Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Shock or Not? How I came to return to Leica

Shock or Not? How I came to return to Leica

19

I guess some of you might have seen this coming. Perhaps even before I did, which was relatively quick after I wrote my post about how I sold the SL as the last Leica camera I owned.

A few days ago, the last Leica product I owned found a new owner. My trusty Leica SL is mine no more. Eighteen months ago, I wrote a piece about the SL where I stated that it still was the best camera in the world, even in 2020. For me.

I also wrote a few posts about M-mount lenses. All of them were positive. So what has changed? A few things, none that I wasn’t aware of at the time, but all became more prominent recently. Ultimately, they led me to sell my last Leica. Before we get into it, I have to say that I still love Leicas. I have had a few over the years and I still have a soft spot for them. Probably always will.

The author reunited with a Leica M [Leica M10 -  Leica 35mm Summilux]
The author reunited with a Leica M [Leica M10 – Leica 35mm Summilux]

Goodbye Leica

That post was a reflection on why I said goodbye to Leica; you can find it here. It was an adieu that was born not out of frustration but out of a series of steps that started as I drifted away from the Leica M and into other Leica cameras.

These other cameras, such as the SL and CL, are wonderful tools, but they don’t give you the unique experience that an M will provide. I found myself comparing my SL to other mirrorless options and felt more at home with Nikon’s Z6 offering (the 2nd iteration) and a blend of F- and Z-mount lenses.

I stand by my assertion that, in a true mirrorless comparison, it is hard for me to justify sticking with Leica. The cost, size and weight do not hold up well when compared with other options like Nikon and others. We’ve long surpassed minimal photographic quality standards in today’s gear, so that doesn’t really become a reason to pick one system or other.

And while the M remains unique, as good as the SL is, it simply is another mirrorless camera at the end of the day.

Rain on the horizon [Leica M10 - Leica 35mm Summilux]
Rain on the horizon [Leica M10 – Leica 35mm Summilux]

Mirror mirror on the wall

What drew me back to Nikon was the user experience which I think is very good for a mirrorless camera. You can see more on that in my post on shooting with the Z in Iceland. The photos are great, and the experience was good enough. So what happened in the past six months to justify the title of this article?

Actually, two things happened. First, writing the post about my Leica journey made me realise just how much I liked the M. I still can’t quite understand why I got rid of it in the first place. But scanning the forums, it seems I am not alone in making irrational decisions when it comes to camera gear.

Admittedly, I did allow myself to be led in the arms race of most camera manufacturers and really believed I needed more, faster, and brighter. Writing the post about how I moved away from the M made me realise that I actually missed it. That was trigger number one that had me looking for a used M.

There can be only one

I still think Ms have their limitations. Mirrorless cameras such as the Z or any other brand have an edge over the M in many situations. Cameras have become so good with regard to smart autofocus systems and other tools that it has also become easier and easier to get a result.

But nothing gives quite as much satisfaction as composing through the rangefinder frame-lines and getting the focus right by aligning the patch. For an amateur like me, it’s not always about the outcome. I predicted in my post that some distance would help me evaluate how I really felt about the M.

As it has turned out, I feel quite strongly about it. Much stronger than I did about shooting M lenses with the Leica SL, let alone native SL AF lenses. The SL was and still is an amazing tool; it just isn’t the same. M lenses on other mirrorless cameras, the SL included, provide a functional experience but nothing else.

This is where the M10 and 35mm Summilux FLE shine [Leica M10 - Leica 35mm Summilux]
This is where the M10 and 35mm Summilux FLE shine [Leica M10 – Leica 35mm Summilux]

Which M to get

This left me with a conundrum. I was quite pleased with my two Nikon Z6 ii’s and especially with the magical F-mount trio consisting of the 28mm, 58mm, and 105mm f/1.4 lenses.

But the M kept pulling on me after I wrote that post. I read pretty much every M review and dozens of posts on Leica forums, but that left me none the wiser.

