Sunday, June 30, 2019


Last fall I published a brief article showing what Leica equipment I own and use.  I constantly get asked what camera and lenses I have and why I chose them.  So I decided to be more specific. Please keep in mind this is not meant to influence anyone to invest in certain equipment, it is simply an explanation of what I own and why.

My first digital Leica was a Leica Digilux 2.  I bought it because it had a performance level at that time that was able to do a lot of the work that previously I had done with film.  Of course things have progressed substantially and I now shoot with a Leica M240.

I am fully aware of the advantages of the Leica M10, but they are not at a level of importance to cause me to change.  The M240 is serving me well and will do so for some time to come.

For instance, the larger size of the M240 does not bother me at all.  As a matter of fact, for some time in the past I used a Zeiss Contarex.  The M240 is rather diminutive in comparison.

At times the higher ISO capabilities of the M10 would be nice to have, but I hardly ever use or publish any photographs that have not been improved by post processing.  That includes the higher noise levels of the M240 at high ISO settings.  Subsequently, the higher ISO capabilities of the M10 are not overly important to me.  The M10 doesn’t offer enough of an advantage for me to warrant the expense of switching.

The obvious advantage of a camera with interchangeable lenses lies in the fact that, based on the work one does, it is possible to choose a lens that's best for the job at hand.  In general, that includes the so-called normal lenses which give a field of view closest to the human eye.  For full frame (as well as 35mm cameras) that is the 50mm focal length.  From there, anything with a shorter focal length is considered a wide angle lens and anything longer is a telephoto lens.

The core of my lenses is a 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit, a 50mm f/2 Summicron and a 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit.  They are excellent performers and have not given me any cause to change them.  Would it be nice to have faster versions of these lenses?  From time to time yes!  The extra depth of field control and bokeh of a 90mm f/2 or 50mm f/1.4 would come in handy from time to time, even more so with the the 50mm f/.95 Noctilux.  But not to the extend to cover the extra cost.

Leica Elmarit 28mm f/2.8, ISO 1000, f/11, 1/90 sec handheld

Extreme crop from the original file

Leica Elmarit 28mm f/2.8, ISO 400, 1/45 sec, f/11

Leica Summicron 50mm f/2, ISO 640, 1/1500 sec, f/11

Leica Summicron 50mm f/2, ISO 2000, 1/30 sec, f/2

Cropped image of the same file

Leica Elmarit 90mm f/2.8, ISO 160, 1/180 sec, f/11, Studio Strobe

Leica Elmarit 90mm f/2.8, ISO 800, 1/90 sec, f/8

I have been asked if a 35mm wouldn’t be worthwhile to have.  I admit that I have often thought of adding that focal length.  But the 28mm Elmarit performs so well that I have no problem cropping a file from the 28mm to obtain a narrower field of view, including that of a 35mm.   I rarely, if ever, make real big enlargements; this allows me to use cropping with all of my lenses as a tool to overcome one or more missing focal lengths.  As a matter of fact, cropping has allowed me in many instances to overcome the fact that for a rangefinder camera like the M240, zoom lenses are unfortunately not available.

Voigtländer 15mm f/3.8, ISO 1250, f/4.5, 1/60 sec, f/3.8

Voigtländer Super Wide Heiar 15mm f/4.5, ISO 320, 1/1000 sec, f/8, raw file

Voigtländer Super Wide Heiar 15mm f/4.5, ISO 160, 1/250 sec, f/11

Extreme cropping reveals the limitations of the Voigtländer 15mm Heliar

At the far end of the lenses I have are a 15mm f/4.5 Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar and a 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit.  I bought the Voigtländer because occasionally I run into situations where the 28mm is not quite wide enough.  But these occasions are rather rare and thus did not warrant the expense of a Leica lens.  The 135mm Elmarit on the other hand is a lens that I do use fairly often.  Much of my work is portraits or portrait related.  A lot of people that are not used to being in front of a camera on a regular basis are often quite apprehensive.  For closer shots, like head shots, I found it to be quite advantageous to use the 135mm instead of the 90 or even more so the 50 because I can work at a greater distance which can put the person in front of the camera more at ease.

Leica Elmarit 135mm f/2.8, ISO 800, 1/30 sec f/2.8 

Leica Elmarit 135mm f/2.8, ISO 160, 1/180 sec, f/11, studio strobe

On and off I do some wildlife and close-up work.  Some time ago I picked up a Nikon 55mm Macro Nikkor and a 105mm Micro Nikkor.  They sat around until I got the M240.  With the electronic viewfinder and a Nikon to Leica M adapter I have two rather well working macro lenses that serve me well. 

