11.23.2012

What is the single best camera of all time? That's easy...

It's the Leica M3. And I was going to write a long and passionate review of that amazing rangefinder camera but in the process of doing a little research I came across a really wonderful review of the camera by none other than Mr. Ken Rockwell.  Yes, yes, I know Ken can be zany and self contradictory and bombastic but this is a damn good overview of a camera that had an important part in the maturation process of photography. If nothing else his opening photograph of the M3 is gorgeous.  You have to give him credit for that...

http://www.kenrockwell.com/leica/m3.htm

Have a different idea of what might be the best camera of all time? Feel free to post your opinion in the comments. We can argue long into the night.....











37 comments:

cidereye said...

Ken is often unfairly criticised for his writings I feel. Yes, I know it's best to take much he writes with a pinch of salt but sort through and you will find plenty of gems and superb lens & camera reviews.

Best camera of all time? Agreed, has to be the M3. Never owned one but had an M2 for years which I loved but reluctantly sold this week to finally fund the purchase of maybe the 2nd greatest camera of all time - The Mamiya 6. A camera that both yourself and Rockwell also agree on. Loving that so far too.

Wille E said...

Best camera of all time - The one you got in your hand and with you.

Jeff Montgomery said...

I will always have a fond place in my heart for the Pentax K1000. That is the camera with the 50mm F2 that started my photography career. I also have a special place for the Nikon F5 and The Nikon D3s.

Matt McG said...

The Rolleiflex TLR, I think, has a pretty solid claim for 'best of all time'. It'd be easier to list the mid-20th century greats who didn't use one, than those who did. Avedon, Penn, Cecil Beaton, Bailey, etc. Countless fashion and portrait photographers. If you can live with the TLR ergonomics, you won't get a better camera in a smaller package. I can carry mine with half a dozen rolls of film, a lens hood and a couple of filters, in a bag that wouldn't fit most modern dSLRs with a kit lens.

I have an M3, and it is great, but if I only had to pick one, it'd be a Rollei.

Dave Kerr said...

I concur with your choice. I bought M3 in the late '60's, a late production. It came with a 50mm DR Summicron and a 135mm... mint condition, all for the princely sum of $325.00.
It's original owner, a retired school teacher, put 3 rolls of film through it and didn't like it.
It was later joined by an M4 and 35mm summicron. I will never part with them.
Ken's review is spot on.

Dave Jenkins said...

This is a really hard question, because it's so very much a case of different strokes for different folks. I've owned several M3s -- just sold my last one a year or so ago -- but I would have to vote for the TLR in general and the Rolleiflex in particular.

Craig said...

There are a number of best cameras. The Rolleiflex, the Hasselblad, the Leica... If I were into large format, I'd probably add one of those too.

Ken Rockwell is often unfairly criticized by people who are incapable of understanding humor in context. I disagree with him on some things too, but he's actually a very smart, very funny guy. Some of his more contrarian views are intentionally stated in a rather hyperbolic manner because (1) the shock is meant to make people think (what? M camera doesn't matter?), (2) it's funnier that way, and (3) contoversy is good for page views. But the underlying opinion still has merit and those of us who are actually thinking creatures who can understand nuance and context can appreciate what Ken has to say.

Carlo Santin said...

Hard to argue against the M3. I will own and use one at some point soon I hope. KR's review is pretty thorough and well-written. I've never really had a problem with him, he can be a source of good information, especially if you are a Nikon shooter.

I think you could easily make a case for the Hasselblad or the Rollei. I'll go with my Nikon FE because it's the one I have a lot of experience with...very simple, straightforward, always gets great results with the 50mm 1.8.

kshapero said...

I have many many cameras but the M3 always stands out not as the best camera (because that IS the one in your hand)but as the finest made camera. Imagine that it is a hand made camera from 50 years ago that still takes great pictures. Last summer I had my M3 CLA'd in Solms. When it came back, the invoice had written on it, "Good for another 50 years."

Kirk Tuck said...

Lifesize finder image with the 50mm and no shutter lag, ever. So direct. Mmmmmm.

Kirk Tuck said...

Good points. The Rollei was an important favorite...

Kirk Tuck said...

Well said Craig. I've always found him entertaining and usually find him to be very informative. I count Ken as a plus for the web.

