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Leica M: Are we ready for the stripped-down M7d?

Posted on by Mike Evans

A new Leica M with no screen, no adjustments other than aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Wahnsinn! But maybe not so mad on second or even third thought. Such a beast, a sort of M7 with a sensor instead of a film, is not as daft as it sounds.

This week we have seen renewed rumours of a new stripped-down special-edition M, sans almost everything except the inevitable lofty price tag. It is even suggested the camera could be launched at Photokina. At first I took no notice; just another mad rumour I thought. And it isn’t April 1, after all.

What, no screen! A stripped down M with just three settings, aperture, speed and ISO, is not as daft as it sounds. It could appeal to the purist, to someone who hankers after the simplicity of film but can't be bothered with the hassle of processing. Here is the back of the current Leica MP

What, no screen! A stripped down M with just three settings, aperture, speed and ISO, is not as daft as it sounds. It could appeal to the purist, to someone who hankers after the simplicity of film but can't be bothered with the hassle of processing. Here is the back of the current Leica MP

But then I started wondering. Why do we need the myriad of adjustments that are on offer with digital cameras? They get more complex every year and, in many cases, they are there simply because they are possible, not because they are needed. When we used film cameras we didn’t have white balance control, in-camera processing of negatives, movie recording, bracketing, exposure compensation and a hundred other so-called conveniences. We learned to cope and, in some way, we were better photographers as a result. DNG files, with no in-camera processing, would serve us well enough.

The question remains whether this mythical Leica M-minus is feasible. According to rumours the only adjustment control apart from aperture and speed is a large ISO dial following the precedent on all Ms since 1954. How would we adjust the camera, how would we format a memory card, how would we update the firmware (such as it is likely to be)? 

I could take good photographs with a stripped-down M, just as I can with an M7, MP or M3. About the only modern feature I would really miss is the ability to set auto ISO preferences to limit speed and sensitivity. I seldom use other variables and, without jpgs to worry about, a minimalist approach is eminently feasible. It is entirely possible that individual basic settings, which would not be expected to change, could be programmed in from a computer application (or a mobile app). I could live with this.

While writing this I have become quite enthusiastic. A back-to-basics digital camera that works just like a traditional film camera and releases you from the tyranny of too many choices: I think it could work. And, could we dare hope for a design where sensor and operating chip could be upgradable, thus giving the camera a longer working life?

Now if Leica could adopt the weight and profile of the M7, for instance, life would be even better. If it meant a thinner body I would even accept a spacing collar on the lens mount (as on the Sony A7) to compensate for the shorter distance between sensor and lens. The only thing I don’t like about the concept is the possibility, as hinted in the rumours, that this paragon of simplicity would cost more than the current all-bells-and-whistles M. That would indeed be difficult to swallow. 

There are Leica fans, especially those with a hankering for the simplicity of film but who don’t want the hassle, who would buy this camera. Let’s call it the M7d and wish it well.

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