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A Pro Photographers review of the Leica M6 and lenses for it

by Kirk Tuck, 2001 (updated March 2011)

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the Leica M series rangefindercameras, yet so few people have actually picked one up and used it for enoughtime to understand the unique features and benefits that make it one of thefinest tools for certain kinds of photography.

The two current models of the M6 are called the M6 .72 ttl, and the M6 .85ttland they represent the latest in the evolution of a family of cameras created in1953, starting with the M3. All M cameras are rangefinder cameras. Unlike mostpopular professional cameras today the photographer does not view the imagethrough the taking lens, rather, there is a viewfinder which displays frame linesthat correspond to the focal length of the lens that is mounted on thecamera.

In the center of the viewfinder is a rectangular patch of yellow, which is therangefinder. A rangefinder works by triangulation. The user focuses the camera byoverlaying two images within the small rectangular patch on top of each other inthe viewfinder as he or she focuses the lens. When the images are coincident(when they match up) the image is now in focus. This system, when well designedand produced, is very superior in accuracy when focusing lenses of 50mm and widercompared to slr cameras. While accurate focusing a manual SLR relies on theability of your eye to distinguish sharp from unsharp, the rangefinder is muchmore "binary". The image is either in or out, there is no amount of gray area asthere is in an SLR. As light levels drop the ability of the human eye to discernsharpness drops as well, making SLRs "iffy" for available light photography. Therangefinder only depends on matching up two identical images so that theyoverlap. Focus is much easier to discern in low light or when using optics thathave slow maximum apertures. Additionally, the manual focusing puts the user incharge. Often, even the best autofocus cameras lock onto elements that thephotographer did not intend and the focus is not what it could be. This"mis-focus" is hard to see in viewfinders that were not intended to be used forcritical focusing as in the case of autofocus cameras, which are optimized tocreate the brightest images in the viewfinders.

While 35mm SLRs have dominated the market, and the camera bags ofprofessional and amateur photographers alike, the M series Leica cameras havebeen steadily growing in popularity and are often the "personal" camera of choicefor top working pros who also shoot Canon and Nikon autofocus SLRs. They findthat their favorite photographs are often taken with the camera that puts theleast complexity between the user and the image.

While Leica is no longer making the M6, you still can find usedcameras available. Search Photo.nets Classified AdsSection. You could also consider going digital with theLeica M9, (buy from Amazon) (review).

The way I use my M cameras and lenses.

The Ms are a great camera for situations where you cant stop and set thingsup. You are capturing moments or documenting events. I often recommend Leicas toother photographers as the perfect wedding cameras. A typical assignment would bethe one I did recently for a pro bono client, a Peoples Clinic. They neededimages of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and administrators providing servicesto their clients. They wanted the photography to be non intrusive and unposed andyet they needed high quality color images for reproduction on posters and inbrochures.

I went with three cameras and three lenses. The cameras were two M6s and anearlier model, the M5. All have excellent through the lens almost spot meters.Each was loaded with Kodaks Supra 400 color negative film. (this is a fine grainfilm that is easily correctable when shot under fluorescent lighting). The lenseswere the 35mm Summicron ASPH, the 50mm Summilux 1.4 and the 90mm APOSummicron.

The two M6s, one with the 50 and the other with the 35 are worn around myneck on straps set to different lengths, allowing one to hang above the other.The 90 on the M5 over my shoulder.

I shoot quietly and wait patiently for the moment I want. The Leicas arealmost silent. The image through the finder is always bright and in focus makingevaluation of the scene easier. The frame lines show the current cropping whilethe area outside the framelines is visible and available. I start by quicklymetering the room with the 50mm camera. I commit certain readings to memory.There are usually only two or three meter differences in each room. I set allthree cameras and lenses to the same settings. While the people know Im in theroom I try not to have any eye contact with them. I become boring and try tovisually recede so that the health practioner becomes the center of attention. Iscan the room through the finder looking for the right composition. I move thecamera a little from side to side to see if I can improve the framing. I may usethe preview lever to see how the scene would look through one of the otherlenses. I focus on the eyes and try to find something to lean against whilereleasing the shutter. I try to ignore all conversation so that I shoot for thedesign and composition and not emotionally.

If you hear that a person is a heroin addict, or that a person is dying, itchanges your emotional response to the shooting but it doesnt change the scene.It doesnt come across on film. Better to leave the emotion out of it. I shootquietly and work the scene with several of the lenses. The cameras are so quietthat the patient and doctor often forget Im in the room. Its the same way I tryto shoot corporate meetings and events. I work hard not to become part of theexperience, not part of the entertainment. A motor drive in a 12 by 12 footexamination room is like a gun going off.

In most situations I like to shoot at f2 or f2.8, varying the shutter speedwhen necessary. With my Reflex cameras Im lucky to be able to handhold thecamera and produce sharp photos with any speed lower than a 125th of a second.With the M cameras I routinely produce images that are sharp at 1/15th of asecond.

I mentioned that I meter the room and most times I do that by metering thetanned back of my own hand (poor mans incident meter). I then set the camerasand try not to look at the meter again. Funny thing is that Im getting far moreconsistent exposure results with the M cameras than I got from my far moreadvanced Nikon F5 cameras in the same situations.

Heres why. When I meter my hand it meters the light falling on it and thatlight doesnt change during the shoot. When I shoot with the Leica I leave theexposure alone and since there is no option for auto-exposure I dont have thetemptation to use it. When I used the F5 I was always lured by the siren call ofadvertising onto the rocks of "multi-matrix super integrated" automation. When Ipointed the camera at the doctors white coat the camera tried to compensate,kinda. When the camera pointed at the dark sweater of a patient the camera triedto compensate, kinda. According to my lab, this "kinda" automatic compensationmeans that most rolls of pro film are all over the map compared with filmreceived ten years ago.

In fact, now my film rarely is more than 1/2 of a stop off and that makes aquality difference even with color negative film. At the end of a shoot like thisthe biggest compliment I can get is usually, "Gosh, you were so quiet I forgotyou were here!"

What are some of the benefits of shooting with a simple, non-automated,rangefinder Leica?

Turns out there are many:

  1. The quietest shutter on the market. The camera is so quiet when the shuttergoes off that normal room conversations are often enough to mask the click. Inmany situations, the less attention called to the photographer and the camera thebetter.
  2. The quickest, surest focusing with wide angle lenses of any 35mm camera.Photos taken with 35mm, 28mm 24mm and 21mm lenses can be critically sharp even atwide open apertures as the photographer no longer need allow for the slop ofmisplaced autofocus, or focus that it not critically sharp due to a legion of SLRfocusing deficiencies.
  3. While on the subject of lenses, it is important to note that countlessmagazines, websites, independent tests and the testimony of countless thousandsof professional photographers all concur that Leicas lenses (and especiallytheir wide angles) are the finest in the world of 35mm. When you start withlenses that are sharp wide open, you have so much more flexibility in yourshooting methods.
  4. A major advantage of the M6 Leica is its general appearance. It looks sounlike the large professional camera, festooned with motors and prisms andenormous zoom lenses that most people mistake the M6 for an antiquated point andshoot camera. Not taking the camera seriously they relax and let their guarddown. Just what you want if you are in the business of shooting candidphotos.
  5. The lack of mechanical and electrical complexity, coupled with Germanengineering and manufacturing make for a camera that is supremely reliable. Infact, an independent magazine report noted that whereas the professional Nikonsand Canons are engineered and produced with the target of 150,000 uses beforefailure, the M6 is engineered and crafted to deliver at least 400,000 cyclesbefore wear makes repair or adjustment necessary.
  6. No moving mirror makes it easier to design lenses without compromise while atthe same time assuring a smoother shutter release with less vibration to diminishthe quality of the image. It also contributes to the reliability citedabove.

The actual review

I have lived with both versions of the M6 camera for a little over two yearsnow. Both are nearly identical but have viewfinders with different magnificationsand a different assortment of framelines for different lenses. The M6 .72 has animage magnification in the viewfinder of .72 x life size. It will accommodate andshow framelines for lenses from 28mm thru 135mm. The M6 .85 has an imagemagnifications of .85 x life size and will accommodate and show framelines forlenses from 35 to 135. Of the two, I prefer the .85 as I shoot at least half ofthe time with the 50mm lens and this version shows the 50mm framelines withoutany other framelines visible in the finder. The slightly enlarged viewfinderimage also makes framing and composing a bit easier.

For the rest of the review Ill just refer to the M6 unless there is acompelling reason to mention one model.

If youve been using automatic SLRs and autofocus SLRs for a good while, thefirst few sessions with a non-automated rangefinder will leave you shaking yourhead and wondering what the heck you were thinking when you parted with upwardsof $2,500 for a primitive camera body and one optic. Once youve had maidservice, its hard to go back. Most of us have gotten used to a camera thatinstantly sets exposure and snaps into focus the minute we bring it to oureye.

Even loading the film in a Leica seems awkward and confounding.

But then it starts to grow on you. The ergonomics are so much better than whatweve settled for previously and the tight, well defined metering pattern makesmetering less guess work and more science. The ability to prefocus withoutholding down special focus lock buttons seems so streamlined and easy. The depthof field scale on the lenses encourages us to play with hyperfocal distancefocusing and to think more about the pictorial effect of depth of field. Its acamera you can take to lunch, a camera you can take on a date or even to a boardmeeting without attracting much attention or interest.

But its really the image that you see through the viewfinder that willconvince you that this camera is special. Very sharp and very bright. And one ofthe most delightful things for most serious shooters is the fact that there isone simple exposure indicator in the bottom of the finder and no other confusingletters, numbers, lights or arrows. If you are working with a separate, incidentmeter (as many pros do) you can remove the batteries from the camera altogetherand it will still function. You just wont see any meter indications.

The best feature for me, when I am shooting in the street or in the boardrooms of major corporations, is the fact that when I look through the finder ofmy camera, with a 50mm lens attached, the frame lines float in the finder and Ican see on the other side of the framelines. This allows me to see new ways tocompose or crop as well as seeing what may be coming into the frame. The SLRseems to impose a composition on its user while a rangefinder camera shows you,the artist, what is available just a few feet to the left or the right (or thetop or the bottom) of the framelines.

When I started to shoot with a manually focused camera again, the first thingI noticed about my style of shooting was that I began playing more with the edgesof the frame. Unconstrained by centering the camera and locking focus and thenrecomposing, I would focus once and then shoot without bothering to focus againuntil I or my subject changed position or distance. Images started to come alivefor me as compositions became more relaxed and I was able to take full charge ofwhat I saw in the viewfinder.

Moving a step further, to a Leica rangefinder, I found the freedom of theviewfinder, with its "window" to areas outside those shown within theframelines, pushed me to actively consider my compositions. Images are lesscentered and less formal. While a little lever on the front of the camera allowsme to preview the framelines of any other lens whenever I please, without havingto actually mount the lens on the camera.

Finally, I became permanently attached to the camera when I began to use it ontravel assignments. Two bodies and four lenses took up about as much space in acamera bag as one Nikon F5 and one of its companion lenses. Smaller and lighteris always better on overseas trips (or trips around the block, for that matter).I used to travel with the following in my bag for assignments:

Two Nikon F 5s, extra batteries, an 80-200 2.8 zoom lens, extra batteries, a20-35 2.8mm zoom lens, extra batteries, a Noct-Nikkor 58 1.2 mm lens, extrabatteries, and an 85mm 1.4 af lens. Almost twenty pounds of stuff, not countingflashes, film, accessories and connecting cords. Usually an extra, smaller bodysuch as an N90 or the F100 went along so I could go out street shooting duringthe gaps in my working agenda. Lets call it twenty something pounds. The largestDomke bag, stuffed to the gills. Walking a block with this stuff was an exercisein, well, exercise. And back aches. Because of the heavy lenses and the mirrorslap, a tripod was always required for available light photography, and you mayhave noticed that most professional users of autofocus cameras seem to use flashfor everything, mostly to compensate for the inability to handhold these monsterssecurely.

Now I travel with the following: Two Leica M6 bodies. The 21mm ASPH, theTri-Elmar 28-35-50 lens (Leicas answer to the zoom lens. One small, compact lenswith three focal lengths. Very high imaging performance, even at full aperture).A separate brightline finder for the 28mm focal length, the 50mm Summilux 1.4lens and the 90mm APO Summicron. A small Leica tabletop tripod and one smallLeica SF20 flash unit. This kit tips the scale at only six pounds and change, andit fits in a medium sized Domke bag, giving me more room for film. This is apackage that, with the exception of long focal lengths, gives me the same imagerange as the Nikon with results that are much superior.

Consider the case of the 21mm lenses. The Nikon zoom was very sharp, except inthe corners, but it does have some pronounced distortion. To make the image assharp in the corners as it is in the center requires stopping down to f5.6 or f8.This precludes handheld exposures in most interior locations. Out comes thetripod or the flash. With the 21mm ASPH for the Leica the distortion wide open isnon-existent while sharpness and resolution wide open in the corners rivals theNikon images center at 5.6. Point and game to the M6 and the 21mm. Quick andpainless. At the other end of the focal length choices one would assume that the80-200 Nikkor would have it all over the 90APO Summicron but that isnt reallyso. Most of my use for long lenses is either for portraiture or the documentationof keynote speakers at corporate events. Im usually positioned in the first rowfor the keynote speakers and am expected to get a good range of expressionsduring the speakers performance while calling the least attention to myself. Ialso cant distract the speaker. Flash is strictly forbidden!

I generally use Kodak Supra 800 film with an 80C filter over the lens. Thisgets me halfway to the proper correction for daylight film with tungsten lightingand the lab can handle the rest of the correction. It also eats up a stop oflight. Heres the choice: The huge, heavy Nikkor wide open at 2.8 with a shutterspeed of 1/60th or the Leica 90 with an f stop of 2.0 and a shutter speed of1/125. Guess which one is easier to handhold. Guess which one has less shake?Guess which lens is much sharper wide open? Yes, its the Leica.

Additional Leica M benefits which are paramount under these conditions areits much, much quieter shutter, quieter manual wind and a silent rewind.

The one area that the Nikon would seem to be superior is in the reach of its80-200mm zoom lens. But, the longer the focal length used, the greater themagnification of vibration from the mirror slap and the shake induced by humanfrailty. Surprising to me was the fact that a blow up from a partial area of theM6/ 90mm images was sharper than a full frame shot with the Nikon. Thecombination of the single focal length lens higher sharpness wide open, thefaster shutter speed and the ease with which the package could be hand held allwere visible advantages.

Weaknesses of the Leica M System

While the M6 is the camera I choose for a lot of my work, it does have someweaknesses. To wit:

  1. This is not a camera with which to shoot sports or wildlife. The longest lensis a 135. And while it is arguably the best 135 lens in the world, most sportsshooters and wildlife experts will tell you that, for them, photography begins at400mm.
  2. This is not a camera for people who want a point and shoot. You must meterand set the shutter speed and aperture manually. You must focus. And you mustmaster loading film like they did in the old days. No drop-in automatic filmloading available.
  3. This is not a camera for folks who like to shoot outside with fill flash! Thetop shutter speed for flash sync is a paltry 1/50th of a second. About the onlyfilm you can reasonably use to do daylight fill flash would be Agfapan APX 25.And its been discontinued by Agfa.
  4. The M6 would not be my first choice for studio camera as you cannot previewdepth of field or attach an after market Polaroid back for testing. That beingsaid, Ive shot some great portraits with studio lights and the 90mm. The camerais a wonderful tool for non-intrusive photography, candid portraits and availablelight documentation, but the body is only half the system. The crucial point formany users is the lenses!

While the famous industrial designer, Alessi, stated that the Leica M camerabody is one of the few designs of the 20th century which he thought was soperfect he would never try to change, it is the Leica M series lenses that arethe real lure of the M system for most available light shooters. In the nextsection Im going to talk about a number of the lenses and compare them withsimilar lenses that Ive owned and used extensively in the Canon, Nikon andContax G systems. As a corporate photographer I run a lot of film through mycameras and often log 100 to 200 rolls in a week. I get to know my cameras andlenses with an intense intimacy, in a short amount of time, that would take anamateur user years to match. Also, working with tools under pressure brings outthe best and worst points in each piece of equipment. The following evaluationsare subjective but are based on 20 years of looking and learning.

The Leica 21mm ASPH Elmarit. This lens is absolutely superb. It has a bitingsharpness wide open that seems to be a shared family trait of all the newestLeica optics. I own the same focal length in the Leica R lens and find that Imust stop down to at least f8 to even get near the ballpark of performance thatthe M lens gives me wide open. Both the Canon and the Nikon optics lack thecorner sharpness of the Leica at any aperture and only come near to matching theperformance of the Leica in the center of their images at f5.6 or f8. Also, mostof the slides seem somewhat equal in sharpness until you put them in an enlargerand crank them up to a large size (16x20+). Then the differences really becomeapparent as the ultra fine detail just keeps coming in the Leica optic, the otherlenses have no more detail to offer.

