Digital Camera in a Film Body — Purist Leica M-D Without Display, Menu or Buttons

Love it. A digital Leica in a film body. Sure there’s a lot of malice on the Web, ridiculing Leica’s latest $6,000 camera, the all-black digital Leica M-D. With emphasis on digital. What again distinguishes a digital from an analog camera? That’s right, the LCD screen, to give access to what’s on the memory card and to all those menu functions. Now there is a digital camera without basic digital functions. The message of no display? Concentrate on the essentials.

Leica M-D

Bravo Leica, a timeless digital edition of the analog MD. Leica doesn’t care much about minds divided. Presented as a concept during Photokina 2014, the less is more. The M-D’s innards are identical to the $800 cheaper Leica M262 with display and buttons, but who needs those.

Everything on the M-D’s back (monitor, buttons etc.) was removed and replaced by a dominant ISO dial. The camera’s front shows the screw which is hidden by the Leica logo at other Leica M models. The M-D omits Leica’s famed red logo in the name of consistency. The camera has no type designation, except for a small engarving on the hot shoe. Absolute minimalism.

As the (9,000 more expensive) Leica M Edition 60, the Leica M-D leaves the photographer only access to the essential parameters: exposure time, aperture, focus distance and ISO sensitivity. And forget JPEGs. To get most out of the resulting shots without manual white balance, the Leica M-D shoots only in DNG format. That’s right. No video. Totally purist.

Instead of the back monitor, you’ll find the prominent ISO dial.

Leica M-D

Aside from the price, this would be the perfect camera for me. Forget all the bells and whistles and clutter. Back to the basics. In the words of Leica:

The Leica M-D promotes its users’ concentration on what is essential: the picture.

Leica M-DThe tight focus on Das Wesentliche (the essential), says Leica, is immediately recognizable in the design of the camera, expressing purely functional, formal clarity and design characteristics such as a top plate in brass with a step at the end citing the design of the Leica M9. Utmost discretion.

Both form above function and function above form.

In fact, by just steering clear of all the distractions digital cameras offer one can practice the M-D approach with any camera that offers manual selection of photography’s essential exposure time, aperture and ISO sensitivity trinity.

Again, fascinating M-D approach. Should be compulsory stuff to shoot the M-D way before resorting to all the tempting automatisms offered by digital cameras that largely lock us out of the creative process.

And just imagine the battery life.




  • damn.eu

    Or you could go one step further Dan and go for the Leica MP… No display on the back, no digital sensor, just a new possibly radically different sensor every 36 shots.

    I was very excited about this camera, until it was announced, the dealer even had one of his two cameras waiting for me…

    Then, I saw the price, and I thought about it for about -1 second and decided that I could buy a lot of film for £1200, the amount less that an MP costs… For a better result.

  • Digital’s convenience certainly has its price. If you have easy access to developing film, or even shoot B&W and develop yourself — and have a quality scanner –! , well then the MP is a no-brainer.

    Like the other day I had an assignment, needed 24 hours to track the person and then everything had to be done quickly, including sending the files. Impossible with a film camera.

    If time is on your side, there’s fantastic film out there. On the other hand, if you develop a role of film each week, in a few years that adds up, and the celluloid’s and imager’s sensitivities aren’t too different.

    This M-P is a well thought-out beauty, glad I can resist!

  • damn.eu

    Hi Dan, I am currently reading John Coffer’s autobiography, such as it is, and you are right, there is a dichotomy…

    On the one hand, film is aesthetically pleasing but slower paced. As far as costs go, there is no argument, digital users use their cameras like computers and change them as the tech modernises, every three to five years, so film is cheaper… Especially if like me, you self-develop both black and white and colour. I scan for a digital file, with a Nikon SC4000ED.

    The down side, as John Coffer discusses, is space, those negatives and prints really take up the space (especially tintypes!), as does the developing equipment, and if one is trying to leave a small footprint, digital is clearly tidier.

    My question though, is do I need a digital ‘M’?

    I already have the equivalent of a digital Barnack, an ‘X’ and I really like that, and the files are brilliant.

    Sorry, just thinking out loud Dan.

  • Valid doubts! If you have an X and not the slightest issues with it, your question is answered.

    If you suffer a mild GAS attack, sleep on it for a week or so, and see how strong the urge remains.

    If money is no issue, I wouldn’t think twice and get a digital M, assuming you have some glass already?

    An M won’t improve your photography in any way, that would be convenient self-deception, but it might well improve one’s overall mental well-being, and that’s worth a lot, if it doesn’0t break the bank, to be and feel more confident with gear.

    Personally, I handle it like this: waited for a long time, until I found the camera that really fits my style. The Nikon Df. Ticks all the right boxes for me. The camera will stay with me for years. Yes there will be even better sensors and faster performance and and and. I’d rent specific gear for a specific assignment should the Df not suffice.

    And then I love the iPhone camera. Perfectly capable for most stuff, delivering far superior quality to what digital cameras delivered a few years ago in terms of tonality, color accuracy, “authenticity,” etc.

    If I learned to resist the upgrade urge and am completely happy with slightly aging gear that still looks and performs like brand new.

    So why not make the decision, this digital M is the camera to stay with me for a while. I’m sure you won’t regret the decision. And a few years down the road you can upgrade without the slightest remorse. And I’d sell the X, helps finance the M.

  • Recently I’m on your same boat: tired of sensors getting “old” every year (and after having bought a Leica Q, which serves me well on my assignments), I got a beautiful Zeiss Ikon zm. It’s a joy to use it. And each time I open my fridge looking for food I smile, at those rolls of Ektar, Portra, TriX, Ilford 3200 and Acros sitting there, waiting for me. :)

  • I don’t understand.

    why should I pay more for a feature, that doesn’t bother me, if it is there?
    I don’t have to use it, if I don’t want to and just switch it off. (just tried it on my Monochrom).
    Or is it, because I want to prove, that I am such a good photographer, that I shoot better images

    without it?

