I’m going to sell my Leica. I’m going to do it.
And how many times have we said that?
Enough times that I probably should.
Right. List it then.
Go ahead. Do it.
I knew it.
What do you mean you knew it? I was really just about to.
Come on man, we go through this every few months and it’s the same damn thing. It’s been three years since you wrote That Article and here you are, still wringing your hands over your M2. Just make a decision already. Either you’re letting go or you’re holding on.
Okay, fine. We’re figuring this out today then.
And if you don’t?
Then I ship it over to James regardless and have him get rid of it.
That doesn’t sound exciting.
Then I’ll buy us some In-N-Out afterwards.
Now we’re talking. Let’s figure it out then. I know you’re a nerd – you write for a camera website. History might have something to do with it.
Ehhh, maybe? The Leica M2 is definitely one of the big ones. It isn’t the most storied (the Leica II and M3 take those spots), but it’s still an “important” camera. I’ll take James’s point-of-view that the M2 is more important to subsequent M-cameras than even the M3. Whereas the M3 established the basic design, the M2 perfected it. It’s what every subsequent M (save for the M5) has been styled after, and the only one made entirely of metal. Photographically speaking, the M2 has also served countless shooters well, and has earned its keep in the photographic canon. Along with the M3, it set the standard for the 35mm rangefinder, and the standard for 35mm photography at the time. Hell, it even served as the inspiration for my current favorite camera of all time. It’s one of the few cameras that is without question legendary, and more or less deserves its historical status.
Sounds like you like it.
Not exactly. On historical merit alone, it absolutely deserves a place in any camera collection. But then again, I’m not much of a camera collector. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that whenever I shoot it, I’m holding a piece of history and taking part in it, but it doesn’t really get me going. If anything, it scares me away from taking it outside and using it, and it actually scares others who know what it is. Sometimes historical pieces are better left on the shelf, but the thought of leaving a camera on the shelf for the rest of its life doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. So no, it’s not the history that I’m clinging to.
Alright, what about build quality, the cRiSp DeTeNtS and such? You’re a sucker for those kinds of things.
Could be. Many look to the Leica M-series as the benchmark of quality, feel and mechanical precision, and I have to agree with them. Even though my example is a little beat up, the quality shines through. I wouldn’t describe the M2 as a camera with which to be foolhardy, on the order of a Nikon F or F2 which can take the abuse, but it’s still an incredibly precise, beautifully built instrument. It’s a metal camera ready for anything, yet offers a silky smooth feel few cameras possess. One can’t help but appreciate that; I certainly do.
I also don’t currently own a camera that’s built quite like the M2. I love my Olympus Pen FT to death, but I do miss the silky smooth ratchet of my M2’s advance lever. My Nikon FM is a far more practical instrument, but it lacks the refinement of the M2. My Nikon F3 as well as my Rolleiflex 2.8D are the real contenders, but again, neither of those cameras are quite as concise and elegant as the M2. The only camera I’ve ever tried that approaches this quality is the Topcon RE Super and the Leica IIIc, and I’d rather shoot the M2 over those two.
Well that seals it, just keep it. I’m gonna go an-
Wait hold on a second, I wasn’t fini-
For real? Come on dude…
I know I’m being nitpicky, but this is important. I like how smooth and well-built it is, but that’s not why I like taking pictures. If I liked something just based on the way that it felt, then I’d be playing with a toy more than I’d be taking pictures. I love the way the M2 feels, but making good images matters more to me.
So what about that image-making process? If you want to keep it around, you’re going to have to like that part of it.
I gave the M2 a ton of grief on this front in my first article, but I’ve actually come around to it in recent years. I still don’t like how limited the lens selection is, the separation of viewfinder and lens, and the loading system, but I’ve learned to live with them. It’s a smooth, simple camera that makes the photographic process enjoyable if you’re willing to shift your shooting style to fit.
I’m still an SLR guy, but I’ve come to appreciate rangefinders more through this camera, even though I still find them a little strange. And even though I’ve blasphemed by choosing a Nikkor as my M2’s primary lens, I can understand the appeal of the Leica M system after shooting the Summicron V3, even though I still find that system entirely too expensive. They’re truly top of the line lenses, and I don’t begrudge anybody for shooting this system exclusively.
But, that’s where it all ends for me. I’ve taken quite a few memorable photos with my M2 and enjoy it while I take it out, but the needle hasn’t quite moved far enough. It remains an occasional shoot for me simply because the rangefinder way of shooting doesn’t come naturally to me, not to mention most of my cameras outclass it spec-wise and are quicker on the draw. I love the thing, but I just don’t think I’m built for it.
Well then, let’s go the other way. What do you hate about it?
