Leica M Film Cameras Too Expensive? Here are Five Alternatives

Leica M Film Cameras Too Expensive? Here are Five Alternatives

2382 1338 James Tocchio

After being away from the film game for a few years, a friend of mine decided to buy himself a Leica M series film camera. When he saw the high prices that these cameras now command, he passed out and hit his head on his walnut desktop. From the hospital bed where he spent his concussed convalescence, he wrote me an email which echoed a common question – “Why are Leicas so expensive now, and where can I get one cheap?

I wasn’t surprised to read this email (I receive similar messages weekly). People want cheap Leicas, even though Leica M film cameras cost more today than they have at any time since the “death of film.” Going back to as recently as 2014, when I launched Casual Photophile and opened my camera shop, prices for some Leica M models have tripled. Even the once-considered-lowly Leica M4-P and M4-2 each now cost over $1,000 on average (I used to buy these for $399). Twenty years ago, the Leica M6 was thought of as “the cheap Leica” and today it costs twice the price of an original M3 (a camera which is, according to the written gospel found in ancient Rockwellian tomes, “the world’s greatest 35mm camera”).

I don’t see the rise in price as a bad thing (and not because I sell cameras for a living). If we consider the trend objectively, it’s only natural that prices of film cameras should rise. Think about it from a distance and through the prism of other “unnecessary things on which people spend money.”

Prices are rising for specific and valid reasons. Especially in the cases of mechanical cameras, which most Leica Ms are, these cameras are (still) useful tools. They’re uncommonly well-made objects which have survived their original intended lifespan. They’re a finite resource, making them inherently collectible. Particular models and variants which were made in fewer quantities are even rarer, and are now bought specifically for their rarity. A new generation of photographer (buyer) has entered the market, and noticed the unique quality of these old cameras. Add to all of this that they’re simply beautiful objects that draw the eye and the hand – equal parts science, engineering, and art – and it’s easy to see why prices are up.

But just because they’re expensive, that doesn’t mean that they’re overpriced.

I’ve said this elsewhere – some popular professional camera likers see the rise in film camera prices and say that it’s all built on undeserved hype. I couldn’t disagree more. While extrinsic prices for certain poorly-made, unreliable, or otherwise undeserved film cameras are unjustly outstripping their intrinsic value (hello, Mju II), the prices of classic, collectible, or exceptional film cameras are not inflated artificially. On the other hand, prices for well-made, reliable, and capable old cameras are now exactly where they should have been all along. Leicas aren’t over-valued today – they were under-valued for two decades, and we got used to it. (The same can be said for other film cameras – the Nikon F3, Canon’s EOS 1, Hasselblads.)

While this meandering preamble around extrinsic versus intrinsic value and the free market as it pertains to sixty-year-old film cameras answers the first part of the two-part question first posed by my hospitalized friend’s email as it appears in the opening paragraph of this article – “Why are Leicas so expensive?” – it does little to answer the second part of that question. And this is the important one – “Where can I get one cheap?

The answer is simple. You can’t. Leicas cost a lot and you ain’t getting one cheap. The days of finding an M6 for $300 are long gone and they’re not coming back.

Furthermore, complaining about the price of Leicas is like screaming at a rain cloud – you can do it, but buddy, you’re still gonna get wet. Here’s some good news; there are a lot of alternatives to the Leica M, and I’ve got ’em locked and loaded like glistening brass bullets in this magnum revolver hand cannon I call “my brain.” (On balance, I’ve also called my brain “a big bowl of tepid oatmeal.”)

Anyway. That’s enough of whatever that was – without any more of my nonsense, here are five (or six, or seven, I’ve not decided how many yet, and I’m not coming back to edit this sentence later) alternatives to the Leica M.

The Criteria

I’ll outline here the criteria which cameras must meet to find themselves upon this illustrious list of mine. For any camera to be included it must –

  • Be all mechanical. 
  • Offer some degree of exposure control.
  • Be capable of mounting lenses interchangeably.
  • Be a rangefinder.
  • Be a quality camera with great lenses. 
  • Be affordable in comparison to the premium-priced Leica M series (for me, that means that each camera must cost about half of what a Leica M costs).

Some of these selections were decided upon after conversation with my fellow CP writers. If comparing any one of these cameras to the hyperbolically lauded Leica M series offends you, be sure to histrionically yell/type at us in the comments.

Let the listicle begin.

Canon 7 and Canon 7s

Every time that a Canon rangefinder camera from the 1950s and 1960s comes through my shop, I’m stunned by the quality of the things. After seven years of this being my full time job, it shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but it still does. And the last time a Canon 7 came through, I was once again deeply struck. I echoed what Timothy Lebedin said in his article on the Canon 7 – “How the hell is this thing so cheap?”

