This camera works so well in every way, it is hard to imagine that its original design by Oskar Barnack is more than 80 years old. It is solid, well made, and feels good in the hand. When you press the shutter button a beautiful sound resonates, not too loud, not too quiet, full of self assured confidence, as if to say, “This is going to be a damn fine photo.” My camera was made in the early 50’s so it has been around 60 years or so, however I think it will easily be taking photos for someone in another 60 years.
I don’t think there is much in the camera world that came since that can beat it for what it was designed to do. Later Leica’s and slr’s were all larger. Smaller cameras pretty well scrimped in some way or were not offered in full manual. Oskar Barnack was apparently an outdoors enthusiast, but also an asthmatic, so he wanted to design something compact and light enough to easily carry on hikes, but with lens quality sufficient to handle enlargements to a decent size (at that time large format cameras were the standard, and a medium format size was considered a minimum requirement for quality photographs).
If it is good enough for Henri.. This camera was a favorite of Henri Cartier-Bresson. When talking photos of people on the street, he would walk cupping it hidden in his hand so as not to bring attention to himself, bringing it up for a photo at just the right moment. The “decisive moment”. He also used the M series Leicas later, but in one interview I saw he said he preferred he older barrack because of its perfect size.
Yeah, you have to focus, figure the exposure, wind with a knob, use a separate viewfinder for lenses other than 50mm. Loading film does take an extra minute. In other words you have to be a photographer. Luckily it becomes second nature with just a bit of practice.
The other day I was was enjoying a stroll through a popular park and I saw someone walking through with his “deji kame” (digital camera in Japanese) firing bursts of around 20 frames at each “subject” as he walked through, barely stopping for the time that it took to do that and a good portion of that time was looking at the screen afterwards (maybe 5 seconds?). He must have had thousands of near identical frames of “stuff” on that camera. I could rant about this kind of person, but hey, to each their own. Well, the “Leica Barnack” (as they call them in Japan) is not for doing that kind of thing, obviously:-)
I have only 3 lenses for it, a f2.0/50 Summitar, an Elmar 4/90 and a 4/135. Leitz glass is all you need to say. They are all great lenses, however I mainly just use the Summitar, which is collapsable making the camera more pocketable.
Looking through what I’ve taken in the last couple years I can see that I have used this camera more than my others.
Here are a couple I took with it last weekend walking in the early morning near my house in Yokohama. These are with Acros at ei400, semi stand developed with Caffenol (75min/20c) in my kitchen sink.