Leica Film – Still Relevant

Leica Film Cameras

William Eggleston, Ralph Gibson, William Klein, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand,….and I can go on and on. Yes, they all used Leica M’s. So, I guess there is some substance to the Leica film camera mystique. First, let me say that this is a superficial look at Leica. Although there are a lot of sites and books totally dedicated to Leica, a little known book by Paul-Henry Van Hasbroeck, The Leica: A History Illustrating Every Model and Accessory, goes into amazing depth and is an awesome reference volume for Leica devotees. If you’re into that kind of thing.


William Eggleston
Part of William Eggleston’s 300+ Leicas (and Canons)


A Box, Light Sensitive Material and a Shutter

When  Oskar Barnack started this side project, little did he know he would change the course of camera history. He worked for Ernst Leitz Optische Werke at the time. 35mm did exist at the time, but it was used for motion picture production. Only a handful of still cameras used it,…and not very well. His little invention used a larger 24 x 36mm horizontal 35mm frame, which improved image quality. (as opposed to the 18 x 24mm vertical image standard in movies at the time)

Enter the Leica Film Camera

The First World War delayed development, but in 1924, Barnack convinced his company, Leitz, to produce his invention for public sale. The following year, the Leica went on sale and proved an instant hit. The impact was substantial,… from holiday snaps to journalism. One thing Leica has never done, despite market changes and best business practices. At least, not with the ‘M’. To this day, Leica cameras are handmade to incredibly exacting standards by expert technicians. OK, they did wander with the CL made by Minolta, and of course they make all these little digital and Instax doo-dads. I don’t know it for a fact, but I suspect Panasonic has a big hand in that. But the ‘R’ and ‘M’ glass seems to have escaped any quality degradation.


Leica M3
© Henri Cartier-Bresson, his Leica M3 and the legs of his wife, photographer Martine Franck


The Collector

Being a photographer, it sometimes saddens me to see any cameras that just sit on shelves. But in the case of a Leica film camera ,…I get it. Like art, there are very few things in today’s world that are truly collectible. Thankfully, most Leica film camera are used. While I’m not a big fan of the digital Leicas, that’s not because they’re bad. They’re not. But digital, and it’s propensity for such short advancement cycles, kind of belies the Leica mantra. I know some quite famous photographers who used one model their whole career. And produced imaging that would last for ages. And that’s how I will always think of the Leica film camera. Some may view it as a “rich man’s toy”, but as a photographer I can tell you,…there is no equivalent.

Source: Leica and Tamarkin

Leica M3 (1954 – 1966)
Single-Stroke or Double-Stroke film advance
Largest RF magnification of any M camera,… 0.93
35mm lenses require “RF” attachments on lenses
Bright-line frame-lines for 50, 90 and 135mm


Leica M3
Leica M3


Leica MP (1956 – 1957)
Single-Stroke and Double-Stroke
Steel gearing instead of brass
External frame counter, like the M2
No self-timer
Very rare, only about 500 made


Leica Film MP
Leica MP


Leica M2 (1958 – 1967)
New standard of rangefinder magnification – 0.72
Some later cameras have a self-timer called the “M2-S”
Bright-line frame-lines for 35, 50, and 90mm
External, manual reset frame counter


Leica M2
Leica M2


Leica M4 (1967 – 1975)
0.72 magnification
Bright-line frame-lines for 35, 50, 90 and 135mm
Internal frame counter and rapid loading system
Articulated film advance lever and canted rewind lever


Leica M4
Leica M4


Leica M5 (1971 – 1975)
First M camera with “TTL” exposure meter built in
Larger body size and different shape
Early models have two strap lugs on one side, later have additional third lug
Exposure meter arm moves into place once lens is mounted
Certain wide angle and collapsible lenses cannot be used


Leica M5
Leica M5


Leica CL (1973 – 1976)
Very compact size, 2/3 of the Leica M2
Designed by Leica but manufactured by Minolta
Bright-line frame-lines for 40mm, 50mm and 90mm
Two strap lugs on one side
Exposure meter arm moves into place once lens is mounted
Certain wide angle and collapsible lenses cannot be used


Leica CL
Leica CL


Leica M4-2 (1978 – 1980)
Bright-line frame-lines for 28, 35, 50, 75, 90 and 135mm. (28/90, 35/135, 50/75 now the new standard)
Mainly in black chrome. Mostly made in Canada but some in Germany.
No self-timer
Made to take a rapid  winder

Leica M4-P (1981 – 1987)
Similar to the M4-2, but with .72 finder (a six frame lines viewfinder )


Leica film camera
Leica M4-2


Leica M6 (1984 – 1999)
Identical to the M4-P with these exceptions:
First Leica M Camera with an LED meter built-in
Fully mechanical shutter
Late-production cameras offered in 0.58, 0.72 and 0.85 magnification

Leica M6 TTL (1998 – 2002)
Identical to the M6 with only these exceptions:
Larger shutter speed dial, turns opposite, with “OFF” position
Produced in 0.58, 0.72 and 0.85 magnifications
“Through The Lens” flash-metering capability
2mm taller top plate


Leica film camera
Leica M6


Leica M7 (2002 – Present)
Identical to the M6-TTL with these exceptions:
Aperture Priority mode
Electronic shutter; only 1/60 and 1/125 are mechanical
Shutter release electronics lock under shutter release button
Manual exposure compensation
DX-code reader


Leica M7
Leica M7


Leica MP (2003 – Present)
Identical to the Leica M2 with these exceptions:
Made with an improved “flare-free” finder
LED meter built-in; no self-timer
Rapid loading system
Internal frame counter


Leica film camera
Leica MP


Leica M-A Typ 127 (2014 – Present)
Identical to the Leica M2 with these exceptions:
Rapid loading system
No self-timer
Internal frame counter
All examples made to take a rapid winder


Leica film camera
Leica M-A Typ 127


Leica is now a luxury lifestyle brand, squarely aimed at those for whom money is no object. Like Chanel or Ferrari. But that’s OK. All the Brad Pitts, Julia Roberts and Scarlett Johanssons of the world can join the club. They probably just have good taste.







Leave a Reply

Close Menu