The Canon 7 is a camera that perfectly meets all of the criteria which I mentioned for inclusion in this list. It is an all-mechanical, manually controlled, 35mm film rangefinder camera with a Leica Thread Mount lens mount, and (in a one-up on the pre-M5 Leicas) a built-in light meter. It’s a smooth shooting, high-quality, reliable and effective camera, and it can make beautiful images (again, see our writeup).

What’s most arresting about the Canon 7, however, is what I alluded to earlier – it is unbelievably inexpensive. You could buy ten Canon 7s for the price of one Leica M6. Astonishing. When buying a Canon 7, make sure it’s in good shape and sold guaranteed to work. If you buy the original 7, don’t expect the light meter to work or be accurate unless it’s stated to be so – Selenium meters fail over time.

The later models, known as the Canon 7s and Canon 7s Type II, swapped the Selenium meter for a CdS battery-powered meter. These meters are more likely to work today. This of course means that prices for the 7s are notably higher than for the original Canon 7. That said, a mint Canon 7s will still cost a quarter the price of most Leica Ms.

You can buy a Canon 7 here

Nikon SP (Nikon S2 for Budget Buyers)

When I started my own business full-time and bought a house, I decided to treat myself to a “forever camera.” Wow, what self-indulgent nonsense. That self-deprecation out of the way, what camera did I choose? A Nikon SP 2005 Limited Edition. And while that specific camera is not the camera that I’m including on this list as a viable alternative to the Leica M (because the 2005 SP is too expensive to meet my criteria), I am including the original Nikon SP.

The Nikon SP of 1957 is the most advanced rangefinder camera that Nikon ever made, and in many ways it’s one of the greatest cameras of all time. It’s a relatively compact, all-mechanical, fully-manual 35mm film rangefinder camera with an incredible viewfinder, precise and luxurious build quality, and a full suite of astonishingly gorgeous Nikon lenses made to fit its S-mount lens mount.

This camera really is all about the lenses. The Nikkor 35mm F/1.8 is legendary. The 105mm F/2.5 was born on this system (and would later go on to be one of the most popular portrait lenses of the manual focus era). The classic 50mm F/1.4 renders stunning images for laughably little money.

And that last point – price – is a good one to mention. The Nikon SP can be bought with the Nikkor 50/1.4 for a few hundred dollars less than it costs to buy a body-only Leica M3. If you’re a budget buyer, get the Nikon S2. It does a lot of what the SP does, but cuts cost by having a much simpler viewfinder.

Buy a Nikon SP here

Konica Hexar RF

With the Konica Hexar RF, we’re sort of scratching at the ceiling of my criteria, for two reasons. First, the Hexar RF is pretty expensive, and again because it’s an electronically operated camera (rather than fully mechanical). But, it squeaks in just under the acceptable limit on price, and it finds its place here on the list because it’s a damned impressive camera in every way.

The Konica Hexar RF is a gorgeously-made 35mm film rangefinder camera that’s most directly comparable to Leica’s M7, Leica’s only M series camera with automated exposure modes (aperture priority). Konica’s camera offers the same aperture-priority mode, plus essentially everything else we get with the far pricier M7. It’s got manual exposure, manual focus, a big, bright viewfinder and excellent rangefinder, frame lines of the usual focal lengths from 28mm to 135mm, generous “outside the frame” viewfinder coverage (with .60x magnification), and a solidly built chassis with fine exterior details. It even uses the same mount (although Konica called theirs the “KM Mount” and never referred to Leica when discussing which lenses would work on the Hexar).

In typical Japanese manufacturer fashion, Konica even outdid Leica in a number of ways (sound familiar, Minolta CLE fans?). The Hexar RF is about the same size and weight as a Leica M3, and yet it manages to maintain these dimensions and heft while adding motorized film advance and rewind. And while some purists will sneer at motorized film and its reliance on batteries, I’m no such purist. I’m too old to be wasting my life rewinding film, and I just repaired a Pokémon Stadium 2 Nintendo 64 cartridge with nothing but a soldering iron and a piece of speaker wire. How hard can it be to repair a Hexar?

Buy a Konica Hexar RF here

Voigltander Bessa R and Bessa R2

While the build quality of the Voigtlander Bessa R comes up short of Leica standards (the Bessa R uses polycarbonate plastic top and bottom plates), its excellence in all other areas lands it on this list. Introduced in the year 2000 by Cosina in Japan as part of the relaunch of the Voigtlander name, the Bessa R is a whole lot of rangefinder camera for very little money.

It’s a simple, all-mechanical, fully manual camera with through-the-lens metering, user-selectable frame lines (35/90mm, 50mm, 75mm), and the Leica Thread Mount capable of mounting any LTM lens.

