Rangefinders (Changeable Lens)

A Leica M7 review – a near perfect camera (at least for my personal requirments)

Leica M7

It’s been playing on my mind that I so frequently talk about my Leica M7 on here without it really fitting the 35mm compact camera niche subject I originally intended to author this blog around. But after a recent run in with a Leica iiia and subsequently feeling that not including interchangeable lens rangefinders on here was fairly short sighted, I thought about time I put pen to paper – so to speak – and wrote a little something a bit more in depth about the Leica M7; the camera, that if pushed, I would say is probably the best camera I own.

I did write a little about the M7 and how it solved a particular problem for me just after I got it, but to say I have grown rather fond of it even since then would be an understatement to say the least! There are quite a lot of reviews on the Leica M7 online, I particularly like this one on Luminous Landscapes, it just spoke to me as a photographer with a certain set of requirements. But since owning it, it’s become even more clear just how well suited it is to me. And that is largely what I want to talk about, my experiences with it, and how only through its use did I appreciate just how ideal a camera it could be for me… I’ve probably set this up to be some sort of drooling over the top over-positive review? Well it certainly has it’s positive parts, but nothing is perfect the Leica M7 included, and hopefully I can also put across those negative attributes as accurately as I can the positive ones. It is in fact, the negative attributes I’d like to cover first. Mainly as when talking about the Leica M7 there almost seems an elephant in the room. It’s fair to say, the Leica M7, for various reasons divides opinion, and it is this divide where I shall start.

First roll of XP2 through the M7

One of my favourites from the very first roll I shot with the M7

The M7 and it’s divisive nature.

There are many Leica shooters that disregard the Leica M7 for the fact that it has this weird and seemingly alien “aperture priority” mode. And what makes it even more weird, and is possibly even more important, as far as apparent caveats go is the fact that it is also not fully mechanical!

As I banged on about in my last post about Leica and Oskar Barnack, Leica all but started all this 35mm compact camera lark with a fully mechanical camera all those years back. They continued on this path for 70-80 odd years before the M7. They consistently enabled the purist with cameras that continued to provide just enough of a feature set to be little – if anything – more than the minimum that was required. That path of “perfect design” I mentioned as being so apparent in the Leica iiia was fairly well followed and that was despite the competition providing equipment at increasingly lower prices that demonstrated greater and greater technological “advancements”. This was achieved through high mechanical standards so that – all be it at a price – the “purist” could have a camera that not only functioned near perfectly for its purpose but due to its mechanical nigh on perfect manufacture, also felt like reliability was almost entirely a given.

Leica M7

Despite sharing many of the physical characteristics of its predecessors, its very different under the hood.

And then the Leica M7 comes along with its fancy electrically controlled shutter. Unlike every Leica rangefinder that preceded it, the shutter of the M7 is electronically triggered and timed. What this brings to the table is the potential for greater shutter speed accuracy, not to mention that when in aperture priority, shutter speeds between the standard stops. Some might argue that this could theoretically lead to more accurate exposure, though due to the reading being from a fairly rudimentary centre weighted meter, it’s probably fair to say that any difference would likely be negligible. I would have also said that if you want shutter speed accuracy, a camera like a Leica should give you that without the need for fancy electronics…

These fairly questionable benefits are combined with what is to many an even more serious caveat. Because it runs off batteries, when the batteries fail you have no shutter! Strictly speaking it will fire mechanically at 1/60 and 1/125 but this is pretty limiting. I guess there is pretty good reason why they couldn’t make it work like the Nikon FM3a and have fully mechanical fall back on the shutter; size maybe… Or cost?! Dead batteries also mean no light meter, so to all intents and purposes the camera becomes a dead weight around your neck. And frustratingly, it also gives little warning as to when the batteries are going to fail; when it happens it just says ‘bc’ (battery check) in the finder and it all but ceases to function.

No wonder it wasn’t received with unanimous approval, it bucked a trend 80 plus years in the making! People don’t like change, and the particular type of people that like change the least are traditionalists and purists. And of course, because of their history these were – and indeed still are – a sizeable portion of Leica’s customers and users. The Leica M7, it seems, to many, was just not what it could or maybe even should have been. Have a read of Bellamy Hunt’s post on selecting the right Leica for you – a excellent and very useful post, but me and him definitely don’t agree about the M7!

