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The LEICA M7 introduced by Leica Camera AG, Solms, is a new rangefinder system camera with aperture priority automatic exposure and many improved details. The camera features enhanced operation speed and convenience. The new functions have been smoothly integrated into the classic Leica M camera concept. Leica's unique rubber-cloth focal-plane shutter with vibration-free and whisper-quiet action is electronically controlled. The size, shape and the successful operation concept of the LEICA M6 have all been fully adopted. Nearly all system components of the predecessor models can still be used on the M7. 'M photography with the LEICA M7 is surprisingly new and at the same time familiar, says Stefan Daniel, Head of Product Management at Leica Camera AG. The design of the camera reconciles two conflicting customer demands: Some customers said: Keep the camera just as it is. Others said: Modern automatic exposure time control. I believe we have been able to do both.
'LEICA M cameras are the products of many years of gradual development and are made intricately by hand. Automatic exposure time control is certainly not a technical innovation - but to incorporate it into a LEICA M without destroying the camera's soul was a great challenge adds Otto Domes, manager of the LEICA M7 development project. More than 350 newly designed or modified components are built into the camera. In the fast changing world of products and cameras it's quite unusual to be spending so much effort on developing a concept that is nearly 50 years old. The high stability of the camera's value and the unique system compatibility over decades are the reward for our customers, says Domes.
The Leica M system is closely associated with the names of famous photographers of our times and has direct traditional links to the UR-LEICA of 1914, which paved the way for modern 35mm photography. Model by model, improvements were made, such as interchangeable lenses or the rangefinder, which are now an integral part of the M tradition. A far-reaching step was taken with the introduction of the Leica M bayonet in 1954, which enhanced convenience and speed. The LEICA M6 - which will remain in Leica's product range as a fully mechanical alternative - was launched in 1984 and today is the most important product of the Leica Camera Group. A major contribution to the success of the camera system was made by a whole series of innovative lenses, which form a complete high performance range for all photographic applications of the rangefinder system.
Leica M cameras concentrate on the essential photographic parameters. They embody ultimate mechanical and optical precision and put the skills of the photographer - not the features of the camera - in the foreground. They are mainly used for press photography, available light pictures and all other areas of discreet, artistic and aesthetic image composition.
Automatic exposure time control: In addition to the usual manual shutter speed setting, the LEICA M7 features a convenient stepless electronic automatic exposure time control with memory on the shutter release button. After selection of the aperture, it calculates the right exposure time. Even long exposures of up to 32 seconds are possible. Besides added convenience, the automatic exposure time control enables even more spontaneity: Leica M photography has formed my own personal photographic style - which I can now express even more quickly with the new LEICA M7, confirms Danish photographer Claus Bjrn Larsen. As one of the LEICA M7's first field testers, the winner of the World Press Photo Award 2000 tried out the camera in Uganda and Serbia. For him it is the ideal photographic tool in the world's trouble spots.
Shutter: The cloth focal-plane shutter of all Leica M cameras was completely revised for the LEICA M7 and fitted with electronical shutter speed control. Two mechanically controlled shutter speeds of 1/60 and 1/125 second guarantee that the camera is ready for action even if the batteries fail. Despite the electronic control the delay in triggering the shutter is only 12 milliseconds, i.e. far shorter than with an ordinary SLR camera. This is a key advantage for capturing the magic moment, which is so characteristic of outstanding photography. Another important feature of Leica M cameras - the vibration-free and whisper-quiet shutter release - has also been fully retained.
Viewfinder display: The 33-segment viewfinder display, unique for a rangefinder camera, has been devised on a microscopically small area of 0.7 x 2.3 mm. Magnified 15 times in the viewfinder, it presents all the information, at a glance and in an optimal position, that is required for a successful exposure: In automatic mode the LEDs indicate the shutter speed, in manual mode the provenly successful light balance has been retained. For long exposures, the remaining exposure time is counted backwards in seconds. For bulb exposures (B) the seconds of the exposure time are counted forwards. When the camera is switched on, the film speed setting is indicated for two seconds. A flash symbol indicates the readiness and the success of the flash function. The brightness of the display adapts automatically to ambient light, guaranteeing optimum visibility in conditions ranging from bright sunlight to available light photography.
DX coding: In the LEICA M7, the film speed is no longer just set manually, but can also be set automatically via the DX coding option. For exposure corrections in automatic mode there is an override of +/- two stops which is set on the film speed dial on the back of the camera.
Flash: Apart from the TTL (Through the Lens) flash exposure metering familiar from the LEICA M6 TTL, the LEICA M7 offers far more potential for the use of flash. Due to a high-speed synchronisation (HSS) function, flash sync speeds as fast as 1/1000 second are possible. By triggering several flashes in extremely quick succession, homogeneous illumination is obtained, although the window of the moving shutter is not fully opened from a 1/60 of a second. HSS flash can also be used to brighten up subjects in daylight. Here, exposure and flash settings are made by hand. Also, flash synchronization can also be switched to the second shutter curtain. This gives a natural impression of movement in long exposures of moving objects using fill-in flash. Both flash functions are available with the specially equipped Metz flash unit 54 MZ3.
Rangefinder system: The high-precision rangefinder system of Leica M cameras is used in the LEICA M7 as well. The finder windows are covered with scratch-resistant multi-layer coating to enhance contrast and brightness. Unlike SLR systems, in which distance measurement through the lens is determined by focal length and lens speed, the measurement base in the rangefinder of the LEICA M7 always remains the same size irrespective of the lens in use. For this reason, its precision is distinctly superior to that of SLR cameras, particularly at short focal lengths. The split- and coincident-image rangefinder enables fast and point-accurate focusing in general.
Exposure metering: Just like the LEICA M6 TTL, the selective exposure metering of the LEICA M7 yields precise results even for back light photography, spotlight illumination or glancing side light, which lead to different colors, brightnesses and contrasts. The metering function is switched on by light pressure on the shutter release button. Via a collector lens, a photodiode measures the light reflected from a white patch on the shutter curtain. Thanks to its extraordinary sensitivity, this measurement method can even by used in candlelight. Together with the automatic exposure time control it leads to excellent exposures in practically any conditions.
Mechanisms: The two main features of the mechanisms of the camera are high precision and reliability. Only high quality materials are used. The Top cap and base plate of the LEICA M7 are made of solid brass. The camera body consists of lightweight but tough diecast aluminium.
For the first time, the separate on/off switch of the LEICA M7 on the shutter release button effectively prevents inadvertent activation of the exposure function. By 'parking' the camera with any chosen exposure time or selecting the automatic mode, the camera is more quickly ready for action after it has been switched on.
The first supplies of the LEICA M7 will be on sale at Leica stockists' from March 2002. It is available in four different versions: three black models with viewfinder magnifications 0.72x, 0.58x and 0.85x and a silver-chromed version with 0.72x viewfinder magnification.