My experience with the Contax G series 21mm was relatively limited because thesupplied finder exhibited high levels of distortion while the lens lackedcontrast and bite. It was quickly returned to the dealer. In addition, the widestfocal lengths really cry out to be manually focused and the manual focus of the Gsystem is barely usable.

The Leica Tri-Elmar 28-35-50. This is a wonderful lens. Small and light, yetsolid. I use it mostly in exterior locations as the f stop of f4 is limiting foruse in low available light. At 50mm it is, to my eye, as good as the current 50mmM Summicron, thought by reviewers to be "the lens to beat" in 35mm normal focallengths. At the middle apertures, most manufacturers lenses are very good. Mostof the difference is in the way they design for contrast rendition. The Tri-Elmaris a bit "snappier" or more contrasty than the samples from Nikon and Canon, andthat is the main visible difference.

I do like the look of the Contax G series 45. It is not quite as snappy as theLeica product, but the colors and tones have a very pleasing, rich quality tothem and the sharpness is equal to both the Leica products.

At 35mm the Tri-Elmar has high sharpness but there is a slight decline incontrast when compared to the 50mm focal length. The 35mm ASPH Summicron lensfrom Leica is the lens to beat in this focal length. The Tri-Elmar comes fairlyclose. Both are very far ahead of the single focal length lenses from the twoJapanese SLR Manufacturers. The Contax G series 35mm lens has a flatter renditionand while the colors are rich, as in the 45mm, the sharpness is not as high.

Finally, at 28mm the lens is on par with the competitions lenses for the mostpart. The Leica has a bit more distortion but it also has a higher level ofcontrast. The images, on film, have their own characteristics, but, the ease withwhich the Tri-Elmar can be accurately focused on the rangefinder cameras becomesa clear advantage at this focal length as this is the point at which the SLRslimited wide angle focus/autofocus abilities start to fail. This is evidenced inthe higher number of improperly focused images in both my samples and the samplesand anecdotal evidence given by other professional shooters. Contrary to popularmythology, the depth of field of a 28mm lens wide open is not limitless! And itis certainly not enough to mask all focusing errors.

Since imaging quality is at least equal to all the single focal lengthscompared, the real benefit is the tiny package this lens presents. The ability tocarry three separate, high performance focal lengths in a space no bigger than asmall SLR lens is a clear advantage. The ability to focus it accurately under allconditions is crucial to my success with this lens.

The 50mm Summilux. Leicas standard high speed optic of the M.

At this juncture I must confess that I love high speed, normal focal lengthlenses. I once bought an EOS-1 just to be able to use Canons 50mm 1.0 L lens andtheir 85mm 1.2 L lens. Both of these optics were spectacular. Its unfortunatethat they were rendered nearly unusable for quick reportage by USM motors thatwere as slow as molasses. Indeed, if these lenses had autofocus to match theiron-film performance, or had a way of being used manually that would give you realtime focusing, I would still be using them. They are superb and easily the equalof the Leica glass. That being said, the 50mm 1.4s from Nikon and Canon arenothing to write home about. Not very sharp wide open and not very contrastystopped down. The 50mm Summilux blows them away at every stop. And its half thesize! The only high speed lens that is better wide open is Leicas latest 50mmSummilux for the R (reflex cameras) with eight elements and glass so cool that itmust have been invented for NASA. This lens, the 80 Summilux and the 180 aposare what keep me with Leicas SLR system for some assignments.

Both the Contax SLR 50s are decent normal lenses but, again, both are not assharp wide open and both lack the contrast and super fine detail of the Leicaproducts wide open. The only real contender is the G series 45 which, whiledifferent in its rendition from the Leica products, is very, very good.

I use the 50 Summilux wide open for most of my "available darkness" shots. Itis resistant to flare and nice and contrasty. The look of an image with a highdegree of sharpness in a limited plane is a look that I think emulates the waythe human eye actually sees and we are intrigued by all the stuff in thebackground that just blurs away. I believe that this lens and the M6 are theultimate synergistic imaging system for me.

The 90mm APO Summicron. Too sharp.

I have owned four different 90mm Summicrons. The original with the tripodmount on the bottom. The next generation. The Summicron for the R series, and thecurrent 90 APO. This lens cannot be compared to any competitors lens or evenother lenses within the Leica system. It is brutally sharp wide open, and retainsthat sharpness right on out to f16. If you must use this lens for flatteringportraiture, be sure to filter it or shoot in low light so that the subjectsbreathing and slight movement take some of the sharpness out. I have kept thefirst version around for portraiture just for this reason. The first version isquite a bit softer wide open and has just a little flare in backlit situations.Using the latest APO version I have been able, using Kodachrome 25 and FujiVelvia, to have 40 by 60 inch LightJet enlargements made that rival the sharpnessI get with Hassleblad lenses and with most 4x5 lenses.

The above four lenses that I use most with my Leica M6s. Many Leica fans willbe incredulous that I did not include either of the Aspherical 35mms (the f2 andthe f1.4) as they are widely considered to be among the best of the best ofLeicas lenses. The truth is that I own the 35mm ASPH and have used it to goodeffect, but its just not my favorite focal length. Its an impressive performerbut one I use only when the 50 has my back up to the wall. I dont own the new135mm APO-Telyt but I have used one. Its performance is wonderful, but I justcant seem to get comfortable with such a long lens on a rangefinder camera. Theviewing frame in the finder is just too small. More experienced Leica users havetold me that the almost life sized viewfinder of the M3 makes this lens a delightto use, but the M3 has no metering and no facility to use the modern lensesshorter than 50mm so I pass.

Contax G2 Versus Leica M6.

At first use the G2 seems to be a compelling choice. As the weeks drag onthough, so does the camera. The G2 has a squirrely little finder that is not atall fun for users of eyeglasses. The autofocus doesnt always autofocus where Iwould like it to and the use of a focus hold button just bores/frustrates thehell out of me. There averaging meter pattern is less useful than the clearlydefined pattern of the Leica meter. The rewind is motorized and much too loud tobe used in a theater, a board room, a conference, a classroom or anywhere elsewhen discretion is critical.

The limited selection of lenses doesnt include any high speed optics and,while the 28 and the 45 are superb the other choices are less so. The 90 is anice lens but requires much skill to achieve consistent autofocus.

The manual focus makes the camera chancy for street shooting as many streetshooters prefer to keep their lenses prefocused on a fixed distance and then finetune the actual shooting distance the moment they bring the camera to their eye.The G2s manual focus isnt up to this challenge.

Finally, and this may just be a personal thing, but the G2 doesnt seem tohave the right "feel". It seems just a bit off.

Leica M6 Body with Voightlander Lenses.

While I think it would be foolish to buy a Leica body and not buy some oftheir best lenses to go along with it. Ive run into shooters at the Democraticconvention in Los Angeles and fashionistas on South Beach in Miami who added morewide angle capability to their Leica kits with the Heliar 15mm lens and the 25mmSkopar lens and were very happy to have them. I must confess that I bought one ofthe 15mms and used it extensively for an annual report job in December of 2000.It made wonderful images. Even the vignetting worked for the dusk images wecaptured. As to some of the other focal lengths, I would test them thoroughlybefore choosing. The Leica lenses that Ive detailed are head and shoulders abovemost out there and are a great value/performance proposition.

While Leica is no longer making the M6, you still can find usedcameras available. Search Photo.nets Classified AdsSection. You could also consider going digital with theLeica M9, (buy from Amazon) (review).


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About me:

Im based in Austin, Texas, been shooting professionally for 20 years and haveworked recently in venues around the U.S. and Europe for IBM, Motorola, Dell, TheLeo Burnett Agency, GSD&M, Cellular One, USAA, Time Warner Cablevision,Business Week, Elle Magazine and many more. When I started my businessphotographers were expected to shoot every format and for years we shot mostthings on 4x5. The 90s was the decade when we shed our 4x5 equipment. We aregetting ready to let go of the medium format stuff. 35mm is starting to lookincredibly good next to all the digital sfuff. But we shoot that too. The future.Im shooting with film and Leicas and scanning with a Nikon LS-4000 until thenext big thing.

My business philosophy is, Photography is a physical sport. Stay inshape!

To see more of my work, go to

Article revised March 2011.

Readers Comments

bruce wong , June 10, 2001; 09:35 P.M.

For me, digital photography looks awfully good next to 35mm.

John Blodgett , June 11, 2001; 01:58 A.M.

I quote: "I try to ignore all conversation so that I shoot for the design and composition and not emotionally...Better to leave the emotion out of it."

Im curious of the rationale of this viewpoint.

Brian Stryker , June 11, 2001; 03:08 A.M.

Im not doubting that Leicas are good cameras, but the comparisons you make are not necessarily the best in my opinion. I use a Nikon F2 and find it much less obtrusive than an F5, and lacking the noise of a motor drive. Also, it is completely mechanical and mf/me so it forces you to focus on taking the picture rather than being lazy as an F5 can lure one into doing. As far as weight, it is within i believe a couple ounces of the Leica with a comparable lens. Granted, its louder than the M6 and is not as sharp due to mirror slap, but it has its advantages. For starters, i can get a much wider variety of lenses (e.g. >135mm) for much more reasonable prices. Also, instead of paying a couple thousand for my body i paid a couple hundred. I bought a new body, a 24/2.8, a 50/1.4, and a 180/2.8 for the same i would have paid for an M6 with no lens. Again, the Leica is a great camera but I would say that for the price one might be better off investing in a mechanical SLR.

Mani Sitaraman , June 11, 2001; 05:54 A.M.

A very sensible review that really gives you a feel for why this cameras fans like its ergonomics.

There is of course a TON of material on the web on the Leica M cameras. Be sure also to read the 80 odd pages (!) of user comments one menu level up from this review at

Some minor nitpicks...

"The quietest shutter on the market..."

Of all focal plane shutter 35mm cameras. Leaf shutters such as those in TLRs are inherently quieter, and the leaf shutter on a Rolleiflex GX makes the Leica sound like a rifle shot. The Leica shutter does merge into the background in most events, compared to the loud SLRs and whiny P&Ss of today, on the other hand. But its not totally unnoticeable at a quiet moment, at least within a 10-15 foot vicinity.

James Harvey , June 11, 2001; 07:58 A.M.

I think the bast validation of this review is the wonderful photographs at the bottom of it: you clearly get stunning performance our of your equipment, and that, in the end, is all the justification you need

T T , June 11, 2001; 11:51 A.M.

The rangefinder focusing patch on the M6 and M6 TTL is not yellow. At least on a new clean body, it is white/clearish.

Kirk Tuck , June 11, 2001; 11:53 A.M.

John Blodgett asked why I would separate the emotion of a situation from the photography. Its an interesting question. I find that if I get emotionally involved in something Im shooting that the emotion and lack of objectivity tend amplifiy my visual reaction. But it never comes across on the film. To oversimplify, if Im in a bakery and everything smells great and Im feeling great and I shoot a photo of a loaf of this great smelling bread, Im usually disappointed in the photograph as my memory contains all these other pyshiological clues that will never be there for the third party viewer. If I am affected emotionally by the plight of a clinic client I seem to develop a tunnel vision that distorts and changes my photographic seeing. I would try to establish the same emotional distance if I were writing about a patient. Just my thought on it.

Kirk Tuck , June 11, 2001; 12:02 P.M.

Ive gotten several posts and Toms reply above about my description of the rangefinder spots being yellow. My M3 frames and center rectangles are quite yellow. My M5 indicators are somewhat yellow, and both of my M6s seem to have lines and rectangles that are just barely yellow. In filter language they are about 2cc y. This is just the appearance to my eye. They are not profoundly yellow, just the barest hint. I dont know why. Other users say they are color neutral. Perhaps my eyes are incorrectly filtered......

Pete Su , June 11, 2001; 12:42 P.M.

A nice overview of the tradeoffs between Ms and SLRs.

Although, complaining about the huge size and slow speed of the Nikon zooms seems a bit odd. There is nothing keeping you from using much faster and much smaller Nikon prime lenses. The stuff is still bigger, and louder, but the difference is not as great.

While I love rangefinder cameras, and truly appreciate how they make you see pictures differently, one other disadvantage that I would mention that I didnt see in the review is that none of the Leica lenses focus particularly close.

A Nikon 50/1.4 or 35/2 will focus closer than one foot. Most of the Leica lenses focus to about 3 feet. This is a big difference, especially with the wider lenses.

Robin Smith , June 11, 2001; 02:45 P.M.

Responding to Brian Strykers point about the Nikon F2, I think this is a very natural way to think about this issue, but what it fails to understand is that Leica optics are really in a class above others. Arguably with the M system they are the best available in 35mm photography. Nikons optics, in my experience, really cannot be compared, particularly comparing (presumably) older manual focus Nikons with the current crop of M lenses. Until you have investigated this, Bryans argument seems sensible, but once you have had an opportunity to compare them, the truth of the superiority of most Leica lenses becomes apparent and hence the main reason for owning these cameras reveals itself. As in so much with photography comparisons are very difficult to do. Few of us have the opportunity to use both systems for extended periods without financial risk. I suggest to anyone wondering what all the fuss is about that they rent a Leica and any lens and compare it to the exact equivalent lens on the reflex (or any camera) of their choice. The difference will be clear. Then you will understand why so many people swear by their Leicas (M and R), despite the expense. Then in addition there is all the stuff about the superiority of the rangefinder...

ben ray , June 11, 2001; 03:43 P.M.

There is no such a film as Kodak Supra 400 or 800. Leica feel is nothing but just self-chating. The film advance is not upto Nikon F3s silk smooth, the shutter is not as quiet as most leaf shutter rangefinder like a Olympus 35RD, Konica Hexar. Is Leica M good? yes you bet, it is just like a wanderful toy to me.

Mark Wilkins , June 11, 2001; 05:18 P.M.

No such films as Kodak Supra 400 or 800? What are you smoking?

Here you go! Read up!

bradford daly , June 11, 2001; 05:37 P.M.

ben ray claims there is no such thing as Kodak Supra 400 or 800. I have a roll of each sitting here on the desk in front of me. They both definitely exist.

Nathaniel Paust , June 11, 2001; 10:18 P.M.

While the M6 is undoubtably a great camera and has some definite advantages such as reduced vibration and noise, easier-to-design wide angle lenses and so on.... However, this review gets into the "magic camera" land a little bit too much for my taste. No camera will give you better pictures than you can imagine.

Second, while the lens reviews seem to really enjoy words like "sharpest" and "best" it seems like these are completely subjective. There are ways to measure the performance of a lens and it doesnt look like the reviewer has taken advantage of them. Also, some of the comparisons are just plain wrong. Why would you compare a 20-35 zoom with a 21mm prime? The prime is always going to be sharper simply due to a smaller number of glass elements in the lens.

Third, the review doesnt talk about the main drawback to rangefinder cameras (at least in my mind) --- their complete inability to do macro work. If you never take close-up pictures, this may not be an issue for you. However, I assume that many photo.netters occasionally try taking close-up pictures. The problem is that when you dont have a through-the-lens (TLR) viewing system like in a SLR, you cant get a good idea of your photographic subject. Rangefinder cameras suffer from parallax errors, the viewfinder sees a different image than the lens. Even for non-macro work this has to be accounted for. You can always losely frame an image and crop during printing, but that will cost you valuable film real estate.

Last, as a separate issue, while film technology has improved in the last 20 years a well composed and exposed 35mm frame is never going to have the quality of a well composed and exposed 4x5 frame. Similarly, digital is a long way away from matching the quality of well done 35mm. (Point and shoot 35mm is a different matter.) I think that the real issue is convenience. Whether youre shooting portraits or news, your clients want results _now_ and theyre willing to trade some quality for the speed. 35mm isnt better, but it may be a lot faster and cheaper. People just need to make sure that they realize what trades theyre making.

kyle martens , June 12, 2001; 03:06 A.M.

Hey, did you see that camera that Hasselblad made for $50? How about the lens by Carl Zeiss for $99? Me neither. I think the phrase “you get what you pay for” seems obvious and appropriate here even though everyone is aware of it. If you can afford 15-20K of equipment and make it pay for itself as 20 years of experience shows, then keep it up. I think you made it very clear that each camera (and lens) has an ideal application. Based on the superb images above I think you have shown the situations in which the Leica works the best, which is a fairly broad range. Thank you for the information. It is nice to read an unbiased opinion from someone with real life experience with the object being reviewed. I grew up with my dad’s Canon AE1 system and when I was 15 I got myself a complete EOS 600 system (then $2000 for everything). In some situations I am able to blow that old AE1 off this planet. In other situations when there is time for manual settings, my EOS can’t hold a candle to that rock solid shutter and a manual 50mm 1:1.8. I think that a lot of the disputing above is comparing apples with monkeys. Just because Sigma or Tamron get a lot of awards for producing the best “bang for your buck” and “most versatile” lenses doesn’t mean that they are the best at any one thing. Some people prefer the crutch of technology and will pay the same $ for a zoom with 21 elements and an image stabilizer. Personally I think that your pictures look the most natural and still very sharp of all the pictures I have seen in my life. I think that when people shell out 2-3K for a lens they want that security or insurance that technology gives them instead of making every dollar go toward the quality of the elements.