N.B. I should add, for the uninitiated Leica’s pre M7 path hasn’t been quite as smooth as I have hinted at. For a good example search google for “Leica M5” and have a read. My rose tinted perspective is to illustrate a point specifically about the M7. But I think that the M5 was also guilty of trying to be a little too far beyond what the purist of the day wanted.

Heron Tower

A favourite shot from a trip to London.

Day to day shooting

To my mind though, much of this is irrelevant day to day. I have mentioned before my fondness for aperture priority on cameras, and specifically this camera. I’ve owned an M6, but as I have also mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I sold it in favour of keeping a Voigtlander R2A. My reasoning at the time was primarily because of its AE function. The M7 might not be fully mechanical, and I might need to keep a spare set of batteries on hand, but for me, those are minor sacrifices that give me a level of functionality that I feel more comfortable having than not, especially on a camera that I might wish to carry pretty much anywhere I go.

Don’t get me wrong, I do get the purist view, I do worry that due to the potential for failing electronics I have a camera that might not live as long as a purely mechanical one. I worry about reports I have read and heard of failing shutters and of course I worry about the potential for repair costs. And finding someone who can do the repair for that matter – Leica probably being the best – or indeed only(?) option.

But these concerns, though valid are not the be all and end all of owning a camera. I don’t have those same worries about other cameras I own, many of which are even more door-stop-like without a battery. And some, like my Nikon D800, which cost me 2 1/2 times more than the Leica (which I bought second hand) I don’t expect to last me more than 5 years. After that time I also expect it to be worth a pittance, which is not the same expectation I have from my Leica M7! This for many though, is not how it is with when it comes to a Leica. I think to these people a Leica should last a lifetime with little question of failure. Because of this, to them, the M7 just doesn’t sit well. It represents too much of a deviation from what a Leica should be. This is not only in terms of what I’ve outlined, but also because it functions with automation, and that for some purists, that is just not right!

Fortunately for me, and I suspect many others this is not the mentality that I hold, for me the Leica M7 represents something else altogether. It represents the point at which the heritage and ideals of Leica of old meets just enough of the modern conveniences of technology to make it the perfect choice. Despite its reliance on batteries and because it does the things I need it to and very little more or less, to me it still encapsulates that feeling of “perfect design”… Well nearly…

The Leica M7 and its design flaws

Before I get to the possibly sickening praise for this camera, I should mention there are one or two features on the Leica M7 that combined with the design and functional choices that surround them just baffle me. The first is the plastic control dial on the back; bluntly, to my mind it’s just a bit shit!

Leica M7

Crappy plastic control dial on the back

It’s fiddly to use and completely contradicts the rest of the cameras build quality and feel. It basically means I don’t use it for most of what it’s intended. Exposure compensation is far too much of a faff – you need both hands!! – so it only gets used for setting ISO, which, incidentally, is also beyond fiddly. I shouldn’t have to use it for that as the camera has DX code reading, but my view of DX code reading on any camera designed for the enthusiast or pro isn’t positive, and besides the DX code reader in my fails intermittently! So lumbered with the crappy manual ISO dial I stay.

Secondly there is the battery compartment door, also plastic, also a bit shit! It popped off in the street the one day!

Leica M7

Plastic battery door surrounded by beautifully machined metal

Thankfully I heard it hit the floor, but if that had happened somewhere busy it would have been game over. I’ve stuck a load of blu-tak in it to keep it shut now, but hope to find a more elegant solution at some point. So it’s not perfect… Not quite, but I suppose at least it doesn’t set your hand on fire!

On to the good bits …

I imagine if you have stumbled across this blog only once before it was probably to read an article about a fairly heavily automated camera. I like to take photos with all sorts of cameras, but given the choice, more often than not I choose something with a level of automation, and quite often that results in me picking up a 35mm compact camera. Call me lazy if you will, I probably am by many people’s standards, but in more situations than not I find their limitations and conveniences liberating rather than restrictive.

The Leica M7, due to its manual focus, is possibly a fraction slower to use than some of the cameras I regularly carry. In many ways though it is obviously a lot less restrictive than them too. It provides a more full sense of control, but thanks to the level of automation it does have, it allows for much of the speed of thinking that I revel in when using a fully automated camera.

AE, it’s good!

