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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Let's Discuss the M5
Old 10-26-2012   #1
Teuthida
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Let's Discuss the M5

Dear Roger,

I've noticed, obliquely, what seems to be your dismissive attitude re: the M5. This puzzles me, given your recognized expertise about rangefinders and their history. I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about what I have to say.

My photographic interest begins in 1971. I remember well the introduction of the M5 (along with the budget minded CL) and its failure in the marketplace. While using a Nikon Photomic FTN and a bevy of Nikkor wides and normals, what I really wanted was a Leica M5. IIRC, the M5 ran about 3 times the price of a new F2. In 1977, while an "art student" in NYC, I skrimped and saved, went to Cambridge Photo and bought a new M5 off the shelf. I got a good discount, as the camera had been discontinued by that time. The Photomic has come and gone, as have an M6 and M7 I bought new soon after their introduction, while I still have the M5 and use it all the time. To me its the one indispensable camera I own, although I'm sure a lot of that has to do with my emotional attachment to the camera.

IMO, the failure of the M5 had little to do with its merits as a camera and more to do with the state of the professional market in the early 70s along with Leica's unintentional sabotage of the M5 by also marketing the budget CL at 1/4th the price of the M5.

By 1971,when the M5 appeared, the rangefinder camera was dead on arrival, dated technology no pro wanted. Those who used Ms in the 50s and early 60s had migrated to cheaper and more flexible SLR systems from Nikon and Canon, so the pro market for a new Leica was minimal at this time. Likewise, if you were a dedicated amateur and wanted a Leica, you could buy a new CL with a dedicated 40mm for less than the price of a new F2. IMO, the confluence of these two factors doomed the M5, and largely explains why many sat on shelves for years until sold at a discount.

I believe the standard explanation for the M5's failure i.e. too big, too ugly, is a canard, a convenient shorthand excuse for a failure largely based on the economic realities noted above. The M5, after all, was a revolutionary camera for Leica - TTL metering 25 years before they attempted it again in the M6, great ergonomics, very accurate semi-spot meter, hand-built to traditional Leica specs. As for the aesthetics of the camera, no, it's not a traditional M, but in my mind its beautiful camera. Of course, there is no correct answer when aesthetics are involved.

So, I'm puzzled by the continued dismissal of the great camera, and what I consider the ex post facto justifications of its failure and the conflation of those justifications with the opinion that the M5 was a failure as a camera as opposed to victim of circumstance.

What say you?
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Old 10-26-2012   #2
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Nice, informative rant about the M5.
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Old 10-26-2012   #3
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The M5 is the best film Leica M ever made!

My favorite of them all. Terribly underrated, IMHO.
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Old 10-26-2012   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pickett Wilson View Post
The M5 is the best film Leica M ever made!

My favorite of them all. Terribly underrated, IMHO.
I knew there was a reason I liked you.
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Old 10-26-2012   #5
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It came way too late, way too big,with way too few features and almost no accessories, as seen needed by those, emulating pro photographers. i thought the camera great at time, the discount, dealers price or slightly less. I had a Nikon-Fsystem, some lenses and a M3/M2 with 4 main lenses. Saw no point in the M5.. nor did any of my pro friends.
Learn't later that many changes in the camera, would become a concern, the main shutter drum roller, the metering, the use of a soon to be extinct battery.Many service people do NOT like working on one.
i have used one. It's nice. Some stuff is nice to use/visit but not own/live there!
The CL for some a joy. For many a pure nightmare. L blames M, M blames L.
The new Leica Digital M is much larger. I wonder why no one has mentioned that? Again way too expensive compared to cameras with similar features except the viewfinder, which is basically unique.
In all truth the SLR (and DSLR) are the best for viewing. Everybody voted with their feet and moved to this system. Today's DSLR a poor substitute for a real SLR. Marketing has won.
Those of you using the M5, Enjoy! It's a great camera.
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Old 10-26-2012   #6
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I love M5 threads even more than meter threads. The key to M5 love is a chrome M5. The lines look better. Remember the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud in black with a silver roof, a colour scheme that breaks the mass of that car nicely? Same deal with the M5. It feels so solid in the hand, easier to more securely hand hold slower speeds. The meter, the VF shutter speed read out, the overhanging shutter speed dial, the ratcheted rewind crank, the vertical hanging, the lug-less graspability for the right had of the two lug model, the large clear viewfinder, the balance for a big 50 and other big lenses. A great camera.
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Old 10-26-2012   #7
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Cool

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pickett Wilson View Post
The M5 is the best film Leica M ever made!

My favorite of them all. Terribly underrated, IMHO.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Teuthida View Post
I knew there was a reason I liked you.
Agreed. Still going strong after all these years. I reckon I have sufficient batteries to last me a lifetime.
Imagine, for a minute, if there had only been 70,000 M3 or M4 cameras made. Imagine their price today.
Not only is the M5 the best built, best handling, best picture taking Leica in all conditions ever hand made by the Elves of Wetzler, it is a screaming bargain thanks to the Internet Know It All Experts who constantly denigrate the M5 for reasons that have nothing to do with the camera's ability to make photographs.
I still wonder why I traded my second M5 for a Canon digital body.

M5: To use it is to love it.

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Old 10-26-2012   #8
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Yes. I've owned both the black and chrome, and I much prefer the look of the chrome.
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Old 10-26-2012   #9
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Agree about the chrome. A chrome M5 is a rare thing of beauty.

Unfortunately, being a 20 y/0 hipster in 1977, I had to have a black M5. I still love it, but I always keep one eye out for a reasonably priced mint chrome m5.
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Old 10-26-2012   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pickett Wilson View Post
Yes. I've owned both the black and chrome, and I much prefer the look of the chrome.
Stop it! I want a chrome M5. Bad. Why? To mount my D.R. Summicron and other chrome lenses. Bigfoot would then be for my black lenses. Yes. I suffer from camera+lens fashion syndrome.

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Old 10-26-2012   #11
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Is the new digital M bigger than the M5?
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Old 10-26-2012   #12
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No, the forthcoming M is the exact same size as the M8 & M9 (w/the addition of a small ridge/bump behind the shutter release for the "thumbs-up"-types who miss their advance levers), both of which are smaller than the M5.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Geordiepete View Post
Is the new digital M bigger than the M5?
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Old 10-26-2012   #13
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Thanks Furcafe, I thought I read that the new M (240) was wider and maybe a bit taller, than the M9.
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Old 10-26-2012   #14
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Too big, too heavy, too complicated, too ugly. Obviously they have their fans; equally obviously, those fans were never numerous.

Canard? No, I don't think so. I don't entirely agree about the economic analysis, though equally, I'd not dismiss it. As for the CL, I thought it had very little to commend it. Again, it has its fans; again, I think I'm with the majority on this one.

The M5 wasn't a horrible camera. It just wasn't what most Leica buyers wanted. Me among them. Somewhere I have the brochure from when it was introduced in 1971. I'd been using screw Leicas for a couple of years by then; had handled Ms, and was lusting after one; and when I saw that thing... Aaaargh. Bear in mind that an M is big after a screw-mount, and the M5 was HUGE. All I can imagine is that the vast majority of other Leica users/would-be users were of the same mind.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 10-26-2012   #15
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Chunkier and chunkier...
...I just checked Leica's website for size specs. The M (240) is 41 mm thick, the M8/9/ME is 37 mm. The M5 is 36 mm thick, slimmer than any digi M, and in between an M3/4 and M6/7. The M3 & M4 are 33.5 mm thick, and the M6 and M7 are 38 mm.

However, I just swapped my M3 and M6 baseplates, and they fit perfectly. So the thickness figures for M3/4 and M6/7 are deceptive, and I suppose they must be figuring in the ISO dial sticking out of the M6/7 but not altering the holdability.
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Old 10-26-2012   #16
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No problem. According to the Leica web site:

M9 & M9P = (W x D x H) 139 x 37 x 80mm

New M = 139 x 42 x 80mm

I think a few people were confused because some web sites/reviews didn't notice that the extra 5mm thickness over the M8 & M9 was entirely due to the little thumb bump.

In comparison, the M5 was 155 x 36 x 84mm

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Thanks Furcafe, I thought I read that the new M (240) was wider and maybe a bit taller, than the M9.
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Old 10-26-2012   #17
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Yes, Furcafe, those specs confused me. As I see it, if the baseplates can be interchanged, they are the same thickness. Hmm, makes me want to try an M 240 a bit more now! I'm impressed they squeezed all that jazz into an M9 body size. I do nevertheless wish future digi Ms will return to film M girth.

I'm in Tokyo this weekend, so if I have a chance I'll check out the used Leica stores and see what I think of the M5. I always liked needle meters.
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Old 10-26-2012   #18
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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Like/dislike of the M5 is subjective. To each, their own. You say tomato, I say tomato. Some people don't like sushi. There's no accounting for taste. Etc.
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Old 10-26-2012   #19
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I feel an M5 in my future.
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Old 10-26-2012   #20
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I had an M5 briefly. I had wanted one when they first came out in the '70's, and decided to try one out seven years ago. I sold it because it didn't actually do anything that I couldn't do with my M6; and the latter had 28mm framelines, which I needed.
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Old 10-26-2012   #21
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I tried one too. >To me< it felt too bulky. But I would not begrudge anyone who didn't feel the same.

For me, rangefinders is about being smaller and lighter than the average SLR. But if a certain camera "clicks" for you, it's not a problem to overlook any of its deficits as generally perceived by a majority of others. For example, the Nikon F3 meter readout is not so good, and that is the general concensus, but the rest of the camera is just right for me.
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Old 10-26-2012   #22
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when I picked my first leica few months ago I simply looked at the choices and said no to the M5 simply because of the looks.. I wanted the traditional Leica M body look and the M5 simply didnt satisfy my wish for that, thats pretty much everything about it.

from a rational point of view it might have been the perfect M for me, as I got huge paws. so the feel might have been worth having a look at, but the dealer put a mint M6ttl in chrome in front of me and well... he could have shown me a new old stock M3 and I would still have chosen that M6. and it just takes pictures like every leica. monsters with an unsatiable hunger for 35mm.

wish I had at least touched one of those cameras, just to try it out. but anyway, in 2 weeks I visit the Leica factory in Solms, so I might have a look at the M5, but wont buy it

I'm quite glad that people appreciate their cameras and show the M5 some love
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Old 10-26-2012   #23
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Functions comes before form for me when it comes to cameras. The M5 is a better fit in my large hands (not that the traditional m's are a poor fit). The real deal with the m5 is the perfectly overhanging shutter speed dial coaxially located around the shutter button. There is simply no possible argument that could be made against the superiority of this design. As far as looks go, I now prefer the look of the M5. Yes it's sort of a chunky Humvey to the Mp's Land Rover. The black model in particular looks a bit like a piece of military equipment. It's grown on me and now I find it the best looking RF I have ever owned. One of mine has the original frame lines which I prefer as a mostly 50mm user. The other has had the m6 Frame lines installed by Sherry to include 28/75 in my bag. I won't sell either of mine mine even though my 35mm film usage is fading. Great cameras
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Old 10-26-2012   #24
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I don't currently own a Leica Rf, but the M5 is one of the ones I would like to own one day. As much as I love the traditional Leica design aesthetic, I do love how the M5 looks.
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Old 10-26-2012   #25
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"By 1971,when the M5 appeared, the rangefinder camera was dead on arrival, dated technology no pro wanted"

Funny, after the M5 flopped Leica brought out the M4-2 ( a cheaper incarnation of the M4), then the M4-P (correcting the m4-2 issues), then the M6, M7, etc, etc. Notice the M3 form and size has continued into the digital age and seems to be liked enough for people to pay exorbitant prices. What was difference about the M5? The clunky large size maybe.

A lot of us who have been shooting Leica for over 40 years don't like it. Period. Some like carrying a brick. Simple as that.
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Old 10-26-2012   #26
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Brick ?!?! ..... Yeah it's a handmade in Germany brick
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Old 10-26-2012   #27
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A very well made brick.
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Old 10-26-2012   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Beemermark View Post
. . .. A lot of us who have been shooting Leica for over 40 years don't like it. Period. Some like carrying a brick. Simple as that.
This seems an important point to me. Most apologists for, or admirers of, the M5 have had 40+ years to think of excuses, and to accuse those who never liked the thing of making up reasons why we don't like it (though I can't quite see why we would). Those of us who thought it was a bad idea at the time have seen no reason to revise our initial opinions.

It's all very well to postulate a conspiracy to do the M5 down, but perhaps a more realistic analysis might be that very few liked it when it came out, and there are not many more who like it now. To be brutal, it needs 40+ years of fans to absorb the number that were made -- and even then, there aren't enough of them to drive second-hand prices up to 'normal' Leica levels.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 10-26-2012   #29
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I had an M5 for awhile. I prefer the overall feel of the other Ms, but I thought the shutter dial on the M5 was much better. I also prefer the M5's meter to the M7, mostly in regards to its metering radius (more of a spot meter) and its display in the viewfinder (needle matching). Both seemed very accurate to me.

I'm happy with the other Ms, but I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another M5 at some point as a backup or "oh crap, I have a half-finished roll of Tri-X @3200 loaded and I'm on the surface of the sun!" body.
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Old 10-26-2012   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
This seems an important point to me. Most apologists for, or admirers of, the M5 have had 40+ years to think of excuses, and to accuse those who dnever liked the thing of making up reasons why we don't like it (though I can't quite see why we would). Those of us who thought it was a bad idea at the time have seen no reason to revise our initial opinions.

