Why did Leica never implement autofocus in their rangefinders?

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by Colin O, Sep 15, 2019.

  1. AJG


    The paradox of AF for me was always the poor low light performance. Just when a photographer could use some help with focusing many AF systems don't work all that well. Outside in bright light where you are likely to be stopped down and don't need AF very much it works very effectively. Most of my work is in a studio with strobes and I never use AF for that. I am grateful for the live view with 10x magnification that my cameras have for accurate focusing in those situations.
  2. Leica has autofocus products but it's not their real specialty. There' s just no real advantage in trying to cram autofocus into the Ms, and its fans wouldn't thank Leica for doing that. But people who want autofocus can buy something like the VLux 5. The Ms are all about slowing down and maintaining control. Not for everyone though.
  3. I find it somewhat amusing that, once upon a time, one of the advantages of a rangefinder over a SLR was seen as being it's speed of operation.

    How times have changed!

    I love a good rf, particularly for street/reportage.
  4. If MTF is plotted against focusing position at some intermediate distance (e.g., 15 feet), it is a maximum at the exact focal point and falls off on either side. Some lenses have a sharper peak at the focal point than others, often accompanied by asymmetry, nodes and inflection points. According to Erwin Puts, Leica lenses are designed to have a relatively broad, symmetrical peak, which gives images a pleasing character.
  5. There are a jillion great cameras on the market. Just go look at a bunch, play with one that catches your fantasy and see if it does what you want. If it's easy for you to use then rent or buy it. For rangefinder like cameras, the Fuji,s are nice but generally not full frame, but some of them do come with the option to use the EVF or the optical finder which is part of a rangefinder system, and it works fairly similarly. It doesn't really matter why Leica didn't create an autofocus rangefinder, knowing why probably won't help you find a camera that works for you now.
  6. I never bought into the slowing down mantra. If I shoot in the street, often speeding up. If you want to slow down and contemplate, try a large format camera :)
    Jochen likes this.
  7. In relation to my original question, this is not a very helpful answer at all. I was wondering why Leica never implemented autofocus in their M rangefinders, and got some very good answers here. Saying "it doesn't really matter" is a bit condescending. I framed my question in the context of my personal photographic "quandary" - yes, I am questioning what I want from a camera - but the answer is not to just "go look at a bunch and play with one that catches my fancy". I am not necessarily seeking camera suggestions here - I can figure that out myself once I decide what I am looking to get out of photography going forward.
  8. Condescending? Ok. Let me ask you this. Why don't you just ask Leica? Or do you like to see what people's speculations are? So why don't you instead talk about what you might want to do in photography and then ask how a rangefinder would help with that? You will then look for a camera that catches your fancy, unless that has already happened and you are being sucked in to the Leica universe. You know you want one maybe your just looking for a reason to spend the cash.
  9. No, I am not being sucked into the Leica universe. Actually, I am thinking of just using my phone for digital, and getting a Mamiya 6MF. I'm still considering. But that's a personal decision.

    Mainly I just want to enjoy photography. I want a camera that inspires me to use it. I want a camera that doesn't hinder me. And I want pleasing results. I can't find just one camera to do it all. So I'm considering combinations.
  10. M's are fun to use, that's been my experience. So until you get to trust the focusing, they will slow you down if you're coming from auto focus. The quality of the images are great and they have excellent lenses.

    iPhone? I'm using mine more than anything else at the moment.

    If you are shooting film, the Mamiya is a really good camera. I use its cousin the Mamiya 7.

    Leica does have a mystique both due to the history of how they've been used and whom have used them. and assiduously maintained by Leica's marketing.
    If you are used to manual focus they won't be slower than other types of cameras in manual focus. The fit and finish on these cameras is excellent, especially older models M2, 3, 4. They are from the height of the machine age and they do feel nice in the hand. I always got along with the RF system and I think they're good general cameras that can take great pictures in just about any circumstance.
  11. They probably could have (Contax did it successfully) but the issue is that a Leica M's viewfinder shows 28-35mm at all times so the decision about what you are effectively focusing on is not as clear cut as it is on a regular camera. Also, focusing with a rangefinder is incredibly fast. I still focus much faster with my M10 than my Fuji GFX.
  12. As someone who used Leica M and R products for 25 years, they were classics, but my feeling is that the Leica Qs are the nicest AF Leicas that conform to the "Leica ethos". However, Leica seem to refuse to make a Q camera with interchangeable lenses. This may be because the M line is such a classic product and it's too big a gamble to make something that cuts into your main earner, but also because it would require redesigns of all the M lenses to fit a new AF premium line. A very large investment. Still they have taken big risks with the SL and the medium format offerings. Not sure they are paying off, but I don't know. As to the Q not being a rangefinder - to me that is not important, if it take pictures that focus quickly and accurately. I think that it is correct to suggest that an EVF is probably superior to the M viewfinder for most people, but it is a matter of what you are familiar with. I think the Contax G, although AF, were not up to modern standards of AF accuracy and speed (they are 1990s products), and times have moved on. As to why you might want to pay over the odds for a Leica Q or otherwise, this is indeed a very good question: you have to want a luxury product with superb lenses which have a similar appeal to a fine Swiss watch. These attributes are not required for good photography, but appeal to those who have the money. If you can't afford it, my advice would be to get something else, I don't think you are missing anything vital.
  13. Are you going to buy the Leica if it does have auto focus? If you say NO then that is the reason. Most people I know who bought the Leica don't want autofocus. The Contax G2 isn't a rangefinder as it has no rangefinder. It's strictly an autofocus camera.
  14. I never really intended this discussion to be about me or my choice of camera, but rather just why autofocus and rangefinders (and Leica in particular) were so incompatible. (This has been well answered already.)

