Arte di Mano Cases and Straps
Last updated October 6, 2013
- Packaging and Presentation
- The (M8/M9/MM/M-E) Half Case
- Leica M Monochrom Half Case
- Leica M (Type 240) Half Cases
- The Laccio Neck/Wrist Straps
- Leather and Color Options
- Behind the Scenes Videos
Today we take an in-depth look at and fully review the custom handmade leather Arte di Mano camera half case and Laccio neck strap made by Jnk-handworks based out of South Korea - both in the black Minerva Box leather.
There's no shortage of leather half cases on the market, especially for Leica cameras. Some have been around for a long time, such as the Leicatime (a.k.a. "Luigi") cases - with which many of us are familiar - while others such as the Zhou cases are more recent to the scene. While these cases offer high quality materials or low cost (more or less respectively), neither offer the stunning fit, finish and feel of Arte di Mano. There's also Artist and Artisan... Which offers neither high quality material or low cost. Below, we make many direct comparisons to the Leicatime cases, which until now - have been the reigning champion of high-end half cases. First, a little background information is in order.
JnK-handworks is one of the most well-known, handmade leather working groups in South Korea, and they have two distinct brands - JnK and Arte di Mano. JnK is all about full custom work and is the original brand while Arte di Mano is the premium line brand. They've been making camera cases and other leather goods for 8 years now. All items are made-to-order and fully handmade (including sewing), and because they're not a big factory - the lead time is about 3-4 weeks. The turnaround isn't fast, but they pride themselves on having the absolute best in quality. They utilize only vegetable tanned leather made in Italy or the U.K. and also offer specialty 1st grade Nile crocodile, ostrich and lizard leathers - all in a dizzying variety of colors. It's fair to say that if you can imagine it, they can make it. You can see some of the leather options near the end of the review.
Packaging and Presentation
The half case and strap arrived in a non-descript FedEx pouch, but upon opening it - you're presented with a nice, custom designed box of burgundy red - upon which is printed the Arte di Mano logo. It's not until you open it that the full experience hits. The first thing you notice is the tissue paper wrapped contents... Then the smell of leather hits you right in the face. Not the often odd smell of mass-produced stuff, but rather top shelf, high quality leather. Sitting atop the tissue paper is a pearlescent mini-envelope, itself a masterpiece of form and folding - which when opened, reveals the Jnk-handworks business card. Moving it aside and unfolding the tissue paper reveals the half case (and strap, if ordered alongside) in all its glory. The smell of leather surrounds you like fog now.
The (M8/M9/MM/M-E) Half Case
It's not until you reach in and pick up the case for the first time that you really get a full sense of the high quality leather. We went with the "Minerva Box" in black, which is about 2mm thick and has a matte finish. It's not as slick and treated looking as some leathers. Rather, it feels soft and subtle, like high quality gloves - with a natural sheen. As you run your fingers over it, it squeaks like the leather steering wheel in a luxury car. It is now that you realize you're in for a treat. Your experience will vary somewhat depending on the leather, color and finish that you choose of course. You can opt for a harder, shinier leather such as the "Bridle" or go entirely exotic.
Looking at the details and handiwork is no less impressive. The stitching is even and precise, which considering this is all done by hand - fairly impressive. The shape of the leather as it is cut, is smooth and precise. Straight sections are just that - straight and even. The edges are finished with dressing, revealing not a single stray leather strand or raw leather. Overall, the shape of the case is smoothly radiused to the shape of the camera body, with a flat bottom fitted in with great care and precision. There's nothing that's crooked or off-kilter here.
When looking at the bottom of the case, one thing that you immediately notice is a tripod socket, inset and flush. It's a bit misleading, as many of us are used to the Leicatime way of doing this - that is to say, it must be screwed into the camera's own tripod socket when installing (or removing) the case. Detractors of half cases often bemoan them, complaining of the time it takes to install and remove them (more so in the case of film bodies, where you need to get in there every 36 exposures). Having to screw in a tripod bung bothers even us, and we tend to prefer half cases.
JnK-handworks has solved this issue in a truly clever fashion. While you can't tell with just a quick glance, the inset tripod socket makes for a slightly thicker case bottom than that of the typical half case. In fact, it's about 6mm (1/4") thick as there is a piece of wood in there (for rigidity and support). There's nothing to screw into the camera; it's completely integral to the case. Indeed, looking at the inside of the case, there's no sign of this wizardry. This represents the best of both worlds - a tripod-friendly case without the extra, time consuming step (or the alternative, having to remove your case to use a tripod). A small detail perhaps, but a welcome one nevertheless. It's not super rigid like a direct connection to the body obviously, but surprisingly more than enough to do the job. The tight and exacting fit of the case goes a long way here. To our hands at least, the slightly increased height of the case makes for a more comfortable grip, without feeling cramped - and lessens the feeling of the lower corner edging into the palm.
The interior of the case is lined with a soft suede leather, to protect the camera body from any wear. A little odd perhaps, regardless of case color - the suede is invariably a dark, teal green color. Not that it's a bad color; it actually looks really nice. But no worries either way... Once the case is fitted to the camera, there's no trace of it to be seen anywhere.