Dave Jenkins , June 12, 2001; 07:03 A.M.

Kirk Tuck wrote:

"Unconstrained by centering the camera and locking focus and then recomposing, I would focus once and then shoot without bothering to focus again until I or my subject changed position or distance. Images started to come alive for me as compositions became more relaxed and I was able to take full charge of what I saw in the viewfinder." _______________________________________________________________

Im an owner, user and lover of rangefinder cameras, including Leica. However, I and many other commercial photographers find it necessary to supplement our rangefinders with an SLR system in order to handle the variety of assignments that come our way. I use Canon EOS.

Custom Function 4 turns my Canon into an "electronic Leica." Instead of doing the awkward focus-and-recompose or hold-down-the-button dance necessary with other makes, I simply aim the center focus point at whatever I want to be most sharp in the photograph, press a button conveniently located under my right thumb, release it, and presto! focus is locked at that point until I wish to change it. In practice, it works exactly the same way as focusing a Leica on a given point and then shooting until you decide to focus on some other point.

This one feature caused me to dump brand N a few years ago.

Other reasons Canon EOS is the best SLR supplement to a Leica system include the fact that the Elan series and the A2/A2e/EOS-5 are probably the quietest SLRs made (see Phil Greenspuns review of the A2e). And, while Im not an expert on bokeh, those who are seem to agree that the bokeh of Canons lenses is much more Leica-like than that of other makes.

ben ray , June 12, 2001; 08:12 A.M.

Sorry about the Kodak Supra, I think it was call Ektacolor Supra

Andrew Moore , June 12, 2001; 08:39 A.M.

> Second, while the lens reviews seem to really enjoy words like
> "sharpest" and "best" it seems like these are completely subjective.
> Why would you compare a 20-35 zoom with a 21mm prime? The prime
> is always going to be sharper simply due to a smaller number of
> glass elements in the lens.

...then sharpness doesnt sound "completely subjective" at all. ("best": yes, very subjective).

Andrew Moore , June 12, 2001; 08:48 A.M.

> Third, the review doesnt talk about the main drawback to
> rangefinder cameras (at least in my mind) --- their complete
> inability to do macro work

The M6 is perfectly capable of taking macro photos using bellows and a mirror housing. It may not be as convenient as a SLR when youre on location, but to say the M is completely unable to do macro work is simply incorrect.

Perhaps a real main drawback, at least to press/event/wedding photographers as an example, might be the 1/50 sec flash sync speed. There are, however, ways around that too, at the expense of convenience.

Mike Smith , June 12, 2001; 09:13 A.M.

I use M6s almost exclusively, and have created many wonderful photos with them. I agree the lenses are, generally, the sharpest that normal folks can buy. However, a great photo isnt great because its sharp -- its whats inside the frame lines that count. Sometimes the lack of sharpness adds to the photo, e.g., Robert Capas D-Day pictures, almost ruined in the darkroom and technically unacceptable by the standards of today, and of 1944. Think of the photos you remember, and then ask yourselves if theyre sharp -- chances are you wont care.

Stop worrying about sharpness. The real question is, when you drop your auto-everything down a flight of stairs, will it still function? Chances are, your M6 will.

Kirk Tuck , June 12, 2001; 10:33 A.M.

While I didnt go into much detail about the various lenses I have used through the years, the Nikon system was my last non-German camera system and I did own many of the primes that one person mentioned, including the 85 1.4, the 135 DC the 20, the 28 1.4 etc. and they are all very good optics. The have a much different signature than the Leica lenses. They are smooth. I want real. The Leica R and M optics follow different design targets than their competition and it is a matter of taste. I have a freind who thinks the highest performance vehicle any one needs is a Ford Explorer. I prefer 5 series BMW sedans. Most who profess to like explorers have never driven a BMW for any period of time. They will not understand the difference. Ditto with lenses. Also, if you shoot handheld, with iso 400 color print film, you will most likely not see a difference just as both cars, at a dead standstill in Austin rush hour traffic will have equal performance.

But, that said, the bodies and lenses form a synergistic system. Its not just better or worse optics. Its how they work together in your hands.

Kirk Tuck , June 12, 2001; 10:36 A.M.

In answer to several of Nathaniels critiques: Sharpness is not subjective and can be easily measured and compared. Having owned many of the better optics in several systems, my judgements were made with many Kodachromes to judge by. I chose to compare how a professional uses the Leica M system versus how most professionals use autofocus SLRs. And that is most definitely with fast zoom lenses. Finally, as I remarked in the review, I own and use the Leica SLR system for close-ups, long lenses, macro, etc. As I say in the beginning of the review, most pro Leica M users use these cameras in conjunction with AF SLRs, to augment them and to take adavantage of all the things rangefinders do better.

As to the magic. Yes, Leica M series have a fabulous ability to make money disappear while at the same time making photographers believe they can take better photos. As any zen master would tell you, "Your focus determines your reality." (actually a quote from the newest Star Wars movie). Leica M is a tool in the tool chest of working pros. Sometimes you need a hammer, sometimes some needle nosed pliers.

T T , June 12, 2001; 12:03 P.M.

ive done direct comparisons between the contax g zeiss lenses and leica lenses, having owned both.

in general, the contax zeiss lenses yield results which appear more blatantly sharp, but have less character than the equivalent leica lenses. the leica lenses just have the certain something that gives their images a uniquely classic desirable look.

when comparing a contax g image with that of a leica m image, the leica m image will always evoke more feeling. call it the leica mystique, the rare earth lens glass, the red dot, call it what you will, but theres a ceratin subtle beauty in leica images that is unattainable with any other system.

Patrick Smeaton , June 13, 2001; 10:20 A.M.

Im going to go to bat for Mr. Tuck here. While comparing Nikon zooms and Leica primes may not be a good technical comparison, I believe it was the proper one. Although some Nikon (or Canon) shooters use primes primarily (pun intended), I believe they are the exception. Therefore, the comparison was more real world than technical.

bradford daly , June 13, 2001; 04:14 P.M.

Andrew says that an M6 can be used for macro work with a bellows and a mirror housing.

Andrew, can you please explain this further? I.e, how much does it cost, how cumbersome is it, etc? Im dying for an M6, but I do a lot of weird little macro still-lifes. Ive been thinking of selling all my EOS equipment except my 100mm macro and getting a cheaper EOS body for macro, while getting a wonderful M6 for everything else. If macro isnt that much of a pain with an M6 and the stuff you mention, I might just take the plunge.

Thanks, Brad

Mike Johnston , June 13, 2001; 05:06 P.M.

Hey, I thought Kirk did a very nice job with this review, and Ive been reviewing cameras since 1988. My experience over the years is that many Leica naysayers arent speaking from experience...even if they own one, theyve never "come to grips with it." Comparing the specs, the features, ease of loading, the shutter noise--even the lenses--its all beside the point. Macro work? Telephotos? Thats not what its _for_.

If you want to see an example of what it _is_ for, check out John Brownlows stuff at .

Personally, I think the Leica is a mechanical photography teacher. I think every photographer--whatever kind of photographer they are--should use a Leica for a year at some point in their lives. And Im talking really *use* it, too--put the rest of your gear in the closet and shoot 200 rolls with the Leica. I can almost guarantee youll come out of that year a better photographer than you went in.

Its even cheap. Buy a used Leica, you can use it for a year and sell it for more or less what you paid for it at the end of the year and come out even (believe me on this--Ive done it four times <g>). At worst, you lose a couple of hundred bucks. No big deal.

But all this theoretical talk--heck, it just dont mean a darn thing.

Good review, Kirk.

Yuriy Vilin , June 15, 2001; 03:20 A.M.

Modern Leica gear is way out of my reach, so I ended up with Voigtlander Bessa system. I know, I know but still... Almost everything that Kirk said in his review applies to Voigt stuff as well. I completely abandoned SLR area (I used to own an extensive EOS system), never really looked back since. Compactness and simplicity of RF camera combined with superb lenses are the greatest advantages of RF system. Too bad that most modern photographers are obsessed with "useful electronic" features dont see this... Anyway, I am not trying to convert nobody, I am just confessing and praising my choice. Time to get out and shoot some low-light photographs (handheld, of course…). Peace.

Gerald Hsu , June 15, 2001; 08:16 P.M.

Brad brought up a question about using Leica M for macro work. The easiest way to do macro with M is to use the Dual Range 50mm Summicron. Another approach would be the Visoflex. There is an excellent Visoflex website maintained by Gary Elshaw. Be careful in choosing the right type of Visoflex adapter to use for M6 TTL since the increased height (top cap) with the new M6 TTL has caused it not compatible with much of the Visoflex system adapters. I have a Visoflex II and it has worked quite well with my M3.

Kirk Tuck , June 16, 2001; 10:16 A.M.

Thought I was kidding around about the reliability of the M6??? See Van Ripers article in the Washington Post:

A non-biased, first person account.

Christian Becker , June 17, 2001; 07:32 A.M.

good review, kirk. pictures arent (to me).

Tony Rowlett , June 18, 2001; 12:21 P.M.

The photographs are quite good - by any reasonable measure. They represent a nice diversity of styles; perfectly appropriate for an generalized article such as this.

Pedro Vasconcelo , June 19, 2001; 07:13 A.M.

Like some previous other coments, Id like to say I dont completely agree with your views on Zeiss vs. Leica lenses. In particular I own the Biogon 21mm for Contax G and its a superb lens. Although I havent directly compared it to the Leica 21mm ASPH, several reviews on the net and magazines have suggested that both are of similar performance (although the Biogon is much cheaper). Sure, the external viewfinder has a bit of barrel distortion but if I wanted WYSIWYG viewing I would go with an SLR! BTW, I find myself "manual focusing" the 21mm quite a lot: I use the electronic rangefinder to set the distance and then the external viewfinder for composing--- no problem.

John Clark , June 21, 2001; 07:36 A.M.

Great review. Ive always fancied an M6, and one day I might own one (anyone want to buy a mint Bronica ETRSi system ;-)

One thing you (and everyone else) failed to mention is the excellent Mamiya 7 camera. What you describe of the Leica echos what I found to be the case with the M7-II, which I have had for around 18 months. Its not so much that its technically better than SLR-based MF cameras (it lacks, for instance, fast standard optics), its just that its primary ergonomics seem just so, and the obstacles in the way of a decent shot seem to vanish. AT times with the M7, I feel I can do no wrong, and the chromes are spectacular, beyond anything Ive ever had with the ETRSi or my EOS system.

For me, rangefinders seem to suit; however, that certain something which Leica has is not confined to Leica; the M7 (as many here will testify) has a similar effect, and most of the benefits you mention as well (although being a MF 6x7 camera, 10 shots per roll means frequent film changes and more expensive prints, etc.)

One day I will test drive the M6 and perhaps buy one; secondhand seems the natural option, but I couldnt leave my EOS and I would never dream of selling the Mamiya...

Good article, happy shooting!


Karl Yik , June 21, 2001; 10:49 A.M.

Although good for low light focussing, range finders are harder to focus than manual SLRs under normal lighting as you can focus on the area you are interested in while framing at the same time. With a rangefinder you have to point that tiny rangefinder square at the area you want to focus on, focus, then recompose. I have both a M6 and Contax RTSII and generally will use the RTS when I am photographing moving objects, unless that is I can rely on depth of field on the wide angle lenses of the M6. Both types of camera are good in their own right, just depends on what you are most comfortable with and lens wise, Leica is better, better made that is. Optically, I cant really see much difference between Zeiss and Leica

Robert Goldstein , June 21, 2001; 07:13 P.M.

Having cut my teeth on Olympus and Nikon systems, I can readily accept the superiority of Leica glass. I had the pleasure of using a borrowed M6 for awhile; it was great fun, and I got some terrific photos. The crispness, contrast and three-dimensionality of the images are all there.

However, I also own a Contax G2 system with all of the lenses, except for the zoom and the 16mm Hologon. The Zeiss lenses are equally superb, IMO, and I would bet that even the most ardent Leicaphile would have difficulty distinguishing images created with one camera or the other in a blinded test. Im not alone in my high regard for the Zeiss glass. "Photo Techniques" magazine opined recently that the G lenses are arguably the finest in 35mm photography. Sure, the Contax system lacks the variety and ultrafast lenses available for the Leica, but most photographers use only a basic few lenses and do not require f1.4 very often.

I use a G2, because I happen to like automation. With the G, automation facilitates my ability to get the image I want onto film; it alters, but does not dictate the creative process. Personally, I have found the focusing system on the G2 to be extremely accurate with all lenses. However, I agree that in situations where one is shooting wide open at close range and the depth of focus is measured in millimeters, an optical rangefinder is preferable.

Both the M6 and G2 are outstanding photographic tools, each with its own relative strengths and weaknesses. To choose between them, an individual photographer must know his own needs, preferences and style. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a period owning and using a camera before one discovers that it does not suit him. This explains why there are a substantial number of former M users now loving Gs and vice versa.

Tito Carlos Maria Sobrinho , June 24, 2001; 10:43 A.M.

Forgive my intervention but I do not see any difference in quality, luminosity and local contrast between your portfolio or any other 35mm camera in the professional level. I have 3 Leicas M4 (1972 new, M2 (1977) and a M5 (1980), but the images done with them, show me the same quality as my Nikon F (1978 new) or my Retina IIc (1958 new). Since I follow a view camera discipline,(5x7, 8x10 for 20 years) the Nikon F fits the slot with "penache". What you see is what you get, DOF preview button. Ground level exposures with ease. Macro lens that leave my Dual Range Summicron in the dust, some wide angle lens that have floating elements since the early 70s. Nikon went to the space program (Apollo 15, Apollo 16, Apollo 17, Skylab I, Skylab II, Skylab IV, Apollo-Soyus and the Space Shuttle) together with the Hasselblad. The Leica mystique started in the 30s when only a few 35mm "professional" cameras were available -Contax, Leica, Ektra and Exakta. They were the kings of the road until 1959 when the Nikon F was unvailed as a full system. Are the new Leica aspherical element done with glass or a polycarbonate material?

Kirk Tuck , June 24, 2001; 01:16 P.M.

Responding to Tito, above: Please be aware that the images you are looking at are Jpegs that contain about 1/100th of the information that is recorded on the film. Of course you wont see a "difference" in quality between images scanned for screen res just as you might not see a difference between various 4x6 inch prints shot with various camera systems. The limiting factor will be the size of the files and the resolution of the screen. The images were appended to the article to show the kind of photographs that I think the Leica M cameras and lenses do well. The detail is much "finer, brighter, more sparkly" on large prints or when projected.

Second, comparing a Dual Range Summicron from 1959 with various lense from the 60s, 70s and 80s is, well, dumb. The Dual Range Summicron was a breakthough in its time but technology has moved on. The latest lenses from reputeable manufacturers easily beat the DR Summicron in a number of ways. That being said, the latest lenses from Leica are still better than their competitors offerings. Some people wont see the difference as all current high end optics from most manufacturers are very, very good, and sometimes the small differences are masked by inadequate technique. The comparison between brands across decades is very much like saying that your new Camaro will beat a 1950s Porsche. Yes, it will. But will it beat a 2001 911 turbo???? No, it wont.

I have owned countless Nikon cameras and lenses and found them to be good enough. I have no doubt that astronauts find SLRs easier to use, initially. I have no doubt (after having read in Hassleblad publications the NASA requirements for instruments to be taken into space) that Nikon was willing to spend the money to build cameras to order for NASA. I hardly think that NASAs use of a camera consititutes the ultimate endorsement as they are looking for cameras that are simple for amateurs to use under stressful conditions. They may have been looking for systems with zoom lenses. Who knows? Who cares? It seems obvious that the Soviets used Nikons out of a need to save money!

Yes, the Nikon F shows 100% of the image in the viewfinder. So what? I was very clear in the article to state that there are many photographic applications that are better suited to SLR cameras. I further stated that we own and use a Leica R systems and a medium format SLR system in our work, IN ADDITION TO THE LEICA M CAMERAS.

The Ms are a specialized tool and if, indeed you own M4s, etc. you certainly understand this. Its not the appropriate tool for shooting football games or macro images. Ms are not good motor drive cameras.

