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Top 10 Leica Film Cameras of 2020

Introduction

Leica is a name that needs no introduction. The German manufacturer has been creating iconic, long-lasting products for generations. The red dot represents such a wide variety of products that it can be hard to tell which is which unless you’re an expert. It’s even harder to put together a list of the 10 best Leica cameras.

Leica cameras have been affected strongly by the growth of the film camera industry in the past few years. With so many new faces in the community, it’s only a matter of time before they learn about Leica’s precision craftsmanship, legendary lenses, and stellar reputation.

Luckily, most Leicas have been well-kept and were designed with repair in mind, so trusted repair technicians like those at Cameramakers are able to restore these beautiful, mechanical marvels to a functional state that you can trust. 

But which are the best Leica cameras? Which German rangefinder shines above the rest?

Buying a Leica is an investment, and generally a pretty secure one at that. Like with all financial decisions, it’s important to do your research beforehand. That’s why we’re here to report the top 10 best Leica cameras of the past year, as determined by Google search results. These results are not the personal opinions of Kamerastore.com, but are collected from search results!

I will say, with this list of best Leica cameras the search results were a lot closer. With the other lists we did (Canon, Nikon, Olympus, & Pentax) there was one clear winner, but with Leica the top 5 or so were all very close.

Click the video below to see Nuno and Nico go over the top 10, or keep scrolling for the text version.

No. 10 – Leica M4-P

  • The Leica M4-P is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, manual exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using Leica’s M bayonet lens mount.
  • The camera requires no batteries to function, firing fully mechanically and lacking a light meter.
  • The M4-P has the same 0.72x magnification viewfinder as the M6, and has six framelines available. It achieves this by pairing 35mm with 135mm, 50mm with 75mm, and 28mm with 90mm.
  • Introduced in 1980 and produced in Canada, the M4 was made with cheaper materials and looser tolerances than some other Leicas. It’s possible to attribute this decision to the commercial failure of the M5, but declining sales of M cameras can also be attributed to the success of Leica’s collaboration with Minolta, the CL/CLE.

No. 9 – Leica IIIa

  • The Leica IIIa is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, manual exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using the M39 threaded lens mount.
  • The camera requires no batteries to function, firing fully mechanically and lacking a light meter.
  • The IIIa is a Barnack Leica, designed with compact size in mind. It sold originally with collapsible lenses. Its rangefinder is separate from its viewfinder.
  • Introduced in 1935, the IIIa replaced the III and added 1/1000th as a maximum shutter speed. The IIIa was replaced with the IIIb in 1938.

No. 8 – Leica IIIg

  • The Leica IIIg is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, manual exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using the M39 threaded lens mount.
  • The camera requires no batteries to function, firing fully mechanically and lacking a light meter.
  • The IIIa is a Barnack Leica, designed with compact size in mind. It was sold originally with collapsible lenses. Its rangefinder is separate from its viewfinder.
  • Introduced in 1956, the IIIg replaced the IIIf and made numerous improvements. The viewfinder was much bigger, with illuminated, parallax-corrected frame lines, and the shutter speeds were made into standard geometric intervals.
  • The IIIg was produced until 1960, and actually came out after the release of the M bayonet mount Leica M3. It was the last iteration of Leica’s screw mount cameras.

No. 7 – Leica Minilux

  • The Leica Minilux is a fixed lens, auto focus, auto exposure 35mm compact camera with a 40mm f2.4 Summarit lens.
  • The camera requires a CR123 battery for all functions, including autofocus, exposure compensation, automated film advance and rewinding, and a maximum shutter speed of 1/400th.
  • The Minilux was Leica’s first attempt at a professional point & shoot companion to go with their M mount rangefinders. Previous Leica point & shoots had been collaborations with Minolta, or rebadged Minoltas, but the Minilux was targeted squarely at professionals with its features, fast lens, and build quality.
  • Introduced in 1995, the Minilux was sold alongside the M cameras until 2006, when it was replaced with the upgraded CM. The 40mm Summarit remained the same.
  • Click here to read our review of the Minilux, Minilux Zoom, and CM!

No. 6 – Leica M4

  • The Leica M4 is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, manual exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using Leica’s M bayonet lens mount.
  • The camera requires no batteries to function, firing fully mechanically and lacking a light meter.
  • The M4 was the third camera in the M line, following the M3 and M2. It took the viewfinder of the M2 and added framelines for 135mm lenses.
  • Introduced in 1967, the M4 was in production until 1970 when it was succeeded by the M5. Because of the M5’s poor sales, there was some production of original M4s from 1971 to 1975. Eventually, the M4 was redesigned and reworked to be produced at lower cost in Leica’s Canadian facilities.
  • The M4 is the last all-mechanical Leica to be hand-assembled in Wetzlar, with the same footprint as the M3.

