Rangefinders (Changeable Lens)

Another Leica MP Review – by Adam Laws

Let’s get this out of the way straight away – It’s hard to recommend the Leica MP in what might seem a rational way. It’s an emotive choice compared to it’s analogue M-system compatriots. The M6 can be purchased at half the price and is just as capable. The M7 offers a more “advanced” package allowing for AE, and the M3, the camera which inspired the MP is equipped with a higher magnification view finder, a larger rangefinder base length and has a comparative brass construction.

Toni – summilux 50mm

Chloe – summilux 50mm

So how do I find myself with a camera like this; a camera that’s considered camera pornography, when others see it as an extravagant waste of cash? I had just sold my M7 on this very site – a service I couldn’t recommend high enough. My saving account were hoping to see some of the reward when I stumbled on a MP that was less than a year old at Aperture Photographic.

The previous owner purchased it and subsequently traded in for a digital M10 a few months later. At this point I should have run for hills, but my curiosity got the better of me. This camera is supposed to represent “Mechanical Perfection”, at least if you believe the marketing bumph – and who doesn’t want to hold “perfection” when the opportunity arises?

I fired a few dry frames in the store – which is something I don’t recommend if you value your savings! “Bollocks” I thought to myself – I was somewhat smitten as soon as I pushed that film advance. With the somewhat more rational (and often deluded) part of my brain stating that I could sell it at a later date at no financial detriment to myself, I purchased it on the spot with only the smallest amount of persuasion from the GAS devil hovering over my shoulder.

As a rule, each camera I own must be used and fill a specific or multiple roles. This normally consists of a point & shoot, a 35mm interchangeable lens camera, and a Polaroid.  If I want a new camera something has to go – as per Thunderdome rules: “two cameras enter, one must leave” – generally each sale funding the majority of the next. Thus I don’t have a camera horde or shelf queens. The route of succession to the MP was an FM2n, G2, M6 TTL and then finally the M7; some of which I have written about on this site. I’m quite lucky that my part-time photography work generally funds these acquisitions, and my emulsion habit, keeping my passion fairly sustainable.

So what’s it like to live with as a tool for commercial portraiture and fashion shoots and as a daily companion? It’s not too shabby as you would like to hope…

Ella – Summilux 50mm

Ella – Summilux 50mm

Dita – Summilux 50mm

Pia – Summilux 50mm

The tolerances on every dial and lever feel tighter than I experienced with my previous Leicas – this gives the impression of a slightly more refined product. The process of advancing film is one of pure mechanical joy and feels subjectively smoother than any camera I have used – though how I quantify this without an elaborate resistance rig, I’m unsure…? So much so, that the day after procuring the camera I spent an entire afternoon on my sofa just shooting imaginary film. In my defence it was raining horizontally outside, meaning I was not unable to go out to play.

When the sun decided to put its sparkly suit back on, it took me a few test rolls to become accustomed with the somewhat smaller reversed rotation shutter dial reversed rotation. I still miss the larger shutter dial found on the M6 TTL and M7 – put plainly it was just easier to turn. Fortunately, the direction change didn’t take long to adapt to, and in practice it soon became second nature.

Elena – Summilux 50mm

Emma – Summilux 50mm

Summarit 35mm f2.4

Alice – Summilux 50mm

One benefit I didn’t expect with vintage style rewind knob is that when you accidentally release it in the process of winding (we’ve all done it), a combination of pixie magic and presumably friction will stop the film from spooling up within the camera, thus not having to rewind the film yet again. It is generally a little slower to rewind but it’s not impeded my work – I don’t shoot a film rangefinder for the benefit of speed anyway.

Summilux 50mm

Summilux 50mm

Summarit 35mm f2.4

The light meter has been very reliable, and when my battery unexpectedly ran out of juice – unlike my M7 – I was still able to shoot at all speeds. I do however miss having the camera speed in the viewfinder as a little reminder – a feature of M7 in AE mode.

Summarit 35mm f2.4

Summarit 35mm f2.4

Summilux 50mm

Summarit 35mm f2.4

Summilux 50mm

Summarit 35mm f2.4

The Leica MP will not turn you into Henri Cartier-Bresson by power of virtue. Nor will it allow you to take better images than any other M-system camera. But it has, for me, made the process of taking them just slightly more enjoyable – it’s a wonderful, tactile instrument that engages the senses, which as irrational as that might sound, is probably the biggest appeal. After all, photography is a creative endeavour not defined by specification tables and charts. Despite the additional cost, the MP has made me smile more than any other camera I’ve owned to date. I now find myself in a situation I have never been in before – I now own a camera I could never consider selling or moving on from. As a child of the 80’s who grew up on consumer electronics and planned obsolescence, this is a slightly strange notion, but a most welcome one.