They are made for candid photographs, quick shots, snap shots, art shots, quiet shots, etc. And, as such, they have a number of benefits that were well defined in the article. Not the least being a series of (current) lenses that handily outperform most or all of their competitors at their widest aperatures. If you always shoot at f11 or f8 you do not need Leica glass. If this is your shooting technique (well stopped down) you should go right ahead using the cheapest lenses you can find. If you want superior performance at f1.4, f2 and f2.8 you will quickly realize it with Leica lenses. Not with lenses from the 1930s, 40s or 50s, but Leica lenses from the 1990s!!!! (remember that silly apples to apples thing you learned about in science glass at school?)

Finally, according to Erwin Puts new book on Leica Lenses, no plastics are used in their aspheric process. The companies that use plastics in their aspheric production include Canon and Nikon, but exclude Leica.

Please read the article again. It does not say that the owner of an M6 will need no other camera. It does not say that M6s will replace view cameras or SLRs. It does point out how useful, practical and well this KIND of camera is for certain subjects and situations.


Isaac Crawford , June 27, 2001; 12:11 A.M.

I think that the review was done very well. It showed what kind of photography the M6 is good for, it isnt for everything, but it is mighty good at what it was designed for. One thing that I think deserves mentioning is the effect it can have on the more casual shooter... The camera is such a joy to use that I find myself using it a lot more often than any other camera I ever owned. Every SLR feels clunky and awkward in comparison. It was a full two years after I got my M6 that I picked up my SLR again for a macro shot...


Olivier Domon , June 28, 2001; 12:28 A.M.

Well, im a user of the M6 and im surprised that none of you talked about this new Hexar RF made by Konica, look like an M6 and accept Leica lenses... I bought one of this Hexar 3 months ago, and i didnt believe it was so useful in reportage, the semi-auto mode (aperture) is saving you some precious seconds...This one of the best things on this camera with the possibity to climb up to 1/4000 S and can take 2.5 frames per seconde! Of its a bit noisier than the M6, but everything is relative...Anyway this is what leica should have made 2 years ago, a kind of new M6 like this!

J. Salisbury , June 29, 2001; 03:43 A.M.

Ive recently purchased a Contax G1 kit (body + 45mm + TLA200 flash) new with 3-year warranty for $750. Additional lenses can be purchased via mail order for less than $300.

Without wanting to enter into the Leica vs. Contax, manual vs. automatic, etc. debates, I would suggest that for some users the Contax would present an interesting and relatively inexpensive alternative to the M (see for a review of the successor to the G1, the G2). This is especially true if, like myself, you are changing to a rangefinder from an automatic SLR and like the ability to use the camera as a point and shoot when the situation permits.

Esa Harma , July 03, 2001; 03:50 A.M.

I was able to play with the whole Leica product family in Photokina 1998 and it made me to choose the Contax G2+21+35+90 set because

(i) I am using my left eye for viewfinding and I also have glasses. Therefore I just cannot place my eye close enough to the Leica viewfinder in order to see the largest bright line frame in 0.72x or 0.85x making M6 effectively a 50/90/135mm system camera for me. And my favourite lens is 35mm.

(ii) I had great difficulties in using the focussing with 50mm Summilux ... somehow I was now always able to quickly adjust the frames on each other.

(iii) I noticed M6 to be a "cult product" and it is common sense not to buy such products and with those prices.

(iv) Contax has the legedary range finder lenses (Hologon, Biogon, Planar and Sonnar) in a modern construction (and for the Leicaphiles, the 35mm is an improved copy of the non-aspherical 35mm Summicron).

I have also noticed that there is a new 0.58x magnification M6 out today, but how useable is the bright frame finder for 90mm????


Bio Gon , July 03, 2001; 07:18 A.M.

Well, the review was one in which for the first time I have ever heard anyone say anything negative about the Zeiss 21mm Biogon for the Contax G. Most accounts I have heard suggest that it is superior to the Leica 21mm, or at the very least equal. Quite frankly, the article carries so much contempt for the Contax G system, I cant believe the comment flatly dismissing the 21mm Biogon is any more than sour grapes. Besides, how could the Zeiss 21mm Biogon be the equal or better than the Leica? It costs so much less.

While I am happy to believe that the Leica carrys with it some useful advantages in limited situations, you do pay quite a price premium for it. While it is claimed it is good value because it will be here 50 years from now is misleading. Yes, it will work 50 years from now, but with all the advances to be made in the next 50 years, would you want to? I suppose with the Leica you will have to because you spent so much buying the lens. With the Contax G lens providing comparable perfomance today at a mere fraction of the Leica price, Ill have more than enough money left over to go out and buy a new lens a couple times over that 50 year period. At the end, not only will I have a new lens that would outperform the 50 year old Leica, but Ill have enough money left over to buy a new camera body and years supply of film. Seems to me that the real value proposition is the Contax G. But I suppose that depends if you want to use the cameras and lenses to create the best possibile images over the 50 year period or whether you just want to have an antique collectible to look at after 50 years.

Bio Gon , July 03, 2001; 07:54 A.M.

Good points. Richard.

To further your comments, the Quote,

"Finally, and this may just be a personal thing, but the G2 doesnt seem to have the right "feel". It seems just a bit off."

I thought this was a review of the Leica M6?? Is the only effective way to critique a camera is to go out of your way to trash a different product? Perhaps if we are going to have a review of the Contax G2, perhaps we should have a review of it by someone who actually uses it on a regular basis, understands how the camera works, and is reasonably objective.

Is every Leica owner and user so insecure that every time they talk about their camera they have to criticize the Contax G2. Sounds to me like the Contax must have something going for it.

Toti Calr , July 03, 2001; 09:20 A.M.


Dear Sir, Im an Italian editorial photographer (I apologise for my English in advance), and I wholeheartedly reciprocate the first part of your review, as it describes the same reasons why I shifted from a huge SLR system to a light & tiny RF one myself; but when you started with your comparisons, the weather became really bad: "Here we go again, another metaphysical-fetishist photographer comparing apples and oranges!", I said, and here is why.

You claim that: "countless magazines, websites, independent tests and the testimony of countless thousands of professional photographers all concur that Leicas lenses are the finest in the world of 35mm." You guess it: I could claim the same as for Zeiss lenses, and, on your kind request, I could give the exact bibliographic references, both on the Internet and on paper; I could even "prove" that each G lens beats its Leica counterpart by speaking volumes. Whats more, lots of MTF graphs (which I do not consider that significant, but which, anyway, are the only science and not opinion based method to measure a lens), "prove" that the Zeiss lenses beat (or, at worse, equal) the Leitz ones, which are, BTW, copies of expired patented projects by Rudolph and Bertele for Zeiss. You said the Tri-Emar is the Leica answer to the zoom lenses: well it is a naive answer, if it is an answer at all, being it nothing else than a zoom with click stops coincident with the frames of the Leica viewfinder, thats to say the only kind of zoom that a Leica user could use; and dont be misled by the focal sequence: it is a zoom anyway, only you cant use any intermediate value of its range; nor it is the astonishing lens youre describing.

The fast lenses issue - here I must ask you a question: why did Leica discontinue the Visoflex? It is even obvious to replay: because since the SLR cameras became available, there were no reasons for it to be produced anymore. Now: the M system was designed in the 50s, when it was the only serious choice for any serious photographer in that film format. The G sys, instead, was designed in the 90s, in the very middle of the SLR empire. Dont you see what I mean yet? Ok, Ill try to explain: if you have not any other possibility to go with, a very fast lens (or a Visoflex and the like gears) is pretty welcomed even on a camera which doesnt allow you to properly verify a very narrow depth of field (and sometimes even the *real* focal plan youre using, but thats a different story), and the DOF of a wide open fast lens is very narrow, indeed; exactly as a RF camera is not the proper tool for shooting with macro, long tele and tilt&shift lenses, also it is not the perfect tool in order to manage a very narrow DOF, and, please, dont say you can manage it by using the hyperfocal distance, since, that way, you have to close the diaphragm, loosing so all the advantages of a fast lens, and not all its faults as well (theyre normally less sharp than the slower ones, and definitely more expensive); if you buy a ƒ1,4 or faster lens, it MUST be because you really need to use it wide open the most of the times, and if I needed a very fast lens wide open, todays SLRs are the perfect tools of choice, as theyre now largely available. Thats why Zeiss doesnt produce any fast lens for the G sys but produces very fast prime lenses for the CY mount SLRs (well, honest, Im venturing a guess here, but for sure thats why I wouldnt buy a ƒ1,4 lens for my Gs as I did for my SLRs). Why does Leica still produce such lenses for the M cameras? And why they shouldnt, until lots of fetishists out there are still willing to buy them?

The manual focus issue - you said "The G2s manual focus isnt up to this challenge"; this is simply wrong and proves you didnt spend enough time with the camera: you must get used to it, as you have to with the Leica RF under different perspectives; the greatest mistake one could do, consists in trying to use the focus system of the Gs as if it was a mechanical RF (as for the manual focus) or a SLR (as for the auto focus). These are both very common mistakes, and everybody would be disappointed by these cameras in doing that way. The myth that the Sonnar 90 "requires much skill to achieve consistent autofocus" is simply, just so, a myth, which has its roots in the above mentioned behaviour; Ive taken tons of shoots with it, and NEVER had a focus problem, in ANY condition, since I spent a few days in understanding the way the camera works.

The batteries issue - do you know that lithium batteries last for years (YEARS) without loosing any (or a barely measurable) amount of energy? Are a few spare batteries a so huge weight/encumbrance in someones bag? Does it exist an assignment long enough for a lithium battery to run down of its charge? This really seems a fake problem, used to prove the would-be superiority of only mechanical products, and it isnt worth spending more words.

There are lots more things I could say, but I guess this rant is long enough, and so, finally, here is the truth: Leica M and Contax G cameras are different beasts, they provide superlative image quality, and have their own drawbacks in comparison the one with the other and both with SLRs; this makes ANY comparison nor possible neither intelligent. Those who claim "the X camera is the best in the world", prove only their arrogant ignorance, not providing any useful contribution in increasing the photographic culture. Understand theyre different, and youre on the right path. Please, dont think Im a Contax evangelist, as I regularly use several other brands, and the day Ill need to shot in a theatre or in a classroom Ill probably buy a Leica; until then, since my shoots are mostly outdoor and, when needed, taken with a tripod, Ill stay happily with my Gs, as I, for one, think that the Leicas are overpriced pieces of industrial archaeology (and, BTW, Oliver, Leica should have made a decent camera having a semi-auto mode and a 1/4000 sec. shutter speed twenty years ago, not just two), but please, stop comparing different things on the basis of ineffective and misleading self-serving mental masturbation. Sorry for the length and have a happy shooting, whatever you shot with.

Rich 815 , July 03, 2001; 10:56 A.M.

Bravo Toti! When I read this article I was really peeved myself that this author chose to perpetuate the long disproved myth of the 90 focusing problems. As to some of the rest of the article I have some real problems too:

"The autofocus doesnt always autofocus where I would like it to"

It does for people who understand how it works. And it does it well.

"and the use of a focus hold button just bores/frustrates the hell out of me."

Nice irresponsible comment for a reviewer to make. Just what are you saying here? It "bores" you? In what way does it *bore* you that other auto-focus lock buttons dont bore you? Do the others play music or something so you dont get bored? What are you talking about? It locks the focus (once you learn how to place the focus, that is) and does it effectively. Frustrates you? Obviously not knowing how it works, or taking the time to figure it out, I imagine it must.

"There averaging meter pattern is less useful than the clearly defined pattern of the Leica meter."

Its a classic center-weighted averaging metering pattern. But you did not even bother mentioning that, instead just leaving everyone mysteriously wondering what IS this "special" but "less useful" Contax G metering pattern? Its the same type of metering used in such classics at the Nikon FM2 and FE2 and continues to be a well-used option on most of the newest and most modern SLR bodies! No, its not spot-metering but can be effectively used to lock AE in and re-compose no problem.

"while the 28 and the 45 are superb the other choices are less so."

"Superb"?? Does this review even attempt to have some objectivity or use phrases that can be considered useful in describing or comparing such lenses? Ok, lets suppose you meant "really good". By your description then the other lenses of the Contax G line up must be bad, or un-superb. Now go look at the MTF charts on photodo of the 21, 28 and 35. Compare them to your 300% more expensive Leitz honeys. Ill leave you an example. The Contax G 35/2,0 is rated at photodo at 4.1 (and costs $349 USD). The Leica M 35/1,4 aspherical is 3.8 (costs $2,945) and the Leica M 35/2.0 (non-aspherical) is 4.1 (costs $1,495). Yes, MTF is not the end all of comparisons but Im at least *trying* to use an objective comparison. MTF grades are not *everything* and many happen to like the personality of one brand over the other. But MAN, thats a lot to pay for some personality!

"The manual focus makes the camera chancy for street shooting as many street shooters prefer to keep their lenses prefocused on a fixed distance and then fine tune the actual shooting distance the moment they bring the camera to their eye. The G2s manual focus isnt up to this challenge."

Nevermind that the Contax G1 and G2 happen to have a large following of people who use them almost exclusively for street shooting. "isnt up to this challenge." you say? Another woefully useless description and opinion.

"Finally, and this may just be a personal thing, but the G2 doesnt seem to have the right "feel". It seems just a bit off."

Personal is right but you are posting a review and critique here. "just a bit off"??? Dont post such drivel and wonder why others critique your critique.

Dan Brown , July 03, 2001; 12:06 P.M.

The Leica M and Contax G1/G2 comparisons are of little moment. Kind of like comparing Windows ME to Mac OS9, why bother? Sure, the G2 has tons of useful features, and, if it is features you want, then get one, or get a Nikon or Canon. For me, I would take a 1954 M3 and vintage 50 mm lens over any feature laden camera, as the Leica is much more satisfying to own and use (for me). Freedom of choice! I am just happy they still make brand new M6s, and that the 1954 M3 can still be serviced by a qualified technician.

Kirk Tuck , July 03, 2001; 01:33 P.M.

Dear Richard, Bio and Toti, a response to your vitriolic remarks. A few observations. I bought and used the first G1 in Texas. I have owned a complete G2 systems and a redundant black system. I still own and occaisionally use the black system. I am keenly aware of its capabilities. I may have gotten a bad 21mm Contax lens but I can only speak to the units I have personally used. I have run several thousand rolls of slide film through the G products. They do load film faster. They are much noisier which obviates their use in not only theaters and courtrooms but also many of the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies. The lenses are not fast enough to compete with the f 1.4s and f2s available for the Leica M cameras.

If you choose to trot out third party assessments of lenses we might as well just refer to Consumers Report and buy whatever they recommend. While I mentioned that Leica lenses have historically been called the "best in the world" by many magazines does not change that fact that I actually used and compared the lenses that I discussed. Including the SLR lenses from Nikon and Canon.

The three of you seem to think that Leica users are somehow "tricked" into buying $15,000 or $20,000 dollar systems. You seem to presume that a working professional running a business would not have the good sense to make a critical evaluation before parting with large amounts of cash. You are of course quite wrong. You further seem to think that once duped we feel the need to assuage our anquish at being "conned" by duping other innocents into embracing our point of view---the "misery loves company" argument.

You would be quite wrong. I would much rather put the money into my IRA or my kids college fund, but my style of photography demands certain tools. Quiet, reliable, fast lenses, precision focusing. You also remark that the Leicas are sooooooo expensive but, as I recently sold older Leica Lenses to buy newer ones I found that I was able to almost always get more for a five or ten year old lens than I paid for it in the first place. If you want to be in business you cant always depend on the cheapest alternatives. I never want to fly on the airline that advertises the cheapest planes on the market!!!! The airline that advertises, "We pay our pilots a lot less so you save money!!!!" In the same vien, my clients are willling to spend a lot more money to wring out the last 5% of quality. That is my market. Yours may be different. The truth is that some professionals grow more and more discerning as the years go by and try to maximize quality in every step of their process. I would love it if the G2 outperformed the Ms. I would be happier if the G2 had a 75mm 1.4 or a 50mm 1.4 or a etc...... but it doesnt and they dont.

As to the Tri-Elmar. If you compared it to the three equivilent focal lengths for the G2 you would find that it is as good as the 28mm from Kyocera, much better than the Kyocera 35mm and almost as good as the 45mm. While were at it, "Superb" means very superior---better than 90% of its competitors. The G lenses are uniformly superb (with the exception of my 21) but they are not as good as the current Leica glass.

Read Erwin Puts recent book where he discusses the science (not opinion) behind rangefinder and slr focusing. Up to 90mm the rangefinder is superior from a technical and quantitative point of view. It is also quite superior in focusing faster lense up to the 50mm range. Science, not emotion. If you have trouble focusing a 50 mm lens with a leica rangefinder, you are either looking through the wrong side of the viewfinder or you are seriously impaired.

Any G2 user will tell you that using the G2 in manual focus is a pain in the butt. I dont have to hold in a button with the M, I focus it once and it stays there. And do you know what? When I focus my M it doesnt make any distracting noises.