The Voigtlander Bessa R2, released two years later in 2002, replaced the Bessa R’s Leica Thread Mount for the more modern Leica M mount, and swapped the plastic top and bottom plates for more robust magnesium alloy. For these reasons, the Bessa R2 is the more desirable model, however the price for the better machine will naturally be higher. Buyers can expect to pay about $499 for the Bessa R, while the R2 will cost closer to $800 (bodies only). Remember, these prices are still significantly less than a Leica.

We reviewed the Voigltander Bessa R here

Buy a Bessa R2 here

Minolta 35 Model IIB

Probably the most unusual addition to this list, the Minolta 35 Model IIB is not a camera that many people know about, nor is it one that anyone would typically recommend as an alternative to the Leica M series.

The first Minolta 35 released way back in 1947. At that time it was among the best rangefinder cameras in the world, and in fact featured many advancements over contemporary Leica cameras. These include a combined rangefinder/viewfinder system, self-timer, an integrated film take-up spool and hinged film door which made loading a faster and easier process than with Leica’s machines.

The Minolta 35 Model IIB released in 1958, and is the best Minolta 35 variant ever made, with superior convenience features (such as a lever style film advance mechanism), as well as numerous technical improvements. These include a larger magnification viewfinder, full frame image area (all previous Minolta 35s shot slightly smaller than the 24×36 standard), and an improved effective rangefinder base of 32mm (admittedly sub-Leica standard).

The Minolta 35 Model IIB accepts all Leica Thread Mount lenses. But the real magic is when we use Minolta’s own “Super Rokkors,” a succinct lineup of incredible performing LTM lenses.

It’s not a common camera, so it may be a bit hard to find one. But if you can find a nice Model IIB (and there are always a few on eBay) you should buy it. There are few “sleepers” out there these days, cameras which are truly excellent but undiscovered. The Minolta 35 Model IIB may be one of those – it’s a compact, solid, and beautifully-built classic camera made of metal and glass, and today (with an amazing lens) it costs half as much as a Leica (body only).

Buy a Minolta 35 Model IIB here

Got a great rangefinder to compete with the Leicas that we left off this list? Let us and our readers know about it in the comments. You can see more affordable rangefinder cameras here and here, and some uncommon rangefinder cameras here! (Damn, we write a lot.)

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • The Canon 7 is a great camera! Also notable additions are: Yashica YF & Canon P , which are great too, and/or a Leica CL/Minolta CLE

    • Good evening Maarten,
      You mentioned the Yashica YF and I agree completely. I went through two of them to get a working one and it soon fsiled due to a very poor repair person. I sent it to Don Goldberg (DAG) and it works very slickly. Don said it and the Nicca, it’s designer, might be the best of the Barnack Leicas. Look at the YF and I can almost see an M3. The Canon L39 lenses have been typically better in condition than the Leitz lenses of the same era. Nicca made some excellent upgrades to the Barnacks.
      Thank you, John in Oregon

  • I know it doesn’t have interchangeable lenses, but if you are looking for a really good value first rangefinder then I can recommend the Olympus 35 RC. Great little camera to scratch that rangefinder itch on a budget.

  • Great article! I agree that good cameras aren’t over-priced even at today’s levels. You make the sound, related point that some non-popular brands are under-priced and they are the smart choice for budget-hunters. This principle exists with many types of machinery (e.g., mechanical watches). You can either pay top-dollar for the well-known leader or much less for a perfectly-adequate alternative.

  • Andrew in Austin, TX May 5, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Just have to mention, that the Leica IIIc and IIIf reside in the lower middle end of affordable 35mm rangefinder camera bodies that use interchangeable lenses. With that said, the Canon 7 is definitely a sleeper and much more user friendly than any of the original Leica screw mounts. The Leica M4-2 that you mentioned still plucks the heart strings.

    As much as I like my 35mm rangefinder cameras, I will have to note that in addition to paying premium for a recently serviced camera body – acquiring a two lens kit will probably double the price of 35mm rangefinder body – due to the number of mirrorless digital photographers who snap up LTM and M mount lenses for use on their electronic imaging devices.

  • malcolmlobban ( refugee, gypsy, settler ) May 5, 2021 at 8:47 am

    What about the Pentax LX ?

  • Great list. I was happy to see the Canon 7 listed as I agree that it is one of the most undervalued 35mm rangefinders out there now. The only thing I would have suggested would have been to mention the Canon P which is nearly the same exact camera, just without a light meter and the adjustable frame lines in the viewfinder. Otherwise it’s just as good, and just as affordable!

  • It use to be the voigtlander bessa r series were cheep like the r2m r3m and r4m but recently I have seen some absurd prices on them! additionally I think the best bang for your buck on a rangfinder right now is a nikon s3 or sp even a limited addition s3 2000 black paint is cheeper than an M6 right now.

