Why 50mm and a Leica M3?February 1, 2021
… and why not 35mm on an M2, given that’s my preferred focal length?
I was using film long before the digital age and continue to use it occasionally alongside digital, it’s not a novelty. Most of the time I feel digital is “better” at everything measurable; speed, resolution, cost. But sometimes, the slower, fully manual and analogue experience appeals. That’s when I pick up my Leica M3.
I generally prefer wider angle lenses, normally 35mm, sometimes 24mm. So why 50mm?
Well, firstly I love the M3 in its own right, the viewfinder is unmatched by anything up to and including the M10. It’s higher magnification and the single frameline makes it unique. Having used a Leica MP for many years and prior to that an M6, the M3 really is for me the pinnacle of rangefinders. So the M3 being the camera, the 50mm lens is the obvious focal length. Although a “goggled” 35 is available, the performance and design, handling etc. fit the 50 for which it was designed.
Secondly, I can’t get as close with a Leica rangefinder as with other cameras, the close focus limit is simply too far off so a slightly longer focal length helps a bit for the sort of photo when I want a face to fill the frame.
Third, I am less inclined to crop with film, so again the tighter view works. I am not fundamentally opposed to cropping but on fast B&W film there is an impact on the appearance of grain which I feel degrades the image.
As an aside, although I most frequently preserve the original aspect ratio, with a 35mm field of view, a square crop often works well. As you’ll see from my photographs I frequently crop my digital photographs to a square. Interestingly, a 35mm lens cropped to square format gives an almost identical horizontal field of view to a 50mm lens. If you want to really get into the geekery of focal lengths, angles of view and aspect ratios, this article on Hasselblad Historical is a good starting point.
The growing popularity of later analogue Ms, not just the permanently out of stock new M-A and MP, but also the M6 and M7 is likely due to the inclusion of a meter (in all but the M-A) and of course their use by some popular Instagram and YouTube content creators helps. This means M3s and M2s have yet to hit the lofty price tags of their successors, though they do seem to be getting harder to find.
(All photographs in this post are made with my Leica M3 and Leica Summarit-M 50mm and with Ilford HP5+ or Kodak Portra 400)