Some time last year I made the decision to commit to a Leica again, and due to having a lot of the aforementioned automatic cameras I nearly decided to buy an M6 again. In the end I talked myself into selling my Voigtlander R2A to help fund the purchase of a Leica M7. There is a something about the M7 that despite reading quite a bit online I didn’t fully understand when considering it versus other rangefinder cameras. It’s certainly not something I discovered until owning the camera, and had it been more clear, I probably wouldn’t have hesitated for so long! I’m talking about the auto exposure, but more specifically I’m talking about the way autoexposure is implemented.

I mentioned the rudimentary nature of the meter earlier in the post, well fairly rudimentary it might be, but very useful it is. If you read about online you will find people arguing about whether it’s a centre weighted or large spot meter. My personal experience makes me err toward saying it works more like a centre weighted meter. This might not seem logical since the meter reading is taken off a white spot painted on to the shutter blind – a spot that actually has a very defined edge. But in use, the camera doesn’t read like it has a spot meter, readings drift a lot more smoothly between each other, and that is even when metering between higher contrast areas of a scene. I suppose this is probably down to the size of the meter spot, but I wonder if there is light also reflected off the surrounding area? Perhaps not, though I have certainly read of others speculating as such… I’m not technically savvy enough to comment really. One way or another, I find results generally well metered without necessarily having to worry too much in a large range of shooting circumstances.

Cite station

Given the lighting in the station I was very happy with this result.

But that’s not the clincher for me. This larger spot, when in aperture priority, is combined with shutter speed readings in the viewfinder. In manual mode, as on the M6TTL, the meter is just shown as two triangles and a circle. This might seem fairly insignificant, but I find these shutter speed readings very useful. As I said, the Leica M7 is good at giving the correct exposure with little thought. But it’s by no means flawless, you can’t just point it at any scene and expect it to get it right. It’s not a multi-segment or “matrix” – as Nikon would call it – meter so it doesn’t meter or try and understand the whole scene itself. Not that matrix meters always get it right either – they are  just designed to at least attempt to do so, which is very much not the case with the M7.

Despite this, when there is a difficult scene to meter I find the way the M7 meter works is one of the easiest I have used for assessing for good exposure in the way I feel most comfortable. This is not because it tries to be too clever, but actually because of how simple it is. I know some people like to get all enthusiastic about the zone system and spot meter to the nth degree, but I’m not into getting all that enthusiastic all that often – I believe I have mentioned my laziness before?! What I’m into is being able to quickly and relatively accurately get a feel for a scene. Because the Leica’s meter is more weighted than a spot, I find it useful for gathering a set of quick averages from around the scene. From those quick averages I can then make an informed decision at what will give the best overall exposure for what I am trying to achieve. Having assessed the scene I can make a judgement about what shutter speed I want to use, but rather than having to switch the shutter speed dial manually, I can find an area of the scene that gives me the speed I want to use, half press the shutter to lock the speed in, reframe and take the shot.

With the M6 (/M7 in manual) you can do this by taking readings from around the scene but it’s a slower process and because there is no shutter speed reading in the viewfinder you have to look at the top of the camera to take each reading. This process is then repeated until you have your desired combined reading. Then once you have that, it has to be dialled in, then eventually you can shoot. I remember doing just this in Worcester cathedral the one day some years back. I was trying to work out the best exposure for a half candle lit scene, it took a little time, but I got it right in the end.

Taken with my old Leica M6 and 50mm v3 Summicron

Taken with my old Leica M6 and 50mm v3 Summicron

It’s very doable, but it’s just a slower process… That’s not to say it isn’t a process some might revel in, but I personally like a little more speed. I suppose I’m drifting toward extolling the virtues of auto exposure as a whole here, and that not my point. The point is, due to the way autoexposure works in the Leica M7 it arguably allows a better understanding of a scene quicker than its non AE equivalents. And of course, if you still want to shoot it like an M6, you can switch it to manual and fill your boots!

Comparing AE to AE

Just quickly back to what I was saying about owning the Voigtlander R2A and the time I was mulling over getting an M6 rather than an M7. The mentality I had then was one of already owning an AE rangefinder, I nearly talked myself into the idea that an M7 was a needlessly expensive option when I could have an M6 and Voigtlander for the same money, have the same features and have two bodies. It made so much sense at the time, and in many ways it still does. But, it all comes back to the way the M7 meters.

