By Kurt Bangert
Around here there’s no doubt that we see the talent behind the lens as the key factor in delivering superior results. But I believe there are pieces of equipment that inspire better results just by their inherent design.
For me, one of those pieces of equipment is the Leica M series camera. The M is virtually unchanged in its basic operation for over 60 years. The current digital models operate exactly like the first M3 of the mid-50’s, manual focus, manual exposure, optical range finder, and exceptionally quiet shutter. Not only will you find a 1956 M3 and a 2016 M262 very similar in-hand, and every M lens made will work with every M camera built, all functioning exactly as designed. Pretty incredible, and certainly unique in today’s photographic world.
There’s something special about these cameras. If you pick any specific parameter to compare against other currently available cameras, you’ll find that in most cases, the other brand will be technically superior in that given area (and probably many), but somehow, the individual functions and features pale when you consider the qualities of the whole.
For me, the traits that make an M special is that it engages you in the process of photography and the Leica lenses deliver a unique rendering of the photo you make. Instead of pushing a shutter release and letting the camera do the rest, you must manually set shutter speed, aperture, and focus, finally releasing the shutter. Only then does the camera make the image that you envisioned. You have to think. If you blow an image, it’s your fault. Period. But when you get it all right, the results can be divine. Frankly, with practice, you’d be ecstatically happy with the majority of photos made with an M and there will always be those ones that got away. An M keeps you honest, and that is what allows you to be deeply engaged with the process of making a photograph, a very satisfying place to be.
Is the M the best camera for all assignments? Not at all. Is it the best camera in the world? That’s a subjective matter to be decided by only you. All I know is that shooting an M is gratifying and engaging. Many of the photos you see in our Quarterlies are captured with an M, some are shot on our RED cameras and others on our medium format Pentax.