You know, I really don’t hate the camera in camera terms. I like it. It’s fun to take out on occasion, and when I do I usually enjoy it. Leicas aren’t the most whimsical gadgets out there, but they’re luxurious and certainly capable of the spectacular.
If there’s anything I have an issue with, it’s everything surrounding the camera and the brand. Whether we like it or not, shooting and owning a Leica means something. The script logo and red dot have long been associated with the photographic elite; it implies a higher class, status, even taste when it comes to photography and its processes. Leica has insisted (sometimes to a fault) that their specific, rangefinder oriented way is best, and have preached this over the past century with their nose held firmly in the air. Remember that ad which said automation was for people who don’t know how to focus? And light meters were for those who don’t know how to eyeball it? In recent years they’ve leaned even more heavily into the luxury-oriented, exclusivity-brand part of its identity; one could be forgiven if they thought Leica was more a brand of luxury than a brand of photographic performance, though the performance of these cameras and lenses is admittedly top-notch.
The Leica brand of luxury, opulence, and conspicuousness does come with some strange consequences out in the field. I’ve brought the M2 to social events and it immediately becomes a talking point, both by those who know what it is and those who don’t. But then they tend to want to figure out why I own such a camera, and even assume that I must be at least “good at” or “serious” about photography if I own such a thing. Leicas also tend to raise questions about social status; Leica M’s are naturally flashy cameras, and they make statements about your financial situation the same way wearing expensive designer clothes do, or driving an expensive car. It’s a flex, as the kids say.
But honestly, flexing like that doesn’t appeal to me. Luxury and exclusivity just isn’t my thing. Make me choose between eating sushi at Nobu in Malibu and eating some dollar tacos out of the trunk of my car in a parking lot and I’ll take the tacos every time. Make me choose between some thousand dollar Jordans and some plain white Stan Smiths and I’ll rock the Stans. Make me choose between the Leica and my Nikon FM, and I’ll take the FM because it’s easier for me to shoot, and I won’t be absolutely crushed if it gets stolen. I’ve just never been inclined toward luxury, I guess, or even being public. I tend to keep to myself, and the things I truly enjoy tend to be commonplace. So I guess at heart, Leicas just aren’t me.
Okay, that makes sense. But why did you get the camera in the first place if it’s not in your wheelhouse anyway?
That’s a good question. To review it for the site, probably? I felt like I had to know what the benchmark was in order to get a better perspective on the camera world in general. The M is what everything gets compared to, so I had to get one in order to do my job better.
That seems plausible, but it also sounds like a cop-out, if I’m honest. I know you – there’s gotta be another reason.
Well… I suppose owning one was a bit of a personal goal.
Just a bit of a goal? I remember you used to dream about owning one.
Okay fine, you’re right. I did dream about owning one someday. I remember reading about HCB when I was younger and wanting to imitate his style in part by owning an M-camera. And maybe when I was younger the Leica did represent something to aspire to, something that represented that I was “serious” about photography. I thought that maybe if I finally owned one, I’d finally belong to “the club” or that it would help take my photography to the next level.
So then why are you criticizing that idea at all? You yourself thought and felt all of those things you seem to dislike.
That’s true. I admit, I did get caught up in the mythos of it all. But when I fulfilled that goal, I didn’t notice much change. Even worse, I felt like I wasn’t myself when I finally shot one. It was disappointing, and I don’t think I was prepared for that at all, nor did anybody prepare me for it.
But even though I did buy into the myth, I still think there’s aspects of that myth, and of Leica culture in general, that deserve criticism. Leica has always had a strange way of interpreting the idea that gear makes you shoot differently. The idea is fundamentally true, but I’ve noticed that Leica and their fanbase take that idea to its extreme more often than not.
Leica posture themselves as the Greatest of All Time, the only tool for the real photographer, the only choice for those who just have that “DNA” in them, or whatever, and it just rubs me the wrong way. This kind of branding is beneficial for Leica and their acolytes as it generates desirability through exclusivity, justifies their undeniably high prices realtive to capability, and makes the owners feel all fuzzy. Unfortunately, this also puts aspiring photographers into a very tough situation.
Leicas are just too expensive and too specialized for the majority of those shooters. And yet when we look at the majority of film photography based-media on YouTube and in the blogosphere, Leicas are omnipresent, and painted as an ideal to aspire to. This over-saturation can make some feel as if they’re missing out on the pure photographic experience, and that their photography just won’t have that magic without a Leica, even if they may not consciously think so.
Regardless of whatever marketing brainworms and endless internet prostelytization might suggest, the fact remains that most shooters don’t need Leicas. Pick up a Minolta SRT, a Nikon FM, hell, a Pentax K1000, and you’ll get the same spec as a classic M2/3/4, plus a light meter. If you want a rangefinder which lets you see the entire field of view in focus, go get an Olympus 35 SP or a Canonet QL17. If you want interchangeable lenses, go get a Voigtlander Bessa R or wait around for a fairly priced Minolta CLE. I personally don’t think the quality disparity isn’t big enough to be considered essential, and the extra money saved means more film and development, which means more images. I promise you won’t be missing out on much if your main concern is making images.
This isn’t to say that Leica and their fanbase are the devil incarnate (although the occasionally hyper-aggressive comment sections and emails telling us to kill ourselves over anti-Leica sentiment tempt me to say so). Leicas are totally suitable for a lot of people. Collectors love them because they never lose value (often rising in value over time, in fact), have an illustrious history, and come with a nearly endless list of collectible accessories. Hobbyists and those who tend to admire cameras as objects d’art also tend to love Leicas because of their elegant design, high-quality build, and slick operation. Rightly so! And I won’t begrudge shooters whose styles fit the specific layout of Leica cameras perfectly – that can certainly be the case for some. All these people are right. I just think the popular perception of the Leica M as an end-all be-all perfect product isn’t realistic, nor helpful to the average shooter.
As for me, the Leica M2 didn’t help me shoot anything new, nor did it fit me better than other cameras in my arsenal. The values it appeals to as a camera and as an object just aren’t things I value. I got it because I dreamed of it, but the dream didn’t pan out, and I have to be okay with that.
Nice sermon there, champ. I’m sure the choir will appreciate it – others not so much. You still didn’t explain why you still have it. Judging by your words here you should’ve sold it a long time ago.
That’s what’s so confusing about this. Even though it’s absolutely not my kind of camera, I know deep down that I can’t let it go. At this point, I think it’s personal.
Finally, we’re getting somewhere. Call me crazy, but I think this also has something to do with you dreaming of owning one.
I think you’re right. However I feel about the Leica M2 in the context of camera culture, it nevertheless represents for me a personal milestone as a photographer and writer for this website. I started this journey with quite literally nothing; nobody passed down a camera to me, nobody took photography seriously in the family, and growing up I didn’t know anybody that shared the same deep interest in the art form. I just decided one day to get a Costco pack of Superia and a Nikon FG off eBay, and followed that path all the way to my dream camera – this Leica M2.
I realize this still frames Leicas as aspirational cameras, but I think there’s a difference between aspiring towards Leica as a pass to photographic legitimacy and aspiring towards them to commemorate the journey you’ve taken with photography. I don’t view the M2 as my pass into the Serious Photographer Club, but I do view it as a representation of the years of work I’ve put into being a photographer and a writer for the site. To me it’s more like a trophy, but one that I can use every once in a while. I just wish I could find it in me to use it more often.
But you still use it, right?
Yeah, I do. And I can see myself using the Leica in some capacity for the rest of my life, partly because I know it can outlast me.
So can most of your cameras.
That’s true. But there’s an interesting side-effect of Leica’s obsessive, borderline religious fanbase – there’s always somebody Leica-obsessed enough to know how to fix one. Leica has an unusually strong repair culture, which features repair people whom the Leica faithful actually know by name. These folks know the cameras inside and out, can keep track of the myriad absurdities of the brand, and keep these cameras running in tip-top condition, ensuring their survival for generations to come, perhaps even longer than most camera brands.
I mention this because there’s a part of me that would like to give my future children (or at least young relatives) something I never got growing up – a nice tool to learn photography on, and an environment to practice in. The Leica probably stands the best chance at survival for future generations – much as I love my F3, its flexible circuit board might die someday suddenly, and there aren’t many obsessive Pen FT specialists around. Sure, most repair people can repair my Nikon FM, but there’s something about passing down a Leica specifically that makes me feel just a little bit more fuzzy inside.
For them, the Leica M2 could mean something different. It could become a family heirloom and help start a brand new legacy of photographers in my family. It would mean the world to me to pass this passion on for generations through a legendary camera like this. And who knows, maybe they’ll learn to love this camera and make it theirs in a way that I couldn’t. It’d be nice to see that happen, someday.
Well then. I think you’ve got your answer right there.
I think so too. Even though I can’t abide by the culture and image that surrounds it, I think I’ve come to my own reasons for keeping the Leica. And I think anybody that looks into getting a Leica, or any hyped up camera, should make sure that they’re taking that leap for their own reasons, and not for some transient notions of what these things are supposed to be.
That took way longer than I expected, but I’m glad we did this.
We? Try “I”. You’ve been arguing with yourself the whole time, you weirdo.
Right. Quarantine’s a hell of a drug.
Tell me about it. I should also remind you that we made a deal. Double-double animal style extra toast, fries well-done, root beer?
You know it.
We bringing the Leica?
Nah. Don’t wanna spill sauce on it. Take the Nikon.
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Keep it as an investment, it’ll never go down in price