Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2003/03/12

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Subject: [Leica] Leica MP and Leicavit M
Date: Wed, 12 Mar 2003 23:01:48 -0500

 PMA is over and the speculations have stopped. Yes, there were a “new” Leica (kind of) and  a Leicavit M duly introduced. I did receive a Leicavit M from Leica, engraved with my name and PMA 2003 (how is that for a collectible!). Leica has recognized that was it not for my effort over the last 16 years, they would have had to create a market and also to explain how the Leicavit/Rapidwinder works to a lot of users.
 First the Leica MP: right off the bat, I like it! In fact I liked it sufficiently to order a black paint 0,58 (promised delivery in June this year). It is a M6 with a M3 rewind and a M3 advance arm, but most importantly, the shutter speed dial rotates the old way. Even after 5 years of shooting with TTL’s, I still turn the dial the wrong way on those cameras. Unfortunately, they could not incorporate the exposure lock from the M7 in the MP. Just not enough room underneath the older style top-plate. The meter chip is new and will show two arrows and a dot for correct exposure as well as a low battery indicator. From some brief shots with the new camera, it feels like the old one and all the demos were smooth and comfortable to work with. It is, at the moment, only available in chrome and black paint finish and there was no mention of a “regular” black finish.
 The, by now, infamous accessory rewind crank looks better than it works. The spring loaded “knob” is simply too small and is in use, worse than the small knob of the M4-M7 version. So, it does have a rubber “bumper” on the bottom to prevent scratching of the top-plate, but at $175 it is bound to become a bit of a “fashion” item. There have been at least a dozen varieties of rewind cranks produced since the M3 saw the light in 1954 and I have most variations of these and the new Leica one would not cut it among them!
 The Leicavit M is a derivative of my Rapidwinder. There are no parts interchangeable between the old Leicavit/Leicavit MP as it drives through the intermediate gears of the M4-2/M4-P and M6/M7, while the original MP connected with the take-up shaft of the M1/M2 and MP cameras. Leica has gone to a great deal of effort to make the new Leicavit smaller than my Rapidwinder. They wanted to fit the drive train inside a shell which has the same dimensions as the old Leicavit MP. They also wanted to use the drive-coupling from the Winder-M (they probably have a lot of those around) and as this coupling is taller than my own drive, they had to resort to a complex system of drive/intermediate gear/clutch-drive to shave the 3mm of the height. The original Leicavit MP had a rather clunky chain-drive, prone to stretching and breaking and the clutch was a simple single action cam-style. This required the user to ensure that the camera was cocked before you put the Leicavit MP on, otherwise it would require the user to stroke it twice, before the film advanced properly.
Advances in clutch design now allow the designer to access small, strong, multipin drives that engage at any position as well as allowing advancing the film with several short strokes ( advantageous when you are shooting verticals). The chain is now replaced by a reinforced “timing” style belt which is quieter than the chain and far less prone to breakage or stretching. The lock of the new Leicavit M is similar to the base-plate lock on the regular base, much improved over the Leicavit MP and the older style M4-2/M4-P and M battery winder. These had a sliding lock that stuck out on the short side of the housing and forever snagged clothing and bag interiors.
 The lever and lever-lock on the Leicavit M is not that good. The lock is copied from the Voigtlander Triggerwinder and it suffers from the same problem as that lock. If you carry the camera around your neck and the lever touches your clothing, it releases and the lever swings free. You put the camera up to your eye and fires, the left hand is pulling at the lever and no action, the lever simply folds into the track! The lever is also very narrow and I found that after 4-5 rolls in quick succession my left hand hurt from the “thin-ness” of the lever. I did experiment with different lever-shapes when I designed the Rapidwinder and I decided on a more “meaty” lever, just to avoid this problem. The lock on my design is also more positive in its action, once locked down it stays down until you want it to fold up.
 Smoothness of action is just about the same as my winder. Leica uses a softer spring action for the return of the lever and if you operate the winder/camera without film, it feels very smooth and soft. My winder uses a stronger spring to ensure a quick return to “zero” and the effort is slightly more noticeable. Once you load up with film the effort is more or less the same with either winder. There is also a certain difference between cameras that affect smoothness of operation, The intermediate gear-train on the M is not all that smooth in most M4-2’s, M4P’ and M6’s and that can translate to a slight roughness in winder-use although it tends to “wear” in and smoothen out with time Interestingly enough, I did notice a slight variation in film-spacing with the Leicavit M on my Millennium M6. not alarming in any way, but there are short sequences of negatives where the space between got progressively more narrow (6-7 frames) and then it would revert back to normal spacing.
 Of course, Leica has now found a brand new position to put the tripod bushing, slightly off-set and three quarters of the way down the base. There is no room to put it in the “base-plate” position as the clutch/drive is positioned there (as on my M2 Rapidwinder) and the lever is slightly more centered in the Leicavit M and that precludes putting it on the optical axis. It does look like they looked long for a spot with enough “meat” to drill out and then put it there!
 Do I like the Leicavit M? Apart from the lever/lever-lock, yes I do. It is a nicely made accessory and in black paint it will quickly “patina” itself to match a well-used camera. It is smooth and fits well (a slight “spring” in the mounting does indicate that the hook on the camera and the cut-out for the hook on the winder are slightly misaligned, but my Leicavit M is an early version, #00022, and that could explain it). I do not think it is worth more than mine and at double the price, I am not buying another one for myself. I also suspect that my Rapidwinder will outlast the Leica version in hard use. Leica claims that they tested the Leicavit M for 80 000 exposures (sounds a lot, but it is only 2000+ rolls, not that much for a pro-shooter!). I have had mine go through 2 to 3 times that, before I change clutches or service them. 
 The Rapidwinder and the Leicavit M are similar products, but with different design concepts. I worked hard to reduce the complexity of my design and have it built as strong and durable as possible, as well as making it user serviceable, if something would break. I have a background as a photographer and I built the Rapidwinder for other photographers (and thus also being conscious of the cost-factor. Photography is more often than not a less than well-paid profession). The Leicavit M is designed for the casual Leica M user and it will meet those requirements very well and it will certainly look good on a black paint MP or M6TTL.
 Well, considering that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, I am deeply flattered as I have already had a Hong Kong “knock-off” of my Rapidwinder (last year) and now Leica has copied me. I do hope that they will do well with the MP and the Leicavit M as they need to have something to sell and this might be a winner for them. In the meantime I will keep making my version as there has been no reduction in orders or enquiries since the announcement of the Leicavit M.
Windingly yours,
Tom A
Tom Abrahamsson

 PS: All the testing of the Leicavit M has been done on my Millennium M6 and I will now start trying it out on other bodies (M6, M4-P, M4-2’s and a variety of converted M3’s). Just to wet your appetite, the lens used for the last 25-30 rolls has been the 35/1,2 Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical.
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