For some reason, one evening it occurred to me that each of the different models of Leica M camera reveals its own psychology. There's something in the design and consequent modifications that tells us what each body is all about. Hence, without further ado, let me begin with the very first Leica M model.
The Leica M3. We're in front of a stoic, stern laborer. This camera exudes discipline, speaks about duty and work, does the job, and doesn't suffer fools too well. Its lines are straight and direct, and even if there's a very slight ornamentation around the frontal viewfinder window and the rangefinder small eye (see those diminutive frames), this camera commands respect, speaks with a firm, loud voice, and either it doesn't get jokes or has no sense of humor. But boy… can it work? Non-stop, 24-hours per day, 7 days a week and all-year around. And if the M3 takes a break it won't be for a beer, no siree… It may be for a nice, cold glass of mineral water mit Kohlensaure (although this camera will keep it a secret that it's very fond of a good cognac).
Then, the Leica M2. This one requires a comparison. Let's say that, if the M3 had a military rank , it would be one with command, like a captain or lieutenant or anything all the way to general. The M2, however, would be a corporal, perhaps a sargent. This one can have a moderate amount of authority, but it doesn't exude it like the M3; it simply has it… because someone else has granted it to the camera. It's an efficient soldier, a productive worker, an active community member, a fast runner, somebody effective and useful, but nothing that radiates leadership or command. It's still serious, but, unlike its predecessor, may kick back ocassionally and have a beer… ready to stand on attention.
Let's move onto the Leica M4 and allow ourselves to wonder… What were the Leitz people thinking? That silly little rewind crank… Why tilt it? It simply shows irresponsibility, flirtiness, light-headedness, some very irrational and unjustified joie-de-vivre that doesn't belong in a Leitz product. But let's reconsider… how bad can that little crank be, even tilted? Horrific! It looks like a slanted beret. Heck, it looks terribly… gallic!! There it is! Granted, its lines are clean, pure and straight, it has more framelines that both its predecessors, it's easier to load with film, but then, it has… such a shallow attitude. It's the camera that says "let's go places and have a ball!" And, indeed, once in place, it'll grab anything ethylic and get itself pretty happy. Not thoroughly drunk, mind you, but joyfully sloshed nonetheless, but never (and let's not forget this) compromising the high standards of function and design behind it. In short, this camera is a tool and a pal.
The liveliness of the Leica M4 (and its followers, the M4-2 and the M4-P) offers a stark contrast with the next in the line-up: the Leica M5. This camera has all the Leicas wanted to have: its own sense of style, a slick layout, a unique design, flawless performance, and a particular brand of seriousness that also suggest some kind of mischiveous streak. In short, this camera is… James Bond! Serious at first, very clever, quite surprising, full of tricks, it has the proverbial stern looks of the perfect instrument, but nicely combined with an idea of enjoyment, of some discreet and wholesome fun… not without pushing the limits whenever possible. Here's a camera to have next to a nice mixed drink, or cocktail. Not a silly, pink- or fruity-colored drink, but rather something elegant and classy, like a Martini or an Old-Fashioned. And the Leica M5 will be unobtrusive and quiet, sipping its drink modestly and silently. Think George Clooney here… and that'll give you an idea.
Enough for now... we'll come back soon with our characterization of the rest of the film M-bodies. In case you feel like, leave a note in the comments (whether you agree, for instance, or want to add to this profiling of the Leica Ms).
BTW, the M3 photograph's is Ken Rockwell's, the second—Leica M2—came from Vidarphoto from Flickr. The M4 belongs to La Vida Leica and the M5's is my own.