First Impressions: Leica M-A

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MA first impressions (1 of 6)ISO 6401-80 sec at f - 2.8

When Leica announced the M-A camera at Photokina 2014, a spark was lit. We don’t believe it’s possible for a camera to be a soul mate, but if it was then the Leica M-A would be stringing hearts along as it struts through life. The Leica M-A is designed to pay homage to the cameras that put the company on the map in the photojournalism world and that are still used by many photographers today. Those cameras beautiful pieces of machinery and can far outlast any other cameras made out there. Amongst that lineup are the Leica M2, M3, and M4–with the M4-P perhaps being one of the company’s most popular products in this line.

And with that, the Leica M-A is designed incredibly simply. It takes film, has a film advance lever, is designed with lots of metal, and has no light meter built in–just like many of the older cameras. Think that that’s a waste of your money? Think again–especially when you consider the fact that the camera could be used by people many generations from now with no major problems to the machinery.

No–this isn’t a camera meant for the new breed that rely on meters; it’s designed for those photographers who used the tried and true Sunny 16 methods to capture scenes in every day life. And despite it’s near $5,000 price tag, it makes complete sense if you consider that many of the much older Leicas still go for a lot of money and that this is a made with brand new materials.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo listing

Lens Mount Leica M bayonet
Lens System Leica M lenses from 16-135mm focal length
Camera
Type Mechanical rangefinder
Film Format 35 mm
Exposure Control Manual (shutter speed on body only; aperture on attached lens)
External Flash Connection Hot shoe with center contact
Flash Synchronization With first curtain; up to 1/50 sec.
Shutter Type Focal plane; mechanical rubber blanket slotted shutter with horizontal movement
Shutter Speed Range 1 to 1/1000 sec. (in 1 EV increments), bulb
Viewfinder
Type Bright line frame viewfinder with automatic parallax correction
Eyepiece Calibrated to -0.5 dpt (optional corrective lenses available)
Parallax Correction Horizontal and vertical offset between viewfinder and lens axis automatically compensated for according to relevant distance settingAt the shortest possible distance for each focal length, the bright line frame size corresponds to an image of approx. 23 x 35 mm. When set to infinity, depending on the focal length between 9% (28mm) and 23% (135mm) more is captured by the film than is shown in the corresponding bright line frame
Magnification 0.72x
Rangefinder Basis 49.9 mm (mechanical measurement basis of 69.25 mm x viewfinder magnification of 0.72x)
Split or superimposed image rangefinder shown as bright field in the center of the viewfinder image
Physical
Film Loading Manual film loading after opening the bottom cover and the rear panel
Film Wind Forward: Manual winding with quick wind lever (compatible with optional motorized winders)
Rewind: Manually with pull-out rewind button, after moving the R lever on front of camera
Tripod Mount 1/4″
Dimensions 5.4 x 1.5 x 3.0″ / 138 x 38 x 77 mm
Weight 1.3 lb / 578 g

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MA first impressions (6 of 6)ISO 6401-80 sec at f - 2.8

Step back in time to an era of cloth shutters that were amongst the quietest the world has ever heard and when Kodak was the king. Yes, those days are gone. But it was also during a time when products were designed to last for years and years. That’s what the Leica M-A will do. That statement is evident from the start when you remove the body cap and the lens. You’ll see a shutter and no imaging sensor–meaning that it was designed to shoot film.

Like many other antique Leica cameras you’ll find the lens release and the shutter delay lever. Plus, you’ll find the rangefinder mechanism, part of the viewfinder, and another window to let more light into the rangefinder focusing mechanism.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MA first impressions (2 of 6)ISO 6401-80 sec at f - 2.8

The Leica M-A features a couple of things that you probably haven’t seen in a while on a camera. When you get to the top, you’ll find the film rewind, film advance, shutter dial, film counter and shutter release. Beyond this, the top plate also has the hot shoe for mounting a flash.

Leica’s top plates are very simple in design, but it’s a design that has worked for many photographers for years.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MA first impressions (3 of 6)ISO 6401-80 sec at f - 2.8

When you get to the back, the main important parts that you’ll find are the viewfinder and the ISO wheel. This wheel is set by the photographer and doesn’t affect anything on the camera due to the fact that it has no built-in light meter. Instead, this wheel was to remind photographers what ISO the film is. This makes exposure calculations easier.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MA first impressions (4 of 6)ISO 6401-80 sec at f - 2.8

Pop open the bottom plate and you’ll be able to load the camera up with film. Unlike certain other models, the back plate doesn’t come off. Instead, it flips up and the user can load the film into the camera, close it up, advance the film a bit, and get to shooting.

Build Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MA first impressions (5 of 6)ISO 6401-80 sec at f - 2.8

The only word that we can use to describe this camera’s build quality is beautiful. Well, that’s a lie. You can also use timeless, ruggedized, expert, fine, and nostalgic. Veteran Leica shooters will feel right at home with this little piece of art in their hands. Photographers that have shot for many years and experimented with various cameras will also be caught smitten.

Of anything that Leica has pushed out of its factories in the past years, this camera’s build quality and design is something that we’d truly state is worth its weight in gold due to it being truly timeless and purely analog.

Focusing

Focusing with this Leica is done using the Leica M mount lenses–though you can surely use Voigtlander, Zeiss and SLR Magic offerings too. Like many other rangefinders, you’ll have to align the two images in the viewfinder to ensure that you’re in focus. We have a demonstration here.

Autofocus? Who needs it when you’ve got the zone focusing system?

Ease of Use

Put this camera in the hands of an unseasoned photographer and they’ll fumble with it like a nervous kid at a party with loads of people. But in the hands of a veteran shooter, it will indeed be all too familiar. Focus, shoot, advance, repeat. It’s really that simple.

Image Quality

Considering that this is a film camera, the image quality is determined by the film and the lens put on it. Indeed, it is completely out of the hands of the camera.

First Impressions

We’re in love.

No, really–we’re in love. We’re smitten. The Leica M-A is an absolutely timeless piece that belong in the hands of only a few. It’s not for the bourgeois, but for the photographer who wants to be reminded of their roots and experience their first love all over again.

Scoffing at the price? Consider the fact that many Leica M4, M3, and M2 cameras still go for almost $2,000. Then factor in their age and their worn but still working parts. Finally, consider if one of those cameras were completely new.

Yes, you’ll hate it now because you haven’t experienced it. But pick one up, and you’ll see what we mean.