Ultimately, it is an individual choice that no one can make for you. I decided to buy an M and use it for a while before I made any final decision about how to move forward. I thought about getting an M262, but they are very hard to find, and their price point is not that far away from a used M10.

This, together with the few improvements in the M10, was enough for me to cease my quest for an M262. The M11 is too expensive for me, and I don’t need the extra megapixels. So an M10 became the obvious target of my affections.

Accidental renaissance in Sevilla [Leica M10 - Leica 35mm Summilux]
Accidental renaissance in Sevilla [Leica M10 – Leica 35mm Summilux]

Return of the prodigal M

In the spring of this year, I found an M10 for a good price, and I decided to pull the trigger. The next step was to get a lens. I already knew I wanted a 35mm lens based on my experience with the Zeiss 35mm ZM f/1.4, but I found that too bulky on the M, even though it is a wonderful optic.

The Summicron and Summilux were duly compared, and I decided on the latter as I really like the way it renders wide open when you want that look. Careful readers of my blog might have already seen this combo pop up on a post about a trip to Sevilla and Ronda in the south of Spain. This trip confirmed for me that there really is only one thing like an M, and that is… an M.

I thoroughly enjoyed shooting with the M10, and the small difference in weight and size compared to the M240 I used to own was more significant than I thought. I just felt right, especially with the 35 Lux FLE mounted on it. My focus skills were a bit rusty but I had more than enough keepers. The viewfinder seemed much easier to work with than I remembered from the M240. but that might be my memory and bias playing tricks on me in favour of justifying my rather expensive purchase….

Beam me up Scotty [Leica M10 - Leica 35mm Summilux]
Beam me up, Scotty [Leica M10 – Leica 35mm Summilux]

Weight becomes a factor

I really enjoyed the setup of the M with just one lens, but I also paired the M with one of my Nikons coupled with the 105mm f/1.4, which proved to be a nice combination. The Nikon with the 105mm did add quite a bit of weight to my bag, and this brings me to the second reason for my return to the world of Leica.

Slowly but surely, my back has been getting worse, and a couple of new incidents caused me to take a hard look at my Nikon setup. If I take the two Nikons with the FTZ adapters and the 28mm + 105mm, it adds up to 3.3Kg.

After another hike with my Nikons and my back pain being persistent for many days afterwards, I decided that I had to cut weight. The solution was partially already there with the M. I just needed to add a second body; as much as I enjoy the M with the 35mm, I do like to have a two-body setup with two primes for a bit more width and tele perspectives.

In the old town of Bormio [Leica Q]
In the old town of Bormio [Leica Q]

Another familiar face

There was really only one candidate, and this reintroduced me to another familiar camera, the Leica Q. I wanted something a little wider than 35mm and the Q’s 28mm works really well with a 75mm on the M, a combo I have shot with in the past. So not only did I find my way back to the M, I went one step further and returned to the Q as well.

Perhaps I might not have gone this far had my back not created such an immediate problem to deal with. The 28mm f/1.4 F-mount lens on the Nikon Z is a glorious combination. I think the Nikon 28mm is the best lens I ever had. I will write a separate post on it before I sell it. Nothing comes close in terms of sharpness, falloff, bokeh and most importantly, the natural way it renders. I can’t quite describe it, but the look of the Nikon 28mm is sublime.

However, together with the Z6 ii and the FTZ adapter, it comes in at almost 1500g vs the 600g of the Q. This does make quite a difference. And it isn’t as though the Q’s 28mm is a poor performer. Quite the contrary. It just isn’t quite as good as the Nikon, but we are splitting hairs here, and it’s a trade-off I am more than happy to make. Together with the Voigtländer 75mm Nokton on the M, the Q makes a fine and light two-camera setup that covers 80% of what I typically shoot. It is about half of what my two Nikon camera setup weighs. I do also plan just to take the M with the 35mm LUX and work with one camera and one lens. Sometimes less is indeed more.

