Leica The Leica look - what makes it, what is it?


Ottawa, Canada
I've read discussions about the 'Leica look' but I've never really figured out what it is. It seems to involve b&w and people in impromptu and not posed situations. I thought that BB's photo of her daughter sleeping had the look. It had a quality that moved it out of the snapshot or portrait categories. I've taken a few that might have it.

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What do you think? Is there a Leica look?
You know Kathy, I'm not quite sure how to articulate what I think the Leica look is but it seems there's sort of a three dimensional quality about the photos. I don't want to sound as though I've gulped the whole pitcher of Kool-Aid down quite yet because I know we can all point to images made by other cameras that give us this feeling. As a matter of fact I think the photo of mine you might be referring to of my sleeping daughter was actually taken with an E-P2, but I thank you for the real compliment regarding the photo no matter which camera was used in its making. I happen to love it, but I am extremely prejudiced.;)

I feel as though the Leica look may have to do with a combination of things, from the tones to the quality of light that the sensor and lens pick up that can give us the opportunity of bringing it all together for "the look". The three dimensions part seems a biggie to me, however I am not sure if I have enough miles to speak with much authority. I know that with today's digital photos that software can and does come into play, too.

I think your first one has what I'd call a particularly strong Leica look to it. Maybe it's the glints of light reflecting off the glassware, the men's rings, their eye glasses, the leather, the bald head of the gesticulating fellow in part but there's, to me anyway, a really strong feeling that makes me feel as though I am just on the outside of this scene...almost with my nose pressed up against the glass. It definitely has that 3D thing going on for me.

The second one has it a little less for me maybe because it's a less varied photo tonally speaking and there's not so much light at play, though we do see it nicely on those bicycle spokes and wheels and on the car. I do sense the depth but not as strongly in this one.

I have a feeling that that "Leica look" is something that comes together when we have done something especially "right" with the camera and our own vision. Let's face it, getting an exposure down does help...but I can still think of some of my own where the exposure is way off and yet, I still see a certain something... I'm probably rambling a bit now.

Maybe it's better if we can't define the Leica look but we can know it when we see it?
I'll be interested to read what others think about the "Leica look". I know we've got several other members using Leica cameras...including this one. What else do you think about it? If you're reading this and think we're completely deluded - that's OK, too.;)
Is there something of a Leica look? I've photographed for one day with a M8 and a 35mm Summilux and a 50mm Noctilux. And yest, the look is distinctive and pretty.
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The above photograph was taken with the 35mm Summilux at pretty low light.

I however do photograph a lot with a Canon 10D and a Helios 58mm lens from the USSR and I can tell you that look is very, very distinctive too and in my opinion more appealing than the look of the X1 as far as I have seen (see example below).
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I think it has more to do with the illuminating effect of the faster Leica lenses in combination to their drawing, rendering, and sharpness that makes people talk about the Leica look. If I didn't tell people that the photograph below was taken with a Ricoh GRD3 at f/1.9 would you have considered this to be the Leica look too?
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But to be fair and honest I fail to see anything of a Leica look in the above images. These images look rather flat with low contrast and 3D effect.
Lens and sensor size impact the "look"

I'm not sure what makes the "look", but I've often noticed that the images that work are the ones where the photographer has nailed the focus. Not easy since they're all (exept the LX1) manual focus systems. The impact of perfect focus is intensified when using a high quality lens that can resolve high levels of detail in the center of the frame. The two images above seem to be slightly out of focus.
Of course with a large sensor size it's easier to get a strong bouquet effect. Many of the Leica shots will exploit the wide aperture capabilities of their lenses bringing that boquet into the "look". In the images above there are elements that are out of the DOF, but are not as blurred as we would expect them to be when shooting with a Leica at wide aperture.
I agree with the previous comments about light. The M9 seems to be capable of capturing a high amount of dynamic range with smooth transitions throughout the range. Both samples posted seem to have low amounts of detail in the highlights.
Wouter and Scott, by the way welcome Scott, thank you for bringing up the sensor and its size. I do feel that this is probably why I have personally found the X1 so different from both my former and current Olympus PENs. I'm not qualified to discuss much on the technical side at all, I just know what I see when I see certain photographs.

Wouter, I do believe I could easily be fooled by different photos and believe that they had the Leica look, and I have noticed your photos have a lovely quality of light to them. I'm not sure if they're all Ricoh or not. So is it the sensor, the lens, the photographer and/or all of them? I do believe that the X1 offers a Leica look, certainly not all the time, nor with every photographer, and not in the same way that its older and larger 1/2 siblings do - but I do see something different going on in a number of photos both here and elsewhere. JanCdeRidder has posted some as has christilou - her men in white hats at the races has a certain quality to me...is it The Leica Look? I don't know, but maybe it's the leica X1 look?

I have never had a Leica of any kind before, but I've certainly seen photographs from film Leicas in real life. My only views of the digital Leicas have been online...and we all know we each have the limits of whatever computer screen we're viewing from, as well as how an image has been processed, etc., etc. I'm still learning the ropes on my own X1 so don't feel like holding any of my own up as fine examples...but there is a completely different quality to the images I am getting from my X1 to that of my E-PL1. This by no means is meant as a better or worse comparison. I'm still the same person with all my talents or lack thereof...but from a strictly personal point of view, I do see a different look to my own photos. Is it "Leica" or is it the sensor that is lending itself to this feel? Or is it the lens? I really don't know.

