The LEICA MP is probably the best film camera ever made, and ever will be made. Same goes with the Leica 35mm f/2 ASPH lens, the best Leica lens that money can buy.
To start off, this is all just my opinion of the film LEICA MP and also an advertisement for the Henri Neck Strap (made by HAPTIC INDUSTRIES, and what I consider the best neck strap for a Leica/rangefinder/Film camera/Fujifilm/any mirrorless). So feel free to ignore me. Cool, let’s get started.
To start off— why film?
To me, film is a unique chance to get back to the roots of photography. Shooting film has helped me gain more appreciation for the art of photography, and helped me appreciate the masters of photography so much more.
Nowadays, we complain about our (phenomenal) digital cameras. We complain about crop sensor, noise at ISO 12,800 — whereas the masters shot with (clunky) film cameras with ISO 10-25 film. Yes, ISO 10!
Anyways, shooting film has helped me become a better photographer in these regards:
- To hustle harder to get the shot. Uncertainty whether I “got” the shot or not (because I cannot “chimp” and check the LCD) — so I take more pictures to guarantee a higher chance of capturing “the decisive moment.”
- Letting my pictures “marinate” and sit longer before reviewing them— which lets me emotionally disconnect from my pictures, to judge them more objectively. For example, I didn’t review 100 rolls of black and white Kodak TRI X film for about a year, so I judged my pictures like they belonged to someone else. Also similar experience to shooting a bunch 164 rolls of Kodak portra 400 color film for after a year.
- Benefit: I’m more picky when shooting a scene, therefore I don’t just take random pictures of what isn’t important. By paying money for the film I shoot, I got “skin in the game”— and therefore I end up only shooting what is really important to me. The benefit is that I have a higher “hit rate”— fewer crap photos, and a higher percentage of good pictures. The ultimate benefit: fewer bad pictures to look through.
And nowadays, I’m shooting mostly digital on RICOH GR II. Shooting film makes me so so much more grateful for digital — for the convenience (and cost savings). I’d say after shooting film for a while, it has taught me more discipline as a photographer (which is a good skill for all visual artists).
To learn shooting film, pick up FILM NOTES and check out my FILM PHOTOGRAPHY 101 series.
The LEICA MP: MP stands for “mechanical perfection”. Assembled by hand by some German guy in a white lab coat somewhere in a German factory, it is robust, solid brass, and will last probably longer than you. It’s the only camera (film or digital) I can imagine giving my future grandchildren.
Practically speaking, it’s just a brass box that holds and exposes film. The body itself doesn’t “take better pictures”.
The only reason to get a film Leica MP:
- Aesthetics: The black paint “brasses” (turns a golden color after use) over a period of time, which is beautiful— like the Japanese aesthetic of “wabi sabi” (things that get more beautiful through wear and tear). I bought my Leica MP secondhand from my friend Bellamy Hunt from japancamerahunter.com — and when I bought it, it was mint. Then over the years, my wear and tear has started to show in the camera, and I feel great pride in it. The edges are a nice golden color, as well as the film rewind mechanism, and the film advance lever.
- More robust: the film Leica MP is a relatively new camera— started getting produced in the 2000s. Which means, it is more reliable and less prone to break or malfunction compared to the older film Leicas. For example, I’ve had issues with older film Leica M6 cameras (my film advance lever broke and got stuck, and another time the film rewind lever broke). Therefore, the benefit of the LEICA MP is that it has a higher quality control.
- Minor improvements: slightly less glare in viewfinder — but to be honest, I didn’t notice much difference between the Leica MP and film Leica M6 in real life use.
There are other things I’m not noting, but these are the basics.
How it is like shooting with the Leica MP
To be honest, I prefer the weight of the Leica M6. The Leica M6 is made of magnesium, which is a lot lighter than the all-brass body of the Leica MP.
But in terms of the feel, you cannot best the ergonomics of how a classic Leica feels in your hand. It’s the perfect size: not too big or small. The proportions are perfect.
With the Leica MP the film rewinder mechanism sits flush at the top, which aesthetically flows better with the design. But it’s slower to rewind compared to the faster and more ergonomic Leica M6 rewinder.
So technically, the Leica M6 is a more “functional” camera, whereas the Leica MP is a more aesthetically charming camera, that is just a bit more study.
Film advance lever
My favorite part of the film Leica MP: the film advance lever is pure sex. When I advance it, it is like putting a hot knife through butter. It is smooth, exotic, and satisfying.
I actually really enjoy shooting pictures on the Leica MP for the haptic feedback whenever I take a picture, and advance the film lever. Also, the shutter sound of the Leica MP: a subtle click, very quiet, subtle, and barely audible. Good to be stealth when shooting in quiet places.
The viewfinder is big, clean, and bright. I use the .72 viewfinder (default), and shoot with glasses. This means the viewfinder frame lines are at the edges of the viewfinder.
Therefore if you shoot with glasses on, do not use a lens wider than 35mm on a Leica.
Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH
The Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH is known as the “modern” Leica 35mm lens. It was designed to be used on modern digital Leica M bodies. It is bigger, heavier, and sharper than the older Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron lenses.
The reason I love the lens is the build quality, ergonomics, and construction.
The focusing tab at the bottom of the lens is perfectly designed. There is no “play” (wiggling of the lens focusing mechanism). It is firm, yet fluid to focus.
The lens makes good pictures. The pictures are all sharp, good contrast, and good colors.
To be frank, you could probably do a side-by-side comparison with a 35mm f/2 Zeiss or 35mm f/2.5 Voightlander lens and not see that much of a difference in terms of image quality. Honestly, the image quality of the compact film camera the Contax T3 was pretty similar to the Leica 35mm f2 Summicron ASPH lens.
I’d say, the only reason to buy the Leica 35mm f/2 ASPH is that you can afford it, that it is the only 1 lens you will need (it is the only Leica lens I own), and the build quality and construction is very important to you.
Also as a side note, when I first bought my Leica M9 I bought a used Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 (pre-ASPH) lens. The Leica Summilux was too big and heavy, so I “downgraded” to the smaller and lighter Summicron f/2 lens. I almost always shoot the lens at f8 for street photography, so I don’t even need f/1.4.
Also my good friend Todd helped me sell my Summilux, and the Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH was actually his old kens. So essentially I took the cash he helped me get for the Summilux (used the cash to pay off some student loan debt) and gave him the remaining money to buy his old Summicron (thanks Todd).
How to shoot with a film Leica
I have written in-depth how to shoot with a film Leica (or any rangefinder) in LEICA MANUAL, and have more practical tips and assignments in FILM NOTES.
Basically, I recommend using ISO 400 film, and shooting at f8, and just changing your exposure via the shutter speed.
The Leica MP has a built-in light meter, which is VERY USEFUL. The Leica M6 (the best “bang for the buck”/value Leica rangefinder) also has one. I generally just listen to the light meter when shooting.
But general settings at ISO 400 at f8:
- Very Bright sunny day: 1/1000th shutter speed (maximum shutter speed on Leica MP)
- Normal bright day: 1/500th shutter speed
- Sunset: 1/125th shutter speed
- Shade: 1/60th shutter speed
If you’re shooting indoors, just use f2 (or wide open) and 1/30th shutter speed.
Also pro film tip: Always better to over-expose film than under-expose your film. With film, you can always recover details from the highlights. You cannot recover details from the shadows.
With digital it is opposite: better to under-expose than over-expose.
What film Leica should I buy?
If you’ve never shot film and not sure whether it is good for you or not, try shooting with a cheap disposable film camera, or a cheap film SLR (Canon AE-1), or any free film camera you can find.
If you really enjoy shooting film for a months, then invest in Leica M6 and get a Voightlander 35mm f2.5 lens. If you really like that, and want to shoot film more longer term, and have the money, then buy the Leica MP and 35mm f2 Summicron ASPH (after shooting with the Leica M6 for a year).
I bought my Leica MP after selling my Leica M9. I’m glad I did. I learned a lot more shooting film, and my Leica MP still works great. I’m happy I ditched the Leica M9– the digital sensor has become so obsolete, so quickly. Whereas the LEICA MP is truly timeless (I will never need to “upgrade” it).
Ultimately, shooting digital is more convenient. And moving forward, I’m gonna shoot mostly digital when traveling and on the road (I currently am only traveling with the RICOH GR II). In the future for color photography, I plan on shooting more digital medium format).
But when I’m settled down mostly at home, not traveling, I’m gonna shoot more film. Why? Truly timeless.
– ERIC KIM x KODAK PORTRA 400
– ERIC KIM x TRIX pushed to 1600 (with yellow filter)
To learn more about film, pick up FILM NOTES and get an HENRI NECK STRAP (or the new HENRI CHROMA WRIST STRAPS) for your film camera.
To learn more about Leica, read LEICA MANUAL.