It's all very well to postulate a conspiracy to do the M5 down, but perhaps a more realistic analysis might be that very few liked it when it came out, and there are not many more who like it now. To be brutal, it needs 40+ years of fans to absorb the number that were made -- and even then, there aren't enough of them to drive second-hand prices up to 'normal' Leica levels.

Cheers,

R.
I bought one when it came out and didn't like it. Besides being clunky the viewfinder is very cluttered. Anyway sold that one but a few years ago (5 or so) I got sucked into buying another one. Tried but still didn't like it.
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Old 10-26-2012   #31
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The M5 is my favourite metered Leica. I love the needle movement and seeing the shutter speed in the finder.

The M9 comes next, typically on A and it shows my shutter speed. Hmmm, I've never used on manual. Must see what it looks like.

I don't like the dots in the M6.

And on the M5, I like how it balances out the bigger Leica lenses, but I've said that many times. Now, I own two M5's, both bought dirt cheap because they were listed as defective, but just needed some internal caressing to bring back to life. Mind you, they are tricky to work on, and Youxin Ye won't do them.
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Old 10-26-2012   #32
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Yeah, the 28 and 75mm lenses weren't in the stable when the M5 was conceived.

That can be fixed by transplanting new frameline masks, but, takes work.

And the pesky M5 battery is a niusance; the originals were calibrated to 1.35V mercury cells.


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I had an M5 briefly. I had wanted one when they first came out in the '70's, and decided to try one out seven years ago. I sold it because it didn't actually do anything that I couldn't do with my M6; and the latter had 28mm framelines, which I needed.
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Old 10-26-2012   #33
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Quote:
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Yeah, the 28 and 75mm lenses weren't in the stable when the M5 was conceived.

That can be fixed by transplanting new frameline masks, but, takes work.

And the pesky M5 battery is a niusance; the originals were calibrated to 1.35V mercury cells.
There'd been 28s since the 1930s. For that matter the 73 Hektor was also from the 30s (though admittedly long obsolete by 1971).

Cheers,

R.
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Old 10-26-2012   #34
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I have to say I have now moved from "I really don't like the M5" firmly in to the "I Love my M5" camp

I picked up my M5 along with various other Leica gear as part of a set - http://www.rangefinderforum.com/foru...d.php?t=119731

My initial opinion was based on what I'd read, now having owned and used the camera I have to admit it has a certain charm that's won me over......maybe its that underdog thing

Here she is the little beauty



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Old 10-26-2012   #35
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Wow, she is pretty.

I usually prefer black cameras but the M5 is the only one that I like in chrome, as well as black. I do wish the M5 came in black paint.


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...

Here she is the little beauty

...

Jason
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Old 10-26-2012   #36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by janrzm View Post
I have to say I have now moved from "I really don't like the M5" firmly in to the "I Love my M5" camp

I picked up my M5 along with various other Leica gear as part of a set - http://www.rangefinderforum.com/foru...d.php?t=119731

My initial opinion was based on what I'd read, now having owned and used the camera I have to admit it has a certain charm that's won me over......maybe its that underdog thing

Here she is the little beauty

Jason
Funny to see this picture appear on this thread.

This very picture has been the screen saver on my iPad for the last 6 months or so. I googled "chrome m5" and downloaded the best looking chrome M5 picture I could find. Turns out it was yours!
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Old 10-26-2012   #37
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dont think theres dismissal here. M5 was well talked few years back, many in classifieds, and then interest shifted to models.
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Old 10-26-2012   #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vickko View Post
The M5 is my favourite metered Leica. I love the needle movement and seeing the shutter speed in the finder.

The M9 comes next, typically on A and it shows my shutter speed. Hmmm, I've never used on manual. Must see what it looks like.
I think of these two cameras as stable mates too. The heft of the M5 is great. And it's not only the balance with the big lenses but also the increased awareness of the orientation of the M5 which has longer flatter proportions, ideal for trying to shoot very straight horizontals and verticals with a 21 or 18.
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Old 10-26-2012   #39
helenhill
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I was loaned an M5 by Tamarkin Camera while my newly bought M2 (from them) needed Service
I LOVED it...such a Great Cam
three Cheers for the M5...Salute !

Agree with Vickko..Love the Needle metering, much prefer an m5 to an M6 (flashing dots)

I like its Boxy Build & simply Adore the Chrome Body
and for low light who needs to worry about a Meter...thats the M5's only Flaw, the metering difficult to view in the dark
No Worries, I usually shoot no lower than 1/8 @ f2 or f1.4


Oh well I tend to Love alot of Gear some people refer to as 'dogs'
the M5, The nokton classic 35, 50 summicron v3 ...
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Old 10-26-2012   #40
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In difficult light, the M5's meter is sublime. It simply rocks.
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