Do you remember Nermal, that cute little cat from Garfield? Such a cute and vain kitty he was, he really did annoy Garfield. Well, who could resist him?
When I saw this camera for the first time, it reminded me a lot of Nermal, it is a really cute camera, that small… and with the looks of a Leica M.
Garfield was so jealous about him (Nermal) that he wanted to send him to Abu Dhabi… well, I don´t know about Nermal but I would not ship the CM to Abu Dhabi because in fact, Abu Dhabi is not that bad so,… I would rather send the Leica CM to Borkou or Siberia. I mean, that´s what I felt about the camera the day after I bought it.
It´s true, I could not resist such a beautiful camera and even if it is a deadcamera, meaning here out of production, it was expensive. Of course, the problem here is not that it is dead but even worst than that, buried by Leica itself! Let me explain…
I did read a lot about the CM before I purchased one and I learned that it is a evolution of the previous Leica Minilux with better flash capabilities, improved optical coatings, hot shoe… and a more reliable design fitted into a titanium body. Well, Perfect!
Mind you, that amazing 40mm f2.4 Summarit lens is blazing sharp, comparable in quality to the Leica M lenses and fitted to a very compact body. So what´s wrong?
If you search the internet you will find out that the Leica Minilux is doomed by shutter problems mainly caused by a soft cable that links the camera to the shutter mechanism, this cable will eventually brake turning the camera into a nice paperweight. In various forums you will read that the best option is to get the Leica CM because such issues have been solved. Right? Well, no.
Before I purchased mine I did test it and everything was ok, so I put a roll on it, made some shots and went home as a happy owner. The next day I was playing with it and after 10 shots the diaphragm got jammed at f5.6 and then at f22, it would not move! Later it totally broke and the EI shut01 error appeared on the LCD.
So I called Leica services the next day and to my disgrace they said that due to the lack of repair parts, they do not service the Leica CM anymore. For a camera released in 2004 and sold up to 2006 that is shocking! So, if you now are considering the Leica Minilux instead, let me warn you that it is also, not serviceable by Leica.
Well, the review could stop here but thankfully for us owners of the either the Minilux or Leica CM there is a solution!
In my case I took the camera to Fototecnica repair centre in Oporto and after explaining the situation to the technician, he just smiled and went in with the kitty. After 5 minutes he came out and said I should leave the camera, he had already repaired several Miniluxes by replacing the soft cable with a new DIY one. To my surprise he phoned me the next day and said I could pick up the repaired camera!
I think this is the most relevant information I can give about the Leica CM or the Minilux, because if you have it or consider the purchase of one, there is hope that it may be repairable if you get into problems and believe me, sooner or later you will.
With that said, we can enter the second part of this review where I will talk about the usability of the camera itself and about it’s characteristics. Probably you already read some reviews about the CM, I also did and one can find extensive information about the camera and about it’s counterparts, mainly the Contax T2 and the Ricoh GR1. I did briefly play with a Contax T2 and I must agree that overall it is a better camera, more compact, robust and more important than that, a mechanical diaphragm selector.
Yes, the CM looks robust and if you open the film door you will see that it is in fact very well built with few plastic parts but to my eyes it seems that not all parts of the camera where thought to the same level of excellence. For instance, the titanium body looks and is in fact very solid but if you look at the battery door closely you will find out that it is made of a weaker metal, faux painted to resemble titanium but worse than that, the door assembly has lots of plastic parts that eventually may be a source of problems. Plus, I don’t understand why there is a screw drive inlet if one can open or close the battery door with one finger. Turns out that one sales vendor used a coin to open the battery door of my camera and in the process the paint started peeling of – a real shame.
But the most notorious fault to the camera is obviously the leatherette, of good quality of course, but the way it is placed on the camera makes it easy to peel off. When I had my CM repaired, the technician was kind enough to glue it back into place, from then a few weeks have past and I can see that it is peeling off again. Nothing serious but it is there.
Then we have the LCD on the back with some quirky buttons and a dial that obviously is not the most practical solution but for such a small camera I think it does the job by offering lots of shooting possibilities one can only find on professional cameras, like flash sync to the second curtain and AE shift up to 2 stops. Unfortunately, no ISO override, meaning, if you use a film without DX code like the marvelous Adox CMS20, there is no way to setup the ISO that will be set by default to ISO 100 and with only 2 stops of AE shift available, the closest one can get to is ISo 25.
