Leica M10: Arte di Mano halfcase for no-compromise excellence
I have never really liked leather half cases with flaps to access the battery compartment of a camera, mainly because they normally add considerably to the height of the camera. In the past, when I ordered a half case from Arte di Mano in Korea I always opted to have no battery door flap. I didn't even consider the obvious problem of how to engineer a flap on an M camera which has a fixed bottom plate. If the bottom plate isn't properly attached, the camera doesn't work? Right. Well, it’s not quite so black and white as it turns out.
When my review copy of the latest M10 Arte di Mano case arrived last week I was surprised to find that it did indeed have a very neat flap to access the innards without removing the case from the camera.
Since there were no instructions, I realised that the only way this was going to fit would be by first removing the bottom plate. I am nothing if not logical. I slotted the camera into the perfect contours of the leather case and was delighted to find that the camera works perfectly. No warning messages, no hitches. It seems that the Leica baseplate incorporates a small magnet which is clearnly visible (see the photograph above) and looks rather like a tiny raised button cell. This tells the camera that the base plate is attached. I assume that the Arte di Mano must incorporate a similar magnet although it is not visible. Anyway, it works and that’s all that matters.
Below: Left, the flap with magnetic closure allows easy access to the battery and SD card while the little curved peninsular to the right of the SD slot masquerades as a Leica base plate to tell the camera it can carry on working. Right, the flap closed to display a smooth bottom. The tripod screw is the means of securing the case to the camera and also offers a tripod mount for the camera/case combo
Far from adding to complexity, this innovative design actually makes the M10 easier to handle. Batteries and SD cards can be changed easily without removing the camera bottom plate or, if using a standard type of leather case, removing both plate and case. The only potential snag to this arrangement is the possibility of reduced weather protection for the battery compartment and SD slot. The leather flap works well and clicks into place securely but in extreme conditions water ingress is feasible. In normal use, I see no problems.
Immediately I was attracted to this idea. And an important by-product is the relatively small increase in height of the ensemble when this case is installed. The naked M10 is 80mm tall and this case adds only 5mm, about the least you can get away with in any circumstances. The Leica case, because of its double-thickness bottom, including the rear flap baseplate or the alternative accessory spacer, adds 10mm. This may not seem much of a difference, but the lack of height when using the Arte di Mano case creates a visually more harmonious proportion and the camera feels less bulky. Subjective, but true.
This case relies on a tripod-mount screw for fixing. It works well and the screw can be manipulated with a small coin or large flat-blade driver. My only complaint is that screw has no retaining ring and is easily dropped. It's pretty academic, though, since once fixed to the camera this case need never be removed. This contrasts, again, with most designs, including the Leica case, which have to be unscrewed every time the battery or SD card is changed. I can't stress enough the convenience of the Arte di Mano solution.
Because of the tripod-screw fixing, this particular case does not rely on the usual type of press-stud-equipped ears which cling to the top of the camera and prevent it falling out of the case. Arte di Mano do make a more traditional alternative case with ears instead of this model with flap and screw. But by now, I am firmly convinced that I prefer this case layout.
The construction and fit of this case is impeccable. All lines that should be straight are straight; this is particularly noticeable at the back where the edges of the leather align perfectly with the control panel to the left and the right-hand edge of the screen. The cut-out for the D-pad is perfect. This alignment is often a problem with artisan cases because stitching leather to achieve machine-like precision is particularly difficult. Also noteworthy is that the construction does not prevent the fitting of a thumb grip, neither the Leica version nor the Match Technical Thumbs Up.
The black leather is up to the usual high standard I expect from this Korean manufacturer. It feels soft and has a pleasing matte, mottled finish. Despite this tactile pleasure, the leather is also sufficiently stiff to avoid unsightly sagging, particularly at the top corners which are otherwise unsupported. On the right-hand side, next to the thumb dial, the leather comes almost to the top of the camera, thus offering a reasonable degree of protection in the case of misadventure. On the left, because of the ISO adjustment dial, the case side is lower, ending just below the level of the dial. The exposed edges of the leather are sealed with a shiny material that I know from past experience wears well. I think of it as a from of cauterisation….