  • M5’s are still cheaper than other Leica M models.

  • The Barnack Leicas can still be found for a decent price, and are really fun to use.

  • Contax iia not so good Equated with the other cameras on the list?

    • I love that camera. And I wanted to make sure I left some for people to recommend in the comments. Thank you!

      • As Elliott Erwitt says, I don’t want to compose the photo shoot in the viewfinder like you do with slrs, but I want to capture the moment and put a frame on it like you do with rangefinders. For this I wanna use a Rangefinder camera and learn manual shooting and rangefinder focus, but no enough money for leica now and I have two choices : fed 4 (but i need a good 50mm lens) or a contax iiia with helios 103. Maybe not perfect and amazing like leicas or the other of this list but I think can become my one camera one lens alternative. What ou think?

        • You can find a nice Nikon S2 with 50/1.4 lens in excellent working condition for $500. Every bit as good as a Leica M.

  • Recommending a Konica Hexar RF? Eeesh. I love the camera on paper but man o man have I seen many dead ones. And no-one wants to touch them.
    Ever wondered where the line “unrepairable, no parts available” came from? Some dood looking at a Hexar.

    Even Bellamy at japancamerahunter refuses to source them.

  • Can’t agree more with your selection even if I wonder about the absence of the Minolta CLE (but with a hint though), knowing how much you like it over any Leica 😉 Like other said, I’d add to the Canon 7/7S, the Canon P that stuns me by it’s simplicity, it’s elegant design, and the very affordable price for which you can buy it. And about the Hexar RF, I absolutely love it (along with the CLE of course), even if it’s not mechanical… Mine works very fine and I use it very often. I know that if one day the electronics die, the camera will probably become a decoration on my shelf, but what a fantastic camera!!

    • Of course you know my first choice is the CLE! But I left it off the list because I feel like that would have been too predictable. As you noticed, I did make sure to mention it! Ha!

    • Yessss. The Leica CL. Sorry I forget it. It can work without meter. The CLE can not work without battery if I remember mine I have sold quickly. The Leica CL, or Leica Minolta CL, or Minolta CL is a great camera, pocketable, this is a Leica, smaller with smaller viewfinder, but good alternative. Sorry I forget the Leica CL.

  • What about an Agfa Ambiflex? (Agfaflex in US)

  • 😉 😉 😉
    One more great review James :
    Nothing to say. You explain well.
    One camera you can add this is the Rollei 35 RF. Yes, it is basically a Voigtlander Bessa. But I can tell you. I own two, it is better made ! Why this camera which is overprice :
    1.- Great finder
    2.- Wonderful meter, one of the best meter I have used on a RF
    3.- The 40mm framelines 😉
    4.- Compact.
    Now it is not easy to find one. The major problem is the haze into to viewfinder. With a Minolta Rokkor 40mm, this is a killer kit. The Summicron-C 40mm adds nothing more, maybe more BW oriented.
    5.- The Rollei-Zeiss lenses for this camera made by Cosina (because this Rollei was made by Cosina and in Germany …), the 40 mm gives nothing more, but the other ones which are very rare and very expensive are marvelous lens !
    From your list, if I will be on budget I will choose the Canon : wonderful kit, lenses are marvelous, I was not in budget, of course the Nikon 😉 Now, I use the M3, when I want lighter the Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, if I want lighter and smaller, the ContaxT.
    One more time I love your reviews. In all my cameras for respect for the brands, stores, people who sale cameras, I only buy gear from free world, at an right economic price, I do not buy cheap new thing made in dictature to break all the world economy and after create weapons, space rocket, biological weapons and pretend to be a developing country and lock freedom and spirituality like we have seen on bad times of human history … I prefer to wait and save money to buy something at the right price … pricing have some rules and uses !!! From Australia. We say what we think, we do what we have to do, we do not sale our values for business !!!

  • Cheyenne Morrison May 5, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    I would add the Yasuhara T981, although these are getting pricy these days. Best bang for buck I would choose the Canon P.

  • What about the Zeiss Ikon ZM? 10 years ago I bought mine with 3 Lenses for the price of Leica M7 body! Leica was always too expensive for my budget, and as a second camera I bought a Minolta CLE to take color slides and b/w photos on my journeys, the Bessa’s didn’t give me the impression they are as solid as the Zeiss Ikon. I still use the ZM and the CLE today, never had a problem with them. Although I have Voigtländer Lenses, I prefer the ZM-Lenses for their contrast and sharpness.

  • Canon P and Minolta CL (as long as you don’t need the meter to work).

    Fixed lens also opens up a whole world of possibility (Konica C35, Olympus 35RC, Yashica 35, etc).

  • About the Minolta 35 IIb it is a wonderful camera and lenses are awesome. But it is difficult to find in mint conditions. With the Canon, the Leica CL, there are the best budget cameras. If we dont want to go wrong : Canon P + Canon lens.