You can find Hamish’s recent review of the Leica MP here

You can see more of my work and musings on my website
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26 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    StephenJ
    October 7, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Some excellent pictures there Adam, thank you.

    However, I would hotly dispute your contention that the Leica MP represents “mechanical perfection”.

    How can a device that contains a printed circuit board and a battery to power the built in light meter be equal to mechanical perfection?

    In my view, you have identified the right manufacturer though, albeit with different owners.

    “Mechanical perfection” was achieved in 1932 when Mr. Barnack and Mr. Berek of Leitz, produced the Leica iii, and its Elmars, along with the Hektors…

    …Sublime.

    It has been downhill ever since.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Adam Laws
      October 7, 2018 at 10:08 pm

      Evening Stephen thanks for your kind words and comments.

      It’s not my contention at all – I agree with your point totally. The “Mechanical Perfection” is how Leica is currently marketing the camera on their website and what I was refering to.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Gavin
      October 12, 2018 at 1:25 am

      No sir! The M3, M2, M4 and m-a are all mechanical perfection. The m-a being the most perfected of the perfections.

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Adam Laws
        October 13, 2018 at 3:42 pm

        Hi Gavin, it is the marketing team at Leica who refer to the MP as “Mechanical Perfection”, which I was sarcastically refering too – not myself.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    M A Krishna Kumar
    October 7, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Oh … Is there a better lens than the Summilux 50mm … I doubt … and on a Leica body it’s even better … !!!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Guy Wheater
    October 7, 2018 at 9:00 am

    One small correction: “Nor will it allow you to take better images than any other camera” (Nice pictures though!) 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Adam Laws
      October 7, 2018 at 9:59 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more – and a point that should really be emphasised in most of our musings.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Scott Edwards
    October 7, 2018 at 10:53 pm

    Fabulous work! Thank you for sharing. My Leica belongings are quite limited… a 1956 Summarit 50 1.5 (forerunner to Summilux) and a 1959 Summaron 35 2.8 that is super sharp and a fabulous lens.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Adam Laws
      October 8, 2018 at 7:02 am

      Thank you Scott. I would love to try those lenses and some vintage glass in general.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Rifki Syahputra
    October 8, 2018 at 1:47 am

    those are really great pictures.. really enjoy it

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Adam Laws
      October 8, 2018 at 7:03 am

      Thank you for your kind words Rifki.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Grant
    October 8, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Lovely images! What film was you shooting?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Adam Laws
      October 8, 2018 at 2:38 pm

      Thanks Grant. I generally shoot Kodak Portra 400 rated at 200 iso and metered for the shadows although the shot of the kids climbing the tree was a rare (for myself) Fuji 400h.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Allan Weitz
    October 8, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    I too purchased an MP upon stumbling upon it on the used shelf at B&H Photo. In my case it’s a 2005 chrome ‘a la cart’ camera with blue leather – the kind of camera that gets purists up in arms (one of the reasons I love it!). Despite the cockiness of its looks, the camera is indeed a joy to use and though I can easily flip it and pocket a fair piece of change, my MP is a camera I enjoy taking out for a spin every now and then to counterbalance the mindset and ease of digital cameras.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Adam Laws
      October 8, 2018 at 2:50 pm

      Sounds like a wonderful combination Allan – it does make me laugh how people get so offended over these sorts of things.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Jasper
    October 8, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    You said you sold your Leica M7 on this site? How!? I purchased a never been used M6 and would like to sell my M7 as well. If you want to buy mine I wouldn’t mind selling it to you 😁

  • Daniel Castelli
    Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    October 8, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    The Leica as camera porn? Oh my, that’s a new one on me. Leica/Bessa/Zeiss rangefinders all do the same job; they’re rangefinders. Two quotes from two master’s of the Leica (rangefinder system):
    Elliott Erwitt: “There’s a profound difference between the simple non-reflex, direct viewing camera (such as a rangefinder Leica) and a single lens reflex. With a reflex, you tend to make the in the camera; with the other, you have to see the picture and then put a frame around it. The rangefinder camera is also faster, quicker to focus, less noisy, and smaller, but these advantages are much less important than the fundamental difference.”
    David Douglas Duncan: “…my double-winder Leica M3Ds, which I still consider the best field camera in the world, and the camera I would use again, were I to return to places like Viet-Nam – leaving the single lens reflexes at home…where two Leica M3Ds fitted with a 28mm, 50mm Nikons are impossible to beat…”
    That’s what it’s all about and nothing more: a way of seeing the world and cameras built to withstand extreme conditions. Attach a 50 or 35mm lens, and you don’t need anything else.
    It took me close to 30 years to evolve into seeing my world with ‘rangefinder’ vision, not as a SLR. Rangefinders are not for everyone. Nor is Shushi. Good article