Anonymous said...

Amazing. I wish my digital cameras felt that way.

Dave Jenkins said...

Although it's labelled a review, the piece you did for photo.net some years ago is the best article about actually using the Leica M system that I've ever read. Here's a link for those who may not have seen it. http://photo.net/equipment/leica/m6

kshapero said...

Agree, a fine read indeed.

kshapero said...

Agree, a fine read indeed.

cidereye said...

Yeah just thinking of the magnification of the M3 finder Kirk, was 0.91x IIRC no? All other Leica's after that of course were 0.72x (other than the 0.58x & 0.85x options on some later cameras).

Funny thing is I owned an M2 which was 0.72x and still have an M6 TTL with the 0.85x finder as I mainly use 50mm but the framelines were wider and thus image was larger in the M2 VF?!?! Never did work that out.

cidereye said...

It was actually what got me buying into Leica Rangefinders to begin with and never looked back since. Cracking review plus that unforgettable shot of the guy on the escalator too. Great stuff!

Michael Ferron said...

I've owned several M3's. All DS. Is it the most practical camera ever made? Not for me but it is the best quality camera ever made IMHO. Sexiest too if that term can somehow apply. If you can turn a deaf ear to mirror clunk then my still used F3 might be the finest camera MF camera I've ever used. Still like to run tri-x and tmx through it.

Libby said...

The M3 is tough to beat. I have a huge fondness for the Mamiya 7 and I get to borrow one on occasion. I'm trying to get the guy to sell it to me but he's not sure he can part with it. Hell I'd let him borrow it back.

Doug Chadwick said...

It's odd owning and using these M3s knowing they are the best camera ever made. I had mine decades ago and despite it's excellence I wanted to trade up to an M4. I still have one of my M4s, a much better camera even if it's not the best camera ever made. And in many ways I liked my M6 as much as the M4 and better than the M3.
I don't shoot much with the Leicas right now, but my NEX-7 with it's "backwards" shutterspeed dial reminds me of the M6 in a rather charming way.

Bill Beebe said...

For me the single-best camera of all time was the kinda-Leica, the Minolta XE-7 that was rebuilt as the Leica R3. Number 2 is the Olympus OM-1.

Richard Holmes said...

I only wish my M9's were as well built as my M3 is. I wish my clients would let me use my M3 for all my work and realised why I wished it. Good on Mr Rockwell and Mr Tuck.

Alex said...

Interesting!
There were two reasons why I sold my M6 long ago:
I had to press my eye into the viewfinder to see everything. Having also a Nikon F3HP which solved this problem at a fraction of cost this deemed no longer acceptable.
Compared with an M3 the M6`s shutter was way too loud. What good is a rangefinder if its not "stealth"?

Tom Swoboda said...

About twenty years ago a co-worker loaned me his M3 with a collapsible 50mm lens. He purchased it in 1956 and hadn't used it in years when he loaned it to me. I ran a dozen or so rolls of B&W through it over a few months before returning it to him. (He was trying out my Mamiya C330 while I had his camera.) I offered to buy the camera but he refused and said he wanted to leave it to his son.

I never could master the focusing system by lining up the spit images but if I took my time I got great images mostly setting the lens for distance according to my visual estimates.

I still loved shooting with it and the images it gave me were great.

Noons said...

Hmmm.... With film, I'd have to say the Nikon F6. Yes, yes: it's modern. But it's one hell of a camera, it just doesn't get any better. Then again the Konica Hexar RF and the Zeiss ZI rank very high in my film arsenal, so it's very hard to say which is "best". I never quite liked the Leica viewfinder, with the possible exception of some of the M6 models.

Dogman said...

No argument from me about the Leica M3. I've owned three Leicas in my life but never an M3. I do believe the Leica played a major role in the evolution of photography.

One could also argue for the Rolleiflex TLR as well. The original "miniature" camera that got people to accept the quality and look of pictures from smaller cameras.

If we're making a list of the top five greatest cameras, I would also include the Hasselblad due to its long history of quality results in professional use. The Nikon F would be on the list because it was the SLR that became the overwhelming choice for the day-to-day photojournalist. Finally, the Canon EOS 1 (dubbed "wunderplastik" at the time)--the first successful, truly professional autofocus SLR that changed the rules for picture-taking.