  • As I was reading through the article I did wonder if the Canon 7 would make the cut and, lo and behold, it was the first one to be mentioned. I can’t fathom why these are priced at what they are. For what they offer, they are ridiculously cheap, and not just in comparison to Leica M prices. I commented in my own review of the 7 on 35mmc that show your 7 to a Leica M user and make him green with envy when you tell him how much you paid for it!

    They will take any LTM lens ever produced, with the usual proviso regarding the register of Russian lenses for full rangefinder coupling. Being a thread lens mount, could it be that this is seen as the disadvantage to an M in that the Canon can’t take advantage of all Leica’s later offerings, so the Canon can’t double as a standby. But as an LTM body, it surely must rank as the best ever, even if it has a duff meter?

    Whilst much is made about Leica prices many commentators overlook inflation. I purchased my M3 in 1978 for £285, and my M6 in the mid 1990’s for £1,000.
    Taking UK inflation into account my M3 should cost around £1,700 today and my M6 around £2,300. At today’s prices I’ve lost heavily with my M3, but my M6 is about evens.

    • Canon 7 cameras are inexpensive because they were deservedly popular back in the day — Canon made and sold huge numbers of them (more than every model of rangefinder Nikon put together) and many went to US servicemen who wanted to come home from Asia with a “good camera” but didn’t use it all that heavily afterward. That means that while lightly-used, good-working (except maybe for the meter) examples aren’t exactly common, they’re not so scarce that hundreds of people are competing for every one that comes up for sale. Now stop talking about it before those hundreds of people do catch on, and while you’re at it let’s just hush up about the superb RF lenses Canon sold well into the 1970s, most of which will slot onto your Leica M with a simple screw-to-bayonet adapter.

  • I know it is digital and therefore not fully mechanical but the Epson R-D1 is probably my favourite camera and one I still use regularly. It also helps that it is much cheaper than most Leicas and can only take up to 1 or 2GB SD cards so if you use a 256/512MB card and shoot raw you can limit yourself to the equivalent of a roll of film. Took mine around London the other week and had a lot of fun with it!

  • What is about Werra with lens by ZEISS

    • The Werra is definitely on the cheap side. I wrote a review of it a few years ago [HERE] and found it wasn’t to my liking — and that’s as someone that really wanted to like it and the Zeiss Jena lens.

    • Agree, I have a pair of Werra 3’s, and while a bit quirky, I find them fun to use, working pretty well. I can only speak about the 50mm lens, but that’s a very solid performer.

      • Absolutely… I have used Werras for over 30 years..
        My standard kit is a Werra 3 with a 35mm lens and an Olympus XA…

  • Ok He doesn’t have a Rangefinder. But it is totally manual and has a lens at the level of the leica m. I’m talking about rollei 35 (I have tessar version 3.5) in my opinion it can be great a prime camera for all options. Focus is not a real problem because you just have to do a little exercise and it will be convenient indeed. In fact, even with leica m it is used to prefocus.

  • Interesting article, James, but I think you’ve left out a very important reason that prices of Leicas are rising. It has little to do with their quality or reputation. As you yourself point out, the price of many poorly made and unreliable cameras is also rising. So quality can’t in fact be the reason. Finite supply? There’s been a finite supply ever since they stopped making them decades ago, so it can’t be that either. And it’s not only cameras. The same thing is happening in the world of old motorcycles, old cars, old watches – you name it. So what is in fact going on?
    I’m not an economist and all I know about modern economic trends is what I read in the newspapers but I don’t think it is controversial to say that there is, at the moment, a lot of surplus capital swilling around the system looking for a home. This surplus results from income inequality. It is ploughed into cameras, vehicles, supposed “classics” of all kinds doubtless for all sorts of reasons: investment, enthusiasm, collection and so on. But the macro-economic picture seems to be pretty clear: inequality is rising.
    You say that it is “only natural that the prices of film cameras should rise”. I am not sure that is the case. Inflation is not inevitable. For much of the nineteenth century for example prices stayed pretty stable.
    Really, James, I do enjoy reading Casual Photophile very much and the photoworld would be a much poorer place without it (and other similar enthusiasts’ websites). But I think that the sort of article you have written is in fact part of the trend that it purports to describe; and the website and its contributors (which includes me now) risk being seen simply as the footsoldiers of Amazon and Ebay and their billionaire owners if we do not understand that.

  • Voigtländer Prominent. Exceptional quality. Nowhere near as hard to use as is often claimed. I cannot think of another rangefinder with a better quality of chrome plating. It is unsurpassed.

