Home Cameras/Lenses Leica The Leica M Experience: A free day out in Leica’s candy store

The Leica M Experience: A free day out in Leica’s candy store

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  St. Pancras piano player, taken with the Leica X 113, my camera of choice for the past fifteen months
St. Pancras piano player, taken with the Leica X 113, my camera of choice for the past fifteen months
  iPhone selfie — my first visit to the Leica Store in Bruton Place
iPhone selfie — my first visit to the Leica Store in Bruton Place

I have owned and exclusively used a Leica X Typ 113 for around fifteen months now, and in the most part it has been a wonderful photographic companion. It is, after all, my first introduction to a Leica camera, and the Leica system. However it can be a little frustrating with its hit and miss moments on some occasions.

I recently started saving and researching for my next camera. At home this is known as the Q fund. The brief in my head is fairly simple, match the X for its strengths, but manage better in the low light situations and, perhaps, a achieve a decent autofocus — or dare I say, an effective manual focus.

On the radar

My current research has taken me around a few gems to consider such as the Fuji X-Pro 2 and the Leica Q; perhaps returning to my DSLR roots with D500 or, maybe, something different entirely. Possibly, I thought, even a Sony: The A7iii has been on my radar. In essence nothing is ruled in, nothing is ruled out.

I am perhaps looking for a simplistic solution that will last for years, not just the next few. For me, photography is not about the best kit but how far I can manage to push the equipment I am using. I like to take my time researching, using review sites such as Macfilos, Ken Rockwell, Jono Slack, Steve Huff, as well as YouTube videos to understand each camera’s star points and foibles.

  Any old iron: One of my early attempts with the M, testing my rangefinder skills — the remains of a bike parked in Mayfair
Any old iron: One of my early attempts with the M, testing my rangefinder skills — the remains of a bike parked in Mayfair

Leica deals

One evening, while reading about the Leica M, I came across the combined M and lens deals for the M262 on Red Dot Camera’s website. During the past year with the X, I often thought I would love an M rangefinder. The only off-putting element is the price. I am also nervous of having to learn a new camera that has no auto focus, and being so expensive that nervousness spreads to considerations about what if I do not like it?

I then stumbled upon something on the Leica Akademie website called the M Experience. It was also free, another bonus in deference to my Northern roots. I was unsure what experience I could actually gain with an M Experience, so I wrote to the contact point explaining what I wanted. The reply came from Robin Sinha at Leica Mayfair answering my query and more than fulfilling my expectations. I booked immediately.

  Bench bokeh test in Berkley Square — Leica M10 and 35mm Summicron at f/2
Bench bokeh test in Berkley Square — Leica M10 and 35mm Summicron at f/2

So, in March I attended a Leica M Experience at the Leica store in Bruton Place, London. This was with Robin, one of head of photography training at the Leica Akadamie. I wanted to try the M to see what one was like to hold, touch and use, but also to see if it was a camera I realistically wanted to put the effort in to saving for.

  Mr. Earphones — my first attempt at zone focus using the Summicron at f/8 as suggested by Robin
Mr. Earphones — my first attempt at zone focus using the Summicron at f/8 as suggested by Robin

Opportunities

It goes without saying that I took my trusty X on the journey, just in case there were photo opportunities outside of my time with the M. I also carried a few additional SD cards to use with the M, to ensure I could capture those moments that come with using a new camera for the first time, and allow me to share them here with you.

  The Lady in Berkeley Square: This young lady granted permission for this photograph, taken at f/2 on the 35mm Summicron. I was surprised by the detail of the reflection in the sunglasses. This is cropped and shows how a 35mm lens on a full-frame sensor can produce acceptable results even at a 50mm or 75mm equivalent angle of view
The Lady in Berkeley Square: This young lady granted permission for this photograph, taken at f/2 on the 35mm Summicron. I was surprised by the detail of the reflection in the sunglasses. This is cropped and shows how a 35mm lens on a full-frame sensor can produce acceptable results even at a 50mm or 75mm equivalent angle of view

Once in London, I found my way to Green Park Underground station, and following a brief old-fashioned British cuppa found my way to Leica Mayfair. This was the first time I had ever been to this part of London, and I was a little confused by the Leica Cafe on one side of the mews, with store opposite.

The first part of the session was a slide show and discussion about the history of Leica, and the Leica rangefinder — plus, naturally, the M range of cameras that exist today. For me it was great to hear it set out with such enthusiasm and knowledge by Robin.

