Do Leica Cameras Have A Soul?

For years I have heard that a Leica camera has something special about it. The “Leica Glow” as some put it, is something you see in images taken with Leica cameras. Do Leica cameras have a soul? Well, no, of course not.

The camera bodies themselves are pretty much the same as any other film or digital body in regards to image taking. With an M6 or M7 you load the film, focus, meter and take the shot. With an M8 it is the sensor that makes the image and Leica does not make the sensor on the M8, so they can not be responsible for any of this “glow” or “magic”..or can they?

Magic. It is my belief that the magic with Leica lies in their lenses. Their experience with making fine lenses goes back a long way and many people today are still using 50+ year old lenses on their cameras. I had an old 1942 135 Hektor I paid $90 for and used it on my M8 with GREAT results (most of the time) but really, not much magic in it. Nothing a good Nikon or Canon lens couldn’t do.

So yes, you can find a cheap, inexpensive Leica lens if you look around ebay. I found this Hektor at a camera shop in Phx, AZ. But in all honesty it was only good for outdoor, in good light though when it worked, it did well.

So on to my search for photos with “soul” or the “Leica Glow”…

I have used so many cameras but now, I am pretty much hooked on the rangefinder way of shooting. My M8 provides me with the light weight, and easy manual operation (with a few hiccups at times). I love it. When I compare the shots from my M8 with almost any DSLR I do indeedy (yes, I know that is not a word) see a difference in the quality of the files.

There really may be something to this, but again, it is in the lenses IMO. Leica makes THE BEST lenses in the world, and they are priced accordingly. Many complain about the high prices but they are low production, made with the highest quality glass, and many of them do have that “magic” and not all of them are mega bucks.

Lets start with the new “starter” Leica Summarit line. I recently picked up a Leica “budget” lens, the 75 Summarit 2.5. It’s funny because it is almost Leica’s least expensive lens but its focusing is much smoother than my big bucks Leica 50 Summilux ASPH, which is pretty stiff. I was surprised to see the same great build quality and the image quality is really really good.

That 75 is also the sharpest lens I have ever used. Ever. When shot at the minimum focus distance, look out. Its RAZOR sharp. My particular copy has a defect as it is off when shooting at infinity or anything past 10 feet. I will be returning it this week, but man, I am telling you…if you are into sharpness then the 75 Summarit is crazy sharp and has the character of the Lux line but slower at 2.5. I do see some magic in the few shots that came out in focus when I used it at the Seal show, and when side by side with my Nikon D90 shots from the show, the Leica ones do stand out IMO.

One other lens I love is the Leica Noctilux. At F1 (new version is 0.95) it renders in a way that is different from any other current DSLR lens. It’s painterly, creamy backgrounds render in a magical way and when people see a Noct shot, they usually are impressed.

One lens that has gained a huge following is the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH lens. This one is stellar. Sharp, even when shooting wide open but with a smooth, creamy background. It’s expensive and there are many alternatives to it from Zeiss, Voigtlander, etc. But, do they have the “glow”?

One thing I have noticed after using so many cameras is that for some reason or another, my Leica files seem to breathe. They seem to have captured the moment with more reality, and tend to be a bit more powerful. I really can not put my finger on it but its true.

People tell me the camera has nothing to do with the shots you take. Well, that is true and false. The camera, if it has lousy image quality can make your images look lousy. Just like an artist, you start with a nice, clean, and big canvas (the sensor) and you paint with your brushes (lenses) – If your paper is crap, and your brushes are the el cheap-o’s then your painting, while still being good, may miss that little something extra.

So, as I have already stated, I believe the magic with Leica is in the lenses. They are not incredibly better than the Nikon or Canon pro lenses but they are better, and for that little bit extra they give you, only you can decide if it is worth it. For me they are.

Me? I LOVE Leica lenses for their world class quality, color rendering, and Bokeh. Even their less expensive offerings can be great, and some, like the Noctillux 0.95 are simply incredible. I will never be able to shoot one, but those who do will have one hell of an artistic tool.

Speaking of capturing the moment or the “emotion” in the shot, I have provided samples here that do just that. From Seal’s expression that shows his true feeling while playing that guitar, the little girl looking at me with curiosity as she holds on to her Mother, to my wife’s warm smile while doing her homework just before the Seal show. Finally, my nephew holding his new cousin, baby Faith with the little girl in the background wondering what it is I am holding in my hand.

Leica cameras just seem to capture that moment more than any camera I have ever used. No zoom lenses, no fancy autofocus, just the one on one user experience with the camera that becomes a part of you. I became an even bigger believer in this whole “magic”, “soul”, “glow” thing after I shot that concert.

I did see something in those shots, and even though I already was a fan of Leica, I am now even more so. So, do Leicas have a soul? No, but they do bring out the best in you. Using a Leica will inspire and really let you enjoy shooting. To me, this is what it is all about!

Of course, these are just MY opinions. Any camera today is capable of taking phenomenal shots, much better than my skill level at least. Use what you own and make it yours. Learn it, feel it, and live it. You will then be rewarded for your efforts with great images you can always look back on with a smile.

This is a guest blog post from Steve Huff. The original post can be found on his website http://www.stevehuffphoto.com. Steve has been a photographer for about 15 years and photography has been a lifelong passion of his since first entering the world. Steve also has a keen eye for discovering Leica photographers which he’ll be sharing on this blog.