Updated note from future Eric: I came back and softened this post up a bit. I was uncharaterically (I would like to believe anyway.) harsh in the original draft. This was heavily impacted by the camera I was comparing it to in this post. In isolation I am sure this is a camera many would love. That being said I do not see myself giving this camera a second shot either. Your mileage may vary.
Did not expect this at all.
The thought of trying a Leica SLR did intrigue me. Through the kindness of friends, I was able to borrow a Leica R4. If I am honest a hunt for a Leica R camera was the starting point that ended with my recent Contax 137 MA Quartz.
Honestly expected to like, even love this camera.
- All black.
- A Leica for Pete’s sake.
- Build. A sturdy tank of a thing.
- A number of quite clever internal metering modes.
Some ding it for having Minolta internals. Not me. I love Minoltas. Plus this camera feels nothing like a Minolta. They definitely hit it with the Leica brick bat.
Usually, I can find something to like about near any camera. But I struggled with this one.
So what is the issue? Not 100% sure. If I had to make a wager…
- It goes a bit past sturdy and pulls up right next to feeling heavy.
- Feel. I expected it to feel better in hand. Top is metal. But the leather. How did they manage to get leather to feel like plastic? Is it leather? The Canonet felt better to me for instance.
- Controls. I consider myself a fairly bright fellow. But these controls, while not necessarily that difficult, are at war with my limited attention span.
- Mode overload. The modes are great actually but seem needlessly complex.
- ‘m’ lower case is manual. Does not impact operation, but being the sole lower case mode triggers my self-diagnosed low-grade OCD.
- ‘A’ with a circle. Aperture priority. Has a long name in the manual, but let’s call it center spot metering.
- ‘A’ with a square. Another aperture priority. Has a long name in the manual, but it is scene average metering.
- ‘P’ Program controlling both aperture and shutter speed. if you have the right lens. More on that later.
- ‘T’ This is actually neat. Shutter priority mode. The bonus? The shutter speed indicator with LEDs oriented vertically on the right of the viewfinder switches to an aperture scale. Hard to explain. Neat to see in action. Lost a few seconds playing with it… But you have to have the right lens.
- The lens thing. At first I thought aperture priority was wonky. Then I figured out that stop down metering has to be used. My guess was that the lens was the culprit and I was right. All R lenses are not created equal. Aperture ring linked AE requires a 3 cam lens. After some googling I found that the lens in question is a 1 cam lens. I cannot complain since this trial kit was $Free.99. Metering is active while half pressing the shutter or pressing the button on the mode dial. So stop down metering means pulling the lever back while pressing another button to keep metering active while also turning the aperture ring. Then release the lever and take the shot. The opposite of fun actually.
- Lens prices. Need a 3 cam, buy a 3 cam to eliminate needing to do stop down metering you might say. But these lenses are quite expensive. This 1 cam lens is expensive also. They run around $400. A 3 cam version is even more. And this is a humbly spec’d f/2 lens. The f/1.4 is more.
There are pluses.
- With the proper lens, this has program, shutter, and aperture priority modes.
- Ingenius viewfinder.
- Leica lenses. Price no object this is a great thing.
Result? When I borrowed this camera I thought there was a high likelihood I would end up buying it. Nope. Though this is a fine camera that could make someone very happy for the first time ever I am seriously contemplating removing the roll of film I started in it and calling it a day.
Sidebar: In isolation with the proper lens this camera would be magnificent. Unfortunately, this camera was discovered after my recent Contax SLR find. which heavily biased me. I still have and often use this camera that was a fraction of the price. While not Leica glass Zeiss is nothing to sneeze at either.
Love that camera with little exception and comparison is only natural. Change the order and this may have gone in a completely different direction.
That about does it. Your mileage may vary. If you are like I was and find yourself wanting a film Leica SLR I would recommend you either borrow one like I did or make sure you purchase it from a store with a great return policy just in case first. With the proper lens you may love it. There are no samples. Abandoned the roll due to losing interest so this is a user experience only post. Surely it is capable of wonderful images, but it was not meant to be. I actually believe its pedigree hurt the camera. It raised the price of entry and expectations to unrealistic levels from the start which would be unfair for many cameras. With a differemt name and price point we may have gotten along just fine.