Jump to content

Leica excellence: Leica film camera vs. all other digital?


Recommended Posts

Okay - I know the title of this question appears to be asking for a rehash of a very tired old "film vs. digital"

debate, but I assure you, the question I am asking is none of that. The question I am asking here, hopefully from

some of the more experienced Leica M film users, is whether the benefits, or the privilege, more aptly, of using

that sublime creation of German engineering and optics outweighs the advantages of modern digital media and the

cameras that go with it? More simply put: Do you still prefer to use your film M with all of the digital options

out there?


I have been groping around in the dark for many months (or years even) trying to find some definite direction for

my photography, and while I have been an adamant holdout for film in the face of the digital 'revolution', I

have, very recently, caved a little and bought a Canon G10, which is a wonderful little camera when used within

it's capabilities. I was hoping it might deliver at least some of the benefits that I wanted from a Leica,

including small, discreet, quiet, etc..but without the price tag, as well as being able to dip my toe in the

digital pool.


I love to shoot "street" and all that 'decisive moment' stuff really hits home with me. For years I have been

using a Nikon FE2 with a 50 1.4, which, when used without an auto-winder, can, in practice, deliver good

performance and speed for this, but with none of those intangibles that can be got from using the legendary Leica

M. That's not even to mention the speed and image quality of the best Leica prime glass.


So, all this preamble and background basically boils down to these two things, and I am keen to hear your opinions:


(1.) I have now pretty much made up my mind to buy into the Leica mystique and I'm thinking either an M6 if I

can come up with the bucks, or a more traditional M3 or M4 if I can live without the built-in meter. Any advice

here? I have done some research on all of these, but I keep running in to one dang thing....what about digital?

That is a loud and persistent call indeed.


(2.) Do you still shoot your film Leica Ms with all that versatile digital technology out there? Do you do both?

I'm sure if you are a commercial pro or some such, you have no choice but to shoot digital, but do you pick up

your Leica when you are off the clock? I've looked around this thread a little and can't find any meaningful

answers to this question - not on the "Film vs. Digital" question, but on the much more difficult and serious

"Leica M vs. digital" question. And I am aware of the existence of the M8 and that's not what I mean by digital,

that camera is WAY out of my league....


Thanks very much for your thoughtful opinions and direction.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

WEll, my answer is get an old Brownie camera for $0.25 at a yard sale and shoot until you drop. Gear will only answer to itself in a material, a materialistic way. Good photography requires spirit and soul and can be had for a quarter. Art and fun requires not much other than what is between our ears: an eye or two, an idea or a few, and enjoy! Material battles are just that: needless warfare over irrelevant parameters. Sorry, and do buy all the luxury gear you lust over, it will make the economy happy, but not you. Sorry, the bubble has burst, ...
Link to comment
Share on other sites

digital/film, red/blue states, guiness/murphy stout, why is it always one or the other. Fe2 is a great camera, doubt you 'll get much better pics from a Leica, but if you really need to go for the mystique, the M3/M4 ooze uber machine age charisma but the M6 is probably more practical. If you like shooting with the 50, you might really like the pre-asph Summicron or the 35 pre-asph Summicron.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I rarely use my M6TTL now, except to occasionally burn through remaining film. But I *do* use my Leica M glass regularly on that

other digital M body, the RD1, which I find much more appealing than the M8. And much more affordable, relatively speaking. I don't

really miss the "legendary" "sublime" Leica body for the most part... so there is no "Leica M vs digital" issue for me...



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jonas - I do appreciate the input and I'm surprised to hear (from reading on PN) how many folks actually own and

use R-D1s. I guess I thought that great idea kinda went south due to some technical and design issues. It's nice

to hear you have found some success and enjoyment with that camera.


Frank - Yes and thanks, I do know that great pictures do indeed originate between one's ears, but some

consideration must surely be given to the method one uses to translate that idea onto a piece of silver coated

emulsion. I think all photogs are, to some extent, gear junkies or at the very least, concerned about what sort

of black box they are using for what sort of picture they're trying to make. In my case, I get lots of pleasure

using my camera (meter, frame, focus, trip shutter at right moment, etc.) for the act of making pictures, as well

as the pictures themselves.