Not all is bad though, fortunately this menu system hides a secret that professional photographers will love to know, if you press any button for some seconds with the options you selected, it will store them in memory so that the next time one turns on the camera it still remembers that you don´t want to use the flash for example, or that you are over or under exposing.
Other source of problems is the speed and auto-focus/manual-focus selector.They are well placed together and it’s a very clever solution indeed, but the focus dial moves very easily out of position and when one tries to change the diaphragm value, he may end up with the camera in manual-focus or with the focus distance accidentally changed. I have lost some shots because of this.
I cannot end the list of cons without some words about the time it takes to rewind the film because it is really slow so, if you’re taking the camera to a important event, make sure the film does not end at the middle of a ceremony because you will loose the rest of it.
So after all these complains one may think I don’t like the camera but it’s quite the opposite, in fact I love it!
To start with, no arguments against that marvelous Summarit 40mm f2.4 lens. Maybe the new digital Leica compact cameras like the X1 and X2, cannot get a compact lens of such a quality because digital sensors restrict the use of such lenses, otherwise I don´t see why they would not use this lens on the new cameras. It is one of the sharpest lens I have ever experienced on a 35mm camera.
Some my argue that it is not wide enough nor it is a normal lens, to me it is perfect because you don´t get the freaking perspective distortion of the wider lenses but still can get the benefits of one. I have also used the very reputed Panasonic 20mm f1:1.7 lens for the m43 digital system and I may say that the reason it is so popular comes from the fact that it has the equivalent angle of view of a 40mm lens on a 24x36mm frame. To my eyes 40mm lenses just have something special about them. See, I still dream about a Olympus M1 body plus the Zuiko 40mm lens…back to earth.
Leica also claims it has better coatings than the older Minilux lens, but this may sound better in paper than it is important in real shooting situations I think. Nevertheless the lens is stunning.
But remember, this is a auto-focus camera, in fact a very slow auto-focus camera but still good to me. Maybe a SLR user will find it slow but if you are used to manual focusing cameras it is faster than one. It´s not an important issue unless you do sports photography or so. My only complaint is that the focusing window is too big and sometimes I don´t know if it is focusing where I wish it to focus, but usually it is where it’s supposed to be unless the subject is badly lit or there is not enough separation between the subject and the background.
Having loaded the camera with some Ilford XP2 400 film and having used it extensively under bad lightning conditions at the wider aperture, the camera failed mostly always to focus correctly. From 25 exposures 12 came out of focus, maybe it is just me but I suspect that this is not a camera to be used in low contrast light. But again, it is a point&shoot camera, cannot expect the accuracy of a Leica R8/9 body and manual focusing.
Very important! The lens does not accept filters neither a sunshade but you can always DIY a solution.
Also, I have seen lots of complains about the viewfinder window but I cannot agree much about that, not that it is good because it is not but if you look at the physical size of it, something like 6mm per 4mm in height, it is hard to believe that one can see through it, for me it is an engineering feat. Remember, this is a P&S camera and anyway, it is always possible to add an external viewfinder to the hot shoe. Problem solved.
I must add a note here, some people have said that the cameras does not accept any accessories on the hot shoe besides a flash unit. Well, before I got it repaired that was true, if I tried to place any accessory on the hot shoe it would give me a error. Now I don´t have any problem on mounting any accessories on the camera. May this be a sign of a faulty camera before it breaks down?
To sum up this is definitely a flawed camera but at the same time a wonderful piece of photographic equipment. Note that the Rollei 35 SE was a compact camera with only scale focusing capabilities but it is still today one of the most exciting photographic devices and it had other serious flaws! The CM is not the best compact camera one can get but I doubt anyone would refuse it´s ownership. I know at least one person that will not part from is CM. A very nice camera and I hope it does not break again soon.
What is so great about this camera, more than how it looks gorgeous is the size of it, I mean the size of it with such a good lens. Barely the same size of my iphone 4 but fatter of course. It is also lightweight and with the lens closed into the body it fits well a jacket pocket so one can take it anywhere. It is such a practical camera in this respect that lately I take it more often out of the closet then I do with other cameras.
It is also a very silent camera, the shutter sound is barely noticeable being the film drive the most audible sound but nothing serious really.
