Desert Island Cameras No. 04 – Leica Edition with Japan Camera Hunter Bellamy Hunt

We’re back with another edition of Desert Island Cameras, the recurring feature in which we spotlight the best of the best from a given camera brand. And today we’re picking our one-and-done Leicas with a very special guest – it’s Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter fame.

For those not in the know, Bellamy has been one of the foremost experts on Leica and film cameras for a long, long time. Through his camera sourcing service, his writing, and his website, he’s helped countless new and experienced photo geeks learn about and get their hands on their dream cameras. More than this, he’s a class act and a nice guy. So if you’ve never visited his site, read this post and then take a look.

Now down to business. Which Leica would each of us choose if we could each choose only one? Here are our absolute, be-all-end-all, stuck-with-it-for-the-rest-of-our-lives Leica cameras.


Josh’s Pick

So we’ve come to the big question – which Leica is the best Leica? Though any answer will probably incite a riot in the comments, I’ll take a swing. There’s really only one choice for me, and it happens to be my daily shooter. It’s the Leica M2… paired with a Nikkor 5cm F/2 LTM lens.

Before we get to the blasphemy of the latter, let’s focus on the greatness of the former. The Leica M2 is arguably the quintessential Leica. Yes, the M3 began the legend of the M, but if you look closely at every M that came later, each iteration looked and operated more like the M2 than the M3. And for good reason – the M2 introduced an improved finder lighting system, introduced the clean, bezel-free design which remains the hallmark of every subsequent M, and gave us more usable frame lines (35/50/90 compared to the M3’s 50/90/135). There really isn’t much room for improvement; even Leica’s top-of-the-line MP, introduced in 2004, can be described as an M2 with an automatic frame counter and a light meter. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess.

Now, the lens. Many would have my head for picking a lowly Japanese LTM lens over Leica’s masterpieces, and to them I say “come at me”. The Nikkor-H.C. 5cm F/2 is one of the finest, most affordable, and most capable rangefinder lenses around. Its build quality stacks up to any offering from Leica, its front element is hard-coated and resistant to scratches (unlike certain vintage Leica lenses), and it focuses as close as a DR Summicron in macro mode (0.45m) for a fraction of the price. Even better, it’s a clone of the legendary Zeiss Sonnar 50mm F/2, which until very recently was never made for M-mount cameras. Beat that, Leica.

The best part about this combo? It won’t break the bank. The M2 is, on average, one of the least expensive Ms, rarely exceeding the $800 barrier, and user-grade M2s with flaky (but easily replaceable) vulcanite can be found for a cool $550, with patience. The Nikkor-H.C. 5cm F/2 is also relatively inexpensive, running right around $250 on eBay at the time of this article’s publication, a mere fraction of what it would cost to buy a standard Leica Summi-whatever.

Given the choice between this kit and even the most expensive all-Leica setup I’d gladly choose this one, every time.


James’ Pick

The best Leica is the Sofort. No, I’m kidding. Chill out. The best Leica is actually the Minilux. Ha, got you again. But seriously, the Leica that I’d choose to live with forever is one that, while not quite as polarizing as those other two cameras, is still a bit heretical within the cult of Leica. It’s the Leicaflex SL2, and before you dismiss me entirely, let me explain why.

I cut my teeth on SLRs. When I first attempted photography with a capital P, I began on a Minolta DSLR. I fell in love with the craft, even if I was quite talentless. Almost two decades later and still as lacking in talent as ever, I’ve shot every kind of camera there is. Rangefinders, large format, TLRs, pinhole, box cameras – I’ve dabbled. Oh, how I’ve dabbled. But, as they say, you never forget your first, and even though I’ve been using an M6 every day for the past month, I’ll always choose an SLR over a rangefinder when pressed.

I picked the SL2 because it’s the last truly Leitz-developed classic SLR, and the most advanced of the pre-electronic era. Production of this final iteration of the SL series began in 1974 and lasted just two years, after which it was replaced by the R series, a range of SLRs co-developed (and many would say mostly developed) by Minolta. These cameras are fantastic machines, but the SL2 is just a bit more timeless.

