While not unique to Leica, accessory grips of various sorts exist to fill an ergonomic need. What is particularly Leicaesque about the M8/M9 Thumbie is the concept. Rather than provide the typical grip on the front, it goes on the back and provides a thumb grip. While this isn't new as far as digital cameras go, as their size gets ever smaller and making them hard to hold - the digital Leica M bodies benefit for two different reasons. The first is that they're actually larger and heavier than your "common" digital camera (DSLRs need not apply) and perhaps most intriguingly, simulate a film wind lever as found on film cameras. If you've been shooting a Leica (or other film camera) for any length of time, more than likely you hook your thumb under the wind lever. Not only does it wind the film and cock the shutter obviously, but provides a good grip on the camera. This support becomes increasingly important if you prefer longer or faster lenses. Enter the M8/M9 Thumbie.
The M8/M9 Thumbie was created by a Leica shooter by the name of Steve Barnett. He doesn't have a storefront or distribute through dealers as he's just a shooter with a solution on the forums. Therefore, if you'd like to get a hold of an M8/M9 Thumbie - you'll have to email him directly (£27 plus £3 international postage, £1 postage in the UK) or check on eBay (£30 plus £3 international postage) - PayPal is accepted in both cases.
Product and Installation
Even though the M8/M9 Thumbie is a "user sourced" product, the presentation (packaging and workmanship) is of a high quality. It comes in a snug black box with a foam bottom and a printed label on the front. Inside, you'll find the printed instructions and a bubble-wrapped M8/M9 Thumbie - which is made of brass and finished in a black paint. The quality of the form and finish are top-notch. The angle of the rest for your thumb is such that it's more natural and won't push a sharp corner into your finger. Already more comfortable than most winding levers!
The M8/M9 Thumbie is installed by the use of automotive grade double-sided adhesive tape strip. There's already such a strip applied - but you're provided two replacement strips, should you decide to move the M8/M9 Thumbie do a different camera. A nice touch. Full instructions come along, and it's a straightforward process. While the instructions don't mention this, we'd suggest cleaning the area around the thumb with rubbing alcohol to remove any traces of finger oils. From there, the instructions recommend (as do we) the "wet method" of applying the adhesive. Anything from licking the tape to using soapy water or even alcohol-based hand sanitizer (very lightly applied) to the tape will make the application much easier by allowing you to slightly reposition the M8/M9 Thumbie if you don't get it straight the first time. Once in place, just apply firm, even pressure across the device to squeeze out any liquid and "set" it. Allow it to dry further for a half hour or so and you're done!
The product is removed by twisting it - not pulling and certainly not prying it off with a tool of some sort. The tape will require some effort initially but once it starts to tear will come off easily. Any sticky bits can be rubbed off with your thumb. The adhesive tape, while quite strong - will not damage your camera's finish.
Where the M8/M9 Thumbie differs from other products such as the Thumbs Up from Match Technical are numerous. They're two completely different approaches to resolving the same problem. The primary differences then, are:
- Inexpensive, small and light - yet made of solid brass
- Leaves the hotshoe free, and doesn't place strain on it
- Will not damage your body's paint work or hotshoe
- Positions thumb over MENU button and control wheel
Not that the Thumbs Up will necessarily damage paintwork, but it does cause rub marks on the body and of course, causes wear on the hotshoe from installation and removal (not that finders and flashes won't do the same thing). The M8/M9 Thumbie comes in exactly one configuration whereas the Thumbs Up comes in several, and mostly because of the hotshoe issue (which it either takes up, replaces with a new one or provides a second). It comes in two lengths as well, a short and a long - the latter of which is more akin to where the M8/M9 Thumbie places your thumb.
If you like to use your cameras "naked" (without a half case) then we're done here. However, if you don't - both the M8/M9 Thumbie and the Thumbs Up present an issue. While half cases such as the Leicatime from Luigi Crecenzi can be purchased or personally modified (cut) for use with the Thumbs Up - using the M8/M9 Thumbie with one is a little harder because the size and location of the cut required is different and you'll have to do it yourself as no one offers cases for use specifically with the M8/M9 Thumbie. The problem is It's in a place that could interfere with the eyelet loops and snaps so whether or not it could be done depends entirely on your case... One solution is to mount the M8/M9 Thumbie up a little higher and flush with the top of the camera. Though people have done it, the M8/M9 Thumbie works best without half cases and designed with that in mind.
One thing we found a little surprising. We accidentally dropped the M8/M9 Thumbie during the shoot on a wood (laminate) floor from a height of about a meter and two corners chipped. A quick touch-up with a black Sharpie marker and it was mostly hidden again. While we can't comment yet on how the finish holds up long-term or if it allows "brassing" - others have reported that it does indeed brass.
The M8/M9 Thumbie, as they say - "does what it says on the tin." It provides a clean low-profile, solid and high-quality thumb grip for your digital M. It costs less than the popular Thumbs Up and is lightyears ahead of sticking rubber bumpers to the back of your camera. It offers several benefits over the competing solutions as well. If you prefer your Ms "naked" then this is the way to go.
The only drawbacks we found was that it might not work if you use half cases - you'll have to look at yours carefully (perhaps adjusting the mounting location somewhat). The other is the durability of the paint finish, which remains to be seen. Our sample did chip rather easily (granted it was a pretty rough test) but was quickly touched up.