Holding a Leica M camera

Self-portrait with Leica M3, 2021. (Leica MP. HP5 Plus)

I’ve used many wonderful film cameras from many different systems: From Nikon F to Hasselblad V to Linhof, Olympus OM, etc.

They are all great in their own ways, but none of them comes close to making me feel the way I feel when picking up a Leica M camera.

Sure, every film camera is essentially “a box for holding a lens and some film” but calling a Leica M “just another film camera” is to me like calling Jesus Christ “just another homeless dude”.

OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get my point. The way a Leica M is built and shaped fits my hand and the way it works fits my brain like no other camera. And no other camera makes me want to just pick it up and hold it, even if there’s no film in it.

The only time that “The best camera is the one you have with you” is when the one you have with you is an M ????.

I mean, just look at this MP! Tell me you don’t want to pick it up and fondle it a little.

Leica MP (Black Paint). Photo by Leica Camera

Sold the Leica SL2-S and bought a Leica M10-R

M10-R for sale

The Leica SL series of cameras are special, but not unique. I had an original SL and then bought the SL2-S when it was released. It’s a capable, well-built, beautiful camera. But, if I’m being honest, it’s just another mirrorless camera system. And it was very expensive. Purchased today, my kit, consisting of the SL2-S and the Leica APO Summicron 35mm and 75mm lenses would run close to $16,000. Um, who do I think I am?

I thought I’d shoot more video with it but haven’t. I thought I’d do more portraits with it, but I haven’t. Hell, I thought I’d use it a lot, but I haven’t.

So, I sold it all.

Leica’s menu systems are wonderfully simple. The SL2-S feels like a tank. Its EVF is far and away the best I’ve ever looked through. The images are terrific. It feels good in my hands. On top of that, the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm lens is the greatest lens I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. I mean it. I’d often unload a card and actually say, “Wow!”.

All that great stuff is great stuff, but I still wasn’t using the camera enough, and I felt guilty having that much money in camera gear just idling in a camera bag. As I said, it’s really just a (very nice) mirrorless system. I could pick up a used Nikon Z or Canon R or Fuji kit for much less and get basically the same features and capabilities, if not the same experience.

The other factor that weighed on me was that I missed the M10-R. I know, I know, I justsold an M10-R to fund the Q2 Monochrom. Here’s what I said about that move only a month ago:

The M is a slow, manual-focus, deliberate camera. It’s not really suited for just having around taking snaps. It only focuses down to like three feet. Manual focus means that every shot requires two hands. It’s very very expensive, so letting it just dangle around my neck while not paying attention to it is a terrible idea.

The M10-R has left the building

All that is still true, but now I have the Q2M for “just dangling around my neck” when I’m out and about. What the M10-R offers is the Leica M shooting experience. It’s a beautiful, iconic, delightful rangefinder camera. The Leica M series of cameras fit perfectly in my hands and my brain, even if they’re “harder” to use.

Plus, I can now focus on one system and use the fantastic M lenses that I’ve loved for so long. And everything works exactly the same on my film Ms, which reduces a lot of mental overhead.

I’ll miss the SL, and maybe one day I’ll end up with an SL3 or whatever, but I have to admit that right now it’s good for my brain to only deal with one camera and lens system again.

Which Leica gear to keep?

After a year of buying really nice cameras and lenses, I’ve gotten to a point where I’m feeling the weight of having so much money tied up on photography gear. Some of it has to go. This post is me thinking it through.

I hate selling gear. Dealing with buyers and potential buyers isn’t fun. Shipping is a pain. There’s always a risk of damage, loss, or dissatisfaction. But mostly, the problem with selling is that I no longer have the things I’ve sold. Regret sucks.

Something I’ve learned over the years is “never sell a Leica”. Unfortunately, I’ve amassed too much Leica gear and I love it all, but it’s stressing me out.

The three systems in question are the film M bodies, the SL2-S, and the Q2 Monochrom.

I’d actually sold the Q2M to fund the MP but the buyer returned it. Instead of immediately re-listing it for sale, I started wondering if I’d regret it.

For a minute I thought I’d unload the entire SL2-S system instead. I have two Leica APO-Summicron-SL lenses, which were ungodly expensive. They’re way beyond my abilities. The SL system is the most significant (cost-wise) and probably “sparks the least joy” of all of them. But it’s so versatile and that 35mm APO Summicron is so absolutely outstanding that I am certain I’d regret not having it. The 75mm on the other hand is an odd focal length and by far the least used lens I own. Hmmm.

The MP is wildly unnecessary but is perfect and beautiful and sparks all sorts of joy every time I even think about it, so that’s not going anywhere. 90% of a new film Leica’s depreciation happens the minute I open the box, so there’s no benefit in selling it sooner.

