Leica MP vs M3 — user differences
The following article was kindly sent to me by Toronto based photographer Marco Sobrevinas in Jan 2004. It is © Copyright M.Sobrevinas 2004 and is reproduced with his permission.
If you look at Leica's promotional material on their new MP camera, the emphasis is that the MP is a return to the traditional quality & craftsmanship of the old Wetzlar products. Calling this new camera an MP, named after a very rare & much desired M press camera from the 1950's, is evidence enough that Leica is attempting to evoke feelings that there is a return to the old school.
The new MP vs. the M3
While it would have been fun to compare to the current MP to its original namesake, I don't have one of those rare originals! Luckily, I do have a late serial number M3, which I use side by side with my current MP.
Please note that the MP I have is the 0.72x mag. black lacquer version. The M3 is a silver chrome version, obviously with a 0.91x finder. Strictly speaking, a better comparison would have been to choose a new chrome MP with a 0.85x finder - but the black lacquer MP version (only available at the time as 0.72x) was too irresistible!
One other note - I started this comparison with an older, converted double stroke M3, and finished it with a late model, s/stroke version. For more on the reason for the switch, see below.
Viewfinder & Rangefinder patch flare
The new MP is claimed to finally have solved the patch flare problem. [See this topic elsewhere in the FAQ for a detailed discussion on flare and its causes.] The $64K question though is (1) has the problem really been solved and (2) how does the MP's flare handling compare to that of the M3?
From using my M3 and new MP side by side for six months, this is what I have found:
- Compared to using M6TTL's and an M4-P, the new MP is definitely an improvement.
- Compared to an M3, I would say the new MP is almost as flare-resistant - but the M3 still has a slight edge, remaining whiteout or flare resistant in every situation I encountered. In a dark room with a single, harsh light source, on a rare occasions (probably less than four times in six months), I have found the MP's patch can sometimes catch some oblique light and lose contrast. To the MP's credit though, it never completely disappears, allowing you to still focus.
- When I received the MP, I realized just how dim & yellow my M3's patch had become! While my M3's patch never disappeared or flared, the MP's rangefinder was much brighter and had more contrast (except in the above situation). As mentioned in the introduction, the M3 I started this comparison with was an older, double stroke model that had been converted to single stroke by its previous owner. While the camera was mechanically clean & in great shape, its finder patch was very yellow and dim, making it difficult to focus. If you have an aging and yellow patch on an M3, as a user, you will be better off with an MP. While it is not impossible to repair an M3 finder, it can be difficult and expensive [see this topic elsewhere in the FAQ.]
- Last autumn I was able to trade the older M3 before its finder completely died, for a late model s/stroke M3 with a great, bright rangefinder. An M3 with a rangefinder in this condition still has a slight edge over an MP (as detailed in the first point above), but only marginally so.
- Don't mistake rangefinder patch flare for poor operational technique! You need to have your eye centered on the viewfinder in order to see the rangefinder patch clearly. I noticed this when using 50mm lenses on the 0.72x and 0.91x finders - it is possible to move your eye off center on the 0.72x finder, and still see the entire 50mm frame. But, as you move your eye off center, the rangefinder patch will disappear. This is NOT a flaw - your eye should be centered! On the M3's 0.91x finder, the 50mm frame is so large that in order to see the entire frame, you are forced to keep your eye centered, so the patch on an M3 never seems to disappear. It does indeed disappear, just like the MP, if you move your eye off center - but your 50mm frame lines will have been blocked by the eyepiece at this point, making it obvious that you are viewing way off center.
- The entire viewfinder (not just the rangefinder patch) on the MP is very bright & neutral in color. The viewfinder on an M3 is noticeably dimmer and bluer. In practice it really doesn't matter of course.
Mechanical feel of the MP is very reminiscent of the M3. It was marginally tighter and stiffer at first, but was simply because the MP was brand new, and the M3's I compared it to were decades old. After a few months of breaking in the MP, it is as smooth & friction-free as an M3.
Like the old brass Leicas, the MP has the same solid heft. The brass top and bottom plates no doubt adds to this, and probably the re-worked gearing internally too.
The rewind spindle on the MP is a remake of the M3 - smooth but very slow to use, with the added bonus that it doesn't release the film if you let go. An accessory rewind crank is essential if you want to be able to rewind quickly when rewinding film during a fast moving event.
Instead of Leica's own MP rewind crank, I used Camera Quest Rewind Cranks instead, both on the MP and the M3 (slightly different diameters, so be sure to order & install the correct one). I chose the CQ crank over the Leica version, due to its taller handle (very easy to use) and lower price (almost half). On both the MP and M3, it cuts my rewinding time in half, which can be significant while shooting under time pressure. One caveat - be sure to support the spindle on both the MP and the M3 with a finger while using a rewind accessory of any sort. While it has never happened to me, I have heard it is possible to snap the spindle if you apply excessive torque while rewinding. The MP spindle has marginally more play than the M3. One other thing - the CQ crank puts minor scratches into the black lacquer top plate on the MP where it contacts the camera. You only see the scratches when you extend the spindle, but if you must keep your black paint MP scratch free, then don't attach a rewind accessory.
The MP has the superior, rapid-load film mechanism inherited from the M4. The M3 of course has the i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y slow and easy to lose removable spindle. On a previous M3 I had ten years ago, I had it converted to an M4 style loader - but this was very expensive. If you don't already own an M3, you are better off getting an MP if you want this feature, rather than purchasing an M3 and then getting it converted.
The flash sync on an MP is the standard PC type. The M3 has a weird, proprietary version which requires a plug in adaptor. This extends out quite a bit and can get in the way when attempting to view through the finder. Once again, it is possible to have the M3 converted, but the MP is better out of the box.
The MP has a hotshoe, so you can attach a flash directly without a sync cord.
And of course, the MP has a very good onboard meter, while the M3 does not. Very nice if you want to go out shooting without bringing an accessory meter. Also useful if you have one the new Macro-M-Elmar lenses and are focusing with its Macro attachment (close focusing distances require additional exposure, easily seen with an onboard meter).
From a user perspective, the MP is a Leica which matches the old M3 in quality and operational smoothness. In same ways, it's about the same, but the MP also has the advantage of having a serviceable rangefinder, a faster loading claw, a modern sync, a ready to mount a motor, Leicavit or Rapidwinder, a hotshoe and of course, has a built-in meter. Clearly, for users, with the Leica MP you can have the quality of the old school Leicas with the added functional features from later models.