As with so much hobbies these days, a lot of forums and sites see their fair share of fanboys. Their only effort seems to be discrediting any other product than the one they use, whether they have any actual knowledge on that product or not. And vice-versa, everything their product does is at the top of any game, the most innovative, original, advanced… the best. The one and only best.
Normal fanboys are already annoying enough. But there is one level deeper in this inferno. Drop the word Leica, and see what happens.
The arrogance of the defenders is drowned in the lakes of vitriol from the haters. As soon as the brand is mentioned, there will be a comment how that news is nice for posers and dentists (not sure, but it’s always dentists somehow). Always, guaranteed.
Further comments how all their stuff is overpriced, overvalued nonsens for people who have no clue but too much money. The defence usually comes no further than uttering some comments on famous photographers who used Leicas, and how for some people, it just is the perfect choice.
There seems to be little middle ground. Even on the parts of the internet where behaviour is more level-headed and mature, the discussion never gets entirely comfortable. It seems to be a marmite brand: you either love it, or hate it.
Me? Well, I rather see with my own eyes.
So out came the wallet, and yes, it has to be said: it is expensive gear. But I just had to know for myself, and there is only one way to do that. Hands on experience.
The lure of the red dot
At the time I decided I wanted to know if the lenses really lived up to the reputation, I had not yet ever worked with a rangefinder. With that in mind, I wondered whether it made sense to go for a Leica M of any vintage. They are the more expensive option, and I’d might not like a rangefinder at all.
The outcome was: one Kiev-4 to see whether I like rangefinders, and a Leica R6 -their discontinued SLR line- to see how good the lenses are. There is a lot to argue against this compromise. On the rangefinder side, the Kiev may be one of the better made Russian rangefinders, it’s not exactly competition for the better made German cameras. On the Leice side, the Leica R bodies are frowned upon because they’re based on Minoltas. So I wasn’t getting the best of both worlds.
Well, when anyone complains about a Leica R being based on a Minolta…. that’s a very sturdy and very high quality Minolta. Nothing wrong with it. Plus the R6 is fully mechanical, which I like.
The lens I got with the R6 was a Macro-Elmarit 60mm.
So, let’s see what is what. Instead of all those opinions of haters and lovers, how do those lenses stack up? How nice or overrated is it?
A very non-scientific experiment
It did not take very long before I added a second lens to this kit; the 60mm lens wasn’t the ideal choice for me. Not a bad lens, not by any stretch of imagination, but it didn’t fit my style at the time. That second lens, a Summicron-R 35mm, made an extremely convincing case for itself. What a gem.
A second body and a number of lenses followed. There wasn’t a single bad lens among those I had. Two stood out: the already mentioned 35mm, and the Summicron-R 50mm. Both these lenses are in a league of their own, as far as I am concerned. They’re epic, and testimonies to Leica’s expertise in prime lenses like these. Overall, it was a system I enjoyed thoroughly, and used a lot.
Worth it? Again, value for money is a complicated topic. The R cameras and R lenses do not cost as much as the M cameras and lenses. But they are still more expensive than equivalent Canon/Nikon/Pentax lenses and cameras from the same era.
In future posts, I will dive in a bit deeper. Over time, I had a R3 that I never used, an impeccable R7 and two R6’s, plus a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 60mm, 90mm and 180mm lens. It was a complete system, very reliable, solid, high quality, enjoyable to use. There is plenty more to say, but not today.
And once again, it’s a system that I sold. It follows the pattern of the QL17 I posted about before. A much-used, much-liked camera…. so I sold it.
In this case, the reasoning was a bit more logical: alongside the Leica SLRs, I also had a set of Nikon SLRs with some very nice lenses. The amount of gear started to get in my way, and as my DSLR is also a Nikon (and can use the same lenses), there was some benefit in sticking with the Nikon gear only. Especially comparing the R6 versus a FM2, the FM2 is actually a nicer body in my humble opinion. But those lenses… oh dear.
While I never really regretted selling the QL17, I really cannot say the same about the Leica kit I had. It had its quirks, some niggles, but when I revisit the images made with it…. yeah, sometimes I do miss my R6 and the Summicrons. Don’t let those online haters fool you. The lenses are really that good.
Ah, but how about rangefinder shooting? Was the R-series SLR the right range, or should I go rangefinder?
The jury isn’t out. I do still have rangefinders, and I see their advantages and like how they’re different, even if SLR focussing is more my thing still. Frankly, the red dot might strike again some day, and then it will be an M (M4 or M6 probably) with a Summicron 50mm. Something inevitable about that, I fear.
(edit: yes, inevitable indeed. Happened)