It offers enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life, is capable of taking nearly any type of photo, and it looks simply stunning. The SL series’ limited range of lenses makes collecting the entire kit something of a relief (just try buying every lens made for your classic Canon or Nikon – too much). And in a time when virtually every photo geek knows about the M series (and has one hanging around his neck) the Leica SLRs are something of a wonderful change of pace. Its rarity compared to the earlier SL and its improved specification over that machine make it the Holy Grail of Leica SLRs. And if I’m picking one machine for the rest of my life, hey, I may as well pick the best.


Bellamy’s Pick

Some people might think that due to the nature of my job I would have a really hard time thinking about what my Desert Island Leica would be. There are so many choices and so many new things that it would be an impossible decision. But it is actually quite the opposite.

When I first started working as JapanCameraHunter I had a dream to own all the Leicas, and that I did over time. But right at the beginning I learned a valuable lesson and that was to find the camera you are happy with so that you don’t try to keep them all. So I did. And it was the best decision I ever made.

I have my Desert Island Leica, the Leica MP-6. To me it is perfect and all I need in a Leica camera. I have written in the past about how I think the M6 is the best Leica to own, and it is when you consider all the criteria of value and ease of use. But if you throw a few of those criteria out of the window and start thinking with your heart you almost inevitably end up at the MP.

The MP-6 is the perfect mix for me though, rare enough to be cool, without being rare enough to cost me one of my internal organs. It can be used without the batteries which is perfect. And as I have mine fitted with the black paint 35mm Summicron ASPH lens and the Leicavit, it is also heavy enough to use as a hammer to build my coconut palm shack (I am not joking, it is really heavy).

True, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of a more modern camera, but I like to keep things simple and I know that this camera would continue to work long after I am a sun-pickled lunatic wearing a coconut bra.


And those are our picks. Pretty amazing machines, all of them. But what do you think? Was your favorite Leica passed over? Let us hear about it in the comments.

Many thanks to Bellamy for contributing to this post. If you’re pining for a very special Leica to shoot or collect, pay him a visit. He’s a master at finding the best in the world.

And stay tuned for upcoming editions of Desert Island Cameras – we’ve got more special guests on the way.

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    mmarquar
    July 10, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Like the Leica liturgies.

  • Reply
    Tobias W.
    July 10, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    When all you use is a 50mm lens, I’d choose the M3 over the M2 or any other M body any day of the year.

    Why?

    If you only use a 50mm lens, then why wouldn’t you want the best viewfinder magnification available for that focal length? That’s what the M3 offers. The Leica M3 has a 0.91 magnified viewfinder, the M2 only offers a measly 0.72 magnification. It’s easier to frame shots with a 50mm lens on the M3 as your viewfinder doesn’t shrink down to this tiny area like on the M2 or any other M body. This also matters for focus precision as the viewfinder magnification impacts the effective base length. The M2 and M3 share the same rangefinder base length of 69.25mm. The effective base length of the M3 with its 0.91 magnification is hence 63mm while it shrinks to 49.9mm on the M2. That’s a more than 20% decrease and you pay for this with more focus imprecision when shooting wide open.

    And if you really want to shoot 35mm on a Leica M3 – you can still do this easily. 35mm lenses with the goggles attached are easy enough to find and are actually often cheaper than the same lens without the goggles. You really lose nothing when choosing a M3 over a M2.

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      July 10, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      We love your passion, Tobias.

      • Reply
        Tobias W.
        July 10, 2017 at 3:47 pm

        Thank you for your passive aggressive compliment. Appreciated. 🙂

        • Reply
          James Tocchio
          July 10, 2017 at 3:51 pm

          Eh? Not at all, T. Spend some time around here and you’ll surely know we’ve got a really great group of positive and friendly readers. Your comment covered all the bases, and the whole point of the post was to get people sharing their favorite Leicas, so thanks! There’s no denying the legendary status of the M3. Josh probably would have written back as well, but he’s off in Canada doing all kinds of fun young person stuff.

    • Reply
      Josh Solomon
      July 13, 2017 at 3:30 pm

      Thanks for your comment Tobias! I should mention here that my choice for the M2 is also a personal one. I wear glasses and the M2 is, for me, the better camera for 50mm as a glasses wearer due to the lower magnification. The lower magnification also offers a larger space around the framelines (again, the M3’s finder as a glasses-wearer doesn’t offer this) which i’ve used as a compositional aid quite often. As for rangefinder baselength, the M3 does have the edge but i’ve found my M2 focuses just fine with my 50.

