Erwin Puts' essay on the new Leica M7 (long)

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by steve_hoffman, Feb 24, 2002.

  1. The new Leica M7: one step closer to perfection.

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    By Erwin Puts

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    Introduction.
    The introduction of a new Leica camera is always preceded by a longer
    period
    of gossip and speculations. The mythical electronic Leica is a subject
    of
    discussion since 1996 and many expected the new M camera at Photokina
    2000.
    'Insiders' predicted that the new M7 would be the Konica Hexar RF with a
    red
    dot. To shed official light on this topic: The Konica people have
    proposed
    to Leica to market the Hexar as a joint effort. But Leica refused as
    they
    assumed that the Hexar did not fit into the Leica philosophy of
    photography.
    Others 'knew' about the R&D activities, investigating a faster version
    of
    the shutter with a higher synch-speed. But wishful thinking should be
    separated from the normal lab research. From the original Leicaflex on,
    research into improved shutter designs are part of the culture of the
    engineers, as is research into all kinds of improvements and new
    products.
    Now in spring 2002 the M7 is real. The camera does not fulfill all
    characteristics that were part of the wish list, except for the aperture

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    priority automatic exposure. I am happy that Leica did not listen to all

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    suggestions and followed their own ideas and philosophy.

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    Product changes: careful evolution.
    A new Leica model with radically different functionality is relatively
    scarce. The M3 from 1954 was a very different camera from its
    predecessors,
    the IIIf (1950) being the comparison. The M2 and M4 offer hardly any
    substantial improvements and we have to wait for 1971 with the M5 to
    witness
    Leica making a big effort to jump out of the self imposed limits. That
    is 17 years after the M3!
    The M5 did not become the success the Leitz people had
    hoped for. The automatic exposure metering with manual selection of
    either
    shutter speed or aperture was very accurate and the semi-spot metering
    with
    the 8mm sensor was quite nice and functional. The size and shape of the

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    body gave the camera a somewhat chunky look. Leitz assumed that the
    users
    of the M5 would be mostly interested in the enhanced functionality, as
    the
    innovative two lug carrying strap indicated. The classical engineering
    rule
    that form follows function was put into practice. The failure of this
    camera
    to innovate the rangefinder scene still resounds in the halls of Solms.
    The next models, M4-2, M4P and even M6 did not add much to the progress
    of
    the rangefinder camera. The M6 offered the same functionality as the M5
    did,
    but with a different implementation. And incorporated into the same now
    classical body contours. From a broader perspective, the M6 did not
    improve
    substantially on the M5. The M6TTL is the first model to add new
    features
    and it is significant that the body size had to be increased by a height
    of
    2mm to incorporate the new functions.
    The M7 from 2002 is again a substantial change in the line as was the M3
    in
    1954 and the M5 in 1971. But now we are 31 years later since the
    introduction of the M5.

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    M3, M5 and M7: three models in a 48 year period.
    The M3 is composed of about 860 parts, counting every screw and washer.
    The
    M7 has 1300 parts, and again every electronic component has been counted
    as
    a separate part. 350 of these parts are new and/or improved parts when
    comparing to the M6TTL. Two hundred of those parts are electronic and
    150
    are mechanical.
    The manufacture: tradition and modernity meet.
    I happened to be in the Portugal factory when the first new M7's
    started to be manufactured.
    This camera is an astonishingly clever mix of old and new
    production technology. In the Portugal factory you will find the
    original
    equipment, made in 1953 by Leitz for the production of M3 parts. These
    machines have the classical green color of most mechanical drilling and
    milling machinery, all moving parts are thick with grease, and the smell
    of
    cooling liquid and oil is impregnating your clothes. Even the sewing
    machine
    that has been used for over 70 years to stick the silk threads on the
    shutter curtains, is working continuously, operated by extremely skilled

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    hands of a young woman.
    The engineers know that these old machines cannot be improved upon as
    they
    have been designed with only one dedicated single purpose. Precision and

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    functionality have been optimized as this equipment has been designed
    for
    the manufacture of one single part, and to do it with utmost accuracy.
    So
    there is a large amount of components in the M7 (and the M6TTL and M6)
    that
    are identical and identically manufactured to the M3 days.
    Intermingled with the dull green machines, you see modern bright red and

