Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica M7: The Lone Rangefinder meets his Tonto

Leica M7: The Lone Rangefinder meets his Tonto

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Last weekend I spent an hour or so discussing the Leica M7 in Red Dot Cameras’ new showroom in Goswell Road, City of London. The customer had his eye on a nice silver-finish M7 starter set — the one with the matching silver 50mm Summicron. It was a good boxed example with original receipt from 2004 and priced at an attractive £2,200. Here’s a link to the actual camera but bear in mind it will probably be broken when the set sells.

What struck me most about the encounter was that the potential buyer, a very experienced photographer, had never used a rangefinder. He fancied moving over after a lifetime with other systems, presumably mainly SLRs. How could I describe the rangefinder and how to use it?

Fact is, however often I tarry with the latest technology — be it the buxom Leica SL or a package of svelte micro four-thirds niftiness — I always return to the rangefinder with a keen sense of homecoming. Equally, I do feel a bit homesick when slumming it with autofocus. There’s a great satisfaction in adjusting the focus using that split central image. The concept of focus and then recompose is, to me, the quickest way of singling out a subject and making sure that the focus is accurately placed. That bright viewfinder, with space around the 35mm and longer lens framelines shows you what’s happening outside the frame. All these things may constitute a pretty antiquated concept but, nonetheless, they are inspiring.

 For the spartan warriors among us: On the right, the latest purely mechanical confection from Leica Camera AG, the Leica M-A. On the left, its digital counterpart, the screenless, chimpless Leica M-D. Both share the the mechanical rangefinder, the joy of the M user For the spartan warriors among us: On the right, the latest purely mechanical confection from Leica Camera AG, the Leica M-A. On the left, its digital counterpart, the screenless, chimpless Leica M-D. Both share the the mechanical rangefinder, the joy of the M user

Addiction

Manual focus comes part and parcel with rangefinder use. It is clearly an addiction. Call me old fashioned, but I just love this level of manual precision. Leica M lenses, for the most part, offer a quicker, more direct manual focus than you will find on any auto-focus lens that also offers a manual option. Most of these modern lenses are focus-by-wire and there is none of the involvement that you feel when twiddling a Summicron or Summilux.

It’s all just, well, so satisfying and involving. I suppose it’s a bit like coming back to a slick manual Porsche gearbox after a decade or two behind the wheel of an automatic car. You and only you are back in control.

So back to the M7. It’s Leica’s only semi-automatic film camera, offering the same aperture-priority operation as all the M digitals from the M8 up to the latest M10. It is, in fact, a film version of the M10 both in operation and in terms of size. The M10 feels like the M7 and vice versa.

Too electronic

Many analogue camera aficionados decry the M7 as being too complicated, too “electronic”. From the current film camera range they mainly set their sights on the MP — or, if in a particularly spartan mood, the M-A which is totally manual, not a battery in sight. No exposure meter either; it’s for real men and women who know a camera when they see one. If they are hankering after something a bit more “pre-owned” they’ll opt for an M3, M2, M4 or M6. A simpler tool from a simpler age. But all have one thing in common, that delicious and compelling rangefinder. Some say that the original M3 viewfinder has never been bettered, and who am I to disagree?

Yet the M7 has its undoubted talents and attractions (not to mention followers), particularly for anyone now used to a digital M. I like the M7; it’s the film camera to buy if you want exactly the same experience as you have with your digital M. I own a clean à la carte example called Neil (so called because its first owner rashly had his name engraved on the back, thus reducing the camera’s value considerably) to which I am inordinately attached. At the foot of this article I’ve linked to some of my adventures with Neil. When I get my hands on the new M10 I plan to take it out for a back to back with good old Neil, obliging chap that he is.  Set both camera shutter speed dials to A and will I be able to tell the difference? The feel, I know already, will be identical.

I just love my rangefinders, despite the undoubted allure of the SL and all its smart-arsed bretheren. Give me simplicity any time.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Having just sent my M2 and M6 onto other adventures, I am now thinking about re-acquring a film M… Due to the features that you highlight above Mike, the M7 is at the top of my list.

    Yesterday, you mentioned that Erwin Puts had written a decent review of the M10 and in that he did not recommend that M (240) owners would find a significant difference in the results from either camera… I have to say that from all the reviews of the M10 that have flooded the internets, that this was the conclusion that I had drawn.

    It is also so that Mr. Puts puts the M7 at the zenith of Leica film M cameras…

    It might not be virgin pure, with its newfangled electronics, but the overall effect of the updates actually makes for a significant improvement over the earlier M’s.

    And it can still be used as a manual camera, albeit a bit hobbled.

    • Indeed, the M7 is one of those cameras you either love or you hate. Purists say that the electronics which, in the main, give us reliable aperture priority shooting, are unnecessary on a Leica film camera. They complain that the M7 uses batteries too quickly (remedy: keep a couple of spares in your pocket). Equally, there are some who discount the M6 because it has an exposure meter. I suspect M3, M2 and M4 zealots enjoy wearing the hair shirt. But, in general, I prefer to have a meter.

      That said, the M7 loses value more rapidly than its modern stablemates, the MP and M-A. For instance, both the MP and M7 cost (from memory) Arijit d £3,600. You will not find an MP — even an early 2004 model — for much less than £2,000. The M7, however, is a massive bargain secondhand at around £1,200. At this price it is arguably better, if not more desirable, than the MP. It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to buy an M7 new, though.

      Some people worry about the cost if something goes wrong with the electronics but I have not heard any horror stories. After all digital Ms are full of electronic but, apart from the recent M9 sensor problem, I don’t recall any particular issues.