Richard, I dont know where your battery issue came from but I found myself replacing the G2 batteries twice a year or more. Maybe your batteries last a long time because you dont shoot professionally with the camera. Shoot a couple hundred 35 exposure rolls in a month and I guarantee you will be changing batteries. I dont mind batteries. I actually use them in my M6s.

Again, these reponses are the reason that I wrote earlier about the need to actually experience the cameras and lenses under tough user conditions to actually make an assessment. Seeing them for 10 minutes at Photokina doesnt really count. In fact, thats like telling me that you saw a Porsche and in the show room it didnt look one bit faster than your Hyundai so you dont understand why anyone would want one. Borrow a Leica M with a current set of lenses and shoot them side by side with your Contaxes. Shoot several hundred rolls of film in each and them spend a couple of hours with a good 8x loupe and you may see a difference. If you use your tripod and shoot slide film and are careful with your technique.....

As I stated in a reply above, I have friends who will tell you (and believe) that a Ford Explorer has the equivilent performance of a BMW 5 Series automobile. They cannot understand anyone choosing to pay more for a car than what they paid for their explorer. According to the magazine tests, both engines have the same horsepower, so how can one be better than the other????? They "test drove" a BMW in a parking lot for 10 minutes and delared it "no faster" than the explorer. Camera buyers can be the same. Some compare the performance of lenses by looking at 4x6 inch prints from the corner drug store and delcaring that their 100 dollar point and shoot is the equivilient of a Leica (or Contax G). Well my freinds, shoot a good photo on a tripod with your lens wide open and print the resulting 50 asa chrome as a 24 inch by 35 inch print and I guarantee you will see some profound differences. thats what real pros pay extra for.

If you want to write a comprehensive article about why you feel the G2 is so great Im sure the folks at would be thrilled. And as one of the (seemingly) very few professional users who owns both systems, and has used them extensively, I will be more than happy to critique your article.

You may not be the right market for a Leica M camera, but thats a personal assessment that only you can make........


T T , July 03, 2001; 06:47 P.M.

i find it funny that some of the leica bashers above havent even used the m6, yet they feel qualified to make the comparison between the contax g system and the leica m system.

ive noticed that people tend to always favor what they have purchased themselves. they naturally want to feel validated in their decision to purchase said item(s).

i already posted some other observations above (scroll up to read them), but let me state again that ive purchased and used the both contax g2 AND the leica m6ttl extensively. i have compared the ease of use, functionality, and bottom line results of each system side by side in the field and in the studio. the leica won.

it is quieter and feels more pure and unclutterred to use. it yields photographs that had a much less sterile feel, a more romantic look. it is more fun to use and carry with me all the time. it seems much more sturdy and better built for the long term. it has great and interesting longstanding history behind it. it is made in germany largely by hand.

so now some of you may say that im biased towards the leica. the truth is that i am biased towards works better for me since i purchased and used both systems.

yes leica is more expensive, but its worth the money to me. id much rather pay that kind of money for something that i enjoy using and like the results of, rather than buy something that might cost less but that i dont like. the leica is worth every penny i paid for it, whereas the contax is not. i bought both and and felt some real buyers remorse with the contax. as expensive as the leica is (and i acknowledge that is is expensive) i do not regret it at all.

Howard B , July 03, 2001; 10:16 P.M.

You might find an additional hands-on review of the M6TTL helpful: I spent six months working with one every weekend in order to write a really comprehensive review.

At the time, I was trying to decide between the best of 35mm and the best of Medium Format. The result is rather extensive reviews of the Leica M6TTL, Hasselblad 501CM, and other quality cameras.

Feel free to visit:

Choose Leica from the menu at the bottom.

Gavin Lock , July 04, 2001; 01:26 A.M.

Hi Kirk

Good review! Even better responses to comments! I like your style!!

Nice day Gavin

Toti Calr , July 04, 2001; 03:37 A.M.

Dear Kirk, it is not an intention of mine to start a personal war against you, and no vitriol at all here, but it seems youve encountered a few misunderstandings which are worth explaining. First of all I must admit I have an advantage over you as I know who you are, while you dont know a clue about me; well: Im a professional editorial photographer, I have six books signed with my name only already published, and a couple are coming soon, on the next Autumn; I rarely work on someones behalf, producing almost only editorial projects (mostly books, of which I often write also the texts, mostly about archaeology, history, architecture and social reportages), going then contracting directly with the publishers; when I work on someones behalf my clients are not multinational corporates, but public administrations, care takers groups, cultural foundations and publishers; occasionally I hold conferences and seminars with high schools and universities; I manage a pre-press agency and editorial service also; nowadays I dont have the problem of the kids college since mine is 17 months old only. Ok? Ok! Now, the first economic lesson Ive learned from my work (thank you for yours, anyway) is that, in order to "survive", you have to reach as soon as possible the famous "break even point", so you must very carefully weigh the costs/benefits rapport of each investment you do for your equipment: IMHO this rapport is completely unfavourable to Leica; you see: Im speaking in business terms, and from the perspective of a pro. I dont think what you stated as for pros who are "tricked" by the Leicas prices (please, dont consider me so naive), but I do think that Leicas business is for the 90% held not by pros, but by "tricked" collectors and old romantic fetishist, and there must be out there an American magazine which measured this percent more exactly than me, but Im close. This doesnt mean that you and lots of others good pros belong to the latter category: you belong to that 10% whose needs the Leicas, and only them, are able to fit. Youre right when you say that Leica gear keeps its value more than any other brand, but I think it is because of the above mentioned 90%: I dont know ANY pro who uses a IIIc, nor a M2 and so on; on the contrary I know plenty of colleagues who happily use their M5 and 6, as you also do, and... as I use my Schneider Super Angulon 65 ƒ5,6 on my Toyo 45C, which I paid for, and reached its "even point". It was me and not Richard the one who spoke about the batteries (please, if you want to replay me again, feel free to, but do it "ad personam" and not in a collective reply), and I was not talking about those one uses in his bodies, but of the spare ones one should always have in his bag, unused, as a backup: the normal alkaline batteries, have a natural run down time, and it doesn’t matter if you use them or not: their charge will run down anyhow and soon; the lithium ones, instead, last for years if you don’t use them: their "decay curve" is almost flat, but when they run down, they do it swiftly; please, reread what I wrote, now. Youre lucky to change your batteries only twice a years. As for the Tri-Elmar, "as better as", "almost as good" and "much better" are not terms I want to discuss further; Ill look forward to you to provide some "couples of lines per mm" data; until then, you could consider to visit the site (but please remember what I already said about the MTFs), and allow me to inform you that the most prestigious Italian magazine for pros only ("Il Progresso Fotografico", theyre the guys who have online the "Classic Cameras" web site, in English) rated it "very good", but there were "optimum" and "excellent" above that rate, and it is there that you find the prime lenses you mentioned. As I already said, I rarely work on other’s behalf, but the few times I had to take photographs of conferences and reunions, the only pillows I’ve seen were under people’s ass, not under their heads, so no way I could awake them with my noisy Contax, as they were not asleep at all (and anyway there always were dozens of colleagues who were using their clanky F4: if you find the Gs noisy, how would you call them? Terrorists?). Whos right? Your eyes only are, but this is true for everybodys eyes. As for your review, please, the next time simply tell us how *good* the Leica stuff is, and not how *better*, and everybody will wholly appreciate your contribution. Accept my compliments for your beautiful work, and forgive my macaronic English: Im doing my best.

Wee Keng_Hor , July 06, 2001; 12:38 A.M.

I’ve always believed that quality of light is one of the most decisive factors in the making of a good photo. Film plays a part too. As for lens, its role is never crucial as long as they are of acceptable quality. And thus I’ve ignored and rejected all those Leica discussions. I’d seen pictures taken with Leica but had never bothered to do a serious comparison.

However recently I began to develop an interest in cameras (not photography). Since I can’t be travelling and shooting seriously after the arrival of my baby boy, I have diverted my energy to try different types of camera. After reading this article in particular, I decided I should try Leica to see for myself what all the raves and rangefinder are about. But after checking price of Leica, I ordered the Contax G. Hey, a G1 body with several lenses and flash are cheaper than a M6 body alone! Since I gathered that both offer the very best lenses in 35mm, it is just rational for me to buy the G.

But for sure my photography will NOT improve immediately with the new equipment just because the lens is better and sharper. It will be naïve for anyone to think so.

Gary Voth , July 06, 2001; 03:40 P.M.

I briefly owned a Contax G2 system with a passel of lenses. At the time I purchased it, it seemed (to me) to be the perfect modern update to the classic "rangefinder" style of photography. After all, the camera is impeccably made, uses high-quality materials, and has lenses that are at least the equal of the best from Germany or Japan. I thought I would really appreciate the modern AF system, the viewfinder that zooms automatically with the lens in use, and the built-in motor.

Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that I struggled with nearly everything about the camera. As for autofocus, my EOS SLRs focused far faster and much more quietly. The viewfinder was squinty and difficult to use with eyeglasses. The lenses were very sharp but I was always trying to focus closer than the system would allow. And the motor just seemed superfluous. In short, the technology was encouraging me to use the system the way I would use an SLR, and it was a very poor substitute for my SLR system. I traded it after about 6 months.

What does this mean? Nothing really, except that the Contax G was not for me. (Horses for courses--your mileage may vary.) Just be aware that the Leica and Contax systems are not directly comparable.

I have recently been using a Bessa-R with the 35mm f/1.7 Ultron and 50mm f/1.5 Nokton. For those having an interest in "classic" Leica style rangefinder photography but unsure about the considerable $$ investment, look into the new Cosina/Voigtlander product line. It has some deficiencies compared to the Leica but it is very affordable, and the lenses are quite nice.

Tito Carlos Maria Sobrinho , July 06, 2001; 09:38 P.M.

Kirk, here are replies to your answer to me. 1)- DR Summicron a breakthrough? Cmon! Awful images a close range. The real breakthrough was the Micro-Nikkor of 1961. The same formula is still applied to the latest Micro for the AF. 2)- No, the Russian Cosmonautas used a Kiev and not a Nikon and thats the reason you seldom see space pictures by them! 3)- Yes, Leitz could adapt a Leicaflex for the space program but instead, they transformed Leitz Werke into producing instant collectors M cameras a la Franklin Mint. 4)- No, in portraiture I do not use f8,f11 but IMO, your still life tabletops sure could use more DOF. 5)- E. Smith, A. Eisenteadt. Y. Karsh, E. Weston, B. Weston, W.Bullock, Cartier-Bresson, Ataget, J. Sudek, R. Doisneau, W. Evans, P. Strand, P.Caponigro, M.White, P.Halsman,A.Adams etc all used vintage lenses. Due to this fact, your comparison between an old Camaro X 2001 Porsche 911 Turbo applying to lens is ludicrous. Also your saying that a Leica 24x36mm resolution is equal to a 6x6 and 4x5 is an unreal presumption. 6)- Interesting that there is a surge of aspherical designs in the market. It is very difficult to manufacture the moldings for a glass aspherical lens (Kingslake- A history of the Photographic Lens) and the price of the final product would be exorbitant. I would expect to pay more than $5.000 per lens, for real glass Leica aspherical optics. Is Leitz still in agreement with Sigma? Vario-Elmar and maybe asphericals too? Or Minolta? Continue writing about the Leica cult creed and instead of helping Leitz, you will jeopardize them. Tito.

Len Wiener , July 07, 2001; 12:50 A.M.

Kirks description of the M6 covers a lot of ground and answers a lot of questions, but the headline is inaccurate. It should read "A Pro Photographers LOVE LETTER to the Leica M6." There is nothing wrong in that, but this isnt an unbiased, dispassionate analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Leica cameras in particular and rangefinder cameras in general. That kind of analysis could be very useful and educational. Kirks piece is fun to read, but it is a brief by an advocate or perhaps the pro-Leica case to be made at a debate club. Once we understand that context, the discussion on this thread makes more sense as statements of beliefs, preferences, and even supporting evidence--but not as revealed truth.

Daniel Taylor , July 07, 2001; 02:20 A.M.

mission accomplished. an excellent overview that affords the reader a glimpse into the passions of a photographer and the bond between camera and artist. the images tell stories and show a purity that is striking. if you look closely, you can almost sense the smiling photographer behind the lens. when this comes through, you have found the right camera. its more than optics .. its magic.

August -- , July 07, 2001; 08:32 A.M.

I dont think insulting Contax users is going to help end this whole Contax versus Leica discussion, Kirk.

I admit that I use a G2. Did I buy it because I was afraid of all that "daunting" technical detail and all I really wanted to do was take snap shots? No. I bought it because I wanted the highest quality lenses, the compactness of a rangefinder and did not want to spend a fortune. The G lenses are at least as good as their Leica equivalents and a fraction of their cost. The body is also much cheaper and can be set to manual exposure/focus, which means I can control almost every aspect of the image should the need arise. By your argument someone who uses, say, an F5 instead of an FM2 doesnt want to learn technical detail. Im sure many professional photographers would beg to differ.

I also admit that, if money were no object, I would probably buy a Leica. Perhaps I could then become a "real" photographer and join you on that Leica high horse you sit so comfortably upon.

Yuriy Vilin , July 07, 2001; 04:09 P.M.

Cmon Tito... You are trying to write about something you arent really familiar with. Leaving aside "Leica vs. everything else" type of things, your comment about space photographs made by the Russian space agency is as dumb as your comment about Camaro/Porsche. If youd be familiar with their policy just a tiny bit, youd realize that any kind of information related to the USSR space program was highly classified. Even if it is just a picture cowshed photographed from the orbit somewhere in Wyoming.

<p>My apology to other readers...

Kirk Tuck , July 08, 2001; 11:20 P.M.

Several posters have questioned my assertion that 35mm can appear almost as sharp as 4x5 inch format film. They might be interested in this article I found on the website. It is in this section: and it readily confirms my stance about the relative sharpness between formats when concentrating on proper technique. Since many have sung the praises of Photodo in supposedly downrating the performance of Leica lenses Im sure they will be surprised by the (objective) conclusions of this article. It is the one entitled "35mm, Medium format and large format, quality?" To summarize, the sharpness of 35mm against 4x5 using same depth of field, on tripod, same film is very close. Close enough to clearly disappoint large format users.

Again, some people are not getting with the program. You cant really discuss a lens until you personally have shot with it. The case in point is the feedback this comment list has gotten about the Tri-Elmar lens performance. I have compared its performance against the 28 biogon, the 35 planar and the 45 planar and, on film it is as good or better (depending on what parameters are important to your work). in the case of the 35mm planar, it is better. I recently read in Erwin Puts Leica Lense Compendium that he finds the Tri-Elmar to be a better performer at f4 and 5.6 than the previous generation of Leicas 28 Elmarit and the recent 35mm Summicron (pre-ASPH). These are my findings as well.

If you go by what you read in one of the mainstream photo magazines you will find that all lenses tested are "best in class", You must test for yourself. If you dont see a difference you dont need to buy the product. It is sad that Kodak has chosen to discontinue Kodachrome 25 as it is a film that is superb in showing off small differences in premium optics. If you really want to prove your point of view to yourself you should do your tests at the max aperature, on a tripod with this kind of film.

Finally, to all the people who have complained about price of the Leica M system, Ive shot in places were I didnt want to call attention to myself and, yes, I would willing pay the difference in price between a Contax G system and the Leica system on the issue of noise alone. If you dont need to be discreet it doesnt matter.

But, get a reality check. The G2 has a loud rewind (with no option for manual rewind) and it makes a lot of noise each time it fires, just focusing the lens, not even counting the motor drive advancing. I was horrified the first time I used my G2 for work. I was taking candid shots of a Chinese Delegation meeting with top officers of Motorola. There were only twelve of us in a small conference room. You could hear a pin drop. The film hit the last frame and kicked in the auto-rewind. Every head in the room turned around and stared at me. I shoved the offending camera into a camera bag and covered it with my jacket. You could still hear the mechanical whine. That rewind lasted an eternity. (yes, after reading the manual and pressing several buttons etc. I was able to program the beast only to rewind on my command........) Ive never taken a G into a board room or a theater shoot again. Incidently, one of the senior Motorola executives took me aside and asked me if I knew about Leica cameras.......was my face red. Whats that worth in dollars and cents to a working pro? The difference in cost between the two systems is only one or two days of corporate day rate fees.

Josh Schneider , July 09, 2001; 12:52 P.M.


You have provided us with a good review of the M6 and were doing quite well in defending your opinions but now you are becoming a little silly. I dont think referring to the G2 as a lazy point and shoot camera is going to get you anywhere. In addition, your persistent reference to Erwin Puts as proof of your statements is rather unfounded. As a professional, I am sure you realize that he is on the Leica payroll. Any objective review of his work quickly uncovers his bias and instant satisfaction with any Leica product.

I think you are quite right in asserting that the M6 is a great tool and definitely has an advantage when it comes to noise. I have also used both systems and I have come to the conclusion that the M6 is engineered for stealth and durability while the G2 is engineered for speed and spontaneity.

