Leica M Shooting Tips
Try focusing with both eyes OPEN. Right eye looking through the finder, left eye looking at the surroundings. This is VERY easy with the M3, M6J, and .85 M finders, or with a .72 finder with the 1.25x Eyepiece Magnifier attached. With the other M's all it takes is a little bit of practice. You might be surprised.
FAST focusing can be a bit of a problem if your subject, especially a portrait or special event, is moving all over the place. Do what the famous Hollywood Photographer of the Stars, Marvin "Killer" Moss taught me. As your subject moves in/out a few inches each way to get out of focus, it's faster to MOVE with them in/out to keep your focus than to be constantly refocusing your camera.
Try a soft release, kind of golf tee style. It helps. Nikon makes a nice one, for the 6006 I think. A better soft release is available at Rapidwinder.com.
Try matching up the RF images at the EDGES when you focus instead of inside the RF square. For most subjects, this can increase your focusing accuracy.
For tripods, I prefer the small Leitz tabletop with Leitz head, the Tiltall, and the small Gitzo's. Slik, Benbo, and others also make fine tripods. Unipods can be great for lighter weight or where you can't work three legs easily.
Exercise your camera regularly through all shutter speeds. This will help them stay more accurate, as well as head off a premature shutter job. Don't forget to exercise yourself while you are at it. It's easier to carry the camera if you don't get out of breath carrying it.
UV filters are only useful to me if you are shooting under conditions which might damage the lens. As "protection" they greatly increase the camera store's profit margins and while increasing flare and decreasing sharpness. It's like buying a Ferrari and then towing a trailer behind it all the time. Not the best or wisest use. If you are determined to use them, make sure they are Multi-coated.
Glasses will get scratched from the metal eyepiece of the earlier M's. The solution is Eyeglass Protectors.
B/W Filters and Polarizers are the exception since you need them for that specific effect. Leica has discontinued most of their B/W filters. Besides Leica filters, I suggest Multi-coated BW, Hoya, or Tiffen filters.
Shades: I love the duel purpose metal vented shade for the 35 and 50 lenses (50/2&2.8& 3.5 and 35/2 &2.8&3.5) mine is product # 12585. What they don't tell you is that the SAME shade will also fit the 90/2.8 Tele-Elmarit, the 90/4 Elmar for the CL, the 90/4 Rokkor for the CL and CLE, and 135/4 Tele-Elmar and 135 Hektors. Having the same shade for 35-135 lenses makes shooting a LOT easier. A later version is # 12538 made out of plastic instead of metal.
The New Built in Shades: I don't like the built in collapsible shades of the newest series of Leica M 50's. While they are convenient, I believe the larger detachable shades will probably do a better job. This is not to say round shades are no good, just that the older, larger shades are better IMHO.
Front Caps: As you may have discovered, the metal chrome front caps for lenses of the 50's and 60's are hard to find and expensive. Buy scarred ones for use in the field, it's too easy to lose that $40 mint chrome cap, or generic expendable plastic snap on caps.
Back & Body Caps: Leica shifted to cheap molded body and rear caps, which doubled or tripled the price of the earlier caps (surprise). Sometimes you will see a funny looking gray M cap which is about 1/2" thick and has NO bottom. Buy it to mount two M lenses back to back in order to save room in your camera bag and to keep both lenses from banging together. It's a great idea.
Camera Straps: I like straps with detachable connections, padded necks, and very padded connectors so the camera can not get scarred by it. The Domke strap is superb, but not your only choice. A camera strap alternative is the altered M case mentioned below. Not many people really like the standard Leica strap that is delivered with new Leica M's. Personally I like Voigtlander's $25 Deluxe Strap a lot more than the Leica M strap.
Ever Ready Cases are often called "Never Ready Cases," by the time you get the camera out of the case the shot is gone. To me, a camera in a closed case is useful ONLY for long term storage or shipping. If you want to take pics SLOWLY they are a great choice. To put it another way, if you want to look like a photog who does not take pictures, carry your camera around in the Ever Ready case. Most M cases over the years have a design defect, the top does NOT snap off -- allowing you to use the camera mounted in the bottom of the case. You can cure this defect at your local shoe repair store, by installing a removable snap off top for your M case. This solution protects the camera base while also providing a strap that won't scratch the camera. If you have not noticed it, new Leica M6 cases are rather expensive, while new Voigtlander Bessa R cases are rather inexpensive. Though a tight fit, the M6 will fit into the Bessa R case.
Tripod Sockets: American market M's use a 1/8" tripod screw, European market M's use a larger 3/8" tripod screw. An adapter can downsize your European size tripod socket to the smaller tripod socket, allowing you to use tripods or camera cases with the smaller tripod screws. While an M with the larger size tripod socket will fit in a case with the smaller screw size, an M with the smaller tripod socket will not fit into a case with the larger tripod screw -- much to the chagrin of photogs who did not bother to check the fit before they bought the case.
Meters. If you want it battery powered, my favorite are the Minolta meters in their various guises. If you want to do it sans battery, the selenium celled Sekonic Director is my choice. Of course there are also the Leica MR meters. BEWARE of scratching the top plate with them. With that $150 meter you can do $500 of damage to the top of your classic M3/M2/M4. If you want a clip on meter, I greatly prefer the new Voigtlander VC II with its silicon metering cell, easily obtainable battery, bright LED readout, very easy to use and read shutter speed and aperture controls.
The Visoflex system (for either M or LTM cameras) converts the camera into a awkward SLR by using the lens heads of the older 65, 90, and 135 lenses - - as well as the over 135 lenses made just for the Viso. Today the Viso is discontinued and not very popular, since modern SLRs are so much easier to use. There is the obsolete Viso 1, the compact Viso 2, and the larger Viso 3 with instant return mirror. Because of its smaller size, I prefer the 2. A rarer version of the 2 also gives an instant return mirror, the 2A. Various adapters are needed to make it all work right. Each lens generally takes a different adapter. My own alternative is explained in the Canon T90 AKA Viso 4 profile. An easier route is using your favorite Viso outfit on your favorite Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Contax/Yashica with a Viso to SLR adapter.
The M's reason for being as far as I am concerned is their incredible Black and White work. If you have never tried it, you are in for a treat. Leica negs will stand out on a light table instantly from Nikons/Canons/Minoltas etc. You will have to process your own film, and print them, preferably on Focomats. But you will be in for a real treat not equaled by anything else I have seen. Shooting B/W and then turning the film and processing over to your local lab is like Leonardo buying the canvas and paint and then turning it over to the local quick sketch artist. If you want the best, if you want to approach an art form, learn how to do it yourself. BTW, the BEST enlargers are the Leitz Focomats Ic and V35 for 35mm and the IIc for 35 to 6x9cm. Once adjusted for a particular paper after testing, these Auto-Focus enlargers can focus MORE accurately than you can with a grain focuser, believe it or not!
Revised: November 18, 2004 . Copyright © 1997-2004 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.