If you're in the market for a Leica camera, but don't want to spend a huge amount on a new M11 rangefinder or SL2 full-frame mirrorless camera, there are other options for you than buying brand new. I'm talking secondhand!
There have been plenty of Leica cameras over the years that were exceptionally capable when released, but now seem aged in comparison. However, as the owner of a fairly old Leica, I can say that it really depends on what you are after in a Leica camera. If you want to slow down and work on composition, framing and light, then an older Leica can be an excellent fit. If you are already looking at Leica cameras, then you know that they aren't going to shoot 30 frames per second or have the highest ISO out there.
While we've got an expert guide to the best Leica cameras (opens in new tab) ever, I have also come up with a list of relatively affordable Leica cameras below. No matter how you look at it, Leica cameras are always going to be more expensive than a counterpart of the same era, but what you are sacrificing with your wallet you are potentially gaining with investment. Soon, over time, even these cheap cameras could begin to up in price as they become collectors items.
The Leica SL was the first full-frame mirrorless camera the German camera company brought to the market. It features a high end 24MP full-frame sensor and an ISO range of 50-50,000, with 529-spot point contrast-detect AF system, can shoot 11 frames per second, and is also capable of shooting 4K video with 4:2:2 10-bit output through HDMI into a external recorder, like an Atomos Ninja V. (opens in new tab)
It also features a super high resolution EVF of 4.4 million dots and weights 847g (body only). This camera was the start of Leica's transition to modern mirrorless technology. Back in 2017 it could set you back an eye-watering $5,995 / £5,155. Today, this outstanding camera, which is more than capable of producing outstanding images or 4K video can be found in great condition, with box and accessories for as little as $1,999 / £1,650. It's certainly one to consider!
The Leica M9 was first released in 2009 for the price of $6,999 / £5,395 as the companies first full-frame sensor in a rangefinder body. Loved for its CCD sensor that produces stunning and vivid 18MP images in either JPG or RAW DNG formats, the M9 was the workhorse of the photojournalist on assignment.
Today, the M9 still hold out to be an outstanding camera that produces excellent images in color or wonderfully Black and White JPG's with high contrast. However, the M9's ISO range only expends to 160 - 2,500 ISO, and realistically from ISO 800 you're going to get high digital noise in your color images. Overall, the M9 is still producing amazing images, and a model in decent condition will set you back around $2,200 / £1,970.
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 no on-board image stabilization and the autofocus response isn’t particularly fast. Still, it is intended to be a serious photographic tool, thanks to its adoption of the increasingly well-supported L mount, and 49-point contrast detection AF system – as also found in Leica’s more ‘conventional’ CL (more on that below). 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.
Leica recently announced that it had discontinued the Leica TL series (opens in new tab) but that does not stop you picking up a bargain online second hand, the TL2 can still be found brand new on certain retailer sites, if you don't mind spending the extra cash for a discontinued camera.
Read our full Leica TL2 review (opens in new tab)
Pairing a 24.2MP APS-C sensor with the L lens mount, which Panasonic has also adopted for its full-frame Lumix S system, the Leica CL is a comprehensive and capable camera at price that's on Leica's lower end. With 4K video, 10fps burst shooting and built-in Wi-Fi, it's got all the features that modern photographers expect, with the top plate dials that give the handling that Leica feel. A 3-inch touch-sensitive LCD and eye-level viewfinder provide the users with plentiful composition options, and that hand-crafted premium Leica feel really can't be beat. Some may bemoan the fact that the screen is a fixed model, rather than tilting or vari-angle, but otherwise there's plenty to love here if you can meet the price.
The Leica CL also had the same fate as the TL series, with Leica announcing it discontinuation of the camera however, second hand the can be hand for as little as $1,700 / £1,400 - the CL can still be bought brand new through some retailers, but I would recommend saving the money and going down the used market.
Read our full Leica CL review (opens in new tab)
I fully understand is some are scratching their heads at this point thinking I have gone mad, but the Leica M8 still holds its own in many areas. Like any first-generation product, the M8 has a few quirks that you need to work with to be able to enjoy this camera to the fullest.
As it was the first ever digital sensor camera from Leica, the company opted for a CCD APS-H sensor developed by Kodak which resulted in 10.3 megapixels – not a lot by todays standards. Due to this sensor the M8 was also thicker than the most advanced film camera of the time, the Leica M7, by 14%.
It is stated that the ISO range is 160 - 2,500, and while it can get there, you would never want to use it above 800 ISOt. I have heard many shooting the M8 at its base ISO of 160 all the time, while others shoot around 400-800 with varying results - only you can judge what is acceptable to your own standards. But if you are wanting the Leica experience, that's so close to shooting a Leica film camera, but does not come with the cost of shooting expensive film, I would say this is the very closest you are going to get.
The M8 does however, feature a unique feature in that it offers a 1/8000 shutter speed, which apart from the brand new Leica M11 - no other Leica camera offers. If you can live with unique filter shooting style, the thickness and its ISO limitation, which many do then owning a piece of Leica history really is a rare thing. The M8 on launch in 2006 cost over $5,000 / £5,000, today you can pick up and use your own piece of history and endless roll of digital film for just $1,000 / £1,200.
Once you've bagged yourself an excellent Leica camera, you might also want to look at the best Leica M lenses (opens in new tab). Discover our reviews of the Leica M11 (opens in new tab) and Leica M-A (opens in new tab) too – great models that didn't make this list.