As far as the lenses are concerned, it is all academic. I havent done any stringent scientific test with K25 and a tripod but I believe your assertion that the Leica may be ever so slightly better. But hey, do we actually shoot like this in real life? I think your man Erwin Puts even admits we pretty much negate the advantages of Leica optics by shooting handheld.

Great review and nice images.


Kirk Tuck , July 09, 2001; 06:09 P.M.

Josh, I agree with almost everything you say. I would disagree about Erwin Puts. I am willing to believe in his objectivity until someone proves otherwise. I dont take his work at face value--I prefer to do my own tests. My results seem to echo his results, and I know I am not on Leicas payroll. I dont think the G2 is a point and shoot and I dont think the camera has no value. It is different from the M6 in precisely the way you pointed out. Pity you didnt post this earlier, it would have saved a number of responses and counter responses. Thank you for taking time to help clarify what I really meant in recent responses.

Out shooting in the Texas sun. Lets see if we can melt some glass before we drop over........

Chris Battey , July 11, 2001; 12:27 A.M.

Hi Kirk, what a hullabaloo...!

Firstly can I just say how much I like your pictures. I think your experience as a working proffesional is of course valid, and if someone asked my opinion of why I used a particular camera, I would just honestly tell them why I prefer it over something else.

I used to own and use a Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron, it was a beautifully designed piece of equipment, sadly I had to sell it several years ago.

My experience with Leica was positive, yes they are quiet however if noise is your concern then you could also find a modern Eos suitable.

But the lenses. Well your pictures remind me of how rosy those reds used to look.

I work in a smilar market to yourself, Large corporates in Sydney. These days, for me, being inobtrusive on a commercial assignment doesnt bother me, and quite often I am using flash indoors with transparency.

One disadvantage of the M system is its unsuitability with fill flash, but thats another camera and another story.

Ive never been interested in the numbers game, comparing statistical data across various lenses, and I readily agree with you that first hand experience using your equipment when somebodys paying you to be there, this is really the only true test of proffesional equipment and its suitability for the job.

I did borrow a Contax G1, and found the viewfinder appalling when compared to both my Nikons and the Leica Window, there seemed to be little eye relief, I really had to position my eye in one spot in order to see the viewfinder. This was my experience, I just found it unsuitable for my type of work.

Once again Kirk, thanks for the memories.


Tom _ , July 11, 2001; 02:43 A.M.

While cameras are generally not that easy to use for left-eyed users, I found the M6 particularly inconvenient. I also found the rangefinder significantly more difficult to see than the focussing aids on the manual SLRs I used to use. I hope some other manufacturers will get back into the 35mm rangefinder market so that there will be some other designs to choose from.

Charles Dunlap , July 12, 2001; 10:12 P.M.

I owned an M6 (0.85, pre-TTL) for 4 years before selling the system for a Contax G2 system. Reasons for doing that: the M6 rangefinder focusing was slow and caused me to lose a variety of shots; the M6 rangefinder patch was subject to flaring out and disappearing in backlighting or certain angles in full daylight (same on 4 bodies that I used); fiddling with exposure under changing lighting conditions also caused me to lose shots. The G2 allows me to shoot just like the M anytime that I want to, and I do from time to time.

Concerning lenses, I cant echo your observations. In many important (to me) aspects the G lenses are preferable. 1) Theyre out of focus blur is very very nice, compared to the acceptable but not amazing performance of Leica counterparts (I used Summicron 50, ASPH Summicron 35, Elmarit 90, the latest befor ASPH, and 20/2.8, again before ASPH). 2) Resistance to flare is better in the Contax lenses: my 50 Summicron had ghosting and flare in the exact same shot in which the 45 Planar that I had borrowed did not. My Elmarit 90 had ghost images in night shots (the full moon breaking through clouds) and when I sent the lens to New Jersey they told me that the design produced visible internal reflections under that lighting--the lens was normal. 3) sharpness is equal (after making observations under a microscope of slides of the same scene, same time, same film, same exposure). 4) Color separation is much better in the Contax lenses. Again, under a microscope I saw very clearly how the Contax lenses were resolving the subtle hues of green and red in an outdoor mural that the Leica lenses were giving very little separation to in comparison.

Ive noticed on numerous occasions that my Leica lenses tened to produced cool color renditions (shooting Fuji Astia and Velvia). In one set of test shots with the Contax, the warm yellows of our porch in late afternoon took on an ugly blue cast that wasnt present in the Contax shots (same film swapped between the two cameras). Whenever I look at some of my Leica shots, I wish I could reshoot them with my Zeiss lenses.

I dont regret having owned the M6 and lenses, but I dont regret having giving them up either. Theres no perfect camera, but the Contax G2 comes closer for me than the M6, and my bank account is substantially happier for it.

John Rabkin , July 14, 2001; 12:19 P.M.

I have just come back from the "Requiem" photography exhibit in London, England. It showed picks 25 years of war photography. All the Photographers involved had Leicas, not Nikon coolpix cameras. Any questions?

L Zhou , July 14, 2001; 10:46 P.M.

And for over 10k years ppl only used sticks and rocks in wars...please tell that to the US Army. The tax payers will thank you. And we could all use some extra cash to buy some Leicas.

Another war photo exhibition can be easily organized in which all shots were taken by Nikons. And yet another one where captured frames from video footages are shown.

Tyler Pierce , July 17, 2001; 04:19 P.M.

Kirk, your review was excellent and it shows your love for the equipment. Beautiful images. Its easy to see that the optics are top notch. Fortunately you shoot enough photos to justify the expense, more than can be said for many rich photographers.

Personally, Ill never be able to justify a Leica (Or a G2 for that matter). Oddly enough, some of my favorite photos were taken on a crappy point-and-shoot camera. It was all I had at the critical moment, and that moment is long gone.

I love the pictures of your family. Those are the important ones, dont you think?


Karim Ghantous , July 24, 2001; 08:03 P.M.

A nice article, Kirk. Having owned a IIIc for a while and having a great love for Leica M cameras, I was anxious to read your review. I found it well written and entertaining while demonstrating your experience as a professinal. I laughed at that story about using the Contax at Motorola. That was a classic, man!

Bringing up the Contax was arguably not a good idea as your review was supposed to be of the Leica, not the Contax! Yet the comparison was still interesting because it allows readers to understand the perspective of someone who has owned both.

My only comment on the G1/2 is that it is too wishy-washy. One-third p&s, one-third rangefinder and one-third AF SLR does not make an elegant solution. I have never used or even seen one and Im sure that they are no minor deal - many obviously use and enjoy it. But I am more interested in design philosophy here, and I am not sure how it can be such a successful machine.

To those who expressed concern about the cost of a Leica, remember that elegance is not cheap. For example, a Subaru WRX depending on the model may match a BMW M3 in all areas: handling, acceleration, speed, cornering, NVH, braking and stability. The Subaru would be much cheaper.

Yet turbocharging is not an elegant solution to power output, which is why BMW does not produce forced induction engines. They use very clever engineering to make a normally aspirated motor produce astonishing levels of power.

I am not sure whether the BMW needs to be so expensive (depending in which country you live, of course) and nor am I sure whether the Leica needs to be, either. But the fact of the matter is that the Leica M is on paper an elegant design. The thing is that it needs lots of precision to make it work at all, and precision costs money.

A more serious problem is the lens quality issue. Leicas lenses are so good in part because they can be more freely designed. By that I mean that there is no mirror to work around. But the problem is that they dont focus close enough (which, Kirk, I dont think you pointed out). And Ill bet that this was deliberate. Because if they could focus closer, the design would have to be compromised and theyd lose their advantage over SLR lenses. Just a thought...

Kirk, you stated that your Leica frames have showed comparable results to 4x5s. I am not so sure that I can believe it. Yet those few posters who challenged you on this point should not be so sure, either. After all, granularity aside, a large neg is not necessarilly sharper than a smaller one. As when a lens spreads its image across a larger area, resolution decreases. Maybe you know this but you should have taken a line or two to explain your claim so as not to have caused confusion on this issue.

I think that the issue of filters should be discussed briefly. I only use two types of filter (as I consider other options gimmicky): primaries for b&w use and a polariser. Id never try to use a polariser with a rangefinder. Its way too impractical. However, using coloured filters (say, a deep red or yellow-green) with a rangefinder is actually better, as you dont lose light coming into the viewfinder as you do with an SLR. This makes composing and focusing much easier. This applies to Contax and Voigtländer owners, too!

I would like to make a comment on shutter noise. I used a twin stroke M3 once (for one lousy day...) and the shutter didnt impress me that much. I expected more silence. And once I saw a guy with an M6 at a university open day. When he fired I could clearly hear the shutter. It wasnt intrusive and I was glad that he wasnt using a motor drive or flash. But for a camera like that I expected better.

Yes, I am biased towards the Leica. Perhaps Ill never afford one. But it is clearly the Rolls-Royce of cameras. I had a dream once where I was holding an M6 and sobbing in reaction to its beauty. When I woke up, I was really crying! I am not so sure that the Contax could inspire such a reaction.

Anyway, the Queen of England uses an M6. Um... so there! ;-)

The only reason I wouldnt buy a Leica is if some multi-national conglomerate bought out the company. Then it would just be another cog in someone elses machine. It would be like Ford owning Jaguar, or BMW owning RR or Samsung owning Rollei. Id be like, Eww. (Yeah, Im a romantic idealist, but what can you do?)

Still, I use Olympus OM SLRs, and there is something interesting to be said about Olympus SLRs and Leica rangefinders: with only one exception, the OM lenses are lighter than their Leica M equivalents, even if some are bigger. And the OM body is shorter, narrower, less deep and lighter than an M6. And maybe just as quiet.

Once again, Kirk, a great review. Id like to hear more of those stories of yours, too... ;-)

Yongfei Lin , July 25, 2001; 12:19 P.M.

One question: why woman needs expensive diamond ring for wedding? Will a glass ring serve the same purpose? If yes, then a point & shoot will do too in photography. Diamond is girls best friend, Leica is boys...

Zapata Espinoza , July 26, 2001; 03:14 A.M.

Observation: Dealers shelves are full of Contax G bodies. They are also full of Leica M bodies, preferably M6, some M4-P.

If the rangefinder would be such a great concept, the Nikon F would have failed. The rangefinder renaissance is rather indication of a growing number of people who want to distinguish themselves from others by buying different, only to find out later they do not adapt to the numberous limitations of a rangefinder, hence the observation.

This all has nothing to do with photography, except that a camera that distracts you from taking pictures is certainly the wrong one. The review therefore should have better carefully outlined the limitations of the RF concept in general (such as unprecise framing, limited close focus, problems with RF alignment,...) and the limitations of the Leica M6 particular (film loading, tiny speed knob, WWII shutter construction...). So overall the review gives a biased, distorted view of the M. Which certainly results in another wave of typical used (only six films through it!) Leica M on dealers shelves in a few month. I think Kirk should have better pronouced that the Leica M is a useful camera for approx. 0,001% of the photogs.

John Clark , July 26, 2001; 06:45 A.M.

Very interesting developments in the comments here. As I stated further up, I was interested in buying a 35mm rangefinder. I ended up going for the Contax G2 based mainly on the price - the M6 plus lenses is simply overpriced.

However, I did try both in the shop - to me, the Leica is very nice indeed, but although the build quality was robust, the finish didnt seem to be particularly high quality (given the price). The G2 is a much nicer looking camera, although slightly bigger. I bought the G2 Millennium kit (G2, 28/45/90/flash/case) for around the same price as the cost of a new M6 body alone. Whilst the AF is quirky and its certainly not a quiet camera, eveything so far suggests quality.

I have to add that at this point I havent received the slides back from my first test rolls, but once I have I will comment again.

Its a case of horses for courses. Given that the RF/pseudo RF market is so small, it was inevitable that comparisons would be drawn between M6 and G2. However, they are fundamentally different cameras in most ways, the lack of a mirror and reputation for supreme 35mm quality seems to be the only common thread between the two.

If money were no object, Id have both. However, part of my rationale behind buying a smaller camera was that I could entrust it to family and friends when I wanted to be in the photo - my EOS system scares people for some reason, the Mamiya 7 RF is difficult for beginners (admit it - RF focusing is a strange concept when youve been used to point+click as most people have ;-) and the ETRSi is usually back home in a cupboard (sadly :-( )

Ultimately, I bought the G2 realising that it would be a small, light, high-quality 35mm camera. Neither it nor the Leica would be in the same ball-park-of-quality as the Mamiya 7, so why worry? The Mamiya is 6x7 and has perhaps the sharpest lenses in MF. So I have my ultimate manual rangefinder, which is as quiet as an M7; in my mind, the M7 and M6 are closer together (film aside) in purpose than the G2 and M6, so I went for something to fill a gap I had rather than duplicate the M7 in 35mm. If you get my drift.

In the end of the day, it is of course, the lenses which count and the general consensus is that theres very little to choose between the Leitz and Zeiss offerings respectively, and neither camera is really that suited to tripod work (which in turn implies that Ill be mainly handholding, leading to differences vanishing in the tiny imperfections of my shooting style). So, Ive saved myself approximately £2000 by going for the G2, which buys me a 43/4.5 for the Mamiya, which will wipe the floor with the lot of them :-D


Robin Smith , July 30, 2001; 06:24 P.M.

Good review and great photos Kirk. I think Kirk put over why Leicas are legendary cameras. I agree with Kirk when he says that until you have used them they might well appear overpriced and it is "so much more sensible to buy a G2/Voigtlander/etc. etc...." (insert your camera brand name here). The point is to rent one for a week and look at your results carefully and then you will see why their lenses are so legendary. I do not really understand this passion against them - but it is clearly linked to their high price. Is it ever worth paying for the extra 10% of quality? Not for all people, but for some people the answer is yes. Once you get used to it the difference is intoxicating though.

Also the M-Leicas are just the best there is at quiet accurate low light 35mm photography, there is not really any sensible debate about this - why resist it? Of course, you can argue that you do not necessarily need these qualities to get great low light shots (I myself argue this as I prefer R Leicas), but nevertheless the M Leicas are just the kings of this kind of photography in their capabilities. The Contax owners commenting here seem to have an inferiority complex for some weird reason I dont understand. The Contax Gs are excellent cameras, but different and not so well suited for what the Leica M is best at doing. Kirk is not saying they are awful and "bad" cameras - he just prefers Leicas for what he wants to do and he says why - why get all hot under the collar about it? Why dont some of you agitated Contaxophiles write your own Contax review for photonet? I would love to read that myself.

Kirk Tuck , July 30, 2001; 11:19 P.M.

Thanks to all those whove posted comments to the article. As an update, I had the chance to shoot a job here in Austin this past month that required me to shoot over 100 rolls of film. Most of it was shot in my favorite camera, the M6. Some was shot in one of several Leica R8s. Ten rolls were shot in Contax G2s. In bright sunlight all were superb. The G2s the Rs and the Ms turned in superb images. Now to the crux of the matter. Part of the job required that I shoot a stage show of blues singer Jimmie Vaughn. With iso 400 Supra and an 80C filter over the lens. Shot the 90 Summicron on the R. The 90 apo aspheric on the M and the 90 2.8 Sonnar on the G2. Heres what happens in the real world: With the G2 we are shooting wide open (f2.8) at 1/60, handheld. The photographer introduces too much movement and the photo is not sharp. The G2 locks focus (somewhere) and then the subject moves slightly. How can you tell what is focused? The shot is not as sharp as I would have liked. Also, the in camera meter indicated a much slower shutter speed as a result of its center weighted pattern and the black curtains behind the performer. Fortunately I was metering with an R8 on spot as well. The R8-Summicron combo is good at 1/125 wide open. There is less movement induced lack of sharpness in the resulting frames. The lens is not at its best wide open. The M6 with the 90 apo delivers the bacon. The rangefinder patch gives instant feedback as to the condition of focus, the instantaneous release captures the action I anticipated and the results are of a much higher quality than either of the other options. The difference was not the slight amount of difference that Contax users would like to pretend. The difference of one full shutter speed in these situations is almost like the difference between using a tripod or not. The sharpness of the outlines with the M was far superior wide open at 2 compared with either other option. This is the real world. Not some test bench. I trashed the photos from the Contax and the R and turned in great stuff from the M.

Whine all you want about the price difference, but this job alone would pay for several of either systems with change left over. The difference is that only the M would deliver the successful images. At this point it becomes binary. Succeed or Fail. F2 or no go. What price perfection?

Needless to say, the black G2 system was consigned at the local dealer as soon as I saw the film. No reason to compromise. Not in the real world. Besides, Ive got a mortgage to pay----I cant afford not to use the best tools.

L Zhou , August 01, 2001; 06:07 A.M.