Micro Nikkor 55mm f/3.5, ISO 2000, 1/125 sec, f/11

Micro Nikkor 105mm f/4, ISO 160, 1/180 sec, f/11, studio strobe

Leica M240 with Novoflex 200mm f/3.8

Leica M240 with Novoflex 400mm f/5.6

For wildlife work I use a Novoflex 200mm f/3.8 and a 400mm f/5.6.  I was able to pick both of them up for next to nothing and I have found that they are equal or at least very close in performance to equivalent Leica lenses.  Especially the 200mm has an amazing performance potential.  That seems to be partially due to the fact that both lenses are of the same design as the former 400 and 800mm Telyt lenses from Leica.  Another reason was the ease of focusing of the Novoflex Follow Focus lenses.  Unlike any other lens, they use a spring loaded pistol grip for focusing.  Releasing the grip will set the lens to its minimum focusing distance.  Squeezing the grip will focus to infinity.  Once used to it, this has proven to be very fast.

Novoflex 200mm f/3.8, ISO 800, 1/350 sec, f/8, handheld

Slightly cropped

Cropped detail of the same file

Cropped detail of the same file

Novoflex 400mm f/5.6, ISO 160, 1/250 sec, f/11

Novoflex 400mm f/5.6, ISO 160, 1/250 sec, f/11, handheld from a boat

Novoflex 400mm f/5.6, ISO 160, 1/30 sec f/5.6, handheld
Yes, it's a lucky shot

Would another camera system be something for me to consider?  I have toyed with the idea of a Leica SL.  But when I think back to the days when I used a Leica R3 and R4, I feel that just like then, sooner or later I would gravitate back to an M camera.  I started out many years ago with a Leica III.  I guess that ultimately made me a rangefinder shooter.  I may add another camera at some time in the future, but I will always have a Leica rangefinder system at my disposal.

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Friday, June 28, 2019


By Tom Grill

For me, the M4 is the camera that reached the pinnacle of analog design. It was the natural sequel to the M2 and M3 designs into one body with a few more bells and whistles added. The one time Leica attempted to diverge from this basic M design with the M5 model in 1971 led to such an uproar that the M4 was reinstated only a few years later and has continued to be the basis for flagship camera design of the company even up to the newest M 240 digital model.

My 1968 black painted M4. I sent it back to Leica for a factory replacement of the viewfinder so it now has six lens frame lines of the M6 instead of the original four. I did this because I use a 28mm lens a lot and usually have the Leica meter on top of the camera taking up the slot where I would normally put an auxiliary optical finder. And look at the beautiful engraving on top. Don't see that much anymore.

There were several iterations of the M4. The M4-2 was introduced in 1977, followed by the M4-P in 1981. Each new version added a couple of new features -- a hot shoe, motor-drive capability, extra finder frames -- but modernized the production line and replaced the black enamel with a more durable black chrome.  I always had a penchant for cameras with black paint over brass. After a little use some of the paint wears through to the brass and the camera takes on an individual patina that identifies it as yours. Excessive brassing becomes a battle-worn badge of honor, something to be worn proudly, as if to say, "I served".

 The Leica M4 with MR-4 meter mounted on top.

The M4 was introduced in 1967 and produced until 1975 with a little break while the M5 ran its short-lived, orphaned course. The M4 had framelines for 35mm, 50mm, 90mm and 135mm lenses in a 0.72 magnification viewfinder. Mine was made in 1968, and had a later, standard factory addition of the M6 viewfinder adding 28mm and 75mm frame lines.

I always liked the look of the Leica meter. Not that it worked all that well -- I still carried around a hand held auxiliary meter for more accurate readings -- but it slipped conveniently into the accessory shoe, had a high/low range, and synchronized with the shutter speed dial, all pretty advanced stuff for 1968.

 The handle-crank rewind knob was one of the late-to-the-party innovations Leitz added to the M. The one on the M4 was angled so it could be operated quickly without constantly scraping your fingers on the side of the camera -- something of an anachronism in today's digital world, but much appreciated at the time by photographers needing to get the spent roll out of the camera quickly and reload it for the next breaking shot.

Adding the angled rapid rewind crank was considered a big deal at the time. I can still recall discussions with veteran photographers who were convinced that Leitz maintained the slow turning rewind knob on the M2 and M3 to avoid rewinding the film too fast and causing static light discharge that might damage a film frame.

 The M4 did away with the removable film take up spool, and introduced a faster film loading system that gripped the end of the film automatically to load it onto the spool.


 The self-timer lever was an M4 luxury -- some say frivolous addition -- eliminated from later versions of the M series. After all, pros don't need self-timers.


The M4 was the last of a breed. It reminds me of souped-up, propeller-driven fighter aircraft at the end of WWII. Each had reached the apex of analog, hand-crafted design on the cusp of fading into oblivion in the face of a newer technology. The planes were replaced by jets, the rangefinder by the SLR. Fortunately, the M-series camera hit a very responsive chord in the human psyche that has made it last even into the digital era. For many, Leica M is the icon of professional camera, and retro styling based on the Leica M design is undergoing a renaissance in cameras like the popular Fuji X-Pro1.  And let's not forget that in keeping with the M analog tradition Leica continues to make the M7 and MP film cameras today.

For more of Tom Grill’s work go here 

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