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Leica M7 — finally a M6 with AE

Welcome to the FAQ Leica M7 Review

After more than five years of rumours and wishful thinking, in February 2002 Leica released an aperture priority M at the PMA show in Orlando USA. At an initiall price of $US 2350, the M7 gradually became available at dealers at the beginning of April 2002. Originally only the black version was available in all three VF magnifications (0.58, 0.72 and 0.85), with the silver chrome body only available in 0.72x.

The new camera was basically a M6 TTL, with the addition of aperture-priority exposure automation (the shutter speed dial now has a AUTO setting); an on-off switch under shutter button mount (like the Nikon F3); and an extended, electronically controlled shutter with a broader speed range of 32s — 1/1000th.

From Nov 2003 until Jan 2004 I was loaned a new M7 (black 0.85, #28542xx) to use as a "courtesy camera" while my Leica M3 was overhauled at Solms. Consequently the following is not only a compilation of other's M7 impressions, but also draws on three months of first-hand experience.

Feature Summary

Detailed notes:

Aperture Priority AE

AE has its place, but you have to be wary of its shortcomings. Despite the excitement over the new AE function, the M7's auto circuitry is still dependant on a simple, semi-spot TTL lightmeter. This, like any other reflected lightmeter, can easily be fooled by back-lighting, spotlights or strongly coloured backgrounds.

The traditional way of dealing with this is to fiddle with a EV compensation dial, or else meter some other scene, AE Lock and re-compose. This of course is also possible with the M7, but the "both-hands" EV dial is fiddly and the AE Lock tends to automatically disengage if you use a motordrive (see below).

With a fully manual camera, you simply open or close the lens aperture a couple of stops to compensate — quick and easy. Not so with the M7 in AE mode, as the camera will merely re-compute another (erroneous) s/speed at the new aperture setting.

To work around this, the M7 appears to have a little discussed "shutter speed lock" feature when in AE mode. In Nov 2004, Charles Sallee sent me the following note:

[…] When you depress the shutter release button far enough to activate exposure lock, unlike other cameras the M7 only locks in the displayed shutter speed. You can then turn the aperture ring to deliberately over or underexpose by any desired amount. This allows you to quickly and intuitively adjust for dark or light subjects and to never fiddle with those infernal exposure correction factors.
 
If we want to shoot a light blue dress on Astia: After metering on the dress and choosing an approximate aperture/shutter speed combination, depress the shutter release button far enough to activate exposure lock (actually only shutter speed lock). Then rotate the aperture ring clockwise two clicks to open up one stop and shoot. Quick, easy, and best of all intuitive (what most M7 owners will naturally want to do).
 
I've tried this and know it actually does work this way. With my other cameras, aperture priority is a Godsend for middle toned subjects but unfortunately it's simply a huge pain in the neck whenever I have a dark or light subject. The M7 is the only camera I'm aware of which makes working in aperture priority with these dark or light subjects a real pleasure. […]
 
Were it up to me, I'd rename the M7 exposure lock and call it a 'Shutter Speed Lock' and I'd lose the exposure compensation dial altogether.

AE Accuracy

So how accurate is the AE anyway? In May 2002 Roger Michel pitted his M7 against his matrix-metered Nikon F100, with surprising results:

I shot a number of rolls with a Nikon F100 and a Leica M7 side by side, same subjects. […] The results: I have never had much luck relying on matrix. It ALWAYS gets really fooled by back-lighting of any kind AND seems to just go berserk sometimes (admittedly rarely) for no obvious reason. The pattern is too complex to even begin to second guess its "thinking."
 
However, side by side the M7 meter produced a significantly higher number of correct exposures in conditions which were uniformly difficult (back-lighting, side-lighting, low contrast, high contrast, etc.)
 
Using my own very subjective guidelines, I was getting about 75% correct exposures with the M7 (remember this was a torture test) but only about 50% with the F100. In particular, the M7 seemed to handle back-lighting much better than the matrix cameras. It was really a very impressive display.
 