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    white CNC machines. These Computer Numerically Controlled machines are
    very
    flexible and can be programmed to execute very complex movements and
    intricate processes. Again the accuracy will be measured in less than
    one
    hundredth of a millimeter. Be careful here. It is relatively easy for a

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    skilled worker and the right equipment to manufacture individual parts
    to a thousandth of a millimeter. But only if every part is individually
    and
    manually finished on machines with even tighter tolerances. To transfer
    this
    level of accuracy to a process of series production is impossible. In
    any
    larger scale production you are hard pressed to stay within 0,01mm all
    the
    time and within statistical error margins.
    The body of the M-camera has about 80 holes that need to be drilled into
    the
    diecast chassis. In the past any machine could only drill a few holes
    and
    then the body had to be refitted to another machine for the next series
    of
    holes. This is error prone as the worker would not be able to fix the
    body
    at the exact position of the previous operation. Nowadays the CNC
    machine
    can accomplish all actions on one body without any refitting. The result
    is
    a higher precision of the location of the holes.
    This same mix of tradition and modernity we meet in the M7.

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    The aperture priority automatic exposure.
    The electronic shutters, used in the Hexar RF and the G2, consist of a
    compact integrated unit that combines the vertically running metal blade

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    shutter with an electrical filmtransportmotor. To ensure that no
    unwanted
    light reaches the film, the shutter needs to be cocked immediately after
    the
    shutter-release. It might be possible to incorporate this mechanism into
    the
    current M-body size, but the interior of the camera has to be regrouped
    substantially. Most important however is the fact that the M would loose
    its
    very heart and soul: the silent, slow moving, vibration free
    horizontally
    running cloth shutter.
    Therefore the decision in Solms has been an 'easy' one: keep the current

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    mechanism and govern the shutter speeds by electromagnets and a new
    chip.
    Presumably the engineers had no idea how difficult this simple decision
    would be in the real world of engineering mechanics and electronics. The
    M7
    was targeted for Photokina 2000, but marketing wishes have no precedence

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    over sound engineering requirements.
    The mechanical version of the shutter (since M3 till M6TTL) is of the
    constant speed, variable slot-width type. The two shutter blinds run
    separately and the time interval is determined by the shutter speed dial

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    setting. When we depress the button, the first blind is released and
    runs
    across the film gate. The second blind is held in position by a
    connecting
    pin, better described as a holding catch. The timing of the release of
    the
    second curtain is controlled by a very intricate collection of cams,
    levers
    and sears. The main roller that tensions the springs also holds the
    speed
    adjustment mechanism. This roller rotates over almost a full turn and
    this
    movement is used to allow a curved speed cam a certain time period to
    release the catch of the second curtain. The time to transverse the film

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    gate varies from 18-22 milliseconds. The target speed is 20.8
    milliseconds.
    That translates into 1/48 sec. and this is with some safeguarding the
    1/50
    sec for the flash synchronisation. The speed of the shutter curtains
    then
    is 2 meter/second or 72 km/hour. This speed must be forced to zero and
    compares to the force of a car crashing into a wall with 70km/hour.
    That
    is some force and that is why Leica employs two brakes, each for every
    curtain. The dilemma is clear: higher speeds means more braking force
    and
    more noise and more tear and wear. But there is even more to consider:
    the
    complete assembly of the shutter mechanism with all its springs, levers,

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    gears, wheels, shafts and spindles has over forty different points
    (areas)
    of friction that together regulate the accuracy and regularity and speed
    of
    the curtain movement. The higher the speed, the more difficult it
    becomes to guarantee the evenness of travel.
    Tests made by the factory indicated that
    1/2000 might be possible but not within the required very tight
    tolerances
    for accuracy and evenness of travel and the demand for low noise and
    absence of vibration. The Leicaflex has also a mechanical shutter and
    can
    handle 1/2000. The explanation is a different shutter mechanism with
    several
    small shutter drums where the M shutter has one big one.
    So the M7 has the same topspeed as most Leica RF models since 1935.