  The Nymph by Alexander Munro, erected in Berkeley Square in 1858. You cannot leave the square without taking this shot
The Nymph by Alexander Munro, erected in Berkeley Square in 1858. You cannot leave the square without taking this shot

Here’s an M10…..play

During the session I was handed an M10. Robin did show me an M240 so that I could compare size differences. If I am honest, once I felt the quality, weight and well-balanced proportions of the M10 I felt that the 240 in the room was just so yesterday. In my hands the M10 oozed quality. The dials, buttons, screen are all wonderful to the touch and in operation.

My M10 had the 35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH mounted. This was the very lens I had requested in my initial email exchange with Robin. This is my dream team combination. I love the 35mm fixed prime on my Nikon, and the lens on my X is technically 35mm in full-frame equivalence. I am thus comfortable with it and enjoy the focal length and results it gives.

  High roller — what else would you expect to buy on impulse when window shopping in Berkeley Square?
High roller — what else would you expect to buy on impulse when window shopping in Berkeley Square?

A point I feel is important to mention at this stage, is the weight difference. My X is around 450g. It is so light that even dangling at the end of my Rock n’Roll strap you hardly notice it’s there. The M, By comparison is over 600g, and with the Summicron it pushes 800g. You certainly feel that difference. It’s still nowhere near the very flabby 1kg-plus of my Nikon D300s and 35mm prime, but you do notice the additional weight.

The tour of the camera under Robin’s expert tutelage allowed me to quickly understand the menu system. I have previously written about the excellent menu system and button configuration on Leicas, and the M10 is no different. Even once you have set up those most commonly used features to your favourites menu, it is only a second press to get to the deeper menu structure underneath. Pure genius.

  Bag Lady: If you can
Bag Lady: If you can’t carry a Roller, settle for something a bit more portable but probably almost as expensive

Nirvana

The dial set up suits how I work too. It is at its core a basic film camera and all of its roots shine through. So there are only a few buttons and dials, but those that are there are of vital importance — shutter, aperture (on the lens) and ISO are all there to use manually. For me, the menus and dials are photographic nirvana. This allows for that pure photographic experience.

There is no video, hoorah. This is a pure photographic tool. The older M240, by contrast, tried to be all things to all people and the video offering was, to my mind, totally superfluous.

While Robin told us the history of Leica, the nuances of how we have arrived at todays photographic systems, I naturally wanted to play with the camera I had coveted in recent years. So I did. My first-ever look through a rangefinder was interesting. I liked the framelines, the fact they allow me to see what is going on beyond my image boundaries (except, I’m told, with a 28mm lens where the frame occupies the full window). It was a little strange seeing a glimpse of the lens itself in the right hand corner. But hey this was the first look. It’s my first range finder experience and I’m sure you don’t even notice this. It’s also a function of lens size — you can’t see the 28mm Elmarit but you do catch a glimpse of the 35mm Summicron and perhaps even more as the lenses grow in size.

  Here
Here’s Looking at You: Another hip-fired shot using zone focus. By some minor miracle the pedestrian is staring straight at the sculpture in the window as I pressed the M10’s shutter

Manually focusing the first image was another new experience. The manual focus method, while alien, was familiar from my X experience. I tried sliding the focus ring on the lens from infinity backwards. Oddly the small square window slowly aligned, like the stars. When I thought I was there, I took the shot. The shutter sound was pleasantly surprising, it sounded like a quality camera should. There is no mini blackout as with DSLR cameras (and some electronic viewfinders on mirrorless cameras). And then, hey presto, an out of focus shot. I missed the sweet spot. Darn! I assume over time that you familiarise yourself with this process, and naturally you learn muscle memory that makes this easier as you practice more.

Challenging

So — in use I found it challenging sitting there with my first fully manually focusing camera. In fact Robin reckoned when he started that it would be a couple of months before rangefinder focusing became fully fluid. I found that once I developed an understanding of the system, recognising that it is purely opt-mechanical, that it became more intuitive, and pleasantly welcoming to use. I would love to use it all the time, more so as I feel it would reduce the hit-and-miss elements often experienced by autofocus modules of both phase detection and contrast focusing cameras. At least in the M, I cannot blame the camera for missing the shot.

A point I feel needs to be made, is that this camera produces some sublime images, with that wonderful Leica look, even in my inexperienced hands. Even if some of those shots are out of focus, they are quite enjoyable and gorgeous to look at. While writing this review of the M experience, I put off processing the M files, and just looked at them sitting here on my Mac. No other camera has driven me to do that before.

