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Oh, look, a Leica. Wait, what is this… thing? Yes, this hump over it is a prism. This is a SLR camera, the last (well actually there was a R9, with identical external design) of the Leica R line. Yes, R stands for reflex.

It’s not that they were bad cameras (they weren’t), it’s just that they were hopelessly outdated in their time. Canon and Nikon gave infinitely more value to the pro photographer for his money, not only buck for buck, but in absolute terms: less weight, electric winding and rewinding, autofocus, high frame rate… If you were a pro, Leica-mania (or Leica bigotry) were the most powerful arguments to invest into the R system. It’s just that…

It’s just that it wasn’t even quite Leica. The first bodies of the system, which were designed and produced in-house, were very good cameras but not state-of-the art equipment. Their production cost was so high that they were even sold below that for the sake of expanding the system. To survive, Leica allied with Minolta; the results of this were that the next generation of Leica SLRs (from the R3 to the R8) were glorified Minoltas. Don’t take me wrong: you can say few things better of a camera than being as well made as a Japanese SLR from the 70s; it’s just there’s something wrong in paying for a Leica and having a Minolta. Then came the R8 and R9. Those were made in Germany again, and designed in-house. Just look at the R8: I say ‘designed’ cause I can’t say here what I really think about this design, as this is a polite blog. It involves a sphincter and bodily fluids. Well, not that fluid. You get the picture. Of course all this didn’t really matter, because the camera is just the light-tight box where lenses are screwed on. It is the glass, that world-class heavenly Leica glass what really mattered.

It just turns out that half, yes, half the lenses of the system were not even made or optically designed by Leica. The extreme wide angles were Zeiss, while most of the zooms were… Sigma. The most famous and desired lens in the system was also third-party: the legendary Angènieux 45-90; we’ll talk about this lens some day. That means that you could be holding a Minolta camera made in Portugal with a Sigma lens made in Japan and be certain that you were shooting Leica, but that would have been just cheating yourself.

Even though, I must admit that while the external design is a shit (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and in their day there were better options for pros and afficionadoes, the Rs make great cameras to shoot today. Most of us, I mean, those who own Leica R bodies and a selection of lenses today, do not use them for press photography (where there are far better alternatives, on the other hand), and I have to say that the R system really excels as an amateur and ‘artistic’ system. Both bodies and lenses are excellent performers (even the Sigmas) and there are a bunch of accessories and out there, hardly used. All those haven’t really become collectibles, so they can be bought for a fraction of their original price, which leads me to…

Come on. We all know that money doesn’t make happiness. Cameras do

3 thoughts on “DisasteR

  1. One of the funniest and serious blog I ever found about photography. Congratulations Ignasi. Very good info and incredible writing, and also a very good english.
    I would like to comment about the Leica SLR’s. I bought you a Leicaflex a year ago, and also I got a R3 and of course a kit of lenses I already used with Canon FF. The Leicaflex is my favourite SLR (I have Nikon F1, F2,FM2, Rollei SL350, Pentax SP and many others) I love the simplicity, the bright viewfinder , the meter and of course the lenses. The R3, in my opinion, is a wonderful camera, as far as I know this camera was made by Leica, it wasn’t till the R4 when Minolta made the Leicas. About the zooms and the Wides, I recall that was also Minolta who made them, althought the 19mm and the 28mm were Leica products, Btw extraordinary lenses. Only the 21mm and 24mm were Minoltas.
    Maybe I am wrong…. I am sure you know more about cameras than me. But i would like to clarify these points.
    One more thing for potentional buyers, Ignasi is a very respetable seller, and also have very good prices.

    1. Thanks, really for recommending me as a seller. It is great that your customers are happy.
      About the Leica Rs, yes, the Leica R3 was made by Leica, on Minolta blueprints. It was made in Germany: the first SLR made in Solms, sharing this honor with the R8. Other Leica Rs were also made by Leica on Minolta blueprints in Portugal, but I agree, the R3 is a more beautiful and consistent camera than the rest of the Rs.
      According to the Leica R Compendium by Jonathan Eastland, a very official Leica book, of the 41 lenses ever sold under Leica brand for the R system, 24 were designed by Leitz (of which four were designed and made by Leitz Canada), while 17 were made by other manufacturers: 2 by angenieux, 6 by Minolta, 3 by Sigma (which were sold as “kit lenses” with new bodies) 2 by Zeiss and 4 by Schneider. Yes, it was a little exaggerated that half of them were made by third parties, but 17 in 41 is quite close to that. Particularly, the 15mm Elmar was Zeiss, and there was also a 21mm Minolta lens. All the tilt and shift lenses were Schneider. That’s true, the 19mm and 28mm with a floating element were Leitz, my bad, I had forgotten those.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love all those lenses (specially the Angènieux zooms, try to get one nowadays, it’s impossible), and you could frankly do worse than having Schneider and Minolta lenses in your system, but I was a little bit disappointed when I learned that so many of them were not Leitz. I mean, people wanted to buy Leica and Leitz kept feeding them other brands. Makes me wonder if Leitz was really ready to get into pro SLR business. Now I thkink they weren’t.

  2. Thanks for the reply Ignasi. The Leicas SLR’S in my honest opinion were build as a reflex version of the M’s. But as you say this was a DisasteR. The Leica way of shooting can not translate to reflex world, a great mistake. At least the lenses can still make wonders in Eos and Nikon cameras.
    I tested an Angenieux zoom once, and I did not find it as good as the people says. Uhmm.
    My likings are a bit odd.
    Thanks for all.

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