The Leica MP
And Now, "Leica A La Carte" Page 2

Yet another return to tradition is the shutter speed dial, which goes clockwise for faster shutter speeds, counterclockwise for slower. The M6-TTL and M7, unlike every other Leica, go the other way. This is fine if you use only M6-TTL or M7 cameras, but to anyone like me who has been using Leicas for years, it's a nightmare: you switch from 1/60 sec and think you've set 1/30 sec but you've set 1/125 sec instead.

The completely mechanical shutter goes from 1 sec to 1/1000 sec, with flash sync at a leisurely 1/50 sec (set between 1/30 and 1/60 sec). Next to today's 1/4000 and 1/8000 sec top speeds this is not impressive, but it's a low-stressed design that should continue to work, even without occasional servicing, for a substantial fraction of a century--as the same design has been doing since '54.

Office block, Levoca, Slovakia. Although Leicas are often seen as available-light cameras, they are also unsurpassed for street shooting, as here. There is a school for the blind in Levoca which accounts for the large number of people with white sticks. (Summilux 35mm f/1.4; Kodak EBX (ISO 100) home processed in Tetenal chemistry using a Jobo CPE-2.)

There's no point in saying much about the lenses, which are of course among the finest in the world: many believe you could drop the word "among." The MP accepts all four-claw Leica M-mount bayonet lenses (the current range is 21-135mm); all compatible lenses in the same mount; and all Leica screwmount (39mmx26 tpi) lenses via adapters, from 12mm upward.

Nor is there much to say about metering: Leica M-series buyers don't expect (or get) multimode analytic metering systems. The meter is a very basic through-lens version reading off a white spot on the shutter curtain, but it works amazingly well. "Over" and "under" arrows, and an "exposure correct" central spot appear in the viewfinder and nowhere else. Film speeds from ISO 6-6400 (9-39 log) are set on a dial on the back of the camera. If the battery dies, the meter fails, but everything else keeps on working. There is no flash metering, and there is no DX coding (the M7 offers both).

Handling offers no surprises except (to non-Leica users) loading through the baseplate. Some people apparently find this difficult, but it's hard to see why: even my wife Frances with her exceedingly shaky hands (a "benign essential tremor") has no problems. I suspect that those who dislike base loading are just trying to find fault with the camera, either because they don't like it--and I'll be honest, not everyone gets on with rangefinder cameras in general or Leicas in particular--or more often because they can't afford it.

Actually there is one more surprise about the handling, but you have to add the Leicavit accessory trigger base to discover it. You replace the standard base with one that is a little thicker and contains a fold-away trigger. Instead of winding on with your right thumb, you wind on with a smart pull of the fingers of your left hand.

Roman Arena, Arles. Some of my most successful pictures seem to be glimpses: things seen as if briefly, not fully. The MP is an ideal camera to carry at all times: light, unobtrusive, quiet, and quick to use. Yes, you can turn the meter off (B on the shutter dial), but I only do so when I put the camera away--and that only if I remember. Otherwise it is ready for action at all times and has a response time of about 1/60 sec. Compare that with autofocus or digital. (Summilux 35mm f/1.4; Kodak EBX (ISO 100) home processed in Tetenal chemistry using a Jobo CPE-2.)

Such an accessory was a lot more useful when the alternative was a knob wind, so the original SCNOO trigger base appeared in '36 for pre-IIIc cameras: this is its lineal descendant, via the original Leicavit SYOOM ('51, for IIIc and IIIf) and the SMYOM or Leicavit-M for M1, M2, and MD but not M3. It is only slightly faster than a lever wind but it makes it much easier to hold the camera steady at the eye and it is all but essential if you are left-eyed and want to work fast. Its only real disadvantage is that a Leicavit alone costs nearly as much as a Bessa R2 body.

As I began the review by saying, the MP is stunning. Already, Leica buyers are voting with their money. Leica expected the M7 to be their mainstay, with the MP as a back-up for those who wanted tradition: 60-40, maybe even 70-30. Well, the M7 has sold slightly better than expected, but the MP has sold unbelievably better. After allowing for the initial surge of interest, which in some months has pushed sales even further in the MP's favor, sales are so strong that they reckon the eventual proportion of MPs to M7s will be exactly reversed. Leica is looking stronger than ever, which is excellent news for Leica fans everywhere.

Now, there's one last piece of good news. I discussed it with Leica at Arles in the South of France in July, but at the time it was under embargo. Since photokina, I am free to share it with you.

Suppose that like me you would prefer to have just the traditional M2 frames in your MP: 35mm, 50mm, 90mm. Or that you want black paint, but a 0.85x finder. Or that you want a really, really unobtrusive Leica: so unobtrusive that it is just plain black paint, without even the white paint filler that says "Leica" on the top or "R" beside the rewind. Or that you are a bit of an extrovert and want your signature engraved on the camera. Or maybe you just want your name: I quite fancy "RWH Eigentum."

With the new Leica a la carte program, all this is entirely possible: they will build a bespoke M7 or MP to your requirements. Of course it will cost you more, and of course you will have to wait a bit longer: by definition, this is not an off-the-shelf camera. Such custom cameras have long been made in small series for wealthy customers such as the Sultan of Brunei, but now you can have your own one-off.

At least, I think it's good news. But until I heard it, I could imagine nothing better than the MP in the pictures, and I had already told Leica that they were going to have to threaten legal action to get it back. Now I want one a la carte. Oh dear.

For more information, visit Lecia's website: www.leica-camera.com.

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