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    We should not overvalue the need for faster shutter speeds. While there
    certainly is sometimes the need for speeds faster than 1/1000, we
    should
    note that with ISO100 film and a blazing sun, we need 1/1000 and f/5.6
    for
    a correct exposure. That will do for most situations and subjects. If
    you
    wish to use a narrow depth of field that you get when using f/2.8 or
    f/2.0,
    even 1/4000 will not be of much help.

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    Electromagnets and an additional ball bearing!
    The electronically governed shutter in the M7 is thus identical to the
    one
    in the M6 (or M3). Same design, same mechanical components. The speed
    adjustment mechanism with the gears, cams and levers has been replaced
    by an electromagnet, one for every curtain, that regulates the timing of
    the
    release of the curtain. What is lacking is the gear train and the noise
    of
    the gears that retard the second curtain during the slow speeds. Where
    you
    can hear the soft purring sound of smoothly engaging cogs when using the

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    slow speeds on an M6TTL, with the M7 you do hear silence. Just twice a
    soft
    clicking sound of the braking action of both curtains, the second one
    being
    a bit louder. At higher speeds, the sound is very close in character
    between
    the electronical and mechanical versions.
    The electronics make the shutter battery dependent. The drain on the
    batteries (now two batteries in the compartment) is very modest, but is
    still advisable to have a reserve pair in your bag. The fear that the
    batteries and electronics do not cope with severe climatic conditions is
    not
    supported: even in extreme cold the M7 shutter operates without any
    failure
    and is even more accurate than the mechanical one. The speed dial can be

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    moved with one finger and speeds can be set from 4 seconds to 1/1000 and
    B
    in every direction. All speeds are electronically governed, with the
    exception of the 1/60 and the 125 that are mechanical. The choice for
    these
    speeds is logical: these speeds can be used handheld with confidence and
    are
    slow enough for many lower light situations, indoors and outdoors.

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    This is how it works: In AUTO mode all speeds from 32 seconds to
    1/1000),
    including the 1/60 and 1/125 are governed electronically and half steps
    can
    be selected. In manual mode (with batteries), the 1/60 and 1/125 are
    governed mechanically, all other speeds are governed electronically. All

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    speeds can be selected from 4 seconds to 1/1000. No half steps can be
    selected.
    In batteryless mode only the two mechanical speeds 1/60 and 1/125 can be
    used.

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    Sometimes you can read the statement that in the mechanical M-models
    (from
    M3 to M6TTL) the shutter can be set at intermediate positions and give
    accurate speed settings. This is not true. You can set intermediate
    positions between the official speeds, but the accuracy of the shutter
    is
    not guaranteed. In fact it is quite unreliable and cannot be
    recommended. In the manual method, the finder shows the familiar diodes
    and
    symbols of the M6TTL exposure metering.

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    In the AUTO position the speeds are set stepless by the exposure meter
    to
    accurately match the measured lightlevel. Full speed and half speeds are

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    indicated in the finder (in the center of the lower part of the finder
    where
    the TTL diodes reside). The selected speeds are stepless, but one
    should
    not take that to literally. It is not the case that every possible speed

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    setting (1/33, 1/32, 1/31) can be selected, but rather there is a range
    of
    very small steps built into the chip. So 1/30, 1/35 and 1/40 may be
    possible
    but not the times within these: 1/31 will be set as 1/30. This level of
    accuracy will satisfy even the most critical user and film emulsion.
    Calibration of the shutter is done thus: The highest speed (1/1000) is
    adjusted, regulated and fixed by the mechanic during assembly. All other

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    speeds are automatically correct as they are governed by the small steps
    as
    set in the Eprom. This level of accuracy needed the one big change in
    the
    shutter: the main roller now is supported by a rollerbearing. From M3
    till
    M6TTL the bearing was a plain bearing. The new geometry of forces
    necessitates this change.