    As I said at the outset, I'm looking for a small (though I have a generous definition of "small") high-quality camera for travel, and questioning what I actually want from a camera. Ideally I'd like something that ranges from wide to telephoto, with autofocus when I need it, easy to manual focus when I don't. High-quality lens, amazing colour rendering, and one important characteristic for me - a camera that has some intangible character that just inspires me to use it. The perfect camera of course doesn't exist.

    I enjoy photography of course, but I find myself quite content to travel and visit places and to not take so many photographs. Photography isn't the main purpose of my excursions. I'm not interested in taking a pile of mundane snapshots, and I don't want to carry a backpack full of lenses. Hence, wondering what I actually want/need from a camera. I also never stopped shooting film and I love the results I get with it, with minimal work from me, so because of all of that, I've been wondering if a film camera wouldn't satisfy my needs.

    Cost isn't really an issue. I mean, it's not like I'm trying to buy my dream car or something. Any camera that's realistically going to be a good travel camera can be afforded with a little saving. I do not waste money however.

    The Leica Q was nice, but it didn't offer me anything over a Sony or Fujifilm mirrorless camera. The M-E was nicer, but it just got me wondering about autofocus, and here we are, three pages of discussion later. It probably would offer that intangible characteristic of inspiring me to use it, and after initial outlay, the cost per exposure is essentially zero, but there's just something I love about film, which led me to research other options, and now I'm leaning towards a Mamiya 6. Of course, it doesn't offer autofocus either, but it all goes back to my (personal) question about what I actually want from a camera and my photography. The Leica/autofocus/rangefinder question that I posed here was really tangential to all that.
  15. It is very common in this type of discussion for an OP to run in circles: they start with one very specific camera in mind, then three pages later they've run off the rails into a completely different notion that contradicts some (or all) of their initial requirements or preferences. You drifting from a Leica rangefinder to a Mamiya 6 is a surprisingly common example, with a surprisingly common train of thought ("the Leica digital M intrigues me because its so different from most other cameras, its unobtrusive and small and quiet, you know I really kinda like film, you know if I'm gonna bother carrying a film camera at all I want something hugely different from digital, medium format seems like a nice change, hey- how about that Mamiya 6?").

    Textbook. ;)

    But pull yourself back from the ledge for a minute, and re-consider just how much your initial requirements still matter. A Mamiya 6 is nowhere close to a Leica experience: both are rangefinders, but the similarity begins and ends there. Despite what you may hear from its hardcore fans, the Mamiya 6 (or 7) is decidedly not a casual toss-about travel camera. While small for an eyelevel medium format system, it is still large overall. The operational feel and mystique are not particularly inspiring on a "gawd, this Leica M - Nikon F - Rolleiflex really turns me on" level. The lenses are great, but the camera build quality is meh. Things tend to break only in the middle of a trip, with the nearest repair tech who'd know what to do with it a border crossing away.

    The rangefinder tends not to work too well with the portrait lens: its pretty much a 50mm + 75mm two-lens system. The lenses are typical for medium format but slow by digital standards (ISO 400 film + 50mm f/4 does not make for a lot of flexibility). 120 film only delivers 12 exposures, which can be limiting, and the film may not be easy to find mid-vacation. Don't get me wrong: Mamiya 6 can make stunning images within its wheelhouse, but its not quite the general-purpose workhorse some make it out to be. The Mamiya 7 offers an extra super-wide lens option, which is a big draw over the 6, but otherwise they're similar aside from 6x6 vs 6x7. If you're quite sure you want the nice big piece of film, can be happy with just wide + normal lens choices, and won't mind carrying a large-ish camera: go for it.

    The Leica M has undeniable inspirational charm, the lenses are tiny and exquisite, but these days it isn't necessarily as "discreet" as it used to be. At this point, everybody and his dog the world over knows a Leica M is the pinnacle of expensive camera jewelry: even if you cover the logo and red spot the shape and size is instantly recognized. Endless lens choices, but you'd probably not carry more than a couple. If its a film camera strictly for travel, I'd probably opt for a vintage Minolta CLE system with 28mm, 40mm, and 90mm. Tiny, tidy body with AE, tiny sharp lenses, entire kit fits in a canteen bag, and most people on the street will assume its an old worthless point & shoot. The original mechanical Leica-Minolta CL is very similar, but exposure meter tends to be dead on those and viewfinder doesn't go wider than 40mm.

