at 1/60, handheld. The photographer introduces too much movement and the photo is not sharp. The G2 locks focus (somewhere) and then the subject moves slightly. How can you tell what is focused? The shot is not as sharp as I would have liked. Also, the in camera meter indicated a much slower shutter speed as a result of its center weighted pattern and the black curtains behind the performer. Fortunately I was metering with an R8 on spot as well. The R8-Summicron combo is good at 1/125 wide open. There is less movement induced lack of sharpness in the resulting frames. The lens is not at its best wide open. The M6 with the 90 apo delivers the bacon. The rangefinder patch gives instant feedback as to the condition of focus, the instantaneous release captures the action I anticipated and the results are of a much higher quality than either of the other options. The difference was not the slight amount of difference that Contax users would like to pretend. The difference of one full shutter speed in these situations is almost like the difference between using a tripod or not. The sharpness of the outlines with the M was far superior wide open at 2 compared with either other option. This is the real world. Not some test bench. I trashed the photos from the Contax and the R and turned in great stuff from the M.

Whine all you want about the price difference, but this job alone would pay for several of either systems with change left over. The difference is that only the M would deliver the successful images. At this point it becomes binary. Succeed or Fail. F2 or no go. What price perfection?

Needless to say, the black G2 system was consigned at the local dealer as soon as I saw the film. No reason to compromise. Not in the real world. Besides, I've got a mortgage to pay----I can't afford not to use the best tools.

L Zhou , August 01, 2001; 06:07 A.M.

I am happy for you Kirk that M6 worked so well for the concert shoot. But I suspect that, for example, a Canon EOS 1V with predictive AF, plus 85mm f/1.2L, using manual exposure mode (for instantaneous shutter release) and a 10 fps power booster will work even better!

Kirk Tuck , August 01, 2001; 01:33 P.M.

Bad Suggestion. There is no argument that the EOS-1 etc. has a faster motor, et al, but the speed of Autofocus is limited by that lens's motor. I owned that lens and it would not focus fast enough to keep up with subject movement---no matter how advanced the camera body. That lens is definitely first generation AF. Sharp wide open yes, but even in manual focus it uses a servo to translate movement of the focusing ring to the focusing motor. It is very cumbersome and moves like molassas. It also overshoots its focus mark in manual.

See what I mean? you have to own the stuff and shoot in the real world to understand the limitations.

Finally, The 90 is sharper (just by a small bit) than the 85 1.2 USM L. It wouldn't matter a bit if the 85 focused faster.............

Kirk Tuck , August 01, 2001; 01:40 P.M.

Marvin does make a good point though. I could have gotten the shot with a Nikon F5 and the 85mm 1.4 or the manual focus 105 1.8 (which is a very underappreciated lens). My point was not that the M6/90 combo was the only solution. My point was that it does things that the G2 does not. Most people who've responded rationally seem to understand the differences between rangefinders and SLR's. The ones who really got their panites in a bunch were the rabid G2 fans who feel that their cameras can do the impossible. I just found a real world situation that may give these folks the incentive to move up to a system with high speed optics, designed to be used wide open.......Not to get rid of their SLR's. (Please note that I included my R8 above and that I do shoot with my SLRs when the need arises.

Godfrey DiGiorgi , August 03, 2001; 12:55 P.M.

I feel Kirk's review is reasonably good overall and characterizes well his viewpoint on the Leica M. It is a personal review and should be read realizing that it is a personal viewpoint.

I've been shooting with Nikon SLRs and Leica RF cameras since 1968. The Nikons were my workhorses for most of this time, but I always loved the look of the photos I obtained with the Leica more. I haven't worked as a photographic professional now since the late 1980s and what I discovered was that I was far less prone to carry an SLR for my day to day photographic enjoyment than I was a Leica or a good quality compact 35 (like a Rollei 35S). That being the case, I began to experment with different camera options.

Along the way, I acquired a complete Contax G2 kit (16/28/45/90 lenses). I enjoyed the camera a lot: its metering system was always bang on the money, the features were excellent. I have no complaints whatever about the lenses (while their imaging qualities are different from the Leica, the quality of their imaging is on par). However I found that the ergonomics of its operation didn't suit me as well as the Leica M ... I just never really sorted out my confidence in the automation systems and wanted to be in control of everything all the time. The Leica does that better for me. In the end, I decided to sell off the Contax G kit and go back to Leica M.

I returned to the M world by buying an M6TTL. This camera (with Heliar 15, 35/2 ASPH and 90/2.8 lenses) just works for me. It suits my hands brilliantly, the lenses return superb results. Frankly, what I really love about it is that it disappears in my hands and lets me see more easily. I liked it so much that I acquired another body (M4-P this time) and the 24/2..8, 50/2 lenses. At which point I realized that my trusty Nikon F3/T and lenses kit was doing nothing but collecting dust ... so I sold it too.

It's not the mystique I'm buying, nor the status. I love the photographs and, for me, the Leica M is a tool that allows me more freedom to see, to create photographs, than any other. It just suits what I like to photograph very well. My Nikon kit held my workhorse needs for 28 years (from F to F2 to FM to FE2 to F3 through 18 lenses) ... I suspect that the Leica M kit will hold my needs at bay for even longer than that, and with fewer changes.

Godfrey - http://www.bayarea.net/~ramarren/

wong KH , August 04, 2001; 12:39 A.M.

Well said Mr Khoo. In short, "To each its own". There are really no bad cameras or lenses, only lousy photographers.

TC Khoo , August 04, 2001; 04:37 A.M.

Dear all,

This review and its many comments have been very enjoyable. That it built into a flame-fest was part of the amusement for me. I felt that many of the arguments stemmed from the superfluous because many did not read the article carefully. As I can see it, there are quite a few arguments flying around (I can't believe that this rich pointless discussion has been generated by 1 review):

- that the SLR is king - that the RF is king - that Leica M6 is king of rangefinders - that the Leica M6 is king, or best of all 35mm cameras - that the Leica M6 is the best camera irrespective of format - that manual cameras are better than electronically dependent ones.

So, you can see how ridiculous the comments have become in the passion of the moment. These very same threads of argument surface when you have debates over Rolleiflex vs Hasseblad, Nikon vs Canon, square vs rectangular/ideal format ...; in the watch world, when there is a mention why Rolex is not better than Patek Philippe, or A. Lange und Sohne, ... you get the idea. It is childish to claim which is best, because even for the same person, there may be a best for different situations of photography. To claim that there is one single best tool for all sweeping applications just goes to show the thinking behind the statement.

I believe that Kirk has indicated the prarameters of his review and it is sad that the disclaimers were not heeded, or were purposely minimised. Read his article again - I see it not as the most neutral and balanced comparison review (there are few that are such, and then you say that they are sterile, clinical and without passion), but then I do not think that given a first write, it could have been bettered by many of his nay sayers - have you all tried writing reveiws rather than just criticising them?? It is no mean task and I would say that you should try it at least once, before you cast stones - it is NOT easy to please everyone!

There are several clear strands of thought that I take away from this very entertaining read. But first, let me establish credentials of ownership of cameras before I am accused of speaking through my nose. I own or have owned and used the following cameras - Leica M5 (35, 50, 90mm), Contax G2 (28,35,45,90mm), Nikon F2, F3, FE2, FM2T, F100 (lenses from 20-600/F4, all primes), Rolleiflex 3.5F, GX, SL66SE, 6008i, Rollei 35SE, Mamiya 6MF, Pentax 67II, Fuji GA645 and soon, Fuji GW690 III. At the lower, less serious end, there is the RicoH GR1s, Nikon 35Ti. So you see, I have had quite an experience handling both RF and SLRs and include some of the finest picture taking machines of our time.

What I can add to this debate is this:

- That SLRs have the broadest range of application in photography. This is undisputed. There are some things it does very well and some things that it can still do decently, but not as well as a RF.

- That the RF camera and specifically, the Leica M series/G2 genre has fewer such wide-ranging capabilities in its portfolio. But within its limitations, it can do these things extremely well and will likely beat most SLRs. Perhaps you can say that the camera is "more focused" in its capabilities, if you will pardon the pun.

- These things (depending how much you want to glorify, or trivialise them) include: wide open aperture shops (low or existing light), extreme need for quiet, small unobstrusiveness (minimal "presence footprint"), arguably quick work with presets in place (but this is more a case with manual cameras as a genre).

If you use Leica Ms in this framework (I may have missed out a few other instances) for these application, then they are unbeatable, except when you also consider the use of equal, or better RF such as the Mamiya 6/7, Rollei TLR (both shutters are even more quiet!), and the Rollei TLR (invariably) more unobstrusive with the WLF - except that you have to work with only 1 superb lens.

This type of photography is only found in candid "stolen" shots (in hallowed boardrooms of the Fortune 500 - some would like to say), portaits (and then you could argue that square is best here) of babies sleeping by window light, cancer-stricken patients dying in lonely silence and solitude etc, where discretion and stealth is of paramount importance.

- The moment you jump to nature and landscapes where flowers or anyone is within 20km to care if you scream at the top of your lungs, ... with apertures typically at F11, 16 or 32, the benefit of top performance wide open is no longer important. This is not to stay (I am quick to add) that the Leica is unsuitable for Landscape. I am just saying that with its horribly designed asymmetric tripod bush amongst other things, that its design parameters show markedly reduced benefit or competitive advantage, as those from Marketing are wont to mutter.

And that is what we all need to recognise isn't it? What is a camera primary designed to do? When it does this well, we praise it - because it has achieved its design goal well and perhaps above others. If we persist in taking it beyond the design parameters and then make lop-sided comparisons, it is not only unfair that this is taking place, it shows that there is little understanding of what it is made for. I do not believe that the design objective for the G2 and the M6 are exactly similar. There are some overlaps and each performs wonderfully for what they are set up to do.

In this sense, a person faced with these choices must then know what he wants in a camera and then make the decision based on the right fit for his own parameters. And needless to say that one of these may be cost. For each individual the choice depends on a priority list only you can define, because there are permutations that may not fit anyone else. If a particular camera works well or exceeds his given expectations, meets his needs maximally to the exclusion of other cameras, then it may be his given opinion that this camera is best for him. And who would dare say otherwise unless you walk in his shoes?! It is the incredible arrogance of assumption that one's own needs and priorities somehow has the superiority to overide, or superecede everyone elses, that leads a person with the ignorance, or temerity to announce to all that he is correct and the other wrong!

Just say that this is camera best for me and don't expect anyone else to be forced into agreement with that. If they do, fine, good for you!

You can argue G2 vs M6 ad infinitum and yet not reach any conclusion. This is because everyone is talking at different odds and it is just a silly waste of time! There are people with poor eyesight, who cannot focus a 90mm, or 135mm lens in the brightest of viewfinders - to save his life - where the autofocus in a G2 is a god-send (and the G2 can focus in near total darkness because of its active infra-red system, can you do the same??). Like-wise, the tactile pleasure of operating the buttery-smooth controls give exquisite pleasure to others. The qualitative issues are just as important (if not more so for some), than the more objective quantitative ones (blind tests, accuracy and precision of colours, tonality, or of machinery). That is why it is called the ART of Photography. There is subjectivity and personality in it - a piece of yourself in every good picture.

So to say that any camera that is best applies to anyone but yourself, is a statement that cannot stand up to logic. If you take a poll and then say that 80% of a general population affirm this, then it still may not be the best, but it may be that 80% of the people think it to be so. Perception and truth are often very different.

I illustrate this by saying that faced with a Rolex, the majority of Americans will say that this is the best watch. In truth, it is not. The movement in a Rolex is built like a tractor engine when compared to a Jaeger, Patek or Lange. To say it is durable is a correct statement - this is because it is so lowly stressed in its design to take into account its crude, but workman-like finish, that it will last. But as an artform in the beauty and craftsmanship of the movement, it is a joke! But few people will ever know this because of the juggernaut of the Rolex Marketing machine.

There is also a psychological overlay issue at stake here that I have observed. I find, that people who have thought that they bought the best (especially at a small fortune) do not like to be told that they have made a mistake. There is usually a preference for self-justification and a need for peer endorsement. This smacks of a sense of insecurity in one's own judgement. Hence, when contrary opinions are voiced, they are stepped on vehemently as if by squelching these fast and furiously, many would then salve their egos and continue in the well-being of their beliefs!

My final advice? Just see if it fits into what you really need for your kind of photography. Use it (M6) for what it does well and forget about what others say. Debating to the Nth degree about tone, resolution, contrast, bokeh etc will not make you a better photographer.

In fact, I will hazard to say that deficiencies in technic will largely negate the differences between many cameras and also between the G2 and M6 in the majority (but not all) of cases. Since I agree that the simple application of a tripod (and lenshood) will make a greater difference in the outcome and results of your photography than the minutiae you debate over G2 and M6. And in the realm of the M6 and G2, few will use the tripod, since that is the very essence of the reason for owning one of these rangefinders. And so you see the futility of your arguments.

Just be happy with what you have got, if not, you know what to do. Just don't go around saying that what you have got is the best and everyone else's camera is not up to it, or is trash. Please leave that to their own judgement and don't impose your opinions - based on your own preferences by offering a filtered "viewing lens" meant for yourself (unless clearly stated upfront). There are always "better" cameras out there, just live with and let live and get a Life!

Is your hobby photography, or equipment critique/debate? Why is it so important that you are right? And everyone else wrong?

Afterall, there are no poor photographers, ... just ignorant ones ...! Which might seem to be an incredulously arrogant thing to say, until we realise that we are ALL, without exception, ignorant to a degree. The arrogance only applies if you do not recognise this to be the case!!

And so now I rest, as I climb into and close the 4 foot-thick flame and incendiary-poof NBC Bunker door and await fireworks and nuclear armaggeddon.

TC Khoo

Alan Ball , August 06, 2001; 04:09 A.M.

Hi all, hi Kirk,

Nice review and interesting (if already well known) discussion.

Except for those of us who have started making pictures before the triumph of 35mm SLR photography, the most common user pattern is that of getting acquainted with interchangeable lens RF systems AFTER having used successive generations of SLR systems.

There are reasons for moving from high end SLR technology "back" to non-SLR systems. Those reasons are well explained in Kirk's review (bulk, weight, noise, reliability of basic manual aperture/speed management, reliability of high end mechanical rangefinding systems). The optical performance of RF systems is the cherry on the cake, not the main reason of moving from one to the other (or cumulating both).

Kirk insists on the performance of the 21mm ASPH. I agree when it comes to quality. However, he does not point out a fact that is very irritating in many real life situations: framing through the attached viewfinder is approximative. This means that near/far compositions, a common way of using ultra-wides, is a hit & miss business with the M (or G) + 21mm. Except for specific photojournalist tasks where you need to grab as much of a scene as possible (demos, indoor meetings, etc) for which the viewfinder framing is adequate, ultra-wides belong more to the SLR world than to the RF world. The current version of the Leica R 19mm is as good as the 21mm ASPH, even at f2.8, and provides full WYSIWYG.

On another matter: the discussion comparing G and M6 stem from a misunderstanding. The G2 has been launched as a "RF" ("rangefinder") and has been hyped as the modern day Leica. Many of us have taken that marketing hype at face value, and go on comparing apples to oranges.

The G2 is NOT a RF system. It is the ONLY interchangeable lens AF compact (read "non-SLR") system (as opposed to fixed lens AF compact cameras). It has the advantages and shortcomings of such an architecture.

Its main advantages are obviously the (optional) delegation of exposure decisions, as well as the (compulsory) delegation of focusing decisions, to modern and capable electronics. The latter is also at the root of its handicaps.

I have extensivley used G2, before moving to M, and found the following:

1) Focusing: it is often perfect, but sometimes not. This is the ONLY high end photographic system I am aware of where the user CANNOT double check focusing for himself. Just like a basic P&S. There is nothing more terrible than having to wait after processing to find out where the thing has decided to focus. With ANY well calibrated RF or ANY SLR, the user has the means of verifying focusing reliably before and after taking the picture.

2) The longer the lens, the smaller the distance, the more erratic the focusing. Around 30% of my close range 90mm pics with the G2 were out of focus (around 10 per "portrait" roll), with no way of predicting failure or success. Failure was sometimes slight, like focus on ears instead of eyes; sometimes enormous, despite careful aiming of AF patch on the right spot. That level of FUD is unacceptable. With the M6, the focus failure rate with the 90mm has dropped to a couple per roll, and failure usually does not come as a post-processing surprise. This is inherent to the systems.

3) The G2 system does not provide any useable way of prefocusing according to depth of field scales. Wide angle usage on the M is much faster and much easier.

4) The shutter lag of the G system is incredibly long (unless you maintain constant thumb pressure on the focus lock command), while the M triggers instantaneously.

5) The non-USM G is ar least as noisy as most modern day AF SLRs (in the ultrasonic SLR world, the focusing is silent and the mirror slap is becoming less and less obstrusive). The M remains comparatively much more silent.

If there are circumstances where the G's integrated motor and auto features are more than welcome, while the G's build and size are certainly very appealling, and while the G lenses are very highly rated, the G simply does NOT compete against the contemporary M system.

Alan

Raimo Korhonen , August 06, 2001; 04:36 A.M.

I think this is a truthful and valuable review of the Leica M6 & lenses (and Contax G2, too) - but some have forgotten that it is Kirk´s assessment, not theirs.