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    The measurement of the shutter speeds.
    It makes no sense to measure speeds when the camera has just left the
    factory. You then get an idea of the quality control. What is important
    is
    the accuracy and longevity of the shutter under stress. And as
    important as
    the speed itself is the constancy of the speed of the traversing slit. I

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    measured two heavily used cameras. My own M6 (one full year of use since

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    last adjustment) and an M7 (same use). Both had excellent constancy of
    travel.
    The results are in the table below:

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    Departure from nominal speed (+ = slower)
    Speed M6 M7
    1000 +30 +10
    500 +5 +5
    250 +5 +1
    125 +14 0
    60 -4 +5
    30 +10 0
    15 0 0
    8 0 0
    4 +5 0
    2 +7 0
    1 +10 0
    2 - 0
    4 - 0

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    The results for the M7 are very very good, but the M6 is certainly not
    much
    behind. Differences of 5% to 10% are irrelevant, even in scientific
    picture taking conditions and even 30% (for the highest speed) is within
    the
    tolerance of even the most critical slide film. But such a difference
    might
    be just visible. For very critical black and white photography the
    results
    are very satisfactory. The M7 shutter has as advantages the lower noise,

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    dead-on accuracy and the facility of automatic exposure control. The
    dependence on batteries may be for some photographers a culture shock.
    The
    mechanical shutter of the M6TTL delivers outstanding performance, that
    is
    now after decades of tuning and honing at its peak.

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    The practice of working with the automatic exposure control.
    In the manual position the M7 is identical in operation to the M6TTL
    version. But remember that the times are electronically controlled. The
    essential change occurs when you select AUTO on the dial. Picture
    taking
    becomes more spontaneous and even more relaxed. Once not being detracted
    by
    the need to adjust or even set correct exposure. You start to
    photograph on
    intuition and emotional response with the subject. Now you can
    concentrate
    fully on selection and framing of subject and give all attention to
    focusing. The primary choice of aperture is essential, as this regulates

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    depth of field, selective focus and image quality. The choice of speed
    is a
    derivative act and as this is taken away from you by the electronics,
    you
    are relieved from that 'burden'. During my use of the M7 I noted that
    many
    pictures were focused more precisely and accurately. And in border
    situations the exposure was improved too! Specifically in situations
    with
    constantly changing light levels (street scenes with sun and clouds,
    shows,
    circus scenes) and scenes with severe lighting contrasts (dark spots one

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    moment, contre-jour the next moment), where the quick selection of
    subjects
    in differing conditions is needed, the AE is a gift from heaven
    (actuallly
    from Solms).
    I am convinced that this topic touches the heart of the matter: with the
    M7
    you can fully concentrate on the subject and only select the focus
    plane.
    This is a very relaxed way of picture taking, still being in control of
    all
    important decisions and trusting the electronics where appropriate. The
    M7
    should be close to Barnack's vision: spontaneous and carefree
    photography
    with a sensitive eye and emotional involvement. The photographer
    controls
    the important aspects and makes the decision. The camera follows and
    supports.
    The M7 is a true Leica: the clear and large finder, fast and accurate
    focusing, the smooth and direct action trigger and the civilized
    clicking of the shutter: all is there.
    Time lag.
    Leica did a good job here: the response times of the electronics are
    very
    fast. The time parallax between pressure of the shutter release button
    and
    firing the shutter is 12 milliseconds (12 -18 ms with the M6). Compare
    this
    with the Konica Hexar RF (100 ms) and the typical single reflex camera
    (above 125 ms) and the current best digital cameras (400 to 1500
    milliseconds) and you will understand that Leica designers know their
    job
    and are very dedicated to support the M-style of photography. The
    decisive
    moment is still the area of choice for the M7.
    The travel of the release button is identical to that of previous
    models.
    There is some tolerance here. Travel distance varies from 1.9 to 2.1 mm.

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    So it might be possible to have an M7 with a slightly shorter stroke
    than
    an M6TTL. The M7 I used had a 0.1mm longer travel than the M6. But this
    is
    not structural, just within the tolerance band. The AE lock is very easy
    to
    use and convenient. The camera, in AUTO mode, measures the light
    continually. So if you move the camera over an area , you will see the
    speed
    indication in the finder changing all the time. Point or hold the camera
    to
    that part of the subject that is representative of the illumination you
    want
    to have metered, and lightly depress the release button. The meter
    stops
    measuring and you see a small point between the indicated speed digits.
    (With 1/1000, you see 1°000; with speeds from 1/750 to 1/125, it is x°xx

