The best Leica cameras are built with an engineering finesse and an attention to detail that borders on the fanatical – and the price reflects that. But while the Leica brand is steeped in history, it also makes some thoroughly modern cameras too.
While many won't admit it, most photographers secretly covet the Leica cameras. That red dot carries with it an inimitable cachet, associated with some of the best and most legendary photographers in history, and there's a real feeling of luxury to owning a Leica camera today.
There are three distinct varieties of Leica cameras, however. For a start, there's the classic Leica 'rangefinder' range, the Leica M series. One recent example is the Leica M10 Monochrom. This is a camera based on a classic 'rangefinder' design that doesn't even have autofocus or a through-the-lens viewfinder. Even more incredible is the fact that this camera shoots in black and white only. This is the essence of Leica – its single-minded, uncompromising approach. The camera is what it has to be to do the best possible job – and you have to learn how to use it.
Leica has since followed up with the beautiful Leica M10-R, a color version of the same camera but with a 40MP sensor that offers even sharper fine detail rendition than its predecessors.
Leica doesn't just make classic camera designs, but also cutting-edge mirrorless cameras for professional users – like the beautiful Leica SL2. Again, this is not a cheap camera, but that's because Leica makes cameras as good as it thinks they need to be, not as cheaply as possible. The Leica SL2 has now been joined by a less expensive 24-megapixel Leica SL2-S variant.
But Leica doesn't just make expensive cameras, it also works with partner companies to produced Leica-badged versions of less expensive cameras. If you don’t want to blow more than a month's wages on a single camera, comparatively affordable Leica models do exist. We've made sure to include them in this guide alongside the big boys.
For example, Leica D-Lux compact cameras are actually rebadged and refined versions of premium Panasonic cameras, and the mighty Leica SL2, which we consider one of the best mirrorless cameras right now, is (whisper it) essentially a Panasonic Lumix S1R reskinned using Leica engineering and one of the best user interfaces we've seen.
And then there's the Leica Sofort for instance, one of the best instant cameras around, which utilises Fujifilm's inexpensive Instax Mini film packs. It's the cheapest Leica you can get, and if you are getting cold feet about the cost of these cameras, you can always head over to our guide to the best cameras around or the best camera deals.
So, with the above in mind, let’s look at 10 of the best Leica cameras currently on the market and available to buy.
The best Leica cameras in 2021
Best Leica M cameras
Leica M cameras are an acquired taste. They are fiendishly expensive – of course – and resolutely old fashioned in their design and operation. They don’t suffer fools gladly. And yet the M10-R also happens to feature some of the latest digital technology to produce image quality to challenge any other full frame camera, and a shooting experience that remains unique. Like previous M-series cameras, the M10-R does not suffer fools gladly and you need to put in some practice – and make a few mistakes – to learn how to use it effective. It will reward you, however, with a shooting experience like no other. If you have a great deal of money, or your passion is engineering, heritage, the look and feel of classic camera designs or just the look and feel of the images, the M10-R could be your dream camera.
Read more: Leica M10-R review
This is where you need to pay attention. This is NOT the previous Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) with 24 million pixels, but a brand new model with 40 million pixels in what Leica describes as the best black and white sensor it's ever made. Yes, that's right, it's a digital camera that shoots only in black and white. It's not as mad as it sounds, because it's only by removing the color filter array used universally in front of digital sensors that you can get the camera to record black and white at its best possible quality (the color filter array restricted photosites to single colors which means much of the image data has to be interpolated during processing). This is why a black and white Leica comes so high on this list, and because Leicas have been traditionally associated with classic black and white photography. Of course, you pay A LOT to get this level of quality. And yes, of course, we want one.
Read our full Leica M10 Monochrom review
Photographers and journalists alike have recently been falling over themselves to praise the Fujifilm X-Pro3 and its radical mission to prevent 'chimping' (habitually checking a camera's LCD screen between shots), but they've forgotten that Leica got there first! And, what's more, Leica went all the way with it. While the X-Pro3 has a 'hidden' LCD screen, the Leica M10-D simply does not have one at all! It's for the hardcore contingent who are perfectly happy focusing and composing via the rangefinder and waiting until later to see their photographs. In other respects, it's similar to older Leica M10-P. The rear screen is replaced by a large exposure compensation dial, and other dials around the body control various functions like ISO, though may of them are limited in which settings you can choose; if, for example, you want to push ISO above 6400, you need to connect the camera to Wi-Fi and use the app. Perhaps the biggest downside, though, is the older 24MP sensor.
Best Leica mirrorless cameras
Leica doesn't just make retro rangefinders and luxury cameras for the rich. The SL line sets out to offer Leica's legendary design, build quality and lenses to discerning professionals. But while the original SL was good, the brand new Leica SL2 is simply exceptional. First, it uses the L-mount that has now been adopted by Sigma and Panasonic for its full-frame mirrorless cameras, so there is an increasing range of optics available (see the L- mount lens roadmap). Second, it's no secret that the internals, including the sensor, in-body stabilization and 4K capabilities come straight from the Panasonic Lumix S1R. But what's on the outside is pure Leica, including a beautiful minimalist design, simple but superbly thought out controls and a classy, elegant interface that works brilliantly. Yes, the Leica SL2 is expensive, but my word, is it good!
