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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author


“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  


Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 


Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."


I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!


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Worth it????
Old 03-31-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Worth it????

The Leica rangefinders are unique in one other way than their rangefinder focusing. There is certainly more copy on internet photo sites on whether Leicas are worth their high price than price discussions of any other brand of camera. Opinions range from yes to no, to film vs. digital, from hand assembled rock to inadequate antique, to basic street camera to conspicuous consumption bling. What I prize about Leicas is the simplicity of their operating controls. It lets me spend more time concentrating on the subject and less time dealing with the camera. What I dislike is an extremely expensive camera with limited applications. I think this forum is relatively unique in that we can discuss rangefinder cameras without turning into hysterical extremists. I’d like to know how you feel about Leica rangefinders, both film and digital. Are they worth it and if so, why?
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Old 03-31-2018   #2
Emile de Leon
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Leica RF is a schizophrenic camera..
Luv em...and hate em..
I buy the lenses..but diggie bodies...no way..
They sell em..but they wont fix em..
Feels so good..until they break...
Rich mans cam..poor mans desire..
Art cam..but most use to take pics of their dog & cat..
Fat M240..skinny M10 and CL..
Past film cams great..current models..well..
Whacko expensive soft Thambar from 80 years ago..then super sharp modern..
The list goes on and on..
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Old 03-31-2018   #3
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Yes. Because they are the only RF (digital and film) in town.
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Old 03-31-2018   #4
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I’ve only bought used Leica film camera bodies. Used lenses as well except for one 50 f2.4 Summarit.

I don’t own any Leica digital cameras.

With Leica film cameras I like the idea they can be refurbished, last forever, at least in my lifetime.
I make photographs as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.
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Old 03-31-2018   #5
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Digital no, far too expensive with large depreciation combined with very poor service.

Film cameras yes, they are finished depreciating and can be serviced by many techs in short order.
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Old 03-31-2018   #6
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While M-E is for sensor issue, I'm checking if other cameras are worth it. Was just looking at Ricoh GRII, X70, A7 pictures. I checked Canon 6D as well. I don't know.... I guess I have to check Sony A7something...
For now I use my C-41 films and M, LTM lenses on film RF cameras. M including.
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Old 03-31-2018   #7
Richard G
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As you say, with the M2 no ‘mode’ problems. Always on. (Sometimes I have a moment wondering whether I coded the 28 correctly on that camera.)

So the digital Ms kept all my lenses in play another ten years and more. And stopped me buying into another system.

I had the pleasure of introducing someone to HC-B’s photographs recently and he wondered what HC-B might use now. I told him one theory is the iPhone. But I told him that the immediacy, simplicity and compact unobtrusiveness he favoured might still be best served by his first Leica, or perhaps the IIIf with a 50 Elmar and the SBOOI finder.

So the RF is still in play.

Do love the X100 too though.
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Old 03-31-2018   #8
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They can't compete with the major brands because of several reasons and that's why they have a niche targeted market but I'd be happy to see a more affordable Leica M. Perhaps a cropped senor in a cheaper magnesium alloy body.

I'm happy with my M8 but it's getting old. My much older M4-P is strangely not however.
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Old 03-31-2018   #9
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I don't have a digital Leica. The Barnacks - and more recently the Leica/Minolta CL - I find unsurpassed for simplicity and speed of operation, compact size, great lens selection, and ability to use without any reliance on electronics at all. They're still the best tools out there for my needs and imaging preferences.
happiest when shooting 35mm and 120 film
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Old 03-31-2018   #10
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If I was making money taking pictures:

Used film cameras, yes, new, welllllllllllllllll I'm not sure.

Digital M's yes, yes, YES!!! Simplicity, options, quality, control, flexibility.

While Fuji is catching on somewhat, Ricoh too. Nikon clueless, how many buttons does the Df have?

For the rest of us they are a bit on the pricey side, but the save if have M glass off sets the deep dive required.

