What Is a Leica M Camera Good For?

As a film photography enthusiast, I am a firm believer that gear is a long way down the list of important factors in image-making.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s obviously a vast difference in the quality of image you will get from a film camera that will mount great lenses, meter accurately, and shoot reliably, versus something like a Kodak disposable. I just don’t believe anyone necessarily needs to pay more than a few hundred dollars to access equipment that produces results comparable to those very high-end gear will also achieve.

In this video, Hashem of the channel Pushing Film shares with us a very objective and balanced assessment of the reasons someone may or may not want to invest significantly in the Leica M system over less expensive options. The insight offered here is an absolute must for anyone who has ever thought about purchasing a Leica, and let's be honest, we have all had that thought once or twice in our photography journey. Hashem is a pillar of the film photography community and boasts an incredible library of videos, including tutorials, interviews, photobook reviews, and livestreams. Be sure to check out this video and channel for more Leica action on the streets of Melbourne, Australia. 

Lucy Lumen's picture

Lucy Lumen is an avid analog shooter and content creator on the sunny Gold Coast of Australia. Lucy spends most of her time sharing her adventures in film photography on her YouTube channel and has now ventured into the world of podcasting, where she interviews fellow photographers about their creative process and inspiration.

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For collecting and displaying purposes, I guess :))

Like every Leica, it's all about luxury. Anyone who is dead serious about photography and having the latest features, best image quality and maximum flexibility shouldn't even mention Leica in the conversation. If your priorities are less about photography and more about raw dollar value, exclusivity and status, Leica is the only brand worth your time.

Well, if you want the latest features, you probably need a Z9 (or M11?), for best IQ a medium format body, for maximum flexibility a R5 or A1... but in case you just want a photographic tool with a particular set of features, especially an offset optical viewfinder, probably the best manual focus system available (you know, zone focusing is still the fastest and most relieable way of focusing in certain scenarios, isn't it?) and some superb light and small full frame lenses (not necessary expensive, there is the ZM line with stellar Biogon 25, 35/2.8, Planar 50... and there are some other good and even cheaper options), then the M system is perhaps the best you can get.

There are certain people who prefer seeing the scene in front of them with the least amount of "visual barrier" (meaning shallow DOF created by viewing the scene through the lens or the tunnel vision of a small display in the viewfinder), there are certain scenarios or even genres (perhaps) where seeing the scene if front of you "as it is" may have considerable benefits. Of course, Leica (M) is hardly the best tool for arranged photography where framing is critical etc., but for reportage style of work it's actually still relevant. The image quality is more than acceptable (mostly indiscernible from other digital cameras) and the lack of functions and rather minimalist approach (say mostly going along the functionalist / or even Dieter Rams's design principles) means the tool may become unobtrussive easier...

Of course, Leica became also a luxury brand (quite a turn from their origins...) and for certain people, it's about exclusivity or status. But the M system don't deserve bashing for that - it's a niche system, certainly indebted to (partly pre-SLR) tradition, but it is unfortunately unique because no other brand offers similar set of features while the rest (or most of it - Ricoh is also unique...) of the camera industry seems to tend towards unification. And while the choice between a Canon, Sony, Nikon, L-mount, even Fujifilm or even Hasselblad is more and more marginal (evf, similar set of features, similar sensor, similar lenses with rather similar rendering...), in M, Leica still offers a different tool, which I'd say is great.

I wouldn’t buy a Leica but to be this dismissive of them just points to ignorance.

I think the main issue with Leica is that they charge a massive premium while still having significant compromises. In other areas when you spend a ton, you typically get features well into the realm of diminishing returns, while still having a price premium over it.

If Leica wanted to truly be a premium luxury brand that offered practical benefits, they would aim to be the camera equivalent of an RTX3090Ti, extremely expensive video card, poor cost to performance ratio as it is well within the area of diminishing returns, but for its time of release, offers the best performance, highest quality VRMs, highest quality chokes, no skimping on via stitching where needed.
Simply put a luxury class of device while traditionally overpriced for the specs and performance, should still push the bleeding edge of that performance and functionality.

There are legitimate reasons why Leica M cameras are still relevant:
1. The prestige and price tag.
2. They look like jewelries and expensive accessories, perfect for socializing.
3. The bodies and lenses feel good in hand.
4. The lenses are much smaller than the mirrorless or DSLR counterparts.
5. Sentimental reasons related to the history of Leica.
6. Simplicity.

There are many better tools to take pictures.
But do I want one? Yes

Oh...I guess they're good for a few thousand dollars.

I had an M3 many years ago. It was about 35 years old when I bought it and the two lenses were 40 years old. It was lovely to use, if somewhat limited in modern terms. I’d buy a digital M if I could afford one. The lenses are sublime the bodies unique but a bit difficult to justify… However, you don’t have to justify every decision. If you can afford one and you want one then buy one, you’re unlikely to be disappointed
PS If anyone has bought one and is disappointed, I’d be happy to give it a good home!

I would call it a "niche system" only in the digital age. Epson had the RD-1 series, and I've seen some great photos from that series. Wish it was still made.

He mentions film and a lot of companies made film rangefiners. The first 35mm camera I used was my mom's Yashica Electro 35. All the Japanese companies made them along with Kodak, the Soviet Zorki and FED etc. he could have mentioned them if his friends wanted film and the rangefinder experience.

They forgot the largest reason to get one.

Leica cameras have an amazing ability to make your wallet lighter and bank account leaner.

Cost of ownership is a completely different argument then what is discussed here. You definitely pay a premium at the time of purchase for a Leica. But in years down the track when you go to sell, it holds far more value than any other brand of camera or lens. Some lenses even increase in value above what they were originally purchased for. Compare a 10 year old Leica vs a 10 year old Canon or Sony. You almost couldn’t give away the latter in most cases

He should look up people like Thorsten Overgaard who have done profession work with Leica rangefinders for decades.

You lucked out on the M3 & lens. But that's not always the case. Within a year or two, a new Leica M digital loses $1000-$2000 in value.

I have an M9 and an M10 that I use just as much as my A7RII for taking photos of my family and other people in various situations and conditions. I don't find that big a difference between the experience of using each one if you know how each one works. They are just different tools. I don't think that you can label a camera as only being "good" for specific things. My grandmother used to drive a Camero Z28 but only drove it slowly like a grandmother would...she just liked the look of the body. Was she wrong because she didn't do burnouts and zip around the city at high rates of speed?! Maybe to some car enthusiasts...but, it's just like the camera comparison. If you have a Leica M because you can afford it...enjoy using it. Period.

Nothing much other than taking it to Starbucks or Urasawa and highlight to patrons there that you can buy a camera for thousands of dollars that has as much features as a Kodak Printomatic