      Cheers!

  • Reply
    jim0266
    July 10, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Love the M2. Even better, the M2-R.

  • Reply
    Stéphane
    July 11, 2017 at 4:28 am

    Can the Minolta CLE count as a “Leica-like” one? If yes, I’ll take the CLE…. And if no, well, I’ll keep my CLE 😉

  • Reply
    Michael
    July 11, 2017 at 5:31 am

    M4.
    It takes everything that the M2 had and made it faster and easier. From loading the film, auto resetting counter, and rewinding, it’s all easier and faster. After the M4 the self timer disappeared and I use the self timer quite a bit. Everything that came after the M4 feels somehow cheapened too.

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      July 11, 2017 at 8:01 am

      The M4 is fantastic. I know some people hate the rewind lever, but I like it.

  • Reply
    FlukyShooter
    July 11, 2017 at 8:37 am

    I’m surprised to see the SL2 instead of the SL. I’ve never tried the SL2 but I read everywhere that it is not as good as the SL, specially with the shutter speed issue.
    Nevertheless Leicaflex SL(2) are probably the best film SLR ever made, in a quality point of view!
    Nice to see a big Leica tank SLR tho! 🙂

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      July 11, 2017 at 9:38 pm

      I mean, the SL2 improved on the SL in a whole lot of ways. You can use more lenses, better meter, better viewfinder, etc. And I assume you mean the thing that people say about the shutter being unreliable at 1/2000th of a second? Let’s face it, people exaggerate these issues on the internet. But keep your eyes out. We’ll be posting a full writeup on the SL2 in the coming weeks.

      • Reply
        FlukyShooter
        July 12, 2017 at 9:22 am

        Oh that’s a nice news!
        I look forward to it !!!

  • Reply
    NATO
    July 12, 2017 at 10:25 am

    M6 w/ Konica M-Hexanon 50mm f2.

    I feel like the camera is a no brainer since I have two M6’s and have been shooting them exclusively for the past five years.

    The lens is the tricky part for me as I like the 35 and 50 focal lengths equally. I settled on this Konica lens due to the fact that it sits somewhere between the two focal lengths. It’s not a true 50, it’s more like a 45. It’s also light, sharp, small, build quality is great, and has a built in hood; oh and you can pick them up relatively cheap when compared to their Leica counterparts.

    Honorable mention for lens is a tie between the Zeiss ZM 35 f2.8 and the Konica M-Hexanon 35 f2.

    • Reply
      Josh Solomon
      July 13, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Ooh that Konica glass… very nice choice!

      • Reply
        NATO
        July 23, 2017 at 11:26 am

        This was tough for me. My Zeiss 35 is still hands down the sharpest lens I have ever used and it has the really high contrast look that I like to shoot on the street. However the Konica lenses render black and white tones a little more “classic” thus the reason two of there lenses made my list. It really depends on the film in my cameras to be 100% honest. Tmax could go either way, Trix for me has to be shot with the Zeiss and Kentmere 100 or Acros must be shot with Konica.

  • Reply
    bodegabayf2
    July 13, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    After owing and shooting M2, M3, M4, M6TTL and MP…I’m going with the M7. I know the Leica purists are screaming, but I really like the M7.

    • Reply
      James Tocchio
      July 13, 2017 at 9:47 pm

      Aren’t the Leica purists always screaming about something? Shots fired. I’m kidding guys.

  • Reply
    bodegabayf2
    July 13, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    I meant…”owning.” Having a glass of Pinot while commenting is not always good. 🙂

  • Reply
    Dr. Ko
    July 14, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    Surprisingly I’m also using a Leica&Japanese Lens combo. In my case an M2&Canon 35/1.7 SM. While contrast wide open is low, resolution is nice. Nice travel combo, although in cases I feel the need for a light meter I opt for the M6, like for my Venice trip.
    BUT for the Desert Island I would grab my black painted Leica M3 with the 50/1.4 Asph. M3 loves 50 mm especially if you’re wearing glasses!

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