No. 5 – Leica M7

  • The Leica M7 is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, auto exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using Leica’s M bayonet lens mount.
  • The camera requires 2x LR44 batteries for most functions, including TTL light metering and auto exposure. Most shutter speeds require the battery, with only 1/60th and 1/125th being available mechanically.
  • The M7 was the first M to offer an electronically-controlled shutter, and the first one to offer aperture-priority auto exposure as well.
  • The M7 can be found with three different viewfinder magnifications, being 0.58x, 0.72x, and 0.85x
  • Introduced in 2002, the M7 is the only 35mm Leica M to feature auto exposure. Although the MA and MP are still in production, these models are fully mechanical. The M7 was discontinued in 2018.

No. 4 – Leica MP

  • The Leica MP is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, manual exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using Leica’s M bayonet lens mount.
  • The camera requires no batteries to function, firing fully mechanically. Its light meter requires 2x LR44 batteries.
  • The MP is currently in production, and takes clear design inspiration from the original M3, with similar advance lever, rewind knob, frame counter, and frameline adjustment lever.
  • Introduced in 2003, the MP was intended to appeal to the traditionalist crowd of Leica owners. It evokes the M3’s classic design while incorporating modern features like TTL metering.
  • Unlike its partner camera, the M7, the MP does not require a battery to function. Only the light meter requires the battery.
  • The MP can be found with three different viewfinder magnifications, being 0.58x, 0.72x, and 0.85x.
  • MP stands for “mechanical perfection”.

No. 3 – Leica M3

  • The Leica M3 is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, manual exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using Leica’s M bayonet lens mount.
  • The camera requires no batteries to function, firing fully mechanically and lacking a light meter.
  • Released in 1954, the M3 was the first M. It turned the rangefinder world that Leica had created 20 years earlier completely on its head. For years after its release, other manufacturers struggled to even adequately mimic the earlier III series Leicas, which the M3 far outclassed.
  • The M3 comes with a 0.91x magnification viewfinder, making it most useful with lenses of 50mm or longer.
  • The M3 was the ideal professional camera until the rise of the Nikon F in 1959.

No. 2 – Leica M2

  • The Leica M2 is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, manual exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using Leica’s M bayonet lens mount.
  • The camera requires no batteries to function, firing fully mechanically and lacking a light meter.
  • Released in 1957, the M2 was the second M. It was intended as a slightly cheaper M3, with some features, like the automatic frame counter, removed.
  • The M2 comes with a 0.72x magnification viewfinder, differentiating it from the M3 by allowing users to use 35mm lenses without an external viewfinder. This viewfinder is generally regarded as more flexible than the M3’s.
  • The M2 was produced between 1957 and 1968.

No. 1 – Leica M6

  • The Leica M6 is an interchangeable lens, manual focus, manual exposure 35mm rangefinder camera using Leica’s M bayonet lens mount.
  • The camera requires no batteries to function, firing fully mechanically. Only the light meter is powered by 2x LR44 batteries.
  • Released in 1984, the M6 fits an off-the-shutter light meter into a similar body to the M3 and M4.
  • The M2 comes with one of three viewfinder options; 0.58x, 0.72x, and 0.85x, but they are most commonly found with the 0.58x or 0.72x.
  • In 1998 Leica replaced the original M6 with an updated body. This is referred to as the M6 TTL, which added TTL flash metering with specific Leica flashes. The body dimensions changed slightly as a result.

Conclusions

As I mentioned, this list of best Leica cameras was the closest in terms of search amounts of all the lists we’ve made. Looking over the list, I think it’s clear why. The Leica M bodies especially are all incredibly similar, with most features being quality-of-life changes or personal preference rather than completely revolutionizing the formula.

The M3 truly changed the game, offering a significant and objective upgrade from the earlier thread mount cameras. Since then, Leica has mostly filled out their product line and tried to offer a wide variety of products to cater to different photographers.

This leads to a lot of Leica cameras sharing the same basic formula, just with some very subtle differences that can have a drastic effect on the shooting experience. Hence, people doing research on Leicas will tend to look up all the different models to find the right one. It truly is impossible to accurately say which are the best Leica cameras.

That’s part of the beauty of Leica, though. It’s a niche brand that serves niche customers, but these customers can be served precisely and can find exactly what they’re looking for, all in a camera that will last generations. There’s a reason they can call themselves the most precise photographic tool in the world with a straight face.

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