My interest in Leica stems primarily from the fact that I believe it is well suited for the kind of pictures I

like to make and also my appreciation for something as singular, well built and with such storied history and

reputation for reliability as the Leica M. That brings me right back to my original question; is the Leica *so*

good at what it does, so enjoyable to use and of such profound quality and "feel" that using it, and continuing

to shoot film outweighs the advantages of using more modern digital cameras and technology? It ain't the luxury

of it or the status of it, there's something much more than that and I'd like to know what that is. That's all....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Like Philip, I feel deeply unsettled about the M+film versus 'other' experience. I am fortunate enough to have an M6 classic, a Hexar RF, an M8 and a 5D. I hardly ever use the M6 or the RF. I love using the M6 but I am always disappointed by the results of the processing, whichever colour neg film I use. I have tried a large number of processing labs and there is always a colour cast or very weird colours. I have recently tried a process-paid Boots (Fuji) slide film but am still waiting for its return after two weeks. So I don't buy into the film is always better than digital. When my wife needs a picture of one of her paintings to upload to her website, I reach for the 5D with its staggeringly good Sigma 50mm f1.4 and the picture is on her site in 5 minutes!


I, too, like street photography and the 5D is big and heavy so I use an M8. This is a quirky camera and is nowhere near as reliable as any of the Canons I've owned. It can only be used in RAW mode (JPGs are awful), but it does have a Leica M feel about it. It's also surprising noisy. I wish that I had bought an RD1s which is far less quirky.


As far as point and shoot cameras are concerned, their tiny sensors are very limiting and I've never been very impressed.


I would really like to like film! Then I could really enjoy my M6, but if I really need to get some good photos and can only take one camera it will be the 5D. If weight is a bit less restricted I'll add the M8.


I would be cautious about using an older M without metering. That will be a controversial thing to say. After all HCB managed! I had an M2 for a short while before it died and I found it very frustrating to have to use a handheld meter. If you are used to 'in camera' metering, you might find it irritating. For street shots there is an advantage to automatic exposure which the M7 and the M8 have as do some of the Bessa's and Contaxes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You can do great things with digital or scanned film.


If you like low light & wide aperture lenses, the M8 + ASPH is way better than my D700 Nikon + 50 1.4. WAY better. Not even a contest. No pixel peeping required. Same with film. The older lenses have less distinction, but still better. Digital Nikons do not auto focus with the accuracy required for 1.4 and manual can be difficult to perfection. Close is very easy. Perfect is difficult. The new D700 and D3 are way better than my D200 in this respect.


At 5.6 things start to even out, but the Nikon glass never equals Leica in overall image quality.


Old Leicas are like old cars. Be prepared to spend time and money. Very few are in perfect working condition and suffer from age related issues to numerous to describe. All are fixable at a cost. They are not cost effective unless you get lucky.


Nikon has never invested in a really good 50. I guess they consider it an orphan that people buy with a camera because they need something and want to keep the price low.


The newest Nikon glass competes in sharpness with the 1980 generation of Leica. Sharpness only, total image quality not. The newest ASPH designs leave Nikon in the dust. Even my 50 2.8 and 90 4.0 are significantly better than Nikon.


Leica files will not take the same level of digital sharpening because they are sharper already. The limit is 1/2 to 2/3 what Nikon can take before halos appear. This is already with the1.3 crop sensor. Colors are deeper and richer. There is no anti alias filter to soften the image.


Is it worth the $ required for Leica? Only you can say. You know your financials and know if 4x the cost is worth it for 200% better image quality at 1.4 and 20% at 5.6.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The primary reasons for using Leica M film are:

1. lens quality especially the ASPH lenses. I have sets of Leica RF lenses for the M3 and the new ASPH for my M6 and two M7's. Frankly unless you do objective testing, one can't tell the difference between the lenses.

2. Quiet operation. The M3 is very quiet and I usually have Motor M's on my M7's which are still very quiet. I have a Leicavit which is lighter but winding with it upsets the camera position more than the normal winder or Motor M. The choice is yours. As an adjunct, it is possible to hold very slow speeds with practice with an M.

3. Film. I can still shoot K64 and obtain better quality than any DX or FX format.

I started shooting weddings with Nikon SLR equipment and then switched to Leica M mainly for the change and the less obtrusive operation. For Newspaper work, the SLR is king and I doubt anyone has used an M since the 1960's. In fact I purchased one of my M7's from a Long Island times photog, just didn't use it.

For 'people' photography, the M is still 'King'. Quiet, fast and superlative quality, it just can't be beat.

I also much prefer a meter in my camera so my M3 does not get used anymore.

$$'s. Money spent on a used M6 whether Classic or TTL in Mint condition along with a few Mint lenses of the Summicron variety is about as good as it comes. The newer ASPH lenses are slightly better but not required.

If the M8 took better pictures than my film M's, I would be using one.

Good luck!-Dick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have been groping around in the dark for many months (or years even) trying to find some definite direction for my photography, and while I have been an adamant holdout for film in the face of the digital 'revolution', I have, very recently, caved a little and bought a Canon G10, which is a wonderful little camera when used within it's capabilities."