I hadn't expected this result and encourage people to try it for themselves (you can rent an F100 for $30 a day). In the end, I guess a heavily centered weighted averaging meter is very good for the kinds of photography for which the leica M is typically used -- fast people shots, where the person is the central subject. I also found the M7 overexposes a little (as do other meter Ms I have used), which helps. […]

I can confirm this. I lose about five shots per roll due AE misbehavior (a thirteen percent failure rate). Not bad, but it's still a worry. Problems seem to arise when there is very strong back-lighting — I find in these cases the AE circuit can sometimes overexpose by three-plus stops (!) Mind you, I do a lot of candid people shooting indoors, in weirdly-lit supermarkets and department stores, so my usage is hardly typical. YMMV!

Finally, see <Greenspun.com: #008fav> for an April 2002 online discussion about the M7's light metering pattern and whether or not it's a spot-meter, semi-spot meter or truly "integral" metering pattern.

AE-lock only one-frame-at-a-time

Design Flaw #1. As "Lucien" notes below, AE-lock doesn't work for continuous sequences. The reason is due to the purely mechanical linkage between the motordrive and camera body. Similar to the manual M-variants which proceeded it, the shutter button on the M7 physically (and forcefully) pops back after every shot. In doing so, it always disengages the AE lock. It happens regardless of motor-drive, rapid-winder or hand-winding.

Until the motor/camera/shutter coupling is completely re-designed to remove this shutter button "recoil", there can be no work-around. (For more notes about the motor and recoil, see the discussion elsewhere in this FAQ.)

Shutter design and loudness

The M7 has exactly the same shutter curtain, drum and brake assembly as the M6(TTL). Only the shutter-speed governing mechanism was changed, with it being EPROM and electro-mechanically controlled now. Mind you, some gears have been retained, to govern the 1/60 and 1/125 backup speeds. A direct benefit of the new electro-mechanical design is that for the first time an M's "1/1000th" is a true 1/1000th and not 1/700th! An obvious disadvantage however is that when the batteries die, so too does the camera (ahem, except for the 1/60th and 1/125th backup speeds).

Because there aren't so many gears whizzing around in the M7, the new shutter is significantly quieter than the M6(TTL), especially on v.slow speeds. Part of the quietness must also be due to sound absorption by the more dense brass top-plate (see below). Despite the improvement, the M7 is still nowhere near as quiet as the truly silent leaf-shutter in the Konica Hexar "AF" in silent-mode.

On slower speeds the shutter is completely silent while the shutter is open — just a soft click, a silence during the pause, and then another click when the shutter closes. Very Cool.

Something which has disappointed many users is the decision to limit the M7 top s/speed to only 1/1000th. During development Leica did try to increase to 1/2000th, but found it caused too much stress on the fabric shutter curtains. Since they didn't want to completely re-design the shutter mechanism from scratch (they wanted to keep as much as possible due to its quietness and proven durability), a decision was made to stick with 1/1000th — despite the growing demand from open-aperture daylight shooters for 1/4000th or even 1/8000th. Looks like the Konica Hexar RF still has the edge here.

In April 2002 there was a discussion on the Greenspun Leica Forum about the M7's shutter curtain design and whether or not this induces any exposure inaccuracies. See <Greenspun.com: #008hj2>.

Are the backup s/speeds always mechanical?

No. As noted by Roger Michel in Aug 2002:

[The two back-up speeds] 1/60th and 1/125th are mechanical in manual mode only. In auto mode all speeds are governed electronically to allow stepless (nearly) speeds. In manual mode, all speeds EXCEPT 1/60th and 1/125th are governed electronically.

Shutter button and s/button lock

IMO the best feature of the M7 is the simple shutter button lock. Turn it to the left to reveal a painted red dot and that's it, the camera is safely protected from battery drain or accidental shots of the inside of your camera bag. On my M7 the lock was a little stiff, so I cycled it a few hundred times. It's nice and smooth now ;?)

The new electro-mechanical shutter button takes a little getting used to. The secondary detent to trigger the shutter is reasonably stiff and overcoming it can slow you down. The shutter button also hates being used with an Abrahamsson Softie, where you get a distractingly loud metallic "click" after you overcome the resistance of the second pressure point. As far as I can tell, the "click" is due to the shutter release mechanism hitting the bottom of the s/button well. As there is no way to work around it, you will have to leave the Softie at home if you want to work quietly. (I am not alone in thinking this — see the following Dec 2003 discussion at <Photo.net: #006krO>)

Shutter-speed dial

The dial retains the larger size of the M6TTL, and likewise has the speeds increase in the same clockwise direction (ie the "wrong" direction for older M users). There are more numbers on the dial: "Auto, B, 4s, 2s, 1, 2 (etc.) 1000", and you can freely rotate it now without getting stuck at B or 1000.

The X-sync speed — still a blistering 1/50th — is now set evenly between the 1/30th and 1/60th speeds, unlike earlier Leicas which had it inserted as a half-click "mid-speed". There is a perceptibly firmer detent when at "AUTO", but there is otherwise no way to lock it there — something to keep an eye on when shooting furiously.

Viewfinder display and readout

In manual mode it is virtually the same as the 2-arrow+dot M6TTL layout and display. LED brightness will dim slightly if ambient light levels fall below a certain threshold. In AE mode the camera-selected shutter speed is displayed at the bottom of the viewfinder frame as red LED numerals. A tiny LED "dot" is appended to the shutter speed display when AE lock is on: at 1/1000 you will see "1ª000", from 1/750 to 1/125 it is "XªXX" and for the remaining slower speeds it is "ªXX".

In AE mode the s/speed display is in 1/2 stop increments only, even if it actually takes the shot at an in-between speed. So it won't show 1/8, 1/9, 1/10 etc. but rather 1/8, 1/12, 1/15, 1/24, 1/30 etc.

In practice I find the viewfinder framelines slightly brighter than the M6TTL, but nowhere near as bright as those in the older M4-P or (still the champ here) M3.

Focus Patch flare finally fixed?

To help cut down on rangefinder patch flare, all M7 viewfinder windows have a new anti-reflective coating, which gives them a distinctive purple/blue colour when viewed from from the front. In practice the new coating only partially solves the patch-flare problem, with "white-out" still possible under extreme conditions.

To silence the whingers, in Sept 2003 Leica started to incorporate the MP "flare-fix" into its M7 production run. According to Logan Reinwood and Leica Switzerland, the new flare-free finders can be found in M7s from serial # 2 885 000 onwards. See this Oct 2003 post at <LUG - v25/msg14704.html> to read Mr Reinwood's exact remarks.

A warning before you get too excited about this. According to Seth Rosner, the new M7 finders may not be exactly the same as that in the MP. Again, you can read Mr Rosner's Oct 2003 remarks in full at <LUG - v25/msg14714.html>.

Try to keep this in perspective though. Although I can understand the MP and M7 finders being slightly different (after all the M7 has a LED alphanumeric display the MP does not), I cannot imagine there is too vast a difference. After all, it would make good economic sense for Leica to duplicate as much of the viewfinder production as possible (similar to what they have already done with the ISO dial for these two models).

Blink-blink-blink-blink-blink…

Design Flaw #2 is the tiny warning LED which blinks in the viewfinder when there is either no film in the camera, or else when the ISO dial is set differently to what the DX contacts detect. This makes it the bane of clueless newbies who play with empty M7s in stores … "There's this tiny dot next to the shutter speed which keeps blinking!..."

Fair enough. The problem is that the LED will blink at the slightest provocation, as noted with some frustration by Jack Flesher in June 2002:

This light is supposed to warn you that something is NOT set normally. But it blinks a lot.
 
For example, it blinks whenever you are using a setting other than DX on the ISO wheel and/or have a non-DX film can loaded in the camera. So, if you bulk load Tri-X into your own non-DX canisters and set the ISO to 400, the little warning light will blink. If you now dial compensation in, it will still be blinking.
 
Alternatively, if you set the non-lockable ISO dial to DX and you load a factory can of Tri-X it will default to 400 and not blink. BUT, if you now dial in compensation or manually adjust the ISO because you prefer to shoot your Tri-X at 250, the warning light blinks. Or if the DX contacts fail for some reason, the camera defaults to ISO 100 and the light blinks.
 
