The new Leica M: I'm in.
A few months back, after several years of love/hate (mostly love) I sold my M9 but, not being a total fool, I kept my lovely lenses. In my experience you never lose money on M glass, and often make nearly enough to subsidise your camera body habit. So, having shot with digital M since the first day of availability of the M8 I found myself with no body on which to use my finest (but by no means only, trust me) collection of glass. Unless of course you count the various NEX and MFT bodies, on which M glass sits like ermine on a pauper, with results about as convincing.
My main reason for 'getting out' was simple. I could live with many of the things that drove other people bonkers (the terrible screen, the slow, buggy performance, the poor performance at high ISO) but I absolutely could NOT live with the constant 'drift' that affected the relationship between the bodies and the lenses. Nor, when this eventual mis-calibration set in, could I deal with the round-tripping to Solms. No: I was selling the M9 and all my Phase One gear and consolidating into the marvellous Nikon D800.
Which has spent a great deal of time being round-tripped to Nikon service. Only, unlike Solms, when it gets back from Richmond it rarely feels fixed.
Also, having done two foreign trips with the Nikon gear I am starting to re-realise something I've known for a long time: zooms are in general more convenient than effective and I find myself gravitating back to primes. In which case... on a Nikon that often means Zeiss. And if you're paying for Zeiss you might as well have Leica.
Another thing: if I look back over any of the series I shot with the Leica gear, there is a certain je ne sais quoi to the images and I miss it. There's a glimmer of it when I mount a Noctilux or 50 Lux on a NEX 7 (at least in the central portion of the image!) but it really isn't much more than a glimmer. Of course, there's a risk that the switch from CCD to CMOS might break the spell, but I don't think Leica would do that. I don't trust them to get the video right but I do trust them to get the feel of the files right. Famous last words? Let's give them the benefit of the doubt: they have chosen 'minority report' sensors before and managed to retain 'the look'.
So. The Nikon (if I can ever get one that focusses as advertised) will end up as a studio camera, an action camera and a landscape camera for when I really need ultimate extra resolution or perspective control lenses. And given that there still isn't a MFT camera that really does great image quality (I had high hopes for the GH3 but it turns out to be a video camera) that leaves NEX and Leica. NEX can't use Leica glass convincingly and with very few exceptions, most of the E mount glass is miserable. Which brings us back to...
The M. On which subject, why are Leica 'doing an Apple'? I mean really, all this dropping of model designations á la iPad, and great dramatic launch events. It's not your style, drop it.
I said last week that I'd only be interested in the new M if it had an EVF (to obviate the need for accurate RF focus) and that I'd want that EVF to be built in, not clipped on. But I have thought it through and I have changed my mind. I will use the RF only, most of the time. I will make a one-off effort to get the new body correctly calibrated to my existing lenses and then save the EVF for when they drift apart or for when I need extremely accurate focus or framing. In the meantime, I'll love going back to the speed and general accuracy of RF focus, I'll use hyperfocal when it suits, and I'll feel that glorious connection with the subject that M photography does like nothing else.
But I would add that the higher the resolution of the sensor, the more demanding it is of accurate focussing, and that an EVF, in future, will be absolutely vital for those wanting to exploit the potential of escalating pixel counts for larger prints or deeper crops. Especially with longer lenses or very wide apertures. For those that don't want these options, the choice not to buy the add-on EVF is simple and the cost saving in not paying for it 'in-camera' is obvious. In fact, the price of the new model is, by Leica standards, perfectly reasonable and probably round about what you would have expected from a model without the EVF feature. So everybody wins.
As for the rest of the spec, I personally would prefer it if the camera were the same weight and dimensions as the M9 but otherwise, I think it looks great. The partial weather sealing is welcome, the faster processor, bigger screen and Gorilla glass are no-brainers, and the continuing lack of an AA filter is as expected. None of that stuff really matters to me though. I've been shooting rangefinders since I was eight years old but for me, it's the EVF that counts.
The new M saves Leica from digital obscurity, and ensures the continuation of the greatest line of cameras ever made. It is Photokina's most important announcement* and I ordered one at 9 am this morning, which makes me first on the list at Leica UK.
Watch this space.
I have illustrated this article with a series of shots made with a Leica M8 in the weeks after it was first released. Leica linked to these images from their M product pages for years and though creatively I have moved on since they were made, to me they illustrate the look that I can get with Leica that I have so far failed to reproduce with any other system.
* aside from the Hasselblad Lunar, henceforth known as the Lunacy, which clearly shows how much distress the Medium Format Digital sector is in. Tarting up a NEX-7 in a camera with a bit of wood on it and charging several thousands Euros more for a product with very very limited access to native mount glass of any quality just... smells...desperate. More desperate even than Phase One's 'new' 645 system body, which looks about as new as... well, I am too much of a gentleman to say.
Sold all my M gear - including a Noctilux! - 5 years ago.
I simply found that my eyesight was such that I could not focus the lenses accurately and reliably anymore. It rendered the whole experience so hit and miss as to be worthless really.
I love the form factor and if they ever see sense and produce and AF version I'll be in there like a rat up a drainpipe!
I now use the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 which is broadly similar in form factor, AF and will soon (2013) have Zeiss AF lenses to add to the excellent Fujifilm lenses.
It's a great camera - I recommend it.
Great images. I think you need to get the S2... no problems with focusing accuracy and the je ne sais quoi is there in spades.
I ordered a M by email at 5.26am on the 18th with Harrison Cameras Sheffield.
Like you I know that Leica will have taken the time and effort to get the same look from CMOS as they did from CCD.
HI Tim, Scott.
The reason Tim has more problems is not (I think) that he's an early adopter, much more that he takes great pains checking that things are working properly, whilst the rest of us are much more casual.
Great article - and lovely to see those fine Venice shots again; for me this camera represents almost everything I need - I'm very excited!
all the best
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