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URL:   <leica.nemeng.com>
Site last updated:  Thu, 14 Jul 2016

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Compact M-Motor - notes

Introduction

Leica announced the new compact M-Motor (#14408) at Photokina in September 2000 to replace the maligned, over-sized, noisy and clunky 1970s M-Winder. Six months later the new motors became available, and rapidly established themselves as must-haves for film-burning M-shooters.

First the good news. The new motor is significantly smaller and quieter than the old monster. It also has three speed settings: off, slow ("I" quiet 1.5 fps) and fast ("II" louder 3 fps). It features a grip similar to the M-grip, although here it's used to house two '123' lithium batteries, which are claimed to be good for 100 rolls of 36 film. Thankfully these batteries are easy-to-get, unlike the weirdo custom jobs required by the R8 motor.

Now for the quirks…

Traps & user-tricks

Having used the M-Motor since March 2001, I have found the following tips useful…

Shutter-button recoil

Due to the purely mechanical coupling between the motor and M camera body, you will experience the same shutter button "bounce-back" which bedeviled the older M-Winder.

Unlike your EOS or F5 or even MD12 equipped FM2n, you cannot press an electronic shutter release on the Leica motor and let it hammer away, mainly because there is no extra release on the motor housing. The only way to trigger the M-motor is by pressing the mechanical shutter button on the M camera body.

One of the unintended consequences of this is that the shutter button will forcefully pop back after every shot. For one-off photos this is not a problem, but when shooting continuous sequences the motor will jerk the camera between exposures, effectively ruling out s/speeds slower than 1/125th.

Recoil Workarounds

In June 2001 I made a couple of discoveries which help reduce the amount of bucking. Firstly, use a softie for lighter finger-control and to ride the waves between shots easier.

Secondly, if you attach the motor to an older non-metered M4-2 or M4-P, then because you don't have to press the shutter button so deep to trigger each exposure, (there is no built-in lightmeter so there is no second pressure point!), you can take your motorized sequence with only gentle pressure on the shutter, resulting in less recoil than on a M6 or M7, and thus a smoother ride.

Despite this, you will never completely eliminate the jerking. A safe rule of thumb is to forget about continuous sequences once the s/speed drops to slower than 1/60th.

M7 AE lock - doesn't

Due to the shutter-button recoil, you lose the AE lock setting on the M7 after shot #1 when shooting continuous sequences.

This cannot be helped. You press the shutter, do an AE lock, take the first shot, the motor advances the film to the next frame and… the shutter button pops back into place, cancelling the AE lock, causing shots #2,#3 etc. to be taken at new AE readings. Grrr.

There are no workarounds to this and yes, it is an irritating design flaw in the Leica M7.

Beware of slow s/speeds for continuous shooting

There are other good reasons for not shooting continuously at slow shutter speeds. As noted by John Collier in Dec 2001:

The M camera was never really meant to have a motorised advance. All mechanical cameras are difficult to motorize as the mechanical shutter mechanism needs to reset itself before it is ready to fire again. At speeds slower than the sync speed (1/50th), this can cause problems if the motor tries to advance the film before the shutter has completed its cycle. Most of the other manufacturers warned against using their motors in continuous at speeds slower than the sync speed. Naturally electronically controlled shutters do not have this problem.
 
I have had, seen and heard about many problems with the Motor/Winder-M. The motor and camera locking, exposures exhibiting curtain problems and the shutter itself being damaged. My advice to you (advice given to me by a very good Leica tech), is never use continuous at speeds below 1/50th. Completely remove your finger from the shutter button between exposures. […]
 
I bought a used Winder-M4-P and had problems with noise and uneven exposures. I sent it to Leica for an overhaul and it is very quiet now. The technician pleaded with me to always lift my finger off the release when the speeds are below 1/50th. I listened and have had no problems since then.

This sounds like sensible advice, although I would never shoot continuous below 1/125th anyway due to the shutter button recoil (as noted above).