The Cathedral of Siena upside down after the rain [Leica Q]
The Cathedral of Siena upside down after the rain [Leica Q]

I will probably hang on to one Nikon body and pair it with the excellent 24-120mm f/4 native zoom, which is great for hiking. The 40mm f/2 native lens will also stay as it has proven to be a great optic to take while out cycling. And no, I am not getting rid of the 58mm f/1.4.

A friendly fellow Leica aficionado [Leica M10 - Leica 35mm Summilux]
A friendly fellow Leica aficionado [Leica M10 – Leica 35mm Summilux]

Outcome vs serendipity

As my final reflection on this rather dramatic volte-face, I will leave you with an observation. I believe there is a difference between an outcome photographer and a serendipitous photographer. Obviously, there are many more ways to carve up the types of photographers, but I think this is an important distinction. It’s not a hard line, and people can be chasing an outcome one day and be more serendipitous the next day. But in general, most photographers belong in one camp more than the other.

Bloom [Leica M10 - Leica 35mm Summilux]
Bloom [Leica M10 – Leica 35mm Summilux]

The outcome photographer is someone who has a clear result in mind and takes steps to achieve the objective. This can be landscape, portraiture, wildlife, street or whatever; the point is that this kind of photographer knows what they want to achieve and will work with a clear focus to get to a result.

Waiting for the right light after scouting a particular view of a valley, seeing a yellow background and lurking until someone with a predominantly blue outfit walks in front of it for that colour effect on the street, or setting up the lighting in a studio just so, to get the right features exposed for a model shoot. All these examples belong to the deliberate nature of an outcome photographer.

Wisdom can be found in puddles [Leica M10 - Leica 35mm Summilux]
Wisdom can be found in puddles [Leica M10 – Leica 35mm Summilux]

The serendipitous photographer works differently. The most important deliberate action here is simply always to bring a camera so that when something interesting pops up, the photographer can use their experience and tool to capture it. I sit firmly in the camp of the serendipitous photographer, and I believe the rangefinder camera is one that fits this kind of photography like a glove. Unobtrusive and with few bells and whistles to distract, the work done is a twist of the focus ring and the press of the shutter.

As is usually the case with things that look simple, it is more complicated underneath. The scene a serendipitous photographer notices in a flash and deems interesting enough to capture is in itself the result of years of looking at the world this way. The rangefinder window seems to be made for it.

A wiser man, or…?

Many cameras and lenses have come and gone over the years, and I would be a fool to state that this return to Leica will be the end of my tale when it comes to photographic equipment. I can only hope I give myself the time to embrace the M and Q for what they are and enjoy the process.

The M, especially, has reintroduced me to the rangefinder way of shooting that remains mostly unique1 to Leica when it comes to digital photography, and I thoroughly enjoy it. I wish I could state that I am now a wiser man when it comes to my own photographic preference, but I will let time tell if that really is the case. In the meantime, I am shooting with the M and Q once more.

A sceptical look towards the author's camera gear decision making journey [Leica M10 - Voigtlander 75mm Nokton]
A sceptical look towards the author’s camera gear decision-making journey [Leica M10 – Voigtlander 75mm Nokton]

What do you think? Is the rangefinder experience unique, and does it provide a magnet for a certain type of photographer?

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More on Macfilos from the author


  1. By the way, the PIXII is a very interesting alternative proposition…

19 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting, thanks
    I came also back to Leica, but to CL. After leaving it and passing through hybrid Fuji Xpro viewfinder, I definitely decided, first that I could get also good photographs from a non Leica camera, and second I didn’t want to waste my time deciding how to look (I was bothered about having an option and always used OVF at the end). I like rangefinder with a film camera: all is balanced there. You see, you shoot. But a digital camera has the option to see what you photograph and to just think of that. So, why not. And I got the CL. About half of M cameras weight.
    The dichotomy between serendipity and results photography is in any case similar to that of using a car to enjoy driving or to go somewhere. I think 99% people balance between them but it’s focusing in the practical factor.