So here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll sell the Q2M and the APO-Summicron-SL 75mm lens. That’s a significant amount of cash tied up in the least useful/versatile kit. And it means I still have the 35mm Summicron. For longer focal lengths (portraits, mostly), I have an Elmarit-M 90mm that focuses much more easily on the SL than the M bodies. I also have the SL Sigma 24-78 f/2.8 which is a fine lens and versatile for when someone asks me to shoot an event. (It happens occasionally, and I hate to say no).

What about the film Ms? I have the new MP, but I also have an M3, M4, and M6. I have an emotional attachment to the M3 and M4. The M6 is special because it’s one of the last 10 “classic” M6s made. It’s also had the viewfinder upgraded and unnecessary framelines masked out. It’s a damn fine copy and would fetch a crazy price right now, but I don’t think I can let it go. I’m definitely keeping the M3 because it’s, well, an M3. But also because of the .92x mag viewfinder, which is the only way I’m able to accurately focus the 90mm on an M.

That leaves the M4. I love it because it has the M2/M3-style film advance lever and frameline selector. It currently has a broken shutter, but I’m sending it to DAG for repair and a CLA. When it returns, I’ll list it for sale.

I’m hoping that selling the Q2M, M4, and 75mm APO-Summicron frees up enough cash to alleviate the guilt of having spent so much on “unnecessary” gear. I’m happy to also allow myself to keep the SL and 35mm. I won’t regret having them.

So if anyone is interested in any of those items, give me a holler.

Betting long on film with a new Leica MP

I enjoy both film and digital photography, but the pendulum has been swinging toward film recently, and I’ve been having a ball.

Leica MP

I’ve finally dialed in a film processing, scanning, and editing workflow that works and that I don’t hate. What’s more, I’ve been studying my recent film photos and I really like them. I like that they’re not so perfect that zooming in to 100% is useful. I like the defects and unpredictability. I like the process. But most of all, I like the cameras. Specifically, I like Leica rangefinders.

I bought my first Leica M, an M6 TTL back in 2004. From there I’ve had an M3, M4, M6, M7, M8, and M10-P. Eventually, I ended up with a comfortable kit with an M3, M4, and M6 Classic. The M3 is great because it’s the first M, and the .92x finder magnification is perfect for 50mm lenses and makes shooting 90mm lenses feasible. The M4 is a more modern, but still entirely mechanical, non-metered body. And the M6 Classic is newer (still 20+ years old) and is metered.

Each of the M cameras was purchased used (of course). Their resale value has gone through the roof over the past few years. Clean M6 bodies go for twice what I paid for mine. Leica film cameras may not qualify as “investments” but they certainly don’t depreciate. At least they haven’t since I’ve owned them.

What I’ve never done is buy a brand new Leica M film camera, because that would be crazy. Why buy new when I can get something for a third of the price that works great and does basically the same thing? And unlike used bodies, new cameras dodepreciate. At least for a minute.

But I must admit to always dreaming of a brand new Leica M film camera. Leica only makes two: The non-metered M-A and the metered MP .

Leica recently announced a special black-paint version of the digital M10-R and I thought it looked beautiful. It got me thinking about other black paint Leica bodies and how much I love that finish. Several of the older models were available with the gorgeous black paint finish, but they fetch even higher prices than the regular chrome and black chrome models.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it and started poking around and learned that the MP happens to be available in black paint. Whaddaya know? Of course they’re always backordered everywhere and I was told the wait time was in months. So much for an impulse purchase. Whew!

So for a few days I put a few rolls through the M3 and M6 and was reminded how much fun it could be. But wouldn’t it be cool to be the original owner of a new Leica M? I’ve been told by people who know me and have been around me that I should “Never sell a Leica!”. What better way to make sure that happens than to have a new one I can call my own forever?

And the rationalizations continued for a week or so while I absorbed every review, forum post, and YouTube video I could find that contained even a whiff of information about the MP.

I love film. I want to always shoot film. So I called Leica Store Miami and put myself on the waiting list for a black paint MP. I was told they only receive new ones every couple of months, and the waiting list is pretty long, so I should settle in for a long wait. And who knows, maybe I’d lose interest in the meantime. It happens. Of course B&H, Leica, and the other usual outlets were backordered as well.

Then, on a whim, I looked for one at Camera West . I’ve purchased from them before and had good luck. You know what happens next, right? They had 2 new black paint MPs in stock. I bought one immediately.

So that happened.

The camera arrived today and I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s new, warrantied, flawless, and mine. My long bet on film begins today.