    Some Leicas can be affordable. Screw mount bargains are still out there. Scored a IIIf body for around USD $250 a few weeks ago. Only catch was, I had to repair it. Leica SLR bargains are out there too, for that matter.

    It’s only Leica M which have gone bonkers. Even so, I got lucky a couple of years ago with an M3. It’s all about cultivating connections. And the harder you look, the luckier you get…

    Then there are the early Kievs, or even Contaxes for that matter. No worse in use than a Barnack, better, actually.

  • You might also consider the Fed-5 cameras from Russia. Quite a number of them available on eBay.

  • The Werra series cameras, especially the Werra III and the WerraMat offer a great rangefinder experience for very little money… There are three excellent Carl Zeiss Jena lenses available – 35mm, 50mm and 100mm… The lens collar winder and minimalist styling also make it stand out from the crowd….

  • One reason Leicas are so expensive is that, like Ferrari, the maker kept coming up with “special editions” to flog to high rollers, who mostly wore them as jewelry. Canon rangefinders offer much bigger bang for the buck and a huge range of lenses and accessories, all high quality yet mostly at bargain prices. My favorites are the P, the VT (with the funky trigger film advance) and the 7/7S.

  • Think of the Leica as a vintage Porsche, and you’ll understand why they are expensive.

  • Have a Canon 7. My favorite rangefinder camera. It does everything very well indeed and the magnification of the viewfinder fits my eyes perfectly. I have a $12 dollar black Jupiter 8 Sonnar clone on it that looks and performs well. I also love my Contax rangefinders. The f1.5 50mm Sonnar is one incredible lens. The color dial version of the Contax IIIa has the best finish I have ever seen on any camera. It blows any Leica away hands down. Someone once described the finish as “jewel like.” Very apt!!!!

  • Well written, and so true. I also agree that Leica rangefinders are not overvalued, they were pretty undervalued for years. I have a couple of Canon rangefinders, and some are very nice. The 7 is seriously undervalued, but I don’t like mine. Way too large and heavy, and not in the same ballpark as Leica, as far as quality. The P is better for me to carry around, and feels better made. The VT I bought for it’s lens is my favorite, but not for everyone I’m sure. Not relevant to this article, but a lot lot of really nice Canon SLR’s are still ridiculous, screaming bargains. Last year I bought an F-1 with lens for $100 USD, crazy.

  • I picked up two Barnack Leicas for a bit over $200 each. A iiic and a iiif. Leica lenses for these are out of my price range. I use the Industar lenses. For me, it’s a great set up.

  • I am not sure what over priced even means, but if it means the demand for Leica Ms is driven by the desire to own a status symbol, I guess they are over priced. But if over priced means the high level of prices is a bubble and prices will fall in the near future, I would say they are not over priced. I don’t think prices are about to fall.
    I am also not opposed to buying a camera as a status symbol. I bought my Barnacks because I feel something special when others notice I have it, and I feel special when I use it. Honestly I don’t take better pictures with it than I do with a Zorki. I agree with your assessments, and learned some things I hadn’t known before.
    I am surprised you didn’t include any Barnack types and I expected to see you mention the Nicca 5L or my new favorite, the lever-wind, Tower 3-F.

  • Of course it’s very subjective and something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. However I do find the prices of Leica to be inflated. I believe a large part of the price is due a desirability factor that is based on emotion rather than logic. It’s the same with classic VW camper vans. People love the original, even though in pure performance terms newer vehicles do the job better for far less. People were buying the last vehicles from the production line in Brazil, converting them to basic campers and charging a fortune.

    I agree with your point that this increase in prices seems mostly confined to the all mechanical cameras. I love mechanical objects and have two mechanical watches (though not brands like Rolex as I happen to think they are overpriced too). The cameras you listed are good examples of how to scratch the rangefinder itch but maybe a Zorki 4K is a better choice to see if you like the rangefinder principle. Mechanical SLR cameras offer similar nostalgia for much less money, particularly cameras like the Olympus OM1. If it’s simply a desire to try film I’d argue the best value seems to be the battery dependent Nikon bodies line the F90x. They were built to last, have incredible metering and autofocus and were powered by AA batteries.

  • The prices of used Ms have gone up because of the prices of new Leicas have gone up. If you want 2 or 3 bodies, it makes more sense to buy used.

  • I got a Leica IIIf last Saturday for $400 off Los Angeles Craigslist! You still can get a Leica for a good price if you’re willing to get a Barnack – they’re lighter and the screw mount lenses are cheaper too (but harder to find than m mount)! They take a great picture.

