When I received the Leica T to review for the second time, there was an odd accessory in my review package, the Leica Brightline Viewfinder M-24. The angle of view (24mm) didn't really work with the lens that was provided (standard 18-56mm zoom lens), and they included the EVF in the package anyway...so why did they include it? Who cares! This is a great accessory and I wasn't going to complain. I had an awesome time playing with it and it made my shooting more enjoyable. The question is: how good can this very expensive viewfinder be? Let's just say that it destroys the competition...
When I say destroys the competition, the first question is, who is the competition? Ok, it's not really competition in terms of price point, but there are a few 24-28mm equiv viewfinders out there by Sigma, Ricoh and Voigtlander (and others). I had a chance to put the Leica up against a few of them. First of all, the Leica feels the best in the hand compared to the rest. It's solid metal and glass, and there's a rubber eye cup for those who wear glasses. The rest felt plasticky (except the Voigtlander).
I used the M-24 primarily on my Ricoh GR, although the Ricoh's lens is a 28mm equiv. lens. I used the inner close-focus brightline instead of the outer lines, and it was reasonably accurate (I always got a bit less than expected). I know some will complain about the accuracy of these external shoe-mount viewfinders, but you're missing the point. These external finders will never be as accurate as a through-the-lens view of a SLR or sensor-view of an LCD or EVF. The finder is a quick way to check for your framing, your angle of view, and the further away the subject, the more accurate it is. Never use these external viewfinders for close-up framing because it will be horribly inaccurate.
The beauty of a externally mounted viewfinder is to give you the rangefinder-type view of the world. It helps you focus on composition, and it also helps you understand how the camera interprets the scene versus your own eyes. Yes there's more thinking involved if you choose to shoot this way every time, but once you set your camera up to shoot like this, it's pretty fast and accurate. I found that I used the viewfinder to quickly see if it was worth taking the shot without having to turn the camera on all the time. I had the camera and viewfinder around my neck, and I would periodically pick it up, look through the viewfinder, and quickly check the framing and composition before deciding to take the shot or not. It was very handy. When I did decide to shoot, the view was nice and crispy and bright.
How good is the Leica M-24 viewfinder? First, I compared it side-by-side with the Ricoh GV-2 and it destroyed it. Yes, destroyed it. I was going to eventually buy the GV-2 for my Ricoh, but now there's no point. I've used the best, and there's no turning back. I also tested it against the Voigtlander on a Leica M240, and again, the Leica viewfinder destroyed the Voigtlander.
According to Leica, this is the same glass they use on their M series rangefinder cameras, and uses the same technology to gather light to make it easier to see, even dark places. The view is also very large, so eye relief is great. Compared to the Leica, I felt I was squinting to look through the Ricoh GV-2. I also compared it against the Leica M2, and although the view wasn't as big, it was just as bright and clear, maybe even a tad brighter. Yes folks, this viewfinder is very, very slick.
But here's the problem: it's also very, very expensive. How expensive? At the time of writing this article, B&H has it listed at $759!!! Seriously? Ok, let's look at the facts here:
-made out of solid brass and beautifully finished and painted in black
-the same glass technology as the M rangefinder cameras. It feels like you're looking through an M
-It's very bright looking through this thing, at least 50% brighter than the other finders in low light
-multi-coated glass and concave design to give really crispy, contrasty view.
-well designed case (pop-out string to make it easy to pull out) and cloth bag for storage
Ok, now is it worth it? It really depends on you. This beautiful viewfinder was worth as much as the camera I was testing it on, so no sane person would buy this viewfinder to put it on any other camera other than a Leica (or another rare and expensive camera). If you own a Leica, is it worth it? I know if you buy it, you won't be disappointed by it's performance compared to the competition. Also, 5 years from now when your digital camera is worth 10% of what you paid for it, the Leica brightline viewfinder will probably still be worth 60-75% of what you paid for it. I'm not saying its a great investment, but it won't depreciate as quickly as an electronic device (how much is the top-of-the-line iPhone or iPad worth, and how many years do you use it before you throw it out?)
So if you have the cash, buy it. The competition is no where close to the quality of the Leica viewfinder. The performance is at least twice that of the competition, and the build quality is at least triple. Does that equate to being triple the value of the competition? If I had a Leica and I wanted the best hotshoe viewfinder, I wouldn't even bother considering the rest. Yes, it's that good.