Looking for information on M cameras? Here’s the ultimate Leica M buyers guide with information from the film to digital M cameras, including sample images, comparisons & reviews.

Table Of Contents

Hi, my name is Sven the Leicaphile and this is the Ultimate Leica M buyers guide. This will give you an overview of the M system. Just a quick note that this Leica buyers guide is only an overview, there’s links to the individual M cameras for more in depth information.

Since Leicas are linked to the history of photography, let’s first get back to the past and see where the Leica M comes from.

Leica M camera
Welcome to the Leica M buyers guide

1. Leica M history

Let’s start this Leica M buyers guide with the man that started it all.

Oskar barnack leica

Oskar Barnack wanted a small camera to go take on his hikes and convinced his boss, Ernst Leitz II to create the camera to resounding success. This was the Leica I and it supported 39mm thread lenses (Also known as Leica Thread mount). Fast forward a few years and Leica came out with the Leica M3, the first to support the M mount, the same mount that is still supported to this day.

flood in wetzlar
Before Leicas photographers had to haul heavy gear

Before we get into it, the “M” means Messuccher, which is rangefinder in the German language. The pinnacle of the film Ms is the Leica M6 as it only has minimal electronics.

Leica entered the digital game with the Leica M8, with the only M being smaller than the 35mm frame size.

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There’s no two ways about it, apples to apples the Leica Ms are some of the most expensive cameras you can get. But why? The long story short is, these cameras are handmade, while you could go and get cheap clothes at Wallmart, you cannot expect the same prices from an artisan because one is pushed out in the thousands from a factory while the other might done one every few days. There’s more to it, you might want to read: Why are Leicas expensive and are they worth it.

By the way, fun fact. A Japanese man was revolted by the prices of Leicas and made his own cheaper version, this is the birth of Kwanon, that will later be known as Canon.

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The beloved Leica M9 [1]

Now that we’ve seen where the cameras come from, let’s move this Leica M buyers guide forward.

2. Why buy a Leica M camera?

Our first topic in this Leica M buyers guide are the reasons why. Why would you get a Leica this when there’s only dozens of other cameras you can get. Fair enough! Below are the best reasons to get yourself an M camera. Feel free to skip this part of the Leica M buyers guide if you already know you want an M.

2.1. Handmade in Germany

All Leica Ms are handmade by a specialist somewhere in Weztlar, Germany. This is a big reason behind the price of Leicas. Instead of having thousands go off an assembly line, there’s only a few that are made per day, making Leicas pretty rare, therefore on the expensive side because the supply is limited.

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2.2 Smallest Full frame system

All Leicas are either 35mm film or full frame cameras for digital ones. There is an exception in the form of the M8 that is a smaller sensor. But all and all Leica Ms are some of the smallest full frame cameras and lenses you can get.

There’s some size rivalry with the Sony A7 cameras and now the Sony A7C that has a rangefinder type body. However there is no contest when it comes to the lenses, the Leica M lenses are some of the smallest full frame lenses that you can get, so when you put them together, the system overall is some of the smallest full frame camera+lens combo you can get.

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(Leica M buyers guide) Reason for an M: Portability [2]

2.3 Real rangefinders

All Leica M cameras have real rangefinders as a focus mechanism. The appeal of modern cameras is that what you see on the screen is what you get. The Leica Ms don’t work that way, what you see is essentially the world trough a window and framelines superimposed on it.

So you have no information about how your final image will look like that is why this is not really a beginner friendly camera system.

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The flipside is, once you get used to it and use zone focusing, the focusing really gets out of the way. You can simply look and shoot without thinking about focusing. Moreover the viewfinder is at the complete end of the camera so you always have most of your face uncovered so that while you are shooting, you are on the lookout for your next shot.

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2.4 Simplicity & Experience

Why are more experienced photographers drool over the Leica Ms then? It’s really because of the simplicity and experience. Fire up any modern camera and the screen is filled with more data than an airplane.

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Inside an M camera all you will see is your frame lines and an exposure indicator. That is it. This type of simplicity is why a lot of photographers flock to Leica Ms as they allow you to be with just you and your images.

2.5 Image quality

This is another reason for Leicas. The sharpness of the lenses on the full frame sensors are really something, and under the right conditions you can even get the Leica look. These are images that almost feel and look medium format when you see them.

