The Legendary Leica M

by Steve Simon

In June of this year, Aperture added support for the Leica M8, among other cameras.

I have to admit, I have always been jealous of The Leica Shooter. Armed with a small camera and a few tiny lenses (compared to the beefy SLR kit), Leica shooters have roamed the world capturing iconic images we all know.

oldleicaposter.jpg

The legendary “Leica Look” and creamy bokeh have been talked about since the camera first appeared. From Capa and Cartier-Bresson to Winogrand and Salgado, the list of photography giants who have chosen this tool represent a good chunk of the history of photography itself.

During the past two weeks, I was told by several photographers about an article in the September 24th New Yorker Magazine entitled: Candid Camera: The Cult of Leica. It is more a love letter to a camera than a technical review.

The photogs who told me about the piece all said the the same thing; “after reading it, you will want one.”

Personally, I have used SLR cameras since I started shooting pictures as a 12-year-old in my home city of Montreal. It is second nature to me and I’m most comfortable with this type of camera. But like most photographers, I had dreamed of owning a Leica; but like most photographers, I couldn’t afford one.

“When you take a picture with an S.L.R., there is a distinctive sound, somewhere between a clatter and a thump; I worship my beat-up Nikon FE, but there is no denying that every snap reminds me of a cow kicking over a milk pail. With a Leica, all you hear is the shutter, which is the quietest on the market. The result—and this may be the most seductive reason for the Leica cult—is that a photograph sounds like a kiss.”

The Cult of Leica, Anthony Lane

I finally bought a used M6 with a 35mm lens in the late 90’s, and I took it and my SLR’s on a road trip through the Northern United States.

I wanted to love it, but compared to my Nikons, it was slow. The rangefinder focus was sometimes hard for me to see, and occasionally I would forget the f-stop was at 16 when the exposure needed f4. Though I took some great shots with it, including one of my favorites of a giant cow in North Dakota, I ultimately abandoned it for the familiar clunk of the SLR.

Big Cow.jpg
Copyright Steve Simon

But I believe that the Leica Rangefinder is a system that needs to be committed too, and I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment at the time.

“Asked how he thought of the Leica, Cartier-Bresson said that it felt like “a big warm kiss, like a shot from a revolver, and like the psychoanalyst’s couch.” At this point, five thousand dollars begins to look like a bargain.”

Anthony Lane

Leica M8front.jpg
“At Photokina, the biennial fair of the world’s photographic trade, Leica made an announcement: it was time, we were told, for the M8. The M series was going digital. It was like Dylan going electric.” Anthony Lane

The Leica M8 had its problems when it was first introduced, but they seem to be ironed out and the Leica shooters that use it are singing the praises of the camera. Maybe I’m finally ready for commitment.

Leica M8 by Roger Richards

The M8 On Assignment by Bruno Stevens







6 Comments

ian
2007-10-04 08:37:28
wow thanks for the reminder to look at the M8. Glad to see Leica working out the bugs. The stuff the guy shot in Iran looks amazing!
pete
2007-10-04 15:21:12
I sold my last M in the 1980s and regretted it for many years. I bought an M8 earlier this year and my 5D is now hardly used. It is a great camera, despite the faults, and would recommend it to anyone - but the rangefinder approach needs to be worked at. Its not an SLR! The Leica lenses are nothing short of amazing. When I first looked at the files from the M8 and a 50mm f2 lens wide open I was simply blown away. I still am several thousand images later. And my 5D only takes occasional outings when I need long lenses or macro.
Eoin
2007-10-05 04:13:27
I've been using the M8 since November'06. It has freed me from the weight of hefty dSLR's and returned the joy and physical involvement in my photography rather than relying on AF and other auto functions. Serious quality from the lenses, beautiful shadow detail in the DNG files, the rangefinder has a different view of the world. Seriously good, seriously expensive.
Jay
2007-10-05 14:58:33
Stop this writing and posting! You're making it a case of "See. Want. Must have." Actually I was kind of shocked to read about the problems along the way with the M8 but assume they're ironed out on current models on sale. Despite that, the New Yorker article sure does make you want to hold one and try it out, and I guess that leads to ownwership...
Steve Simon
2007-10-05 15:41:04
That article seemed to be the kryptonite for normally fiscally strong, responsible photographers everywhere. Even for longtime SLR users, when you get a new tool (toy) it opens up new ways of seeing, which can really open doors for your work. Hey, I'm convincing myself...and Aperture supports the files.
Narayan
2007-10-08 08:01:51
Like Eoin, I've also been using the M8 since November of 2006. Coming from pro-DSLRs, I finally feel like I'm taking photos again (or to be more precise, I finally feel like I'm again part of the photograph-making process).


That New Yorker article is seven of the best pages ever written on the Leica experience.