Famous Photographers’ Leicas

May 15, 2019  By Jason Schneider

A short, pithy excerpt from an endless ongoing saga

Leicas always were, and still are, produced in much smaller quantities than, say, Canons and Nikons. That makes the number and percentage of renowned photographers who’ve shot with Leica cameras even more astonishing. Indeed it would be relatively easy to compile a 700-page book on the subject of who used which Leicas to capture some of the world’s most memorable images. But in keeping with the time and space constraints of this estimable forum I will concentrate on a handful of may favorite famous Leica photographers.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Cartier-Bresson’s first leica, a model (A)

Perhaps the greatest tribute to the Leica is the oft-quoted pronouncement by Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the greatest photojournalists of the 20th century: “The camera is an extension of the eye.” The extension of his eye was a 35mm Leica, which he famously used to capture virtually all his iconic images. He was also a great proponent of sticking with one focal length, in his case the classic 50mm, which was the non-interchangeable lens on his first Leica, a scale-focusing model I (aka the model A) with a collapsible, non-interchangeable 50mm f/3.5 Elmar. However, like most great photographers he evolved with the times graduating to the coupled rangefinder Leica II rangefinder when it arrived in 1932. Before World War II he often used a Leica III or IIIa fitted with an uncoated 50mm f/2 Leitz Summar lens, and in the ‘50’s he shot with a Leica IIIf with a 50mm f/1.5 Summarit, one of the best high-speed normal lenses of its day. Eventually he moved on to the Leica M3 and is known to have used a super-speed 50mm f/1.2 Leitz Noctilux on that camera to cover the Paris riots of 1968.

David Douglas Duncan

David Douglas Duncan (1916 -2018) was a great American photojournalist best known for his grim, gut-wrenching combat photographs of World War II and the Korean War. Duncan’s WWII photographs were so impressive that after the war he was invited to join the staff of Life magazine. During his time with Life, Duncan covered countless conflicts worldwide, including stints in Turkey, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. His most iconic photographs were those taken during the Korean War and many were included in his compelling book, This Is War! (1951). A lifelong Leica shooter, Duncan also praised the performance of the 50mm f/1.4 and 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor lenses he used on his Leica IIIc in Korea and occasionally even shot with a Nikon S rangefinder camera, thus helping to establish Nikon’s reputation. His personal favorite: the black finished version of what came to be known as the professional, limited edition Leica MP of the ‘50s and was dubbed the David Douglas Duncan (DDD) model in his honor.

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