Leica Minilux Review

Introduction

For a few months ago I switched to shooting only film. This process started for roughly 3 years ago when I quit my job as a 3D-illustrator/Photographer at the Architect company Tema Arkitekter in Stockholm. I was then without a good camera (I used a Canon 5DMKII there), and after a while I started to look after one again. During a trip to London I stepped into a Leica shop and tested the Leica M9, and I got stuck! First time for me trying a rangefinder with manual focus etc. The M9 was to expensive at that time though so I looked at alternatives. Ended up buying a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 with lenses, a great camera in many ways, but the viewfinder, manual focusing was not even close to the M9, and it had all these functions that only was in the way. I found a guy selling a M8, and I took a chance and asked him for a trade. He took it! Finally my first Leica.

After a short while the M8 was updated to a M-P (one of the best digital cameras I’ve worked with) and the quality of my shots got better and better, not just because the camera and lenses itself are brilliant, but the camera type forced me to slow down and be more present while shooting. After a while I felt that I wanted to take the next step, and that was of course stepping into film again (I started shooting film with a Hasselblad 500C around 1998). I found a Leica M2 in good shape and bought that (will review that beauty later). The M-P was sitting more and more on the counter, and one day I found a Leica Minilux in the original gold color at a trading site in Sweden. It was cheap since it showed some E02 error, well, everything can be fixed right? I thought for myself and won the bidding at around 40 USD. I started to ready more and more about the camera, and found a a lot of info regarding the E02 error.

The E02 error happens with this camera because of a cable that connects the lens to the electric board. This flat cable moves out and in each time the camera is started / closed down, and this causes it to sooner or later break. The spare part is no longer available at Leica so its not possible to send it to them for repair.

The camera sat at my desk for a month, while I searched for a solution, I couldn’t see myself throwing this away. I don’t remember how but in some way I found the company Japan Exposures and asked them if they could help me. I got a very good answer back from Dirk, he offered me a deal where I sent him my broken Minilux, and for 80 USD I could get a fully functional one back, or of I added another 80 USD I could get a black one. After some thinking I accepted the deal with the black Minilux, and after a few weeks I had it in my hand! All in all I’ve payed 200 USD for the Minilux. What they do (and I guess many more companies in japan) is that they strip the camera, removing the lens, and convert it to M-Mount or other mount types and sell the lens pretty expensive, since its one of the best compact camera lenses out there.

The Camera!

 

So, lets get back to the camera itself! It was a lot heavier than expected when I first received it, but it sits good in the hand, and I often only bring one camera only when I’m out shooting, so a few grams here or there doesn’t really bother me. The body is very well built, almost tank like, and the buttons and dials feels rigid and high quality.

The lens itself is a small gem! With f/2.0 its a good friend in low light situations, and because one of its cons, the limiting 1/400s as the fastest shutter speed, this camera is a afternoon/night camera in my eyes. I often shoot 400ASA, and that forces me to often shoot at f8-f11. Very good for street photography, but those daylight bokeh portraits needs to wait to the evening settles, and when it does the camera really stands out and produces some really nice shots!

The camera do have some quirks of course, and this isn’t any news really, all the reviews out there is mentioning this, but the biggest flaws this camera has is:

  • E02 Error – 3 certain things in life… death, taxes, and E02
  • Viewfinder – Its REALLY, REALLY, REALLY small! I don’t know how many street shots I’ve missed since I’ve slammed the camera in my forehead three times trying to find the damn viewfinder!
  • 1/400s shutter speed – Its a nice evening/night camera, so I often tend to load Tri-X 400 or Portra 400, which causes a problem when you are out in the daylight and want to shoot with a larger shutter.
  • Not possible to push the film

At the same time its a nice camera in many ways, the biggest + is:

  • Lens – The lens is superb, when it comes to colors, sharpness and everything else. I’ve not got one single shot where I can blame the lens.
  • Autofocus – The autofocus is not super fast compared to modern DSLR cameras, but it does a really good job, and it have helped me to be really fast sometimes, even in low light conditions.

Summary / Conclusion

If you’re justlooking for a compact film camera, there are a lot of alternatives to the Minilux that’s probably a better choice (even though I’ve not tested them myself), Contax T2, Konica Hexar AF, Ricoh GR1/2 and others. But if you are a true Leica beliver and can see pass the pretty disturbing flaws, I could highly recommend the Minilux, for its stunning low light capabilities, and the superb quality of the lens!

Here are some samples, shot in Tel Aviv this spring, Tri-X 400 and Portra 400.
The Tri-X are developed in Rodinal, and all the negatives are scanned on a Plustek Opticfilm 7200i

I hope you enjoyed this review, please add a comment if I’ve missed something or if you have any questions about this particular camera!