All good food for thought, I think.
I'm still learning the ropes on my own X1 so don't feel like holding any of my own up as fine examples...but there is a completely different quality to the images I am getting from my X1 to that of my E-PL1.

The different quality aspect is in my opinion apparent when comparing a m4/3 camera to an APS-C camera. Different dynamic range, different subtleties and tonalities. For me that has nothing to do with the Leica. I believe the differences are with the more exclusive lenses. See this set on flickr for instance. All photographs taken with the Olympus E-P1 and a Leica Noctilux lens.
To be honest, I've no idea. But I do see in the first picture there is light and especially reflections of light that make it nice for me to watch at. I disagree with Wouter that it lacks a 3d look and the absence of a certain contrast i do not mind. I like it the way it is.
Are we not influenced by the fact that a lot of historical pictures we admire in B/W were taken with Leica's? If it were for instance sony's we now would talk about the sony look?
Indeed, the right focus, the right light and the microcontrast of the lenses are "ingredients to the meal". But to me Wouter shows in his pictures and by his link to the ep-1 & Leica glass that you can achieve that look with different ingredients.
I bought a 'poor man's Leica', the Digilux 2 just recently. I certainly would not now if I am able to achieve a Leica look with it, but as a tool it is inviting me to play with focus, aperture and speed, the old- fashioned true ingredients of a picture. If the summicron Leica glass is helping me achieving it, well.... I hope so, it's together with the above mentioned handling a reason for the purchase.
To me, the best of Leica is always B&W and perhaps film. That may be it? My Zeiss Ikon and Zeiss lenses also had this look, to my eye (and for much less money). I agree with Wouter, and like Ricohs partly because they give a similar rendering in digital.
I think that everything said so far just goes to show that many cameras can produce a very distinctive look. Which one you prefer is a matter of personal taste.

As I read the comments I was reminded of the 'contradiction thread' with its discussion of pixel peeping. I don't feel that the Leica look necessarily has to do with sharpness or detail in highlights or other technical aspects. For me, it has more do do with a certain spontaneity in the image. The image that I thought exemplified this the best, was the little girl in the sunglasses holding her mother's hand in the set that Wouter linked to.
Kath the 1st shot does perhaps, it would benefit from cropping the empty space on the LHS.

The 2nd shot no.

I did read the Leica PhotoGraphie decades ago, a small A5 magazine and yes images were impressive in the magazine, at the time I used Minolta SLR's.

Back then there was a Leica look it was a combination of the sharp optics but much more importantly it was due to the individual photographers processing
ie Negative developer and printing technique all very important and there was no doubt the Blacks were BLACK the whites WHITE and clean but there was also MID tones, no wonder they stood out.

They used fast lenses near full aperture for DOF effects and low light capture.

It was all those factors combined, could it be duplicated way back then YES with other cameras and the best processing.

Today with digital its all about the sensor and Jpeg engine / RAW not to mention the lens used, it may well be Leica know things (subtle) that others don't.
To my opinion the top picture as well as the white hat picture in the other thread are both realy great, they create a kind of legendary atmosphere.
- Next to BW, it common might be that it is about people "in action" with the absence of modern things, so a traditional setting that talks
The Leica Look or the Digital Leica Look.
The Leica Look was borne over a century before pixel peeping, sensors, SDHC cards, Photoshop, Lightroom etc.
It was borne from photographers who Lived photography and Loved their small cameras.
It was borne from a company committed to the quality in manufacturing a camera that created the benchmark that all other cameras stood against.

It was a camera that only the committed serious photographer took in hand to capture every facet of birth, death and life in between. The Leica is more than a camera, it is the pure extension, the pure essence of ones vision.
The Leica in it's pure minimalistic form allows the shooter to use his eye, heart and mind without interference from his camera.
The Leica look is an image that shows the viewer of the image a pure synergy of man and machine becoming one.
The Leica Look......
Grab your camera and go find it.....
The Leica in it's pure minimalistic form allows the shooter to use his eye, heart and mind without interference from his camera.
The Leica look is an image that shows the viewer of the image a pure synergy of man and machine becoming one.
The Leica Look......
Grab your camera and go find it.....

This sounds so familiar to me Don. I guess it brings me both back to both my "Contradiction" and "A Wish for Simplicity" articles. When we buy a new camera or lens we may all hope for instant success, progress, style, and the perfect photograph and feeling. But the truth is that you need to work hard to succeed. I therefore totally agree, grab your camera and go find it.
I have read your thoughts on a few forums we both visit.
Your contradiction thread is most interesting. I have not posted because you have it covered so well. Your an admirer and educator of the principals that I adhere to so dearly.
Write on my friend, I enjoy the images and the read.
The Leica look of digital Leica cameras seems to be hard to be defined. Some Leica photographers say, that the digital images produced by Leica cameras look similar to images taken on film. I don't know if that's really the case, but if that's true, then you will get pictures which indeed can be distinguished from digital images from other digital cameras.

I have noticed, that many pictures, which are said to have a Leica look, are contrasty, own a special clarity and are black and white very often. Many photographers add vignetting, too. Thus I have taken one of my recent photographs taken with my E-P1 and the 17mm, added contrast, clarity and a little vignetting:

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Olympus E-P1, 17mm @ f/4.5, 1/250, ISO 200

It happens that I like this version much more than the original version. However, the question is: Does this picture have a Leica look or not?
Isn't part of the "Leica look" also very situational - i.e. 35mm RF at a certain distance, showing people in situational compositions - B&W certainly as B&W pushes you back to film (Leica film) days.

just my 2 cents