In short, this light blinks unless a DX canister is loaded, AND the ISO wheel is set to DX, AND the exposure compensation is set exactly to zero. Any other combo, it blinks. Just like the cursor on your computer. All the time. Fortunately I shoot my E100S at 100. But I shoot my Tri-X at 320...

Little Blinky will sometimes do its thing if the ISO dial is even slightly off. In these cases, even if you think you've set the ISO value correctly, jiggle the dial a bit to quell the strobe. Of course you can't do very much if the blinking is caused by flaky DX contact-pins (not unknown).

So how bad is it? I was quite critical prior to getting hands-on experience with a M7, but in practice it's proved to be so small and inconspicuous that it's a non-issue. The LED is the same (tiny) size as the AE lock "dot", and is displayed immediately beneath. So when the warning light blinks, all you get is a double-dot "X:XX" shutter speed display (with the bottom dot slowly blinking) rather than the usual single-dot "XªXX". Hardly The End Of The World.

Battery Life

The M7 uses 2x Lithium "DL 1/3N" 3V batteries, which are said to be good for @ 70 rolls of film. For some this is ample, for others it's barely a couple of month's worth of shooting — meaning six pairs of batteries a year. Ouch!

BTW the M7 viewfinder LEDs will start to flash when the batteries run down. This happens well before the "bC" diagnostic (see immediately below), so you'll still have enough juice for a few rolls before the batteries completely die.

The dreaded "6C" error…

A couple of months after the M7 first appeared, a few users reported a mysterious "6C" error. The camera wouldn't work after it was switched on, and when they looked through the viewfinder all they saw was a "6C" LED display. Was this yet another example of Lousy Leica Quality Control?…

No. All that happened was the batteries were almost exhausted. The "6C" display is not a hex error diagnostics code, but is actually "bC" — which is the (b)attery (C)heck warning light. RTFM at p.67. Some users should get their eyes (and brains) examined :?)

Will it work with a motordrive or Rapidwinder?

Yes. The M7 body base is exactly the same size and has the same holes in the interior base as the M6TTL. So if your motor or Rapidwinder will work with a M6TTL, then it will also work with an M7.

To confirm this, in Feb 2002 "Lucien" noted the following:

I have just tested the M7 with Tom's Rapidwinder, the Leica Motor M (14408) and two Winder M (14403) from different period.
 
The Rapidwinder is fully compatible with the M7. It work like a charm. Of course, the Motor M is also fully compatible, but the metering memory-lock is valid only for one picture, not for a series. (same with the Rapidwinder)
 
But, in contradiction with the M7 Instructions book on page 121, and I quote: "Advancing : Manually with quick wind lever or motorized using Motor-M, Leica Winder-M, Leica Winder M4-P or Leica Winder M4-2 (from serial No. 10350)"
 
However, the Winder M4-2, Winder M4-P and first batches of the 14403 Winder-M "Made in Canada" during the Classic M6's Wetzlar period are not compatible with the M7 (and the last series of M6TTL using the same chassis) because of the locking system which interferes with the new DX contacts housing. The little fixed metal part , there to stop the moving part of the lock, is in the way.
 
Only the last series of the 14403 Winder-M, made since the beginning of the Classic M6's Solms period (1987-88) are compatible. The same problem arise with the old baseplate (M4 to first M6). No Leica cassette with the M7.
 
According to Leica, it is possible to modify the old winders, but I don't think they are so enthusiastic about it.

In June 2002 "Jay" provided the following details on how to do this modification:

The incompatibility is true. But the offending part is not the [circular] lock plate, it's the little tab, spot-welded to the baseplate, which acts as a stop for the rotation of the lock plate in either direction.
 
On standard camera baseplates, that tab is required in order to keep the locking key from turning endlessly in circles. However, on the motors, the travel of the on-off switch (also used to turn the lock) is equal to the arc the lock plate needs to turn. So, the little tab is really superfluous and can be cut, filed or ground off and the motor will fit the M7 and work perfectly. I have successfully completed the "surgery" to my Winder M4-2 and early Winder-M and checked them both on M7 bodies.

