Leica M-A Hands-on Review

Ah, the Leica M-A. As you know, I don't want to be that guy that gushes over each new piece of photography equipment that I get.  But I swear, this time - more than any other - it's deserved! This certainly has been a long time coming. I first began drooling / speculating about the Leica M-A this summer when it was first announced. First impression was it was a gorgeous piece of art, but something I really didn't need - already owning the M2 and M3.  Well, cutting to the chase, yeah, I needed it - and so glad I did!

Leica M-A with Carl Zeiss Lens
Leica M-A with Carl Zeiss Lens

In September, when the camera was officially announced, I placed my order with the fine folks at Green Mountain Camera in Vermont. I'd done a bit of business with them in the past and love their staff and way of doing business. The deal we brokered was unbeatable.

Leica originally announced the Leica M-A would be available in October (sometime) but were a bit late with that and actually delivered it at the end of November. Green Mountain Camera got it out to me in no time flat.

So, here's some hands on thoughts on the Leica M-A, and a few snaps from the first test-roll I put through it.  As always, not an overly-techie review, but more of a hands-on impression.

Build

The build is just unsurpassed: a gorgeous hunk of brass painted a soothing matte black. Look at the old Leica M3's and M2's from the 1950's and 1960's that were built the same way.  60 years later, they are still going strong - they are built to last that way.  That's why I held on to my 1958 M2 as a back-up to the Leica M-A. As Leica puts it, the M-A is "Pure Mechanical Excellence" - and that's the truth.  Nothing extra at all on this pure-bred camera with a family tree which reads like the "essence of excellence" in photography.

The Leica M-A takes the best pieces from their legacy of film cameras and puts them together for the ultimate film photographers body. It screams M3 when you hold it - but with a few great updates taken from later models like dumping the  removable spool and opting for the M4 and beyond quick-load. Best of all (for me) was they decided to withhold a meter. I know some people would have prefered it had one, but I much-prefer to use an external and really appreciate they kept the body bare-bones and in the image of it's granddaddy.

The Leica M-A weighs in at 578g (2g less than the M3!) :) Dimensions are close the same as the M3: 138w × 33.5d × 77h while the M-A is 38d. The viewfinder is a 0.72 like most other Leica's (the M3 was the king at 0.91). The 28 (90), 35 (135) and 50mm (75) lines are very bright and pretty close to what you're used to seeing if you've shot M-bodies, and auto-adjust based on the lens you are using. Again, tanks aren't built this well.

Leica M-A with Carl Zeiss Lens

The film advance lever is buttery smooth and the shutter release as pleasant as can be. After shooting vintage Leica's, I was impressed with just how smooth it was!

Then there's the matte black and lack of the "red dot" on the Leica M-A.  Brilliant on Leica's part.  That black is so smooth when you see it in person.  Perfect in my book.  And no need for gaffers tape like other Leica bodies. ;)

Use

If you've used a film Leica, it's like that.  But perfectly smooth and quiet as it's brand-spanking new. If you've had your M3 CLA'd - then its almost exactly like that (or if you had the pleasure of owning an M3 brand new, then like that!!).

First Roll

Below are the first images I took with the new Leica M-A. Coupled with the Carl Zeiss 1.5/50 and developed by Richard Photo Lab, I couldn't be more happy.

Portra 400 + Leica M-A
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Conclusions

Hands down my favorite all time camera.  Next in line is the M2, then the M3 then the Hasselblad 500c.

Is this something you need? Perhaps.  If you're in the market for a new Leica film camera, then yes! But do you need to upgrade your M2/M3/M4... to one? Not really - but it's easy to justify. If you're like me and really enjoy being the only owner of a piece of equipment, it's very easy to justify. Like I said earlier, there isn't anything magic this does over any of the old film bodies and it cost quite a bit.

If you're along my lines of thinking, it's the last camera you'll ever buy.  Ever. I plan to hand off my M2 and M-A to my kids when I die - and hopefully they get another lifetime out of each camera. And when you consider that, the cost isn't that scary.

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