Paul, my experience was slightly similar to yours. In the early 1980s, I missed a chance to buy a Leica M4 with three lenses and regretted it. In 2002, I had a chance to buy an M6 with an f/2.0 Summicron.
It's a great camera with a fantastic lens. But it wasn't for me. The film loading didn't bother me, but I didn't care for the tiny shutter speed dial, and the feel of the tab (in addition to being a tabbed lens) bothered me in an inexplicable way. The most aggravating thing for me was the shutter release -- the release point was almost at the bottom, and while a soft release corrected it, I don't like having to buy add-ons to compensate for a shortcoming.
The build of the camera was exceptional, and I loved the viewfinder. You couldn't ask for a better-built camera. And the photos were sharp with excellent tones. No complaints whatsoever about the results.
I sold it to a fellow who was really eager to get a Leica. I'm sure that he took much better photos than me, and I was happy to sell it to someone who really wanted to use it.
There's no use denying that Leica has some kind of cache, but if you're a photographer and therefore consider a camera a tool and not a piece of jewellery, it's how it works for you that's important.
Personally, I bought my first Leica because, at the time, I could afford to, and secondly because I was uncertain of my ability. I thought, rightly or wrongly, that the Leica was the best kit on the market, and if I couldn't take a decent picture with one then I may as well give up.
The issues of handling are of course subjective. I've never had any problem with loading films - never once has one failed to catch - but if you're used to buttons and dials you can flick with a gentle touch of your finger, then a Leica M is going to feel pretty weird.
I do wish Leica didn't have this mystique, then we could just assess it as a camera!
I was given a leica iii as a gift, and it is my only leica to date. I love the operation of it, but if you think loading film on a M series is a pain, try a screwmount and you'll change your mind. Its not a go to camera, but its a fun one to use for street photography. Its so very very quiet, I once took a photo of a friend from 3 or 4 feet away and they didn't realize it.
The M series fills an important niche in photography.
If you need a virtually silent camera, even with the Motor M. handhold at slow shutter speeds and lenses that allow low light film photography and deliver stunning images when you do your part, then no other small format camera can come close.
If loading film simply is your criterion for a camera. your lucky because there are many cameras on the market that can do that for you and even re-wind your film for a lot less of an investment.
There is a place for the mirror slapping noisy SLR, especially with long lenses and that is where I use my Nikon's. but for discrete low light photography, there is no myth, there is only the M.
To me the pinnacle of the M series is the M7. I can use any lens and only concern my self with composition and its especially useful with 21mm wideangle types because one does not have to focus, but just push the shutter button. If you have never used an M7 with Motor M and 21mm or so lens, then you have no benchmark to judge how quick and discrete one can take a picture.-Dick
In reference to the release point it's part of what allows the Leica to be so predictable and able to capture the "decisive moment". There is less delay between the release being pressed and the shutter actually beginning it's travel.
The reason is that in an SLR the release button releases the mirror, and the mirror releases the shutter. It's about 10ms VS 30ms.
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I agree with Frank and Mike.
Besides, what's quality? What about great pictures. Those we prefer because they bring back good memories or because they were taken in difficult situations.
I use a Leica M6 and a Nikon F3 with the same good results. The fist is equipped with an expensive aspherical wideangle. A 1972 50mm is mounted on the F3. They are both sharp, bring fine details to life. I will never part with these.
Sometime ago someone told me that Leitz glass is wonderful because it's sharp and has a great tonal rendition.
Is this true ? And what are the lenses best known for that?
Before I bought my M6, I read dozens of articles that suggested that the 35/f2 Summicron has the best sharpness, colour accuracy and creamy bokeh. Then I read others that argued that 'this model' of the 35mm/f2 Summicron had better bokeh than 'that one'. Then I read that the 50mm version was even better......aaaaarrrrghhh!!
The nice man at Aperture Photographic in London walked me through my purchase and I was (and remain) very happy with the purchase and with Aperture Photographic. I have no issues with the photos the M6 gave me and it seemed that there actually was a certain 'something' that the Canadian-made 35mm/f2 Summicron had that other lenses I've used in the past hadn't. Whether that perceived difference really was there and whether it was 'better' than my current Nikkor 35mm/f2 AF is extremely debatable.
It seems to me that a whole 'industry' exists, centred around talking bol**cks when it comes to Leica and other high-end lenses. They are undoubtedly sharp and accurate when it comes to colour. However, they either do the job you want them to do, or they don't. Leica, more than any other manufacturer, seems to have optimised profit for itself and its dealers by keeping volumes of new equipment coming into the market low. That has also had the effect of ensuring that s/hand gear also retains a very high value.
When it comes to telling lenses apart, however, I sincerely doubt that many photographers could identify which lens took which photo in a 'controlled experiment' using different models of the same 35mm/f2 Sumicron. Nor, for that matter, do I imagine many could identify which took which in a face-off between a 35mm/f2 Summicron and a 35mm Voigtlander. They may spot differences but would it be possible to say, with unerring certainty, which lens took which photo? And which is 'better' or just 'different'?
My period with an M6 was a real enigma. I loved the photos but just got wound up by what I perceived as niggles in how the thing worked. Would I have another one? Probably, yes - but only when I've exhausted my passion for 35mm SLRs / DSLRs and my lovely Bronica.
Sorry for rambling but I don't really think there's an honest answer to your question.
Paul Jenkin (a late developer...)
"Sometime ago someone told me that Leitz glass is wonderful because it's sharp and has a great tonal rendition.
Is this true ? And what are the lenses best known for that?"
Leitz formerly. now Leica 'glass' has changed throuout its long history so it is impossible to give you a concise answer but I will start with the M series and M3 in particular. The M3 was built around a set of M lenses with the 35mm and 135mm 2.8 having googles. These lenses are optomized for wide open operation with the Summicron giving better wide open resolution and contrast than the Summilux of that era. With time, that has changed and todays Summilux ASPH lenses give resolution and definition on a par with Summicron lenses wide open.
As to tonal rendition and 'bokeh'. As a long time Leica owner and user, I was somewhat surprised to see the term surface and gain such mystical adherance over the years. As with any concept, precept or whatever you want to term it that cannot be measured, there is a hint of 'voodoo science' in all the discussions about 'bokeh' or maybe I should say more than a hint. I ignore any discussion about 'bokeh' and some times feel it is/was an attempt by dealers and others with a monetary interest in older lenses to sell these lenses or a particular lens at a premium.
In any event, todays M ASPH lenses offer the best resolution and contrast at wide open apertures of any Leitz/Leica glass ever and on a par with any other lenses currently produced. As to whether these lenses are better than other brands, we will leave that to the niggiling of others who enjoy that sort of thing.-Dick
M3 VF had 50/90/135mm frames. the 135mm lens had no goggles. The 35 needed them to correct the angle of view.
The 135 with goggles was the 2.8 Elmarit which began production in 1963. It enlarged the 135 frame in the VF by 1.5X and allowed 135m framing with the M2.