The 32-Second Salute

Design Flaw #3 (and a big one!). Occasionally a user will claim their M7 has inexplicably "jammed", especially after loading film and winding on the first few frames.

The reason? The camera is on "AUTO" and there's a lens-cap covering the lens, causing the AE circuitry to default to its longest AE shutter speed of 32 sec, resulting in half-minute delays between winding each frame. Because the shutter mechanism is completely silent, unless you look through the viewfinder and see the LED 32 second count-down, there is no buzzing sound other warning to let you know the shutter is open.

Work-arounds? When loading film, either remove the lens-cap or set the s/speed dial to manual and (say) 1/250th. For those occasions when you forget, just turn the shutter dial to interrupt the 32 sec exposure.

BTW both the Konica Hexar cameras (Silver and RF) are smart enough to disengage AE mode during film loading. Likewise the twenty-year-old Nikon F3, which automatically switches to 1/80th for the first few frames. I guess Leica have yet to figure this out.

BTW2, this design flaw is just begging for pilot-error from unwary or impatient users, who try to force the film advance while the shutter is still open, causing the wind/shutter mechanism to completely jam. You have been warned…

DX Contact grip-of-death

Design Flaw #4? Some people find the new film-chamber DX contacts grab film canisters so firmly that you literally have to shake the camera to extract a finished roll. It appears to be a YMMV thing though — some complain endlessly about it, others have no problems at all. See this Oct 2002 online discussion at <Photo.net: #003rn3>.

In Dec 2002, Joel Matherson noted:

[…] When I first read the specs of the M7 the first thing that came to mind was why DX? I'm all for aperture priority cameras and think they're a useful tool, but DX seemed to make real sense only for simple mindless compacts. [The M7s] bottom loading just doesnt seem to lend itself to a DX system and out of any auto feature I have heard Leica owners cry out for, DX was never among them. Leica could have saved themselves a lot of these probs if they bothered to ask traditional Leica users if they wanted DX.

Luckily in Oct 2006 Leica introduced an optical reader replacement for the spring-loaded original. This resolves the sticking problem because there is now no physical contact between the film cannister and camera body. It can also solve the "blink-blink-blink" finder indicator problem if you have flaky DX contacts. That's the good news, the bad is that you have to send your camera all the way to Solms, and it ain't cheap and turn-around times can be frustratingly long.

In July 2007 "Wolfgang" noted at <L-camera-forum.com: #24936>

My M7 was modified with one of the first optical reader devices (prototype before official release by technical department ) and works perfect since then. Meanwhile the design of the first optical reader was slightly modified and additionally the base plate will be modified as well with a washer to fix the film canister in its position. The reason for the slight modification of the first relase of the optical reader were internal reflections inside the optical reader which could lead to a wrong DX reading. This problem occured extremly seldom but leads to the modified design.
 
The reason for the modification of the base plate is to fix the film canister in its position and to avoid the possibility of a wrong reading. Unfortunately the film canister dimenions have very big tolerances from one manufacturer to the other. Therefore Leica was serching for an easy solution to overcome the wrong DX reading which could be caused by the different dimensions of the film canister. The result was the modification with an additional washer. Simple and easy but works.
 
For all having some problems with the DX reading I can recommend to get the M7 modified by the optical DX reader. This will normally be done under warranty and thereafter the M7 is one of the best and reliable cameras ever build.

High Speed Flash Sync

In Feb 2002, Erwin Puts noted the following:

[With the new] Metz 54 MZ3, High Speed Synchronisation can be used. The HSS function operates only with the combination MZ and M7 and now the faster speeds from 1/250 to 1/1000 can be selected too. The MZ3 works in manual mode only (not in Auto) and as the speeds of 1/60 and 1/125 are mechanically operated when using the speed dial (manual mode), the flash cannot be activated by these speeds
 
[…] The automatic TTL function is not supported with the 54MZ3 (only with the 1/50 or slower). At the HSS speeds the user has to set it manually and this is quite easy and fast. No the HSS is not usable with mechanical-shutter Leica's. The flash expects to receive specific electronic signals for proper functioning and the mechanical shutters do not have this signal.