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    and with the rest it is Πxx). Hold this, recompose and press the
    button. If you do it fast, you will see the AE indicator dot flashing
    for a moment.
    The functioning of the exposure meter.
    The M7 now has a on-off switch as a collar around the release button. No

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    longer can and will you trigger the shutter when the camera is put into
    or
    pulled out of the camera bag. Switch the camera on and for the first two

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    seconds the warming up cycle starts and the selected ISO speed is shown
    in
    the finder. After that period the camera measures continuously the
    light
    level. The camera is immediately ready for exposure when you fire the
    shutter with a preset aperture or after selecting an aperture before
    making
    the picture. These measurements take very little current. Again we see
    the
    care of the designers to provide the same speed of action and user
    support
    as in previous models: The selected speed is indicated in the finder
    (where
    normally the diodes are displayed) with full and half speeds (as
    example:
    30, 24, 15). The numbers are red and consist of a group of 33 LED
    segments
    (as in your calculator) on an area of 0.7 by 2.3 mm. The enlargement in
    the
    finder is 15 times, and the brightness of the LED is variable according
    to
    the ambient light level. Fitting in this array in the confined space of
    the
    M finder is a major feat for the Leica engineers.
    Exposure metering itself is not changed: it is still the familiar and
    proven
    method of measuring the light reflected from the whitish spot with a
    diameter of 12.1 mm on the shutter curtain. The corresponding area on
    the
    film plane is always a circle with a radius of 6mm (image height). The
    measuring spot is often described as (semi) spotmeter. It is however
    best
    described as a center-weighted integral metering pattern. Results do
    indicate that the meter response is close to this time honored method
    and
    the M7 is even a bit more accurate.
    New in the M7 is the automatic DX coding, and now you cannot forget to
    adjust the film speed dial when changing film. The dial now doubles as a

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    manual film speed setting and an override from +/- 2 stops in steps of
    0.3.
    The great leap forward is the automatic exposure control in the M7. Not
    a
    big step in itself actually. Most cameras have this facility since many
    years.
    The Leica user however wants to stay in the style and feel and results
    of
    the classical M-photography and this often clashes with automation
    services. The M7 is 100% pure Leica M with AE that fits seamlessly into
    the
    classical M-style. Take pictures with an M6 and then switch to Konica
    Hexar
    RF or Contax G2. You will have a long period of adjustment and a steep
    learning curve to change your way of picture taking. The switch from an
    M6
    to the M7 is without any threshold.
    I used both cameras at the same time and could not notice any difference
    in
    style or approach.
    With one exception: the added freedom that the AE gives you by taking
    care
    of exposure, allows for such spontaneous, intuitive and intimate picture

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    taking the M-photography one step closer to perfection.

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    Slower speeds.
    In B-position the time period is counted upwards (from 1 second to as
    high
    as you like) and indicated in the finder. This is very useful and now
    there
    is no need to look for some light to illuminate your watch dial. In
    automatic position the meter can set speeds till 32 seconds. These
    speeds
    are indicated in the finder too, but now counting downwards. The
    sensitivity
    is the same as with current TTL models (EV -2 at ISO100). The M5 had a
    sensitivity threshold of EV1.

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    Flash synchronization and TTL.
    In order to use the TTL measurement, the shutter speed of the M7 must
    be
    set to 1/50. With this speed the TTL functions correctly with
    dedicated
    flashguns (SCA-3501/3502) and SF20.
    With the new Metz 54 MZ3 a High Speed Synchronization can be used. The
    HSS
    function operates only with the combination MZ and M7 and now the faster

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    speeds from 1/250 to 1/1000 can be selected too. The MZ3 works in
    manual
    mode only (not in Auto) and as the speeds of 1/60 and 1/125 are
    mechanically
    operated when using the speed dial (manual mode), the flash cannot be
    activated by these speeds. You can choose between synchronization on the

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    first or second curtain. With the MZ 54 we can at last use fill-in flash
    on
    location with higher speeds and wider apertures. For many this function

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    will be of great value. Others will see it as unimportant as the
    M-domain is
    the available light photography. This however is too narrow a
    perspective.
    Luckily any photographer now has he choice to use the M as is required.
    The
    automatic TTL function is not supported with the 54MZ3 (only with the
    1/50
    or slower). At the HSSspeeds the user has to set it manually and this is

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    quite easy and fast.
    No the HSS is not usable with mechanical-shutter Leica's. The flash
    expects
    to receive specific electronic signals for proper functioning and the
    mechanical shutters do not have this signal.