I was almost ending this review (I started in January), when a friend asked me why I din´t have a Deadcameras strap for the CM. Well… he was right so here it is. If you have a small camera like the Nikon 35ti, Contax T2, Leica CM or Minilux, you can purchase one of these wrist straps here.
For any question or just to warn me about a typo mistake, please send me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading.
When I decided I would create a blog to review and pay tribute to the most amazing film cameras, I also decided that the first camera to start with should be the “Pentax Spotmatic”. Why?
The Pentax is a iconic camera, some have said that it is the Volkswagen of the camera world and while I agree that it is sort of it, I must also say that Asahi decided that their cameras should be on the same league of their German counterparts from Zeiss, and while in the 60’s and 70’s the Pentax was cheaper than those, the quality of their optics was up to the quality of the German Glass and guess what… They are still presently excellent optics to use on a digital camera. Well, the optics are not the camera but one must agree that it’s the most important element to pay attention on a camera right?
I will make even a bolder statement: The takumar lenses have the best focus mechanism of all the manual lenses ever made and the more you use them, the better they get. And yes, I have used Zeiss, Leica, Nikon, Minolta, name it glass. The focus feel you get from Takumar lenses is just superb, smooth and precise. I have had over 20 takumar lenses and I am yet to find one that had problems with the focus helicoid. Also, these lenses are made of metal and glass only so even today you can find them looking like new. Even their caps are high quality, aluminum in the front and very nice quality Bakelite in the back.
But let’s pay attention on the camera because I will give us a review of all the Takumar’s later.
This is a very well built and very reliable camera that looks just like that and will keep taking photos I believe, during the next 2 or 3 centuries if you give it a proper use. Mine is in a very good shape although it’s over half a century old. It is my belief that the cameras made from the 50’s up to the 70’s are the best made cameras ever and since then they have gotten worse to the point that they are just very expensive disposable pieces of plastic on our days. Lens included.
The pentax line of cameras did not start with the spotmatic but with it Pentax had their first slr with a light meter built in, and this is a very special one beloved by photographers, it allows stop down metering. While that may sound sophisticated, it is in fact a very archaic way of measuring the available light. It´s already a TTL camera with true the lens metering but the photographer as to stop down the lens manually to set the right exposure. This slows down the process of taking a photo but the good thing is that you learn in a very intuitive way how the metering works and how to predict the right exposure before you even take the camera to the eye. That’s why photography teachers recommend the camera to students even today. My model is the Spotmatic II, an all mechanical camera that is a improvement to the original Spotmatic just by adding a fixed hot-shoe for the flash. Later models are the Spotmatic F (no longer a stop down metering camera because the diaphragm is coupled to the meter) and at last came the automatic Spotmatic ES and the much improved Spotmatic ES II, with better and more reliable electronics.
The second reason why I like this camera so much is because it uses m42 lenses and this means it uses a screw mount of 42×1 mm also called pentax mount or universal mount. Well, I think universal mount is the best name for it because almost all cameras in the world can use this lenses and also because a big bunch of camera makers did build their own camera systems around the m42 mount. That’s great because with this camera you can also use lenses from Zenith, Pratika, Zeiss Pentacon, Olympus, Mamiya, Rollei, Fuji, Chinon, Ricoh, Revue, etc.
Even in 2003, Cosina Voigtlander gave us a brand new camera for m42 lenses, the Bessaflex! Thank you CV, I love you so much and please, please… give us more!
So, at this point we already know what is great about the spotmatic, it´s a high quality camera with high quality lenses that uses a very nice metering system and has a universal m42 mount that takes lenses from almost all the camera makers in the world. So before we go into details are there any bad things about the spotmatic? Well, yes… some few.
To start with, the biggest flaw of the spotmatic II to my eyes, literally, is the viefinder screen. It´s a screen designed in the 60’s and like most any other viewfinder from that age, it is a little dark for one to focus properly. If you use a fast lens like the smc Takumar 1.8/85 or the 1.4/50, you will have no problem to focus even in a dark location, but the truth is that almost all takumar’s are not that fast and it is very hard to focus a lens like the superb 4/50 macro takumar or the 3.5/28 takumar. Also, my Spotmatic does not have a split focus fresnel, just the rather conventional micro-prism fresnel circle and you cannot change the fresnel glass like with other cameras from that age.
I must say that it’s pretty much the worse you get from the spoty but let me add also that the camera does not have a shutter lock and that the original batteries are no longer available, but like I will show you later, there is a easy fix for the later.
