How do I load my new M with film?
You have a "rapid load" Leica (M4 onwards) and would like to load it the fastest way possible.
This isn't as dumb as it sounds, as there are a plenty of hard-boiled Leica users who never figured it out and still go about it the wrong way.
Film loading — step by step
- Pull out a length of film and insert it into the tulip-shaped RHS take-up spool, as shown in the line diagram on the base-plate interior
- Make sure the film cassette goes into the LHS film-well all the way — you may have to jiggle it to make it sit home
- Flip down the camera back and re-attach the base-plate
- When the camera is closed, wind-on a frame and click the shutter
- Gently rotate the LHS rewind crank until you feel tension
- Wind again and click the shutter. If the rewind crank turns you're done. If not, then wind on again and if the rewind crank still doesn't turn, then you've got a miss-load and start again…
Yes it's that simple. It takes longer to explain than do. Just drop the film into place, make sure there's some film in the take-up tulip and that's it. Close the camera and start winding. Two or three shots and — provided the film rewind crank turns on every wind — you're ready to go.
In case you missed it, (1) don't futz around with aligning the film onto the sprocketed take-up spool and (2) never advance the film while the camera back is open and base-plate is unattached.
Which admittedly sounds wierd for those who cut their teeth loading SLRs (or earlier film-spool Leicas), where you never closed the camera until you were certain the film perforations were engaged. Well, Leicas from the M4 onwards are specially designed to function this way.
How it works is like this — no matter how badly the film leader is placed across the shutter opening, when you flip down the film pressure plate, it presses the film flat against the film-guide rails. Then, when you replace the camera base-plate, the plastic rose on the base-plate will push the film leader into correct position, ready for take up. Advance the film and the sprockets will be engaged. Always! Not bad for a fully manual solution designed in the 1960s!
From practical experience I've also learned to advance the film quickly during the first few frames. When you close the camera back, do not wind-on slowly or cautiously, because the slower you pull the film advance lever for the first frame, the greater the likelihood of a miss-load due to the film slipping out of the take-up spool.
Okay, so where do you put the base-plate prior to closing the camera? Some put it in their mouth, some into their pocket or onto the ground or a table. Me, I hold it between my fourth and small finger — which is why we evolved with gaps between our fingers, right?
BTW as pointed out by John Collier a few years ago, the newer M6 TTL (and M7 & MP) may be slightly more difficult to load due to the change in shape of the upper film-guide rail. In older Ms there is a gradual camfer surrounding the rail, but in newer Ms this has been replaced with a sharp edge, making it more likely for film to catch during loading. Why Leica did this is unknown, but it is very irritating.
When it comes to rewinding the film, see this separate FAQ topic for notes about accidentally tripping the shutter. If you're not careful then you may re-expose a few frames and hence ruin your film!
Crimp the film leader?
Controversial topic. Should you always fold a small flap into the end of the film leader to make certain it will load?
In earlier versions of the FAQ I sarcastically dismissed this as rococo camera-fussing of the worst kind. Just drop in the film, close the back and wind-on. What could be simpler?…
I have to admit however that I have run into occasions when I've had to resort to crimping in order to get certain films to load. I first experienced this back in Feb 2003 when I started using the newly released Kodak Supra 200 C41 film. No matter what I did or how careful I was, I just couldn't get the stuff to load properly in my M6TTL. Finally in desperation I folded a right-angle flap into the end of the film leader and… it loaded first go.
So sometimes you do have to resort to crimping, especially with modern film emulsions which are perhaps too thin or stiff for the (1960s) "rapid load" mechanism to cope.
Having said that, a simple 10mm right-angle flap is enough. There is no need get obsessive and fold a multi-cycle triangular wave pleat.
Coping with kinked film
What about the natural kink near the leader of the film — doesn't this get stuck in the shutter gate while loading?
Indeed it can. The rapid load mechanism was designed when all 35mm films came with extra long film-leader "tongues". With today's shorter tongues the kink can end up in the middle of the shutter gate.
So what can you do? If you only buy your rolls of film one-at-a-time, then nothing much. Live with it and learn to fiddle with the film a bit more as you make the cassette sit home.
For me however, I tend to buy my film in 5 or 20-roll pro-packs. One of the rituals I go through when I get home is to carefully rewind each roll so only 20mm of the film leader sticks out of the cassette. That way when I come to use the film weeks (or months) later, the kink will now be closer to the film tip and thus harmlessly out of the way.
Film tab memo holders
None of the Ms have a film window where you can check the (loaded) film's identity. What are your options?
For modern leicas which have electronic ISO speed dials (M6, M6TTL, M7 and MP), Lutz Konermann has designed a specially moulded plastic film tab memo holder called The Slide for $US 18. It does the job well enough and for more details, see the following URL:
For earlier Leicas (M4-P, M4-2 etc), any old plain plastic holder will do. For example, see the Samigon Film tab memory holder from B&H ( Mfr # : ASM650, B&H # : SAFTH ):