  • Of course the Canon 7 with the Canon lens, we can’t go wrong.
    I have 2 Canon : a Cannonet, and a LTM 50mm 1.4. Whaouuuu! Excellent

  • I am too cheap to ever seriously consider buying a Leica M camera…Ever. That being said, I rolled the dice with a cheap Soviet rangefinder that I bought off Ebay for about $20 (Zorki 4). I actually liked the camera and thought it was decent enough to use, but I think it’s just a bit too imprecise of a tool for me to really click with. Because it was so cheap, I don’t feel bad about keeping it on my shelf and not using it very often, plus it’s in need of a service to deal with some shutter capping, so probably not worth investing in anyway.

    I ended up choosing a Canon 7 to replace my Zorki 4 and I am so happy that I did. I chose a Canon 7 specifically because of the ability to switch the viewfinder to display different frame lines based on the focal length of the lens attached, a feature that the currently very popular and trendy Canon P lacks, which means a much less cluttered viewfinder. Additionally, a Cano P tends to sell for well over $200, but I bought a nice Canon 7 for about $120. Many people don’t like the Canon 7 because of its “ugly” built-in selenium light meter, which may or may not work in the first place, and because it has no cold-shoe. For someone who intends to use a shoe-mounted meter, this could be a deal-breaker, but not for me.

    I already had a few decent Soviet LTM lenses (Jupiter 8, Jupiter 12, Industar 61) and I still use these on my Canon 7 with very good results. I did buy a Canon 135mm f/3.5 telephoto lens because it was well-regarded and quite cheap. But I cannot justify replacing my Soviet lenses with much more pricey Canon, Voigtlander, or Leitz glass at this time. Perhaps if my Canon 7 was a primary, EDC rig I would consider it. Regardless, the Canon 7 is a great value and a real bargain.

  • Very good article! I love my Konika Hexar RF, and it has been going strong for a few years now. Of mention is that, Hexar RF goes up to 1/4000th sec, very unique in its class of cameras. Great for full open aperture shooting in bright light. And when it fails, I could go and buy another body. It’s an intrinsic problem with fully electronic cameras. Even the modern electronic ones are bound to fail one day. Luckily, the sensors would be outdated way before that.

  • Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne March 13, 2022 at 5:21 pm

    A good selection, but. But…

    The fly in the soup here, is age. Almost all these cameras are now ancient (like me) and if they ever need anything repaired on them, you will either be up for a small fortune (especially with the Leicas) or parts won’t be available and you’ll end up with a pretty shelf queen.

    Good Hexars are very thin on the ground here in Australia, and I’m one who is reluctant to buy one sight unseen for all that dosh from Japan. Ditto Canon rangefinders which are usually clapped out anyway. Anyone seriously thinking of buying an old Contax needs their head checked. Which doesn’t leave much on the list other than the usual point-and-shoot suspects from the ’60s and ’70s, and try finding a good one of those if you can. Best of luck to you!!

    I’m a living example of what I’ve written. At one time or another I’ve owned or tried out almost every camera in this article, except the Hexar.
    I bagged a Leica iiif from a deceased estate sale last year, not cheap, but at a fair price. It came with a Summitar 50/2.0 with so much haze in it, my first roll came out looking like everything had been taken with a Softer II on that lens. But I wanted that iiif and so I went with the deal and had the Summitar cleaned. Got a whopping bill for it, but there you are, it’s only money after all, ha.

    A neighbour then gave me a Summicron 50/2.0.. A nice gift, but riddled with haze and some fungus. Ditto the repair bill. By then I’d spent enough to buy myself another iiif or even a iiig if I could have found one. but those late model Barnacks are as rare in my part of the world (Australia) as tits on a bull, as the old Aussie bush saying goes.

    I then went whole hog and bought a 35/3.5 Summon, paid serious money for it but it came with caps, lens hood and a pile of Leitz B&W filters. A wonderful shooter. Alas, my iiif doesn’t have the right viewfinder for it, so I had to buy one. Cost me the price of a good secondhand Nikon lens, but it’s a lovely piece of gear and it works just fine with that ’35.

    Then a 90/4.0 Elmar. As good as new, nothing wrong with it. I can’t really say how good its optics are as I’ve owned it for a few months now but have yet to use it. I like that it takes the same filters as the Summon 35, and it came with a Leitz universal lens hood which I’m told is worth serious money. So my kit is about complete. Until I find the next Weztlar toy to buy…

    Leicas are not a camera system, they are an addiction. Many bought them new not so much to use them as to put them on home altars and light candles and burn incense to them in adoration. Even the 1950s or older Barnacks are often as not the priciest secondhand cameras being sold, and too many buy them because of the Leica ‘mythology’ and for their mechanical precision, their reputed shooting ability and of course the wonderful Bauhaus machine-age cosmetics, but without really taking the time to properly check them out for mechanical faults and problems. Which is fair enough, usually there are at least half a dozen other fanatics hovering around, eagerly wanting to buy and waving fistfuls of big money at the seller.