Top view of Leica MP

Keeping the Leica SL

I was supposed to sell the Leica SL once the SL2-S arrived. I almost did it, too. It’s technically still listed for sale in a couple of places, but I’m not ready to get rid of it yet. I mean just look at it.

The Leica SL is five years old and still a wonderful camera. If I’m being honest, the brand new SL2-S is better, but not that much better. I’m keeping the original because it’s awesome and it’s worth more to me to have around than the money I could get for it. This calculus could change, of course, but it’s kind of amazing that I have an extra SL available. I don’t see the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm ever coming off the SL2-S, so it’s great that I can keep one of the M primes or the Zoom lens on the SL without having to switch lenses.

Another benefit of keeping the SL is that I can take it places I might not take the newer one. It seems silly to call the SL my “beater” camera but that’s how I’m thinking of it. If I drop or lose or have the SL2-S and Summicron stolen, I’m out a very significant amount of money. With the SL and cheaper lens it would still really hurt, but less. The SL has GPS built in and the SL2-S does not, which is handy for if and when I actually do go places again.

I no longer have a camera to use for scanning film , since I sold all my Fuji gear. I’m thinking about finding a cheap Nikkor macro and adapter and using the SL for the scanning station. Not an ideal use for such a fine camera, but should work well.

And finally, I get a little emotional about cameras. I sold the M10-P and hate myself for it, even though it was necessary at the time. I’m thinking that if I don’t have to sell the SL, why not keep it around for a while?

I have had thoughts about finding a used Leica Monochrom. If I get serious about that I’d need to sell the SL to help fund the M. In the meantime, the SL won’t go to waste.

UPDATE (February 24, 2021): I sold the SL. Could not resist trying a Q2 Monochrom.

The Leica APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH

I recently bought a used, 5-year-old Leica SL . I didn’t buy any new lenses at the time, as I wasn’t sure I’d even like the camera. Turns out I liked the camera very much, so I ordered a Sigma 24-70 f2.8 zoom. I figured the zoom would cover my bases but I also bought the Leica M-to-L adapter so I could use my Leica M lenses.

The M lenses work flawlessly on the SL, and are even easier to focus on it, given the super bright EVF and focus peaking. M lenses are wonderful, but they are manual focus only. I was using the Sigma zoom a lot and falling for the convenience of auto-focus. This got me thinking about prime lenses for the SL. I prefer primes in almost all cases and so the research began in earnest.

The Sigma zoom is fine, but I really wanted a Leica native SL lens. And I wanted a prime. But what focal length should I get? Since I can only afford one lens (by “afford” I mean sell off most of my other gear to pay for it), I opted for the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH . I can never decide which length I prefer, 50mm or 35mm, but I went with the 35 because I feel it’s just a tad more flexible.

I must admit that hearing Peter Karbe, Leica’s designer of the M and SL lens lines, say that the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm is his favorite Leica lens and that it might be the best lens Leica has ever made helped push me over the edge. You can listen to Peter go into glorious technical detail about the SL lenses for like an hour and a half in this video.

The lens arrived a few days ago and so far all I can say is that my first impressions are that it has easily exceeded my high expectations. It’s beautiful, and the construction and feel of it are just wonderful.

The SL lenses are significantly larger than the M lenses I’m used to. Here is a photo showing the size difference between the tiny, jewel-like Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH and this new 35mm f/2 SL

Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH vs the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 SL ASPH

A nice feature of the SL lenses is close focusing distance. The SL lenses are more useful close up. For example the SL can focus down to 27 cm while the Summicron-M can only get to within 70 cm. That matters a lot more often than one might think.

What about image quality? Good question. I don’t know much yet, as I’ve only been plinking around the house. What I do know is that the few images I’ve taken have looked fantastic. Most decent modern lenses make great images, but I have convinced myself that the files coming out of the SL with the APO-Summicron are somehow even better. To my eyes, they are noticably, meaningfully better, and that’s the only criteria I need.

Is the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm ASPH worth $5,000? Of course not. No one needs a lens like this. I certainly don’t. I mostly take photos of my dog or selfies or family snapshots, so there’s no point trying to justify the cost other than to say that it might be the best lens I’ve ever used. It feels fantastic. It looks fantastic, and, combined with the SL, it makes fantastic images and I’m very happy with it.

The Leica SL2-S = Instabuy

The new Leica SL2-S

When I bought a used Leica SL(601) recently instead of the newer SL2 , it was mostly because I didn’t want to spend $6,000 on a camera that I wasn’t sure I’d love. But it was also partly because I really don’t need a 47-megapixel sensor. Who’s got the time and space to manage 80MB per image photos?