      I think we can conclude that the M7 (secondhand) is undervalued. Real film buffs see it as a step too far. But it is the nearest we can get to a digital M that uses film.

  2. You forget the M5, which of course I mention as it is my personal favorite. Metered, with shutter speeds visible in the finder and no bright red LEDs to distract.

    I’d love to get a second one, this time in silver chrome.

    • Hi Andrew, I’m not sure about forgetting the M5, although I agree I didn’t mention it. I know that you and many others — including my old professional photographer friend Don Morley — believe that the M5 is on unsung hero.

  3. Thanks for the memorable line ‘I do feel a bit homesick when slumming it with autofocus’. That should go down well over a Leica Society lunch!

  4. As a collector, I have nearly all the film Ms. My absolute favourite to use is the M3, either double or single stroke. Of the metered variety, my favourite user model is the M6 (not TTL). You cannot go wrong with any of the M film models. Every home should have at least one. If handling is an issue (it is with me) try out a few types at your nearest dealer. Things to look out for are smooth wind on/shutter cocking and also the shutter itself. Look at both sides of the shutter activation before purchase. Also look at the viewfinder and rangefinder action. In older models look carefully at the viewfinder for balsam separation. Try to get a warranty of at least 3 or 6 months for second hand models. If you are buying a well worn model, factor in the cost of a CLA.

    William

  5. Dear Mike
    I have just re-read your wonderfully sympathetic piece on the M7 because I am a troubled man and currently it is a possible M7 that is troubling me. And yes, why oh why did I sell the one I once had?? It is interesting what has happened to prices in the meantime. One you mentioned as a starter set for £2200 with Summi, ouch, and at the time of writing this article a mere £1200 or so for a regular one. Now M6 TTL’s are heading for £2000 and M7 prices. One I have my eye on is at Red Dot for £2k with a dent in the base and a bit of cover missing, but tempting nonetheless, expensive though. I realise that MacF is not a bring and buy emporium… but you wouldn’t know of one that is for sale at the moment would you by any chance? I fear it is an itch I want to scratch again…
    All the best
    Des

    • Hello, Des.

      I still have my M7 (Neil) and it is certainly the easiest M to use if you like the automation. But the M6 or TTL is arguably more fun. With the M7 you might as well be using any M digital. It feels the same as the M10, for instance, and works in exactly the same fashion. I’ve rather lost track of current prices and I’m surprised to hear that the M7 is now over £2,000. I would have thought the M6 and certainly the TTL would be more than the M7, even though it is the later model. But fashions change all the time and specific varieties of M film cameras can suddenly become highly sought after for no particular reason. Perhaps an internet review or something sets the ball rolling.

      Sadly, I don’t know of any M7s going at the moment but I’ve always found Red Dot to be competitive on prices and I know Ivor is scrupulous on descriptions. If you are interested, I suggest you call and have a chat about it. You can tell him you’ve been asking my advice.

      Mike

  6. thanks Mike, much appreciated. Last time I was there you had just left the premises and I left with a modern 50mm Elmar – a cracking little lens. des

    • It is a cracking little lens, the 50mm Elmar-M. Everyone wants a Summicron but the Elmar makes a great starter lens and is relatively affordable.

    • As a matter of interest, following up on your previous comment, I had a look at Red Dot’s used section and couldn’t find the M7 at £2,000 which you referenced. Did you buy it?

      However, I was rather staggered to find an M7 black body listed at £2,500. I will have a word with Ivor during the week but, if this is par for the current course, the M7 appears to have doubled in value in three years since I wrote this article. I am thinking of reproducing the article with some updates since, I suspect, many current readers will not have seen it. It looks very much as though both M6 models and the M7 have doubled in value, which is quite remarkable.

      Incidentally, Ivor reports a greatly increased demand for used equipment, more so than new, and this bears out information I’ve received from other dealers. I’ve noticed Red Dot’s used inventory had shrunk dramatically in the week since they resumed trading.

    • This weekend’s Leica Talk (youtube: reddotforum) touched upon the same subject. In the US the Leica M6 used to sell for $800-1000, now it sells for $3-4K.

      • Those are crazy figures. Three years ago a classic M6 would sell for about £700; then last year I discovered this had doubled, with £1,600 not being unreasonable. $3-4,000 is rather ridiculous, given that you can buy an MP, which is a more solid, better built M6, NEW for £3,900 or, say, $4,750. That’s a natural ceiling on the rise of the M6 and, given the small extra, I’d go for an MP (or an M-A if I didn’t absolutely want the metering). Interesting times we live in….

        I feel a new article coming on….

      • They are probably dealer prices but still it is a lot of money. I guess it kind of makes sense, the cameras are not being made anymore, there is a limited number of them available, so if they are popular (and/or get hyped by some Internet influencer) then the prices go through the roof, the same happened to the Contax 645, the Hasselblad Xpan, the Contax T2, etc. FYI, the Leica MP is unfortunately $5,295 in the US and is back-ordered pretty much everywhere. Leica only runs a number of batches per year and as the demand has probably increased and supply has probably remained unchanged Leica can play its favorite game… Right now if you want a new Leica MP you put yourself on a waiting list…

        • Yes, the local price of the MP and M-A have a bearing on setting the value of the M6, M7 and other older cameras. And, I agree that fashions also have a bearing. Just one major review can cause a run on available cameras. The other factor is scarcity and this can cause artificial peaks and troughs in prices. I suppose that has happened over many decades and will continue.

  7. Hi Mike – I have the lower priced one put aside for me pending the sale of a lens to a buyer who has promised payment several times but has yet to visit my bank account. Curses. It is a lot of money though and I am struggling with the FD… even though it is my birthday this week…

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