Equipment won't help you find a "definite direction." You need to evaluate what to use from the type of photographs you take - cameras are only tools. IF you have found yourself shooting in a situation in which a Leica might provide better results, or if you find yourself thinking about shooting in situations where a Leica might provide better opportunities because of its intrinsic operating features - then, sure get a Leica.


Otherwise, tools in and of themselves won't give you definite direction.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you want a Leica then get one...don't be ambivalent. If you don't like it, sell it...they seem to hold their value pretty well. Personally I sold my M6ttl (a very nice camera) and kept my M4 (my companion off and on for almost 40 years), and have been using DSLRs since they came on the market. I mostly use the Leica M gear these days for B&W work, which I can scan if I want digital copies or prints, or I can print the output on my Focomat enlarger. Digital, for me, is a convenience factor.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Still shooting film with no interest in shooting digital, although I do scan everything. With an M6 TTL and an M2, I prefer to shoot with the M2 + separate meter. As others have mentioned, lenses are superb, and the overall size of the package is small. I shoot 99% B&W and Im convinced digital capture is still an eternity away from delivering the tonality of traditional B&W films.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Short Answer: M8 used 90% of the time; M7 used 10% of the time, usually with Fuji Velvia ISO 50 chrome film for color intensity

and regular use of wide aperture for predictable depth of field control. (The digital quality is there with the M8 and producing

prints is easier if you are putting out 11x14's or larger.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm with Craig Cooper in his response, except I changed it slightly:


Still shooting film with no interest in shooting digital, although I do scan everything. With an M4 and VC Meter II, I prefer to shoot Tri-X and Ilford HP5, FP4, and PanF+. As others have mentioned, lenses are superb, and the overall size of the package is small. I shoot 99% B&W and I'm convinced digital capture is still an eternity away from delivering the tonality of traditional B&W films. I also don't want to spend hours, trying to make digital images look like my preferred film stocks. And my Leica will not be obsolete in 2 years, unlike most digital SLR cameras.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you like Leica, then, don't think too much and get one :) I don't think you will regret later...I am using digital (Nikon) for work related

(weddings, portraitures, and events), but, beside that, I shoot film on daily base, more personal project.


I recently found some wedding film shooters, and I really like the outlook style that film create, and I am thinking of going back to film.

For work related projects, I have no idea why I do digital or why I start using digital...and sometimes, I wonder, I end up spend more

money using digital (updates couple times, unlike Leica, you won't be able to sell used equipment for a decent price, computer spaces,

time spend sitting in front of computer editing...)


Just my thought...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Craig / Andrew - I wholeheartedly agree with the thought that good, self processed B&W film has qualities that

digital cannot match. I can't say that for color print films, but that's partly because, as Harry Baker says,

finding good processing for CP film is getting more and more scarce and I also think, unfortunately, that the

beautiful results that I used to obtain from E6 have been somewhat eclipsed by the best digital technology. I

will save my G10 for color, a task for which this camera is well suited as color usually happens in good light



For low light and available light, I am convinced that the combination of B&W film and, hopefully, my future M6

with Leica glass (or even less-dollar Zeiss glass, maybe?) will be a combination that will withstand the digital

call for a long time to come. Without getting too close to the film v. digital debate, I still think (albeit,

without a lot of first hand experience) that even the best and the fastest Nikon D3/D700 sensors cannot compete

with the "low noise" performance of a frame of well developed Kodak T-Max 400 pushed to 1600, or even 3200. With

that combo and a good, fast lens, I can shoot that in the dang near DARK and I don't have to hold up a huge,

obvious and

noisy black cannon in someone's face to do it!


To me, that is the reason I can't keep my mind off of Leica and it's potential for that kind of photography. I

love the thought of being able to make nice frames of diners eating in a candle-lit restaurant without being

noticed, or frames of people on the street going about their business from 6 feet away and no one the wiser.

*That* is candid photography in my mind; *that* is my excuse to continue in the film domain for awhile longer and

*that* is the reason I asked for your generous input about your Leica experience.


Thank you PN members for contributing your considerable experience and expertise!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm... low-light and available light are where I really reach for my digital cameras (not the P+S ones, of course). The RD1 I don't

hesitate to use at 1600, the D3 I allow to go up to 6400...


