I've used two R3's for years. Now on both the AE doesn't work any more. I also use a R8 and real like this camera. It is a joy to use. I'm more comfortable with the r8 than with the canon 20d.
Sebastio salgado shot his workers project with a R6.
My repairman says only the mechanical r's are worth having. The Sl and SL2 are great camera's. Built like a tank and probably the brightest vf ever made.
I own several R lenses and they are all great and on par with the M lenses.
I have two of the older SLRs, an SL and an SL2; have never tried any of the Rs. The SL2 came with the 50 Summilux; I have the 50 Summicron for the SL and several of the "cheapest" of the lenses, all the 2-cam versions with one exception: 35/2.8, 90/2.8, 135/2.8 (3-cam) and 180/4. None of these was unreasonably priced, but of course they're '60s-'70s designs. However, they are quite good, as you'd expect -- the equivalent optically of the corresponding M lenses. (This opinion is probably not shared by all Leica fans!)
The Leicaflex bodies are quite hefty, and certainly not particularly feature-packed -- just basic match-needle SLRs, albeit with semi-spot metering, which is a little unusual. But that's about what you'd expect from a company that didn't even have a metered rangefinder model until the early '70s (the M5). The SL2 is quite refined, rather like the M5, which was made around the same time. But basically you bought these "diesel Leicas" for the lenses; Leica couldn't offer anything like the system capabilities of Nikon and Canon.
They are very intuitive to use (perhaps with the exception of the meter), and the shutter is really nice indeed -- a soft "fwuff" rather than the harsher sounds of the better-known SLRs. Definitely well worth trying out. I should mention that the cameras take mercury batteries, so you will need to use one of the various workarounds unless you have a hoard of them still.
Doug Herr's website is a trove of information about all the Leica SLR cameras and lenses. I highly recommend it. I think it's by subscription only now, but he is a great guy and very helpful.
I have owned an R6 for years and I have owned a few M6 models over the years with quite a few lenses (including their F1.0). There is no comparing the 2 in the way they are used. Rangefinder vs SLR are very different ways of photographing. The build quality of the SLR is great. My R6 is a manual camera, everything except the meter operates without a batter, which is fine since I use a spot meter. I have heard that the R6 was actually built by Minolta, but I'm not sure. Many of their lenses were made in Canada, not Germany, but still Leica formulas. So, the R6, R6.2 and a few others may really be Japanese cameras with Canadian lenses, but they sure feel like a Leica. Build quality of the R6 seems on par with the M6.
As for how they fit in, it seems to that it was simply Leica filling out it's product line with SLR's. It may be the best built SLR that I ever owend (not that I owned that many...). The only other body I ever owned that seemed as solid was the older Canon F1, but the Leica is built better.
Personally, when I went looking for a very solid fully manual well-built SLR, it was easy to settle on the R6. If you want fancier features, then the R8 and up would be the choice.
R3 is solid
I've been using an R3 as my main camera for some years now. I could never afford an M-series Leica but it's possible to get beautiful Leitz glass (like the 50mm Summicron) much cheaper for the R series. I have found my R3 to be a solid workhorse - utterly reliable and functional even when the batteries run out (on 1/90 second). The drawback is that it is big and heavy compared to other Leicas. Nevertheless, I think the R3 is a bargain - and the images from the Summicron are just amazing.
A step back...
Assuming when you say "Leica Rs" you also include the Leicaflex models...
Originally the Leicaflex models were referred to as "diesel Leicas" by Leica purists, but then Leitz felt that there's a need to add an SLR series to its family of products. The Leicaflex, Leicaflex SL, and Leicaflex SL2 were, and are massively engineered (although not quite to the point of being over-engineered like the Contarex models).
The subsequent R models from R3 to R7 were Minolta-based... actually Leitz/Leica must have had some design and engineering inputs during the earliest design phases. I am not sure about the R4 and derivatives, as I don't have first-hand experiences with them. However, I use five Minolta XD/XD7/XD11 cameras professionally and I cannot say I can complain about them at all. Could it be Leica's modifications to these cameras lessened the reliability?