To the front of the camera the stitching and contours are again precise and there is sufficient space to activate the frameline lever without obstruction. This was a problem with many cases made for the M240 which, in its standard form, doesn't have a frameline lever. When the M-P, which does, came along most cases fouled the new lever. Fortunately, with the M10 there is unlikely to be a need for change when the M10-P comes along in eighteen months or so.
The front of the case is graced by a small padded grip, similar to that on the Leica case. It is just enough to satisfy those who prefer a grip without serving discouraging those who hate them. If you are gripped by grips, however, you can order the case with an Aventine grip which has a more pronounced contour and definitely (as I know from past experience) improves handling when heavier lenses are fitted.
The interior of the case is lined in an attractive plush material (green is standard but there are many alternatives) and, as I said earlier, the camera fit is exemplary. Overall, this case is absolutely spot on in design, materials and implementation. In fact, I would go so far as to describe it as the Rolls Royce of M cases. Unfortunately, there is a price attached to such excellence. More on that later. As an aside, I know from personal experience that used Arte di Mano cases have a ready resale value and anyone who knows the marque will be happy to pay as much as £250 for a good used example. It's like everything else, a good reputation reduces depreciation.
Made in Korea
Arte di Mano cases are manufactured in a Seoul-based factory headed by a talented leather craftsman, Sejun Kim. His operation, where cases are made to order rather than churned out willy nilly, is the antithesis of what you might imagine of a low-cost mass-market leather-goods supplier.
Because cases are made to order, there is a vast choice of colours and finishes to choose from — different types of leather, stitching, linings. A friend of mine had an itch for lizard but hasn’t yet checked the price. Look at the website for all the combinations and don't be put off by the fact that much of it is in Korean. You can still see the pictures and fathom out the options. My preferred method is to email Sejun with my requirements and he will come back with a cost and an estimated delivery time. There is also an eBay shop which gives a lot of additional information and which you might find more user-friendly than the web site.
This case is wonderful and is a perfect complement to the M10. I much prefer it to the Leica case, despite my liking for that design’s back flap which totally protects the screen and is nirvana for non-chimpers. However, I would happily lose the back flap in favour of this exquisitely confected Arte di Mano model.
Sejun also sent me a sample of his woven-style waxed-cotton straps which match the case in every detail. While it comes in a wide range of colours to match choice of case colour, the black combination is alluring. As with the case, this strap is one of the best I have encountered. It is very supple and uses a Spanish-made cotton weave with a waxed finish. At first I thought it was leather — it certainly looks like leather — and I had to confirm with the factory that it is indeed fabric but with a shiny coat.
The ends have substantial leather keepers, one with a couple of large parallel red stiches to sign off the design, plus soft-leather ears to protect the camera from the split rings. Whether or not you spring for the case, this strap is one you cannot fail to be delighted with. The sample strap is the standard 100mm length but I am sure Sejun can make longer versions to order.
Earlier, I mentioned the price to be paid for such excellence. It is high, but in relation to the cost of the camera and some other Leica accessories, it can be seen as reasonable.
When you contact Arte di Mano they will quote the price in US dollars. The case as shown and described in this review costs $479 (approximately £375). If you want the larger Aventine grip it is an extra $100 (£78). Shipping to the UK is $24 but, of course, you have to take into account the possibility of customs duties and handling. I can’t advise on that. The waxed-cotton strap is $138 (£108) and shipping is $20 (£16) although if you are ordering both case and strap at the same time there would be just one shipping charge.
Can you have confidence in buying direct from Korea? My experience over several years is that Jnk-handworks, who trade as Arte di Mano, are thoroughly reliable and dependable. You choose your specification, pay by card or PayPal and the order arrives a few weeks later. You can also order through the company's eBay shop. For the Leica fan who wants the best, this case and strap are as good as they get.