  2. Could not agree more with you Erwin, the Leica M offers a unique blend of small size, (relatively) light weight, straightforward ergonomics and superlative IQ. I also happen to love the optical viewfinder/rangefinder experience, which is why I’ve never used anything else when travelling since I got an M8 over 10y ago. There’s really no better option if that’s what you’re after (and have the funds).

    I am glad I have been wise enough to slowly build my M system (mostly used lenses) and sticking to it. Given the constantly rising prices (used and new), I am not looking forward re-entering the system now 😉

    I have Sony mirrorless for the rest, a system which is performing very well, but not particularly enjoyable IMO. Being a hobbyist, enjoying the photographic moment is as important as (if not more than) the end results!

  3. Erwin, now that you have reached a quiescent period of complete satisfaction with your gear, just stop reading camera reviews. Enjoy what you have. Your results are extremely good. Be thankful. Stop yearning.

  4. Glad it works for you and you are happy. Personally I’ve gone the other way. Sold my M camera and lenses, bought into the Nikon Z system and loving it. Don’t want to limit myself to street photos and only short FL lenses. I find the colors and sharpness of the new Nikon Z line lenses to be as equal if not better than the Leica lenses I’ve owned. The Nikon Z9 weighs the same as my Leica SL2 body which I will keep and use with the lightweight TL lenses.

    • I’ve tried a few Z lenses, and I agree with your assessment; they are fabulous. I wonder if you agree with my previous observation; we live in an age where so many things have become so good, and the average quality of the different available options meets the demands of most users. Sony, Nikon, Canon, Leica, and Fuji all make superb optics. And yet, we are drawn more to one than the other. Even though I try, I can’t always articulate what does it for me.

      • There is one in indefinable aspect of Leica ownership — that seeing another Leica user is a good chance to strike up a conversation. There is a special sense of “belonging” which has nothing to do with quality, performance, or any other yardstick of benefit. This doesn’t really exist with other makes, I believe. But there is one small camera which does have some of that “clubable” auto and, strangely enough, is is none other than the Ricoh GR. If I see one in the wild I know it’s owner will be someone interesting to chat with. Strange.

        • And I’ve had that experience too, in Budapest, in Goa and in Delhi. Something about a Leica starts up a conversation between strangers.

          Excellent article by the way, Erwin. Just back from a trip to Lansdowne I fully agree that the M coupled with a Lux 35mm not only feels right but is gorgeous wide open.

  5. A loverly article, I enjoyed that rounded sense of the journey, and how you managed to come full circle.

    I look forward to seeing what you do next.

  6. Welcome back, Erwin, to the community. Great article with wonderful images. After years of trying this and that (and an expensive journey through serveral systems) I personally feel I have reached my final destination with the M for my private work. Which say nothing about other camera concepts and systems that may fit other needs so much better. I hope to read from you again. JP

  7. I have been fascinated by people’s fascination with the rangefinder experience and recently had the chance of borrowing a nephew’s M9. I couldn’t see myself relating to that tiny little image square in the finder and remain unconvinced of the advantage of being able to see outside the frame what might come into the picture. However, I encountered – for dramatically less money! – a used Olympus 35SP mechanical rangefinder from 1969 with with a 42mm f1.7 lens and a six-month warranty. It arrived from Belgium to-day, and I have downloaded the manual from the web in order to get to know it. Big plus for me is the picture “frame” almost fills the very clear viewfinder and even has parallax lines for really close shooting. AND: It is as beautiful to look at as a Leica!!

  8. Hi Erwin, I knew you would return to Leica. There is no better experience, in my personal experience and opinion. I particularly love the rangefinder unique way of capturing images.
    I absolutely love your “beam me up Scotty” image.

    Thanks for sharing your wandering experience. I wandered a lot but nothing compares to a rangefinder experience or even to my SL system. Three cheers for Leica for discerning photographers 😂. – do not get too worked up if you do not appreciate the haptics and colour science of Leica. The only better colour science is Hasselblad but it unfortunately does not have the shooting envelope of Leica (by the way, I shot with both camera systems for more than 2 years).

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