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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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