Camera Review

Six Reasons To Avoid Buying A Leica M Film Camera

In this video, I talk about my reasoning for avoiding a Leica M mount rangefinder film camera. Now, this is entirely my personal experience and opinion based on a Leica M2 camera that I have briefly owned. I’m sorry if my experience does not lineup with your positive experience with your own Leica camera. I only hope that this video will help many other photographers who have never owned a Leica M camera make an important decision before making a purchase. 

Reason #1: High Price. In the year 2022, a vintage used Leica M3 or M2, starts at a minimum of $1700 USD on eBay, for a beat-up, excessively used, or barely functioning unit. The price will jump significantly as the condition of the camera gets better. Relatively recent models, such as the M4 range, M6 and up, only get more expensive. That brings us to the cost of the Leica lenses… An entry-level fairly modern 35mm Summarit F2.5 will easily burn a $1300 hole in your wallet. The gold standard Summicron will set you off at least $2000 for a “good condition” well-used unit. And if you want APO and the newest coating? Dish out another $10,000. One reason these lenses are so expensive is because of the small and short distance of the M mount, which requires more difficult optical design and precision machining to achieve the same results as a larger bayonet mount camera. It’s even more challenging for modern-day Leica digital camera lens designs because they are working with a physical size limitation that restricts even sensor coverage, so unless re-designed, the cost of Leica lenses and new digital camera bodies will remain extremely expensive. 

Reason #2: Overhyped viewfinder. The viewfinder of the Leica is pretty good, it offers parallax correction (but no distance correction) a bright viewfinder focusing patch, multiple frame preview lines build-in. But is it $1500 better when viewed side-by-side with a reasonably priced fixed focus lens Japanese counterpart, such as a Konica IIIa? Absolutely not. The viewfinder on Leica is pretty good, but many 35mm dirt cheap film cameras offer a brighter and better viewing experience and accurate framing at maybe 2-3% of the cost of a Leica body. 

Reason #3: Necessary Repairs. Don’t get me wrong, Leica’s are very well engineered and that makes them durable and last longer if taken care of. The body, in general, is relatively easy to service, however, older parts are very scarce, since no more new parts are being produced for older models. Just remember, there are only a finite number of Leica M film bodies, once they are gone, they are gone forever. Most older Leica M bodies will suffer some sort of problem due to age; many cannot be corrected unless the parts are replaced (i.e., Prisms, focusing patch, frame lines that are damaged due to haze or fungus). A CLA costs anywhere between $250 – $500 by independent camera repairmen, and if you send it to Leica, expect it to cost more. Frameline replacement is another $250, and if you want to do an upgrade to aftermarket multi-coated viewfinder glasses, set off another $150 for it. 

Reason #4: The quietness of the shutter. Long-time Leica owners claim the shutter of the Leica is the quietest, perfect for street photography use. But many of them have never bothered to own a vintage Japanese rangefinder camera? The leaf shutters in most fixed lens rangefinder cameras are almost silent, and they sync at full shutter speed range, while Leicas’ can only do 1/50th – useless if you want to use fill flash in daylight. 

Reason #5: The Leica M Ergonomics Is Not for Everyone. Going through hundreds of popular Leica review videos on YouTube, you will notice that people who love the M system often praise about it is ergonomics, how everything just felt right and falls into place and is easy to reach… My own analysis is that the Leica M systems were designed first to please western users, for which in general have a larger build, and… larger hands. I am Asian, and when I am holding the camera, I find myself often must stretch my index finger quite a lot to reach that shutter release button, and when trying to press the button, due to stretching, causing a significant amount of movement during shutter release, which may make my framing shift just slightly compared to the original composition, and cause quite a lot of blur due to camera shake. 

Reason #6: Not designed for Eyeglasses wears. The reason I wanted a Leica with 0.72x magnification, is because I am nearsighted and wear eyeglasses, other rangefinder cameras that feature a 0.9x-1.0x magnification require me to get really close to the viewfinder to see the frame line and compose, like my Konica IIIa. With that said, my Leica M2’s viewfinder is so tiny, despite having a 0.72x magnification, I can barely see the 35mm frame line. There is a modification that removes the small metal window right behind the eyepiece, even with that piece removed, I still can barely see the 35mm frame line. Not only that, but the brass eyepiece also scratches the eyeglasses so easily and I am afraid to get close to the viewfinder to frame my shot, causing additional loss of viewing area. 

So, these are some of the reasons why I returned my Leica M2. Will my opinion change if I did spend a huge amount of money, to buy a mint condition or brand-new Leica M film body and lens? I do not think so, again for the reasons I have mentioned in this video. 

In conclusion, is film photography dying? Most certainly yes. And with that, all the Leica M film cameras will become an obsolete piece of non-functioning equipment, helplessly sitting on shelves of the future generations of photographers. Film companies are catering to a fast-shrinking market that again, has only a finite number of available cameras. There will come a point when the demand is so low, and chemicals became so expensive that sustained operation of making film becomes impossible. Until that day comes, I will continue to shoot 35mm film, for the analog experience and the process, just maybe not on a Leica film camera. 

Thank you again for stopping by and listening to my reasoning, and feel free to drop a comment below about your positive or negative experience of owning a Leica M film camera.

Take care!

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