Leica Lenses for Normal People is a summary of what I found when I was putting my Leica kit together. Between 2015 and 2021 I was shooting Leica cameras commercially and as an enthusiast. During that time I tested a ton and bought and sold even more. My goal is to help you avoid some mistakes I made along the way and make your journey an efficient one. I no longer shoot Leica commercially but I am still, very much, an enthusiast and card carrying Leica fanboy.
When I was getting my kit together, all I really I wanted a friend to tell me what to buy. All I had was some really bad advice from old dudes in camera forums and Youtubers peddling gear for views. What I really wanted was a friend, like me, with my needs/wants/and budget who could tell me how little I could spend on Leica camera lenses and still be happy.
My goal with Leica Lenses for Normal People is to be the reasonable and practical friend you don’t currently have.
What I mean by a normal person?
I don’t know if “normal” people actually shoot rangefinder cameras. I do know that collectors collect them, doctors and anesthesiologists spend too much on them, and Lenny Kravitz has one with alligator skin on it.
After 10 years shooting with a rangefinder and working with you guys, I know that is not the whole story. There are tons of people like me who don’t have money to burn, they aren’t collectors, and they want to find the sweet spot between performance and price with their camera gear.
This website isn’t for every Leica enthusiast but my list of rangefinder lens recommendations will apply to you if:
- Part of the allure of vintage lenses is that they are small. For me, there is no good reason to own an f/0.95 manual focus lens because it is unwieldy. Moreover, unless you are taking pictures of garden gnomes you won’t focus at f/0.95 accurately anyway.
- Your budget is under $1500-2000/lens, you want to spend as little as reasonable, but also you value quality
- You are OK buying used lenses but you don’t really want to deal with the hassles of legacy lenses with their fungus, cleaning marks, sticky oils, etc.
- You are not primarily a lens collector: You can collect lenses but this website is primarily for people who plan on using them outside of the house and taking picture of things other than a brick wall and test card.
- You want a lens to be fully functional when shot wide open. There is little reason to carry a big lens you can’t use wide open. Right?
- You value real-life images more than MTF tests and pictures of fences. You put the in-focus stuff somewhere near the center of the picture so you don’t get worked up much about what goes on at the edges of the frame unless it is a mess. You know how to get rid of a minor vignette in 2 seconds in photoshop.
- You believe that sun flares are a bonus and not a flaw…sometimes anyway
- You believe that bokeh is an accent flavor and not the main dish. This is a big one. Everyone likes creamy backgrounds but slaying and crushing the bokeh gets old after a while. Rangefinders are not designed well to shoot super shallow depth of field images.
- You aren’t looking for the cheapest you can find: I fall into the camp that believes that quality is important. I get the warm fuzzies knowing I am buying something that might outlive me. I prefer to support a company that values their people and service over price.
If any or most of that describes you – my recommendations will go a long way to helping you save time and money; and make you more happy and confident in your purchasing decisions. They might even help you avoid all of the buying and selling that happens when you are starting your rangefinder camera and lens journey.
A guide to the reviews
The reviews on this website have two main sections that require a bit of explanation:
On garden gnomes and parked cars: This section is an assessment of lens usability in the real world.
One of the frustrations I have with many reviews of vintage and rangefinder camera lenses is that it seems that reviewers only seem to take pictures of garden gnomes and parked cars. They must not leave their house because I don’t understand how they actually use some of these lenses they recommend. Garden gnomes don’t move. Neither do parked cars. They also don’t get mad at you while they are waiting for you and your little hipster rangefinder trying to find focus thinking to themselves “we would be done already if he just used the iPhone but we still are going to have to tell him how impressed we are by his stupid hobby even though he is still jacking around with that silly manual focus lens.”
Making vintage and manual focus lenses work for me means they need to be useable. What was acceptable 50 years ago might not be acceptable today. Short focusing throws are important. Sticky helicoids are deal-breakers. Focusing tabs are a plus. The way the aperture clicks, sounds, or feels is irrelevant. There will be no mention of “build quality” because I can’t really do more than tell you it is heavy.
Does it have SOUL?
This section is an assessment of image quality.
Describing why people like images from one lens or another is difficult. One the one hand, MTF charts and other tools that seek to offer an objective performance of a given lens. On the other hand, there is a morass of terms like 3D-pop, Leica look, micro-contrast, character, rendering, and all the rest that seem to do more to trigger the internet trolls rather than actually help anyone make decisions about lens performance in real-world situations. I think these terms are overused and misused so I wont be using them.
“Character” is too often a euphemism for “this lens is pretty junky, you know it, I know it, the images look like someone slapped an Instagram filter on them, they flare uncontrollably, and there is no possible way that if you were doing a real world project you would ever use this stupid thing because if you did, you would look back in 5 years and say to yourself “self, what were you thinking? Those images look so stupid, gimmicky, and dated.” A little bit of character is soulful. Too much is too much.
What I am searching for is the sweet spot between “character” and “modern.” If you want a perfect image you can use your iPhone or your Sony. I am looking for something a bit different. Something with “soul.” If you spend some times with my reviews you will get a better idea of what I am talking about.