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The Leica R4 through the R7 certainly were modified versions of the Minolta XD11. I have forgotten the model that the Leica R3 and R3 MOT were derived. Leica did some major design changes to the bodies, top plates, mirrors, mirror lifts, shutters, film take-up, motor winders etc. that are different than their Minolta counterparts.
Leica required much higher standards than the Minolta counterpart cameras. For R4 series onward, they used a special coated mirror (about 17 coats, many more coatings than the Minolta), along with removable screens, metering system- averaging and spot, etc. There is a reflector behind the mirror and there is a beam splitter to divert a portion of the light to the metering for the camera metering options. Additionally, the mirror lift used a special pneumatic lift if memory serves to lessen the shutter bounce. The Shutters were a vertically moving metal shutter that had as low as 1/100 of second flash sync with the R4 series ending as I recall with 1/250???? of sec. with the R7. The Leica Shutters were supposed to function 100,000 exposures with little of no sign of wear. The top plates of these cameras were all made with sandwich of metal housing with an outer chrome (usually black chrome) sandwiched with Zinc and other alloys to increase the strength.
The film take up spools were different from the Minolta to aid in the film loading of the cameras. The initial eV correction of the Leica R4 was modified by Marty Forscher to make it easier to make these adjustments when working in automatic. This modification was first seen in the R4SP and was followed on all of the later automatic Leica R cameras through the R7. The Leica R4 onward allowed the reading of the lens aperture directly off of the lens (as I remember that was one of the modifications that could be made for the R4S). Additionally, the motor winders and motor drives (R4 and R) were made specifically for the Leica R4-R7 cameras.
There is more to the R4 through the R7 than many of you know. These were rugged and generally quite reliable, about the size of an M Leica and not to be confused with their Minolta counterparts.
The Minolta R3 camera was the XE-7, and it was a very nice Minolta. My favorites of the R series were the later R4 though R7. Solid, simple, reliable, compact, quiet, smooth, with a fantastic viewfinder. Great lenses.
Originally Posted by naturephoto1
Even the R3 differed considerably from its Minolta counterpart, with the meter cell behind the mirror, spot metering, and a notably superior viewfinder being the changes I recall.
These are great cameras with great lenses, and a tremendous bargain these days.
The R3 was Leica's version of the Minolta XE/XE1/XE7.
Somehow I am not completely sure if Leica modified the cameras in fundamental ways, such as the shutters. For instancec the R3/XE models used the CLS (Copal Leitz Shutter) designed jointly with Copal, so there would not be too much of a need to modify further. The Seiko shutter used in R4/XD models, like the CLS and other vertical shutters, was pretty much a self-contained proprietory unit; just bolt it into the chassis and you are done. I cannot see why Leica would want to modify complete proprietory, fully-built shutter units one by one; perhaps some information rather than PR material can ascertan this.
I may be incorrect in a modification to the shutter. But, it was my understanding that the R4-R7 camera shutter was different than those used for the Minolta XD11. As to the mirror, pneumatic lift, and many of the other Leica designed parts, beam splitter and metering methodology, etc.they are not the same as those found in the Minolta cameras and were made to higher tolerance levels. As an example Minolta made 70-210 mm zooms made for the Minolta system were made to 1/3 stop stop accuracy while the same lens or design made for the Leica R system was made to a 1/6 stop accuracy. These differences resulted in the Minolta lens selling for between $250-$300 while the Leica lens sold for on the order of $2000.
I still cannot see why Leica would order a similar but yet higher-spec shutter from Seiko for incorporating into the R4 and its variants; after all Minolta shipped the half-built bodies to Leica for completion so the shutter would have been installed at Minolta's plant, I'd think.
However the extra one-sixth of a stop in aperture accuracy would not be a major concerne since the Minolta XD models has the "final check" function to allow for such situations. There again, even the slightest change in processing can negate this consistancy, and the modern material with better latitude would not make it a major issue anyway. So I think this advantage would only be academic.