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    The finder.
    The finder itself is not changed and all three versions (magnifications
    0.58, 0.72, 0.85) will be available. The shutter indications have
    variable
    brightness dependent on ambient light levels and are very clear but also

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    very civilized: they do not distract as they are positioned normally
    just
    outside the visual area of the user. The accuracy of the finder is very
    high
    and till 90mm not challenged by the reflex camera. I would note that
    even
    the 135mm can be focussed more accurately as the M-rangefinder uses the
    principle of visual acuity that is more accurate than the contrast based

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    principle of the groundglass focusing.
    Everything can always be improved. The finder windows have an
    anti-reflection coating that diminishes clearly the flare of the
    rangefinder
    patch that occurs in some situations when strong light sources are
    shining
    obliquely into the finder.

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    The mechanical parts.
    The shutter has been improved and changed substantially. In addition the
    top
    cover is now machined out of one piece of brass. The slow speed
    geartrain is
    gone, but electronics have been added. The total weight has been
    increased
    to 610 grams (10 grams more than the M6TTL) and the Leica R6.2 has a
    weight
    of 625 grams. The weight of the M7 adds to the stability when using
    slow
    speeds and is also an indication of the solidity of the engineering and
    the
    ample use of steel and glass. M3 cameras from 1954 are still functioning

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    perfectly after more than 50 years of use. They have a working life of
    at
    least 50 years and with some care will function for the next 50 years
    too.
    The M7 would be able to function till 2102 at least. That would cover
    three
    generations of photographers. The shutter is designed for 100.000
    pictures
    before showing any sign of wear! You can shoot 2700 rolls of film before
    you
    could detect any tear or wear in the moving parts.
    There is additional room in the body to accomodate two batteries and not
    the
    one battery in the M6(TTL). Both batteries are above each other.
    The Leica camera has a well-deserved reputation for longevity,
    engineering
    excellence and reliability. That does not imply that a new camera can
    never
    malfunction or even has some manufacturing defects. Sometimes the
    occurrence
    of these faults has been used to support the view that the current
    products
    from Solms and Portugal are not as reliable or manufactured to the same

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    high standards as when the M3 was made in Wetzlar.
    Based on a study of the production methods, material selection and
    material
    treatment, the assembly and quality control in Portugal and Solms you
    are
    entitled to a very high level of expectation about engineering quality.
    On the other hand we should realize that the camera is mainly manually
    assembled by highly motivated individuals, but where humans work, humans

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    will inevitably make mistakes, however tight the inspections and quality

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    assurance.

    <p>


    The rangefinder landscape.
    What is the position of the M7 in the rangefinder landscape compared to
    Hexar RF, Contax G2, Bessa-family and the M6TTL?
    The M6TTL is almost identical to the M7, but without AE, the improved
    shutter and the coating of the finder windows. But the M6TTL has the
    fully
    mechanical, battery-independent shutter and a lower list price.
    The Hexar RF lacks the TTL function, has the integrated motor/shutter
    assembly with a topspeed of 1/4000, and a very fine finder, but with a
    very
    detracting array of lights and symbols in the finder area. The RF has a
    very
    significant time lag too. The linup of lenses is small, but very good
    and
    the new 21-35 Solms with two fixed positions is quite interesting.
    The motor has the additional role of compensating for the time lag,
    which
    is not the best way for the decisive moment style of photography. The
    Hexar
    is a most interesting camera, that tries to be a bridge between
    classical
    and more casual styles of photography.
    The Contax G2 has aspirations that are quite close to the ones of the
    Hexar
    (same shutter assembly, same type of body), but use Af as the bridging
    function Here we find a Solms from 35 to 70mm that can be set at all
    positions. The finder of the G2 is the worst part, as is the manual
    focus.
    The AF however compensates for the finder.
    The Bessa R and R2 are made from a mix of an slr chassis and the CL-type

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    finder. The chassis offers exposure metering, set manually as with the
    M6(TTL). The CL finder is limited in its functionality and accuracy.
    While
    the specs are impressive, when related to price, the assembly of two
    separate philosophies is not convincing. The Bessa, while delivering
    the
    goods for a surprisingly low price, lacks character.

