Mechanical Perfection. That’s what the MP abbreviation means according to Leica. Is the MP labeling just marketing, or is there some truth to it? Is it really mechanical perfection?
For about a year now, I’ve been using the Leica MP as my go-to camera. During that year I’ve shot about 120 rolls of film. That’s not a lot for a year, but I’ve also been using a Leica M240, Fujifilm X100T, Sony RX100M3 and a Hasselblad 501cm during that year. But my primary go-to camera for shooting has always been the MP, simply because it’s my most inspiring and fun to use camera.
The MP I have is a standard production model in black paint. I purchased mine as a demo-model, but it had never been used. It had only been showcased in a glass shelf at a photography exhibition and then it was put straight back into its retail box. This saved me about $1000 off the new price! I purchased mine from Ken Hansen in NYC. He often has good Leica deals available. I recommend checking with him if you’re looking for new or old Leica gear.
This is a camera that I’m most probably never gonna sell. It’s just so inspiring to shoot with, even though I quite often dread the thought of developing and scanning film. Film development, scanning and post-processing (cloning out dust and scratches) takes an awful amount of time. And quite often I just want to go back to my digital workflow and forget about film photography. But then I look at the images that I’ve made on film – all made 100% by myself, including the choice of film, the chemicals used for development, the scanner, the scanning technique and post-processing, and then – I quickly remember why I love film photography as much as I do.
Film photography is ever-lasting. The medium is physical. The negatives can be touched. The chemicals smell. The scanner makes a certain robotic “hum” while it’s doing its job. It’s a very meticulous process – from start to finish. You, as the photographer, are completely involved in the entire process. Working with film isn’t just clicking the shutter and adjusting a few sliders in a software. It’s so much more.
Film images seem to come alive due to the process involved in everything from making the image and finalizing the image. I personally can’t compare digital photography to analog photography. The mediums, the workflow, and the process are so different that they can’t be compared. They are completely different, even though you always end up with a final image.
Digital photography is easy. Yes, easy! It truly is. I feel that very few of my digital captures are worth anything for me personally. But my film creations however, they’re worth a lot more. Why? Simply because of the process of creating something physical. My film negatives are physical. I can always go back to them and re-scan them, or even print them in the darkroom. They’re precious. I really care about the negatives. My digital images reside on a hard drive, or on several hard drives, and on a couple of backup hard drives and in the cloud. They’re not physical. They’re just there. Do I care about them? Not really – I always have a backup. Do I print most of my digital images? Nope – very rarely. Maybe I should.
The Leica MP is a wonderful tool to create images with. It’s basically a solid piece of metal, which consists of brass for the most part. It has a wonderfully big and bright viewfinder, which are not very prone to flare. Compared to the M240 though, the MP finder can sometimes flare, but very seldom. The M240 finder never flares – period. So there is some improvement in the latest generation finders, even compared to the MP finder. The mechanics of the camera feels so right. Everything is smooth and wonderful to touch. The film rewind lever is an absolute joy to use. The shutter has just the right amount of resistance and responsiveness. It feels solid. It will likely outlast me if I take care of it.
The cloth shutter sounds fantastic, and at the same time it’s very, very quiet. It sounds very different to the shutter in the M240, but, in sound volume I would say they are about the same. After receiving my MP I immediately noticed that the shutter wasn’t more silent than the M240’s shutter. The sound volume is about the same, but the sound is just very different. Regardless, the MP is a very quiet camera compared to most.
I find that the MP’s light-meter works much in the same way as the M240’s light meter. Which means that it typically under-exposes if you’re making a landscape shot with a horizon somewhat in the middle of the frame. In these situations I find it always better to expose for the shadows, or to simply just over-expose by about one stop according to what the meter thinks is correct. Film can take a lot of over-exposure and still look great, but you never want to under-expose film. Under-exposing film creates murky, foggy and very grainy images.
When shot in portrait mode however, the meter tends to over-expose between 1/2 to 1 stop – unless you meter specifically for the highlights and re-compose. This is exactly the same way as the M240 behaves – the big difference being that film handles over-exposure perfectly fine – over-exposing film can even look better in many cases, especially with modern C41 emulsions like Kodak Portra or Fujifilm Pro 400h. Digital images are destroyed if over-exposed. Those highlights are gone, and you get those white funky looking blobs.
The Leica MP is one of the easiest cameras to shoot with if you use film with a good amount of exposure latitude. From my experience these films has great exposure latitude: Kodak Portra 400, Ektar 100, Tri-X 400 and Tmax 400. Fujifilm Pro 400h, Superia 200, Acros 100 – and Ilford HP5+ 400. Just meter your scene, set your exposure and forget about meter until the light changes a lot, then re-meter and set your exposure. I would not advice anyone to look at the meter from frame to frame and doing micro-adjustments all the time based on what the meter says – unless the light has changed a lot (from sunny to shady or vice versa).