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(Leica M buyers guide) IQ is why many love Leicas [10]

2.6 Longevity

All Leica M cameras are built like tanks, and many keep their cameras for years on end. They are solid, made of aluminum and not plastic and they have a long shelf life. Leica doesn’t play the camera game where they keep adding features, making their cameras dated by the year, so when you get your M camera you keep it.

You can see this with Sony, they constantly make more and more of their A7 and RX100 cameras, and there’s almost 10 of them now. Each has to have the latest and greatest in terms of features, while Leica goes the opposite way, it’s all about photography and not a specs race, so their older cameras are still used to this day.

Some people still shoot the M9 and that was released in 2009.

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3. Why NOT to buy a Leica M

And this is the part of this Leica M buyers guide where I’ll try to dissuade you from getting one. No, really. Leica M cameras are NOT for everyone. Here’s why you wouldn’t want a Leica M

3.1. Not beginner friendly

Leica Ms are not really for beginners at all. This camera assumes you have a good grasp of photography fundamentals like Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO. Because the viewfinder is a real rangefinder.

It is simply a little window into the world. Your focus is made in a little patch in the center and you have minimal information about your exposure. So when you shoot you have no idea of how your image will look like, that is why you should have a good grasp of photography beforehand, to know that changing the settings will do A or B.

You can always use the back screen or the external electronic viewfinders for newer Leica Ms.

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3.2. Not great at high ISOs

When it comes to high ISOs, Leica M cameras aren’t too great. The latest ones are, but cameras like the M9 gets a beating from competitor cameras like the Fuji X-pro line. The flip side is, there’s a lot of fast f1.4 lenses in the world of Leicas so higher ISOs are often not needed. This is another matter for the M10R however, the high ISOs are pretty stunning even against the current low light champ, the Sony A7 series.

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3.3. The viewfinder dance

Things are pretty straightforward if you want to get another lens for any modern camera. Get it, put it on, done. There’s more to this for Leica M cameras. Remember that these are real rangefinders and the way you frame are with superimposed frame lines. The problem? There’s only a few focal lengths built in: 28, 35, 50, 75, 90, 135mm. And not all Leicas have those, especially the older ones.

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This has all of the most popular focal lengths covered but what if you want let’s say a 15mm? That is when you have to add an external viewfinder specifically for 15mm on the hotshoe. Add any other non supported lens and you will need a viewfinder.

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The way around this is to either use the back screen or get yourself an electronic viewfinder so that what you see is what you get because it shows you what the sensor sees. But only later Ms have this feature.

3.4. Another option

Not interested anymore? If you REALLY want everything good about the Leica M cameras but without any of the quirks, the best one to check out is the Leica Q2: Full frame, AF, EVF and beautiful lens.

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4. What is the best Leica M camera?

As a rule of thumb, the latest M is usually the best. Leica hears what people say about their previous version and makes it even better. So as it stands right now the best Leica M camera is the Leica M10 / M10R. You can also check out the list of the best Leica M cameras.

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5. Leica M buyers guide: All Leica M cameras

If you want the list of all Leica Ms released, this is below. I have split the list of all Leica M cameras between the film and digital M cameras. If you are wondering if you should get a film or digital one, check out: Leica m digital vs film.

5.1. List of all Leica M film cameras

This wouldn’t e a Leica M buyers guide without talking about film. Just in case you don’t know, they are still sought after and shot today. Here’s a list of mostly all Leica M film cameras released.

wdt_ID Model Exposure Explanation Get it
Model Exposure Explanation Get it

For more information on the film M cameras like the magnification, light meter support & more, check out the Leica M film comparison article.

5.2. List of all Leica M digital cameras

If Leica made a mistake, it is with their “Typ” cameras. It made everything confusing and hard to understand for newcomers, so instead of going with the normal “numbers” nomenclature like M10, they instead named their cameras M and added a Typ 240 at the end.

And then there’s the varients too, so the Leica M Monochrom is NOT the Leica M10 Monochrom… and not the Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246). Anyways, here’s the list of ALL the Leica Digital rangefinders from the M8, the first digital rangefinder.

wdt_ID Model Sensor Size Megapixels Explanation Price Check
Model Sensor Size Megapixels Explanation Price Check

For more information on the digital Ms, like max ISO, max FPS & more, check out the Leica M comparison.