While I was out and about with the camera, I tried the zone focusing method that Robin had explained back at the store. I took a few shots with this method and managed to get a couple that I was relatively happy with given my lack of experience, even when I fired from the hip at a weird angle.

  Starting to get a feel for the M10 as the window dummies issue their siren call to the passing trade
Starting to get a feel for the M10 as the window dummies issue their siren call to the passing trade

Robin allowed me to try both the f/0.95 50mm Noctilux, and the f/1.4 50mm Summilux on the M10 in the shop. The Noctilux was certainly a wonderful bit of glass, and can pull a ridiculously good looking image, but that quality is expensive, and the lens weighs a ton. I’m told the most photographed subject for this lens is cats. Which makes you wonder about who buys it, regardless of the cost. Robin did give me some interesting facts about the construction of this fabled light gobbler, how the technicians take 20 years to acquire the experience to build it, and even then the quality assurance level is so high that a fair percentage of the lenses do not make it in to the world for photographic use. Now you know where all that money has gone when you buy one.

Simple approach

I came to review a Leica looking for simplicity, and for that basic photographic experience that I already love with my X. What I found with the M is that the simple approach is maintained and the camera is stripped out to a minimum. In fact, I would go so far as to say for the experience I have been seeking, this is complete photographic Nirvana. No tediously long menus, with settings you need a manual to dial in, no overly lengthy in-camera processing menus. I could see within a shot or two the DNA that made me love the X, I just couldn’t adapt quickly enough in the time available to wring more fun out of this bit of kit. My assumption is that, given time, a little like the X when I set out, I would get it, and then I would be able to capture whatever I wanted.

Manual focus is the big issue – it didn’t feel intuitive on this first test, and I assume from my experience of other reactionary events in day to day life, that this would embed itself in my muscle memory over time. Just how much time is the one remaining, and nagging worry for me. It is, after all, a significant expense if you make a mistake and don’t enjoy it.

  Saddle Up: Taken at f/2 to enjoy that gorgeous bokeh effect — even from a 35mm lens.
Saddle Up: Taken at f/2 to enjoy that gorgeous bokeh effect — even from a 35mm lens.

The best alternative then if you are reading this Leica, is to build a rangefinder with a fixed 35mm Summicron. I am happy to spend years testing it to get it right for you. After all, I am sure it would sell like the Q did, but won’t have the EVF, it will have a classic rangefinder, but without the capability to change lenses.

Essence

In essence this test for me, might end up being the best camera I have ever held, and used, but never owned. And it could remain that way, more owing to the uncertainty of spending so much on a product I cannot fully understand the risk of buying.

My only disappointment with the overall experience is that I didn’t get longer to tinker with the camera, which might have allowed me to walk a little further and capture a few more of those unique moments. I am now also envious of those reviewers who own, use and hype the M, so Steve Huff et al… you have a new disciple to the cult of the M. However while I had been saving for a Q, this has whet my appetite and encourage me, possibly, to buy a CL, with an M-mount Summicron 24mm. The nearest to the X I could possibly get. Unless Leica releases a CL-based chassis with the TL 23mm bolted to it permanently.

  Side-on Portrait: As I returned to the Leica Store I felt I was really getting to grips with focusing a rangefinder, even after just an hour or so. Taken at f/2 to isolate the subject as much as possible, and used with the subject
Side-on Portrait: As I returned to the Leica Store I felt I was really getting to grips with focusing a rangefinder, even after just an hour or so. Taken at f/2 to isolate the subject as much as possible, and used with the subject’s permission

Despite my slight misgivings over the M as a camera for me, I really enjoyed the Leica Experience and I feel Robin Sinha is a great ambassador for the marque. I can’t think of any other camera manufacturer that goes to this amount of trouble to give potential customers such a hands-on experience. That, along, is enough to keep me on the Leica bandwagon.

You can find details on Leica Mayfair’s M Experience and how to reserve a place here. This is a free introduction session but you may also be interested in paying £75 for Leica Bespoke, a one-to-one Akademie session.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Dave, thank you for your interesting account of a short M-Experience. One hour or so not sufficient for a first time trial of a Leica rangefinder. Have you considered hiring one for a day? There have been schemes in the past where Leica dealers offer a loan camera for a weekend with the cost refunded if you decide to buy the model.

    But back to your Q-fund. At less cost you would have a full-frame experience of a camera more like you Leica X in handling and usage. It is not a rangefinder camera but does afford manual focusing which you would find easier in practice; together with a fantastic AF and framing experience. Also, with little loss, you can quickly select 35mm framing and have a result just a shade better than you X. Even a 50mm frame. Ask Robin if it would be possible for you to try a Q in a similar way to your M-experience.