There’s really not much to say about the Leica MP. It’s a purely mechanical camera with a built-in electronic light-meter. The light-meter relies on one (or two) smaller batteries, that usually last for 6-12 months depending on how much the camera is used. If you don’t want to use the light-meter you can simply remove the battery and shoot the camera meter-less. Nothing besides the light-meter requires batteries, so everything still works perfectly fine when the batteries are either dead or removed. The only thing you need is some film and a lens, and some basic understanding of light (The Sunny 16 rule).
In my opinion the Leica MP is the simplest camera to load film in. I’ve loaded my camera with about 120 rolls of film now, and I never check if the film is aligned on the sprockets or not. I just stretch the film out from its canister for approx. the length that I need, pop the roll in the camera, put the film leader between the slots in the take-up spool, put the base plate back on, wind the camera, make a frame, wind again, make a frame, tighten the film rewind knob until I feel some resistance, and then wind it again while looking at the two red dots on the rewind knob to ensure that the film is actually winding. Now I’m ready to shoot, and the frame counter is on frame 1. The camera has never failed me so I’ve just learned to trust it, but I always watch those two red dots on the film rewind knob to make sure.
If you want an all mechanical film Leica without a meter however, there is also the Leica M-A. It’s basically a Leica MP without the meter and no other changes, except that you can’t get the Leica M-A in the black paint finish. They both cost about the same new, and I would rather just go with the MP. And if you really don’t want to use the meter, then just remove the batteries. At least you have the ability to use a meter when and if you need to in the future. External meters aren’t fun to use.
My wife also owns a Leica MP, although hers is the silver chrome model. Our cameras are about 10 years apart in manufacturing date but they look the same (except the color), feel the same (except the difference in how chrome and paint feels), and work the same. Her’s still looks like brand new. The silver chrome finish is a lot more durable. My black paint MP has barely started brassing after a year of light use. It’s also gotten some light scratches from my jacket zippers and similar. My wife’s MP looks newer than mine, yet, mine is 10 years newer!
The big difference between the silver chrome and black paint model, besides the looks, is the feel. They feel very different in the hand. The black paint camera is a lot more grippy. It kind of sticks to your hands, and is more reassuring to hold. It also tends to feel warmer to hold in the wintertime. The silver chrome finish is slippery compared to the black paint finish. It slides in the hands, whereas black paint sticks in the hand. The big advantage of the silver chrome finish is that it’s extremely durable. To scratch it you really have to go to work on it. It won’t brass, unless you’ve used it every day for decades. With normal use it’ll still look new after decades of use!
I sometimes wish I got the silver chrome model myself. But then I change my mind, because I also really love the way the black paint model looks and feels. I love them both just as much. The silver model looks more classy, and it suits both black and silver lenses perfectly. The black paint model doesn’t really look good with silver lenses on, so the silver model is more universal in that regard. The silver model does get a lot of attention however, and the black paint model blends in and doesn’t really get a lot of attention. There are pros and cons to both models, and I love them both just as much. I guess in the perfect world I would have had both for myself. Who knows, a CLA’ed M3 Single Stroke might show up in my hands some time in the future and cure my need for a silver chrome camera. Don’t tell my wife though 🙂
If you want a camera that lasts for decades without breaking a sweat, and you want to shoot film, then I can’t think of a better camera than the Leica MP. An M6 comes close, and can be bought 2nd hand for a lot less money, however – and they’re both just as capable to make images. Remember – the camera matters less when shooting film. It’s all on you, the lens, and the film. The camera is just the tool that interconnects these parts, and enables you to expose the film emulsion to light. The signature in the image is created by your vision, timing, the film emulsion of your choice, the chemicals the film is developed with and how you decide to scan and process your scans.
For me personally, I just wanted the MP. The MP was the camera I really truly wanted. I didn’t want the M6 as much. So that’s why I got the MP. I could have made exactly the same images with a used and serviced M6 or M4-P, for example. But I’m not sure if the M6 would inspire me as much to go out and make images with it.
To conclude – yes, I do think the camera is Mechanical Perfection. There’s actually some substance to Leica’s marketing decision to brand the camera as such. I’ve personally never held or used a camera that leaves such a solid impression, and I guess that says it all.
If you’re interested in purchasing a new or used Leica MP, Amazon usually has a few good deals on both new and used one’s. You can find some options here: