Leica M9 and First Time Rangefinder Users
I have had so many conversations with people interested in the Leica M9 I have lost count. Surprising to me is that over half of those people have never shot, owned, or touched any rangefinder camera before. I wanted to offer my advise for those that may be thinking about investing in the Leica M9. It will be short and to the point. There are probably a couple of things in the comments for another post that you may want to take a look at as well.
My very first serious camera was a rangefinder about 30 years ago, so I feel like I am home with the whole way of using them. They are comfortable and quite established in my brain and muscle memory. The do about 95% of what most people need, simply and easily. They are not great for sports - at least not from the sidelines. Forget birds from hundreds of yards away. They are a camera that excels at taking pictures of normal sized things relatively close to you. Maybe the best answer to that subject matter.
Here is the bottom line - before you go and plunk down $7,000 of you hard earned cash on an M9 get a regular old M3, M4, or M6 and a regular old user kind of lens like a 50 f2 summicron. Using these will be so close to using the M9 it is not even funny. If you want something with “classic” engraving and gorgeous finishing get an M3, M2, or early M4. Even worn these cameras have an aesthetic appeal that is fantastic. I actually would skip the M4-P or M4-2 because they are actually generally a little more expensive than the previous cameras mentioned, have no real extra “charm”, and are not as good a user camera as an M6. If you can spend a little more money just get an M6. They are much more modern in metering, have frame lines for just about everything (28, 75, 135) that may be missing from some of the others, and are every bit as well built. The finish is more durable but if it is worn it is far from “charming”.
I have seen M3 and M2 cameras in great shape - I mean fantastic shape in every way, even cosmetically and with a recent CLA go for about $900 regularly. Ugly M2’s and M3’s go for even less, they will probably work just fine and produce fantastic pictures, they just have less finish, a couple of dings, and missing vulcanite. I have also seen barely used M6 cameras that most of you would mistake for new (not collectors) for about $1500 - If you are lucky you can find an ugly one that goes for half that. As far as a 50 summicron, the funny thing is the aluminum barreled black lenses of the 1990’s that are BETTER than older models seem to be about the least expensive - sometimes you can find “user” 50 summicrons that are older for a lot less if they have cosmetic issues but if they are only a little less money go with the new one. In any case there are plenty of various vintage summicrons that are fantastic for $300-400.
So… for somewhere between $1000 and $2000 you can get a perfectly capable Leica rangefinder in good working order and a lens that is probably better than any you own right now. Both items will probably be able to be sold for exactly what you got them for, or more. Drop the price by $100 each and you can get rid of them in 24hrs. The combo will work exactly like an M9 (with the exception of metering), will take fantastic photos on film, and allow you to test out the wonderful world of rangefinders for pretty much free, assuming you sell the stuff if it is not for you. If you decide it is for you Â you can get some practice in while you save up the rest of the money, sell the body and keep using the 50 summicron on the M9, whatever.
You may notice that I did not recommend getting a Voigtlander body or lens just to test the waters. There are a bunch of reasons for this but I will focus on just one. The economic one, If you are not going to keep the Voigtlander and use it do not buy one, at least not new, and even used you will not be able to turn it around quickly or for even close to what you paid if you decide that the whole deal is not for you. The other reason is that although very similar, they are operationally not the virtual clone of other M series bodies and the M9.
One caveat - the older M bodies do not have a meter, none. This means you will have to meter with an external meter or your camera and transfer the settings. Don’t worry - if you light and your subject don’t change - your exposure doesn’t need to change - really. Take your reading - set the camera, shoot away. The M6 has a fantastic meter build in but you will have to know how to use it. It is not an evaluative meter and it is fairly tight so you have to know what you are pointing it at and what that means.
If you have any questions let me know - I have been a rangefinder shooter/lover for a long time and this is exactly what I would do if I didn’t already have a couple of M bodies laying around.
Here are some other thoughts on the M9 I have posted as well:
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