For more notes on HSS, see this discussion about M flash issues elsewhere in the FAQ.

M7 with Leica film cassettes?

As Lucien mentioned above — no. Come to think of it, Leica film canister support was removed from the baseplate lock of the M6TTL, so there should be no surprises here. How about swapping the M7 bottom plate with that from an older M4-P or M6, which does support such canisters? Won't work I'm afraid. In April 2002, Gerd Heuser noted the following:

I tried to mount an appropriate bottom plate of an early M6 (with the opening device for those pretty little canisters) to the M7, but that won't work since the locking mechanism is totally different from that on the late M6's and the M7. It is a real pity as I like the cassettes most and use them widely.

For a general discussion about not being able to use Leica film cassettes in recent Ms, see also this topic elsewhere in the FAQ.

Low-key "M7" on the front plate

Some overly cautious users are excited over the removal of the "Leica" brand from the front plate, believing it will make them less of a bullseye for thieves. Hardly. As if your average snatch-artist has the time, patience or cranial capacity distinguish between camera marques.

Also Eric Ubben notes that very early versions of the M6 (eg. SN 1726XXX) similarly had the Leica name missing from the front plate, only to be reinstated years later. Maybe this will happen to the M7 as well…

Wondering why, seeing Leica are using brass again for the top plate (see below), there is no "Leica" engraved onto the top plate like that on the M3 to M4-P?… In Oct 2002 Sal DiMarco Jnr reported the following:

According to Hanns-Peter Cohn, the CEO of Leica AG, they decided not to engrave the M7 top plates because they felt the camera looked more modern without it.

Brass top-plate

After a hiatus of at least 22 years, Leica finally reverted to using brass top plates on a production run M rangefinder. Brass was abandoned for the M4-P and M6 because the multi-step manufacturing process was so complex it became economically unfeasible (see discussion elsewhere in the FAQ). The new M7 however, could use brass again because the plates were now individually CNC machined from a solid piece of brass using a computer controlled mill.

The M7 isn't the first Leica camera to be made this way. The limited edition LHSA and 2000 millennium M6s also had their brass top-plates CNC machined. Makes you wonder why Leica waited so long to adopt this technique for standard production cameras though…

Leica Fotografie International, June 2002 M7 special issue

LFI published a special issue of its magazine (5/2002) which dealt with the M7 in extensive detail, including development, design, manufacture and customer feedback.

Click here to order a copy from Falsten Photography (UK).

Impressions by three other M7 users

(1) Don Dory — written in Feb 2002:

As stated in an earlier post I just came back from PMA(the trade show for anybody in photo/marketing)
 
The M7 feels and handles just like a M6TTL. The finder appears crisper than my very used 17 year old classic. The slow speeds to about 1/8 sound very similar, once you get really slow it is very quiet. The 1 to 32 second shutter speeds are very strange to hear from an M: a whisper of the first curtain going, nothing for a while, then the whisper of the second curtain.. In the non automatic mode it operates just like an M6 with the exception of DX capability. The meter works exactly the same in manual mode.
 
The shutter release feels just like an M should with similar feel to my M6 but not as smooth as a very used M3. The hand out mentions a 25ms lag time which is about twice a standard M so some compensation might be needed for quick reaction work.
 
When questioned about battery drain the techies said twice the drain of a TTL but with twice the battery capacity so should be similar. With an off switch should be much less battery changing. From the specs something around 90 rolls of 36 exposure would be about right.
 
In auto you get a very nice LED readout of the shutter speed in the bottom of the viewfinder outside of the frame lines. With glasses on I had to move my eye slightly to see it. So for you M users who like an uncluttered viewfinder the M7 can be the same.
 