When you decide to stop gawking at the case and actually go to slip your camera into its new home, comes the next epiphany. Unlike most other cases, which offer a sloppy, perhaps uneven fit (at best)... The Arte di Mano half case practically clicks into place on your camera! The fit is so precise, so mindful of all the buttons and LCD display, that it sits perfectly between and around them all. Even the rest of the case, the fit is so precise that there is no flex, no "pockets" where the leather is loose or buckled against the body. It hugs the camera, truly, like a leather glove. This is where the real beauty is. If you dipped your camera into a vat of (hypothetical) liquid leather, it would come out something like this.
You have the option of ordering the case with a cut-out for a Match Technical Thumbs Up (which we did) and it's just as precise as the rest of it. It perfectly wraps around the latest version of the Thumbs Up, which has a broader, more secure base behind the protrusion that actually meets your thumb. You can even choose between a CSEP-1S (shorter) and CSEP-3S (longer) compatible cutouts. There's no need for breaking out your X-Acto knife for adjustments here. If you choose not to order your case with this option, there's a raised "grip" sort of bubble in the leather here - much like you see at the front of many cases (but less prominent) to help you hold your camera securely. This is a nice touch if you prefer a less "pimped out" camera, true to the Leica minimalist aesthetic. Alas, we're huge fans of the Thumbs Up, so that's the route we took.
Another common area of ill fit is around the LCD, especially around the "Play" button and viewfinder. While we had previously enjoyed the Leicatime cases, this area was always a pet peeve. The Play button was invariably obscured and the fit around the LCD in general, atrocious. This was described to us as "necessary" by Luigi and a conscious design decision. Arte di Mano proves that this isn't so. While the leather that runs between the bottom of the viewfinder and top of the LCD is very narrow, it fits perfectly, obscuring nothing. A word of note, if you're a Walter Eyepiece user, you'll want the latest version, M240 type, with screw-in threads. The regular slide/clip-on version won't work with the Arte di Mano because of tight clearance. It works on the Leicatime case, but only because the fit is somewhat shoddy to begin with (and only gets worse in this scenario - but at least it's possible).
Another option when ordering your case is that of a "back cover" and runs an additional $80 USD. It's a removable piece of leather to cover the LCD screen and buttons. It features two snaps, one on each side (left/right) and comes off either completely, or you can leave the left side hanging down for shooting. Having had experience with a Leicatime case with a similar option, and sporting a flap that folds down - we decided to forego it this time around. Two things to consider. The first is that if you like to chimp (even briefly to verify the histogram) they will always be in the way. If it folds down, it's always there. If it comes completely off like the Arte di Mano (or optionally the Leicatime) does, you can lose it. Either way, they make the camera less quick to use and feel noticeably thicker in the hand. There's also the snap rivets that remain on the case. The downside when lacking such a flap is that yes, your LCD is exposed to the world at all times. It will not be protected against inadvertent scrapes and scratches. But such is life, especially when using your camera as a tool. If this troubles you, we might suggest a Giottos Screen Protector (which runs about $22 USD) though it's not without its own problems. We'd suggest a softer, vinyl screen protector that can't shatter and damage the very LCD it's supposed to protect.
The case offers the same loops that go around the camera strap lugs as many other cases... But because of the exacting fit of the case itself, they're almost unnecessary. We'd be a little amazed if the case actually slipped off accidentally. But they're there, and offer extra security as well as protection to the camera body from abrasion by your strap and/or chrome rings.
Last, but not least - as if all the leather and color options weren't enough choices, you can also opt to have your name or initials embossed into your case for a nominal $10 USD fee. You have your choice of four different fonts (dearJoe4, ink burrow, young-m and courier new). The first is a cursive style, the second a standard block handwriting style. The second two are traditional typeset, but young-m is more of a "grunge" typeface - whereas courier new is, well, courier. Go with a monogram of just your initials, first initial and last name, full name, company name... Whatever you'd like.
Leica M Monochrom Half Case
If you shoot a Leica M Monochrom, the body of which is just like the M8/M9/M-E, you can use the case shown here - or opt for the M Monochrom special edition that features black threading. It maintains the stark, stealthy all-black look of the camera - especially since it lacks the Leica roundel (much like the M9-P). You can really top off the look with a soft release that's also black - the one shown here is the Artisan Obscura Soft Release in a small, convex shape of ebony wood. If you're a ninja street shooter - you'll be perfectly camouflaged.
Leica M (Type 240) Half Cases
If you instead shoot a Leica M (Type 240) then you'll need a different case than shown here. For perhaps obvious reasons, there are considerations for the extra buttons front and back and the larger LCD, etc. Where you need to pay attention however, is if you use (or intend to use) the EVF (Electronic ViewFinder). You'll need to choose the "open top" option. This version essentially lacks the horizontal strip of leather across the top of the back, underneath which is the EVF port.