I am happy for you Kirk that M6 worked so well for the concert shoot. But I suspect that, for example, a Canon EOS 1V with predictive AF, plus 85mm f/1.2L, using manual exposure mode (for instantaneous shutter release) and a 10 fps power booster will work even better!

Kirk Tuck , August 01, 2001; 01:33 P.M.

Bad Suggestion. There is no argument that the EOS-1 etc. has a faster motor, et al, but the speed of Autofocus is limited by that lenss motor. I owned that lens and it would not focus fast enough to keep up with subject movement---no matter how advanced the camera body. That lens is definitely first generation AF. Sharp wide open yes, but even in manual focus it uses a servo to translate movement of the focusing ring to the focusing motor. It is very cumbersome and moves like molassas. It also overshoots its focus mark in manual.

See what I mean? you have to own the stuff and shoot in the real world to understand the limitations.

Finally, The 90 is sharper (just by a small bit) than the 85 1.2 USM L. It wouldnt matter a bit if the 85 focused faster.............

Kirk Tuck , August 01, 2001; 01:40 P.M.

Marvin does make a good point though. I could have gotten the shot with a Nikon F5 and the 85mm 1.4 or the manual focus 105 1.8 (which is a very underappreciated lens). My point was not that the M6/90 combo was the only solution. My point was that it does things that the G2 does not. Most people whove responded rationally seem to understand the differences between rangefinders and SLRs. The ones who really got their panites in a bunch were the rabid G2 fans who feel that their cameras can do the impossible. I just found a real world situation that may give these folks the incentive to move up to a system with high speed optics, designed to be used wide open.......Not to get rid of their SLRs. (Please note that I included my R8 above and that I do shoot with my SLRs when the need arises.

Godfrey DiGiorgi , August 03, 2001; 12:55 P.M.

I feel Kirks review is reasonably good overall and characterizes well his viewpoint on the Leica M. It is a personal review and should be read realizing that it is a personal viewpoint.

Ive been shooting with Nikon SLRs and Leica RF cameras since 1968. The Nikons were my workhorses for most of this time, but I always loved the look of the photos I obtained with the Leica more. I havent worked as a photographic professional now since the late 1980s and what I discovered was that I was far less prone to carry an SLR for my day to day photographic enjoyment than I was a Leica or a good quality compact 35 (like a Rollei 35S). That being the case, I began to experment with different camera options.

Along the way, I acquired a complete Contax G2 kit (16/28/45/90 lenses). I enjoyed the camera a lot: its metering system was always bang on the money, the features were excellent. I have no complaints whatever about the lenses (while their imaging qualities are different from the Leica, the quality of their imaging is on par). However I found that the ergonomics of its operation didnt suit me as well as the Leica M ... I just never really sorted out my confidence in the automation systems and wanted to be in control of everything all the time. The Leica does that better for me. In the end, I decided to sell off the Contax G kit and go back to Leica M.

I returned to the M world by buying an M6TTL. This camera (with Heliar 15, 35/2 ASPH and 90/2.8 lenses) just works for me. It suits my hands brilliantly, the lenses return superb results. Frankly, what I really love about it is that it disappears in my hands and lets me see more easily. I liked it so much that I acquired another body (M4-P this time) and the 24/2..8, 50/2 lenses. At which point I realized that my trusty Nikon F3/T and lenses kit was doing nothing but collecting dust ... so I sold it too.

Its not the mystique Im buying, nor the status. I love the photographs and, for me, the Leica M is a tool that allows me more freedom to see, to create photographs, than any other. It just suits what I like to photograph very well. My Nikon kit held my workhorse needs for 28 years (from F to F2 to FM to FE2 to F3 through 18 lenses) ... I suspect that the Leica M kit will hold my needs at bay for even longer than that, and with fewer changes.

Godfrey -

wong KH , August 04, 2001; 12:39 A.M.

Well said Mr Khoo. In short, "To each its own". There are really no bad cameras or lenses, only lousy photographers.

TC Khoo , August 04, 2001; 04:37 A.M.

Dear all,

This review and its many comments have been very enjoyable. That it built into a flame-fest was part of the amusement for me. I felt that many of the arguments stemmed from the superfluous because many did not read the article carefully. As I can see it, there are quite a few arguments flying around (I cant believe that this rich pointless discussion has been generated by 1 review):

- that the SLR is king - that the RF is king - that Leica M6 is king of rangefinders - that the Leica M6 is king, or best of all 35mm cameras - that the Leica M6 is the best camera irrespective of format - that manual cameras are better than electronically dependent ones.

So, you can see how ridiculous the comments have become in the passion of the moment. These very same threads of argument surface when you have debates over Rolleiflex vs Hasseblad, Nikon vs Canon, square vs rectangular/ideal format ...; in the watch world, when there is a mention why Rolex is not better than Patek Philippe, or A. Lange und Sohne, ... you get the idea. It is childish to claim which is best, because even for the same person, there may be a best for different situations of photography. To claim that there is one single best tool for all sweeping applications just goes to show the thinking behind the statement.

I believe that Kirk has indicated the prarameters of his review and it is sad that the disclaimers were not heeded, or were purposely minimised. Read his article again - I see it not as the most neutral and balanced comparison review (there are few that are such, and then you say that they are sterile, clinical and without passion), but then I do not think that given a first write, it could have been bettered by many of his nay sayers - have you all tried writing reveiws rather than just criticising them?? It is no mean task and I would say that you should try it at least once, before you cast stones - it is NOT easy to please everyone!

There are several clear strands of thought that I take away from this very entertaining read. But first, let me establish credentials of ownership of cameras before I am accused of speaking through my nose. I own or have owned and used the following cameras - Leica M5 (35, 50, 90mm), Contax G2 (28,35,45,90mm), Nikon F2, F3, FE2, FM2T, F100 (lenses from 20-600/F4, all primes), Rolleiflex 3.5F, GX, SL66SE, 6008i, Rollei 35SE, Mamiya 6MF, Pentax 67II, Fuji GA645 and soon, Fuji GW690 III. At the lower, less serious end, there is the RicoH GR1s, Nikon 35Ti. So you see, I have had quite an experience handling both RF and SLRs and include some of the finest picture taking machines of our time.

What I can add to this debate is this:

- That SLRs have the broadest range of application in photography. This is undisputed. There are some things it does very well and some things that it can still do decently, but not as well as a RF.

- That the RF camera and specifically, the Leica M series/G2 genre has fewer such wide-ranging capabilities in its portfolio. But within its limitations, it can do these things extremely well and will likely beat most SLRs. Perhaps you can say that the camera is "more focused" in its capabilities, if you will pardon the pun.

- These things (depending how much you want to glorify, or trivialise them) include: wide open aperture shops (low or existing light), extreme need for quiet, small unobstrusiveness (minimal "presence footprint"), arguably quick work with presets in place (but this is more a case with manual cameras as a genre).

If you use Leica Ms in this framework (I may have missed out a few other instances) for these application, then they are unbeatable, except when you also consider the use of equal, or better RF such as the Mamiya 6/7, Rollei TLR (both shutters are even more quiet!), and the Rollei TLR (invariably) more unobstrusive with the WLF - except that you have to work with only 1 superb lens.

This type of photography is only found in candid "stolen" shots (in hallowed boardrooms of the Fortune 500 - some would like to say), portaits (and then you could argue that square is best here) of babies sleeping by window light, cancer-stricken patients dying in lonely silence and solitude etc, where discretion and stealth is of paramount importance.

- The moment you jump to nature and landscapes where flowers or anyone is within 20km to care if you scream at the top of your lungs, ... with apertures typically at F11, 16 or 32, the benefit of top performance wide open is no longer important. This is not to stay (I am quick to add) that the Leica is unsuitable for Landscape. I am just saying that with its horribly designed asymmetric tripod bush amongst other things, that its design parameters show markedly reduced benefit or competitive advantage, as those from Marketing are wont to mutter.

And that is what we all need to recognise isnt it? What is a camera primary designed to do? When it does this well, we praise it - because it has achieved its design goal well and perhaps above others. If we persist in taking it beyond the design parameters and then make lop-sided comparisons, it is not only unfair that this is taking place, it shows that there is little understanding of what it is made for. I do not believe that the design objective for the G2 and the M6 are exactly similar. There are some overlaps and each performs wonderfully for what they are set up to do.

In this sense, a person faced with these choices must then know what he wants in a camera and then make the decision based on the right fit for his own parameters. And needless to say that one of these may be cost. For each individual the choice depends on a priority list only you can define, because there are permutations that may not fit anyone else. If a particular camera works well or exceeds his given expectations, meets his needs maximally to the exclusion of other cameras, then it may be his given opinion that this camera is best for him. And who would dare say otherwise unless you walk in his shoes?! It is the incredible arrogance of assumption that ones own needs and priorities somehow has the superiority to overide, or superecede everyone elses, that leads a person with the ignorance, or temerity to announce to all that he is correct and the other wrong!

Just say that this is camera best for me and dont expect anyone else to be forced into agreement with that. If they do, fine, good for you!

You can argue G2 vs M6 ad infinitum and yet not reach any conclusion. This is because everyone is talking at different odds and it is just a silly waste of time! There are people with poor eyesight, who cannot focus a 90mm, or 135mm lens in the brightest of viewfinders - to save his life - where the autofocus in a G2 is a god-send (and the G2 can focus in near total darkness because of its active infra-red system, can you do the same??). Like-wise, the tactile pleasure of operating the buttery-smooth controls give exquisite pleasure to others. The qualitative issues are just as important (if not more so for some), than the more objective quantitative ones (blind tests, accuracy and precision of colours, tonality, or of machinery). That is why it is called the ART of Photography. There is subjectivity and personality in it - a piece of yourself in every good picture.

So to say that any camera that is best applies to anyone but yourself, is a statement that cannot stand up to logic. If you take a poll and then say that 80% of a general population affirm this, then it still may not be the best, but it may be that 80% of the people think it to be so. Perception and truth are often very different.

I illustrate this by saying that faced with a Rolex, the majority of Americans will say that this is the best watch. In truth, it is not. The movement in a Rolex is built like a tractor engine when compared to a Jaeger, Patek or Lange. To say it is durable is a correct statement - this is because it is so lowly stressed in its design to take into account its crude, but workman-like finish, that it will last. But as an artform in the beauty and craftsmanship of the movement, it is a joke! But few people will ever know this because of the juggernaut of the Rolex Marketing machine.

There is also a psychological overlay issue at stake here that I have observed. I find, that people who have thought that they bought the best (especially at a small fortune) do not like to be told that they have made a mistake. There is usually a preference for self-justification and a need for peer endorsement. This smacks of a sense of insecurity in ones own judgement. Hence, when contrary opinions are voiced, they are stepped on vehemently as if by squelching these fast and furiously, many would then salve their egos and continue in the well-being of their beliefs!

My final advice? Just see if it fits into what you really need for your kind of photography. Use it (M6) for what it does well and forget about what others say. Debating to the Nth degree about tone, resolution, contrast, bokeh etc will not make you a better photographer.

In fact, I will hazard to say that deficiencies in technic will largely negate the differences between many cameras and also between the G2 and M6 in the majority (but not all) of cases. Since I agree that the simple application of a tripod (and lenshood) will make a greater difference in the outcome and results of your photography than the minutiae you debate over G2 and M6. And in the realm of the M6 and G2, few will use the tripod, since that is the very essence of the reason for owning one of these rangefinders. And so you see the futility of your arguments.

Just be happy with what you have got, if not, you know what to do. Just dont go around saying that what you have got is the best and everyone elses camera is not up to it, or is trash. Please leave that to their own judgement and dont impose your opinions - based on your own preferences by offering a filtered "viewing lens" meant for yourself (unless clearly stated upfront). There are always "better" cameras out there, just live with and let live and get a Life!

Is your hobby photography, or equipment critique/debate? Why is it so important that you are right? And everyone else wrong?

Afterall, there are no poor photographers, ... just ignorant ones ...! Which might seem to be an incredulously arrogant thing to say, until we realise that we are ALL, without exception, ignorant to a degree. The arrogance only applies if you do not recognise this to be the case!!

And so now I rest, as I climb into and close the 4 foot-thick flame and incendiary-poof NBC Bunker door and await fireworks and nuclear armaggeddon.

TC Khoo

Alan Ball , August 06, 2001; 04:09 A.M.

Hi all, hi Kirk,

Nice review and interesting (if already well known) discussion.

Except for those of us who have started making pictures before the triumph of 35mm SLR photography, the most common user pattern is that of getting acquainted with interchangeable lens RF systems AFTER having used successive generations of SLR systems.

There are reasons for moving from high end SLR technology "back" to non-SLR systems. Those reasons are well explained in Kirks review (bulk, weight, noise, reliability of basic manual aperture/speed management, reliability of high end mechanical rangefinding systems). The optical performance of RF systems is the cherry on the cake, not the main reason of moving from one to the other (or cumulating both).

Kirk insists on the performance of the 21mm ASPH. I agree when it comes to quality. However, he does not point out a fact that is very irritating in many real life situations: framing through the attached viewfinder is approximative. This means that near/far compositions, a common way of using ultra-wides, is a hit & miss business with the M (or G) + 21mm. Except for specific photojournalist tasks where you need to grab as much of a scene as possible (demos, indoor meetings, etc) for which the viewfinder framing is adequate, ultra-wides belong more to the SLR world than to the RF world. The current version of the Leica R 19mm is as good as the 21mm ASPH, even at f2.8, and provides full WYSIWYG.

On another matter: the discussion comparing G and M6 stem from a misunderstanding. The G2 has been launched as a "RF" ("rangefinder") and has been hyped as the modern day Leica. Many of us have taken that marketing hype at face value, and go on comparing apples to oranges.

The G2 is NOT a RF system. It is the ONLY interchangeable lens AF compact (read "non-SLR") system (as opposed to fixed lens AF compact cameras). It has the advantages and shortcomings of such an architecture.

Its main advantages are obviously the (optional) delegation of exposure decisions, as well as the (compulsory) delegation of focusing decisions, to modern and capable electronics. The latter is also at the root of its handicaps.

I have extensivley used G2, before moving to M, and found the following:

1) Focusing: it is often perfect, but sometimes not. This is the ONLY high end photographic system I am aware of where the user CANNOT double check focusing for himself. Just like a basic P&S. There is nothing more terrible than having to wait after processing to find out where the thing has decided to focus. With ANY well calibrated RF or ANY SLR, the user has the means of verifying focusing reliably before and after taking the picture.

2) The longer the lens, the smaller the distance, the more erratic the focusing. Around 30% of my close range 90mm pics with the G2 were out of focus (around 10 per "portrait" roll), with no way of predicting failure or success. Failure was sometimes slight, like focus on ears instead of eyes; sometimes enormous, despite careful aiming of AF patch on the right spot. That level of FUD is unacceptable. With the M6, the focus failure rate with the 90mm has dropped to a couple per roll, and failure usually does not come as a post-processing surprise. This is inherent to the systems.

3) The G2 system does not provide any useable way of prefocusing according to depth of field scales. Wide angle usage on the M is much faster and much easier.

4) The shutter lag of the G system is incredibly long (unless you maintain constant thumb pressure on the focus lock command), while the M triggers instantaneously.

5) The non-USM G is ar least as noisy as most modern day AF SLRs (in the ultrasonic SLR world, the focusing is silent and the mirror slap is becoming less and less obstrusive). The M remains comparatively much more silent.

If there are circumstances where the Gs integrated motor and auto features are more than welcome, while the Gs build and size are certainly very appealling, and while the G lenses are very highly rated, the G simply does NOT compete against the contemporary M system.


Raimo Korhonen , August 06, 2001; 04:36 A.M.

I think this is a truthful and valuable review of the Leica M6 & lenses (and Contax G2, too) - but some have forgotten that it is Kirk´s assessment, not theirs.

Allen Friday , August 06, 2001; 05:51 P.M.

In responce to John Clark. Should we pull down our pants and see who has the biggest lens? I discount your writing when you use phrases like "wipe the floor with the lot of them." Even adding a smiley face at the end of the sentence doesnt save your comments.

I agree that anyone who is considering purchasing a Leica M6 should also investigate the Mamiya 7 II. It opperates like a large M6 and has an excellent meetering system and opperation in AP mode. Last year I rented both the M6 and the M7 for a month long trial period. I ended up buying the M7. I have been extremely happy with it. I shoot mainly black and white and develop and print my own work. The 6 x 7 negatives are beautiful compared to the small 35mm negs.

The M7 offers much of the best of 35mm photography--it is light, easy to hand hold and quiet. I have particularly enjoyeed it whe taking street scene photos. And, it offers the best of medium format--large negs. The down side to buying the M7 is that my Hasselblad now spends most of the year on a shelf in my office.

Nice discussion, over all. Lets keep the back biting to a minimum.

Dana Kincaid , August 06, 2001; 08:33 P.M.

Dana - me

If I could afford a Leica, I would buy one. My most recent issue of National Geographic chronicles a series of articles on a year and a half journey, thru bush, swamp and forest to ocean in central Africa. The pix are incredible. What did the photographer use? Leica.

That said, as an amateur who isnt going to Africa any time soon (and least not into the bush for over a year), I just bought a Contax G1. I wanted lenses that were on par with Leica (competitive boy bigger privates mid life crises notwithstanding) and they are on a par with Leica.

My biggest beef with the G1 (corrected in the G2???) is that the autofocus sometimes absolutely refuses to lock to something and I have to guess or make substantial effort to find the distance, set it in manually, and then shoot. I dont really understand why a gear-driven image superimposed rangefinder screen like the Leica M6 has could not have been incorporated into the G series finder. It would have made manual focus SO much nicer.

Ive been using the 35mm lens exclusively so far, next purchase will either be the 45 or 90mm lens.

In a few years though, assuming that digital idiocy does not kill film manufacturing off, Ill get an M6. Right now Im looking at used medium format TLRs.

Nik Trevallyn-Jones , August 07, 2001; 05:30 A.M.

Short response: Wow and Ugh!

Wow - because this is a great review to read. Not just enjoyable, but I really took useful information away from it. Ugh! because I feel little closer to choosing the right camera for me.

Kirk, thank you very much for you review. This was *exactly* what I needed to read. A passionate, committed persons well-analysed reasons for prefering a particular camera. All I need now are a few more reviews like this from differing viewpoints, and I will be, hopefully, well on my way. Thank you also to everyone else who has posted their (wide-ranging) opinions. They have all helped.

You see, I am currently tossing up between the M6 and the G2 - what a tough, and thoroughly enjoyable decision. (Imagine if I had to choose between hives and smallpox, for example?) I actually started out lusting after the G2 - I own a number of other Contaxes, and have had so many rewarding results from all of them. Then I found the M6/G2 comparison on the Contax web-site ... for me, bad move. I hadnt even considered the M6 until that point. So then I lusted after the M6. Look at those ultra-fast lenses! Look at that compact, fold-away 50mm. Look at how much better it supports the Metz SCA flash system, look at its dismal flash-sync speed - oops! Back to the G2 - look at that ultra-fast shutter, look at those small, light lenses, look at that fast flash-sync speed, look at that lousy TTL fill-flash - oops! Ugh!

The reason I like this review so much is that it gives me a very complete and well thought-out view from one persons perspective, of equipment he has used for a long time. Now I simply compare my approach and preferences to Kirks, and I can distill the information I need. I have found a few other very informative pieces of information on the G2, but so far, no review with as much depth as this.

Kirk dismisses some of my beloved Zeiss lenses. Is that a major factor for me? Not unless every other aspect of the cameras were equal, and that obviously isnt the case. Kirk finds fault in the G2 in other areas as well - again no big problem. I have found where our interests intersect, so I know which of these criticisms are important to me, and to what degree. For instance, camera silence is yet to be a problem for me, whereas lens speed is.

The only way I can finally choose between these two cameras (or anything, for that matter, short of tossing a coin) is to find out as much as possible about their differences - from as many different points of view as possible. And thanks to Kirk, I now have more of that information than I did before. In fact, I think the best way I could summarise this review is that it sensibly suggested I seriously try the camera(s) that I am considering buying, and pointed out some valid reasons why I should include the Leica M6 on that list.

Thanks again to everyone - and Kirk, in 20 years Ill try to post as useful a review as this, to add to whatever hot debate is going at that time.

Cheers! Nik

Andy Piper , August 08, 2001; 03:23 A.M.

I use Leica M. I used to use Contax G. A certain amount of piffle has been written about both systems here (and also a lot that is true). I like both systems - it just turned out that Leica had more to offer me personally.

Specifically I shoot low-speed high contrast color slides (Velvia), and I just preferred the color and more gentle contrast of the c.1988 Leica lenses to the Contax (and some newer Leica) glass. In addition the Contax G2 just decided to be confused about focusing and locked up for a second once too often, missing me a moment. With the Leica when I push the button the shutter fires RIGHT NOW and EVERY TIME.

Things I miss about the Contax: life-sized both-eyes-open shooting with the 90. Auto follow-focus for kayaking shots. Occasional autoexposure convenience. Very nice crisp lenses at an unbeleivable price.

Things I find very similar between the G2/Leica and treasure in both. A camera that leaves your face visible to your subject and engenders trust. Very low shutter vibration for hand-holding to 1/8 second (1/2 with the 21s). Compact size and weight. And a cure for the telephoto addiction that had me shooting everything with a 135 or longer.

Some of the piffle I saw:

"Oh the Contax viewfinders are too small" The G1/G2 finder is EXACTLY the same size and magnification as the old Leica screw-mount finder - you know, the one that Cartier-Bresson used for over 20 years before the M3 came along? The one that Gene Smith used in his "Nurse-Midwife/Spanish village" days?

"I cant see any quality difference between the Leica/Contax lenses and my SLR zooms" Nikon, Canon et al make some very nice glass. They may well equal Leica/Contax at some apertures and 1/250 second. Try comparing them wide open and at 1/8 second, and you will see a difference.

Toti Calr , August 08, 2001; 05:53 A.M.

Alan Ball wrote: "The optical performance of RF systems is the cherry on the cake, not the main reason of moving from one (SLR) to the other (or cumulating both)." Ball, this could be true for you, but for me the optical performances (no distortion, high contrast, cool colour rendering) were the very cake, not just the cherry. Kirks review was actually interesting, but, honest, I enjoyed TC Khoos comment more than the review itself. Again: comparing different things meant to be used for different purposes is silly, saying the "x" camera is the best in the world is silly, claiming that a top line camera is crap because it doesnt fit your needs and habits is silly: if one (for any reason) needs a RF camera, takes advantages by the AF and likes Zeiss lenses then the G2 (or even the G1 if one doesnt need a fast motor and a fast shutter) is the camera of choice; if one doesnt like AF, takes the most of his pictures in low light and likes the Leitz lenses, then therere no doubts again about which is the best camera: the Konica Hexar. :-)

Jim Tardio , August 08, 2001; 11:46 P.M.

Heres another professionals view of his Leica cameras: Go Here.

Kirk Tuck , August 11, 2001; 11:00 P.M.

Since so many have posted that the prices of Leica M cameras are too high I thought I would let you know another advantage of the Leica M over the Contax G series cameras. One that speaks to cost effectiveness. A friend who shoots with Leicas recently decided that the "holy trinity" of 35-50-90 needed to be expanded into the wider angles. After assessing what was availble, and trying out a few options, he bought the 15mm Heliar, the 21mm Skopar and the 24mm Skopar. These are screw mount lenses made by Cosina. The lenses were supplied with finders, and in the case of the 21mm the finder matched the performance and finish of the Leica products. Tests with the lenses indicate remarkably good performance for the price. His total expendature was around $1,000 or roughly the price of a single "overpriced" Contax G 21. One half or less the price of the " incredibly overpriced" Contax G 16mm. The lenses are real bargains. Sad for the Contax lovers, you have to have a Leica lens mount camera in order to use them........

By way, any Leica from the last 50 years will suffice. Seems you can cobble together a great system for very few dollars, and you still get to decide what will be in focus when you shoot. Silently. Theres nothing like knowing exactly what your gear is focused on.


Wee Keng_Hor , August 12, 2001; 10:28 A.M.

Ive to agree that Leica users do have more option of of lens choice. But using non Leica lens on a Leica body? Might as well get a non Leica body.
Contax is expensive in US. However, in Singapore the 21mm lens sells for about US $780. Have read that it is even cheaper in Hong Kong at about US$600!

Kirk Tuck , August 12, 2001; 03:06 P.M.

The above poster opined about using non Leica lenses on a Leica body and suggested just getting a different brand of camera. The point is that you can buy the fabulous, best in class Leica lenses for the focal lengths that you use everyday (they are built to take the wear and tear) while paying fewer dollars for lenses that you may not need often. Either way, you get the advantages of the Leica M bodies.

James Vincent , August 12, 2001; 09:31 P.M.

I agree with Kirk, but with a slightly different twist. I use a Hexar RF with Leica glass. I have the 3E and the 35/2 pre-asph. I, too, would like to get the Voit 21 and 15.

Kenneth Pai , August 13, 2001; 06:20 P.M.

Kirks imassioned and well-reasoned piece is worth reading by both M6 evotees and Leica bashers alike. Well done, Kirk.

Seems to me a major reason that many Leica M users prefer Leica Ms has not been aired. That is, the Leica M, its optical and mechanical qualities aside, has become a "classic"--even if you are not a collector.

The Leica M is, as one of the commentors said, indeed like a Rolex. It may not be the most advanced, most feather-laden, versatile, useful, or even beautiful. But, it does not try to be. It has that timeless (to some, "perverse") charm. It is also like the original VW Beetle (but not the current New Beetle). It has been improved upon over the decades but not redesigned (except the doomed from the start M5).

Maybe the M is a "cult" camera and remain that way.


Pedro Vasconcelo , August 13, 2001; 07:12 P.M.

Regarding Voigtlander vs. Contax lenses Id like to add that the prices of these lenses are not directly comparable because they are not of the same aperture: for example, a 21mm f4 cant replace an f2.8 even if the optical quality was identical (which I dont think is the case, but Ill leave it at that). On the other hand the Contax 45 f2 is cheaper than the Voigtlander 50 f1.5, the 28mm f2.8 should be cheaper than the new 28m f1.9. The Contax 90mm f2.8 costs $50 more than the slower Voigtlander f3.5. So it really is not clear that a Leica/Voigtlander system would be cheaper than a Contax G system.

I understand that the Voigtlander 15mm and 12mm can be altered to Contax G mount by the German company named Zork; the cost is higher than the M-ring adapter for the Leica, but still much less than a Zeiss Hologon, for example.

BTW, one advantage of an electronic RF is that all these non-RF-coupled lenses can be focused more acurately on the Contaxes by reading the distance on the digital LCD and setting focus manually rather than just relying on depth-of-field.

Terence Z , August 14, 2001; 09:10 P.M.

I dont think Contax Gs 21 mm, which costs about $650, is an outrageous expense as Kirk claims. Even the 50mmf/2 cron costs more than $700 new. Contax G2+ Zeiss 45mmf/2 costs only $1050 new these days in many shops.

I dont hate M6, I think it is a beautiful, old-fashioned, entirely useable camera. However, G2, which packs so much more useful electronics features (AE, 4-FPS motor, 1/200sec sync, AF, AE compensation, AE bracketing, auto parallex compensation, auto zoom viewfinder, PLUS manul everything) into a body as small as a Leica M6, represents a far better bang for the buck for most people, and displays far more ingenuity in engineering and design than Leitzs M6.

Based on my useage, G2s viewfinder, although denounced as too small too dim, is actually at least as good as Leica M3 or M2s viewfinder. And G2 lets you see the full frame view from 28mm-90mm, and automatically compensates for parallex.

G2s autofocus is fast and reliable. Of course it wont focus on a white wall, or on a hazy horizon. M6 users cant focus alone on horizontal patterns either. Ive never had trouble with G2s 90mm focusing. The meter readout in viewfinder is entirely adequate for me as a focus confirmation. Regarding the criticism of weak flash, can you say M6s flash is any more powerful? G2 can use the full line of Contax flashes, including those designed for the Contax SLR line, which is quite sufficient for any casual user.

The shutter lag for G2 can be very short if you switch to CH mode. Which stands for continuous-high. In this mode, G2 becomes release priority and as long as you use a fairly small aperture, say f5.6 or smaller so your DOF covers the subject, your pix will be sharp, and the release will be instant when you depress the shutter, and if you keep the shutter depressed, G2 takes 4 frames/sec. Far more likely to catch that "critical moment" than if you were using a manual everything M6.

Finally, regarding the quality of the image, M6s f/1.4 lenses does have some advantage in isolating the subject or for gaining that extra stop. However, Id rather use f2 to make sure, in dark situations, I have enough DOF than go after that bokeh. As to sharpness, I honestly cant tell the difference between the two marque. Tripod defeats the main purpose for both cameras. As people have said, if the ultimate in image quality is the goal, Mamiya M7 is a far better way to go, with UK or Hongkong prices at $1700 for the M7 body plus 80mm/f4. Its not much larger than a 35mm SLR and is light-weight and has a shutter even quieter than M6s.

Every camera is a compromise. G2, to keep its lenses small and prices down, forgoes fast glass and the ultrasonic (silent) AF motor. M6 simply forgoes too much functionality to keep that "purity".

ROCKY LEE , August 15, 2001; 05:56 P.M.

As a M4 user for more than 30 years, I agree with Kurks view about the M6 ( M4 is just a M6 without the built-in meter and the 28mm frame). I like to be able to tell if my picture is in focus or not BEFORE I take the picture. I hate to see the picture being out of focus because the AF SLR is not focusing right,(It happened to me quite a few times). I have played with the Contax G1, G2 and TVS. It is just not the same as the M4.( I have not yet mentioned the noise during focusing and film winding yet) If you are using 35mm or shorter focal length for distance more tha 8 feet, you can make use the DOF and F8 or smaller to take most of the pictures without focusing the camera. This make it a very fast and easy to handle (due to small size)camera for candit shot. You can almost use it as a point and shoot. The other thing I like the M is the small size (especially the extremely small Sumicron 35/2 lens). By the way, my M4 has given me more than 30 years of absolutely trouble-free service ( I do not treat the M4 as a toy. I treat it as a tool. I do not baby-sit my tools). That got to say a lot about the reliability of the camera. Over the years I have tried different cameras. But I always go back to the M4. To be fair to the SLRs ( I do own couple of them), M does have its limitation. If you like to take close-up pictures, or like to use long lenses, the M is not for you. M works best with lens of 90mm or shoter, especially the wide angle lenses. The M is so simple and basic ( some may reads it as out-dated)that all control are so instinctive and fall right into your fingers. You do need to consult the owners manual to re-learn to use most of the advanced, all electronics, modern, auto everthing SLR. As for the price of the M system, I am not trying to justify it. However I am a firm believer about the relation ship of performance vs price is not a linear relationship. It is a log curve. You pay a lot more for a slight improvement at the high end.

Bruce Albertine , August 20, 2001; 11:31 P.M.

I appreciate both the thorough review and the photos included with Kirks review of the Leica M6. I also love shooting candids and "casuals," and Kirk is excellent at capturing these.

I must say, I cant understand all the crap that follows any time someone says they enjoy a particular camera or lens or film, either here or on any of the photo BBSes. It seems absurd to me that people will try to tear down a review written as well balanced and fairly as Kirks. I guess boys just gotta fight, right fellas? Ill tell ya what, Ive been in the sound recording business since I was a kid - a long long time ago - and Ive heard these same kind of stupid arguments about everything from digital-vs-analogue to transistors-vs-tubes and here we are in the new millenium with these arguments still unsettled. The fact is, every thing has its advantages and disadvantages, and many people take highly polarized views about their things, or other peoples things, based on whatever that thing does or doesnt do for them. But once these polarized views take form many people start taking on the dialogue theyve heard from other like-polarized speakers and re-speak it as if it were their own experience, not ever having had the experience for themselves. Eventually, myths are created based upon nothing more than hearsay repetition of other peoples experiences. Zealots emerge who will fiercly argue points with enormous voice but with no reality from which to prove their zeal. Religions are born and gods are created.

For seekers of the truth, its refreshing and restores faith in the ability of humans to sometimes communicate when one reads a camera review that is balanced and fair. Kirk gave a fine representation of his extensive experience with his Leicas and I, for one, appreciate his lack of zealousness. I wish more reviews were like his.

Thank you, Kirk. Nice phots, by the way....

Haim Toeg , August 21, 2001; 04:56 A.M.

Thanks for taking the time to write the review and answer all the varying opinions. I own two M6 bodies and an M4-P, as well as quite a few lenses. I have had in the past many different cameras, from a 6x6 box camera, to a Praktica, Olympus OM-10, a few Nikons, Bronica, Mamiya RZ-67, Mamiya 7II, 4x5 cameras and more. I was introduced to rangefinders with the Leica CL and there was no looking back for me. I find the compact size and the light weight of the M system encourage me to take the camera with me wherever I go, the cameras and lenses feel beautifuly well made and reassuring to use, and it is nice for me to know that mechanical engineering still can produce products such as these. Do I make the maximum use of it--probably not, could I have achieved the same with a Contax G2--probably, if I was inspired to tote with me at all times as I do with my Leica. I know, however, that with the increasing size and weight of modern SLR lenses I would not take the same number of pictures with a Nikon, Canon or the like, thats my main objective and I enjoy doing so with a well made product. My opinion is highly subjective, but so is the choice of a camera system. Just enjoy what you own and go make pictures that make you proud or give you pleasure.

Haim Toeg , August 21, 2001; 04:58 A.M.