I did find the exposure compensation dial to be very Teutonic. Push the little button in and while pushing rotate the dial routine. It is easier to move the film speed dial to compensate. The exposure compensation ring is concentric to the film speed dial ala the EOS upper models but doesn't spin freely with an off switch which is what Canon does very successfully. My consensus with the Leica guy was that if you were using exposure compensation in changing conditions you should be back in manual mode. Contra wise, if the conditions weren't changing such as shooting strongly backlit scenes then the system as designed would work quite well.
 
Some have commented on taking thirty years to add auto exposure to the M's. I am rather fond of the Leica shutter, I like the decades of hard use these devices have provided me with their quiet grace and consistent exposure. So I would rather wait for Leica to work out how to make their shutter work electronically rather than buy someone else's. I have not had good experiences (read $$$$)with the copal shutter that went into some R's.
 
Currently only the 72 finder will be available. Both the 58 and the 85 will be along in a few months.
 
In summary, this is an M. If you want to use it manually just like you always have it works just fine that way with the benefit of timed slower speeds to 4s in manual. If you feel the need to use AE then it works that way just like most cameras today. You will have to remember that it is a strongly center orientated meter. Therefore it will not be totally reliable in high contrast light situations as a fool proof exposure maker. I think the M6 will be with us for quite a few years as the Leica world has many members who are in their comfort zone with a battery independent camera. Contra wise, an M7 with the motor makes a very fast working decisive moment image maker that doesn't get in the way like so many auto cameras. Using 76 size batteries I can't imagine anyone worrying that batteries will be a problem.

 

(2) A US Leica dealer — written in March 2002:

Well, here are some quick reactions to the Leica M7 that we just handled:
 
1. the finder bright lines are DEFINITELY brighter! No question.
2. I pointed the camera right at a halogen light in the store and noticed little to NO flare. Did the same with an M6 TTL and it flared. The coating on the viewfinder is the single best improvement to my mind!
3. the shutter was totally silent on the slower speeds. At 4 sec. you hear one click, a pause and then a second click 4 sec. later. Cool...
4. the battery cover is now a "snap on" bayonet cover. Forever ending the over tightening and commensurate mangling of that poor little ($40 ) battery cover. Batteries stand vertical inside the camera....keeping it slim just like the M6.
5. the shutter button still bounces in continuous mode with motor drive. Why? Would have been great if they changed that too.
6. the LED's are thin and elegant. Really Leica-like and they seem to just float in the finder. Meter diodes looked the same as the M6 TTL to me.
7. brass top plate, but hard to tell. The black looks a little different, but the Leica rep. fled with the camera when I took out a key to scratch it!
 
Personally I like the big "M7" on the front instead of the world "Leica" as on all late M6's. No biggie though.
 
My rep. said there were 350 improved parts in the M7 over the M6 TTL ...so I think we have just "scratched the surface" (ok we tried to) on this camera today.
 
My reaction to the M7 is that it is indeed an improvement over the M6 in several ways and aperture priority only being one small part of it...

 

(3) Robert Rose — written in April 2002:

Overall, I have to say I am very pleased. I think this is a winner.
 
LOOKS and HANDLING
The camera looks, feels, and in non-auto mode operates just like the M6 TTL. From what I know about the TTL, the lights and dial operate the same. The camera is ever so slightly taller than the M6 Classic, but identical in size to the M6 TTL. It is not noticeable.
 
The speed dial is very similar to the M6 TTL, except that it is continuously turnable in either direction. Unlike the dial on the Classic, it does not stop at B. The detents for AUTO and the two mechanical speeds feel different, so it is easy to set them.
 
The shutter delay, in all modes, seems identical to the M6. I know it is supposed to be slightly longer, but it was not perceptible to me.
 
The shutter sound at 1/30 and faster sounds very close to the M6, but ever so slightly higher in pitch. At 1/15 and lower, the gear and whirly sound is gone. Just a soft click, click. This is much quieter. With no batteries it works at 1/60 and 1/125, but with no lights in the viewfinder.
 
COUNTDOWN!
Time exposures show a seconds countdown in the viewfinder on AUTO, or a count up on B. The manual says that almost no current is used to keep the shutter open.
 
