Leica, Hollywood’s Latest Status Symbol: Click if You Can Afford It

Brad Pitt, Leica M shooter

Lovely piece in the New York Times on the latest fad in Hollywood: Click if You Can Afford It. You won’t read it in the Technology, but Fashion & Style section, as the article is about Leica cameras favored by celebrities:

The latest status symbol in Hollywood, it seems, is not the 8 p.m. reservation at the Tower Bar, but the Leica M system rangefinder, a retro-chic camera that has become the accessory of choice for the celebrity class on red carpets, film sets or vacation.

Nah, no one’s pulling anyone’s leg. And we learn a little bit of history:

For stars seeking to prove that they are more than just a pretty face, the allure is obvious. Perhaps no camera says “I’m serious” like a Leica rangefinder. With its mid-century contours and minimalist chic, the M system has changed little in appearance since Henri Cartier-Bresson, a Leica patron saint, was photographing Gandhi.

We learn that the camera is not only a luxury item:

The rugged camera, hand-built in Solms, Germany, is still a pro’s tool. With a minimum of automatic features, it demands expertise to master.

Wrote John Mayer, American singer and songwriter, on his Tumblr page about his vintage M4 and the 35mm Summicron:

Everything in this camera is manual. No light meter, no automatic focus, shutter, ISO or aperture. It was daunting at first but I’ve been practicing guessing shutter speed/aperture on a digital M9 and seeing how close I get. I consider myself experienced enough to bring only this camera with me now. Most indoor settings require an aperture setting of 2, 4 or 5.6 and a shutter speed of 60, 125 or 250. I’ve learned that the guessing — maybe the intuition — of the settings is what makes a photograph special.

Brad Pitt and his M7 on the cover of Interview (2007).

So… who of the beautiful and famous is actually shooting Leica? We learn that the swelling ranks of M system devotees reach beyond those with a well-chronicled affection for the camera, like Brad Pitt. In recent years, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Louis C. K., Miley Cyrus and many other celebrities have popped up in paparazzi shots toting Leicas.

Leica even seems to be Brad Pitt’s favored camera on the set. In “Spy Game” (2001) he shoots an M6 or M7 — and didn’t also Leonardo DiCaprio shoot an M in “Body of Lies” (2008)?

The New York Times article has more photos of celebs with their Leicas, and yes they’re serious shooters, also women, such as Dakota Fanning and Ali Larter.

The article goes on:

It is easy for cynics to sniff, but many Leica-toting celebrities take their photography seriously. Brendan Fraser, an aficionado, has had his work featured in the prestigious Leica Gallery in New York. And Mr. Pitt, who has appeared on the cover of Interview magazine holding a Leica M7, earns praise from photographers in Leica forums for his work, including a cover shoot of Angelina Jolie for W a few years ago.

While some purists scoff, others do their best not to generalize about their famous Leica brethren. Michael Holve, a professional photographer on Long Island who runs a Leica enthusiasts’ blog called La Vida Leica!, divides the celebrity Leica class into two camps: “shooters,” like Mr. Pitt, and “carriers,” like, well, they know who they are. Holve:

It seems a Canon or Nikon is somehow bourgeois, or even pedestrian, by comparison. Carrying a Leica around can be a little like driving a Bentley. Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you’re a good driver.

To conclude, a Leica M shot by Brad Pitt of Angelina Jolie and two of her kids:

The Wife and Mother | Brad Pitt, W magazine

For more, read the New York Times’ Click if You Can Afford It, published on September 19, 2012.

  • plevyadophy

    Yep. Leica, a jewellry company that makes their products in the shape of a camera. At the risk of generalizing too much, in my experience only a small percentage of Leica users know how to make decent images. I would say as little as 20%, and that’s being generous. The rest are just wealthy posers; doctors, lawyers, actors and the like who are as advanced in photography as a spotty faced teenager with an iPhone.

  • That’s a little harsh, maybe. Sure Leica becomes a “boutique camera maker,” nevertheless there’s something to these pricey tools. The average shooter might have to throw away an unproportional amount of blurred, not properly exposed images.

    The camera’s maybe more of an educational tool — as Phil Askey wrote in his M8 review back in 2007:

    “So what’s the bottom line? I have to admit that I’ve been turned, from a skeptic to a believer, certainly the M8 isn’t a camera everyone is going to afford, but a rangefinder is certainly something any ‘serious’ photographer should try at some point in their life. It’s changed the way I shoot, I’ve found myself going back to manual focus more even when I use DSLR’s and being more selective about lenses and depth of field, and more creative in my framing. My advice on the M8 would be, if you can afford to then get one, be aware of its limitations, shoot RAW and rediscover ‘capturing moments’.”


    At one point Askey wrote (can’t remember where exactly) that of all his photos somehow he’s most fond of the ones he shot with a Leica. But then again, the romanticism involved with Leica lust can’t be discounted as well.

  • Tibicen

    And what percentage of users of other brands are able to produce decent images would you estimate?
    Thank you very much for your “expertise”…

  • You most likely can’t tell the difference between well executed Leica and any brand shots. The Leica’s mojo however is unbeatable.