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Leica M camera overview

The Leica M system was launched in 1954 when the M3 was introduced. The camera was named after the German word for rangefinder ("Meßsucher") and the number of framelines that can be displayed in the viewfinder. The M3 featured several groundbreaking innovations, including the bayonet lens mount and a viewfinder with multiple, automatically changing framelines and parallax correction. The M3 stayed in production for more than a decade and inspired the refinement of the M system on an evolutionary basis.

In total, Leica sold almost 700,000 M film cameras plus an undisclosed number of digital Ms. The original M3 was by far the most popular model (and even was the camera of choice of the original James Bond), accounting for a third of all of Leica's film-rangefinder sales. While the development of the Leica M line has always maintained a purist approach to photography, the cameras were provided with additional features and functionalities over time. Exceptions to the trend towards higher convenience and performance were the M1 (no rangefinder), the MD-models for documentary work (no viewfinder), and the all mechanical MP-2003 and M-A. Additional details on the changes between camera models and how they compare are contained in the listing below:

Leica-M production
Leica M production shares[leica-wiki]
leica m3 first
First production series Leica M3 (No. 700001)[westlicht]
Leica M4 in parts
Parts of a well used Leica M4[bresson.no]
Leica MP
Leica M7 Hermès edition
Leica M-A
Top plate view of Leica M-A

Leica M3:

  • fully mechanical rangefinder camera for 35mm film;
  • bayonet lens mount to enable quick lens changes;
  • viewfinder with multiple, automatically changing framelines and parallax correction;
  • long, accurate, and bright rangefinder;
  • backdoor film loading;
  • film advance lever;

M3 to MP ("Original-MP"):

  • added Leicavit rapid advance;

M3 to MP2:

  • added motorized film transport;

M3 to M2:

  • offered lower viewfinder magnification of 0.72 (to enable use of 35mm lenses without viewfinder accessory);
  • changed framelines to 35-50-90;
  • downgraded exposure counter to now require manual reset;
  • offered option to change bottom plate for Leicavit rapid advance;

M2 to M1:

  • omitted rangefinder (intended for use with Visoflex);
  • changed framelines to 35-50, which are displayed permanently;

M1 to MD:

  • omitted viewfinder (intended for recording of documents or use on microscope);
  • omitted self-timer;

MD to MDa:

  • changed film rewind to an angled crank;
  • utilized new film loading system without take-up spool;

M2 to M4:

  • changed framelines to 35-50-90-135;
  • changed film rewind to an angled crank;
  • utilized new film loading system without take-up spool;

M4 to M5:

  • added through-the-lens (TTL) metering based on a swing-in metering-cell paddle;
  • added match needle system for shutter speed display/control in viewfinder;
  • provided X-synchronization of flash through hot-shoe;
  • changed to vertical strap lugs (later versions have in addition horizontal lugs);
  • moved film rewinding crank to the bottom plate;

M4 to M4-2:

  • omitted self-timer;
  • provided X-synchronization of flash through hot-shoe;
  • added possibility to attach accessories for motorized film transport;

M4-2 to MD-2:

  • omitted rangefinder and viewfinder;

M4-2 to M4-P:

  • offered additional framelines for 28mm and 75mm lenses;

M4-P to M6:

  • added TTL light metering with the incoming light being redirected from a reflector on the shutter curtain to a measurement cell below the bayonet mount;

M6 to M6 TTL:

  • added TTL flash metering;
  • offered viewfinder magnifications of 0.58, 0.72 and 0.85;
  • changed to larger shutter speed wheel (similar to that on the M5);

M6 TTL to M7:

  • introduced auto-exposure in aperture priority mode (camera requires battery);
  • changed shutter to be electronically controlled;
  • added ability to read DX encoding in order to automatically determine film sensitivity;

M7 to MP (2003):

  • reverted back to mechanical exposure control (battery only required for light meter);
  • omitted TTL flash metering;
  • improved viewfinder with multicoated glass elements and a condensor lens to reduce flare;
  • omitted Leica logo and camera designation on the camera's front.
  • added the Leica name in traditional font on the top plate.

MP (2003) to M-A:

  • omitted light meter to provide purely mechanical operation;
  • offered only 0.72x magnification for all lenses;
  • added manually selectable image field frame lines;

Seventeen different film rangefinders have been produced by Leica. Most M cameras were available both in black and in chrome, and some of them also in gold, olive, platin and titanium. Concerning pricing, the original MP and MP2 models are particularly rare and fetch exceptionally high auction prices as collector's items. The table below lists the key specs of the analog M models for ease of comparison.

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Headline specifications of all Leica M film cameras
  Camera Viewfinder
Rapid film
Leica M30.9150/90/135externalexternal-138 x 77 x 33.55801954 - 68check
Leica MP0.9150/90/135externalexternalLeicavit MP138 x 77 x 33.55801956 - 57check
Leica MP20.9150/90/135externalexternalMotor138 x 77 x 33.55801956 - 57check
Leica M20.7235/50/90externalexternalLeicavit MP/Motor138 x 77 x 33.55801957 - 68check
Leica M10.7235/50/90externalexternalLeicavit MP/Motor138 x 77 x 33.55451959 - 64check
Leica MD--externalexternalLeicavit MP/Motor138 x 77 x 364951963 - 66check
Leica MDa--externalexternal-138 x 77 x 364951966 - 75check
Leica M40.7235/50/90/135externalexternalMotor on MOT138 x 77 x 33.55451967 - 75check
Leica M50.7235/50/90/135TTLexternal-155 x 84 x 346251971 - 75check
Leica M4-20.7235/50/90/135externalexternalLeicavit/Motor138 x 77 x 365251978 - 80check
Leica MD-2--externalexternalLeicavit/Motor138 x 77 x 364601980 - 87check
Leica M4-P0.7228/35/50/75/90/135externalexternalLeicavit/Motor138 x 77 x 365451980 - 87check
Leica M60.72 (0.85)28/35/50/75/90/135TTLexternalLeicavit/Motor138 x 77 x 385851984 - 98check
Leica M6 TTL0.58/0.72/0.8528/35/50/75/90/135TTLTTLLeicavit/Motor138 x 79.5 x 38 6001998 - 02check
Leica M70.58/0.72/0.8528/35/50/75/90/135TTL&AETTLLeicavit/Motor138 x 79.5 x 38 6102002 - 18check
Leica MP 20030.58/0.72/0.8528/35/50/75/90/135TTLexternalLeicavit/Motor138 x 77 x 38600since 2003check
Leica M-A (Typ 127)0.7228/35/50/75/90/135externalexternalLeicavit/Motor138 x 77 x 38578since 2014check

Leica Digital M Cameras

In 2006, Leica introduced its first digital rangefinder - the M8. Even though it represented a complete remake, the new digital rangefinder had the classic design, build and function of the M-film camera series, while utilizing a digital imaging process. The M8 had a Kodak-designed ten megapixel CCD sensor with a 1.33 format factor. Leica omitted an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor in order to make it possible to obtain a higher image resolution. Leica also opted for a weak IR/UV filter, which, however, turned out not to be effective enough, so that, for example, images of human-made fabrics showed a magenta cast. To avoid this image defect, the M8 (and the M8.2), had to be used with IR/UV filters in front of the lens.

Leica left the unfortunate incident of the insufficiently strong IR/UV filter behind it when introducing the M9 in 2009. The camera featured a full-frame ("Barnack-size") sensor with a 18 MP resolution, which essentially was a scaled-up version of the imaging sensor seen in the M8. The subsequently introduced M9-P, M Monochrom, and M-E all represented modifications of the M9 with selected features added or omitted.

Many observers expected an M10 as a the next evolutionary step in the system, but Leica decided to change its naming convention and simply labelled its 2013-release as "Leica M". It was the first digital rangefinder camera with a CMOS sensor, which made live view and movie recording possible. The M could also be used with R-system lenses via an adapter. In this case, an external electronic viewfinder facilitates the use of telephoto lenses with a focal length of more than 135mm. The evolution of the digital M models and how an iteration in development compares to its predecessor is outlined in the listing below.

Leica M
Leica M (Typ 240) with electronic viewfinder
Leica M-P detail
Top plate detail of the M-P (Typ 240)
Leica M-D
Back-side of the Leica M-D (Typ 262) – no LCD!
Leica M10
Leica M10 cut open

Leica M8:

  • digital rangefinder camera with a 10 MP sensor, 1.33 format factor;
  • off-set microlenses to improve lens performance in the corners;
  • lack of anti-aliasing filter for maximum resolution;
  • weak IR/UV filter in front of the sensor;
  • viewfinder magnification of 0.68;

M8 to M8.2:

  • adjusted shutter material and behavior to reduce shutter noise;
  • protected rear screen with saphire glass;
  • modified viewfinder with framelines optimized for focus at 2m (M8: 0.7m);
  • provided vulcanite finish of the camera body;
  • painted Leica logo and hotshoe of black version in black.

M8 to M9:

  • upgraded to 18MP full-frame sensor;
  • added effective IR/UV filter;
  • omitted small display on camera's top;
  • added secondary image processor;
  • added exposure bracketing;
  • changed frameline focus optimization to 1m.