Allen Friday , August 06, 2001; 05:51 P.M.

In responce to John Clark. Should we pull down our pants and see who has the biggest lens? I discount your writing when you use phrases like "wipe the floor with the lot of them." Even adding a smiley face at the end of the sentence doesn't save your comments.

I agree that anyone who is considering purchasing a Leica M6 should also investigate the Mamiya 7 II. It opperates like a large M6 and has an excellent meetering system and opperation in AP mode. Last year I rented both the M6 and the M7 for a month long trial period. I ended up buying the M7. I have been extremely happy with it. I shoot mainly black and white and develop and print my own work. The 6 x 7 negatives are beautiful compared to the small 35mm negs.

The M7 offers much of the best of 35mm photography--it is light, easy to hand hold and quiet. I have particularly enjoyeed it whe taking street scene photos. And, it offers the best of medium format--large negs. The down side to buying the M7 is that my Hasselblad now spends most of the year on a shelf in my office.

Nice discussion, over all. Lets keep the back biting to a minimum.

Dana Kincaid , August 06, 2001; 08:33 P.M.


Dana - me

If I could afford a Leica, I would buy one. My most recent issue of National Geographic chronicles a series of articles on a year and a half journey, thru bush, swamp and forest to ocean in central Africa. The pix are incredible. What did the photographer use? Leica.

That said, as an amateur who isn't going to Africa any time soon (and least not into the bush for over a year), I just bought a Contax G1. I wanted lenses that were on par with Leica (competitive boy bigger privates mid life crises notwithstanding) and they are on a par with Leica.

My biggest beef with the G1 (corrected in the G2???) is that the autofocus sometimes absolutely refuses to lock to something and I have to guess or make substantial effort to find the distance, set it in manually, and then shoot. I don't really understand why a gear-driven image superimposed rangefinder screen like the Leica M6 has could not have been incorporated into the G series 'finder. It would have made manual focus SO much nicer.

I've been using the 35mm lens exclusively so far, next purchase will either be the 45 or 90mm lens.

In a few years though, assuming that digital idiocy does not kill film manufacturing off, I'll get an M6. Right now I'm looking at used medium format TLRs.

Nik Trevallyn-Jones , August 07, 2001; 05:30 A.M.

Short response: Wow and Ugh!

Wow - because this is a great review to read. Not just enjoyable, but I really took useful information away from it. Ugh! because I feel little closer to choosing the right camera for me.

Kirk, thank you very much for you review. This was *exactly* what I needed to read. A passionate, committed person's well-analysed reasons for prefering a particular camera. All I need now are a few more reviews like this from differing viewpoints, and I will be, hopefully, well on my way. Thank you also to everyone else who has posted their (wide-ranging) opinions. They have all helped.

You see, I am currently tossing up between the M6 and the G2 - what a tough, and thoroughly enjoyable decision. (Imagine if I had to choose between hives and smallpox, for example?) I actually started out lusting after the G2 - I own a number of other Contaxes, and have had so many rewarding results from all of them. Then I found the M6/G2 comparison on the Contax web-site ... for me, bad move. I hadn't even considered the M6 until that point. So then I lusted after the M6. Look at those ultra-fast lenses! Look at that compact, fold-away 50mm. Look at how much better it supports the Metz SCA flash system, look at its dismal flash-sync speed - oops! Back to the G2 - look at that ultra-fast shutter, look at those small, light lenses, look at that fast flash-sync speed, look at that lousy TTL fill-flash - oops! Ugh!

The reason I like this review so much is that it gives me a very complete and well thought-out view from one person's perspective, of equipment he has used for a long time. Now I simply compare my approach and preferences to Kirk's, and I can distill the information I need. I have found a few other very informative pieces of information on the G2, but so far, no review with as much depth as this.

Kirk dismisses some of my beloved Zeiss lenses. Is that a major factor for me? Not unless every other aspect of the cameras were equal, and that obviously isn't the case. Kirk finds fault in the G2 in other areas as well - again no big problem. I have found where our interests intersect, so I know which of these criticisms are important to me, and to what degree. For instance, camera silence is yet to be a problem for me, whereas lens speed is.

The only way I can finally choose between these two cameras (or anything, for that matter, short of tossing a coin) is to find out as much as possible about their differences - from as many different points of view as possible. And thanks to Kirk, I now have more of that information than I did before. In fact, I think the best way I could summarise this review is that it sensibly suggested I seriously try the camera(s) that I am considering buying, and pointed out some valid reasons why I should include the Leica M6 on that list.

Thanks again to everyone - and Kirk, in 20 years I'll try to post as useful a review as this, to add to whatever hot debate is going at that time.

Cheers! Nik

Andy Piper , August 08, 2001; 03:23 A.M.

I use Leica M. I used to use Contax G. A certain amount of piffle has been written about both systems here (and also a lot that is true). I like both systems - it just turned out that Leica had more to offer me personally.

Specifically I shoot low-speed high contrast color slides (Velvia), and I just preferred the color and more gentle contrast of the c.1988 Leica lenses to the Contax (and some newer Leica) glass. In addition the Contax G2 just decided to be confused about focusing and locked up for a second once too often, missing me a 'moment'. With the Leica when I push the button the shutter fires RIGHT NOW and EVERY TIME.

Things I miss about the Contax: life-sized both-eyes-open shooting with the 90. Auto follow-focus for kayaking shots. Occasional autoexposure convenience. Very nice crisp lenses at an unbeleivable price.

Things I find very similar between the G2/Leica and treasure in both. A camera that leaves your face visible to your subject and engenders trust. Very low shutter vibration for hand-holding to 1/8 second (1/2 with the 21s). Compact size and weight. And a cure for the 'telephoto addiction' that had me shooting everything with a 135 or longer.

Some of the piffle I saw:

"Oh the Contax viewfinders are too small" The G1/G2 finder is EXACTLY the same size and magnification as the old Leica screw-mount finder - you know, the one that Cartier-Bresson used for over 20 years before the M3 came along? The one that Gene Smith used in his "Nurse-Midwife/Spanish village" days?

"I can't see any quality difference between the Leica/Contax lenses and my SLR zooms" Nikon, Canon et al make some very nice glass. They may well equal Leica/Contax at some apertures and 1/250 second. Try comparing them wide open and at 1/8 second, and you will see a difference.

Toti Calr , August 08, 2001; 05:53 A.M.

Alan Ball wrote: "The optical performance of RF systems is the cherry on the cake, not the main reason of moving from one (SLR) to the other (or cumulating both)." Ball, this could be true for you, but for me the optical performances (no distortion, high contrast, cool colour rendering) were the very cake, not just the cherry. Kirk's review was actually interesting, but, honest, I enjoyed TC Khoo's comment more than the review itself. Again: comparing different things meant to be used for different purposes is silly, saying the "x" camera is the best in the world is silly, claiming that a top line camera is crap because it doesn't fit your needs and habits is silly: if one (for any reason) needs a RF camera, takes advantages by the AF and likes Zeiss lenses then the G2 (or even the G1 if one doesn't need a fast motor and a fast shutter) is the camera of choice; if one doesn't like AF, takes the most of his pictures in low light and likes the Leitz lenses, then there're no doubts again about which is the best camera: the Konica Hexar. :-)

Jim Tardio , August 08, 2001; 11:46 P.M.

Here's another professional's view of his Leica cameras: Go Here.

Kirk Tuck , August 11, 2001; 11:00 P.M.

Since so many have posted that the prices of Leica M cameras are too high I thought I would let you know another advantage of the Leica M over the Contax G series cameras. One that speaks to cost effectiveness. A friend who shoots with Leicas recently decided that the "holy trinity" of 35-50-90 needed to be expanded into the wider angles. After assessing what was availble, and trying out a few options, he bought the 15mm Heliar, the 21mm Skopar and the 24mm Skopar. These are screw mount lenses made by Cosina. The lenses were supplied with finders, and in the case of the 21mm the finder matched the performance and finish of the Leica products. Tests with the lenses indicate remarkably good performance for the price. His total expendature was around $1,000 or roughly the price of a single "overpriced" Contax G 21. One half or less the price of the " incredibly overpriced" Contax G 16mm. The lenses are real bargains. Sad for the Contax lovers, you have to have a Leica lens mount camera in order to use them........

By way, any Leica from the last 50 years will suffice. Seems you can cobble together a great system for very few dollars, and you still get to decide what will be in focus when you shoot. Silently. There's nothing like knowing exactly what your gear is focused on.

Kirk

Wee Keng_Hor , August 12, 2001; 10:28 A.M.

I've to agree that Leica users do have more option of of lens choice. But using non Leica lens on a Leica body? Might as well get a non Leica body.
Contax is expensive in US. However, in Singapore the 21mm lens sells for about US $780. Have read that it is even cheaper in Hong Kong at about US$600!

Kirk Tuck , August 12, 2001; 03:06 P.M.

The above poster opined about using non Leica lenses on a Leica body and suggested just getting a different brand of camera. The point is that you can buy the fabulous, best in class Leica lenses for the focal lengths that you use everyday (they are built to take the wear and tear) while paying fewer dollars for lenses that you may not need often. Either way, you get the advantages of the Leica M bodies.

James Vincent , August 12, 2001; 09:31 P.M.

I agree with Kirk, but with a slightly different twist. I use a Hexar RF with Leica glass. I have the 3E and the 35/2 pre-asph. I, too, would like to get the Voit 21 and 15.

Kenneth Pai , August 13, 2001; 06:20 P.M.

Kirk's imassioned and well-reasoned piece is worth reading by both M6 evotees and Leica bashers alike. Well done, Kirk.

Seems to me a major reason that many Leica M users prefer Leica Ms has not been aired. That is, the Leica M, its optical and mechanical qualities aside, has become a "classic"--even if you are not a collector.

The Leica M is, as one of the commentors said, indeed like a Rolex. It may not be the most advanced, most feather-laden, versatile, useful, or even beautiful. But, it does not try to be. It has that timeless (to some, "perverse") charm. It is also like the original VW Beetle (but not the current New Beetle). It has been improved upon over the decades but not redesigned (except the doomed from the start M5).

Maybe the M is a "cult" camera and remain that way.

Kenneth

Pedro Vasconcelo , August 13, 2001; 07:12 P.M.

Regarding Voigtlander vs. Contax lenses I'd like to add that the prices of these lenses are not directly comparable because they are not of the same aperture: for example, a 21mm f4 can't replace an f2.8 even if the optical quality was identical (which I don't think is the case, but I'll leave it at that). On the other hand the Contax 45 f2 is cheaper than the Voigtlander 50 f1.5, the 28mm f2.8 should be cheaper than the new 28m f1.9. The Contax 90mm f2.8 costs $50 more than the slower Voigtlander f3.5. So it really is not clear that a Leica/Voigtlander system would be cheaper than a Contax G system.

I understand that the Voigtlander 15mm and 12mm can be altered to Contax G mount by the German company named Zork; the cost is higher than the M-ring adapter for the Leica, but still much less than a Zeiss Hologon, for example.

BTW, one advantage of an electronic RF is that all these non-RF-coupled lenses can be focused more acurately on the Contaxes by reading the distance on the digital LCD and setting focus manually rather than just relying on depth-of-field.

Terence Z , August 14, 2001; 09:10 P.M.

I don't think Contax G's 21 mm, which costs about $650, is an outrageous expense as Kirk claims. Even the 50mmf/2 'cron costs more than $700 new. Contax G2+ Zeiss 45mmf/2 costs only $1050 new these days in many shops.

I don't hate M6, I think it is a beautiful, old-fashioned, entirely useable camera. However, G2, which packs so much more useful electronics features (AE, 4-FPS motor, 1/200sec sync, AF, AE compensation, AE bracketing, auto parallex compensation, auto zoom viewfinder, PLUS manul everything) into a body as small as a Leica M6, represents a far better bang for the buck for most people, and displays far more ingenuity in engineering and design than Leitz's M6.

Based on my useage, G2's viewfinder, although denounced as too small too dim, is actually at least as good as Leica M3 or M2's viewfinder. And G2 lets you see the full frame view from 28mm-90mm, and automatically compensates for parallex.

G2's autofocus is fast and reliable. Of course it won't focus on a white wall, or on a hazy horizon. M6 users can't focus alone on horizontal patterns either. I've never had trouble with G2's 90mm focusing. The meter readout in viewfinder is entirely adequate for me as a focus confirmation. Regarding the criticism of weak flash, can you say M6's flash is any more powerful? G2 can use the full line of Contax flashes, including those designed for the Contax SLR line, which is quite sufficient for any casual user.

The shutter lag for G2 can be very short if you switch to CH mode. Which stands for continuous-high. In this mode, G2 becomes release priority and as long as you use a fairly small aperture, say f5.6 or smaller so your DOF covers the subject, your pix will be sharp, and the release will be instant when you depress the shutter, and if you keep the shutter depressed, G2 takes 4 frames/sec. Far more likely to catch that "critical moment" than if you were using a manual everything M6.

Finally, regarding the quality of the image, M6's f/1.4 lenses does have some advantage in isolating the subject or for gaining that extra stop. However, I'd rather use f2 to make sure, in dark situations, I have enough DOF than go after that bokeh. As to sharpness, I honestly can't tell the difference between the two marque. Tripod defeats the main purpose for both cameras. As people have said, if the ultimate in image quality is the goal, Mamiya M7 is a far better way to go, with UK or Hongkong prices at $1700 for the M7 body plus 80mm/f4. It's not much larger than a 35mm SLR and is light-weight and has a shutter even quieter than M6's.

Every camera is a compromise. G2, to keep its lenses small and prices down, forgoes fast glass and the ultrasonic (silent) AF motor. M6 simply forgoes too much functionality to keep that "purity".

ROCKY LEE , August 15, 2001; 05:56 P.M.

As a M4 user for more than 30 years, I agree with Kurk's view about the M6 ( M4 is just a M6 without the built-in meter and the 28mm frame). I like to be able to tell if my picture is in focus or not BEFORE I take the picture. I hate to see the picture being out of focus because the AF SLR is not focusing right,(It happened to me quite a few times). I have played with the Contax G1, G2 and TVS. It is just not the same as the M4.( I have not yet mentioned the noise during focusing and film winding yet) If you are using 35mm or shorter focal length for distance more tha 8 feet, you can make use the DOF and F8 or smaller to take most of the pictures without focusing the camera. This make it a very fast and easy to handle (due to small size)camera for candit shot. You can almost use it as a point and shoot. The other thing I like the M is the small size (especially the extremely small Sumicron 35/2 lens). By the way, my M4 has given me more than 30 years of absolutely trouble-free service ( I do not treat the M4 as a toy. I treat it as a tool. I do not baby-sit my tools). That got to say a lot about the reliability of the camera. Over the years I have tried different cameras. But I always go back to the M4. To be fair to the SLR's ( I do own couple of them), M does have its limitation. If you like to take close-up pictures, or like to use long lenses, the M is not for you. M works best with lens of 90mm or shoter, especially the wide angle lenses. The M is so simple and basic ( some may reads it as out-dated)that all control are so instinctive and fall right into your fingers. You do need to consult the owner's manual to re-learn to use most of the advanced, all electronics, modern, auto everthing SLR. As for the price of the M system, I am not trying to justify it. However I am a firm believer about the relation ship of performance vs price is not a linear relationship. It is a log curve. You pay a lot more for a slight improvement at the high end.

Bruce Albertine , August 20, 2001; 11:31 P.M.

I appreciate both the thorough review and the photos included with Kirk's review of the Leica M6. I also love shooting candids and "casuals," and Kirk is excellent at capturing these.

I must say, I can't understand all the crap that follows any time someone says they enjoy a particular camera or lens or film, either here or on any of the photo BBS'es. It seems absurd to me that people will try to tear down a review written as well balanced and fairly as Kirk's. I guess boys just gotta fight, right fellas? I'll tell ya what, I've been in the sound recording business since I was a kid - a long long time ago - and I've heard these same kind of stupid arguments about everything from digital-vs-analogue to transistors-vs-tubes and here we are in the new millenium with these arguments still unsettled. The fact is, every thing has its advantages and disadvantages, and many people take highly polarized views about their things, or other peoples' things, based on whatever that thing does or doesn't do for them. But once these polarized views take form many people start taking on the dialogue they've heard from other like-polarized speakers and re-speak it as if it were their own experience, not ever having had the experience for themselves. Eventually, myths are created based upon nothing more than hearsay repetition of other peoples' experiences. Zealots emerge who will fiercly argue points with enormous voice but with no reality from which to prove their zeal. Religions are born and gods are created.

For seekers of the truth, it's refreshing and restores faith in the ability of humans to sometimes communicate when one reads a camera review that is balanced and fair. Kirk gave a fine representation of his extensive experience with his Leicas and I, for one, appreciate his lack of zealousness. I wish more reviews were like his.

Thank you, Kirk. Nice phots, by the way....

Haim Toeg , August 21, 2001; 04:56 A.M.