The Voigtlander meter is biased toward one of the corners, bottom left I think. Although this does have merits in its own right, it isn’t as useful in as many situations I don’t think. This isn’t to say I ever had much trouble with exposure on the R2A, but what the Leica M7 has brought to the table is something a whole lot more for the way I am most comfortable shooting. I think the same can be said of the Zeiss ZM Ikon… Though since I haven’t used the Zeiss I shouldn’t really comment, but I am lead to believe it has the same metering pattern as the Voigtlander (edit, I am actually now trying one out, and I’m not quite right here, but I will explain all when I finish the Ikon review).

These aren’t the only cameras the Leica M7 measures favourably against in this respect either. Take the Nikon range of manual focus SLR cameras. The FM’s have LED metering readouts like the M6, you can see the readout in lower light, but they don’t have the advantages I’ve been talking about in the same way the M6 and it’s simple LED meter doesn’t. The FE’s and FM3A have some of the advantages through the well implemented use of matched needle meters, you just can’t see the readings quite as easily in lower light. The F3 has as digital readout, but relies on a crappy little light to illuminate the screen… I could go on for ages! For me though, for my requirements, the way in which the Leica M7 meters, and performs it’s AE function are absolutely ideal! In fact, I would go as far to say that, with the M7 in my hand I feel more confident about my ability to shoot a photo with the exposure I was aiming for than I do with any other camera I have shot with to date.

Further thoughts on the level of automation in the Leica M7

I read a lot about cameras online, and I find a lot of commentary on automation. More specifically where automation is looked upon as cheating to some degree. Whilst I wouldn’t ever invalidate any method of photography to the extent of calling it cheating, I do see some truth in the idea that over simplification of function in the wrong hands can lead to laziness. In the case of the Leica M7, the level of automation is not – in my view at least – there to encourage or aid a point & shoot mentality. It is there to give the user a very valid method for ascertaining correct exposure. This is in fact where I found myself completely agreeing with matey on luminous landscapes. A completely manual camera can hinder the process of photography, especially within certain fields. The M7 does its best to get out of the way of the the photographer, it allows for quick decisions and fast action without patronising the user or overriding the his or hers actions with over simplification or over dumbing down of function.

There is also a fringe benefit of this AE function in the Leica M7. In the way I use the camera, it makes the crappy exposure compensation dial pretty much redundant!

Flooded river

Another favourite from when we saw some fairly serious flooding earlier on this year.

A quick word on the Leica M7 in the hand

There is one other fairly major reason for which I place the Leica M7 on a bit of a pedestal. This is admittedly only based on what might have been (but certainly didn’t look like) a dog of an M6, but this M7 is by comparison very smooth. I remember thinking how nice the M6 was to use, but the M7 feels smoother to me. It’s especially noticeable in the film advance lever, it’s like a knife through butter! The shutter speed selection also feels perfect, in fact all the controls (ignoring plastic abomination on the back) feel perfect! There is only one other camera in my collection that equals the feel of quality the M7 has, and that’s the Leica iiia, but even that doesn’t feel quite as smooth in its mechanical function… I guess this stuff almost goes without saying though.

Pride of ownership

So, enough about the camera itself, it’s just a tool after all… isn’t it? To me a camera is a tool, but since when does a tool only have to be about it’s function? This is the second post I have written where I have talked about the history of the Leica, I won’t go over the details again, but taking all that into account, how can I not be proud to own such a thing? I do think some people mistake pride in cameras, or at least the mention of it, as their owners using them for bragging rights. That might be the case for some, but pride in ownership of a camera is not about that for everyone.

I love owning such a beautiful luxury camera. And that is, its fair to say, a portion of what a Leica is – a luxury object. But this is not for the benefit of showing off, it is for the benefit of personal enjoyment. It cost me a shit pile of cash, especially when including the cost of the lenses. I could have taken my family on holiday probably twice over for what this cost me, but instead I selfishly spent the money on myself. How can I not respect it, appreciate it, and take pride in owning it when taking all that into account.

Having that pride, respect and appreciation for it has to be a positive thing. I respect it as a thing, but I also respect it in use. Due to this fact I have taken the time to really get to know the camera in a way I’m not sure I have with many others. As soon as I got the 35mm Summicron for it, it felt complete, it felt like something that shouldn’t ever stop me from achieving my best. Some might find this daft, but I didn’t want to let it down! The first film I took with it I got this shot, a photo that I hope most would agree has at least some merit?

First roll with the Summicron 35mm v3

I am very pleased with it anyway, not just because I like it as a photo, but also for the fact that I’ve been trying to get a photo I like of this bit of road for years! I’ve always felt it has merit but not as an empty road. First film with the Summicron and this guy appears just at the right time. I managed to get the shot, despite my near panic at the possibility of missing the moment. I was very pleased I was successful, but moreover the fact it happened with this new complete feeling setup sealed the deal for the camera and my emotional response to it!

So conclude my Leica M7 review.

The Leica M7 fills a hole in my requirements where I want to shoot something a little less restrictive than many of the fully automatic cameras I often use, but without the addition of stacks of superfluous features. It manages to do this without adding serious bulk or weight and it rarely gets in my way or feels uncomfortable to carry. On the days where I manage to convince myself I only need the 35mm Summicron, it hangs, strap across my chest ready to shoot, but without feeling like it’s there. To this end, despite it being on the large side compared to (for eg) the Ricoh GR1v it succeeds as being a 35mm compact camera in much the same way many other, much smaller cameras I carry do.

As I have mentioned in my posts about the GR1v, I feel it partners that camera perfectly for my needs. Yes I worry about it failing, but I remain pragmatic by remembering that I don’t have the same concerns or worries day to day about any of my other cameras. If it fails, it fails, I will have it fixed, because I can’t to any real extent fault it as a tool! And beyond its status as a tool I see it as so much more; to the point that it’s affected my shooting mentality through using it.

Though it’s not a view shared by all, I really do think the Leica M7 maintains that feeling of perfect design inherited through its forefathers. Admittedly there are a couple of thing that leave you scratching your head about what the designer was thinking, but the way the autoexposure and light meter function wholly make up for these. The meter itself is about as simple as it could possibly be, no unnecessary computer making any decisions behind the scene, it’s just a simple meter that gives a simple reading. In the right hands though, combined with the well thought out autoexposure implementation, it’s nigh on faultless. It gives me a sense of confidence in my ability to choose correct exposure that I’m not sure I have had with any other camera. It could be argued that I have just got to understand how to use the camera better than any other, but if that has happened through the huge pride I have in owning it then so be it.

Ultimately, I feel I have bought something of unquestionable importance in my path as a photographer and whilst some might not find the same love for the Leica M7, for me I feel it is quite possibly the closest thing I have to the perfect camera!

Cheers for reading!

Hamish

Links and references:
Plenty more shots can be found on my flickr here
Leica M7 review and thoughts – Luminous Landscapes

 

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24 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Tony
    April 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Generally, this isn’t a bad review. The comparisons with the M5 are apt; not only are both major tehnological leaps that have been ignored and neglected for various reasons, but both are the only Leica rangefinders (that I’m aware of) that can shoot intermediate speeds.

    The M5, in many ways, is actually more advanced and useable than the M7; a true spot meter, ratcheted film rewind, match needle readout and shutter speeds constantly indicated in the finder, a shutter dial that can be adjusted without bringing the camera away from the eye.

    The fact the M6 is the go-to metered Leica over either of these has always confused me.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 13, 2014 at 5:15 pm

      The M5 has intrigued me in the past, but my penchant for AE means it couldn’t possibly suit me better than the M7, regardless of any other features. I also find the centre weighted nature of the M7 more suitable for the way I shoot than I would a spot meter. I find the nature of spot meters give me a little too much info to handle in a fleeting moment… if you follow?

      I also don’t feel much need for being able to see the shutter speed in the viewfinder when not in AE … Though it is more than useful on non ae cameras and often their downfall when not a feature in my opinion. It’s ultimately why I gave up on my FM2n and traded up to the FM3a. Matched needle metering is definitely functionally advantageous in many situations over 2 or 3 leds.

      Possibly one of the best meter readouts I have seen is that of the Voigtlander R2a (et al). Basically works like a led lit based matched needle. Very clever … Just a shame about the metering pattern, which as I say above, I couldn’t go back to having shot an M7 now.

      As for the M6, I guess it’s just the natural progression to the Leica’s of old. The entirely basic nature of the meter means even the hardest core purist can just about abide it… The M7 and M5 (it seems) just make things too easy for some peoples tastes I think!

      Now owning an M7 and iiia, I feel I can get my purist kicks from that when required … But day to day, I don’t feel the need to make things that hard for myself!

      If you like a spot meter Tony, have you even shot with a Contax T2? Very near spot metering, makes for quite the nifty bit of kit!

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Tony Gale
        April 13, 2014 at 6:48 pm

        Blergh, T2? Far too automated for me, thanks.

        The reason I’ve often said the M5 is the only M I’d consider isn’t because it makes things easy (there’s no automation), but because it builds on the traditional Leica without making things complicated. The additional features are actually useful, and would only reflect how I shoot already.

        But it’s still not a IIIf. =P

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Hamish Gill
          April 13, 2014 at 6:57 pm

          Ha… snob! 😉 Mastering automation can provide quite an enjoying challenge you know Tony!

          I def get your point about the M5… I could see how it would appeal looking at its features more in depth… Thanks for the GAS! 😉

  • Reply
    The Leica M7 | Camera Equipment | Scoop.it
    May 19, 2014 at 9:15 am

    […] Whilst some might not find the same love for the Leica M7, for me I feel it is quite possibly the closest thing I have to the perfect camera!  […]

  • Avatar
    Reply
    John Ferebee
    July 29, 2014 at 3:41 am

    Hamish,

    In good part because of your two posts, a nice used M7 arrived today. Yes, I sold the M6 after using it for 10 days in France. It was my black and white camera on several cloudy and rainy days teaming up with the M9 when the weather was better. Having a digital and film camera using the same lenes is so much fun. I only wish I had gotten the M7 before I went but I was concerned about leaning on the fly in a place that I may never get to visit again. However, I missed some shots because of the all manual 6 which was the final decision maker for me.

    Tomorrow it get’s used by me for the first time and it will be fun learning the metering etc. Perhaps, as time allows, you could post a few M7 user tips. I’m lazy too so they could help me not learn everything the hard way -:)

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 31, 2014 at 7:15 am

      Hi John, that’s great to hear! So how was Paris? And the beaches? What did you see in Paris in the end? I’d love to see some photos if you have shared them anywhere?

      I suppose my biggest tip would be to learn the light meter pattern. But then it’s the same as the M6 so you should be on the way there.

      Other than that, the half press to lock exposure is probably the most useful feature. As I say in the post, it’s easy to asses the scene, find a meter reading that you think suits, lock it, and shoot.

      Good luck, and I’d love to hear how you get on!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    John Ferebee
    July 31, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Hamish,

    Paris was great fun. Wife and I saw all the well known tourist attractions and a few other places as well. Normandy was very special. We had a guide who was a history teacher and knew a lot about D Day. The American cemetery left me speechless and in tears.

    I have started to post the digital photos on my blog and will continue to do so as I sort through them. I sent the film out for processing as I didn’t have the time and didn’t want to mess them up.

    I tried to see France and well as photograph it but still took a lot of shots.

    http://johnferebeephotography.wordpress.com/

    I’ll send a M7 note from time to time.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 4, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Those cemeteries are really something, impossible not to be moved by it all. I shall check back to you site once in a while then… and look forward to any further comments about the M7

  • Avatar
    Reply
    lux
    May 4, 2015 at 8:28 am

    I have nothing against the build or anything. The ISO dial is plastic but functions at least. Two hands you need to operate it, still no worse than many other “down-to-the-essential” classics like the Nikon FM/FE line and a huge load of other good RFs and SLRs. The compensation lock is a standard feature.

    The only, real design flaw that went against the “philosophy” (an ambiguous word but is understandable) is, when you turn on the camera, it takes roughly 2 seconds to display the current ISO setting in the finder, and during that 2 seconds all functions including the shutter are locked up. I put the camera in my pack with a wrap to let it bump around so I need the shutter lock on to prevent the camera from accidentally being fired, but I would like the camera to be ready as I ready myself for the coming moment. I love the AE function for that exact reason, I’ve even learnt the FoV of my preferred focal lengths throughout the years so that I don’t waste no time framing with the viewfinder, and – after I draw it I need to wait the damned display to disappear while watching that moment flees away.

    Not a single camera out of the hundreds I have used does this, except the ones that need to extend their lenses maybe – but that’s another story and can be lived with.

    It’s obvious how it ended up like this. In 2001, perhaps during the final stages of the camera’s development, Leica engineers suddenly realized: although it’s been around for 19 years already – for the first time in history, not before and never after, the DX coding system found its way into a M body. They had developed a sophisticated optical device that uses infrared beam to read the code (how it turned out in reality is worth another thousand words), but not until the last moment did they understand the side effect – you have no idea what the current ISO with if you set the dial to DX!

    It was after the 90’s, Japanese disposable cameras everywhere, so the Germans turned to their wive’s lowly fully automatic Point & Shoot for hint. There they found the solution, as simple and elegant it could be – the tiny transparent window opening on the camera back!

    But they couldn’t. They couldn’t do that to the M7, not anyone, not even Barnack himself. The Leica form factor is sacred. Good lord the only freedom they were allowed was the ISO dial, where the compensation mechanism was to be added. And some of them might still remember how hard they had to fought during the M6’s design to have that battery cap added to the front panel (because they can’t put it on the bottom like the Japanese , for the same reason). No opening. Not another. Not again. Plus that the window might be plastic, which must be avoided at all cost.

    So what we see in the M7 today is very likely result of a Plan B. Moreover, letting engineers run the product design, without a unified vision. The same thing that killed Zeiss Ikon several decades ago.

    Still I own two M7s as work cameras, I just don’t carry them daily. Plus that they are heavy. And I must always refrain myself from the Cosina Zeiss Ikon, not only because its huge finder, but also its power switch…

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 4, 2015 at 10:09 am

      I very rarely suffer the problem of the start up time – I just leave mine on – but it is definitely a flaw. For me, for whatever reason, the M7 is a flawed camera. As time goes on, as I have alluded to in my M-A post, these flaws are beginning to bug me more and more.

      I actually have a ZM Ikon here at the moment, on loan from a friend … That viewfinder! Something else!! … Though I remain unconvinced about the camera as a whole. The light meter just isn’t as useful to me. More on that another time though!

      Thank you for your comment!

  • Dan Castelli
    Reply
    Dan Castelli
    October 5, 2016 at 3:11 am

    Hi,
    A reply to an older post. This review popped up when I was reading the excellent review of the CL.
    Just a couple of points on the M7:
    1. I was planning an overseas trip and was worried that if I lost the blasted battery cover, I’d be stuck w/an expensive piece of modern art. I contacted Leica USA, and asked for a spare battery cover. They sent one out at no charge…it’s tucked away in a small accessory sack I pack.
    2. If the batteries fail, you’re stuck w/manual speeds of 1/60 or 1/125. I carry a roll of FP-4. If I have failure, I can keep shooting until I can replace the batteries. I also carry an exposure chart on a piece of index card. I just worked out the ‘sunny 16’ rule using the ISO 125 film.
    3. I was getting wonky exposures, incorrect ISO settings and short battery life. A repair performed by Leica USA upgraded the electronics, installed the optical DX coding, and fixed the battery drain issue. They also did overall adjustment/CLA. It wasn’t cheap: $400 USD back in 2015. My M7 was purchased used back in 2011 (in top shelf condition) & I keep equipment for a long time, so the work was worth it.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      October 5, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      Thanks Dan!
      That’s interesting about the battery cover!

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Marlon Correa
        October 22, 2016 at 11:37 pm

        Hey Hamish, great post on the M7. I ave a very important question. I am currently being offered a M7; with the Aperture Priority mode not working. they’re asking $1k and the cam is in mint condition. Aside from the hassle of the battery and the camera not being fully mechanical, should I go for it or keep searching for a M6?

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Hamish Gill
          October 23, 2016 at 9:16 am

          That sounds a lot for a none functioning camera! an M6 ttl for similar money would probably be a better idea!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Martin Hugh Henley
    May 2, 2018 at 11:25 am

    20 minutes ago my doorbell rang. A young guy in a FedEx uniform asked me to sign for a box. My shiny MINT M7 is now in my hands. I blame you, Hamish! 😉

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 5, 2018 at 8:41 pm

      Hah, I’ll happily take full responsibility!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Martin Hugh Henley
    May 4, 2018 at 11:25 am