So let´s go to the details:
– All mechanical focal plane cloth shutter (rubberized silk), that is very reliable and serviceable with speeds rating B, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60x, 125, 250, 500 and 1000s. 60x means the camera will synchronize with the flash at 1/60s and while 1/1000 is not that fast for today standards, it’s a none issue because the lenses are not that bright either. The shutter sound is not very loud and at the same time it is a very pleasing sound to ear;
– One stroke is enough to get the shutter cocked and while there is no shutter lock, a red sign on a window near the shutter warns you that the camera is ready. I must say I have lost some shots by tripping the shutter accidentally but on the other hand, that also happens with cameras that have a shutter lock;
– Single reflex prism with 100% magnification with a 55mm lens, a bit dark and not in the same level of the prism finder of the most recent cameras. The Bessaflex and the Fujica ST801 are in this regard the best cameras to get. I would consider also the Chinon CE3 because it is a very complete camera with a very clever metering system for m42 lenses but it is hard to find especially in good working conditions;
– There is a film counter with automatic reset, right to the shutter dial and the ISO is set by lifting the shutter dial and rotating it. It only has a ISO scale ranging from ISO 20 up to 3200;
– The light meter works only with a speed faster than 1/15s and therefore on the right side of the shutter dial there is a small window that turns red to warn you for that;
-On the left side of the top plate there is the rewind knob that also opens the film back if you lift it and also a loaded film indicator to remind you of the film type loaded or if the camera is empty. You may set also manually, the flash contact type in use;
– Of course, no TTL flash, but that is just a useless detail at least for me;
– On the front of the camera you get the all mechanical self-timer switch and lever (releases the shutter in 5-13s) and on the side next to the lens the SW switch that activates the light meter and stops the lens to the right aperture, hence stop down metering. Mind you that if you let it on, you will end up with a flat battery. My battery was placed in the camera 2 years ago and is still working fine. As usual to many other cameras, the flash sync sockets are on the front panel of the camera;
– Because there are no motors available for this camera, on the bottom one can find only the rewind release button and the battery compartment;
– There is no viewfinder shutter either, to block the light from entering the camera through it during long exposures but I have a original and very nice bakelite cap for the viewfinder that serves the purpose. As a option, there is a 90 degree rotating finder, a magnified finder for precise focusing and a rubber eye piece. I have them all and while the 90 degree viewfinder is almost useless because it makes the viewfinder even darker, the magnified eye piece is very nice and works great, showing up the most fine details of the image;
– Loading the film is very easy and I never did find any scratches to the film caused by the pressure plate but I must say that I am very careful to clean the film compartment with a air blower prior to any film load. My favorite film is Fujifilm acros 100 and that film is very prone to getting scratched if one is not careful dealing with it;
The original battery is a PX-400 1,35v mercury type cell and therefore no longer available. The good news is that because of the bridge design of the electronic circuitry, one can use any modern 1,5v alkaline cell as long as it fits the battery compartment and the exposure will still be accurate. I am using a Maxwell sr936sw 1,5v battery without any problems. Please not that because the original battery is larger, I have placed a rubber ring around the battery to center it. Also, old batteries had the polarity reversed so place the battery also reversed as show in the picture below;
To end, let me say that the weight of the camera is of 622 grams body only and 853 grams coupled with the Takumar 1.4/50, a bit on the heavy side compared with later models but still very portable.
If you seek for more detailed information, you can find the original manual of the camera here.
Now, let me tell you how it feels to use the camera, and in few word’s, it’s great!
The Spotmatic is a beautiful camera and the Takumar lenses just feel even better made than Leica or Zeiss but at the same time more discrete. The camera grabs the attention of the people passing by and goes well as like a fashion accessory.
The ergonomics are great since you get only the most basic commands to operate the instrument. Just select a speed and adjust the iris in accordance to what the light-meter and your intuition tells you. The SW button is very well placed and the whole experience of the stop down metering system just feels natural and is not obstructive. Simple than that, maybe only a Leica M6.
Because of the stop down metering system it is my practice to setup the right exposure immediately after I change environment, this way my exposure settings are always very close to the right value so if I need to be quick, I can always rely on those settings for a shot. Very close to how one operates the Leica M.
On a future post I will have the pleasure to give us a review of the Takumar lenses I have used. Thank you for reading.