This Holiday Get the Leica Rangefinder You’ve Always Wanted

You might be asking yourself, “I didn’t even know I wanted a Leica…”

If you started shooting in the film era chances are, at one point, you wanted a Leica. I mean really wanted one.

Digital natives may not know anything about Leica except that their digital cameras are, like, $8,000.

Though the golden age of 35mm film has passed, there is a renewed interest in not only film photography, but Leica photography. Sought after by collectors and hipsters alike, Leica cameras are still in demand on the strength of their design and effortless style. They look both classic and modern at the same time. Even if rangefinders are not your cup of tea, Leica gets respect for their craftsmanship and attention to detail. These cameras represent a cross-section of cameras where luxury and minimalism meet.

By TJ Hansen
My Leica M3 with the 50mm f/2 Summicron.

The first roll of film shot with a Leica and you notice the limitations. You have to learn to be less reliant on the camera, pay attention and focus on your subject. After the learning curve and the honeymoon stage you are back to where you started- standing around with a camera in your hand. Either you’re taking pictures or holding a camera. Even if it is beautiful you still have to take photos to be a photographer.

You line up the split-image in the rangefinder and press the shutter. Just a click.

The horizontal cloth focal plane shutter is nothing like an SLR shutter. It is silent with almost no vibration, just that smooth Leica click. If you hold steady, you can easily shoot two stops slower than an image stabilized digital camera.

It is not just about the looks or the smooth shutter or the super-sharp lenses. It’s not just the way everything fits together so simply and carefully, with every detail considered and simplified. A lot has been said over the years about using a Leica that I won’t rehash here, but Ken Rockwell has a couple of good pages of ramblings on the beauty and efficiency of using an M3.

There is also a lot of history that adds some heft to the Leica name.

The original 'pocket camera', the Ur-Leica (1914), the first 35mm still camera.
The original ‘pocket camera’. The Ur-Leica (1914 is the first 35mm still camera.

The recent trend toward ‘smaller and faster’ in the camera industry isn’t really anything new. Leica actually started the whole thing in the early part of the twentieth century.

At a time when press photographers were using big, bulky and slow cameras to capture news events, Leica released their first 35mm camera in 1925, basically creating modern photojournalism as we know it. Now photojournalists could shoot multiple frames in a manner of seconds, carry multiple cameras, and shoot more before needing to reload film. The Leica 35mm rangefinder changed the way humanity viewed the news and current events. Wars were on the front page and the people were more interested in the visual side of the news.

The rest is history, as they say, and Leica continued to be the name behind so much of the iconic photography of the 20th century. Although shooting with a camera that Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand used does not make you a better photographer, it does show you that some of the more discerning eyes in history have approved of the unobtrusive and sleek design of the Leica camera.

First Street-Style Photograph by Ernst Leitz II in New York 1914.
First Street-Style Photograph by Ernst Leitz II in New York 1914.

So, for all the lovers and the haters out there, here is a selection of some really beautiful Leica cameras that the MPEX Used Department has on hand. The cameras in the photos below are in stock at the time of writing, although they could sell at any time. If you have any questions about the gear below give us a call at the shop or email the Used Equipment Manager, Casey at casey@mpex.com.

Leica M3- The Legendary Leica

First released in 1954, the Leica M3 is the first bayonet mount rangefinder and is still the standard with which every rangefinder is compared. This is the first camera to use the M mount that is still in use on Leica cameras to this day. Until the M3, Leica 35mm cameras used a screw mount which was much more inconvenient and slow than a bayonet mount. Photographers were now able to make quick and painless lens changes in the field. This is just one example of some of the innovations that made Leica cameras the tool of professionals.

leica-with-tripod-1
The Leica M3 pictured with the Leica Table Tripod and Leitz Weitzler ballhead. Also pictured, the Leica 35mmf/2 Summicron lens with 35mm viewfinder. Because the M3 does not have frame lines wider than 50mm, you have to use a viewfinder to help see the edge of the frame.

The M3 is completely mechanical, which means there are no electronics in this camera at all. No batteries needed, just film. light and something to shoot. There is something refreshing about that.

We take cords and batteries and chargers for granted with digital. And light meters. This camera does not have a light meter built in, although there are add-on meters built for this camera that are not too pricey. The Leicameter MR, a version pictured below, are usually in stock in the used department.

Leica M3 with the Leicameter
Leica M3 with the Leicameter. This ad is promoting automatic features like it is a point and shoot. It just so happens that the image quality is also great.

Features of the M3:

  • All mechanical operation
  • Classic style and looks
  • One of the biggest and brightest rangefinder eyepieces
  • Best selling rangefinder of all time
  • Bright frame lines for 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm

Click here to email Casey for a quote on this camera or to find out what we have in the store currently!

Leica M4- The Last ‘Classic’ M

leica-3

Leica started production on the M4 is 1966, and is the direct successor to the M3 and the M2. (Oddly, the Leica M3 came before the M2, so don’t get thrown off when looking at production dates. I do not know why Leica decided to move numerically from the M3, to the M2, and then to the M4. Just to confuse, I suppose.)

