Many people have written about the look, feel and quality of Leica cameras and lenses. There's no denying they are beautifully made, top quality products. The fact that there is an active market trading Leica items from the 1950s, 60's and 70's is testament to their longevity, and collectibility. That, however, is something for others to write about. I'm interested in image making ability, and final image quality.
The Leica image captures a larger context, and a sense of place. You can see it's a college gymnasium, and you can sense the crowd. None of that is present in the closeup, powerful as it may be in its own way.
As I said, each has its place. I create both kinds of images, depending on my mood and goals.
The high performance SLR excels at capturing the moment, under any conditions. The rangefinder encourages careful, deliberate picture taking.
Weight and bulk excepted, some might say you could do the same things by using an SLR in manual mode. And indeed you could, for the most part. But people don't do that. When they buy a camera with automation, they use it. People do not buy automatic transmission cars to shift them manually, and cameras are the same.
With an SLR, one must take special steps to use it as a manual camera, where with a rangefinder it's the only way to shoot. The simpler tool forces the photographer to think, in ways a modern SLR does not. If you're shooting news, you probably don't want that as much as speed, performance, and reliability. But if you're shooting fine art . . . . that is the place of the Leica today.
By taking away the automation yet retaining such extraordinarily good image making capabilities the Leica forces you to become a better photographer. When your Leica images are less than tack sharp, overexposed, or clipped at one end of the other . . . there is no machine to blame. Just you. If you master a Leica you will take better photos with any camera. I guarantee it.
If I were looking to walk out into the desert, or to the top of a mountain, and photograph the landscape, there is no better camera I could carry than an M8, M9, or MP. If I wanted to capture birds or wildlife I'd make a different choice but for the scenery itself the Leica cannot be beat.
I also use the Leica to create action images (like the basketball shot above) that have a more classic, period feel to them. It's hard to put in words, but that b&w Leica shot certainly stands apart from any other photos of that particular game. In a world where so much looks the same, there's a lot to be said for that.
A farmhouse in the snow
John Sebastian of the Lovin Spoonful sings "Do You Believe In Magic?"
Radio City by night.
And remember - it's not a camera or a picture - but my third book Raising Cubby is coming, March 12, 2013. Be ready.
John Elder Robison