Thanks for taking the time to write the review and answer all the varying opinions. I own two M6 bodies and an M4-P, as well as quite a few lenses. I have had in the past many different cameras, from a 6x6 box camera, to a Praktica, Olympus OM-10, a few Nikons, Bronica, Mamiya RZ-67, Mamiya 7II, 4x5 cameras and more. I was introduced to rangefinders with the Leica CL and there was no looking back for me. I find the compact size and the light weight of the M system encourage me to take the camera with me wherever I go, the cameras and lenses feel beautifuly well made and reassuring to use, and it is nice for me to know that mechanical engineering still can produce products such as these. Do I make the maximum use of it--probably not, could I have achieved the same with a Contax G2--probably, if I was inspired to tote with me at all times as I do with my Leica. I know, however, that with the increasing size and weight of modern SLR lenses I would not take the same number of pictures with a Nikon, Canon or the like, that's my main objective and I enjoy doing so with a well made product. My opinion is highly subjective, but so is the choice of a camera system. Just enjoy what you own and go make pictures that make you proud or give you pleasure.

Haim Toeg , August 21, 2001; 04:58 A.M.

Samuel Dilworth , August 25, 2001; 06:54 P.M.

By the time you’ve looked into contrast, sharpness, resolution, bokeh, vignetting, flare resistance, ghosting resistance, colour neutrality, build quality, tolerance limits, focus dampening, and aperture precision, then applied all of the aforementioned across the entire, *complete* lens line; then added ease of use, backward and forward compatibility, future-proofing, after-sales support, elegance of operation, value for money, and sheer photographic pedigree, any objective evaluation puts Leica in front by miles. By the time you’ve added countless subjective and unquantifiable factors such as Leica’s history, the feel of a Leica M in your hands until it becomes part of you and you can’t feel it anymore, the beauty of the finish when it’s new, and then when it’s brassed and used, the respect the red spot earns you in certain circles, and the disdain and ridicule in others, both thoroughly enjoyable, the subtle yet enormous change in your photography as you become acquainted with your new tool and jewel, and the photographs you realize only the Leica freed you to take; by the time you’ve added all this and much more which needs to be experienced to believe, or perhaps believed to experience; by then, you’ll realize that there is only one camera -- and it is a Leica.

And if you haven’t, Leica isn’t for you, and I pity you, and wish you all the best with whatever you do choose to use or find yourself using.

Samuel ("magic-camera" sceptic until I used a Leica... and discovered it to be magic)

PS. Your "ann-richards" photo at the top of the page is *wonderful*.

Zapata Espinoza , August 27, 2001; 08:37 A.M.

>the respect the red spot earns you in certain circles <

Whoooaaa! I'd knew, finally someone would make the mistake to name the real reasons for buying L.

Jorge Diaz , August 27, 2001; 03:30 P.M.

Great review Kirk! It shows rigor and method.I, of course concur with the evaluations up to the comparisons with equipment I never had.I bought an M6 2 years ago.A Noctilux, a Summicron 90 and the 135. Lately I acquired the Asp.35/2 and the 50/2.I also got an M3 with a bespectacled 35.I had followed avidly all the controversy of the Leica "overrating" vs. all others and ,I confess, went out and bought a lot of other stuff mentioned to be on a par or even superior to the Leica, including a Mamiya 6.Bull!I bought all that on the desire for the lump of cash that selling the Leica stuff would get me should I be satisfied with the alternatives.Everything fell short.Everything I tried that is.Pentax 50mm my foot!This is consolation therapy for the guys with severe wallet pains. I get more focused shots that are stunningly sharp using the M system than anything else!For more than 25 years of SLR use I got the mindset of resignation to high ratios of unsharp and unfocused shots to be changed overnight by buying the Leica.Precision became the word. It is as precise as a machine tool needs to be. The Noctilux 1:1 lens is a tour de force.Put on the M3(!!) at 1/30 with Konica 200 film I went around the city at night getting sharp shots on available light.Sharp!Yes it will set you back a few bucks but considering what I paid for the M3 it shouldn't be too much of a pain as their value shelter status is unquestioned.I have no doubt that I can get a good price should I sell my stuff.Probably what I spent!So it is that initial outlay that is painful.I also own R system stuff.Some of it is udoubtedly unsurpassed (unsurpassable?).

Nikon,Canon?.So many pros can't be wrong.Their stuff fits some purposes for pros and occassional shooters but I still haven't seen anything that surpasses Leica.At any price.The Leica M will grow on you.You may miss shots with it that you may think you could have gotten with an AF slr until you go out an buy one of those.Disenchantment sets in shortly afterwards and you are left with a hole in your wallet and no value to show for it right after the bill is paid.Rent one if possible and judge for yourself.There's only one Leica no matter what controversy.Even their old lenses are unique performers!!!The bug eyed Summicron 35 I got with the M3 got humanely sharp after CLA'd.Even "ancient" lenses like a scratchy SM Summar of the 1930's can give you a soft sharpness that will enchant that portrait....

William Macintire , August 27, 2001; 09:55 P.M.

I've not had the pleasure of owning a Leica M camera, but I've wanted one for over 20 years, because I love rangefinder cameras, beginning with my first camera, a Kodak Signet 35. I think some photographers just see things better from a rangefinder point of view. Others prefer SLRs. I like both, really. Kirk is right, though, about the relative advantages and disadvantages of RFs as compared to SLRs. If you want quiet shutters, the ability to handhold at slow speeds, and precise focusing of normal and wide angle lenses, nothing beats a rangefinder. If you want to try out the concept for not much money, get an old fixed lens rangefinder like a Canonet or a Yashica Lynx (BTW, the Lynx 1.4 has a very good lens).

Recently, I finally got a Leica, an old screw mount, and several lenses. I love the camera, a IIIa, in spite of its problems: fogging, a dim rangefinder, small viewfinder, probably off shutter speeds, and no light meter. In spite of all that, I've gotten great images out of it. Still, hoping to correct these problems, and stop carrying around a valuable antique, I recently got a Bessa-R to mount my old lenses. The old lenses - 50 summarit, 50 summar, 35 and 90 elmars - may not be the sharpest things on the block. I would readily concede that my Pentax SLR lenses are sharper, and that's what I use for most critical work. But the older Leica lenses do have special qualities of their own. I find the pictures I take with them far more interesting, so they are what I turn to for personal photography. And actually, the summarit and the elmars are pretty sharp considering their age.

Before making my Bessa R purchase, I read the reviews, and also did a lot of searching on user groups. In the latter, I found some complaints about the Bessa R, as well as some praise. Most of the complaints concerned quality control and rangfinder alignment. I've had no problems, and I'm quite happy with the R. The build quality is good, and the camera feels quite solid. It's sort of what the Leica screw mount might have become if Leitz hadn't stopped with the IIIg. If you want a rangefinder camera, and simply can't afford an M6, get the Bessa R. It may not be as quiet as an M6, but it is still very quiet, has an incredibly good viewfinder, and even has a higher top shutter speed (1/2000) and higher flash sync (1/125) than the M. I can't speak for the lenses, as I don't own one, although I hear they are fine. If you want the best screw mount lens available, it's still possible to pick up a limited edition new Summicron for about a thousand dollars - get the Bessa R and that and you've spent less than an M6 body alone.

John Blodgett , September 06, 2001; 11:41 P.M.

Here's a thought all: cut the pissing contest and go out and shoot! Regardless what you use for equipment! And have fun!

Kirk Tuck , September 27, 2001; 12:28 P.M.

Just wanted to add a brief comment about the 21mm Cosina/Voightlander lens. This was not available when I wrote the review and I bought one recently to see how it held up to the Leica 21mm ASPH. Well, I think I got a good one because it's very sharp and contrasty. I like the brightline finder alot and will probably use it frequently. After viewing the results I sold the Leica lens and got what I originally paid for it. a nice transaction all the way around. It's getting interesting in Leica-land. Kirk

Brian Harvey , October 02, 2001; 10:43 P.M.

Nothing I can say about the M6, besides it is a full manual camera. There are lots of them around. All companies probably make one, or three. I have a good friend who has let me borrow the M from time to time, and I really enjoy using it. My first camera was an FE2. Mostly manual. Then I bought an FM2 and an F100. Sure the automation of the F100 can make you lazy, if you decide to let it. Apply all of the knowledge from working with the FM2 and almost no shot will you miss. I love manual cameras. But they will not replace the ability to (get the shot) that the F100 can get in a blink. There's a place for all cameras and the people that use them. Even after learning with manual focus , some shots , even street photos , need the speed of an SLR. IMHO, the M6 is just not the tool for quick candids. I will admit, if I could afford the major hit to my account, I'd love to own an M6. It is , a joy to use.

Zapata Espinoza , October 09, 2001; 12:55 P.M.

Essentially untrue photographs. Attempts to combine 'artistry' with something that pays better. Corrupted view. These have nothing to do with what especially these cameras have been used for (and were probably created for), the innocent snapshot. Once again, instead, no lyrical qualities, but pictures that act as a contraceptive on the ability to see, to understand.

Kirk Tuck , October 14, 2001; 08:21 P.M.

Dear Mr. Zapata Espinoza,

Here are the guidelines set by Photo.net for commenting on articles. Please read them and try to understand what they mean so that you can be more constructive and pleasant when next you submit.

Guidelines

Opinions about photography, especially if illustrated with an attached photo, are welcome. Opinions about the article you just read should be submitted as a rating. If you think an article is terrible (or great), other readers don't need to know that. They just read the article and can form their own opinion. But if you've found a different or better way to take pictures, use an item of equipment, etc., please use this form to explain how.

Ask yourself "Will this comment help other photo.net readers take better pictures?"

In our experience, comments that express opinions about another reader or the author of an article are seldom worthwhile additions to the database. If you think someone is a pinhead, just send them a private email message!

Thank you for your previous posts, and your renewed application to the guidelines posted on the site. Kirk

Zapata Espinoza , October 15, 2001; 07:22 A.M.

Thank you Kirk for calling me names in your recent mails. And, was it by chance that one of your mails contained a virus? Is THIS the way you respond to someone disagreeing with you? Yes this is off topic concerning Leica, but it is not concerning you, who wrote the review. But to make it on topic, I'll repeat it here: your pictures are not what the Leica M was made for and meant to be used for. They therefore do not illustrate the special qualities of the Leica.

Kirk Tuck , October 15, 2001; 04:09 P.M.

Mr. Espinoza, let's try to keep our personal disagreements off the general site. Other are just not interested As to your insinuation that I sent you a virus, grow up. Now on to Leica stuff: The Leica may have originally been designed for street photography but reading the literature about Oskar Barnack leads one to believe that he was trying to find a lighter and more portable solution for shooting landscapes. While many use Leicas to shoot in the street just as many use them for personal projects, annual reports, even portraits. Just about any interest can be covered well by Leicas, including weddings and baby pictures. Some people love to pigeonhole tools and techniques. Perhaps it helps them cope with the complexity of our craft. It is good to note that these are artificial and highly subjective restrictions and need not apply to photographers who feel comfortable with their abilities and acheivements.

again, the Guidelines:

Opinions about photography, especially if illustrated with an attached photo, are welcome. Opinions about the article you just read should be submitted as a rating. If you think an article is terrible (or great), other readers don't need to know that. They just read the article and can form their own opinion. But if you've found a different or better way to take pictures, use an item of equipment, etc., please use this form to explain how.

Ask yourself "Will this comment help other photo.net readers take better pictures?"

In our experience, comments that express opinions about another reader or the author of an article are seldom worthwhile additions to the database. If you think someone is a pinhead, just send them a private email message!

David Carson , October 22, 2001; 01:37 P.M.

I think Kirk has given us a good review of the M6. He's given a fair rundown of the pluses and minuses of the body and lenes.

I just bought one, and I think it's the perfect people shooting camera, and a handy camera to have with you all the time.

Cheers,

Don Rivington , October 30, 2001; 12:39 A.M.

Nice discussion on the M6, however, there is one thing about M lenses that I need help on: how do you use that little focussing "stick" without getting the feeling that the camera is going to jump out of your hands? Leica has recently put a knurled focussing ring on the 50 (excellent), but the 35's and shorter still use that "stick". Will someone please draw me a diagram on how to use that thing?

The M body is, IMHO, the ONLY rangefinder body worth considering, but, let's not forget, when Nikon first introduced the F, photographers deserted the M in droves.

The M lenses, IMHO, are completely subjective. Here's why: some time ago I used OM and Contax. Did something with the non-multicoat Zuiko 50 and printed an 8X10 that had quite a bit cropped out (actual enlargement was approx. 10X). I showed it to a friend and he said "Wow, that's sharp, did you use the Zeiss on that?".

T T , November 23, 2001; 11:07 A.M.

"The shutter was quiet, but inconsistent and failed on me several times [the camera was bought used and probably never had a CLA]"

There's your problem right there.

"Lens quality wasn't relevant- I shoot mostly EI400 or EI800 film"

Lens quality is always relevent.

"I was really astonished to read, Kirk Tuck thinks the shutter is built to last 400 000 cycles without maintenance. "

As astonishing as it sounds, it's true.

"The Leica's appearance was of no advantage. It is not a 'stealth' camera...I shoot with a F5 now"

Oh the Nikon F5 is stealth huh?

Niels H. S. Nielsen -- , November 30, 2001; 04:34 A.M.

A few months ago I choose to make the switch to the Leica M system, not so much because I was dissatisfied w. my Nikon glass, but because I felt somewhat alienated by the auto-everything of my N90. Just like musicians may feel the need to go "unplugged", I felt that I had to reclaim control to continue my joy of photography. Some may argue that I have full control options available in a N90, which is true, but you can’t avoid the electronic controls/displays, something which I increasingly found to be not only a practical, but also a mental barrier.
In this mental exercise I decided that a puritan set-up of only one lens and a manual/mechanical rangefinder body would be what I wanted. Since feel is important to me, I didn’t have to research much to realise that were no other alternatives but Leica.

In order to finance my purchase, I had to sell off some of my “clutter” which included a N90 with a few AFD lenses and a Mamiya C330f, which I rarely used anyway. I kept a Nikon FE w. 2 AIS lenses for the rare occasions I would need to do macro and short tele work. After a few transactions back and forth I finally purchased a M4 from 1968 and a 50mm/f: 2.0 Summicron (from around 1970) for which I paid a total of 1200$ including a CLA.

I started photography in 1977 using a (Ricoh 500G) so the concept of a rangefinder wasn’t new to me, but I was surprised how easily I adapted after 20 years of SLR use. I found that I could operate this camera much faster than the N90 (I always felt that I had to double-check if it was set correctly) and as fast as the FE in auto mode.

Although it is purely mental, the feel of the camera adds confidence through its smooth operation. No other camera I have held in my hands (many) has ever come close to the responsiveness and solid/secure feel-of-operation of this camera.

This swap wasn’t meant to get better glass, but it was clear from the first roll that this 50mm Summicron (made in the years 1969-1979) produced visibly sharper and contrastier images than my Nikkor 50/1.8 wide open (which is where I shoot most of my images) –an added bonus but not essential for my photographic style.

I do not take better photographs (yet?) but the M4 has reintroduced some of the joy, which I lost somewhere. Although I subscribe to the belief that all modern cameras are created (almost) equal when it comes to imaging capabilities, I do find that the importance of the mental relationship between the tool and photographer often overlooked.

Doug from Tumwater , January 10, 2002; 03:06 A.M.

Thank you Kirk for the fine review of the M6. Being a fairly new owner of a M6 TTL 0.85 (with 50 Elmar-M and 90 Elmarit-M lenses) I read your article with great interest and found it very educational. One area in which you appear a bit over zealous is in the Leica M vs Contax G comparison. An example is when you state that the Tri-Elmar is comparable to the Contax G 28mm Biogon lens. In paraphrasing one of your referenced authors, Erwin Putts, he states the Tri-Elmar (at the 28mm setting) has noticeable barrel distortion, medium to high contrast in the center which drops a little in the outer zones and that fine details are rendered softer in the outer zones. Such compromised characteristicts do not apply to a 28mm Zeiss Biogon G lens. I know this from both direct use and in research I have read. Thanks again for the enjoyable article and for prompting an interesting M vs G debate. I own and enjoy both systems very much and find they fill different niches. Doug from Tumwater

Uwe Hesse , February 22, 2002; 04:31 P.M.

First of all I’am not a regular LEICA M user, but I have got some impressions when I used this camera occasionally: For people wearing eyeglasses like me its certainly not the best camera finder. Terms like Nikon's high eye-point finder, never heard by Leica constructors. The whole handling of this camera is old-fashioned (this can be sympathetic), not very handy and not suitable for fast action photography. Available light photography is the special domain for Leica M systems.

That Leica optics are outstanding no doubt in that, but prices are too. They made it the old „Made in Germany" way, using the best materials and technology, and when the product is ready they use their calculators. Unfortunately prices increase and still maintain on a very high level because there is a large community of wealthy collectors, they never use their limited collectibles made of Gold, Silver and wrapped in seldom leathers. Fortunately the loss in case of re-selling is significantly lower than with other brands.

The extremely high resolutions of Leica lenses make only sense if you have a complete line of highend optics from camera optics to slight-projector/ enlarger/ scanner (best: Leica products) and using the best films available on the market, like Fuji VELVIA. Otherwise you waste the very high potential and could spare the money. And of course there are fields like portrait when you certainly don’t need razor sharp lenses, only you are photographer for the police ;-)) Finally, the quietest camera on the market is the Konica Hexar (not a system camera), not a Leica.

Ray DiCecca , February 25, 2002; 12:47 P.M.

I just happened to peruse Leica's website and noticed they recently released the M7. ... shutter is electronically controlled; has stepless aperture priority; DX coding; high speed flash sync among other updates... http://www.leica-camera.com/produkte/msystem/m7/index_e.html

Link to PDF brochure (about 1MB) http://www.leica-camera.com/imperia/md/content/pdf/msystem/37.pdf

Looks interesting, but one of the things that sold me on the original M6 design was its sense of minimalism. I'll still hold onto my M6 Classic...

Ken Ng , March 12, 2002; 10:13 A.M.

I too am glad I bought the M6 Classic before it was discontinued to make room for the "improved" TTL versions and now the M7. Leica's direction into "new" technology confuses me. The original attraction to the M6 was its simplicity, mechanical reliability, battery independence, and unobtrusiveness. I think that TTL and now an automatic mode(!!!) goes against the original philosophy. Now the M7 is battery DEPENDENT. And using flash defeats the original advantage of an M2,3,4,6, which is unobtrusive photography. If I need TTL or Auto, I'd rather pick up my SLR. Heck, I'd buy a Konica Hexar RF and save a ton of money. I think paying $2400 for an M7 body with outdated technology is poor value for the dollar. I know my M6 is a luxury. It was hard to digest the fact of paying so much even for an M6. But for $2400, I could outfit a nice SLR system and have change left over. The FM3 seems like a nice alternative.

Keith Scandolo , April 30, 2002; 11:21 A.M.

The point about using a Leica rangefinder camera is that it is ideal for 'people & places' photography using available light. The quality of the camera and lenses is such that if you are good enough the results will be outstanding. If the results are disappointing it is because the photographer, not the camera, got it wrong!Auto everything cameras give good results but the auto focus, middle aperture, middle shutter shutter speed formula that they tend to operate with give acceptable, rather than outstanding results most of the time. It all depends on your personal objectives as to which is better.

Jeffery Chew , May 28, 2002; 10:06 P.M.

I just recently purchased M6 TTL camera with Tri-Elmar lens.

I did have M4-P about 15 years ago. It was great camera back then, but I got easily frustrated waiting for accessories that I had ordered for it. Unfortunately I did trade it for a Japanese SLR. I really wished I did not.

This is really nice camera system for someone that really knows how to operate manual camera. This is really thinking person's camera. I wish the people that purchase this camera, whether new or used will have years of enjoyment using this camera.

Yes, this camera is not as forgiving as the fully autofocus and programmed cameras of today, but it has an unique feel and sound from a mechanical camera that can not compare to others. You really have to use the camera to really know what I mean.

Mind you might not get good results the first time, but it is a learning process. You have to grow with the camera.

I too have to relearn all the characteristics of the M-series Leica cameras, since owning R4 and RE. Yes, they are SLRs but I use them in aperture priority mostly, so call me lazy! Have to relearn all the manual settings and think before I snap the shutter.

Using such a camera makes you fully aware that you are in full control, whether the exposure is right on of off to over-exposure or under-exposure. To the new owners of the M6 TTL or new M7, you will eithee love the camera or hate it for the results you get. You have to really have to modify your way of doing things or you get lousy results.

Patrik Skolling Möller , June 06, 2002; 04:27 P.M.

Dear Kirk !

First of all I´d like to say that your pictures above shown are wonderful. I can´t say that I think you wouldn´t be able to take as good photographs with another high-end camera such as Canon or Nikon. But I do agree that it is a pleasent feeling to use the M6. It is more like that you´re making photographs rather than taking pictures. But I think that this is more or less a mental thing.(Sorry).

I work for Canon so I´ve tried many different lenses and I own some too. EF 24 2,8,EF 85mm 1,8 ,EF 28-70 2,8 L and the EF 70-200 4,0L. (I also owned the 80-200 2,8 L and the 20-35 2,8L).

Last week I tried the 85mm @f2.The 28-70(70mm)@f2,8 and the 70-200(85mm)@4,0. I took portraits of my wife in ambient evening summer light. It was very hard to see the differences beween the lenses on the photogaphs but I think the 70-200 was slightly better than the others. I use REALA and a prolab. When I look at the photographs I´ve taken with G2 and M6 and compare them with EF lenses thay are pretty much sharper than prints from any other 35mm camera I have ever tried and seen. (The sharpest Canon I´ve tried was my old 80-200 @200mm).

Focusing is a little problem for me when using M6 but I think that this is a problem that you´ll overcome. The Contax G2 was not very reliable in its autofocus so I prefere Leica. The G-lenses are just as good as the M´s I think, especially when its pricetags is compared to each other!

Kirk,how much I tried I can´t compare 35mm to 645 or 6x6 or 6x7. Perhaps it is hard to see difference between them on normal prints but when enlarged, 35mm film just can´t compete !

Maybe I´ll change to a LEICA M6 one day just to get that little extra "pop-out feeling" on the prints but mostly I´d buy it to get closer to my crativity. I like the feeling of "create" my photographing.

Oh good I love my 1N too...what should I do ? I wish I was a millionaire!

And Kirk! Have you ever tried FUJI REALA ? If not, do that and forget about the Kodak Portra 400,800 if you want sharp brilliant crispy photographs. (If you want grain and no colors stick to Kodak). I think that the best cameras should eat the best films and there´s nothing like the REALA believe me.

;-)

Patrik

John Fine , June 18, 2002; 11:31 A.M.

I have enjoyed all the comments above. I have to admit that I have been the victim of the buying, using, selling, buying, using, selling, buying cycle such that I have probably owned 20-25 separate and distinct camera systems over the last 20+ years. The one constant in all of this has been Leica M cameras. There is just no other camera that for me (very personal thing) is its equal. I wear eyeglasses and hate 35mm SLR's (and yes I have used higheyepoint finders) So, sue me! I love the big bright rangefinder window, the super quiet shutter, the look and feel of the whole thing. Sure it takes some practice learning to change film quickly, to keep your eye centered on the rangefinder spot, to be able to change f stops and shutter speeds by feel, etc. I love being able to carry the camera around my neck with a couple of lenses and film in my pockets or a small bag and be completely mobile. On top of that, the lenses etc has over the years been improved to the point that the current line are overall the best ever (again a somewhat subjective opinion). I have fairly large hands and find that the only other rangefinder worth considering (the Contax) is just too small. Also, I just want it simple! No auto this and auto that. It doesn't help me make better photos. I continue to use my 4x5 (which of course can do things no smaller camera can do) and a Rollei SL66E, but for general photography my M6 can't be beat. While I have used AE and AF cameras, my style of photography just doesn't require them. I can focus with my M6 in extremely low light with great accuracy and the best of the matrix metering systems just don't give the same results as setting the exposure manually can. The mind is still the best control, but you need knowledge and experience behind it. I want complete control and an automatic camera just doesn't give that to me. I know Kirk does photography of live stage performances, as I have, and would agree that the M6 is ideal for doing that. No flash, very quiet, fast lenses etc. Personally, I believe no photographer (professional?)has any business starting their career with automatic cameras. The skills aquired using manual systems (especially view cameras) will teach you more, faster, than anything else. You absolutely must know the mechanisms and principles that underly the automatic functions. Also, once you develop the level of expertise necessary, you will see how all the automatic systems are just tools and tools are really useful only when the application is appropriate. For example: learn to estimate exposure settings within 1/2 stop with out using a meter. That alone will teach you more than you might imagine. Auto exposure and auto focus can enable a photographer to make images that would be impossible without them (action, sports, some photojournalism, but all the auto functions are useless if you can't see the picture.

I recently aquired one of the new 24mm asph. M lenses and have been very impressed. It beats easily the pictures I have taken with a Nikon 24 a few years back. I prefer the angle of view to the 21 (though I havn't had the pleasure of using the newest asph. version). This lens has been left out of the above discussion and is an example of Leitz's continuing commitment to improving the M system. I don't know if any of you have had a chance to try this lens out, but I highly recommend it.

Most of all,everyone, keep making photographs with whatever camera you like to do it with.

John Fine Austin, Texas

John Fine , June 19, 2002; 03:14 P.M.

I can't disagree that the biggest variable in anything photographic is the photographer! But also, you simply cannot compare 35mm/medium format/large format cameras! If you want the biggest prints from the sharpest negatives, you would use an 8x10 camera (or larger) with modern lenses under the most carefully controlled conditions. No 35mm (or 2 1/4 for that matter) can compare with it for technical quality. What we are talking about here is the Leica M6 as compared to other 35mm cameras as used under comparable conditions with comparable lenses. How can you possibly compare an M6 with a 35 summicron to an EOS-1 with a zoom lens and auto everything. The Leica M is something that obviously stimulates passionate arguments and is a camera that has stood the test of time. You can love it or hate it, but it is what it is. The best general use 35mm camera in the world. (my subjective opinion) In the hands of a photographer that understands its use (its strengths and its weaknesses), it can be a matchless tool of photographic expression. I am not saying that there are not other cameras that can be used to make exquisite images that are timeless in their power and eloquence, I am just saying that I (and many many other photographers), through years of enjoyment of the craft and art of photography, prefer to use the Leica as our primary tool.

John Fine, Austin, Texas

Randall Shafer , July 29, 2002; 08:17 A.M.

This always seems to degenerate into the classic Leica vs. whatever or Leica have-nots vs. Leica haves. It's really just an extension of the typical Ford vs. Chevy male adolescent preoccupation with competition.

But really, although popular with amateurs, Leica equipment (and others like Hasselblad, Mamiya, etc.) are aimed at pros. Pros don't have these types of discussions. I've NEVER heard anything similar play out when talking to other pros-- I honestly enjoy discussing equipment but we talk about what the specific camera or lens does for our work. I also frequently work with other pros (either for them or they for me) when a job calls for specialized equipment.

Frankly, for certain types of work, the Leica (or any similar rangefinder, including a medium format camera like the Mamiya 7) will be the best bet--- the job drives the equipment, not the reverse. For a pro, the cost is usually secondary. Equipment durability, accuracy and performance is primary.

Amateur photographers seem obsessed by price, yet a Canon SLR shooter who attacks Leica prices doesn't seem to be upset by some of the astronomically-priced lenses in the Canon line. Why? Because they either are hypocrites or simply recognize low-volume hand-built pro equipment when they see it and understand why it costs so much.

Last, the "I can get better pictures than ANY Leica with my medium format camera" arument is a bit on the juvenile side, but typical amateur photographer. Anyone who understands the rush of pro photographers to digital SLR's will also understand why--- The equipment provides the resolution needed for the job and saves time, and also increases yield because of the ability to instantly review the work in progress. Ditto for medium format vs. small format. The many other considerations, like throughput and camera bulk and handling are important too.

Kirk Tuck , September 01, 2002; 11:03 P.M.

I wrote this review of Leicas over a year and a half ago and it has generated a number of passionate responses, both here at the tail end of the review, and also via my e-mail and even via telephone. I've always beleived in full disclosure and honesty so I have to tell you where it all stands for me right now. For the past two months every professional and personal assignment I've shot has been done with one of two digital cameras: The Fuji S2 and the Nikon D100. My clients demanded digital and I originally bought the cameras to meet their needs. However, I find the files generated by the S2 pro and the D100, at iso 1600 to be cleaner and sharper than what I was able to get with high speed films and/or push processing. The work flow is much quicker. In the various RAW modes the color looks better than most films and I love not spending money on film and processing. The M's go largely unused but I am too nostalgic to let them all go. The time to jump to digital is now. The first poster to my review said that digital was already better.....at this point, I believe him. That's just my two cents worth and my experience in shooting.

Hope you all have fun with your cameras, whatever they are!

Best, Signing out of this review feedback loop. Kirk

Zapata Espinoza , October 15, 2002; 01:18 P.M.

Kirk, I'm avaiting your glorious D100 review which, by chance may just recycle some paragraphs from your glorious M6 review...

Well, well, it happens here all the time: Hans Petter Strifeldt wrote a nice review about the R8 - and sold it month later. Kirk Tuck wrote a review about the M6-and sold it one and a half years later. Tony Rowlett wrote a nice review about the M7 - ...we'll see.

I say it again: Kirk's pictures never had anything to do with what these cameras were made for. He took the right direction.

Mark Holdefehr , November 09, 2002; 07:16 A.M.

I completely agree with your comments.

I've been shooting with a Nikon F100 and AFS zoom lenses for years and just bought a Leica M7 and a 50mm/f2 Summicron.

The contrast and sharpness really outdistances the Nikon.

So much that I'm going to trade in my AFS 80-200 f2.8 lens and put the money towards a Leica 21mm ASPH lens (Hard to part with the 80-200, but most of my photography is landscape, architecture...).

Leica has brought me back to the basics at its purist form with a step up in quality and I love it.

Jack Lo ... T-O , November 18, 2002; 08:19 P.M.

Not so fast, Kirk! You have some 'splaining to do. You spend umpteen brilliant paragraphs telling us not only that Leica Ms are great cameras, but they're almost the ONLY cameras. They're quiet, they have incredible lenses, they're the Zen experience, etc. Maybe when you have a moment to collect your thoughts you can tell us what happened to all those qualities(of the Leicas) and how your new equipment has managed to supercede them. Isn't there an archival, a permanence problem with digital imagery? Can even the undoubtedly fine D100 produce enlargements equal to 35 or 6x6 or 4x5? I can easily see how your corporate clients would demand a digital product from you, and even some portrait or wedding customers,but what would you take with you on a hike, or a visit to a new and exotic location? To a ward in another hospital, for that matter?It's clear from your website that your needs are different from most of us, whether dedicated amateurs or people with small studios. Also as you state on your web page, these machines will be obsolete in a relatively short time. Are you prepared to wax poetic about each new product as it enters your kitbag? Should I think of trading in my Argus C-3?

Barrett Benton , November 19, 2002; 11:45 A.M.

Well, our hero has gone through a few changes, one of which was predictable: when I first read the review, I took note of Tuck's considreable film consumption, plus the fact that he still needed to his SLRs for certain shoots. I earmarked this as "Most Likely To Switch To Digital Real Soon Now" because, from a pragmatic standpoint, it makes some sense (it doesn't make aesthetic sense from *my* standpoint, but that's just me, and the tiny handful of clients I do occasional stuff for aren't the gotta-have-it-in-an-hour sort). However, be it film or digital, an SLR is certainly NOT a rangefinder in terms of the experience of making the photograph, so it seems to me that Tuck has had to noticably alter his aesthetic to work with both the different camera type and film(less) medium, mostly led by expediency.

For my part, I've been working with a Konica Hexar RF system for the past year, and rarely pick up an SLR anymore, save for that occasional macro or copy-work shot. I've taken some shots with S-2s and EOS-1Ds as well; let's just say that they're fun in their own way, but I'm more than patient to wait until the things are refined, rather than merely "useable".

Kevin Mendenhall , November 30, 2002; 01:39 P.M.

I'm perplexed by Kirk's defection, too. I understand digital makes better images in some cases, but you're still stuck using a digital camera to capture them. A bulky, slow, noisy, battery-eating, blinking bleeping digital camera, totally antithetical to the rangefinder aesthetic. I think Leica M's (Bessa's, Hexar RF, too) are the best cameras ever made for candid, discreet people photography. (Apparently Kirk did, too, until last month.) I have often found that people who aren't paid models either freak out or clam up when you point a motor-drive, zoom lens, 77mm filter camera/weapon at them. The smaller, quiter rangefinders seem to help subjects relax. Digital may be the future, but until the cameras learn some manners the future ain't here yet.

Kevin

Jack Lo ... T-O , December 16, 2002; 01:46 P.M.

First of all I (and my ego) would like to point out that my above comment was once the first comment to follow Kirk's latest and last entry( I just kept correcting my English and getting bumped down). Anyway-what seems to be the case is that digital equipment for a pro of Kirk's stature is a commercial necessity. Instant critique, image delivery, manipulation; it's all easier with digital camera. I think in the future cameras will be like computers. There'll be little or no brand loyalty-you'll buy into systems rather than brand names, you'll be resigned to shelling out a few grand every couple of years, and the gap between "dedicated amateur" and high end pro will be huge in terms of equipment and cash layout. Film will persist, I think, but it will occupy the space on the shelves that black and white has next to colour. For an old timer like me it's kinda sad; I'm still in love with my M3, OM2s,etc., but someday I'll give in and fork out for the best digital I can afford-probably second hand. I'd still love to see the questions I asked get answered, but I completely respect Kirk's desire to let this strand go.

Ron Chappel , January 06, 2003; 07:56 A.M.

Just a few observations about leicas in general. It's obvious that the best thing about leica is the '3D' effect achieved by the lenses(while still being among the sharpest available).It's a real pity that it's apparently imposible to show this effect on the web without the photos just looking blurry.Most of the above photos look out of focus it must be said.I guess leica lovers don't like to sharpen scanned images for fear of losing the the one thing that shows the qualities of the lenses.It seems the only way to see how great they supposedly are is to buy/rent/borrow/have a leica friend do a slide show.Also some minor comments for Kirk Tuck if i may;Good photos! The B&W (self?) portrait is one of the best i've ever seen-no risk! The photo of the boy eating the chip -i guess technically it shows the narrow depth of field,but it's just ugly(sorry)Alot of the pics,especially 'parade girls' and it's partner are classic cases of using slide film when print would be much better.A happy,bright group scene screams out for the brightness of print film.Slide film just makes alot of photos dingy,difficult to look at and even depressing.

John Fine , January 14, 2003; 05:42 P.M.

I live in Austin and have known Kirk for quite a long time. This change in his camera of choice is not the first and probably won't be the last. I have know him to use Canon cameras and expound on what wonderful lenses they make, Pentax 6x7, and Leicas in between. He is to a degree very technically oriented and loves the latest thing. However, it is true that his needs are not the needs of the majority of us. He has a commercial enterprise to run and needs the most efficient tool to do the job. You notice, he uses high speed film much of the time. That is not conducive to high quality enlargements from any size film and I understand the new advantage in that area to be had with digital cameras. Heaven knows that most photographers on larger newspapers gave up film a while back. The need to produce a quality product and deliver it very quickly lends itself perfectly to the digital world. I have to admit that I also have used over the last 20+ years at least a dozen different camera systems from 35 rangefinder to 8x10 view cameras. I come from an artistic point of view, so the need for quick turnaround is not there for me. I can use whatever it takes to get the picture my vision calls for. I can spend all day in the darkroom printing one negative. Kirk can't afford to do that. Bottom line, I have repeatedly found myself returning to the Leica M system and now realize that it is by far my favorite camera to use. The ergonomics of the Leica M fit my style of available light photography (I don't give a damn about flash capabilities) and the lenses are the best in the world. Right now, I also use a Rollei SL66 when I am photographing natural subjects on tripod. It can do a few things the Leica can not, such as macro work and it also has a front tilt function. The Leica is fabulous for people, architecture, travel, and the fact that I can hand hold it in low light, at slow shutterspeeds, at large apertures, with quite nice results. So, keep shooting Kirk! And use whatever it takes. As for me, I'll always have my Leica nearby.

J.Fine

Kirk Tuck , January 31, 2003; 05:13 P.M.

I couldn't help checking in and just wanted add/clarify a few things. Note in my last response that I said I couldn't give up my M series Leicas. Still have em, still shoot em. Mostly for my personal work. All the things I wrote about M series leicas are still exactly true and I would shoot with them exclusively if I did not have to work with clients. I do work with clients. All of them, ALL OF THEM, are demanding digital capture and digital delivery. For use in 300 dpi four color printed material there is not a great difference in quality. In fact one editor I work with was asked if he needed medium format transparencies, his response, "The bean counters have us printing on a paper stock one grade better than toilet paper. You could shoot 110 format and no one would know the difference." I love the look I get from the Leicas. I wish I could still get clients to use film. But there is a difference between personal/art photogrphy and commercial stuff. Kirk

Jim Mueller , February 22, 2003; 08:32 A.M.

I shoot with the Leica Rangefinder system and find the equipment outrageously expensive but of very high quality. I especially love the latest 50mm Summicron and 35mm 'cron Asph. These are simply magnificent lenses. The look of photographs taken with these lenses has a unique flavor unmatched by any other brand (esp. b&w prints). The camera itself is built like a tank. The Leica M6 has become somewhat of a cult camera that carries a bit of mistique and snob appeal. However, compared to a Canon Elan 7e and modern autofocus lenses, I found the whole system to be somewhat of a kludge. My M6 is a very well made camera but it is like shooting a ....black powdered rifle. The technology feels old and outdated. The philosophy behind the Leica design escapes me. It seems to be geared for a very very narrow niche of photographers. It does grow on you but I recommend that anyone contemplating plunging into the Leica rangefinder system to try before you buy. It's definitely an acquired (and expensive) taste. This is not a negative review of the Leica. Rather, this is simply MY experience and MY honest opinion. I still love to shoot my M6.

Edward Fischerman , February 22, 2003; 12:59 P.M.

This page -- from the original review by Kirk Tuck right down through the 80 pages or so of readers’ comments -- does a great service to anyone who has been in love with the Leica M series cameras for a long time (25 years for me), but who continues to use other systems and formats. Before I go on, I should explain that I found this "page" so useful that I copied and pasted it into MS Word, converted the typeface to Times New Roman 12pt to make it compact but still readable, and now have an 80 page hard copy that I can re-visit without having to go to the computer.

The reason I keep reading and re-reading it is that, no matter how many times I switch from SLR’s, medium format or various digital cameras back to my M6’s, and back again to the others, the M remains a bit of an enigma (like a first love you can never forget), but this page, along with the following reflections on my experiences with the M, has helped me penetrate and explain why the M cameras and lenses continue to draw me in.

In my view, the answers for the attraction to -- and occasional repulsion from – the M cameras are at once very simple … and very subtle.

The simple truths are: (1) nothing even comes close to the M6 and its lenses when you want to use a camera for high quality interior, low light, wide angle or people photography. Full stop. BUT (2) almost any digital camera is much more convenient and much faster than any M or film SLR or medium format if the Internet is the destination or if speed of processing, editing, and printing is of paramount importance; (3) forget photographing sports with an M (on the field, that is … not of the crowd, coaches or others on the sidelines), and forget wildlife; (4) the M cameras are next to worthless for macro and inferior to SLR’s for telephoto work beyond 90mm; HOWEVER

The subtle and mysterious truths are: (1) SLR’s and medium format cameras (except the Rollei TLR’s) are big, loud, cumbersome, heavy and simply much less enjoyable to use (ignoring the results, for the moment) than any M camera (most of what I have to say applies equally to an M2, 3 or 4 with a good incident meter); (2) The compromises you have to make to use a digital camera are not worth making if you have THE TIME to use an M camera and lenses instead and if quality is paramount; BUT MOSTLY… (3) Life is short. If you can fish for trout with a bamboo fly rod, why use graphite? If you can shoot quail with a Purdey 20 bore, why shoot a Winchester 12 bore?

.. AND, while I’m at it, try this TEST: (a)Which do you prefer? Driving a ‘56 Porsche speedster on a back-country road at 35 to 50 mph or a Mercedes on the autobahn at 100mph? (b)Which do you prefer? A beautiful woman who wears almost no makeup and leaves much to your imagination or a beautiful woman fully made up in a short, flashy dress? (c)Which do you prefer? Sushi or Stroganoff? (d) Which do you prefer? Altman or Spielberg? Hepburn or Monroe?

Getting more serious again, I’ve actually been taking pictures for 45 years originally as a hobbyist, then a reporter, then in advertising, and have continued to take photos both with business and, occasionally, personal (artistic) goals, but it is not my business now. I guess I qualify as a "pro-sumer." During these years I have used many, many cameras: Speed Graphic, Rollei SL66, Hasselblad ArcBody and 205 TCC, Mamiya 6, Rollei TLR, almost all of the Leica SLR’s, several Nikon SLR’s, many 35 point and shoots for travel, a half dozen digital point and shoots, recently a D100 and, of course, all of the M’s, (2’s, 3’s, 4’s, a 5, and now 2 M6’s. I still use all of these types of cameras (if not the exact ones above) in one situation or another. The Leica marketing brochures that suggest that the user will be happy with his or her M6 in every situation, for every application, are, of course just that --marketing brochures. The truth is that the M6 is best for a certain kind of shooting in certain kinds of situations, but for those situations and for that kind of shooting, nothing even comes close.

HOWEVER, if I need to get something onto the internet quickly or pull together some images for a PowerPoint presentation tomorrow or send my son a photo of his brother as an attachment to an email, digital is of course the first choice. I’m sure digital of one kind or another would be my answer if I did catalogues, annual reports, or if I were in a hurry for any other reason. Similarly, if I want to take photos of wildlife or sports, I choose an R6 with a 280 APO f.2.8 (don’t want autofocus) and I get incredible, beautiful, sharp, contrasty images that pop out of the print or slide. And if I need to (or want to) photograph a still life, or architecture, or copy art work, I use an ArcBody and Rodenstock lenses with tilt and shift or the SL66. If the images need to be reproduced through photo-offset printing, I can have the 6x6 negatives from these cameras scanned into 300 meg files with stunning results.

BUT, IF I WANT TO REMEMBER WHAT LIGHT IS ALL ABOUT, AND WHAT PHOTOGRAPHY IS ALL ABOUT, AND IF I WANT TO GO AND EXPERIENCE IT SLOWLY, TASTING THE LIGHT AND THE COMPOSITION, TAKING MY TIME AND LEAVING EVERYTHING ELSE ASIDE . . .THERE IS ONLY ONE CAMERA, AND IT IS THE M, PREFERABLY AN M6.

(My favorite lenses are the recent 21, 28 and 35 f2 Aspherics, the Nocitlux for candle light and night city-scapes, the 5O Summilux if I can only bring one lens, the 90 elmarit for travel and portraits and 90 APO at other times (too sharp except for babies). I also occasionally use an Abrahamson mechanical winder which I love, and I have been getting some nice shots with a 15mm Voigtlander f 4.5 lens, for which the perspective is the overriding consideration.)

I expect that I will be visiting this page and reading the comments posted on it as long as it is on the web.

That so many individuals have posted comments on this page is testimony at least to the mystique of the M cameras, but it probably suggests a lot more about this amazing camera.

Jim Mueller , February 27, 2003; 03:58 P.M.


Comparison Of Leica M5 And OM-1n

You see many glowing reviews of the Leica M6 by Leica advocates in this forum. Much of what they say is very true but I want to give the uninitiated a more objective view of the Leica system. I want you to see all sides of the equation.

I own 3 camera systems at the moment, a Canon Elan 7e & lenses, a Olympus OM-1n & lenses, and a Leica M6 and lenses. Now here's a reality check. Of the 3 systems which is the lightest? Here's a clue, it's not the M6. My OM-1n is the lightest body of the 3 and very close in size to the M6. All 3 cameras have quiet shutters. Which is the quietest? I would say the Leica but not by very much. (OM-1n dimensions: 136mmx83mmx50mm 510grams, M6 dimensions: 138mmx79.5mmx38mm 580grams). The only reason the OM-1 is listed at 12mm thicker is because the lens mount area protrudes out further due to the shutter speed ring and mirror lockup at the lens mount. The main body thickness is the same as the M6 and, over all, the OM-1n is the same size. It feels as small as an M6 in actual use. Clunky-heavy SLR??? I don't think so!

For a further shock, I used to own a Leica M5. See the photo for a comparison shot of the Leica M5 and an OM-1n. A real life comparison is even more dramatic. The M5 is HUGE compared to an OM-1n. Of the 3, which is the most fun to use? For me it's the Elan 7e without a doubt. Which is the easiest all mechanical to handle? The OM-1n!! It's a joy to use. It has the shutter speed dial on the lens mount, so all controls, shutter speed, aperture, and focusing are in the same location. You can adjust all 3 without your eye ever leaving the camera. In fact the OM-1n is the SLR that Leica should have made. Of the 3 which has the sharpest lenses? You'll need a loupe and a light table to tell the difference, but it's probably the Leica. I say "probably" because, f-stop for f-stop, the canon 50mm F1.4 matches the performance of the Leica 50mm Summicron VERY well. Leica lenses have other fine qualities besides just sharpness though.

I love my M6. It's a really fine camera but the Leica system is a cult phenomenon. A rangefinder focusing system is not for everyone and it takes some time to get used to. You will notice the M6's and M7's come in different ViewFinder magnifications, 0.58, 0.72, 0.85. etc. This is because different VF mags work better or more accurately with different FL lenses. Eyeglass users find more visible frame lines with some VF's. Some Leica shooters actually own different bodies with different VF mags for different uses. This can get expensive! Periodically, the rangefinder mechanism may come out of alignment and will need to be re-adjusted. The Leica is NOT for macro or long-focus telephoto photography. You are limited to a MUCH smaller stable of lenses than an SLR. The Leica loads film unconventionally, from the bottom...and it takes more time fumbling around as compared to a conventional manual load camera! I find the mechanical operation, adjusting shutter speed, aperture, and focusing, much slower than on an OM-1n.

The qualities that I love about the M6 are it's fine finish and solid construction with the best 35mm lenses in the world. It's an unassuming camera in appearance. You can get candids off the street more easily because people are more likely ignore such a small unobtrusive looking camera and lens. At the same time, you have to be aware, you are walking around with $2000 - $4000 around your neck. If you're taking candids in a rough neighborhood you had better be on your toes! Leicas ARE A MUCH BETTER investment than the latest hi-tech AF SLRs. They hold their value very well in the long run but you are better off buying used. If you invest in a Leica system, be prepared to give it a fair amount of time to become comfortable with it. Leicas are great cameras but not for everyone. To quote Stephen Gandy, "The RF (rangefinder) way of seeing and experiencing picture taking is substantially different than the SLR way. You might love it, or hate it --- there is no telling until you experience it for yourself."

Lee Shively , March 03, 2003; 09:56 P.M.

Jim, the OM-1 was a popular camera with some great lenses. Many people continue to happily use them but there was a sad reality to the OM system that is seldom addressed these days. Yes, it was small and lightweight. It was marketed as a professional camera, designed for heavy use. I bought my first two Nikon F's from a couple of guys who defected to the OM system from Nikon. Within a year, both of them were using F2's. United Press International (now long dead and lamented by those of us who were familiar with both UPI and the Associated Press back in the dark ages) went so far as to sell all their Nikon pool gear and buy massive quantities of OM equipment to outfit their photographers. Many of these photographers, after trying to use the OM system, bought their own equipment to avoid having to use the Olympus gear. Eventually, UPI had to get rid of the OM system and go back to Nikon pool gear. The reason was simply that the OM system was so small and lightweight, it could not handle the daily abuse of professional photojournalists of the time. The cameras and lenses broke down too often.

That's not meant to be an insult to the Olympus system. It was as capable as any 35mm camera and the Zuiko lenses were some of the best coming out of Japan. But it was not built heavy enough to function like the Nikon F or F2 SLR's of the time. Interestingly, Leica RF's were still in regular use at the time and well respected for their reliability under abusive conditions.

I'm no longer doing news work and I don't require professional level cameras. I'm very happy with my plastic EOS bodies and a recent M6 purchase. Yeah, I gave in back in November. I surrendered to the Leica siren song once again. I held onto a couple of Nikon F2's to remember when SLR's were built like tanks and to have handy in case I need to drive some nails and can't find a hammer.

Rob Helm , April 29, 2003; 12:04 A.M.

I think it was a very usefull observation of the Leica M6. I'm a Nikon user from way back. But I was "Weaned" on a Leica IIIc. For all the negatives you can say about Leica, there is one blinding truth. Leica's are fun to use, and when used properly there is no other camera in the world that can match the results. Photos taken with a Leica have a "feel" about them that is unlike anything else. I have a Nikon D100 and 5 choice pro lens, they are great. I've owned several F's F2, F3, F100 N90s,3 Nikormat, Nikormat EL, FM2n, and T and tons of Nikon Glass. But in the end, my Leica M6 and 50 f/2 are my favorite. In a hurry and want great fast results, for me Nikon rules. But when I want pure enjoyment, then it's my Leica I reach for

John Wilson , May 09, 2003; 03:15 P.M.

Kirk Tuck's review was highly informative for me. What's more, he did not minimize the differences between SLR and RF systems. Having never used Leica equipment, I cannot confirm to their quaity, but enough people have attested to their supremacy. The last three commentators: Rob Helm, April 29, 2003, Lee Shively, March 3, 2003, Jim Mueller, February 27, 2003 have led me to these additional remarks:

Rather than compare the M-series (with three lenses) and the F5 (with zooms and primes and tons of batteries) as Mr. Tuck did, perhaps it makes more sense to place the FM3a, or the FM/FE series, against the Leica M7? The FM3a is 20 ounces (35 oz to 1000 grams...makes roughly 570 grams) - that is well within the M-series for weight. Features are SIMILAR.

Key differences: FM3a: 1/4000, exposure lock for quick meter/compose moments, not to mention DOF, timer, multiple exposure, etc. The Leica has QUIET, and mystique. Comparing the lens, Leica's are smaller and undoubtably more "Leica" sharp - but couldn't Mr. Tuck take a Nikkor Noct, his choice of wide angle (if I recall, he prefers 28mm) and the 100/1.8 (a truly great -and underrated Nikkor lens!), or the 100/2.8 Macro - add versatility and keep it all in the 52mm filter size! to accomplish the same tasks for which he prefers the Leica?

These thoughts are not meant to be critical, more reflective. It just seems more appropriate to compare apples with apples, and the M7 seems more like the FM3a, the latter IMP, with greater functionality and versatility (at the expense of more noise), and the former, an entryway to phenomenal optics. Too rich for my wallet, and I doubt that I could notice a difference in most cases.

Having said that...IF I had the dough, I probably cough it up for German optics -- but I might choose the R-series, or Contax. Still, Nikon is a true pleasure for me. Happy shooting!

Octavio Bustard , May 25, 2003; 12:05 A.M.

Nice review. Enjoyed it almost as much as the debate that followed. My unsolicited 2 cents: I've lusted after and owned Leicas since the 70's (m2, m3,m5, m6, cl). They really are mechanical works of art, and they humor me into thinking I might, in some small way, have something in common with great photographers. However, I also own a black G2 with 28/45/90 combo, and, while its the m3 or the m6 that gets lovingly handled and caressed, its the g2 that gets pulled out the bag first when I'm shooting (street stuff, candid travel stuff etc). To hell with (claimed) marginal superiority of leica glass; what good is the glass if you miss the shot because you're screwing with the shutter speed dial or trying to focus, or worse yet, tryint o load a roll of film? The G2 makes it so much easier, and, in spite of constant protestations of many to the contrary, I cant see any REAL WORLD difference between the clarity of my Leitz and Zeiss images ( I scan em with an 8000ED and frequently print them out to 13x19). Who the heck needs bigger prints of "candid" subjects anyway? If I want a bigger print, I use my Rolleiflex FX....simple. This Leica holy war sure seems silly to me. The G2 is a marvelous camera, it just isnt a Leica, and that, to me, seems why Leica folks will always look for a way to denigrate it. Part of the joy of photography is the tactile sensations a good camera gives you, but ultimately, you can make significent photos with a brownie; all that old Leitz glass Cartier-Bresson used would look pretty bad on an MTF chart, but that didnt stop him from making great art, did it? Cheers

Francesco Garbin , August 05, 2003; 12:13 P.M.

I work full time as advertising photographer. My studio is a 100 sq meters mess, filled with the latest digital stuff amateurs would not even dream to have nor use, from mega-bucks last generation 16 Megs digital backs to complete medium format and large format sets, drum scanners and postproduction workstations coupled to 7 colors wide format photographic plotters that costs a fortune.

But today, I got myself a M6 and two lenses. And plan to use it and worn the hell out of it!

Happy shooting.

Michel Braud , October 27, 2003; 03:10 P.M.

This review is just exactly what Leica M really is. Just to note, the M3 from the sixties is wonderful for 50mm and longer and the missing meter is not a point. As you mention, once you mesure the light, you often don't need to change anything. Second point, there is another camera whitch is very quiet, the old twin lens Rollei 6x6, fixed lens, no meter but bigger negative and terribly sharp but it is out of the topic. Now if we want to compare with other brands, we have to take the R system and the results will be exactly the same, the grey range is much larger and the sharpness goes right to the corner, no shadows burried nor light burned if proper exposition is made like it happen with other brands.

James Symington , November 11, 2003; 10:36 A.M.

Further to my comments of August and October 2001 (please see the G2 review on this site if you're really interested)I would like to add a few words about the last 2+ years of Contax G2/Leica M6 TTL use.

I first owned a G2, bought an M6 TTL which I owned alongside the G2 and then sold the G2 to help finance the extortionate Leica lenses.

These are the observations I would make:

1. I NEVER noticed any difference in image quality between the two - even using Provia/Velvia and tripod mounted. The lens choice IS wider with the Leica of course and there are faster lenses available too. That said I never found the G range limiting. If you REALLY need a Noctilux then your choice is clear; but I will bet you anything that you don't! I will say it again though, final image quality is EQUALLY high with both systems. I might add that with the M6 TTL I used the current range of lenses with the exception of a very fine 135mm Tele Elmar.

2. Focussing - sometimes the G hunts a bit with its AF. Sometimes bright light will flare out the focussing blob in the M6 and sometimes it is tough to focus the M6 in the dark. On both cameras you can sometimes have annoying experiences focussing - one is not better than the other.

The G 90mm focussing 'problem' is an urban legend as far as I am concerned.

3. Noise - the G2 is noisier. If you like taking pictures of funeral services you are much better off with a Leica; for everyday street shooting this is a non-problem. The G2 is still much more subtle than most new SLRs (some old SLRs like the Pentax MX were fantastic in this regard). Don't believe the silent Leica shutter hype - it is very good but hardly spectacular. IMHO the G2 shutter isn't much louder - where the G2 is noisier is the focussing and the film advance. This noise issue is inapplicable to 95% of people using these cameras - me included.

4. Build quality - both fantastic. The Leica's simplicity allows bombproof construction as does the film loading arrangement. It really does exude quality. The G2 is a jewel of a camera with its titanium finish and its tactile controls. If you are a closet camera fondler (I tend to this strange disease) I find the G2 more satisfying. Both are great though.

5. Film loading - doesn't get easier on the G2 and doesn't get harder on the Leica. I don't care what anyone says, loading a Leica is a bit more of a chore than you really need - at best. When it goes badly - it does occasionally - you will start cursing the day you bought the thing. Of course once you are practised at loading the Leica it almost becomes a sub-conscious routine; until it goes wrong.

6. DOF scale - this is the ONE thing I really miss from the G lenses.

These are the principal points that have struck me with these two systems. I don't buy into the theory that they have two separate markets - they are squarely at each other's throats. However, it is perfectly reasonable to prefer one system over the other and not have to justify yourself with bogus claims of one being better than the other.

As I said above I was originally a G2 user, then both a G2 and an M6 user and then just an M6 user. As lovely as the Leica is and as good as the pictures it took are, I missed my G2 so much that in the end I sold the M6 and went back to my first love. I got the G2 with the 21, 28, 35, 45 and 90mm lenses and I am a very happy man again. Why did I miss the G2? I don't know - but not for any concrete reason. The quality of the pictures I take is just as good as with the Leica; I expected no improvement either. I just enjoy using the G2 more.

I bought into the Leica world thinking that I was missing out on something with the G2. I was quite simply wrong - my Leica experience was a disappointment. Not that the camera was bad - very, very far from it - but just that it was NO better. There was no advantage.

The moral of this story?

It is far better to travel in hope than to actually arrive. More simply put, whether you own an M6 or G2, be very happy with what you've got. Either camera can take much better pictures than you or I can do justice to!

mick hetman , January 30, 2004; 01:46 A.M.


Copyright Mick Hetman 2003, M7, 21mm Elmarit, Provia 100F

After reading Mr. Tuck's review, I see he has come to some conclusions that are worth examining in light of his direct profeesional experience with various 35mm systems, SLR and RF both. Like Mr. Tuck, I too had a full blown Nikon system that included an F5 and two F100's so that I could always have different film type loaded. Size became an issue but I never really considered the Leica M's until a friend got an M6 and then an M3. This friend, Masafumi, always exclaimed the benefits of Leica's smaller, simpler, and pure design. My father shot with an M3 that he bought new in 1958. It works to this day. Eventually, I took the plunge and bought an M7 a couple of years ago.

I got the M7 since I like to shoot in aperature priority auto exposure mode as with my Nikons. So this camera, was more a fit for my style when it was introduced. So I tried it. I sold out of the Nikon gear except for my 80-200 and 105 macro and just one F100 with flashes, cords, etc. I have the 21mm Elmarit and the 50mm Noctilux.

You may be wondering what my conclusions are. Let me say I still own the Nikon SLR since it has it's uses and flash photography is one of them - off camera, fill, etc. 1:1 Macro and the 80-200 zoom are still useful to say the least. The Leica RF system something that changes your fast SLR shooting style. You have to slow down. You have to load the film carefully and not too quickly or it will bind up. You have to focus manually for the first time in years of AF use. It is different and very beautiful, just as Masafumi, a Japanese Leica fan, told me. But I did not listen, at first. You cannot be told, you just have to get one and trust the small RF tool to capture fantastic images, and it does! Don't fool yourselves, the F1.0 Noctilux rules. The depth of field effects at wide open are breathtaking. Shots can be handheld in phenomenally low light still with slower film like Provia 100F which I use exclusively in the M. I will shoot print film in the Nikon more often than not.

It is quiet, small and unobtrusive. I take it with me on my shoulder everywhere. Never did I do that with the Nikon. Leica quality shots are at my fingertips. I enjoy being able to apply tension to the film with the rewind crank. I like the fact that the top plate on the left side has nothing on it at all. The black chrome finish is very tough (no chipping possible). I do shoot with a tripod for multi-second exposures and the slides are crisp. What's interesting is the uncanny accuracy of the meter during long exposures. Nikon's matrix meter worked well, but the M7's simple centerweighted meter is predictable, so there are really no unpleasant surprises.

Nikon and Leica are apples and oranges, but the Leica has inspired me to shoot more and better images. I love to move that cocking lever and to struggle to hear the shutter release.

Those are my observations, and they parallel Mr. Tuck's findings.

Regards to all,

Mick Hetman

Gene Sparks , March 30, 2004; 03:27 P.M.

First of all the review was a great read and IMHO objective. I used Contax SLR's for over ten years and was very happy over all with the system and especially the Zeiss lenses. As I started doing Weddings I gravitated to the Hasselblad with excellent results. After a while I found that when I went back to the 35mm for travel and personal use I was less than satified and just didn't want to fuss with the smaller negs in the darkroom so I sold all my Contax stuff and added to the Hassy system.

After taking my Hassy with me on my last vacation I much lamented the absence of my Contax. I found that lugging that wonderful behemoth with me took all the joy out of photography and much of the vacation also.

In the past I steered away from Leica like the plague. Too much $$$ for 35mm I thought. But now that I am a bit better off $$$ wise I decided to go to the dealer and give it a whirl. I must admit I was not very open minded when trying the M6 TTL. It felt funny and a bit awkward in my hand. Not being familiar with it also made me feel clumsy while shooting with it. But shoot I did. I bought 2 rolls of Tri-X and loaded one in the M6 w/50mm summicron and one in Contax w/50mm Planar. While in the store, I shot the same subjects alternately with the same settings all available light on each camera. When I finished I developed the films together in the same tank.

I must admit I never gave into the Leica Hype and even had a biased opinion against the Leica prior to that, but when I saw the contact sheets I was shocked! The film taken with the M6 was Distictively different and it appeared to glow. So I proceed to make 8x10's and 16x20's of a few of the frames and then I was dumbfounded. While the Contax produced SHARP and nice prints the prints from the Leica were once again different. Not neccessarily sharper but more emotional. They had every bit as much detail as the Contax maybe a bit more but very close. But the prints actually radiated with a unmistakable and hard to describe "glow"...

All that I can surmise from this is that there must certainly be something that Leicas have that accomplishes that in comparison.

Color this skeptic convinced I bought the camera yesterday, and will find a way to get comfortable with it. Simply unbeleivable...

Bruce Thee , June 11, 2004; 06:59 P.M.

I've used an M-6 with 35mm f1.4, 50mm noctilux, and 90mm asph for about a 2 years now. I also shoot a Nikon D1x, F5, and a Hasselblad 503CW. Each have their highest and best uses, but when I'm headed out the door and grab one camera bag, its alway the M6 bag.

karl keung , July 01, 2004; 09:44 A.M.


Yeah, Leica, expensive toy, when going out for a casual walk, you carry your best pistol (called Leica), it has a small magazine of 36 shots, you can sure reload, but it is more like reloading a musket in the heat of battle, so it must be a casual walk. If the situation gets tough, you will naturally bring out your heavy machine guns (Nikon Fs and Canon EOS1s). There the guns aims and fires automatically, reload is also a lot quicker. With the latest digital machine guns, you are almost like armed with a mini-nuclear bomb (4G compact flash for example). Taking pictures is now like making movie, indeed most digital cameras can now make quicktime movie too. BUT if you want to taste life in a slowly fashion, no one beats Leica. It is almost a way of life, a bygone dream of yester-year, it is about romance, about sensual sex pleasure, fine wine etc. Here you are allowed to taste life, slowly. Go out and get an MP now, fill it with the best slide and come back enjoying the slides. And start collecting Leica gears too. So much fun, I promise you.

H. C. , July 21, 2004; 02:23 P.M.

After reading the inital posting and the follow-up diatribe from all the posters I have the following observations and opinions:

1. Some of you posters clearly CANNOT read... READ the inital posting and UNDERSTAND that the writer ALSO uses other cameras and other formats. Nowhere in his posting does he posit the notion that the Leica M6 is the be all, end all!

2. Secondly, accept the notion that this is one person's opnion and it does NOT represent the Holy Grail. In other words, he likes the M6 and I'd surmise that he recognizes that not all readers will agree with him. But, at the end of the day... his posting is only HIS opinion.

3. Thirdly, some of you folks out there have made some of the most innane comments I've ever read. Some were absolutely so incoherent/incohesive that all I could think of was, "why bother?" You'd be better off going out to take pictures instead of trying to verbalize your thoughts on the computer. Other postings were highly amusing and made me shake my head or LOL!

4. I also love some of the posters who, like the majority of "instant experts," go out and handle a product (whether it's a camera, computer, whatever!... but let's just focus on cameras here, ok?) for all of 5 seconds...then 5 seconds later profess to be absolute, unmitigated experts on that specific product! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??? Do you NOT realize that there is some transparency behind your comments in regards to your level of expertise, or lack thereof?

These are highly technical instruments (whether it be a Leica M6 or a Nikon D100, or a Fuji 645Zi etc) that require time and energy spent on acclimatizing yourself to their idiosyncracies. Focusing on one of these cameras (M6) is absolutely different than autofocusing on an auto-SLR (D100, Canon etc)/auto-rangefinder (G1, G2, D2, LCM-1, Hexar RF etc)! As with most complicated cameras you have to "learn" the intracacies in order to use them to their maximum potential. And, after using them AND recognizing their inherent limitations (if any)... you're more than free to use a different instrument better suited to the needs and avarices of the situation. In other words, there is NO perfect camera for each and every different situation! Let me reiterate this comment... "Different cameras may be better/worse for a particular situation and, therefore, the use of one camera system may (or may not) be suitable for the situation under discussion."

Optically, there has ALWAYS been debate between Leica and Zeiss optics. I'm just surprised someone didn't drag out the MLF tables for all the different lenses in both systems! (But, the thread is ongoing and someone might still do this.) The optics on both systems are first rate and I don't think there'll be disagreement that you won't pick out the differences when an image is enlarged to 4x6, 5x7 or 8x10 (unless you enlarge a portion of the negative 500, 1000, 2000 percent!) And, yes, there would be a noticeable difference if you enlarged from a 35mm versus a 11x14/16x20/20x24 neg!

5. The most concerting posts here, IMHO, are those who attack individual posters on a personal level. I, for one, cannot understand what drives people to do this. The entire article "should" focus on the camera and NOTHING else. So, for those who cannot understand and accept this, please, consider NOT posting! It's only provides for annoying reading.

6. Lastly, since a highly respected friend sent this article to me I wanted to go through it. So, I did. At the end of the day, I agree with one of the more enlightened posters who said, "Stop this p....ing and get out and take some pictures!" I couldn't agree with him more...

Oops, time to go out and take some pictures! :>)

Cheers

Sanyi Deme , October 16, 2004; 01:45 A.M.

Sorry to add a little so late to this verbose debate.

Could I respectfully suggest that anyone selecting a camera and lens and film do a course on decision making.

1) List all your decision criteria 2) Prioritize your decision criteria 3) List all candidate solutions no matter how silly 4) Apply your prioritized decision criteria to the candidates 5) Reduce your candidate list to the top 3 or 4 6) Test them thoroughly and chose the best one you can afford

Given the variety of decision criteria that different people bring to photography, small surprise that there is no one best solution for everyone.

All the above debate comments and preferences for M6 vs G2 vs SLRs prove that different folks have different criteria for making a decision.

The old man with failing eyesight who traded in his R9 is justified because the only way he can continue photography is with autofocus.

I have Leica and other cameras for different situations but in the end the only camera that counts is the one I can carry on my waist at all times. It is there when I need it.

Sounds silly but my Samsung Vega with Schneider Kreuznach 38-170mm zoom was all I had, besides shorts and singlet, when I was playing volleyball on holiday last year in Fiji.

I walked out of the game into the beginning of a magical Fijian style wedding for a young tourist couple.

Three and a half rolls of Fuji 800 Press later I had a wedding present that delighted the couple when I sent them the 6"x8" shots. I was told my shots were better than anything the professional photographer produced. This might just be a thank-you-compliment but it made all the years practice since starting on Dad's Kodak Box camera all worth while.

Without fast film I was dead. Without the long zoom I was dead. Without a small camera I could carry it would never have happened.

Yes I love Leica and all their lenses, even the old ones. NO, they are not the only solution. The decision criteria are never constant for every situation.

However, let's be honest, the M and R series lenses place few restrictions on the experience photographer who wants unobtrusive hand-held candids as well as amazing potential for giant enlargements.

The starting article above was a great example of one person's reasons for making their decision.

So go make your own decision based on your own decision criteria and do not denigrate someone who honestly tells you that one solution suits him/her better than another.

Nicolas D. Chauvet , June 19, 2005; 11:01 A.M.

The Leica M6 - and I suspect its successor the M7 is the greatest and at the same time the most unpractical camera on the market. Loading the film is a nightmare, focusing slow and painful... but Man! great photographs! I ended up selling my M6 for a Contax G2. The best of both worlds... Autofocus, great lenses, rangefinder camera... But yes, a Leica is a Leica.

Ross Wilson , August 16, 2005; 12:33 P.M.

Funny, I just sold my G2 kit for a Leica M6. The G2's finder really killed it for me in the end. I'd say comparing the two is not a straight forward thing to do because they each promote different shooting styles.

I found the Leica to be much more interesting, challenging and to call it unpractical can only be in reference to how you shoot. Obviously having to manual focus is not practical if you don't like doing it but very practical if you want to manual focus, something the G2 fails in, making the G2 unpractical if you put it like that.

Kirk Tuck , February 16, 2006; 08:46 P.M.

I can't believe that this article is still up. When I wrote it in 2001 I neveer expected the wholesale rout to digital from film. I recently picked up one of M6's again and shot in the streets. Someone (not me, I've been flamed continuously for writing the above article) should do a comparison of street shooting with digital versus film (Leica). I think it would be most interesting.

I've kept my Leicas but moved most commercial work to digital. I would welcome a Leica rangefinder digital camera with interchangable lenses, but in the meantime I'm working with a Nikon D2x and a Kodak SLR/n. Neither is a Leica when it comes to actually handling the camera......... Have fun shooting! Kirk

Image Attachment: true-romance-web.jpg

Tom Rose , May 07, 2007; 12:32 P.M.

Well ... I used a Leica M6 with 35mm f/2 (4th version) and 75mm f/1.4 for ten years up to foolishly selling them to "go digital" in 2003/4.

I have now gone back to using film, making fewer shots, but getting more keepers. I have re-acquired an M6, an M4-2 and a 35mm Summicron, and need only the 75mm f/1.4 to finish reconstructing the superb outfit I should never have broken up.

Current digital SLRs may deliver better resolution than 35mm film, but 35mm film is still good enough for huge enlargements. There is nothing wrong with capturing images to 35mm and scanning them as a way of working. Many much better photographers than me still work that way.

The Leica lenses I have chosen deliver great pictorial results, at least as good as any other lenses I have tried and better than most. And I just get along better with the Leica M, with its unobtrusive nature, direct and simple controls, and virtually lag-free shutter response, than with any more modern, automated wonder.

Gerard J. van den Broek , June 29, 2007; 03:59 P.M.

I accidentely stumbled upon this photo.net and the age-old Leica discussion. Please let me share- as Dr. Phil would say - a life changing moment with you. I started photography when I was twelf, which is, by now, 42 years ago, with a Kodak Instamatic. I started to develop and print my own B/W film and photographs as of my second film. I got my father's Leica 111A when I was 15, bought a Russian Jupiter 13,5 und a universal viewfinder; later I changed the uncoated Summar 2/50mm for the simpler but coated Elmar 3,5/50 mm; the 3,5/35 mm I also had, was made by Old Delft, uncoated. I made thousands of pictures, and spent an equal amount of hours in the darkroom, also printing holiday pictures from dozens of friends, for only a few cents per photo. Apart from the Leica, my father used an old Rolleicord (also a) 111A (what a coincidence), which I borrowed every once and a while. I was struck by the rich "tonality" and sharpness of the large negatives, even made transparencies which were stunning, in one word. As I got interested in photographing birds, I wanted a Visoflex for the old Leica, but could'nt aford it - I was 17 or so at the time. So I bought a new Practica SLR, a Tessar 2,8/50mm, some other stuff and a Soligor 400mm. I succeeded rather well and a few years later I published my first wildlife pictures. I even earned some money with them that I saved. My darkroom work improved I made better and larger pictures, made with the old Leica and the old Rolleicord and with a Mamiya 220 of a friend of mine (what a difference in quality; the Rollei with its Schneider Kreuznach lens was so much better!!). Every week I was in the field but I wanted my pictures to be good, as the chances to make a fine wildlife picture are so few. And than, in 1977, I bought my first Leica, the Leicaflex SL, just because of the ultra bright viewfinder which is only matched by its successor, the Leicaflex SL 2. It drastically improved my photo opportunities, as I was able to focus much better. Of course, somewhat later, the Leica lenses were too appealing to be ignored and I managed to buy two second-hand Elmarits, the 35mm and the 90mm. And now for the life changing moment: As I was used to the Agfapan B/W film developed in the contour enhancing Rodinal, I developed my first film shot with the Leicaflex and Elmarits lenses in the same soup (and never changed it anymore): though I already noticed something when I pulled the film from the spiral, the revelation appeared when I flipped on the light of my enlarger a day later. This was so amazing. I had seen thousands and thousands of all kinds of negatives (and most of them I had deloped myself) 6X6 and 35mm, Rollei's, Mamiya's, Canon, Billy Clack, Nikon, Pentax and so on, but I had never seen this before. A sharp, crips image, so much tone, thousands of varieties in the long, long scale from high light whites to dark, satured blacks, but even at those ends details were still visible. It changed my life; I made B/W prints so rich, so sharp, with so much depth, that a professional photographer from college could hardly believe these were prints from 35 mm film (he himself worked with Rollei and Hasselblad). The slides I made on Kodachrome 25 and 64 were ... you can fill it in for yourselves. Believe or not, I can tell the difference between a B/W picture made with Nikon or Leica at a hundred yards.

Gerard J. van den Broek , June 29, 2007; 04:02 P.M.

Leica: a life-changing moment

Asher . , July 19, 2007; 01:12 P.M.

6 years since this article was posted and still a hot topic. Not so for the big announcement of the earliest prosumer DSLRs released around the same time.

The Canon D30 (for just under $3000) was all the rage when this M6 article was written. Phil Greenspun, Dirk Halstead, Michael Reichmann- all sang it's praises, encouraging people to shell out for it. Now it's obsolete, and not far behind are the 6 MP dSLRs. You can get a D30 for under $200 today, but why bother?

The Leica M series film cameras in user condition (not the rediculous collector pieces) still command anywhere between $600 for an old beater up to several thousand dollars. And they last a lifetime.

Cameras as investments is not my point. The timeless value of these tools to photographers is reflected by their market value.

Plus, it's just a heck of a lot of fun shooting with an M... especially one that doesn't crop out 1/3 of my aspherical lens.

Nicholas Poole , September 28, 2007; 04:46 P.M.

"The quietest shutter on the market. The camera is so quiet when the shutter goes off that normal room conversations are often enough to mask the click. In many situations, the less attention called to the photographer and the camera the better."

not so, my olympus 35sp has a much quieter shutter, hardly a click. i do agree however that a quiet shutter is a must for documentary/street photography

Kirk Tuck , September 29, 2007; 07:54 P.M.

It's been many years since I wrote this review. In 2003 I added a comment about going digital and I've shot hundreds of thousands of frames, digitally, since then. What have I learned? That black and white film is absolutely glorious! That black and white film shot in a Leica rangefinder is even more glorious. There is a difference between the look of film and the conversion to black and white in digital. It's hard to put a finger on but it really exists. I tried so hard to make digital work for my personal, black and white work but it never seemed as rich and nuanced as the real deal.

Short ending. I pulled the Leicas back out and started shooting tri-x again. It's gorgeous and I must say I (temporarily) gave up on film far too soon. Now I am able to push my clients to use film again and they are delighted with the images. Many jobs are still digital but the Leicas come out when the taste level rises and the budgets are there.

My M6's live on. Thank God I didn't get rid of them. Now........what about the Lecia M8? Who will be brave enough to write the "real" review on that camera?

Kirk Austin, Texas 2007

stephan chandler , January 15, 2008; 07:51 P.M.

"Let the situation dictate which tool to use!"

Thanks for your review and also thanks to all those who responded to it. I could never bring my motor-driven Mimaya 645-Pro into a board-room... it sounds like a Sherman tank! So does my Canon EOS.

I've heard all kinds of praises for Leica from many, including Roger Hicks, whom I admire. So rather than compare the pros and cons, I've decided to procure a Leica M and try it out for myself; after all, if I don't like it, I can re-sell it for about what I pay! I've got all the other kinds... Canon EOS 20D, Canon A-1 and AE-1, Mimaya for medium-format; even a couple a Rolleicords and a Kodak Brownie Six-20 Target; plus a handful of digital point-and-shoots.

I feel more adventure is awaiting me.

Stephen Asprey , March 05, 2008; 01:30 P.M.

I started out in 1979 with an OM1 system and progressed through to Canon EOS and Nikon film systems. Probably the best camera I ever had was an F4s. A dial for everything, but I started to notice two things: Firstly all the lenses were becoming huge as well and autofocus was dominating the criteria for product development. Also these SLRs were so noisy that subjects were offended and people stared at me. I went digital with an Canon G6...lovely lens and then the penny dropped. A million menu choices and I spent all my time looking at an LCD screen and not composing. So I decided to go back to film and manual cameras, process my own negatives and scan into Aperture. I bought a well used but perfect Nikon FM2n that also came with a 28/2.8, 35/2, 50/1.8, 105/2.5 and 80-200/4 all for $500. Unbelievable! I am now taking photographs again, not driving a small computer! I am also going to buy a used Leica M6 and a 35/2 Summicron, and do street/available light photography. I will be in the realm of art again. No more manipulation on the computer...thats cheating. If my shot is crappy so be it...I learn. I have met so many people now who are reverting to film and getting back to photography as art, not some IT exercise.

Kirk Tuck , July 14, 2008; 11:39 P.M.


Kirk's Book Cover.

If you enjoyed reading this review, which has stood the test of time for nearly eight years......you might be interested in reading my book, Minimalist Lighting. You can get it at all the usual places. Be sure to read the reviews at Amazon.......

It's a heck of a lot of fun. With photos.

Best, Kirk July 2008

Anthony Darling , October 27, 2008; 06:17 P.M.


Retirement waiting room?

A fascinating review which still has a deal of validity even today. But as a long term M6 and SLR user I am not so passionate about the M6. In 1986 I bought a new M6 and a new Canon T90. Both produced excellent results, Kodachromes from each are not easily separable in practice unless perhaps the image reveals that a special lens was in use. For example 15mm and 19mm Canon T90 lenses or the Noctilux on the Leica.

Sometimes there was a slight advantage in focussing a wide lens on the Leica in very dim conditions, but to me it was marginal. Wide lenses are not in practice that tricky to get right. And so it continued, I bought an Olympus Z2000 digital compact for use as a notebook alongside the film cameras and was pleasantly impressed. but it was not used for anything "serious"

When Canon introduced the EOS 5D, I decided to take the leap and add this to my kit. It has been a total revelation. Canon's L series lenses in my opinion, in combination with the EOS 5D produce image quality the the M6 and Kodachrome could not match. They make excellent monochrome images too.

My loyalty to the M6 continued because of my interest in monochrome Infra-red. Clearly any SLR is a total nightmare for IR shooting compared to the M6. But now the choice in IR film is shrinking I am concerned that the M6 may become just another beautifully made paperweight, that I will pick up and play with to relive fond memories from time to time.

Greg Williamson , November 28, 2008; 06:22 P.M.

An interesting read. I often wonder if a Leica would suit me. I mostly shoot MF and LF but there are times I want a quick camera. Those times I generally use a Bessa-L (which has no rangefinder) or one of my Olympus OM's.

The only rangefinder camera I have (apart from my Graflex with it's Kalart rangefinder on the side) is a Fuji GW690 III. Now here is my issue -

I find I am simply not able to visualise the crop I am getting between the bright lines of the viewfinder. The SLR shows me what I am getting, and nothing more, and you sing the praises of seeing beyond the crop by using a rangefinder camera. However I find I am actually hindered by this - my visual system won;t crop out the "out of picture areas" and I end up having to think about things a bit longer.... maybe it's just a habit - but it (and my wallet) keeps me from getting a Leica... just yet.

Larry Kincaid , January 08, 2009; 11:33 A.M.

Who knows, someone like me may still read this ancient post in 2009. Perhaps the most interesting thing about such an old post is that much of the discussion in the first two years focused on the differences between the Contax G2+21+35+90 (excellent lenses!) and the Leica M. Today, of course, there is no longer a Contax G2 to buy and owners are hopeful that a new digital camera will come along to allow them to use their G2 lenses (the Panasonic G1 perhaps?). Meanwhile, many Leica film users are still doing just that and many have migrated to the Leica digital M8 along with their still great Leica M lenses. Tuck has now released his own review of the M8, an improved M8-2 has been released, and the forums are discussing how well the Leica M lenses will perform on the new Panasonic G1 4/3 camera. And . . . the prices of used Leica equipment are still holding their own or increasing dramatically. The used 75mm summilux that I bought for about $1400 after this Tuck review is now no longer made, but if found new it's price is approaching $4000. What more can anyone say?

Steve Swinehart , February 26, 2009; 11:26 A.M.

Very well done review from a personal perspective - a point many, apparently, failed to grasp.

I can only echo your feelings about the rendering ability of Leica lenses. I shoot only color and the difference in contrast and color with the Leica lenses is far better than my Nikon and Hasselbad systems.

michael ginex , March 06, 2009; 02:11 P.M.

Ditto! To say nothing of the "Leica Glow" in portrait work using Leica glass, which is instantly recognizable even by biased eyes. I love my M6 Classic and because of it will never give up on film. I also shoot Canon, Hasselblad and of course Leica R, film and digital. The M6 is something special only to be appreciated after one has used it and experienced it's unmatched performance and superior engineering.

michael walker , March 15, 2009; 01:37 P.M.

It is interesting to read that text some years after its creation especially as a young photographer who started with digital and later got involved in photography with film including the development and printing.

interesting because one usually comes across several claims regarding the quality of Leica no matter in which field of photography one is spending time. those claims ranging from zealous prayer to pure hate.

being interested in photography in general I soon had my first old-school camera, constantly adding new ones (yes i became a collector). I learned to appreciate the meditating effect of a waist-level rolleiflex viewfinder or the own, different style of film compared to digital.

some weeks ago i purchased a Leica M6 for very little money(little money compared to the regular prices of a Leica). I never wanted and never would buy a new Leica I told myself. After testing the M6 now I must admit....it's still true.

The Leica M6 is a nice camera for sure and for some situations I prefer it to the Nikon D700, especially when shooting in areas like the bigger cities in Brazil one really appreciates a small camera yet able to deliver good quality and the depth of field I'm used of the 35mm format, whether it's digital or film.

If i compare the raw quality of a well exposed film to the data i get from the raw files the Leica loses in any aspect. of course it's pretty useless comparing film and digital in my opinion for the simply are to different.

I'm using the 24-70 f2.8 on the D700 most of the time and compared to the Leica I get sharper images, cleaner images, a better dynamic range and a nicer color rendition. I get those things up to ISO 6400 and if shooting b/w you can easily go for the pushed 25k of the D700, something one can only dream about when shooting film. when it comes to colors it all becomes highly subjective and the aforementioned "better" is to be seen as my humble opinion ;)

The whole work flow is faster and more accurate than with the M6 and measuring the light with the metering provided by the D700 is far easier and more accurate. If used properly of course. I don't need to talk about the lighting fast AF of a D700/D300/D3(x) combined with the "pro" zoom lenses.

So why am I still using the Leica M6?

Well I think it is hard to explain the fascination of a Leica with reason for there is none. the japanese brands are constructing cameras and lenses that are faster, better, more accurate and superior in almost any aspect.

The strength of a Leica lies in the ability to shoot almost invisible. The M6 is relatively small, silent and somehow it is less intimidating than SLR cameras to people. I think the ability to shoot with both eyes open also contributes to that phenomenon as you don't "hide" behind the viewfinder.

You do have all the advantages of the 35mm format (for me the dof) in a smaller package, combined with a camera body that is beautiful and indestructible.

And most important of all, it's a lot of fun shooting with a rangefinder which should be the most important feature to look at when purchasing a camera for the pictures really get better if the photographer has fun working with that camera.

I spent a lot of time in photoshop to copy the film look of old till i realized i could also just use film instead of digital if i wanted that look.

In the end the Leica M6 is a beautiful camera that need a lot of time to get into it, which might be an argument against purchasing one as there are more convenient options available such as the Bessa made by Voigtländer or the Leica M7 with both having an aperture mode. There is also the Zeiss rangefinder and of course Contax with one of the sharpest prime ever made. They all are less pricey than the Leica "originals" and feature more than the Leicas. In my opinion there isn't any special magic within the Leicas, neither in the bodies nor in the lenses. they might be slightly better in quality than their cheaper equivalents though they are never worth twice or three times the price you pay with voigtländer & co.

If you are into rangefinder and you can get a Leica M6 for half the price then buy it, don't buy Leica gear new though it's not worth that much money.

Kirk Tuck , April 15, 2009; 04:56 P.M.


Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Studio Photography

If you like the perspective and the writing I want to let you know that I've just had my second book about photography published by Amherst Media. Here's the cover. Thanks, Kirk

SD Woods , April 21, 2009; 12:53 P.M.

As a complete amateur, who only began to take photography somewhat seriously months ago, I think it's best for people like me to leave film for a year at least. To let us get past the crap stage, till we realize from our own experience how to take a decent picture. The joy of digital is that it's free to take crap images, which as a complete beginner, is basically all I do. I do aspire to get something serious and discreet later on in life, so I could perhaps take street photography seriously. Time will tell I suppose

Ng Jason , May 02, 2009; 05:56 A.M.

I first took up photography 3 years ago when I could afford my first ever Camera. Along the road, I somehow purchased my first Nikon FM2n with a 35 mm f2 lens. I was hooked to shooting with film ever since. Till last month, I have bought a few more film bodies and have collected almost all of the Nikon prime manual lens. But, I sold off almost all of it 2 weeks ago. I got myself a M6 instead. Now I m hoping to be able to purchase my first Leica Lens soon. I have test drive the M6 and a CZ 35mm f2 lens for almost a month. And yes..German lens is definately better...

Hakan Karademir , May 21, 2009; 08:28 P.M.

As an amateur for 23 years I have used a lot of cameras. In 1986 beginning photography with my brand newRussian Zenit12xp body, and 50mm f/2 lens was an exciting experience. Every night in the dormitory, I used to get up fom my bed, and smell its leather case when I was in boarding school. Years passed me by, I used alot of cameras Canon EOS 1000Fn, Canon EOS 10, Nikon FM2, Nikon F90x, Nikon F100, Nikon F6. Then I bought Nikon D300 a year ago. This was very important for me because it was my first step to digital photography. Unfortunately I am not satisfied with the results. I am very sorry for my dearly F6 which I traded for D300. I should never leave the film behind. I always have to sit infront of the computer for time, at least for minor corrections. When I was using film it was pure simple. You just get your Velvia and manfrotto and everything would be OK!. I planned a perfect return to film.So I grabbed my Leica M6 TTL from E-bay for 1425 USD and 2 brand new summarit lenses(50mm+90mm) just for 1200 USD. I am again happy and excited with the same boy's feeling 23 years ago which I remember very well. Thank you Leica, for producing such a brilliant camera and m system which made me feel so.

Hakan

Pai Peng , June 04, 2009; 11:07 A.M.

it is a great review.

I have my M4/M6(35mmF2) three months ago. I 'd like to take the M4 in my bag, wherever I go.

I know, that a good camera can not shoot good pictures along. I hope I can improve my shooting skill with it easily.

Bruce Robbins , June 12, 2009; 09:41 A.M.

A couple of people have mentioned the fabled Leica "glow", the most recent being Michael Ginex who claims it is "instantly recognizable even by biased eyes". Can anyone prove that? It's easy to make claims but I'd like to see a side-by-side comparison of a scene taken with, say, a 35mm Summicron and a 35mm Nikkor, where the "glow" is very evident.

I used an M2 and M3 about 25 years ago and, although they're undoubtedly lovely to use, I saw no glow. Nor did I see a level of sharpness that blew away my Nikon stuff. I've asked about the glow on a couple of forums and people have posted pics which they believed showed this (mythical) quality. However, without comparison pics taken with a different type of lens, it's impossible to say whether what they're getting excited about is attributable to the Leitz or just the lighting on that particular shot.

I think Mike Johnston got closest to explaining the glow in his well-known article here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/sm-02-04-28.shtml However, Mike makes it clear that you don't have to be using a Leitz lens to get it.

Are any Leica users up to the challenge? Can anyone prove the existence of the glow in comparison shots? Or is it always going to remain, a bit like the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster, something that some claim to have seen but are never able to prove?

Jono Lee , June 18, 2009; 06:14 P.M.

This is really not related to the review itself but could never the less somewhat implicate the validity of claims made by the review. Regarding the pictures posted with the review, is it just me or does the "italian journalist" picture the same image as the woman in the foreground of "rome-girl-90". The lighting on her hair, face, neck, the reflections on her sunglasses, the blurred image by her shoulder, they all match... other than that the image has obviously been blurred... Is there a way to do this type of compositing with film? or is this just photoshop? I sincerely hope for the first scenerio as if it turns out that it was some form of post processing afterall, i find it troubling that the images provided to illustrate the quality of the equipment in question might not be the actual images you get back from the equipment.

Kirk Tuck , June 18, 2009; 07:40 P.M.

Jono, What? I know the two images you are referring to. Yes, the photo with the little girl is a photo composite done in Photoshop to hide an ugly tourist in a white beer shirt. I'm not a photojournalist, I get to do anything I want to my photographs. And that includes compositing. If you are judging the quality of Leicas from the tiny photographs posted on a website you are not using a very good criteria for your selection process and probably are not ready for a Leica.

No where in this article is their any pledge that the images are straight from the camera. You do understand that this is a film camera, right? The images have been printed on paper and then scanned and dust spots removed and all that other stuff.

If you want to know what a Leica can do look to original slides or negatives and look at them through a microscope. Or look at big prints. 480 pixels? You must be kidding.

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Kirk Tuck , June 18, 2009; 07:43 P.M.

I've started a blog. You can read it here. If you have too much time on your hands this might be a good place to spend it...http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com

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Jono Lee , June 18, 2009; 08:22 P.M.

Ok i get it, geeze... You could have just said yeah i photoshoped some ugly tourist out and i would have been fine by that. I'm just stating what I saw and thought so please calm down. I just assumed because this was a review, that the corresponding pictures were a part of it that's all. I saw the journalist and the girl in rome and thought if that was photoshoped then what other element could be as well, while remembering your comments on lense contrastiness and all that. And yah i know its film, scanned slides, etc etc and the absurdity of judging a lense performance by tiny pics on the net so you don't have to go out of your way to bite my head off. I'm sorry i questioned your integrity and probably offended you in the process. I really was genuinely curious so i asked, that's all.

Kirk Tuck , June 18, 2009; 09:25 P.M.

Jono, Please accept my apologies for being too heavy handed with my reply. As you can see from reading over eight years of posts, some of them are very contentious and I thought it was another "gotcha, prove it" comment. Not your fault. Please accept my apology.

Kirk

Joshua Thompson , June 19, 2009; 04:17 A.M.

Hi Kirk, first of all a good review in my opinion and much appreciated effort in sharing your experience and knowledge. With that said if I may comment on the last few discussion threads...

I actually think the question posed by Jono was quite valid, considering that the original context of this thread was a "review" and as such, in principle, the pictures provided that were taken with the given camera/lenseshould reflect more or less the pictures taken with the camera/lense as closely as possible. Obviously as we all know our individual monitors makes this an impossibility, however we do our best to relay what we can as accurately as possible for "review" sake. My guess is that this never would have even come up if one of the two pictures were something competely different. As a reader viewing the pictures under the pretense of a "review", finding out that post processing was involved, gives a slightly tainted feeling in the overall reception of the review to that particular reader, and as unfair as it might sound to the original poster, this is a very common human reaction and I'm sure many readers can relate to similar experiences. Yes, of course you did not pledge that the images were straight from the camera, but most people reading real reviews these days (not retail store reviews) basically assume this is the case, and in this particular case, readers of lense reviews assume the pictures are unedited scans.

If you went to a camera shop to check out a lense and the salesman shows you a picture taken with a lense, and you see obvious signs of stamping and cloning, you will no doubt question the rest of the claims made by the salesman about the particular lense. This example, while completely a different scenario, demonstrates smiliar human nature reactions to different circumstances. People might come to read these reivews to get an honest outlook on certain equipments from actual users, and a professional one at that, but if they find out the images provided were altered in anyway, their perception might change to a certain degree and may lead to other question in the reader's head. A previously viewed picture giving the impression of a nice punchy contrast which impressively retained the subtle diffrences in a nicely captured tonal range, will no longer just be that "nice shot". Rather they might start to question whether the image had been less spectacular to begin with but post processed to look the way it does and ultimately tie it back to the lense claiming to have produced such good results.

Whether this type of reaction is warranted or not, or the limited confines that our crummy monitors provide, or the limited capcity of compressed jpegs on the web make such questions a worthy cause for investigating is really not the point. It's just that this is simply how the human mind works for a lot of people. From the comment you made about "leaving emotion out" and the explaination that followed with it, I get the impression that you have a fairly good understanding of the human psychi and believe you would agree with the assessment that for a lot of people this would be the natural response.

Now as to your first response to the post Jono made, it is also natural human reaction to respond with such defensive passion, especially being an "artist" who takes pride in their work. Just as he might have misunderstood the circumstances behind his observation (that all you did was remove an ugly tourist), you too could have misunderstood the intention behind his question into something much more deliberate and kniving. The fact he explained his intent and apologized for any offense he might have caused you and that you also explained your reaction and apologized for similar reasons makes this a very good discussion. And although at the same time I do realize your first response was a natural defense reaction to a potential discrediting at a personal level, I do have one comment on one of the things said during your retort. I'll just qoute the most relevant part and that is:

"... are not ready for a Leica".

This tiny segment of your sentence really rings a bell with me and as a fellow Leica user, I would encourage all other Leica users to really think twice before they make any statements upholding their equipment and relating it to any type of "level" in photography. Yes i love my leica but it's really not what defines my pictures, as is the same for all of you. You define your pictures and if you happen to have a great camera and great lense, it just makes getting those shots that much easier. I have fantastic shots made with a Canonet QL17 Giii that I would hang over a lot of my 4x5 work which just goes to show you that the composition, content, and color carries the picture far more than sharpness at wide open and all the other differences at microscopic level. For all you know Jono could be a Leica owner already and might be a swell photog. And if he doesn't, it could be that he might not like the Leica for whatever reason, or can't afford it or justify the price tag for such differences compared to his other equipments. We just don't know, however as long as we know that using a Leica (or any other camera brand) does not define or is defined by the skill level of the photographer themselves, suggesting he might not be ready for a Leica is not only absolute nonsense, but also makes you look condescending. More than that, and this is the final point i wanted to make to the Leica users, is that comments like this only perpetuate the pretentious and pompus driven negative reputations Leica users seem to have unjustly attained. I get a mixed bag of reactions from people when they see the red logo on my camera and unfortunately for the most part they aren't that pleasant. This is especially the case when other photog spot the red dot. They either treat me like a dummy thinking I'm a rich moron who just got a leica cuz it was the most expensive thing out there, offering me advices like "you know if you really wanna get better you should get an SLR", or they treat me with sarcastic contempt/jealousy which ever or both that is hard to describe to you in words.

Maybe I'm completely alone in this... I have no idea really, maybe the rest of you never experienced anything like this before but for me it's happened enough for me to cover the red dot with black masking tape just so people would leave me alone. I just want people to stop judging me based on the brand in use and let me get on with taking pictures.

Kirk Tuck , June 19, 2009; 12:38 P.M.

Points well taken. If I'd had my preference I would not have posted any shots with the review. They really serve no purpose other than to signal the kinds of images I like to take with Leicas. Worst case they skew the discussion as people try to reconcile what they see in the tiny images on the monitor with what they read in the article.

My response "not ready for a Leica" was too harsh and I've apologized. The interesting thing about our information culture is that once you've posted a public article (and this one was done back in early 2001...) you get comments both online and even more offline. I still get five or six e-mails a week in my personal e-mail account that are some variation of, "You are an idiot, a moron, a shill for Leica, you don't know what the f you're talking about!!!!" along with an equal number that kind of go along the lines of "I read the article, sold all my xxx gear and am totally buying up Leicas. Which lens should I buy?

I don't agree that attached images that show various uses of the camera are the same as 1:1 demonstration pictures that purport to show relative sharpness or CA. There is a difference. I know that I haven't misled anyone into buying Leicas on the strength of the images that were posted.

And you can see that eight years later I am still having to defend myself against all sorts of insinuation. When I wrote the article I did not do so as a professional reviewer. I just liked using Leicas and thought it would be fun to explain why.

Take it at face value. As they used to say in Modern Photography Magazine, "these images are printed on paper and the process is not perfect, therefore if you see a difference between the printed image and the printed word you should go by the printed word."

And that's all I really want to say about it.

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John Sun , June 19, 2009; 01:33 P.M.

Great read. I like your points. I've used a Nikon FM2n for most of my photos, and have also used the Leica M3 with 50 1.5 summarit.

The major difference I see in using the Leica (and rangefinders in general) vs SLR is the size, weight, and ease of composition. I enjoy seeing the whole scene, whether it's by keeping my left eye open, or just looking around the edges of the viewfinder.

As for photo quality difference, I just think my photos are not good enough to show the difference. my 50 1.8 Nikkor AIS is "sharper" than my summarit, but the summarit is soft in a pleasing way, almost like using a slight soft-focus filter.

I'm looking to get an M6 and 50 cron to see how I like it. The great thing about Leica is that, if you buy the equipment used, you won't lose any money if you sell it later!

Kirk Tuck , September 11, 2009; 05:40 P.M.

The M9 sure looks nice......

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Kirk Tuck , February 15, 2010; 08:33 P.M.

Wow. Nearly ten years later and now I'm putting my favorite Leica glass on the new micro 4:3rds cameras. The high magnification for manual focusing is slower than RF focusing but maybe a bit more accurate with longer lenses. And you can always zone focus the shorter ones. The M series lives on.

james kennedy , February 28, 2010; 01:49 P.M.

This morning, I read the review and all of the comments. Wow, it was like traveling in a time machine from 2001 to 2010. Interesting that this was the period in which digital went from from being a very expensive toy to being the dominant professional tool. Digital and film each have their individual advanages and drawbacks and I enjoy both formats. I have 7 Leica bodies ranging from screwmounts to the M6 classic. My high end digital is the Nikon D300. I love all of them. But I went on an 8 day cruise on the Danube a year ago, I brought only my Canon Powershot A650IS, Just a matter of logistics when you have to cope with the horror of modern travel. When I am in charge of the travel device, that is when I bring the really good stuff. Thanks for creating this fine review and topic, Kirk. Your photos are lovely.

Johnny Martyr , November 21, 2010; 05:21 P.M.

Kirk, thanks so much for your insightful article.  I think it continues to be successful because you address specific and practical ways that using a quality RF truly assists our photographic visions in a way that other cameras can only imitate. 

And "imitate" is the operative word in a world of vibration reduction lenses and costly complicated technological fix on top of fix that are all trying to catch up with the graceful simplicity of masterful design and construction inherent in the Leica M series.

After having read your article a few tymes over the years and disappointed with my Voigtlander Bessa but seeing/feeling the potential, I pulled the trigger on an M6 TTL .85 black a couple months ago.  I will not be selling off my Nikon gear any tyme soon but am profoundly engaged by the different (not claiming better) ways I am empowered to shoot with this camera than an SLR, and maybe any less costly rangefinder.  

What many people fail to realise is that the camera, like all technology, is not transparent, each carries politics built into it.  Even if one can switch a DSLR into a mode that, on some practical levels, does the "same thing" as a mechanical film camera, there is a totally different approach and philosophy involved in the liberal employment of whatever casual choice within a spectrum of available modes and the total commitment to one general method/ideal that is embodied in a camera that is built supremely to cater to that method/ideal. 

I can identify to the Leica M6 because not only does it do exactly what I want it to do, but because it bitterly refuses to do anything else.  And that is the stuff of epic heroes throughout history.  No compromise. 

The fact that I can enjoy and work WITH the Leica on such a fundamental level, my photos are constantly getting closer and closer to my ideal.

Kirk Tuck , December 21, 2010; 03:53 P.M.

I've recently had the chance to use the M9 along with the new 35mm Aspherical 1.4 lens.  Of course the major review sites have the priority of metrics all screwed up and are more concerning about high ISO noise than anything else.  If you use the M9 the way we've always used Leica rangefinders you'll have a nice camera in your hands that does absolutely beautiful color and very high sharpness as long as you keep the ISO under 1,000.  Even over 1000 it's not at all bad.  The camera handles so much better than the M8.  It's just remarkable.  If you haven't actually shot with one I really am not interested in commentary about handling......

Kirk Tuck , December 21, 2010; 03:55 P.M.

Here's my experience with the M9 and the 35 Summilux (latest):

http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/08/irreverent-emotional-and-nostalgic.html

Vinicio Gonzalez , October 09, 2011; 09:01 A.M.

Some day, I think was september 2010, I was watching a TV program in the local catalonian TV called TV33. The program was about Adam Weston. Suddenly I discovered a whole world: film, 4×6, wild worlds, how he lost his woman, subtle details about. The TV program last for 2 hours, at the end I was thinking ” I need to try a 4×6 camera”. In the mean I remembered my Nikon D70 analog camera, but the problem with this camera is the expensive battery (20-30 € here in Barcelona, and last for 4 rolls). After a little search, I found a Nikon FM3n body (you don’t need battery) and localized a 50/f1.2 lens, here you have my first shot

Metro

I liked. Suddenly I discovered the film latency, how you can capture the light, what means composition, what means aural proportion, FOV…. After a few shots, I felt that when you shot with a Tank, everybody can hear you, so you cannot be invisible. And I started to search. My first treasure was a Leica IIIf (1934), almost transparent, and she force you to think a lot (what light, what aperture, what phrase, what movement …) And I made some shots that changed my life

This is from my second roll

MoMA, NY

Saxo

Its difficult to take shots without meter, don’t try it, its too wild. So I decided to find another tool from Leica, I was thinking a lot for a Leica M3 (you know that doesn’t have Meter, but it have a superb finder) and finally I purchased an M6: understand her it’s  a whole life.

Here you have some shots

Praga. Detail of a Restaurant

Prague. Tram

What we have lost with digital?. We never will have the answer. It is easiest, but not for me, the things that are easy doesn’t have any value. For me the IIIf with a collapsible 50 Summicron it’s all that you need.

Now I am trying the color. One idea:  with B&W you capture the light; with color you have to paint: Cezanne, Vermeer, Tiziano …

Now I am like a naked child starting over: M6 gives you a foundation that nobody can give you, perhaps a woman.

Vini

 

Kirk Tuck , January 30, 2012; 04:19 P.M.

I have been busy lately writing a book about LED lighting for photographers.  It's now complete and ready.

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Akiva Shapero , November 24, 2012; 06:40 P.M.

Yes the Leica film camera still lives. I just got my M3 back from Solms (it got it's first CLA) with a note in German saying, "Good for another 50 years". Take that digital world!

Akiva Shapero , November 24, 2012; 06:41 P.M.

Yes the Leica film camera still lives. I just got my M3 back from Solms (it got it's first CLA) with a note in German saying, "Good for another 50 years". Take that digital world!


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