The Leica M4
The Leica M4

Considered by many to be the last of the true classic M-mount cameras, the M4 keeps the classic touches but adds some more modern upgrades. Only 58,000 M4’s were produced, compared with 225,000 M3’s, so if you are after a slightly more rarified Leica you are looking in the right place. Also, the addition of a film rewind lever and faster film advance makes this camera a breeze to use.

Features of the M4:

  • Added 35mm frame lines, in addition to the 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm found in the previous models (If you like to use a 35mm focal length often, than the M4 may be a better choice over the M3)
  • Faster film rewind and loading
  • Self-resetting film counter
  • Can be upgraded to have 28mm frame lines
  • No built-in light meter

Click here to email Casey for a quote on this camera or to find out what we have in the store currently!

Leica M4-P- The “Bargain” Leica

leica-2

Although I referred to this camera as the “bargain” Leica, it is still a Leica. First released in 1981, this camera was mostly manufactured in Midland, Canada, which, to some Leica purists is a downside for collectibility. If you would like to shoot a Leica and don’t care about where it comes from, then this model is right up your alley.

Leica decided to reduce costs during the M4-P era, first, by manufacturing this camera in their Midland, Canada facility, but also by using a more efficient and mechanized process for production. Some think that this camera is one of Leica’s best built, others disagree. You will just have to find out for yourself, I guess.

The Leica M4-P
The Leica M4-P

The biggest practical difference between the m4-P and the M4 is frame lines. This camera contains frame lines for 28/35/50/75/90/135mm focal lengths, making framing easier with pretty much all the most common focal lengths available, save for ultra-wide angle, in which case a viewfinder is most likely needed.

Features of the M4-P:

  • 28/35/50/75/90/135mm frame lines
  • Made in Canada (Canadian Pride?)
  • Same faster film loading and rewinding of M4
  • Nice bright viewfinder

Click here to email Casey for a quote on this camera or to find out what we have in the store currently!

Leica 50mm f/1 Noctilux- An Eye to See in the Dark

The Noctilux is an exotic low-light beast of a lens. This lens designed to see in the dark and at f/1 you can definitely let in some light! You can see from the photos that this is an impressive piece of glass.

The Leica 50mm f/1 Noctilux. Yes, f/1.
The Leica 50mm f/1 Noctilux. Yes, f/1.

This is a great lens for filmmakers, also, with Leica sharpness stopped down, and blurry-background-all-day when wide open. This lens isn’t perfect, but it is cool as hell and fun to shoot with. It is probably even better on a mirrorless digital camera than on a Leica. It is not massive compared to modern SLR lenses, but for a rangfinder lens, its huge. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t have a little fun with the Noctilux, and with the ability to adapt M mount lenses to any mirrorless camera with an inexpensive adapter, you can’t go wrong.

Click here to email Casey for a quote on this camera or to find out what we have in the store currently!

Leica CL and Minolta CLE- The “CheapLeica” and the Minolta Love Child

The Leica CL was produced by Minolta and designed by Leica.
The Leica CL and the Minolta CLE. Leica and Minolta collaborated on these cameras and they are almost universally loved for their size and price.

Firsat released in 1973, the Leica CL was designed as a collaboration between Leica Germany and Minolta. There were two models of the CL made, the Leica CL and the Leitz Minolta CL. Both cameras are the same, just with different branding.

The Leica CL is a compact rangefinder capable of using almost any M mount lens. Although the rangefinder is not as accurate as the M series cameras and the bodies are more susceptible to damage (mostly plastic), this is one of the most inexpensive ways to get into M mount film photography. There are also a lot of modern details, like TTL metering and a hot shoe, and the Leica CL is usually sold with the ultra-sharp 40mm f/2 Summicron lens made specifically for this camera.

The Minolta CLE hit the streets in America in 1981 and is one of the most well-respected compact cameras ever. With all the same features of the CL, this is a great way to use M mount lenses in a less expensive body.

Features of the Leica CL:

  • Smallest and Lightest Leica camera
  • TTL metering
  • 40/50/90mm frame lines
  • Mechanical shutter works even with dead battery
  • Quiet shutter
  • Shutter speeds visible in viewfinder
  • Features similar in the Minolta LCE
  • Super-sharp 40mm f/2 Summicron lens

The stock of used equipment is always changing so stop in if you are in the area or shoot an email to Casey to find out the current prices and availability.

Here are some of the pre-owned M mount lenses that are available in the store as of this writing:

  • 35mm f/2 Summicron
  • 35mm f/2.8 Summaron
  • 5cm f/2 Summicron
  • 90mm f/2 Summicron
  • 90 f/4 Elmarit
  • 65mm f/3.5 Elmarit
  • Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 Biogon

The used gear does not end with Leica. Midwest Photo has a ton of great used film and digital gear, from mirrorless to large format. Email Casey for more info!

If you are interested in film photography check out Midwest Photo’s new Rental Darkroom to learn how to develop your black and white film, or check out some of the links below.

Film photography is alive and well and these websites show that you are not alone:

I Still Shoot Film.
Film Photography Project.
An Intro To Shooting Street Photography With Film.
The Massive Dev Chart.

Enjoy, y’all.

Let us know if you have any questions!

TJ Hansen

Photographer at MPEX.com

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