B2 (;->
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Old 03-31-2018   #11
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Not worth it for me, as most cameras can be cajoled into giving me images that work. I enjoyed my time with an M4P; a digital Leica will probably never find time its way into my bag. I don't have a cache of lenses (a strong reason for giving a digital M a whirl) in any mount, so brand "loyalty" is not a concept I adhere to, though I do have a soft spot for Fuji MF cameras! We all rationalize our choices to some extent, but Leica is in line with other expensive positional goods that promotes itself to a customer base that view themselves as savy connoisseurs of technical perfection. Once you cross a point in the continuum you pay more for less for almost any positional good. Nothing new here. After all, they're not selling bells and whistles, are they? Does the emperor wear new clothes? Looking in a mirror won't let you know, nor will the rabble on 'net forums. It will just confirm what you already think you know! Might as well enjoy it.
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Old 03-31-2018   #12
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It depends... years ago I already knew that I would never spend that kind of cash after I retired, so I picked up my IIIf, MP, and assorted lenses while I was still working. If you ask me if they are worth purchasing today I would say (in my case) no. I am happy as a clam that I made the decision prior to retirement - it's like thinking a tax refund is a bonus rather than money you loaned the government interest free.

Since Fuji ACROS 100 will be discontinued later this year (10-2018) and if I was still working the Monochrom would be "worth it" ; )
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Old 03-31-2018   #13
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I have three film M bodies but for digital I need something more versatile which will , if required, take longer focal lengths.
The Sony cams fit this bill and I can use my M lenses on them for day to day stuff.
That and what others have said regarding cost and reliability of the M bodies ..... for me it doesn`t add up.
The Leica SL would fit the bill but again I can find something more cost effective in a digital age.

I`ve always been a left eye shooter anyway so the benefit of an RF is largely lost on me although I do continue to enjoy my film bodies .
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Old 03-31-2018   #14
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If it is just about getting a picture then I can do that just as easily with my Pentax K1000.

But I really enjoy working with rangefinder cameras, which includes my Leica LTMs, my Leica Ms and my Zeiss Ikon. For pure enjoyment the Zeiss Ikon is the best of the bunch in my opinion. If the shutter would only work when the battery went flat it would be absolutely perfect.

Any digital camera is a necessary evil at best. At least I can use all my Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses with my M 262 so, on that basis, for me it remains worth it. If I have to use digital it may as well be Leica.
You gotta love a fast lens;

It is almost as good as a fast horse!
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Old 03-31-2018   #15
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I don't have a digital RF, only film RF. In my opinion, it's not about the tool but the final product - the picture. Great tools can simplify the process and allow you to get what you envision. But the corollary of this is also true, as long as you are familiar with the camera/system, you can get what you want out of it. To this end any camera, digital or film, RF or not, can satisfy my requirement. Is Leica RF worth it? Yes, for me, because I like the tactile response and ease of operation. Also because as others have pointed out, Leica film bodies have already been depreciated so I don't have a high barrier of entry to worry about.
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Old 03-31-2018   #16
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For a long time I wanted one. Finally, close to retirement bought a M4-2 and a couple of CV lenses. Turned out I liked my OM-1 more. Guess I wasn’t a RF sort after all.
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Old 03-31-2018   #17
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I only own Leica film cameras, and they're definitely 'worth it' for me.

The reasons are:

They suit the way I work

Light and easy to carry - I don't own a car

High quality lenses have always been available for them over the years

I've found them to be very reliable in use - despite what I read on the interweb!!

Finally, as the old Photojournalists used to say to me many years ago, always have a Leica in your bag - because when (never if..) you're short of money they're always worth something. This turned out to be sage advice indeed!

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Old 04-01-2018   #18
David Hughes
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It worries me that, from time to time, I hear or read comments to the effect that they don't wear out and don't need servicing and so on. I figure that those untouched ones will only get touched by a technician when it is far too late...

I'm also amazed by the silly myths surrounding them that should be obviously wrong to anyone who has handled a couple or read about them.

But I do like them.

Regards, David
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Old 04-01-2018   #19
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Among my many analog film cameras, I enjoy Leica film rangefinders the most: M2, M6 Classic, and two IIIf's. They are worth it to me for their organic ease-of-use (maybe a bit less-so for the Barnacks), and I enjoy their heft and build quality.

I purchased the M6 new in late 80's with period glass, but since then, all other purchases have been used and I don't have any interest in their digital bodies or new offerings.
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Old 04-01-2018   #20
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I shot two Leica M6 bodies for several years, but kept going back to the Olympus OM-4T bodies I have used since I was a kid. I was getting better results from them. My work is too formalist for something with such inaccurate viewfinders; I found myself having to crop the photos a lot to get what I saw in the framelines. Never an issue with an SLR, and the Olympus was actually smaller and lighter than a Leica M6!

Now, I'm shooting an Olympus Pen-F mirrorless digital, and it is perfect for the work I do. So tiny and light, with SHARP lenses, and very inexpensive for the incredible image quality it and its lenses give.
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Old 04-01-2018   #21
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Originally Posted by Chriscrawfordphoto View Post
My work is too formalist for something with such inaccurate viewfinders; I found myself having to crop the photos a lot to get what I saw in the framelines.
This is exactly why I changed too... for me, Fujifilm had the Leica spirit enough and added an accurate EVF plus optical VF... plus AF. Now I can't go back.
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Old 04-01-2018   #22
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Not to me. I respect the Leica cameras, but too expensive for me. When I want to shoot 35mm rangefinder, my FSU FED2 and Zorki 1 do a great job.

Steve W.
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Old 04-01-2018   #23
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I've owned three Leica film bodies, an M4-P and a pair of M6's. I thought they were worth it at the times I used them. Today, not so much. By the time I sold the last of my Leica equipment I had become afflicted with aging eyes that didn't play well with rangefinder focusing...or any type of manual focusing, come to think of it.

Leica's simplicity of operation is attractive. All the digital cameras coming along in the last few years have too much stuff on them. I don't want a multi-task device, I want a camera that takes still pictures and doesn't require an advanced degree in electronics. Leica appears to understand this. Unfortunately, delivering less means paying more and they're out of my range. Also, there's that autofocus thing that I really don't want to do without.

I became a better photographer after using Leicas. They taught me to look closely and shoot loosely. Today I use Fuji digital viewfinder bodies the same way I used my Leica film bodies in the past. Of course, they're not rangefinders but the brightlines in the OVF maintains "Leica-esque" framing. The overall experience is not exactly the same but, in many ways, it's more fulfilling. Plus Fuji's optics are superb and compare very favorably with the Leica lenses I used in the past (with the added benefit of autofocus).
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Old 04-01-2018   #24
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I've bought two Leica's "New" over the years and many used. Of the two "New" ones, the M6TTL I purchased in 2000 has definitely earned its keep in the last 18 years and I have no regrets laying out the $1998 it cost brand new, back then. I also have an M-E that I purchased new, and although it has served me well, can't say yet whether it will be worth the $4000+ it cost in 2015.

No question, the used M2, M8.2 and M3's I've bought over the years were definitely worth what I paid for them in the pleasure they gave me in years of use.


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Old 04-01-2018   #25
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It's taken me a long time to come around to a point where I would consider buying a Leica rangefinder camera. I first tried out a Zorki-1 to see if I would like the form factor, and dealing with the separate focus and framing viewers. It wasn't that bad, but I still preferred to have them merged into one, so I continued buying Zorki's because they made changes in the basic Barnack design that I liked, such as combined view/rangefinders, and 1:1 viewfinders.

I've gotten some true LTM cameras since then, since the FSU ones can be a bit problematic. One Leica lens, Nikon, Canon, Nicca, and Yashica lenses and bodies for a basic kit of 35-50-100 no matter which body was in use. The Nicca for that classic Barnack look and feel. Canon P for a streamlined use. And the Yashica YF for an almost M like functionality.

So after all this practicing with the different variants, I've narrowed it down to my next rangefinder should be either a IIIG, or an M2. The IIIG because it has all the improvements made to the Barnack design, and the M2 for it's simplicity, plus it can mount my LTM and R lenses via use of adapters.

That is, once I can fit one into the budget. I find it hard to save up for a Leica, when there are all these other competent systems around at more down to earth prices. And my Nikon S2/Bessa R2S kit gets more of the attention. Yeah, combined range and focus 1:1 viewfinders, with bayonet mount lenses. I guess the Leicas can wait.

Waiting for the light
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Old 04-01-2018   #26
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It really doesn't matter if its worth it... Does the Leica make it want to pick it up and photograph with it, is it inspiring to use? Fundamentally to me this is what its all about... My first camera was an R3(spoiled I know its the camera my dad had so I used it then moved to a 8008s/Nikon N90 AF which I used for years... I used to always shoot aperture priority and used AF with zoom lenses...Then it got to a point where I wanted something more compact wanted to get away from the zoom.. I think is was somewhere in 2000 I wanted to get an M for a kid just out of school new was out of the question but used was a good option plus I had a screw mount 50 that my dad had from a IIIC and a bayonet adaptor... I found a really nice used M6 on eBay might as well have been brand new for $1400...and eventually got a 35mm f2 APSH for $900 used... It was a challenge to use it no question, trying to figure out how to make it work from me to took a while lots of practice trial and error... In the end it helped make me a better photographer I definitely shot much more looser with it, it made it think about things in advance then when it was showtime I could just act... It eventually just faded away and I could just focus on what was going on in the frame..There is a certain satisfaction when shooting with an M that's almost unlike any other camera I've used... I eventually got an used M9 for $4K 5 years ago was it worth it ah yes... I had a Nikon D800E when it first came out before it yeah spec wise its better and cheaper but I more often than not liked the images from the M9 better...I got spoiled by the Leica lenses for sure..ha.. Honestly I wish I would have gotten an M6 TTL back in the day for one reason only and that is the bigger shutter speed dial and that's why I prefer my M9 to it these days plus I don't shoot film much anymore..The M10 when I saw I didn't even have to see any images from it I knew it was probably the best M they have ever made they were able to slim down that body to M6 size... I see it in my future a couple years down the road... Long story but yes worth it..
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Old 04-01-2018   #27
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My very first Leica was used M6, later a 2nd body followed. A used MP and later a M3 (also used...of course). At some point a used M9 followed and a new MM. The latter is my most used camera of all times and it is inspiring to use.

When you are able to use a 50 year old M3, you can pick up a MM or M10 and start shooting.You can concentrate on capturing the image that you see. You don't have to RTF 400 page manual first.

It is you who is taking the image and not some camera algorithm of 1 out of 20 different scene modes.

The image is the result of your decisions and not the built in camera artificial "intelligence".
You have to see the light.
M9, MM & a bunch of glass, Q

my gallery:http://www.rangefinderforum.com/rffg...d=6650&showall
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Old 04-01-2018   #28
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I've owned most of the Leica film cameras from the IIIc to the M6 over the years. The M2 and the M5 were the only ones that I used extensively, though, with the M5 being my favorite.

Were they worth it? They were never versatile enough for me to use as my primary camera; but, I think they are worth it. For many photographers, the Leica is the holy grail of cameras. Everyone who feels that way should own a Leica. You may love it...you may hate it...but it's an itch that is hard to scratch until you actually own one.

I no longer own a Leica. They are not eye glass or old eyes friendly. But I'm glad I was able to own and use them.

"Nothing exists beyond the edges of the frame."
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Old 04-01-2018   #29
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Originally Posted by icebear View Post

It is you who is taking the image and not some camera algorithm of 1 out of 20 different scene modes.

The image is the result of your decisions and not the built in camera artificial "intelligence".
Damn, I need one of these cameras that frames my photo and finds me content...
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Old 04-01-2018   #30
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I've bought all of my film cameras used, and they usually needed service. Once that was done, they have worked well. I find that the Leicas seem to need more tuning up periodically compared to the Nikons. My Nikon F and F2A (x2) have been serviced by Sover Wong, and they just keep working great. However, these Nikon cameras are now rather heavy for 35mm film. If I want to use 35mm film, I tend to use the Leicas or a Henry Scherer serviced Contax IIa. Small, compact cameras with outstanding lenses.

What put the 35mm cameras in perspective is that I've been moving towards medium format. The Fuji GS645 is as small (or smaller) than a 35mm camera, and gives a very pleasant image. What has really opened my eyes has been the Mamiya TLR system. I started with a Mamiyaflex C2 for sale on RFF here, with two lenses and other accessories for under $200. Then I bought a C220f on RFF.
The capabilities of these Mamiya TLR cameras, and how inexpensive they are, they have reset my idea of value vs benefits. No matter how exquisitely made the Leica cameras are, and how great the Leica lenses are, the cheap Mamiya TLRs 6x6cm images still beats Leica's 35mm tiny frame.
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Old 04-01-2018   #31
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Back before digital, there was never any question for me that I preferred rangefinder by far to an SLR. At one point I had a Nikon FM2 and at another an R6. I far preferred everything about the rangefinder.

With mirrorless, and good EVF cameras, I still prefer to have the hybrid window of say and X100 or X Pro 2. The "view" I get actually affects what and how I shoot. This came very clear to me this past week shooting only with my RX1R II that on occasion, I made an exposure in spite of the image that the EVF finder provided me!

Here's what happened- I saw the scene, light wasn't great but I wanted to photograph it anyway. I looked in the finder and the exposure makes it look worse than what I knew would come out just from past experience. So in essence the finder uninspired me to do what I was initially inspired to do. If that Sony wasn't so good in other respects, I'd get rid of it. A "real" finder (rangefinder or hybrid Fuji style) would not have gotten in the way for me.

So in answer "are they worth it", I can't rationalize/afford to spend the money on an M10 until the price comes down, and or I decide to part with my MM, a camera I really love to use for the finder and the files which look different than any from other cameras I've seen. Meanwhile, the X Pro 2 is nice to have and I expect I will be taking it out more.

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Old 04-01-2018   #32
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My Leica gateway drug was an M6TTL, which I still own and shoot extensively. It is amazing (I also shoot Nikon SLRs and different medium format systems). Since then I’ve added an M3, M2 and, recently, an M-P 240. Shooting the digital Leica really isn’t all that different from shooting a film Leica. The output from the 240 is amazing and looks less digital than my other digital cameras. Still, the film Leicas are slicker. In my opinion, what makes Leicas special are the lenses which, although eyewateringly expensive, are nothing short of amazing. I don’t own other lenses (and I have a lot from a range of systems!) which produce similar results. The 35 Lux FLE is the best lens I have ever used, period. Expensive? Yes. But if you can afford them, yes, they’re worth it! And you only live once!
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Old 04-01-2018   #33
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I didn't buy a Ferrari because I needed transportation, nor did I buy a Leica because I needed to take photographs.
Disclosure: I didn't buy a Ferrari.
Leica M2 / 7artisans 35-f2 / Leitz Summitar
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Old 04-01-2018   #34
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Well, a Leica is just slightly more affordable than a Ferrari.
Just slightly....
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Old 04-01-2018   #35
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Originally Posted by Richard G View Post
As you say, with the M2 no ‘mode’ problems. Always on. (Sometimes I have a moment wondering whether I coded the 28 correctly on that camera.)
The correct coding is automatically applied when you mount the external VF. Whereas shooting using the entire frame of the regular viewfinder could result in vignetting, purple fringing, and lusting for 0.58 magnification.
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Old 04-01-2018   #36
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When I wasn’t serious about photography I used a Leica M8. Nice object, inefficient tool. I now use a Sony A7R II.

