While the Leica M range/viewfinder and frameline system has generally been praised as the best ever in terms of brightness, contrast, and precision, the one in the MP surpasses that of any previous Leica M. The rangefinder patch and secondary focusing image are extraordinarily bright and contrasty, as are the finder framelines, which are crisply defined and visible in the dimmest light.
How did they gild the lily? According to Leica's techies, the MP viewfinder has an extra lens in front of the finder frames, and the rangefinder prism is lacquered black on all nonoptical sides. Both of these features noticeably enhance the contrast of the secondary focusing image. The curve and form of the mirror behind the frameline-illumination window has also been tweaked to make the framelines brighter. To minimize stray light, the aperture strip behind the illumination window is thinner. Finally, and most important, the top body casting has been reconfigured to provide better clearance for the range/viewfinder mechanism, thereby eliminating the physical pressure on these components that can lead to misalignment.
As expected, the MP's short-travel, single-stroke, ratcheted film-wind lever and the shutter-release operate with a buttery smoothness. But even here, there are hidden improvements, including new gears in the film-transport mechanism designed for smoother operation and more even winding pressure, and an improved friction mechanism said to enhance durability and give consistently smooth winding to the last frame. Even the well-proven shutter mechanism has been metallurgically upgraded, with a new bronze-alloy frame claimed to improve stability, a new friction brake spring made of better material, and a more elastic control-spring designed to give more uniform shutter-curtain travel. While no mechanically timed shutter is as accurate as an electronically timed one, our test readouts show that the MP's shutter performs very well for a shutter of its type, and the film winding is, if anything, even smoother than that of previous models.
While not much is electronic in this mechanical machine, the metering electronics that do exist have been updated with smaller components that provide a more linear response at all apertures. There's also new information-processing circuitry that allows the system to operate accurately over a wider range of voltages (this circuitry kicks in when the batteries weaken).
Though the MP is a traditionalist's dream and an instant classic, it is also a superb instrument for taking pictures. The handling, balance, responsiveness, and control layout are superb, and unsurpassed among 35mm cameras in current production. It's uncannily quiet and smooth. The lenses include some of the finest (and most expensive!) optics available for any system, and, thanks to the MP's mechanical precison and excellent metering system, its on-film performance is second to none.
Of course, rangefinder cameras have their foibles. They're inherently less flexible than SLRs in accepting a wide range of ultrawide, supertele, and zoom lenses, nor do they focus as close. Even among rangefinder 35s, the MP is hardly state-of-the-art. It lacks, for instance, the autoexposure and built-in motor of the Konica Hexar RF and the autofocusing of the Contax G2.
However, no rangefinder camera extant compares with the MP in terms of presence, panache, and princely price. Add the latest improved Leicavit-M trigger, and you can really imagine that you're Alfred Eisenstaedt as you stalk the streets in search of life's most poignant moments. But even those disinclined to flights of fancy can appreciate the MP's other matchless qualities-it's flat-out gorgeous, has all the M-series sterling virtues and it's the best we've ever used. Does that make it the best M-series Leica ever? Yes!