I think digital photography is still evolving. As of now, I don't see a "greatest" digital camera that would go on the list.

Craig Yuill said...

Back in the mid-1980s I had an Olympus OM-1 and a Mamiya C330f, but I badly wanted a Leica M3 or M2 (which were plentiful and relatively cheap) and a Hasselblad 500C or C/M. I couldn't afford the latter cameras without selling the former ones. I was too much into macro and close-up shooting at the time to give up the OM-1 and C330f. So I kept them and managed to do just fine.

I find it interesting that every "best camera" mentioned here is a film camera.

Kirk, I understand why you chose the M3. It's an exquisitely-made camera, and I'd love to own one. But I agree with others who responded earlier that the best camera is the one that's in your hand that you are actually shooting with.

Craig Yuill said...

Back in the mid-1980s I had an Olympus OM-1 and a Mamiya C330f, but I badly wanted a Leica M3 or M2 (which were plentiful and relatively cheap) and a Hasselblad 500C or C/M. I couldn't afford the latter cameras without selling the former ones. I was too much into macro and close-up shooting at the time to give up the OM-1 and C330f. So I kept them and managed to do just fine.

I find it interesting that every "best camera" mentioned here is a film camera.

Kirk, I understand why you chose the M3. It's an exquisitely-made camera, and I'd love to own one. But I agree with others who responded earlier that the best camera is the one that's in your hand that you are actually shooting with.

Kirk Tuck said...

the "Best camera is the one in your hands" sentiment assumes that you have access to ONLY the camera in your hands at this minute. The reality is that everyone must choose a camera at some point. The process of choosing is different than finding yourself in a situation where, miraculously you have only XX camera. So.....if you walk into your camera vault and are ready to make a selection of which camera you will take with you on your walk which one will you choose? Yes, it will be a Leica M3. And then you can truly say, "The best camera is this one that I have in my hands.."

Tony's Vision said...

That's easy for me, too. A strictly personal selection: the 1958 vintage Exakta VXIIa. Why? My first "real" camera, it opened for me that wonderful thru-the-lens vision of the world. A sturdy, hefty device, with wondrously eccentric controls: A left-handed shutter and advance lever which has made me permanently left-eyed, and committed me to nose-smudged LCDs; two knobs to set shutter speeds (and use them in the wrong order at your peril); a built-in knife (A KNIFE!) to allow removal of part of your roll of film if you are so eager to develop it you can't wait to complete all of those 36 exposures. I still possess one that operates perfectly and love it - as viewed behind glass in my display case. Thanks for the memories, Kirk!

Tony's Vision said...

FYI, here's what it looks like - http://tonymindling.blogspot.com/2010/09/so-pretty.html

jason gold said...

The Leica M3 is the most direct camera one can use as a photographer.
It means one should understand about the theory of photography, have an understanding, of seeing the picture and instantly, capturing the moment.
It is a jealous camera and will NOT tolerate riding in a bag filled with Nikon/Canon/Pentax whatever. They will be tossed out..
You can take a M3 with the 50mm and go around the world with no further accessories, lenses, bodies whatever! Travel light. Something the DSLR fraternity have lost.
Using digital made me aware of the BIG sizes, BIGGER lenses. The smaller sensor like Olympus/Panasonic/Nex all have HUGE lenses not in keeping with the small bodies.It was a no-go!
I use pocket digital point and shoot cameras.
My M3 was new in 1967. The 50mm Summicron Collapsible was traded used.It was made 1954. Except for some flare problems, it is still a wonderful lens.
Digital can promise in writing, "NOT for another 50 years.."

Anonymous said...

David Douglas Duncan's Leica M3 just sold for over $2 million.

Kirk Tuck said...

That should put the whole argument to rest... Anyone want to buy mine? I'm only asking one million....

Richard Alan Fox said...

Rolleiflex w/2.8 Planar.

Dean Silliman said...

My M3 with 50 Lux ASPH is my cure for GAS, cure for blaming the equipment, cure for thinking about gear as opposed to content. It's a zen-like state to feel the equipment just get out of the way and feel that I don't need (or even want) wides, zooms, backups, etc. If you can't get a fantastic shot with an M3 and 50 of your choosing then it was not meant to be.