Review: My first half year with the Leica M-E
Since I was in high school that I’ve always enjoyed photography. Throughout the years I’ve owned Polaroids, mini polaroids, fisheye cameras, Nikon and Canon DSLRs, Olympus and Fujifilm mirrorless cameras. Last September, after much thought and research, I decided to sell all my cameras and purchase the Leica M-E. There are a lot of technical reviews out there that you can read, so what I want to do here is to share how the Leica M-E has made me a better photographer and how much fun I've had using it for the past 6 months.
When I decided to purchase the Leica M-E there were a few reasons why I chose it instead of the top of the line Leica M240.
1) Leica M-E has a Kodak CCD sensor instead of a CMOs sensor. There is a lot of discussion on this topic; some people swear by the CCD sensor, others feel that the CMOs sensor gives them better results. For me, the main reason why I wanted a CCD sensor was that I had simply never had a camera with one before. On top of that, I have a sweet spot for Kodak film; I love its color reproduction, and it’s a brand that - similarly to Leica - represents the golden era of film photography.
2) It’s the closest you can get to shooting film on a digital camera. There are simply no distractions whatsoever. You set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed and just shoot. The LCD on the back is so bad that you end up never wanting to use it. This allows you to focus on taking pictures rather than reviewing them on a tiny screen every single time you take a shot (I always turn auto review off).
3) Price! Less $2000 for a Leica? Yes please.
Let’s start with the CCD sensor. My last camera before the Leica M-E was the Fujifilm X-T1, with its beautiful SLR design, amazing viewfinder and great low light performance. The first time I shot wit the Leica M-E at night I immediately regretted having sold the X-T1. With the X-T1 I could easily go past ISO 1600 and get amazing results, and when I tried doing the same with the Leica M-E the image quality was so bad that I started to doubt my very expensive purchase. And then, after having shot with it at night for 3 days, I realized that I didn’t need ISO 3200, ISO 6400, ISO 12800 or whatever the ridiculous number that cameras offer nowadays. At first, what looked like a limitation was actually one of the best things that could have happened to help me understand and enjoy photography much more. Before digital, photographers would shoot film with speeds between ISO 100 ~ 400 during the day, and ISO 400 ~ 800 at night. And with the Leica M-E it’s exactly the same. Having always used DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, with their impressive list of features, this literally blew my mind! When shooting with those cameras I would always leave ISO on auto mode; if the camera told me that ISO 1600 was the correct ISO for a given situation I would trust its mighty technology. With the Leica M-E, I only have two saved profiles. One is for shooting during the day, with ISO set at 160, and the other one is for shooting at night, with ISO set at 640. That’s it, nothing else. This then allows me to think about the right aperture, and especially the right shutter speed (something that I rarely thought about in my previous cameras since I always shot in aperture priority mode). It also makes me feel like I’m actually shooting film; I have one film speed for daytime and another film speed for nighttime. Simple! Since having bought the camera, there were only two occasions in which I had to shoot at ISO 1250 (which is the highest I would go on a Leica equipped with a CCD Sensor), other than that ISO 640 or 800 is always enough.
What about the finder? The Fujifilm X-T1 had an amazing viewfinder with live view, which basically allowed me to see how my shot would look like before I took it. The Leica M240 also offers live view because of its CMOs sensor, so in theory you can use it in the same way as you would use a mirrorless camera (although I doubt that there are people out there who actually do this). I have to be honest, at first when I started using the Leica M-E I missed live view. But after shooting with it for a couple of weeks, I was really happy that live view was gone. Why? Because I believe it can make you a better photographer. It makes you think more about your shot, your composition, light and so forth. And focusing with a rangefinder is such a pleasure! Once you shoot with a rangefinder you can never go back. On top of this, the awful screen that I mentioned above, makes me really use my Leica M-E as I would use a film camera. I made the deliberate choice of turning off the screen and focusing on shooting only. Then when I get home and upload the files into my computer I get to see the final results. Do you remember that excitement you felt whenever you couldn't wait to see the results after shooting with a film camera? That feeling! That’s the feeling that you can experience again with the Leica M-E.
And the Leica lenses? Don’t even get me started! In these last six months I’ve shot with the summicron 35mm f2 ASPH, the summilux 50mm f1.4 pre-ASPH, the summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH, and the elmarit 90mm f2.8. I’ve decided to keep the summilux 50mm ASPH and the elmarit 90mm. Let me just put it out there: these are the best lenses I have ever used and produce results like I’ve never experienced before (especially the summilux 50mm ASPH). If you are not ready to invest in a Leica camera, make yourself a favor and buy an m-mount adapter for your mirrorless camera and get yourself a Leica lens. You will not regret it - the downside is that you will probably get addicted to Leica’s glass and end up buying a Leica camera anyway, so beware!
For me, the Leica M-E strikes the perfect balance between film and digital, between tradition and innovation. I have to be honest, at first I saw some of Leica M-E's features as limitations but after the first week with the camera I came to appreciate them as advantages, and I truly believe that shooting with a Leica has made me a better photographer. But above all, it has made me excited about photography; so excited that I ended up creating my own website (available below) and I purchasing a Leica M6 to start shooting film again.
So, if you are in the same place as I was 6 months ago, wanting to improve your photography skills, missing the simplicity of the film era, or simply wondering if Leica is the right camera for you, I hope that reading this has helped you. If you’re ready to make an investment, I say go for it! I hope it will make you as happy as it has made me! There are only a few brands that I truly love and admire, and Leica has definitely earned that spot in my heart. #leica #m9 #leicam9 #leicame #summilux #summicron #50mm #35mm #summilux_50mm_asph #leica_m9 #leica_me #summicron_35mm_asph #elmarit #90mm #elmarit_90mm #kodak