Leica M-A (Typ 127)
Reduced to the essentials, lasting a lifetime or two.
10 Photos • 30 April 2015
In this article I will be writing about the Leica M-A (Typ 127). Leica their newest fully mechanical rangefinder camera. The camera features no electronic parts whatsoever, no light meter or electronically controlled shutter like for example the M7 has. It is a fully mechanical rangefinder camera and it is the cheapest ‘M’ series camera Leica sells new today. The camera feels like any other M film camera Leica has ever made with the M5 as an exception. It features a cloth shutter with speeds of 1 til 1/1000th of a second and a ‘bulb’ mode that keeps the shutter open as long as you keep the shutter release button pressed just like most film M cameras have done. It has a 0.72x magnification viewfinder again like most film M cameras.
Now normally I would start writing about the camera and all the features or qualities. But with the M-A there is not much to write about. It is just a damn good, but very simple rangefinder camera. With the build quality you expect from Leica. It is probably the only Leica camera introduced in the last few years that will still work in 100 years.
So as much as I like to write about the camera, it is easier and more informative to write about the whole process of using a Leica M-A, from my personal choice of film to shooting and developing.
So what is there to write about when the camera is reduced to the essentials as much as the Leica M-A?
Well to start it is available in two different finishes. Black chrome and silver chrome. The black chrome version of the Leica M-A has no inscriptions on the top plate of the camera whereas the silver chrome version has the classic ‘Leica’ inscription on the top. The black chrome version is really stealthy and inconspicuous while the silver chrome version is a beauty to behold in itself but maybe a bit more conspicuous.
The camera is made out of a full-metal body, so there is no plastic to be found on the camera. This makes it quite heavy for such a compact camera weighing in at approximately 580 grams.
The bright-line viewfinder with automatic parallax compensation always shows you three things: a set of bright-lines, and your rangefinder focussing patch. It shows the lines in pairs of two: 28-90 / 50-75 / 35-135 to match all the viewing angles that fit inside a 0.72x magnifying viewfinder. The camera mechanically detects what lens you are mounting on the camera so it will show the correct pair of bright-lines. If I were to mount a 28mm lens it would show the 28mm lines, and in the middle the 90mm lines. If you want to go wider than a 28mm lens you will need to get an external viewfinder of the appropriate focal length that you can slide into the accessory hot-shoe on top of the camera. I found the viewfinder extremely bright and nice to the eye with good contrast in the rangefinder focussing patch. Making it easy to acquire correct and precise focus.
The camera features a horizontal rubberized-cloth focal plane shutter making it extremely quiet for a camera featuring a focal plane shutter. The shutter curtains are mechanically controlled by you selecting the appropriate shutter speed on the shutter speed dial for your photographic situation. The shutter speed dial on top of the camera has 1 stop indents, but intermediate speeds can be selected too since the mechanical timer is step less.
The camera has an easily accessible frame counter on the top right corner which automatically resets when you open the base plate. So after placing a new roll of film, you can just close the baseplate wind and shoot a blank shot and you are set for another series of exposures.
Choice of film
The Leica M-A comes without a light meter so you either have to use an off camera light meter or a Leica meter that fits on the camera and is coupled to the shutter speed dial. Or just go without a meter. This is usually how I work with a meter less camera. Choosing my shutter speed based on the Sunny 16 rule of thumb.
This is why the choice of film is important. You want to use a film type that has a wide exposure latitude. Meaning it does not really matter if you are a stop over- or underexposing. For black and white photography Kodak Tri-x is the way to go, you can easily use it at ISO 100-800 on one roll and just develop it as ISO 400 and still get great results. Leica seems to think so as well and this is probably why they ship one roll of Tri-x with the camera.
I really like Tri-x and what you can do with it, but I use Kodak Portra 160 and Portra 400 most. I overexpose both films one stop and then develop at the box indicated ISO speeds. This gives less grain and nicer colours. Portra is a nice film for the M-A because it has a wide exposure latitude, it does not really matter if you get the exposure spot on. But it is better to over expose than to underexpose. So if you already start with Portra 160 rated as ISO 80-100 and Portra 400 rated as ISO 200 you are probably not underexposing and getting consistently good results. If you are coming from a digital camera this might feel strange because digitally it is better to underexpose than overexpose.
Some people like using different films a lot to try out the different film type characters and up and downsides. I think you can not really base your results on this type of trying and experimenting. You’ll only know the film and what you can do with it after using it for a prolonged amount of time. The film is less important than the developing. You can adjust the way the image looks more by developing differently than choosing another film of the same ‘type’ in my opinion. So I always advice to choose as little types of film as possible. For me the films I use most are AGFA Vista 200, because it is cheap. Kodak Tri-x 400 as my only black and white film. Kodak Portra 160, 400 and 800 for most serious work. And I used to shoot Kodak GOLD 200 a lot but I use the AGFA Vista 200 instead these days.
Developing and post processing
Black and white film I mostly develop myself at home. this is really easy as you can control the way you want your film to look exactly the way you want it to. After developing the film you can either make wet prints in a darkroom, or scan the film and then print digitally or share them online.
Colour negative film I develop at a local laboratory but I moved recently so I am looking for a new laboratory. I never try developing colour negatives myself because I am afraid I screw it up or won’t get consistent results, which I think is important.
I then scan the images with a Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 and adjust the images in Adobe Lightroom. Basically I adjust the same things as I can do while making wet prints. I wrote an article about scanning and adjusting the images which you can read here: Scanning film with Nikon Super Coolscan 4000
For me the Leica M-A is a perfect companion to my digital M cameras. I can use all my M lenses when I want to shoot film, or when I am at a location where I know I will not be able to recharge my digital Leica camera batteries. Also if I would have to choose one camera for the rest of my life I would choose the M-A over my digital M. Simply because of the longevity of the camera.
It is a great camera, feels good in the hand and works just the way I want my film M to work. Longevity wise it is the best Leica one can buy new today. But the camera is expensive, which is probably worth it. But with a very big secondhand market for very good mechanical Leica rangefinder cameras Like the M4, M2, or even a M3 if you can live with just 50/90/135mm frame lines it is maybe hard to justify such a high price. For the price of a new M-A one can easily buy a good M2 or M4 and a few lenses.
Below you will find a few more photos taken with the Leica M-A. I hope you have enjoyed reading and checking out the images in my article and as always feel free to subscribe to my newsletter to receive an email when I write a new article, or to leave your thoughts in the comments bellow.
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