"I" Speed Frame Smearing

Don't use the "I" setting for continuous sequences!

When on the low-torque "I" setting, the film is transported so slowly that it isn't fully stationary when the front shutter curtain opens for the next shot. While this isn't a problem if you're pausing between shots, when shooting continuously it will cause LHS smearing in shots which follow #1 in the sequence. The slower the camera shutter speed, the greater the smear!

This never happens on the "II" setting however, presumably because the film is yanked so quickly into place that it's fully stationary when the shutter opens for the next shot.

To avoid this quirk, I always use the "I" setting for one-off shots only, keeping the "II" setting for continuous sequences.

Single-frame by jamming the s/button

Some people imagine they can pause multi-frame shooting by jamming down the shutter between exposures… Ahem, Do Not Do This, Ever! Expensive repair to replace your trashed shutter / wind-on mechanism otherwise.

If you need to shoot one-frame-at-a-time, then use the slower "I" setting and lift your finger off the shutter immediately after each shot.

Not for the ham-fisted

The battery holder post isn't amazingly strong, as it's only attached to the motor portion by a single dove-tail joint. So it is unwise to yank the camera about by the battery housing when using a heavy lens (say a Noctilux or the 75mm or 90mm Summicrons). The outer casing isn't all that strong either, certainly nowhere near that of Abrahamsson's Rapidwinder (which is made from titanium plated aerospace alloy!)

Quiet enough for "stealth"?

Even when switched to the "quiet" 1.5 fps setting, the motor is still noticeably loud and IMO useless for stealth shooting indoors. The shutter click (which is also somewhat louder due to the motor pre-tensioned gears) quickly followed by the telltale "whrrrr" is a dead give away. OTOH, when outdoors the motor is (just) quiet enough to be useful for "street" candids

Battery Life

A set of batteries are supposed to last for approx 100 rolls of film. Maybe I'm lucky but I get more like 150 rolls. Maybe it's because I tend to use the motor to shoot one-off frames rather than continuous sequences. YMMV!

End-of-roll slowdown

Once the batteries start to run down, on the "I" speed setting there is a bit of hesitation when advancing each frame from #25 onwards. It will of course still wind the film, but it becomes noticeably slower as you near the end of the roll. It may be an idea to switch to the zippier "II" setting for these shots (or alternatively, load a fresh set of batteries!)

Clickety-Clack

The best feature about the motor is that you can switch it off. However the current design doesn't disengage the motor gears entirely, resulting in a "clickety-clack" sound during each hand-wound film advance. Not a fatal problem, but neurotics may find it unbearable.

Rewind? Fugetaboutit!

No motorised rewind and no cut-off after frame 36. The motor advances the film until it can go no further, then you have to turn the rewind lever on the camera body and rewind by hand. Again this cannot be helped due to the purely mechanical linkage between the motor and M body.

In conclusion

Which all sounds like doom and gloom, but not so. My motor is used extensively for work which doesn't require super-quiet operation, namely QuickTime VR 360° panoramas. Here the camera is mounted onto a calibrated camera mount + tripod (or monopod), making the use of a motor a dream for shooting multiple image sequences.

Otherwise the motor is switched off for 90% of my hand-held candid work. It is still invaluable however for 10% of the time when I'm at 1/250th and things are moving so fast that only a motordrive will do (eg. weddings, social gatherings etc.).

Also when switched off, the motor acts as a 300g M-grip, giving the camera a greater heft and larger surface to grab onto. Although the motorised jerking can play havoc when shooting at slow s/speeds, with the motor switched "off", the increased camera mass and surer grip can actually improve your keeper rate at 1/30th and 1/15th.

Links

For more opinions and discussion about the compact M Motor, see the following URLs:

A note about possible broken links

This FAQ has over 900 external links. Over time it is inevitable some of them will break. If you are bothered by this, see this detailed topic elsewhere in the FAQ.

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