ON OFF SWITCH
The on-off switch is GREAT. On the Classic, if you have a soft release you often lose a shot when the camera goes into a bag. This new switch mechanically stops the shutter from releasing when it is off. This is super. No more lost frames! Further, when you switch it on, the viewfinder displays the ISO setting, confirming your setting or that the DX is working right.
 
EXPOSURE DIAL
Exposure compensation takes 2 hands, left thumb to push the button and right thumb to twiddle the wheel, and you have to look at what you are doing. You are not going to bracket in a hurry. But then, who needs to bracket? ;-) The DX works just like it is supposed to.
 
VIEWFINDER
The viewfinder (a .72) seems slightly warmer than on my Classic. The lights are at the bottom of the 35mm frame. If you use eyeglasses, the lights are just at the bottom of the viewable area, and can easily be ignored (a good thing).
 
The numerals remind me of 1970s LED lights, not like the LCD style in the R8. Very thin.
 
The lights do all sorts of blinky things I haven't figured out yet. One nice thing: when you push the shutter half way down a little light comes on and the AE locks. Works well.
 
AUTO MODE
Well, this is what it is all about. Basically, it does exactly what it is supposed to do. You set whatever aperture you want, and you get the speed that you would get with the manual mode. I checked this against manual mode, and yup, that is what it does. If you have used A mode on the R8, this is that. The AE lock works with a very positive half stop, and is surely the way I will be using the meter.
 
I did find that everything went faster. Just focus, shoot. Or, set a hyperfocal distance, and just shoot.
 
REALLY LOW LIGHT SENSITIVE METER
This is an unexpected benefit. The low light meter is better, and it says it can go down to EV -2. That is 4 seconds at ƒ1.0 on ISO 100 film. It will countdown 32 seconds.
 
NIT PICKS
The red dot on the lens release is gone; probably a good thing. The box is silver, not white, and the internal presentation box is no longer plastic with red felt; it is gray cardboard and black foam. But then who cares about that? The strap went on easier than on my Classic. Due to the DX contacts, the film can doesn't come out as easily, but that is a good thing if you drop things like I do. The pressure plate is polished, while on my M6 it is brushed.
 
FLASH
Not having a TTL before, I didn't set up the SF20 right. More on this later. The speed is set to 1/50 automatically, so at least that part I won't mess up anymore.
 
NEW FEATURE
Here is one you have to dig in the manual to find. When using flash, the speed readout will blink if the aperture selected will lead to incorrect exposure. Example: You have turned on the SF20 to TTL, and the M7 is on AUTO. The speed will be automatically set to 1/50, the number 50 will show in the viewfinder, and the ISO will be transferred to the SF20. If the selected aperture on the lens (say ƒ2.0 with the 1/50) would lead to an overexposure given the ambient light, the number 50 in the viewfinder will blink, and you can stop down the lens to stop the blinking (say to ƒ5.6). I am still experimenting here, but I think the first point the "50" stops blinking is the right ambient light exposure. Then you can go, say 1 to 1 1/2 stops more to lower the ambient exposure versus the flash, or stay at the ambient exposure and use the exposure compensation on the SF20 to lower the flash 1 2/3 stops for fill flash.
 
ANNOYING FLASHING DOT
Well, there had to be something that I don't like. There is a dot that flashes in the lower left of the number display under the following conditions:
 
* If the DX info on the film doesn't match the ISO setting. Ex: You set 1200 for an 800 film
* If the film can doesn't have a DX code, e.g., IR film
* If you dial in exposure compensation
* If there is no film in the camera
* If the ISO setting dial is not set correctly
 
If anyone know how to turn this off, please tell me. A steady dot is sufficient for reminding you that the ISO is set differently from the DX rating or that you are using exposure compensation. Blinking is annoying. The blinking should be reserved for no film, or incorrect settings. It seems that you have to use the DX rating or you get the blinking dot. Taping over the code just makes it think that it is a no code can, and it blinks.
 
Does anyone know where to get DX code strips? That might be the solution. I sometimes want to push a whole roll, and I suppose I could tape on a new DX code, thereby avoiding the blinker.

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