Of course, the D3 has the "noisy big black cannon" problem. The RD1 on the other hand fills the "Leica" style discreet RF shooting

needs wonderfully.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jonas - RD1. That is very interesting. There is so little (relatively speaking) positive info out there on that

camera, and that is disappointing. I would probably go for an RD1 if, like you say, it has good low-light, low

noise performance at high ISO. What about the vignetting issue? I won't typically shoot wider then 35mm, but

would like at least the option of plugging in a 28mm, or even maybe 24mm if the opportunity arises and there are

lots of lens choices out there for that body. How does that camera do at those wide angles? How does it do at

35mm? Oh, and I guess I'm not considering the 1.5x or so for the sensor right? - so I guess I mean 35mm

equivalent. That crop factor makes a big difference. So what's the scoop? Is the RD1 possibly a good alternative

to film Ms, or M8? Listening to you makes it sound pretty attractive.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd owned M3s over the years but was always frustrated at not having a reliable on-body meter. Last spring I paid top dollar at a local dealer for an M6 that had been traded in on an M8 and also paid top dollar for a mint-in-box 50mm Summicron from a dealer who advertised in Shutterbug. Shot a few rolls of color film; didn't see the "look" I wanted, switched to B&W and am anchored there. Meanwhile, retired at age 77, I tote a 5-year-old Canon 10D for my occasional PJ freelance assignment. So it's Leica M6 for me, Canon 10D for the rest. Color me happy.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you're not prepared to do your own darkroom work, incl printing wet, I suggest you stick to digital.


To scan is to digitise the film, which wastes a lot of time, esp if you want to get more out of it than the best digital cameras have to offer today. Might as well start with digital.


But if you're prepared to do your own darkroom work, you'll find film is cheap and darkrooms are cheap and your prints will be beautiful and different from digital.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have a M6TTL with 24 2.8, 35 2.0, 50 2.0, 90 2.8 and a G7 and a 5D with several L leses. The 5D is really, really good.

The G7 is ok. I take the best shots with the M6. I found that I use the 35 for >80% of my shots.

I got the 5D not so long ago and now with the MkII coming along I'm thinking about replacing it. OTOH I've played around

with all the successors of the M6 and never felt the need to replace it with a newer one.

Desperately waiting for the M10 with high-iso/low-noise full-frame sensor .. one day?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow! - what a lot of great input on this question and what a lot of different viewpoints offered from PN users

and photographers. Certainly, in reading through this there is still a lot of controversy about IQ and which

equipment produces the better picture. IMHO, "image quality" can be measured using all the usual parameters of

sharpness, contrast, color accuracy, etc., and when you are only talking in those terms, the equipment used

really makes the difference and the better camera will come out on top most of the time. Hence, digital v. film

debates and Canon v. Nikon (v. Leica) debates ad infinitum. And, of course, the exception to every rule: to Ken

Rockwell's point you can indeed take the occasional cheapo dog of a camera, coupled with a lot of skill and some

ideal conditions and produce technically great images. So what? Would you use the cheap plastic camera to shoot

an important wedding, or ad layout? uh...nope. Neither would I, and I'm not even making money with my pictures; I

just want to enjoy the act of making them as much as I enjoy the end result and I can't see it happening with the

$5 oddity.


To add to that, I think image quality, in terms of comparing any great image to any mediocre one, can be measured

with a whole different set of yardsticks, and it could easily turn out that the image made with the $0.25 Brownie

bought at the yard sale yields the far superior image, thus, higher "IQ". By a long shot. But image quality isn't

really what this is about in my mind. No one will ever convince a die-hard digital photographer that 'film is

better', and vice-versa for the die-hard film user. That isn't the point and it's why those arguments never go

anywhere except round 'n round 'n round.


I think almost everyone can agree that making pictures is an art *and* a craft, as has been said here before, and

that you really can't have one without the other and still make consistently good pictures. So, for my part, I

will continue to work on the "art" part of it and continue to search for my direction, style, or what have you.

As for the craft, I thoroughly enjoy using the 'tools of the trade' and that's not to say the camera is more

important than the pictures either. They both are important, if not equally so, and if I am enjoying the camera I

happen to be using at the time, I can be pretty sure that my pictures will reflect some of that enthusiasm. That

is really the reason I asked this question in the first place; I wanted to know what people thought about their

film Leica Ms and was the craft part of making pictures *with* the Leica, important enough for them to forgo



I really want to jump on the Leica bandwagon and I probably will, too. And in no small part from some of the

responses you've graciously given here. It won't be an M3 either - my eyes are open now and I will opt for the

metered M6 as soon as finances allow. As for film, I will keep an eye on the digital world out there and I'll

hang onto my nifty little digital G10, as I get a big kick out of it too, for what it's worth. I'm just glad to

hear that some of you are still shooting film Leicas and intend to continue doing so. I must think it's for the

excellent image quality and "aptness" for the task at hand, as for the sheer pleasure of using them which, by the

way, seem to me to be a long, long way away from obsolescence indeed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...