Some may laugh at the company’s fierce devotion to tradition, but we’ve always admired Leica for its unflinching dedication to high-quality rangefinders. Adhering to what works—for them—means Leica doesn’t waste time chasing industry trends; instead the company just does what it knows best.
The hometown heroes from Weitzlar, Germany dropped a bunch of new cameras on an unsuspecting crowd at Photokina 2014. Among the announcements was a camera that clearly underscores what we’ve suspected all along: Leica never lost its roots in film photography. The Leica M-A (Typ 127) (MSRP $4,750.00) is a brand-new film rangefinder, and, like Leica’s digital cameras, it’s a classic combination of form and function matched up effortlessly with Leica's iconic style.
Design & Handling
As basic as a Leica rangefinder gets.
We approached the M-A like we would any other Leica rangefinder—with steady hands. Even though Leica is known for designing incredibly solid pieces of kit, we wouldn’t want to damage anything on this precious, $4700 film camera. Butterfingers, enter at your own financial risk.
That said, one of the qualities that makes the M-A so special is its heft. The solid brass top and bottom plates give off a solid, non-resonant ping when you tap your fingers against them. A real leather grip around the whole of the camera’s body helps your fingers hold onto what is otherwise a rather slippery camera.
What is that arm perched atop the camera? Why, it's a film advance lever (Millennials: Here's what film advance is.) As we've come to expect from Leica, the lever on the M-A is absolute perfection, swishing from left to right with just enough feedback to reassure, but not too much as to put strain on the wrist.
The camera’s shutter button, likewise, is very near ideal, offering just enough travel before you hear a click, so it's not overly eager. As its heritage dictates, the Leica M-A’s shutter is very, very quiet. Leicas are favorites of street photographers all over the world for precisely this reason. After all, subjects are less likely to move if they don’t even realize a picture is being taken.
Right next to the film advance lever is a simple, yet very legible, frame counter window. Its black-on-white text is magnified slightly by the lens over the counter. The shutter speed knob opposite the frame counter is notchy and smaller than the knobs we’ve become accustomed to on digital Leica Ms. An ISO reminder dial on the rear of the camera will help you remember what you’re shooting. It’s of note that since there’s no metering, the setting does nothing.
While we photographed the black M-A for our review, we also handled the silver version. The differences between the two are purely cosmetic, with the black camera lacking the engraved Leica logo on the camera’s top plate. Neither one sports the flashy Leica red dot, which we think is a very classy move on the company’s part. The iconic shape of the camera itself is Leica's real branding.
Nothing to write about here. No, really.
The Leica M-A is a camera that was designed almost expressly to keep people from talking about its “features”. It’s the bare minimum of what an interchangeable lens camera requires to function. It’s entirely analog, without a metering system or anything that might rely on batteries. Everything is mechanical. Photography happens with: some 35mm film, some light, and some kinetic energy to push the film advance lever to the right, rotate the focus ring, and press the shutter button.
Autofocus? Pfffff. With a bright viewfinder and the classic Leica rangefinder focusing system, you can focus quickly and accurately. We've found that the more you use a rangefinder, the easier it gets. It's just you, your eyes, and your brain telling you what's in focus. What else do you get? A mechanical self-timer. Great!
Let me reiterate: There are no extraneous, flashy features here. You get a camera and a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 film in the box. What more (or less) could you ask for?
The right cure for digital overdose.
All in all, the Leica M-A sets off to do one thing, and, we think it does it right. By going an all-analog route, Leica has created a new modern classic. It's exactly the type of camera that Leica can and should make, one that goes against the grain in a carefree, fearless way. We wish some other companies would focus on their strengths as much as Leica does on theirs with the M-series.
It's even priced in a reasonable way—for Leica at least. Since it's a reworked version of the Leica MP film rangefinder, but sans metering, you actually save a few hundred dollars by slumming it with an M-A. Granted, it's still just shy of $5,000 even before you start investing in lenses, but it's a camera for a different mindset. This is a buy-once-and-done camera. You'll never feel the need to upgrade to the new hotness, simply because it doesn't exist.
Go ahead. Add up the cost of a premium camera habit over an entire lifetime. How many bodies until you're completely, absolutely, 100% satisfied with a digital system? For so many gear addicts, it's going to be well over the $4,700 of the M-A. So, you could either swing from digital to digital, or buy this ideal film camera once. This is a camera that you can use until you die, your children can use until they die, and your grandchildren can use—if there's still any film left on earth.