    I just completed my first session with my minty M7. In truth, I was like a dog with the proverbial 2 dangly bits when it arrived, boxed, to my address a few days ago & almost sprinted to my regular studio to get shooting. The comparison is my newly acquired M4 with the superb little Voigtlander hot-shoe light meter which was bought because, hey, for once in my life I have the money to buy a Leica setup. I wanted to have a “manual Konica Hexar AF” for slow, Sunday shooting, and the M4 fitted the bill. Then, I went for the M7 as a second body when more speed (!) was called for but still want to maintain the Leica “experience” – I much prefer shutter-priority, but, hey, aperture-priority is better than nothing. So, what is my verdict? Using my M7 has still left me in no doubt that the Konica Hexar AF is by far the greatest 35mm camera ever made for so many reasons, not least the P-Mode, speed of operation, and price for a lens which equals anything Leica have done. However, I digress a little – back to the M7. My Lord, Hamish, you were right – the ISO/Exp. compensation dial is absolutely appalling – unbelievably ridiculous in terms of design. Two hands to use? Man, I need THREE! Before shipping from the UK to my home in Warsaw I insisted the shop thoroughly check EVERYTHING on the M7 before dispatch. I was lucky – the DX sensor was found to be faulty. This sensor was replaced by Leica (I think the dealer had to pay something), now all is ok in that area. However, unless anyone has physically experience of using these dials, you cannot believe the carry on to use them during a shoot – dial in some compensation, and the ISO dial slides with it, and vice-versa. I’ve just opted for a permanent setting: DX on and +1/3 compensation, and leave it at that. The M4 doesn’t have these dials, though the Voigtlander meter has these if you want to control exposure – and, despite having to transfer the settings from the meter to the camera & lens, the M4 doesn’t feel much slower than the M7. And, then, of course, there is still the mind-blowingly painful Leica-style bottom-loading method of both the M4 & M7. So, ahem, back to the verdict: I kinda like my M7 – the feel, build-quality, view-finder are all delicious. However, really, it ain’t much better than my M4. In fact the M4, WITH the Voigtlander meter, is its equal. Will I keep both the M4 and M7? Yep. It took me so many years to be able to afford the Leica legend/myth, so I want to give it a fair crack. I feel I will grow to love my Leicas through their continual use leading a greater bonding & speed through familiarity. Just don’t ever ask me to abandon my Hexar AFs! Great review, as usual, Hamish. And the accompanying pix are superb! Cheers.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 14, 2018 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks Martin. Funnily enough, I sold my M7 in the end for similar reasons – I sort of regret it, but I am just happier with a non-metered Leica film camera. I hope you find peace with yours, though!!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    David
    June 17, 2018 at 2:28 am

    Great review and fully agree with the flaws of the M-7 . However I still think the squinty viewfinder is a tribute to Leica’s overly conservative philosophy. They had the technology to upgrade and stuck to the archaic viewfinder that is ages behind the Zeiss ZM. Maybe they just don’t think it worthwhile to spend more R&D on a camera that will become extinct shortly. But cutting edge technology is not what Leica is known for, just conservative obstinacy!

  • Reply
    I am Hamish Gill and this is why I shoot film | EMULSIVE
    June 19, 2018 at 6:42 am

    […] have. It’s built in auto-exposure meter is useful way beyond its function as an automatic camera (read my M7 review to understand what I mean there). The Leica M-A (review here) just feels like a point and shoot […]

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Flavio Colker
    December 1, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    I tried an M7. It felt light and refined not to mention the quietest shutter ever.. Thing is: those diodes glowing inside the VF. The glowing shutter speeds… These things are just wrong. A Leica M should not have those things just like a Rollei, a 4×5 and other perfect cameras have no red lights blimping on your VF while you want to think your image.
    I don´t mind being non mechanical… i don´t have the mechanical fetishism of leica owners. As long as the camera stands out of my way when shooting and gives me the best possible image, it´s right… but i say no to blinking red lights in viewfinders. Those things are on the bad side of photography. Just get a separate meter or.. set the camera to program. Just don´t use your viewfinder to calculate exposure.

  • Reply
    Practice [and not a New Camera] Makes Perfect! - 35mmc
    February 4, 2019 at 10:01 am

    […] in this post from back in 2013, but the abridged version is that I sold the Nikon and bought a Leica M7. I’d found that rangefinder focusing was slightly easier with my right eye and of course perfect […]

  • Reply
    The Konica Hexar RF - A Meandering Review of my Experiences so far - 35mmc
    March 4, 2019 at 11:00 am

    […] that I’ve made in a long time that comes from a place other than pure intrigue. I sold my Leica M7 a couple of years ago and have missed the automation once in a while since. It’s a camera sale […]

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