    <p>

    To sum up.
    The M7 is an important mark in the history of the Leica. The
    integration
    of electronic exposure automation in the classical body shape, gives the

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    experienced Leica user a smooth migration path and transition to even
    better
    photography. You need to give yourself the mental space to reflect on
    Barnack's ideal of a fast, effortless, intuitive and compact high
    quality camera.
    When you get used to the M7 will forget about the manual exposure.
    Photography with the M7 is a joy and a very pleasant and relaxed way of
    picture taking. I noticed that I started to make more pictures than
    with
    my M6, especially in conditions where you have trouble to react to
    quickly
    changing light levels. Often you do not take the picture of a fleeting
    moment as the correct exposure takes some time and then the moment is
    gone already.
    With the exposure automation, TTL function, the HSS add-on and the
    classical
    feeling and use of the M6, the M7 covers a very broad spectrum of
    photographic possibilities.

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    The illustrious predecessors of the M7.
    The Leica 0-series.
    Leica is the only manufacturer, that sells the first product from 1924
    in
    almost identical shape and specifications. As if Ford would still have
    the
    T-Ford in the catalogues. Who wants to know what is was like to take
    pictures with the original Leica and to taste how people were involved
    with
    photography 75 years ago, can buy/use the current 0-series. Here we
    have
    the Barnack-camera, as the master-designer has created it. A very
    compact
    camera with a minimum number of features and functions, and an extremely

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    high level of mechanical precision. Next to the 0-series, the M7 looks
    big,
    but shares the same feeling. Inside the camera, there is hardly
    anything.
    A shutter with two non-capping curtains, a transport drum, a release
    button
    and shaft, and a rewind mechanism. The Leica was designed for fast and
    quick
    picture taking and the transport knob is incredibly smooth and without
    resistance. If you ever want to feel high precision engineering at its
    best, try to advance the film in the 0-series.
    The practical use.
    The Leica 0, lens and finder closed fits into a pocket of the then
    ubiquitous jacket or coat. With a weight of 465 grams (lens included),
    and a feline shape and feeling, (every part and shape of the camera is
    smooth and
    rounded), handling the camera is a joy. To take a picture you pull out
    the
    lens, and open the two part finder (a fold down window with a negative
    lens
    and a folding peep-sight). The shutter is tensioned with the rubber cap
    in
    front of the lens (to prevent light reaching the film). Shutter speeds
    are
    from 1/20 to 1/500 and can be set only when the shutter is in a certain
    position, indicated by an index mark on the speed dial. It is best to
    set
    the shutter before making the picture and tensioning the shutter. You
    look
    through the finder with the camera held at a distance of 25 cm from your

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    eyes. This was a familiar act in those days. Most cameras were operated
    away
    from the face. The later development that the camera becomes an
    extension of the eye is a true revolution in camera design. Most digital
    cameras are also
    used from a distance to look at the display.
    This is the routine: open finder and pull out lens, guess exposure and
    distance, take away lens cap, hold camera at 25cm distance, select and
    frame
    subject, press release button, put lens cap in front of the lens,
    transport
    film and tension the shutter.
    With some experience it works faster than can be described.
    Essential difference with the M7 is the pure and dedicated attention to
    the
    core business of the photographic process. Guessing the distance and
    exposure, the deliberate decision of the aperture/speed combination that
    is
    needed in this situation and the careful framing of subject and timing
    of
    the picture in anticipation (no second chance) are required to complete
    the
    photographic act. We do it intuitive now, but then it was a conscious
    act.
    Being involved with the process in such a way is back to the roots and
    it
    gives additional meaning to Cartier-Bresson decisive moment. The
    excitement
    and expectations that people must have experienced when making those
    valuable pictures returns. The magic of photography as the art of fixing
    the
    shadows returns in the blood.
    Photography with the Leica 0 is like being in a monastery for
    contemplation
    and to reflect on your inner self.
    Photography started as a mechanical process to reproduce accurately the
    world around us. With the 0-series you know why that was exciting and
    rewarding.
    The Leitz Anastigmat 1:3.5/50mm is a new design that in its capabilities

