Well it’s been at least a week since I picked up my Leica M4 so I thought I’d give an honest review of what it’s been like and share some of the pics from the first roll of film I shot with it.
The name Leica carries a lot of weight in the online photographic community, sometimes it even seems to be a little too much weight.
I remember that Hasselblad had a similar type of “aura” around it. Like the camera itself was some kind of magical thing that would automatically make whoever possessed it an amazing photographer. Unfortunately for me that wasn’t the case with the Hasselblad nor the Leica. To me, the reason brands like these have such a reputation is more from the reliability of the equipment rather than the actual ability of the equipment. A professional photographer that can rely on their gear to just work will always tout the awesomeness of said gear. That’s why the Nikon F3 is regarded more highly than the F65. Dependability. When Leica made the M series cameras they didn’t have a huge line up of bodies and lenses for different frame sizes. They did one thing and they did it well.
So what’s it actually like to be a Leica owner?
About the same as it is to be an Olympus OM-1 owner, but now I’m a little extra careful about the camera swinging off my shoulder!
The M4 I picked up is a real user camera, the silver bottom plate has been replaced with a black one. The previous owner didn’t know why.
There are a couple of marks here and there, some scratching on the back and the vulcanite cover is in less than perfect condition, the rewind crank also has a small crack but it doesn’t seem to affect its operation.
Just how I like it, not too precious 🙂
The lenses I got with it are older lenses off an M3; a 50mm f2.8 Elmar collapsible M mount and a 35mm f3.5 Summaron with Goggles. They’re not the expensive Leica lenses that you always see people showing off, but they seem to do the job so far.
The camera definitely has that vintage look and I’ve noticed other people look a little more closely when I’m shooting with the Leica vs when I’m using an OM-1.
I think this has a lot to do with the whole “ooh it’s a Leica” thing. It’s very similar to a Porsche 911 Carrera or BMW M5, people are enamoured by beautiful things and the Leica M4 is most definitely a beautiful thing.
Shooting is as easy as I thought it would be, the rangefinder system is super simple to operate and the viewfinder is even better than the OM-1’s and believe me that’s impressive.
So far there hasn’t been anything that has struck me as a deal breaker but in all honesty the camera doesn’t do that much. Manual everything, so it’s kind of hard to whine about features that I don’t like. That’s probably another reason why so many online reviews seem to be full of nothing but praise. The camera simply has to do its job and you’ll be happy.
I’d heard a lot about the famous Leica shutter sound and at first I was kind of like meh, whatever. But it does grow on you, it’s an almost smug click. As an Aussie comedian once said, “it’s like the satisfying sound of a wet tennis ball hitting your mate in the back of the head, CHOCK!” But its quietly in your ear.
My first roll of film was Kodak Tri-X so something straight forward and easy to use.
I metered using a handheld spot meter and tried to err on the side of caution when it came to the shadows.
All the pics on the site are straight out of the scanner with no extra curves applied or anything.
One thing important that I discovered after getting the roll back though: NO out of focus shots!
Now in fairness, most of these shots were at f8-f11 with a couple at f5.6 so not really pushing the limits of depth of field, but still with the OM-1 I’d often have a couple that didn’t quite hit the mark.
The other contributing factor is that I may just be trying a little harder to get it right with the Leica.
Anyway heres’s a few more pics…
So what’s my opinion in the end?
It’s a great little camera and I think the hype is mostly deserved. But, I also think that a lot of the Leica persona is more about how the camera makes you feel as an owner rather than how it operates as a shooter. This ties in with the Porsche & BMW analogy I mentioned before. If you’ve ever driven one of these cars you know that they perform really well but they also give your ego a bit of a boost and it’s hard not to like something that does that for you.
I’m happy I bought the camera, the size with the 50mm Elmar means that it’s about the size of a point & shoot which is awesome. I’ll be trading the 35mm & Goggles for a newer version without goggles as they’re not needed and make the camera a little top heavy. But overall it’s definitely looking like it’s taking over as my daily shooter.
If you’re wondering whether I’d recommend buying one?
Well it depends, there’s nothing this camera does that makes it “The Best Camera Ever”. It really does suit someone who isn’t a gear whore. If you are happy with one body & one or two lenses and don’t mind paying the higher price I’d say yeah go for it. Would I prefer this than another camera? Again, it depends. Buying into the Leica system really is buying into a “lifestyle”, if that’s something that interests you, cool. If not then that’s cool too. Each to their own, as they say.
I’ve got a roll of Portra 160 in at the moment and will update this post with more pics and thoughts then.