M9 to M9-P:

  • added saphire glass protection for rear LCD;
  • omitted Leica logo and camera designation from camera front;
  • engraved Leica name in traditional font on top plate;

M9 to M Monochrom (Typ 246):

  • omitted color filter array;
  • added saphire glass protection for rear LCD;
  • omitted Leica logo and camera designation from camera front;
  • engraved Monochrom designation on hotshoe;

M9 to M-E (Typ 220):

  • omitted USB port;
  • omitted frameline selection lever;
  • added saphire glass protection for rear LCD;
  • engraved M-E designation on hotshoe;

M9 to M (Typ 240):

  • upgraded sensor to 24MP resolution;
  • added live view and movie capabilities;
  • provided bigger, higher resolution rear LCD with gorilla glas protection;
  • offered possibility to attach an external electronic viewfinder;

M (Typ 240) to M-P (Typ 240):

  • added scratch resistant display-cover made of sapphire glass;
  • expanded image buffer to 2GB;
  • omitted Leica Logo and “M” lettering on the front side;
  • provided traditional manual viewfinder frame selector;

M (Typ 240) to M (Typ 262):

  • used a nearly noise-free shutter mechanism;
  • omitted live view and video capability;
  • replaced top brass plate with aluminium plate for weight reduction;

M Monochrom to M Monochrom (Typ 246):

  • used a higher resolution 24MP sensor;
  • increased the ISO range up to ISO 25,000;
  • offered 3-inch 921k-dot LCD screen;
  • added live view and full HD movie capability;

M (Typ 262) to M-D (Typ 262):

  • replaced rear LCD by an ISO dial;
  • omitted Leica red dot logo for unobstrusive appearance;

M (Typ 262) to M10:

  • used a leaner, lighter body;
  • downgraded to a smaller, less powerful battery;
  • updated 24MP sensor and Maestro II image processor;
  • omitted video mode, as well as microphone and speaker;
  • added an external ISO dial;
  • upgraded to a scratch-resistant 1.04M-dot rear LCD;
  • provided a larger viewfinder;
  • added some environmental protection seals;
  • omitted external USB connection port;
  • added wifi capability;

M10 to M10-P:

  • omitted Leica Logo on the front side;
  • added a touch-sensitive rear LCD;
  • added a spirit level on the LCD and in the viewfinder;

M (Typ 240) to M-E (Typ 240):

  • provided special anthracite body paint;
  • replaced stereo by mono microphone and omitted speakers;
  • omitted wifi capability;
  • offered the camera at a lower price point;

The following table provides a comparison of the main characteristics and specs of Leica's digital rangefinder models. The listed prices represent online pricing at reputable camera stores at the time of the model's release, and might have been adjusted subsequently. Pre-owned prices of cameras in excellent condition tend to be 25 to 40 percent lower.

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Headline specifications of all Leica M digital cameras
  Camera Frame-
Size (W/H/D)
Used Price
Leica M824/28/35/50/75/9010.31.33139 x 80 x 375452.5"/230,0002006$4,395check
Leica M8.224/28/35/50/75/9010.31.33139 x 80 x 375452.5"/230,0002008$5,995check
Leica M928/35/50/75/90/13518.51.00139 x 80 x 375852.5"/230,0002009$6,995check
Leica M9-P28/35/50/75/90/13518.51.00139 x 80 x 375852.5"/230,0002011$7,995check
Leica M Monochrom28/35/50/75/90/13518.51.00139 x 80 x 376002.5"/230,0002012$7,950check
Leica M-E (Typ 220)28/35/50/75/90/13518.51.00139 x 80 x 375852.5"/230,0002012$5,450check
Leica M (Typ 240)28/35/50/75/90/13524.01.00139 x 80 x 426803.0"/920,0002013$6,950check
Leica M-P (Typ 240)28/35/50/75/90/13524.01.00139 x 80 x 426803.0"/920,0002014$6,995check
Leica M (Typ 262)28/35/50/75/90/13524.01.00139 x 80 x 426803.0"/920,0002015$5,395check
Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246)28/35/50/75/90/13524.01.00139 x 80 x 376003.0"/920,0002015$7,450check
Leica M-D (Typ 262)28/35/50/75/90/13524.01.00139 x 80 x 42600none2016$5,995check
Leica M1028/35/50/75/90/13524.01.00139 x 80 x 396603.0"/1,036,8002017$6,595check
Leica M10-P28/35/50/75/90/13524.01.00139 x 80 x 396603.0"/1,036,8002018$7,995check
Leica M-E (Typ 240)28/35/50/75/90/13524.01.00139 x 80 x 426803.0"/920,0002019$3,999check

Further Reading

Leica used to show a camera display with all its rangefinder and reflex models at its headquarters in Germany. It became known as the Leica family tree, and was subsequently maintained by the Leica Store Manchester. This family tree did not show any Limited Edition cameras, though, some of which are arguably among the most beautiful M-bodies ever made. Moreover, in case you have lost the original camera instructions, most of the Leica M Operating Manuals can be found on the web as free downloads, as can be many Leica promotional brochures. Last, but not least, there are more than hundred lenses available for the M-mount, most of which are superb both optically and mechanically.

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