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    challenges the Summicron-M 1:2/50mm. It is, like the predecessor, a 4
    element lens, but now the aperture is symmetrically located between the

    <p>

    second and third lens(group).
    With aperture 6.3 you have some latitude in guessing the distance as at
    3 meter you have depth of field from 2.43m to 3.94 meter. Guessing the
    exposure is made easy as there are only 5 speeds to choose from (1/20,
    1/50,
    1/100, 1/200, 1/500). There are 5 exposure types from clear sun to dark
    and
    clouded and you need to memorize the shutter and aperture settings for
    each
    of them. The Leica photographer had to stop taking pictures when the
    light
    is down to aperture 3.5 and speed 1/20. Here too starts the really
    difficult
    guesswork for the exposure. Leica photography is the catching of
    fleeting
    moments from strange perspectives with a handheld camera, crossing the
    dividing line between documentary and surrealistic photography. That is
    true
    Leica photography and the 0-series started it all.
    The M3.
    Thirty years after the 0-series, the M3 arrived on the scene (1954). A
    true
    revolution it was. A radical departure from the then reigning
    III-series:
    crystal clear 1:1 finder with frame lines from 50 to 135mm, finder and
    rangefinder combined, bayonet coupling for lenses, advance lever, it
    took
    the world by storm. This masterly design by Herr Stein is not based on
    the
    Leica IV as is often reported, but an independent construction by Stein,

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    created in 1943. The camera was so new and advanced that it would have
    taken
    the competition several years to catch up. As the rangefinder market was

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    already under attack from the slr camera, the competitors (Zeiss, Canon,

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    Nikon) decided to jump on the slr bandwagon.
    With high speed lenses, and shutterspeeds from 1sec to 1/1000 and an
    extremely fast rangefinding mechanism, the M3 evolved into the best
    camera
    for dynamic and close range human interest photography. But landscapes,
    portraits and even glamour (Hollywood) were part of the Leica domain.
    The M3 is still a utterly useable and very capable instrument. In fact
    the
    M2, M4, M4-2, M4P and even M6 are simple extensions from the basic body.
    M6
    has internal exposure metering, but that was already available in the
    M5.
    The M3 was a revolution compared to the III-line. And the M5 was a
    radical
    departure from the M3 family.
    The Leica M5.
    With the M4, Leica has maneuvered themselves into a corner without
    growth
    potential. Small improvements were possible, and the external coupled
    exposure meter, was not the best nor an elegant solution to the growing
    demands for easy exposure metering. The M5, from 1971, tried a novel
    solution and departed from the family line. There were many
    revolutionary
    changes in the M5, including the famous two flat retainers for the
    shoulder
    strap, the metering though the lens with a moveable metering cell in
    front
    of the film plane, and a shutter that could function till 30 seconds.
    The
    smooth top cover with the large special that could be adjusted with
    one-finger, the smart indications in the finder , it all added to the
    concept of a new era in rangefinder design.
    Mechanically the M5 was superb and functionally very impressive, as
    Leitz
    had used all the experience of 50 years of mechanical engineering and
    rangefinder expertise to create the M5. The disappointment that the M5
    did
    not move the market as the M3 had done, killed almost the company. As
    with
    the R8, the M5 is a user camera and a very convincing one. It is not a
    design beauty. The flat topcover, the location of the transport lever,
    the
    front of the rangefinder area, it all gives the camera a somewhat
    squatted
    look. Functionally it is one of the best Leicas ever. Form follows
    function,
    was the idea in Wetzlar in those days. But the elegance of the M3 was
    lost.
    The M5 was functionally the better product. With the M5 ended the Leitz
    hegemony in rangefinder camera design. The successors, including the M6,

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    returned to the M3 roots.
    The new M7 is again a radical change from the current line. And so the
    M3,
    M5 and M7 are from this perspective the real milestones in the M
    development.

    <p>

    Erwin Puts
     

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