Read more: Leica SL2 review
The Leica SL2-S (seen here with optional battery grip) is a great option for those that are already using the L mount and have L-mount lenses. The price looks steep by regular standards, but it's much lower than the higher-resolution Leica SL2. What's really good about this camera is that even with such a drastic difference in price, the compromises are minimal and the drop in resolution is the only major downside. This could be a great entry point for those considering the SL camera system but put off by the price of the SL2. If its 24-megapixel resolution is all you need, you still get the Leica build quality and interface, and 4K 60p video capability, at a lower price.
Read more: Leica SL2-S review
This German-constructed, attractive compact system camera marries up a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor to a Leica L lens mount, as recently adopted by Panasonic for its fledgling full frame ‘S’ system. It’s a sister model to the TL2 camera launched around the same time, which also features a similar feature set. The CL comes with a touch sensitive 3-inch LCD, eye-level viewfinder, 4K video along, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity and up to 10fps burst shooting for up to 140 JPEGs, or 33 Raw and JPEG files in tandem. As it shares the L mount with the TL2, the CL can utilise both the TL line of Leica optics and L mount lenses, while Leica M and R series lenses can be used with adapters. Top plate dials give the camera the classic hands-on operation beloved of Leica users, while an external flash can be attached via its hotshoe. While there’s plenty to love here, the rear screen cannot be tilted or adjusted and there is the usual Leica price premium to pay for a hand crafted camera rather than a mass produced one.
Read the full Leica CL review
With its slim, minimal and sleek exterior this Leica certainly makes a fashion statement, while the huge for its class 3.7-inch screen that occupies all of its backplate should appeal to existing smartphone users looking to trade up to a dedicated image capture device. If we have a gripe, it’s that attaching a lens makes the camera feel a tad front heavy, while the minimalistic design has led to some operational quirks – not least the fact that its controls take a bit of initial figuring out. There’s also no on-board image stabilisation and the auto focus response isn’t particularly fast. Still, it is intended to be a serious photographic tool too, thanks to its adoption of the increasingly well supported L mount, a 49-point contrast detection AF system – as also found in Leica’s more ‘conventional’ CL – plus, unusually for a digital camera these days, 32GB of built-in memory. Added to this you get the option of 4K video and it can shoot stills up to a respectable 20fps with the aid of its electronic shutter. Another plus is that the image quality is stunning.
Best Leica compact cameras
Most Leica cameras take interchangeable lenses, but the Leica Q2 is the exception, with a fixed 28mm f/1.7 lens. It's like the unicorn of digital cameras, though a few people have actually seen one, including us. The successor to the original 24-megapixel Leica Q, the Leica Q2 is aimed at photographers wanting a powerful camera that is also relatively small and discrete, yet with a whopping 47.3-megapixel full frame sensor. The body is water and dust resistant plus there’s a 4K video shooting option that additionally includes the choice of ‘C4K’ (Cinematic 4K). In burst mode the Q2 can shoot at up to 10fps with the mechanical shutter or 20fps with the electronic shutter. The Q2 is of course hand constructed in Germany, with a magnesium body construction. Yes, this is very much a luxury option for the street photographer, but the 47-megapixel sensor delivers shed-loads of gorgeous detail. It looks like the waiting lists are finally clearing, so you may no longer have to 'Q' for your Leica Q2. We also love the Leica Q2 Monochrom version, by the way.
A premium compact for both snapshots and street photography, the D-Lux 7 is a fixed lens, travel zoom camera that nevertheless exudes that air of luxury (the clue is in that D-Lux = Deluxe naming) we’d expect of a camera costing this much. Key features include a play-it-safe 17-megapixel resolution from a 21.77 megapixel Four Thirds CMOS sensor. This is married to a lens with an equivalent reach of a wideangle 24-75mm in 35mm film terms. Maximum lens aperture is an impressively fast/bright f/1.7, with the ability to adjust this manually via a lens ring that offers incremental settings up to f/16. Or, of course, you can just hit the automatic setting, which has its own button. It's the result of a long standing collaboration between Panasonic and Leica, and based on the cheaper Panasonic LX100 II, but with a Leica makeover. It’s a shame that the 3-inch LCD is fixed, but it does at least offer touch control. The rangefinder-like top plate dials for controlling shutter speed and exposure compensation do lend the D-Lux 7.
There are not many Leica cameras you’d feel confident about stepping into the deep blue and briny with – so full marks to this waterproof version of the X-E compact camera that doesn’t slouch when it comes to core specs. The X-U has an APS-C format sensor and a wide angle 23mm equivalent bright/fast f/1.7 Summilux prime lens for delivering those shallow (water) depth of field images. The price is a lot to pay for a toughened camera, yet this compact is also shock resistant, dust sealed and shatterproof. For those thinking of taking it for a dip, the body is fully waterproofed down to a depth of 15 metres and also features an underwater protection filter. However, the sensor is an old design that only captures 16 megapixel images and full HD rather than 4K video. This is a waterproof adventure camera at an eye-watering price – but one that very much stands out from the crowd.