The Leica M was once current technology. But that was decades ago, and it was superseded by better cameras well before the advent of digital. The digital Leica M uses a design that was obsolete half a century ago, and its electronic components including the sensor are second rate compared with current Japanese cameras - DXO Mark has it in 39th place for image quality (my Sony A7R II is in 5th place, despite being an older, obsolete model). Not to mention the presence of quirks and faults that simply wouldn’t be tolerated in, say, a Canon camera.

If photography is all about the image - as it is for me - then the camera is simply a tool, and I’d be a fool to use an expensive, second-rate, inefficient tool. Every function of the Leica M is done far better by a digital camera of some kind. And liking your tool is immaterial - great if you do, but a good photographer should be able to use any camera that meets their technical needs.

(My Sony? I think it’s ugly with all the charisma of brick. But it’s the most efficient camera I’ve ever used, with stunning image quality, and that’s all that matters.)

I know plenty of photographers who make their living from photography, including a Magnum photographer. Not one uses a Leica M for professional work.

If you like the Leica M as an object, that’s fine: part of the reason I bought a Leica M8 is because I liked the idea of a well-made camera constructed of quality materials with simple controls harkening back to a past era. But any argument that it performs in any way better than mainstream “serious” Japanese digital cameras is doomed to failure.

When I began to take photography seriously, I sold the Leica M. I needed a camera, not an expensive, nostalgic toy.


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Old 04-01-2018   #37
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Yes, worth it, as I wouldn’t trade my M2-R and 50mm DR for any other camera setup, irrespective of cost, digital or film.

Rangefinders are perfectly suited for my type of photography, and the simplicity of my M2 offers its own set of efficiencies (amidst the admittedly greater conveniences of digital in general).

Moreover, a camera is not just a ‘tool’ for me personally, as the overall photographic process is something I enjoy, including my camera’s unsurpassed tactile pleasure. I don’t think there is one modern Japanese digital camera that offers a film advance that performs better than does my Leica’s.

Of course, I’m not a professional, so I can indulge in such seemingly frivolous intangibles…nostalgia, by the way, NOT being one of them.

Is the M2 technologically dated…sure. So are pianos, guitars, clay, chisels, oil paints, the human voice, ink pens, black & white film, and other ancient tools that are still, nevertheless, wonderfully productive mediums in terms of aesthetics and creativity. And besides, not everyone just wants to press a couple sliders and menu buttons, so we’re gosh darn glad about choice.

Anyway, I reckon I might be using my already antiquated M2 some twenty years down the road; something that I could not confidently say about any current digital camera.
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Old 04-01-2018   #38
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What gets me about Leica is that up to the mid 1980s, a basic new Leica M set-up with one body and three new not too exotic useful Leitz lenses were almost within reach for some amateur photographers, price wise at least.
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Old 04-01-2018   #39
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Originally Posted by sjones View Post
I don’t think there is one modern Japanese digital camera that offers a film advance that performs better than does my Leica’s.
Right you are. Of course, Japanese digital cameras don't have film advances so there is little competition.
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Old 04-01-2018   #40
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I have used M cameras since 1972 you could afford them and their lenses, today not so much. I still have my lenses and use them on a Ricoh GXR at first and now a A7s. Thank god my eye's still work at 70, I have a number of friends that all used to shoot M cameras with digital they are all moved over to other cameras except for one who has gone to the new CL and autofocus lenses. But we just don't see the digital M's as worth it plus the issue if you need any repairs done. But I still love what I get with my 50 year old Leica glass.
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