    The Leica movie is very strange. What does it want to communicate? With such a Leica you can shoot first and crop later? Or do they want to show, that a good Leica shooter doesn’t even need a finder any more?
    Take a wide angle lens, set it on f/11 (with diffraction), ISO 3200 (noisy but to avoid blurred images) and hyper focal distance and start shooting.
    I wonder, how many keepers this guy will have with this sort of shooting “technic”.

    And besides that, I would not accept, if somebody would hold his camera in my face and take my picture on the street without my permission!

  • Agree with you Dierk, that street shooter in the Leica promo video, certainly not the “discretion” Leica’s praising…

    On your point whether Leica has gone mad? Well the M-D’s concept is the absolutely zero distraction. There isn’t even a count how many shots taken / left. It’s a mind thing. To me, the M-D would allow to concentrate even better on the job. Would. Subjunctive. Not a camera I’ll eventually buy.

  • Leica is a marketing genius. Selling sht to religiously blind admirers. Like Apple sell their terrible phones to simpletons.
    I shoot with Canon and I rarely look at photos on lcd. Although I check out histogram and other digital age parameters.
    Retrogrades with money prefer this black camera with bleached hole on its rare but it doesn’t mean it’s a good choice.

  • You have to agree it takes some guts to launch such a camera, as with the Monochrom. The M-D is not for everyone, but near perfect, I have to jealously admit.

  • It’s a gimmick, a toy for a rich boy. there’s no technical advantage of using it. it doesn’t give better results or making workflow easier. it’s just a style preference. like in fashion.
    I have nothing against this camera. But I don’t want people to go bananas over it. Because there’s nothing to be crazy about.

  • I agree, Margaritas.
    besides the price it is a status symbol for those, who think, that they are so good photographers, that they don’t need any control of the result, it will be perfect all the time.

  • One more remark to the Leica movie:
    I know several bloggers who claim to always shoot wide open.
    How does the guy in the movie shoot a f/1.4 lens without any focusing??
    I really wonder, for whom this movie is.

    BTW: I have a Leica M without display for many years now (thanks to Luigi :-))

  • jcespite

    Sorry I’m just saying and please don’t take the wrong way but you shoot Canon with no new technology in it sensor for how many years now? Who is like Apple, Canon or Leica?

  • jcespite

    If it was cheaper than the m 262 by $600 or $900 i would buy it. I can’t get my head around shooting film again but this is the closest digital has come.

  • In terms of components, the M-D is cheaper to produce than the M262. Lower production numbers of the M-D however might warrant the higher price. Or is the higher price point a pure marketing thing, to drive the pseudo pros even more horny? Great play, Leica. It’s the camera that proverbially can last forever.

  • jcespite

    I agree with you, you need to know what your doing, just like in the film days.

    It will be interesting when the new M comes out in the fall, it will have a better sensor and processing; but will they leave the video out for just the SL line.

    And how will they make it thinner?

  • Dave

    The next camera to follow this philosophy could be a Q without display on the back and M-mount. It is too obvious to me that such a camera would be the next logical step… but I do not get much response to this idea :-)

  • Rather think they want to keep the concept exclusive and elusive…

  • I have to come back to the Leica M-D

    after reading more about this camera, I find very strange things.

    from the original Leica product page:
    https://us.leica-camera.com/Photography/Leica-M/Leica-M-D/Details

    “yet it remains consistently true to its purist origins – by capturing exposures exclusively in DNG format.”

    in the Technical data they say:
    “Data format DNG™ (raw data), compressed loss-free, JPEG”

    –> only RAW or also JPG?

    About “no further setting options” and “purism”:

    “Apart from the essential parameters for photography – shutter speed, aperture, distance and ISO values – it offers no further setting options.”

    and:

    “Purism also characterises its design: by the omission of the Leica red dot logo, LCD monitor screen and menu controls”

    and then —>
    “Actual setting is done only with the function button, the thumbwheel and the viewfinder display.”

    Is Leica really serious?
    by omitting the monitor screen and menu controls, the user has to dig through these tiny display in the finder and try to remember, when and how he will find the desired settings???

    Sorry, this is simply ridiculous, Leica. Just an expensive marketing gag!

  • No menu and no menu controls, Dierk.

    It’s only about shutter speed, aperture, ISO and distance.

    No firmware info, no images count, no nothing.

  • I’m having a very strange reaction to this camera. It tickles the zeitgeist of the golden age of film and challenges you to be, well … to be a better photographer. A high wire act without a net. Bold indeed.

  • Well said, Elizabeth. The M-D is the perfect “anti”-product. Against consumerism overload, against functionality overload, against connectivity overload. Bare essentialism. There’s the price tag, but that’s about the only downer about this nihilist jewel of optical engineering.

    Know what? I’d be surprised if one still misses the LCD and menu after shooting the M-D for a while.

  • Silvestro Crino

    Yep…you hit it right on the head…all style, less substance…

  • Silvestro Crino

    Of all the pictures he shot without looking…I believe that the video only showed us 2 (maybe 3) of the results…so there you go….

  • Silvestro Crino

    If knowing the number of photos left on your SD card or how much battery life you have left is distracting you from taking the photo’s you want to take…might want to talk to a doctor…you may have Adult A.D.D….

  • Silvestro Crino

    Or want to show off like they know what they are doing but are actually posers….because those that know what they are doing are neither distracted by the LCD nor by having a little more control and information in the menu…..