    I have a lot of fun with my iiif but I’m still getting used to the distinctly odd ‘workflow’ of using it. Not a fast shooter. I wanted to do street work with it but nowadays Australians look at street photographers with the same emotions they hold for pedophiles and domestic pet killers, so going out on a Sunday afternoon to shoot candids on the street can be a serious threat to one’s physical and mental health.

    I do much better with my Contax G1s but they aren’t 100% mechanical cameras, so I’ll say no more about them. Nice shooters, though, if not exactly cheap. But the lenses, woo hoo…

    Enough of this griping (yes, there is always one). Just my two cents’ worth, as usual.

    In the summing up, a right good article. I look forward to everything written by James, who is a master at the art.

    From Dann in Melbourne

  • Dear James (sorry for my english),
    since I was looking for an analog RF for my street genre after 5 years after the lifeless time of Leica M’sen (M6 MP M7). The current M courses, which I cannot understand, pushed me to find an alternative.
    I bought a new Konica Hexar RF set.
    After 1 year practice:
    The Hexar RF exceeded my expectations. The rock-solid construction and the quality of workmanship is in my opinion on the same level as that of the analogue Leica M models. In the first haptic touch experience, it conveys a valuable feeling of precision and reliability, that of a tool for a demanding purpose, pure professional trust. All controls are located where they would be practically searched for. Their mechanical design is impeccable. As a Leica native, I find the viewfinder even better, there are no blackouts because the contrast of the viewfinder frames is higher. The handle supports designed on the front and back make the Hexar safer and easier to handle than an M. There would be a lot more from my subj. To note the list of features, I therefore recommend the interested party to take a look at the camera without reservation. A very clear recommendation, in my opinion an unjustly neglected camera.
    Finally, a neutralizing note regarding the volume:
    The street is louder and so the only one who hears the engine (in normal surroundings) is myself, because I know exactly when to “listen”.
    LG Dominique

  • Where is the fuji g690? Medium format, interchangeable lenses, some with autoexposure even. And its cheaper than a hexar!

  • Contax G1/2 anyone? The lenses are just as good, some say better, than Leica. Don’t be put off by the autofocusing, its brilliant especially in the G2.

  • +100 for Martin’s comment (= the previous post). Those Contax Gs are wonderful machines. Not at all mechanical, but they do what they do supremely well, and they go on working.

    I had four G1s in my time. Now down to one, I sold off the other three to a Japanese collector who offered me such a high price for them, I decided he needed his head checked but even if he had misplaced his brain at least his heart as in the right place (in his wallet), so I said はい (thank you, Google Translate) and off we went. I now have one only left, which now and then refuses to rewind my films and I have to take out my old sleeveless T-shirt (aka film changing bag) and yank the damn thing out by hand. Which does the camera no damage at all and in fact usually improves it, if temporarily, as the next film I put into it miraculously rewinds itself.

    The selfsame Japanese buyer also took my Contax Zeiss 45/2.0 (yes, the legendary one) but nixed the 21, 28, 35 and 90, which I am now still stuck with. Well and good for me. I live with the 28/2.8 Biogon on that camera anyway.

    All this verbiage salad to say if you can get a Contax (usually a G1 which for some reason gets poor reviews compared to the G2, which sells for a small fortune more but doesn’t really do all that much more, plus it’s also heavier to lug around), supposedly it has a better viewfinder system but with the extra $$ I would have to spend for one I will make do with my G1, buggered winder or not.

    These days it’s good to remember that we are living in the pre-apocalypse era, things are changing, in fact everything is changing and fast at that. We have to make the best of things while we can. Film costs are skyrocketing and don’t get me going on what we have to pay for processing, I still do mine at home but who knows for how long as most of the color based chemistry I used to buy ten years ago is now no longer available. B&W is easy to do especially as I still have buckets of basic chemicals and I easily mix all my own B&W processing chemistry, but one very basic difference is that I now scan rather than print. At least this has greed me from the tyranny of spending entire nights in the dark hovering over an enlarger, exposing and printing forests of test strips and inhaling those awful fixer fumes. No more of that for me, my time is past. If you are someone who enjoys ‘darkroomery’, then good for you…

    All this to say that In the next ten years to things of great importance will most likely happen, film usage will decline to the point of being a luxury rather than the niche item it is now, and I will be gone.

    At my venerable age I struggle to not give unasked for advice but instead I try to make ‘positive suggestions’. In this case, I would say use what cameras you have already, ditto the films you have left, print as much as you can. Time is running short.

    As for cameras, there are so many wonderful used bargains out there, all waiting for new owners and new homes. Like unwanted kittens.

    Apologies for going on so much.. A little too much good red Aussie wine on a hot Sunday afternoon.

    Superbly good article as always and as usual, James. But then you have never really written a bad one, have you?

    Best regards from DANN

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio