The Leica MP is something very special
In another guest post from Jerome Arfouche and this time he tells us about his new found love affair with the Leica MP.
Hello everyone, I’m back with a gear related article which Bellamy kindly agreed to share.
I’m usually not a very big gearhead but I love photography and I like pretty looking cameras and this is what today’s post is about. But first, rewind back to April 2010. I have decided to take the leap and buy a Leica M, this is a serious decision as I have no real way to pay for it but to sell all my Nikon and Voigtlander gear. In the end I was convinced that a one camera one lens combo was the way to go. May 2011. For a year I’ve been using nothing but that same camera lens setup and couldn’t be happier, I’m in San Francisco on vacation when things apparently decided they were going too well; my lens broke and subsequently spent the summer in repairs and I made zero pictures that season. Hence I decided to buy a backup. October 2011, still in disbelief I buy a cheap M4 with a 28mm lens. After playing with the M4, a meterless mechanical camera, I start to question the usefulness of an auto setting on my M7, and the batteries having abadoned me a few times, a little tempting thought formed in the back of my mind about an all mechanical setup. However I dismissed the idea because I wasn’t fond of just collecting expensive gear. In general I don’t like to buy things just for the sake of buying or just because I can afford them, I guess I somehow managed to escape the great “keep buying new things” mentality pervasive in North America.
Fast forward to April 2012. A quiet morning at work, checking email, quick glance over to KEH, lo and behold what do I see ? A Leica MP, black (perfect for street), .58 finder (I wear glasses and use wide angles) in excellent condition for a jaw dropping price (the good one, the “is it missing a zero” kind). The little red devil on my shoulder is whispering into my ear.
For the third time, I question whether I need such an expensive camera. Looking at the price I equate it with x weeks of work, months of rent. Suddenly, ideas and sacrifices otherwise inconceivable to a sane mind seem to look perfectly logical and reasonable, sure I can survive on soup and fruit for a month. And before I knew it I had ordered the camera, the deal seemed too good to pass, besides, I could always sell it again if I didn’t like it, right ? (who was I kidding
when I said that, I do not know) Following that were three agonizing days of border delays, missed phone calls, second thoughts and failed deliveries. Friday afternoon I finally pick up the package, squeeze into a full subway at rush hour with nine to fivers eyeing my box uncomfortably, run home, narrowly avoiding a lengthy chat with the neighbor. There it was, on my counter, the object of so much lust and desire, and on my face a grin from ear to ear.
So why is it I put myself through all this you ask ? Leica is no foreign name for anyone who knows cameras or has been doing
photography for a while. And atop this unattainable olympus of heart breaking expensive perfection sits the MP, the most perfected and refined, the pinnacle of mechanical film cameras from a legend in 35mm. Or as my friend adequatly summed it up, “it’s the same camera, but not really. it’s a Leica thing”.
Leicas are amongst the lowest of low tech cameras, no autofocus or even auto film rewind here. Their design has been virtually the same since the 50s, they use film for heaven’s sake, what on earth would compel someone to buy them?
Although I love Leica I am lucid enough in my insanity to admit that all cameras do the same thing, they take pictures. Yes that’s right, can I live without and still make pictures ? Yes. If one wants a functional good camera, affordable working gear is plentiful. However Leica is different in that they designed not just a camera but an object you love to use, want to use. Looking at the MP it’s a clean, very simple, minimalistic design. People often say that Leica isn’t about what’s there, it’s about what isn’t there. It is to cameras what Apple is to computers (cult following included). You hold the camera and it instantly feels right in the hand, not too heavy, not too light. Solid metal, no plastic. Fingers instinctively find their spot.
Every part moves with such smoothness and calculated precision that for a good half hour I was just playing and clicking though I had no film in it, and that is it, it’s a camera you want to love using, not one that simply performs its function. The rewind knob very gently pops off and smoothly goes back to place. The advance lever makes a precise, quiet sound, there is no describing the smoothness of the operation. Even the little hatch to open the bottom plate lifts so
gently. The viewfinder is a gloriously bright, uncluttered view framed with discreet white lines. I have had the chance to play with many models, from the M4 to the M9 and there are no two which shutters sound the same ! The M7 is a dry, precise “clak”. The MP has a softer mechanical sound, yet drier than an M6. My much older M4 (aka grandpa) has the softest sound of all, though slightly wheezing at the slower speeds, thus justifying the nickname. The finish is an absolute beauty, though I have to say I find the engravings on the M4 still nicer and the battery cover kind of ugly. Everything is engraved and filled with paint, the script is beautiful and it’s a tactile work of art, really a pleasure for the senses (though I haven’t tasted it yet). It’s small and doesn’t attract attention, it doesn’t even have the trademark red dot, really a camera you can take everywhere.
This is a camera that quietly stays out of your way when you want to shoot, it doesn’t interefere with unnecessary safety features like autofocus or auto-whatever, it does away with what isn’t strictly related to making the picture. An exposure dial, film advance, rewind knob and a frame counter is all you get. It might sound like the lifestyle of a reclusive hermit but back in 2010 once I got used to manual controls I seriously wondered how I was doing before and whether I can ever go back to using an automated camera. All you need to know when using a Leica is that it works, so you just focus on making the picture knowing when the time comes to click it will flawlessly follow, it does one thing and it does it well. When you look at it you realize that you own something quite special, something that wasn’t mass produced in Asia or trying to ride a recent market trend.
Had my past self seen this shameless display of luxury it would have no doubt asked my present self how on earth I’m affording all this. Well, I’m not. That’s why I will be soon selling my beloved M7, not only to pay for the MP but also because I still believe I only need one camera and one lens (plus the backup because I’ve been paranoid since San Francisco). If anyone reading this is dreaming of a Leica, I say be very patient, look through offers everywhere, look again and then look some more, get to know the prices to recognize a good deal, avoid ebay like the plague and most importantly, you will never regret
buying one !
And now, before the collector purists bring out the pitchforks and hang me for heresy I shall put a lens on it, load it with film and actually go shoot with it !