    Digital options would be an Olympus OM-D or Fuji system (small bodies, small sharp lenses, a single premium zoom on the OM-D may cover all travel needs). A Nikon D3300 with 35mm f/1.8 is shockingly good, small, light, fast AF, optical viewfinder, dirt cheap. Refurbished Leica M9 with certified sensor replacement could be a great deal vs a film Leica M. Etc. Etc.

    Totally different alternatives to shake up your mojo when traveling: a small premium '70s fixed-lens rangefinder like Konica AutoS3 (phenomenal 38mm f/1.8 lens, Leica quality + AE in the palm of your hand) or a compact vintage Japanese 6x6 TLR (Yashica D or 12, Ricoh Diacord).
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2019
  16. Food for thought, but I think you're way off the mark with your first paragraph. I keep saying that I posted here not to have my mind made up, but just enquiring about rangefinders and autofocus. I just framed that in my own context. I certainly didn't have any very specific camera in mind - in fact it's entirely the contrary.

    I am not drawn to a Leica like some moth to a flame - reading some people here, you'd think that Leica is simply impossible to resist. As I said, cameras are not prohibitively expensive. I just considered Leica, as it's just one more option.

    I have, use and love a Rolleiflex TLR, so I know what it's like to be limited to rolls of 12-exposure film. That point doesn't bother me at all. It's partially why I reconsidered a film camera. I love the results I get on 6x6, and a Mamiya 6 with 50mm lens might just give me the enjoyment and results I'm seeking.

    I don't think a Nikon D3300 would ever give me the enjoyment I'm seeking. I am not a snob, and I know wonderful photos can be made with it. But a camera like that would never remind me how much I love photography and how I should get out there again.
  17. Perhaps it could have been phrased better: my point was simply to note how weirdly common the progression of cameras you're considering was in threads similar to how this one branched off. It wasn't meant as a personal observation about your own actual quest: apologies if it came off that way.

    Since you seemed to be casting a wide net on the theme of potential travel cameras, I threw in a few that I've used myself that were very practical and also fun to use (the D3300 doesn't seem terribly impressive until you take it on a long trip and notice how light and small and quiet it is, and the sharp results you get with some remarkably cheap dedicated DX Nikkors like the 35/1.8). Clearly you're jonesing for something more tangibly inspiring, possibly film based: thats become more apparent in your last few posts.

    Now that you've told us you own a Rolleiflex, the Mamiya 6 becomes a more organic option than it might be for someone who has no medium format experience. With one lens it will occupy a similar space and weight as your TLR: if you don't mind toting that around, the Mamiya 6 will be a cinch. The Mamiya body with 50mm lens will give you the same perspective as a RolleiWide TLR with 55mm Distagon, at half the cost. The 6 lenses are superb, among the best ever offered for 120 film, BUT they draw very differently to the Zeiss lenses on Rolleiflex or Hasselblad. The "look" is much more modern, what some photographers think of as "clinical". That isn't good or bad, it just is: some like the character, some don't. Most love it, and if you're looking for a change-up from your Rolleiflex images you probably would as well.

    Being a rangefinder, you'll get the 'different" handling from TLR / SLR, which you might find inspiring even if the camera body itself is rather blah (compared to a Leica or Rolleiflex, which are peerless for sex appeal). I keep buying a Leica every few years even tho I loathe rangefinder operation, then re-selling it after a few weeks frustrating use reminds me that oh, yeah, I can't stand the damned things. Beautiful to hold and admire, but I'm an SLR/TLR guy. You can't know until you try, and Mamiya rangefinders hold their value well: you could buy one, take it on a trip, and if it doesn't float your boat resell without much of a loss.

    As for modern Leica, one either really grooves on the fully manual classic film/digital M rangefinder handling, or opts for full-on AF with the medium format S2 or the rather odd 24x36 SL. Unlike the M system, neither Leica AF system is very distinct from comparable gear from other brands (save the unique, expensive lenses). One either has thing for Leica glass and wants an AF variation of it, or opts for a more common AF system. The Q and New CL are hard to justify for most people, but they do have a following (probably the same folks who bought the pricey Contax film P/S cameras 20 years ago). Sony with its RX1 (and soon Zeiss with its ZX1) tries to have it both ways: hideously expensive bespoke compact, but with "serious" 24x36 sensor (vs smaller sensors in the Leica luxury compacts).
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2019
  18. And that is my answer. Leica doesn't implement AF system in their cameras because they can sell more cameras without the AF. With the AF included they would attract people like you but in the end those like you won't buy the Leica either. Those who bought the Leica actually prefer them without the AF.
  19. My eyes are not good enough for the rangefinder and focus peaking on the M10 sucks.

    OP: check out the Hasselblad X1D II. It’s ergonomically superior, not much heavier than the M10 and the lenses are excellent. I can use some of my favorite M lenses using an adapter (no autofocus, but the X1D II’s focus peaking is outstanding (in the EVF, or on the touchscreen.

    I get consistently better results. Pretty sure I’m going to sell my M10 body.
  20. Wow. You can use your M lenses. I did not know that. Which adapter are you using?

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