The Laccio Neck/Wrist Straps
Arte di Mano offers three variations of camera straps. The "Classic" version, a style which is likely familiar to all... A thin, squared off leather strap with sliding shoulder pad. While we actually prefer this style, we decided to go with a strap that's totally unique to Arte di Mano, and comes in both a regular neck strap and wrist strap length - the Laccio. The neck strap (the option we went with) and wrist strap are fashioned from a smooth, round, 7mm leather "rope." Regardless of your color choice for the case, the rope is a natural leather color - though with matching colored ends and shoulder pad as accents. It's made and sourced from Italy, feels soft and flexible and also smells of high quality leather. While it certainly is flexible, we can see this will need some good, old fashioned "breaking in" to reach its full potential. When new, it's a little on the stiffer side. As mentioned, the ends and shoulder pad are made of the same leather as the case (if you so choose) and make for a really unique look.
The ends are tightly wrapped and sewn up and into the strap itself, capturing it and the chrome rings securely. In a touch of detail, there's even a small logo embossed (not printed) on one of them. They're thick enough, and especially when considering the half case's loops over the lugs - that the camera body is safe from abrasion. When folded over and placed between your fingers when shooting, it's comfortable and not in the way at all.
Overall, it's a very soft, rounded and smooth strap - only the shoulder pad has any sort of edge/corner. While we wouldn't say it offers any sort of padding or anti-slip action (it's actually a tad slippery), it does serve to spread the weight of the camera a little for additional comfort. It feels very nice around the neck, with no worry of using it "right side up" or twisting. It is clearly the intended method of carry for this strap. Also because of the round nature of the strap, it's especially easy to loop it around your wrist, to form a wrist strap when you need it. There's no "top" or "bottom" of the strap and it's equally 7mm around. It flexes just as well in any direction and because it's on the shorter side, quick to do. Concerning the length however...
A strong note of caution is in order here. The Laccio neck strap's default length is 95cm. For comparison, this is slightly (2cm) longer than the Artisan & Artist ACAM-301 strap. This shorter length allows you to drape the camera over your shoulder or around your neck. If you like to carry the camera diagonally, around your neck and down, across to the other side (which is more secure) - then this strap is far too short. We'd suggest a length of no less than 110cm if this is your preference. You can add additional length when ordering, up to 15cm is free, but any longer (up to 180cm) will incur an extra cost (of $20 USD). So consider how you like to carry your camera and adjust accordingly!
So in a nutshell, if you prefer simply hanging the camera around your neck, letting it fall on your chest - the Laccio is a great solution as-is. If you're the diagonal, around the neck and down to the side sort of wearer; plan to add additional length (15cm+) to the Laccio when ordering. If you just want a short wrist strap, go with that. Finally, if you prefer to hang the camera from your shoulder straight down your side, go with the Classic version, which has more grip. The Laccio's shoulder pad is too narrow and slippery.
#ProTip: The default length of the Laccio neck strap of 95cm (37.4") makes for a very convenient measure out to .5m (19.7"), which so happens to be the Minimum Focus Distance (MFD) of several Voigtländer and Zeiss lenses. Simply pull the end of the strap to a point, hold it against your subject and pull the strap taught - your camera will be positioned almost exactly at .5m (19.7")! Truth be told, it's actually a touch short at .49m (19.6") but that falls well within Depth of Field (DoF) of pretty much any (currently existing) lens... Even a hypothetical 50mm at f/1 that focuses this closely (neither the Noctilux or Nokton do) on a full-frame body (such as the M9, M-E, MM or M240 or film).
Leather and Color Options
The leather options available for the half cases and straps include Rally, Minerva Box, Bridle, Dakota, Old Mat, Lucido, Opaco, Buttero, Nile crocodile, ostrich, lizard and more - each in different colors. Below are samples of the first two (most common) options, just to give you an idea. Visit the Arte di Mano site for additional options - for example, the 2013 Color Chart (part one) and (part two) will provide you a great (if not overwhelming) overview. Note that some leathers and especially the rare ostrich and lizard leathers will incur additional cost - for example, bridle ($30 USD), lizard ($150 USD) and ostrich ($400 USD).
Behind the Scenes Videos
The following two videos, despite not being M camera specific - still give you an interesting look into the construction process and exactly how much skill and work it takes to make these accessories.
We apologize if this review comes off as perhaps a bit "gushing" over these products. We typically try to remain impartial and unbiased in our reviews. This is one of those cases (no pun intended) where it could just not be helped. If you're a fan of half cases, as we clearly are, the Arte di Mano line is seriously as good as it gets in our opinion. From the materials to the workmanship and especially the fit, all are above reproach. With a lot of attention to details paid over the entire package, these are clearly of a very high quality thoughout. While not cheap, they're without doubt the best available. Highly recommended!
You can order these cases and straps either directly through Arte di Mano or visit your local Leica Store. Some, like Leica Store Miami carry them. The products seen in this review include the M8/M9/MM/M-E half case in black Minerva Box leather ($390 USD) and Laccio neck strap with matching accents ($163 USD) - totalling $553 USD.