    • Hi David,

      Robin did indicate that there was loan options available, I was also cheeky and tried to get Leica to lend me one, so I could do a more in depth analysis on the M. Sadly that wasn’t something they are doing much of now, which is shame as it would probably make my mind up either way. i.e. It would kill or cure my curiosity.

      The Q is still very much in my thinking, and I have effectively rolled around the whole CL, Q to M in my research – and while I save I am going to wring every ounce of love out of my X. My Leica journey started with the X. However I do think that if I could get used to that manual focus of the rangefinder, then it is where I would be. I manual focus everything with the X now, more so because of the hit and miss autofocus.

      Either way, I will no doubt continue to write about my journey with the X, and about whatever successor I come up with.

      Cheers.

      Dave

      • Dave, you do not have to buy a new M10 to have a rangefinder experience. At half the cost you could buy a dealer-backed older model and still have a very good experience. You could either resell, with little loss, or trade up to a later model, depending on how you feel after a longer rangefinder trial.

        Initially you will notice that RF photography is generally a slower and more considered experience. Regular practice is rewarding.

        • Have you been talking to Mike? He has had this very conversation with me in the last twenty four hours, and it is something I am thinking about. I did buy my beloved X preloved from Red Dot in London, so I am not averse to trying this route.

          Albeit the conversation with Mike did start with me asking about buying second hand lenses, and this led to the potential of coming in to the M range with say a secondhand M262.

          Dave

          • Good evening, Dave. I’ve yet to buy a camera or lens brand new. From memory, my Leica M8 had about 650 actuations when I bought it in 2013 and it’s still going strong. The M10 is very tempting, but I’ll wait a couple of years and buy one that’s been lovingly used – a low mileage one. Good luck with your search.

          • Thank you, that is heartening to hear from someone who has bought used and is still using it all this time later. I can only assume you enjoy the camera.

            I might follow the same route and wait out on a used M10, in a couple of years they will been appearing and hopefully I can find a decent one.

            Cheers

            Dave

  2. Thank you Sir, I understand your quandary. I love my X1s X2 XE,but I wanted go full frame. Considered M all types but never held one and never did manual focus. Thought about Sony A and researched thought about Q and researched, finally dawned on me what I liked best was OVF LEICA AND Voigtlander on my X’s. So to make long story short, would have to drive 5 hours to NYC to hold a Leica. Hesitated because NYC Traffic unreal. Wound up buying D850 because of Viewfinder and robustness weather sealing, with 24/70 Tamron G2. Today I tried my very own toughness test. I am back in Adirondacks left camp at 530 went down to Old Forge NY had breakfast at six went parked by town hall to get photos sunrise coming up over first lake pond. Got em decided to go across road for river photos, did not utilize wrist strap, slipped on ice over cement parking lot gear went five feet in air landed 10 or 15 ft away on lense.. Hood is gone lens barrel gone bent 20 degrees at extended 70. Returned this 70 yr old set of bones to camp, got photos downloaded to pad, Just ordered new 24/70 for my ocoloy challenge, fired up camera still takes pics all blurry so this lens history. New one being shipped over night will attach Sat when I home, if all is good with camera then Nikon is a beast with this magnesium chassis, and they will have convinced me they are built like Sherman tanks. Will I ever give up on my X’s, to paraphrase Carlton Heston, WHEN THEY PRY FROM MY DEAD COLD HANDS, will I ever get the courage to go M? Well where I bought my camera and now 2 lenses they have used 240…

    • Hi John,

      I hope your okay. That doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience. Keep us posted on how the camera fares too. Being a Nikon tank it will in all honesty be fine, my D300s is so tank like nothing seems to harm it. I just don’t use it often now.

      As for that 240.. well.. hmmm.. I bet its tempting.

      Dave

    • John , sorry to hear about your mishap but you do realise that you may have bought this on yourself. Going out and buying a chunky Nikon may have generated bad karma for you. Quoting Charlton Heston and talking about your devotion to your X cameras may well not expunge your transgression. You have taken a mistress and she’s no svelte supermodel either. But look on the bright side.If you had bought an M camera the ending may have been much worse.
      If an M camera does tempt you in the future make sure that your eyes are upto the rangefinder focussing before you hand over your credit card. I sold my M outfit over 9 years ago because my eyes were no longer upto it.

