So a man walks into a camera store – stop me if you have heard this one – and says, ‘ I want that new Leica M-D’. That’s the full frame all singing but no dancing digital Leica without a screen, auto ISO, and white balance. Just frame and shoot, but you can’t see your pictures till you find a computer to play the SD card.
My issue with many modern cameras is digital narcolepsy, it’s embarrassing when you see a walrus on a unicycle, raise the camera, press the button, and like a teenager, after a night of cheap vodka behind the bike sheds; yawns thinks about snapping, says ‘do I really have too’, then deigns to click, by which time, “The shot has gone, the shot has gone away”. (apologies to B. B. King) Oh the woe of sleepy tech, but allegedly the Leica M-D has been lubricated with Red Bull and is more alert than most.
I have a Leica SL/601 it may be simpler, but it isn’t simple. OK so you tech adepts don’t have these issues, but I’m a guy whose first camera was a Zorki. Then spent 40 years bouncing between spavined Leicas and abused Nikons. So the lure of a new Leica M-D, a digital camera without endless multiple choice menus, was huge. Still my Leica SL/601 is a wonderful camera and a great platform for Nikon lenses. It also has sufficient intelligence to have an existential crisis, you can all too easily hit the button on screen 3, that makes the shutter freeze and produces the Nietzschean message: “if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you”. Well ‘wot’ do you expect it’s a German camera, a haiku!?
The reviews for the Leica M-D are all self-flagellating praise. Along the lines of “Oh the purity of no screen, ” whack , “no white balance” whack. “No focus peaking”, whack. If it’s a good whacking you want then for less than the price of a Leica M-D you can visit Soho and get a similar treatment from a lady with a Pentax strap, and a large can of dust-off. But that is to miss the point, the joy of the M-D is this; it’s a simplified digital camera that makes one focus on taking pictures.
OK; I get it; but wonder if I am to undergo screen peeping detox and need to wait till I get home to see what’s on the SD card, how much better would film be? By the time I have used up a roll, posted it, got it back, seen it, it’s not pixel peeping its archaeology. So if delayed gratification is good for the soul then film should make one a saint.
The salesman thrust the Leica M-D into my hand. It did all they said, no menus, faster wake up, but it was still a Leica 240. “Who ate all the pies, who ate all the pies,” is a cheery chant sung by UK soccer fans at players who have erred on the portly, and is now sung at Leica 240s. Still, the M-D is a gorgeous thing, so I tell myself to stop seeing the M240 as a traditional Leica M camera but as an M camera painted by Rubens. Steve Huff rightly said the 240 is only a bit thicker than the M9. True and the M9 is only a bit thicker than the M7, and the M7 is only a bit bigger than the M6; you can do this all the way back to the Leica 1.
The Leica M-D is a great camera. It fills that gap between analogue thinking and digital pictures, so I reach for my wallet, extract the plastic, and in the corner of my eye spot a new Leica M-A.
The Leica M-A is Leica’s latest all mechanical film camera. For comparison I pick it up, it snuggles into my hand, my thumb finds a home behind the advance lever, the shutter is consistent instant, and my brain exhales with the relief of something so right, and shouts ‘its all about the haptics baby.’
We choose cameras as we choose everything in life, a mix of whim and reason, there is no such thing as a totally rational purchase. So the Devil whispers that though a used M6 would be a fifth the cost of a new M-A and equally as good, the opportunities to buy a brand new 35mm film camera are almost gone. In those moments calculated comparisons about shutter speeds, ISO range, and MTF graphs, get overwhelmed by touch, feel and looks, and my brain defaults to ‘ooh shiny’ drool mode.
The new Leica M-A puts you squarely at the cutting edge of 60-year-old technology, as to all intents it’s the same camera as the 1954 Leica M3, but 60 years of constant technical development, has given the M-A a slightly more cluttered viewfinder and a marginally less precise rangefinder. If a 50mm lens is your main choice then a used M3 maybe best, with its 50/90/135 viewfinder frame lines, or if you mainly use a 35mm lens go for an M2, (35/50/90). If you need a built in meter then get an 6 ( or the sublime M5 but their meters are getting tired). But Leica M2&3s are about same age as me and I just hope they don’t feel as creaky as I do. Thus a new M-A would be an indulgence, that should last me and my grandchildren another 60 years, and even if there is no film, we can just sit by the fire and listen to that lovely shutter.
This is not about right or wrong, or a hair shirt relinquishing of digital, it’s just a vivre la difference thing. Here are a few shots from my first roll. Could you have taken them on an I phone or a Canon EOS, yes of course you could, but after all those, menus, flat batteries, lost chargers, fickle SD cards, and sleepy wake-ups; there is a delight in something so simple, so svelte, that just clicks.
So a man walks out with a new Leica M-A, and roll of Tri X…