5.3. Which Leica M have EVF Compatibility?

There’s 3 large generations of M cameras. There’s the early ones M8-M9, there’s the Typ family and then there’s the M10. In general the first generation has no EVF compatibility while the Typ family supports the Leica EVF2 and the latest generation supports the Visoflex Typ 020. Check the EVF column in the above list of all Leica M cameras for EVF compatibility

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5.4. Which Leica M cameras are without screen?

In order to makes the whole shooting experience more film-like, some Leicas omit the screen completely. The two Leicas without a screen are the Leica M-D (Typ 262) and the Leica M10-D. Changing the settings is done trough an app.

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5.5. Which Leica Ms have video capabilities?

Leica M cameras are primarily photographer’s cameras so their main strengths are still images. But Leica did dable in letting their M cameras record video, but nothing beyond 1080p. To see the compatible cameras, look in the video column in the list of Leica M cameras above.

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5.6. Leica M models explained

Confused yet? Don’t be. Leica released a few cameras but multiple variants and that is where confusion arises. Long story short:

  • P: Means they dropped the red logo for a more stealthy look
  • R: Means upgraded resolution
  • D: Means they dropped the display (no screens)
  • E: Means it is entry level

With that in mind, here’s the Leica M models explained, click on each model for detailed information. This Leica M buyers guide only offers summaries, the dedicated pages have everything from variants to known issues.

Leica M3FilmFirst oneClick here
Leica M2FilmComes after M2Click here
Leica M1FilmClick here
Leica M4FilmStart of a new eraClick here
Leica M5FilmFirst with light meterClick here
Leica M6FilmMost loved film LeicaClick here
Leica M7FilmRequires battery for functionClick here
Leica M8DigitalFirst digital, lots of issuesClick here
Leica M9DigitalCCD, needs upgraded sensorClick here
Leica M240DigitalCMOS, supports electronic viewfindersClick here
Leica M10DigitalMost powerful digitalClick here

Click on the above links for information about the Ms of different genration but also their varients like the M-D.

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6. What Leica M should I buy?

If you are ready (this is a Leica M buyers guide after all), determine if you want a digital or film Leica M. Once you do, check out these articles:

Film M cameras

You can check out the list of the 5 Best Leica M film cameras, or if you are on a budget, the list of the cheapest M film cameras.

Leica M digital cameras

You can check out the list of the 7 best Leica M cameras. If you are on a budget, check out the list of the cheapest Leica M cameras.


While there’s no direct alternatives, you might find some similar cameras, including cameras that shoot M lenses natively here: Leica alternatives.

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7. Leica M tutorial

If you are reading this Leica M buyers guide, you probably don’t have one yet. But if you just got your Leica M and don’t know how to use it, you’ll want to check out my tutorial on how to use Leica M cameras. It covers everything so that you can use your camera like a pro.

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8. Leica M Buyers guide: Beginner FAQ

This is the final point of the Leica M buyers guide. If you are a beginner, you probably have some questions, here’s a few answers to popular questions about the Leica M cameras.

8.1. Are Leica M cameras and lenses full frame?

All Leica M lenses are full frame. When it comes to M cameras, all of them are full frame with the exception of the Leica M8 that is an APSH sensor with a crop factor of 1.33x.

8.2. Are Leica M cameras autofocus?

No, the Leica M cameras are not autofocus. All of them are manual focus, even the latest ones because this camera line is built around the M mount and M mount lenses are manual only.

8.3. Are Leica m lenses weather sealed?

Leica never specified if their M lenses are weather sealed. Having weather sealing with an IP rating on your lenses means you are liable if it breaks and most manufacturers don’t want that liability. However the Leica M lenses are void of any electronics.

8.4. Are Leica M cameras weather sealed?

While the lenses might be fully mechanical, the Leica bodies are not. They are full of electronics. Many Leica M shooters report taking their M cameras on all sorts of adventures but since there is no official IP rating, this is not recommended.

8.5. Where is Leica m serial number?

Leica camera serial number location
Leica M buyers guide: Finding your serial

You can find the Leica M serial number on the the top plate for older Ms. For newer M cameras you will have to check the hotshoe. The serial number is dug in the hotshoe itself.


I hope you enjoyed this Leica M buyers guide. There’s plenty to chose from, either digital or film and each has their particular personalities so to speak making each unique. Whatever you chose, the zen-like feeling is unlike any other camera, some come close but only Leicas are Leicas.

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