In the loop with Leica's new wrist-strap replacement
The launch of the new Leica M in September 2012 brought the announcement of a rather curious and interesting new accessory: A rubber finger loop. If you thought you had everything, think again.
Like all M bits, this intriguing addition was a long time in the making and it is only in the past couple of months that the loop has been available in stores. Its use has since been extended to the X Vario and we can probably look forward to future Leicas being designed to accommodate the loop.
The design gives a nod to the leather-covered metal finger loop of the 2010 M9 titanium special edition. The big difference, apart from the material, is that the M9 loop screwed into the body and there were no strap lugs. The new loops are made of a tough rubberised compound with, I suspect, metal structural support. They are considerably more versatile and can be used with or without a strap. Unfortunately, to use the loops you need an expensive handgrip, whether for M or X Vario.
At £90 each, these loops are no mean investment--especially not when you remember you also need a handgrip to screw them into. Handgrips range from a relatively modest £100 for the X Vario to £220 for the M's dumb grip through to no less than £660 if your fancy runs to the multi-function M device. So what's with this rubber finger loop? Lots more than immediately meets the eye, as I found out.
I was able to persuade Leica Mayfair to allow me to carry off a couple of these exclusive accessories for testing. I am glad to say that my initial scepticism has been overturned and I have now become something of a loopy fan.
The build is sturdy and the loops are certainly capable of supporting a Leica M with a heavy lens such as the Noctilux, even though this is probably an extreme example. They are also well engineered, with a large knurled finger wheel attached to the finely threaded screw. However, as I discovered, it pays to make sure the finger wheel is well tightened and to check it regularly. Otherwise it can unscrew with potentially disastrous results.
The rubber loop is attached to the screw in such a way that it is free to turn through 360 degrees; it is not a rigid fixture as might be imagined. This ensures that it is as comfortable as possible as the camera or hand moves.
The correct way to use the loop is to slide it over the second and third fingers of the right hand, leaving the index finger free for pressing the shutter release. Because hands and fingers differ in size, the loops come in small, medium and large. I have quite slim fingers and, in the store, I thought the small loop would be best for me. My two fingers were a snug fit and the loop felt comfortable.
Only later did I realise that the weight of a camera, especially of the M in full battle rig, caused the small loop to bite into my fingers and it became uncomfortable. It was also a struggle to pull out the fingers when returning the camera to a bag.
Eventually I settled for the medium loop which, although almost big enough for three or my fingers, is actually more comfortable and more practical. There are still some instances, mainly with a heavy rig, where the hard rubber presses into the fingers and causes mild discomfort. I therefore recommend going for the size which is slightly bigger than you think you need. Take along your camera and heaviest lens and have a good testl session before leaving the store. After all, this is a £90 purchase and you owe it to yourself to make absolutely sure it is right for you.
Once I had settled on the medium loop I began to appreciate the added stability it brings when handling a camera. In conjunction with the grip, it definitely improves the handling of the M or XV. This is especially so when using larger lenses such as a 28-70 R zoom or the prime 50mm Noctilux. The hands just feel more securely attached to the camera. That's because they are.
Is the grip intended to replace a strap or wrist loop? I put this question to Leica and the answer is that it is up to the user. The finger loop can certainly be used without a strap. It is particularly successful in this mode when twinned with the relatively light X Vario. I have had the XV out on several occasions without any form of strap and I find the loop comfortable and convenient. It is also rather elegant as well as being definitely unusual. It allows the camera to be dangled from the right hand, with the fingers clasped around the grip, in complete safety. I also have anecdotal evidence from another X Vario owner, who suffers from mild arthritis, that the loop makes holding and carrying the camera easier.
I am less certain about using the loop as a strap replacement for the heavier M, particularly when large lenses are attached. Functionally, it replaces a wrist strap, so there is no point in using one if you have the loop attached. But I suspect most owners will prefer to keep a neck strap on the camera for that added bit of support and security. That said, it is perfectly feasible to use just the finger loop. The M is every bit as safe with the loop as with a wrist strap, always provided you regularly check the fixing wheel is tight before every outing.
The loop is definitely a blessing for the X Vario where it comes into its own as a replacement for a strap or wrist strap. It turns the XV into even more of an great travel companion. I am not a fan of neck straps for lighter cameras and have always just used a wrist strap with cameras such as the XV. With the loop attached instead of a strap, the XV is very easy to carry around and to bring up to the eye for shooting, especially in street situations.
I have mixed views on the comfort of the finger loop when used with the M and heavier lenses. I have used it with a Noctilux attached to the camera and find the pressure on the fingers rather disconcerting. Perhaps an even larger loop would be better and this emphasises the importance of try before you buy. With a light lens, such as a 35mm Summicron, the M feels better in the hand.
What appears on first sight to be a rather oddball accessory turns out to be surprisingly useful and desirable. I definitely like the finger loop concept and Leica has engineered it well