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The Leica MP 35mm Film Rangefinder

The Leica MP rocks. Technically, this 35mm film camera is built to be tough, simple, reliable, and to be that photographic companion for the lifetime of the owner.

This is going to be a camera review without sample pictures. Why? This is purely a mechanically driven metal box, the pictures that come out of it are driven by your choice of film, lens, and … skill with a camera. GASP!!! Yep, No digital assists here, no automatic to save you.

MP…What does it stand for?

The MP stands for “Mechanical Perfection”.

This is an aspect that I love about Leica, particularly the Leica M system. They don’t change their mounts or make technologies redundant, they improve things yes, but they never abandon because of their legendary customer service. They still support cameras sold anytime during the last century.

Why Leica?

The reason I got into Leica, and bought my first Leica M rangefinder in 2015 was because I was sick of how other manufactures kept on changing their technologies and put so much electronic stuff into the gear, brought out new features and all of this forced the end user to upgrade. With my Leica Ms I can put an M mount lens onto my camera that may be 50 years old, or take a 50 year old Leica M body and click a new lens onto it.

Lets have a look around the camera. There isn’t much to it. On the front we have the viewfinder, mine is a 0.72. Then the illumination window for the framelines. This will light up the field of view framelines relevant to the size of the lens you have on the camera. Next along is the rangefinder window, this helps produce Leica’s famous overlayed image to help with focusing.

The top plate of the Leica MP is also simple. You have the wind on lever in this classy curve style, the frame counter window, reminiscent of a Swiss watch, shutter release, and the shutter speed dial. No Auto mode. Bulb to 1/1000 of a second shot.

Check out the back. This awesome clicky wheel. You use it to specify the ISO of the film you have stuck into the camera. The light meter then draws from this information in making recommendations to you as the photographer as to if you are over or under exposing. Pay attention to it, because being film, there is no LCD screen to check afterwards. It’s awesome. No LCD screen on the MP!

Available apertures are dictated by whatever lens you click on. I like to use my 28mm Elmarit on the MP so I can stop down to F2.8. Learn more about this lens here.

Build Quality

The Leica MP feels sturdy. It is strong, resilient, and will last my lifetime. It is something that will join me on holidays, and as many events as possible. It will never wear out. It will never go out of date. It will be a reliable tool I can use for the rest of my life and a friend to share and create a lot of memories of events with. Wish I’d got it earlier than I did.

But….35mm film Adam! The Leica MP takes 35mm film! Can you still get and use that?

Let me make a point very clear here: 35mm film has taken a beating from digital, but I don’t think it is ever going to disappear. For some types of work, 35m film remains a better choice (I’m currently drafting this in late 2016). Why? Well in the MP, I don’t have to worry about electrical interference, the screen cracking or failing, a card failure, or just having a digital camera that I feel compelled to baby. With the MP, I have a tough metal brick in my hands (that is by no means heavy) and I just feel I can take it out and enjoy it in some places I wouldn’t want to take a digital camera. Being mechanical, there are no vital electronics to fail.

Picture Quality

And, I’m going to say something here that might cause a ruckuss! 35mm film, in some applications, pummels digital in quality and dynamic range, and fun. Personally, I use Ilford black and white film. This is wholly a black and white camera for me. The dynamic range in black and white is far superior to anything that I can get out of digital and converting to black and white. Remember most digital sensors do record in colour, in red green and blue photosites, so when you convert to black and white you are throwing away a lot of data reducing your resolution. With a black and white sensor or film you are only recording luminance, giving far more detail in black and white. I know I said this would be a review without samples. Well, ok 1 sample image to prove my point about the quality of film today. Go ahead, download the full size image. The organic and artificial textures and shapes look great. Point proven?

I am not a fan of the Leica straps supplied. They seem flimsy and cheap to me. But then, I’ve never heard of one failing.

There isn’t anything to talk about the picture quality of the camera In a review of a digital camera, the reviewer talks about the quality and the dynamic range of the sensor. I can’t do that here. The pictures, tone, dynamic range, sharpness and all that are dictated by whatever else you as the user decide to attach or stick into the camera. – The lens and the film. There is no, “but this has more megapixels” or “this has better performance at higher ISOs” here. No way. Here I get to choose my sharpness (or lack thereof) and my colour tones, and dynamic range with my film.

It is all about You (as a photographer)

Too often, I hear noobs with DSLRs say stuff like “camera didn’t focus properly” or “this bright part of the picture messed up my exposure metering” or “I need to upgrade the body, this one is too noisy at high ISOs or in bad light.” I used to be like that. When I was a photographic newbie. This camera to me solves a lot of problems. And will (hopefully) outlast me.

3 Responses

  1. Have you seen B&W pictures from Leica Monochrome? It outperforms film in both dynamic range and microcontrast. Most film images get scanned anyways so there is no reason for film unless you like the look of it. Also MP is expensive camera and M6 does exactly the same thing unless you’re attached to the sexy design and paint of the MP

    1. Absolutely. The M10 Monochrome has excellent DR. The new base ISO of 160 is a bonus, I avoided the previous Monochrome because of the higher base ISO of 800. But it is the unmatchable character of film that I really like getting from film photography and hence my MP. I’d love a Leica Monochrome, but I can’t really justify it alongside my M10 and MP I have now. My MP is a camera I want to have forever and last me forever. I made the decision to buy a new MP as oppose to a used M6 partly because I got the MP at such a great price, but also because I wanted to experience having a new Leica film camera, and unboxing it. That was something that is fast becoming difficult to do these days. With digital as things can change so quickly you can’t hold onto them. I plan to have my MP forever.

  2. The point of film is not to be better or worse. Film is a physical medium. Developing film is not as precise as an algorhythm: how you agitate film in the developer defines image contrast. It´s all physical and less math in your head. And then all the MP are defined on how big you scan it. Film is a much slower medium than digital. Slowing down, working w/ your hands, resting your eyes a little bit… that´s the reason to shoot film. Not because it´s better.

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