Leica has finally come out with a low-cost consumer model, the Leica-H. For those of us who have been wanting to own one of the legendary Leica cameras but unable to afford the $1,000 + price tag ,the H model is a godsend. Although it is a rangefinder, the H resembles the R models more than the M models at first glance. This is because of the high profile necessary to accomodate the medium format film size. Yes, mediium format. The new Leica model takes 120 sized film and comes with a host of new "features".
This prototype model was smuggled from a top secret German lab by a technician and these photos and specs are being made available by me as a service to collectors and enthusiasts.
Leica has made a few departures from their old ways and kept a few things the same for this model. One innovation is the use of sticky tape to hold the back plate in place. Previously, Leica has used a removeable base plate to assure absolute negative flatness. I'm told by technicans working on the H model that "this just wasn't an issue anymore". When I attempted to follow this up, asking if this was a result of the larger negative or simply a laxation of tolerences?" I was chased from the premisis. Another innovation is the ingenius reduction in movable (and therefore breakable) parts, the "rangefinder" optic is now more of a peep sight. All actual range finding is done by asking the subject "Bob, how far away would you say you are?" and then turning the focusing dial appropriately. Confusing distances have thoughtfully been kept off of the lens, focusing is now done by selecting one of four icons, "one person", "two people", "some people" and "mountian", "mountain" being the furthest away.
As of June, 1999 Leica has not announced a ship date for the new model and only several of these prototypes exist. It is rumored that the body is made by another company (possibly Contax or Nikon?) It has as single fixed lens and zone focusing, hot shoe flash and back loading A more complete list of features follows:
|Film Loading||Removeable back, two spool film loading. (To keep spools from popping
out it helps to wedge a piece of cardboard under the take-up spool.
|Shutter Speed||variable, ~ 1/80 sec|
|Lenses||fixed 60mm "s-vignette" lens|
|Flash Sync||~ 1/80 sec hot shoe|
|Exposure Modes||cloud / sun (switch actually does nothing)|
|Focus||one person, three people, some people, mountian|
|Metering||Metering made obsolete by single shutter speed / single aperture
Two metering modes are "Pretty bright out, huh Bob?" and "Do you think
I should put the flash on?"
|Major Features||"auto burn" *|
* One of the more interesting technical breakthroughs is the "auto burn". Realizing that many photographers like to burn in the corners of their images to draw attention towards the center, the new Leica-H comes with a lens preconfigured to achieve these results. (see left) This is achieved through the new "s-vignette" lens technology. To make each camera unique, the lenses are attached and configured by monkeys, this assures that no two lenses are precisely the same distance from the film plane and really, no two lenses point in exactly the same direction.
At this time Leica Germany has announced no plans to cease production of it's popular M line nor it's not-so-popular R line, but the inevitability is that in the face of the great success a consumer product like this is likely to have, I can do nothing but begin tolling their death knell. Leica has already begun to replace many of it's high-paid engineers with injection molding machines which will produce the H model cameras 24/7 without coffee breaks or worring about whether a flange of metal hanging off a camera is dangerous or not.
(If you feel a need, go ahead and flame me or tell me about your own Leica-H experiences.)