I’ve had the SL for a month and that’s long enough to know that I love it. It’s big but not too big. It’s an absolute tank, build-wise, and it’s fast and fun to use. I’m happy. I can shoot my M-mount Leica lenses on it and am finding it even easier to focus them on the SL than I do on the M10-P. So everything’s good then. I wish it had IBIS, though.

And then, just this morning, Leica announced the SL2-S . The SL2-S is, from my standpoint, an updated SL that adds everything in the SL2 except the giant sensor. The SL2-S has a 24 Megapixel sensor, which is a sweet spot for me. It also improves focusing, low-light capabilities, and of course includes IBIS. In other words, it’s exactly what I wanted in the SL2. And to top it off, it’s more than $1,000 cheaper than the SL2.

Apparently the SL2-S is being marketed as a hybrid still/video powerhouse. I guess the video features are great, but I don’t care as much about that. I care about speed, handling, image quality, and reasonable file sizes. Proper video is a nice bonus, though.

I’ve already sold my beloved M10-P and preordered an SL2-S. I have no idea when it’ll arrive, but I can hardly wait.

My new (5-year-old) Leica SL

When I first saw the Leica SL, I was amazed by its brutalist audacity. Coming from the M series, this was not what I pictured when thinking “Leica”.

Leica SL, the brutalist beauty

And yet the SL appealed to me immediately. It was powerful, flexible, beautiful, and very, very expensive. In fact, it was so expensive that I eventually stopped thinking about it. Then, when the SL2 came out last year it all came rushing back.

So, after five years, I bought one.

This came only a month after I purchased my dream digital camera, the Leica M10-P . Why would I do that? Well, as much as I adore the M10-P; its size, classic design, build quality, and optical rangefinder, I’m finding that I struggle with focusing. Rangefinder focusing has, for years, been my favorite way to manually focus a camera. Snapping those two offset squares together was fast and accurate, regardless of lighting. My eyes must be getting old because I now have trouble doing it.

When talking about the SL, people tend to talk about three things: Size, price, build quality, and the viewfinder.

One of the first things people mention is the price. OK, sure, when new, it was crazy expensive. Fine, but I paid only about 1/3rd of the original price, so let’s move on.

Leica doesn’t build cameras to a price point. They build them to a standard. A very high standard. This, then, is part of why they’re so expensive. And the minute you pick up the SL you can feel it. It is a brick. Solid, heavy, dense, and confidence-inspiring. Machined from solid blocks of aluminum, the camera feels amazingly well-built. Every control feels precise and just right. I value these things highly in a camera.

The SL is weather sealed, which is important to me, even though I rarely find myself needing it. I can’t explain it, but knowing I can use the camera in freezing or rainy weather is comforting, even if I hardly ever do it.

How about that electronic viewfinder? The internet was right, it’s awesome. For a long time, I was dead set against using an EVF. Then, they got better. And better. The EVF on the SL is so good that I barely notice it’s an EVF, except that it shows exact content and exposure of the image I’m about to make. It’s great. I thought the viewfinder on the Leica Q was good, but this is even better.

An EVF like the one on the SL makes manual focusing easy. This is awesome because I have a few nice Leica M-mount lenses that work perfectly on the SL using an adapter. Using M lenses on the SL seems to be as popular as using native lenses. After a day of testing, I can see why. The big, bright viewfinder and focus peaking is a combination practically purpose-built for it.

Let’s talk about the size. The SL is a big, heavy camera.

Here it is next to the M10-P

Leica SL and Leica M10-P

No doubt about it, it’s big, but put an M-mount lens on it and things get much more manageable.

SL with adapted Summilux-M 50mm

For me, there are two modes when it comes to taking photos; I’m either out specifically to take pictures or I’m not. If I’m out to take pictures, the size of the camera does not matter. I might feel differently if I was into street photography or planned to hike miles uphill for landscapes, but I normally do “editorial” type photography or portraits. Camera size isn’t a meaningful factor for me. If I’m not out specifically to take photos, I put the little Ricoh GRIII in my pocket.

Aside from my focusing problems with the M10-P, I bought the SL because I wanted something more flexible. And I still wanted a Leica, for all the reasons above.

Sometimes, I want more than what the M cameras can do. You know, fancy things like focus automatically and use zoom lenses. For this, I bought one autofocus zoom lens, the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 Art lens and it seems fine as an all-purpose lens, especially considering the cost compared to the other options.

For specific things like portraits, I may consider one of the 85mm or 105mm L-mount options by Panasonic or Sigma. The Leica SL lenses are still way too expensive to consider, as lovely as they may be.

I’ve only had the SL for a couple of days, so it’s too soon to tell how well it will work in real life, but so far it’s everything I expected.

Prepare for an onslaught of dog photos, self-portraits, and snapshot of random objects around the house.

Alice, unimpressed by my new camera