      • Sorry this made me laugh. The realities are that kind of drop would probably kill a rangefinder camera, or if not give you a serious bill for repair work from Leica. The Nikon is what it is, solid, reliable, and weighing in an a fairly hefty ammount of tonnage. Which is why I rarely use it, that weight. eek!

        My eyes are the biggest worry, as I was diagnosed with a medical condition about 5 years ago, every time I go out long distance running my Opthalmic consultant goes into hiding. It doesn’t stop me, as I don’t want to end up blind and wishing I do a load of things I wouldn’t be able to do if the worst case sceanario panned out.

        However if one of my eyes give out, the other should be fine, and one is more stable than the other – thankfully this is the one I primarily use for photography. Also provided I kept the camera in decent nick, it would still have a resale value in the higher brackets. My D300s still looks new after over 40k of shots, several weddings, beer over it, wine over it, confetti glued to it etc, so assume I could acheive the same feat with any other branded camera. Maybe I wouldn’t aim to get wine or beer over an M.

        Dave

  3. Hello Dave. Interested to see that one of your main issues with your X113 might be its "hit and miss autofocus" as you describe it. I guess I’d like to ask what frequency you have this problem with the autofocus? I use my X2 on Single Area mode and very rarely have a focus problem. The 11 Area mode on the X2, and I suspect the X113, is something that I wouldn’t trust, as it might not assign the same priority as the photographer to different individual areas. Is this the issue, or is it speed of autofocus that’s causing the issue?
    On a separate note, your article has made me wonder what subjects I would photograph if someone put an unfamiliar camera in my hands and told me to go and take some photos for an hour or two. I see a theme of "the passerby and their immediate environs" in your pics. Interesting. I’m not sure what I’d do. Haven’t ever thought about it before.

    • Hi Wayne,
      I have only used the autofocus on a handful of shots in the last year – this stems from me trying to shoot a street scene around a year ago, and the shop had a black surround, the day was dull, and after about five takes and nearly launching the camera down the street, I actually gave up. I came back a week later to the same spot tried again, same issue. I then tried manual focusing, set the camera up manually, predialed the focus in manually and voila one perfect image. I also tried taking photos of my wife while she was straightening her hair, and they didn’t come out well either – none are of use. So all the shots you see in my flickr account taken on the X are manually focused, and I have become reasonably good and doing it quickly as well. Which might explain why the M ended up on my list of cameras to think about. In asnwer to your question the miss element, in some circumstances every shot, in other every other. On a bright sunny day its is reasonably fine, but I do prefer to know I got the shot in one hit – rather than rue the missed opportunity.

      I just did what I do anyother time I hit the streets with time to kill, shoot what I see, and what makes me smile. Some days I come back with nothing, on this day that wasn’t an option so I just shot for fun and experimented. The two best shots I took in terms of what I would normally shoot, didn’t come out, which is shame and shows it would take time to adjust to the rangefinder – in fairness the focus was fine, I just used shutter priority without increasing the ISO, which would have resolved the issue and led to more keepers. These are the things I would iron out over a short period of use with the camera, and why I had hoped I could get a longer test.

      Dave

      • Dave, Wayne is correct something is not right with your focussing and his explanation is probably valid. I have taken thousands of photos with my X1 using an OVF and autofocus ( I cannot recollect ever using manual focus) and at most I have ever had 10 out of focus shots- and most of my shots are of people.
        If I were you before even considering making the very expensive switch to an M camera I would aim to master the X and build yourself a good portfolio with that.

  4. To the King John S I accept your admonishment Mea Culpa, to Mr Seargeant thank you for your concern, as an ex Army medic and TET survivor I took care of my skin abrasions, forearm and hip,slight ankle sprain…so good to go and anxious to get home today and try new lens. My only real problem is my photos are never as informative or anywhere near the quality of the many contributors to MACFILOS .

    • Ah an ex-Scab lifter – sorry Mike, not sure I should use that term on here, and pretty sure you will tell me off if it is not acceptable. I’m an ex-Royal Engineer.

      They thankfully sound like minor flesh wounds John, so hopefully nothing more than aches, soreness and dented pride naturally.

      As for photo’s I never thought a great deal about mine, and then I had a couple go particularly manic on flickr, after which I started to think that maybe what other people see in my images, isn’t exactly the same as my view.

      You should publish some, and let the world see them and they can judge.

      Be safe

      Dave

  5. Got home put on new lens the god of photography smiled 😁 ! The Sherman Tank worked perfect at all focal lengths!! After examining in sunlight(not snow storm) not a scratch on the body, as I name my cameras Sherman is appropriate !

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