  • Daniel Castelli
    Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    October 9, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Opps, a typo: The second sentence in Erwitt’s quote should read: “With a reflex, you tend to make THE PICTURE in the camera…” My mistake; I blame it on jet lag returning from Ireland to the US a few hours earlier, and sipping some fine Irish whiskey while responding to your excellent article.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Adam Laws
      October 9, 2018 at 10:55 pm

      Evening Daniel thanks for your kind comment and kind words.

      I’ve never heard that specific quote by Erwitt thank you for sharing. It very much summarises the different objective when shooting with a rangefinder, which I had not considered before although should have been quite obvious.

      I hope you enjoyed the whiskey.

      • Daniel Castelli
        Reply
        Daniel Castelli
        October 10, 2018 at 12:42 am

        The quote is from Erwitt’s exceptional book: ” Personal Exposures.” I had the honor to meet Erwitt at a small lecture/book signing in Boston many years ago. A charming & witty man. The quote from Duncan is from his book “War Without Hero’s” – a beautifully printed gravure edition on the Viet Nam war, printed during the height of the war in 1970. It’s at once both high art because of his photographs and depressing because of his photographs. I thoroughly enjoyed the whiskey, it was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful week my wife & I had in Ireland.
        As for the rangefinder vs. SLR/DSLR’s, I eventually realized that I saw the potential for a photograph as I walked around. Once I finally picked up the Leica, I realized that this was a camera that I needed to use. Not because it was a Leica, but for the viewfinder.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Flavio Colker
    November 27, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    The slr x rangefinder dispute is based on reason. It should be. You shoot w/ lenses up to 50mm? Mostly wide angles? Get a rangefinder. Those lenses are much better when built for rangefinders.
    You need a tele lens? Get a slr, dslr or electronic finder. Whatever gives you precise framing. A tele lens is silly on a Leica.
    That´s what photojournalists did all these years: carry two Leicas and a Nikon.
    There is another issue which is noise. If you are shooting fashion or portraits, that noisy mirror slap is no problem. Usually you are working w/ a tele on fashion and portraits so it´s a dslr you are using.
    If you are shooting on a film set or theatre you need to quiet down so a Leica is best.
    There is reason behind every camera. Btw… beautifull girls. We should fall for humans not cameras.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Stuart
    December 14, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    Adam, thank you for your excellent article. I decided to buy a 35mm after reading the abundant and very helpful material on 35mmc and with your assistance went for a used and quite lovely chrome MP (no nasty brassing Hamish!). I have had 15 years of digital and in a single act have rediscovered why I like photography in the first place. That’s enough for me to be very happy and I am grateful.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Adam Laws
      December 19, 2018 at 11:09 am

      Thanks for your comment Stuart, I’m glad to hear you have fallen back in love with photography.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    francois karm
    January 27, 2019 at 8:33 am

    thanks for the review. I did apply your philosophy….one camera has to replace an other one…
    so had few M2 , M6j,M7, M6, MP, M4….today I enjoy the M-A.
    They are all same and different one….some I need to buy two time to appreciate them…
    some I regret 3 times like the M7 wich I owned in Three differents options.
    M_A in black is my today best friend. perfection ? I don’t know yet but visualy it is eaven.
    The MP was something between…
    With age, I realized that these Leica M GAS is more dictated by my mood than reality about the camera.
    any M are super nice….but there is only one to feed your soul at the correct moment.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Nick Bedford
    April 26, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    Lovely photographs! I shoot with a used M7 I found a few years ago, but my long term goal is to switch to my own brand new MP.

    I no longer use AUTO on the M7 and would prefer a fully mechanical camera with the meter of course though. Sunny 16 is perfect until you’re in ambiguous light and your guess is a two stops in the wrong direction.

    I also shoot medium format on a Rolleiflex 2.8D and there is something magical about the experience of a camera that doesn’t need any power to make an image!

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