Match Technical Soft Releases
Last updated on January 1, 2013
Available for your convenience at Leica Store Miami!
Soft releases are a common accessory for Leica shooters and there are a wide variety out there, no doubt. What separates the Match Technical soft releases are the high quality of the material, machining and especially the finishes. The easy part is deciding to go with a Match Technical release - the hard part is deciding which one!
Soft releases are a bit of a misnomer. By themselves, they don't change the action of the shutter release per se. There's nothing to them like springs or such - think of them as basically a round-headed screw. The secret is in how they help to improve your release technique much like using a match grade trigger on a competition target rifle. You're able to actuate it more smoothly and more controllably due to better technique, finger placement and feel. In fact, until you're used to it you might get the feeling it made the shutter release into a bit of a hair trigger.
What the Match Technical soft releases all have in common is the material and workmanship. It's also what sets them apart from the rest so we'll start there.
The cheapest versions you'll find out there (invariably from eBay) are made of aluminum. This is a poor choice for a number of reasons. Since it's so light, it feels cheap - with cheap being the operative word - as the construction and specs are often of a low quality as well. Heat-treated aluminum can shear off (snap) rather than bend like ductile materials. When we're talking about your shutter release... This is bad. The screw portion can also be too long - which will bottom out on full shutter press and cause a clack noise. Finally, aluminum releases in a steel shutter release thread will gall - and bind. Cheap is no bargain!
Quality soft releases generally come in steel (including stainless) or solid brass - of which all Match Technical models are made from. It's a great material for soft releases just as it is for filter rings/frames (e.g. B+W and Heliopan). It feels better and more substantial which is crucial to dampening movement. It won't bind on you, making later removal easier. Being on the softer side and of a conical shape (like plumbing fittings) it tightens as you screw it in, gripping the internal threads and won't back out unintentionally as harder metals can... With some soft releases you may have to resort to using hairspray or a touch of nail polish to secure them from backing out (think ultra-lightweight threadlocking compound). The downside is it's harder to paint and you can't just anodize it like you can aluminum and call it a day - it demands attention to detail and a quality finish, which we'll get into below.
This brings us to workmanship. Basically the construction method of the releases. As alluded to above, Match Technical CNC machines each release from solid brass. No rough spots or burrs, the threads are precise and clean. Cheaper cast or stamped releases are typically rougher and less accurate, if even usable. There's nothing negative to say about the quality of machining with these, they're top notch and it shows:
Sizes and Shapes
Two things need to be decided up front. One being the size and the other the shape of the soft release that's best for you. Match Technical has every scenario covered with the Beep, Boop, Bip and Bop models. Say what?
The first option is the two sizes - Beep and Boop are of a larger diameter (15.5mm) whereas Bip and Bop are smaller (10mm). Both are larger than the shutter release button by itself, which seems tiny by comparison. The larger size (left) corresponds exactly with the overall diameter of the shutter release and mode lever collar whereas the smaller (right) is in between - just a bit larger than the actual shutter release button itself:
The easy way to remember is Beep and Boop (being four letters each) are larger. Bip and Bop (with three letters each) are smaller. Now for the shape. There are soft releases on the market that have essentially flat tops, much like the built-in shutter release button... This is not much of an improvement! Therefore, Match Technical offers a concave (bows in or dished) and convex (bows out or domed) shape. Boop and Bop (with Os in the middle) have the former while Beep and Bip have the latter.
So what's the difference between them all and which should you choose? This is a bit of a personal preference but consider that the idea behind them is the technique used by competition shooters and snipers for better trigger pull - to actuate it without introducing undue movement. Most photographers are used to using their finger tips on the shutter release button (and may continue to prefer this) but now you can place it in a (technically) better position; under the first knuckle. Finger tip shooters may therefore prefer the smaller diameter - but they all make this technique possible... Something you can't do with the shutter release button alone and they're also more comfortable without the cable release thread hole there.
Some may also prefer the smaller size as it allows you to sort of wrap your finger around the shutter release collar at the front of the camera to change shutter speeds more easily, without having to stretch your finger (a little extra) to reach. Those with shorter fingers will appreciate this, those with longer... Won't care. Nor will those that set the shutter speed from the rear with their thumbs. Where it also helps is in selecting the operating mode. It's a little easier to change the settings with the smaller diameter as you can get more finger on the lever for leverage and grip.
Then there's the shape. Finger tip shooters might prefer either shape, but those that want to position the release under their knuckle will need the convex (domed) shape. The advantage of the convex shape, especially the large diameter - is that it turns the formerly tiny shutter release button into a vast, smooth expanse from which to operate! However, if you can't lock the shutter release (as with pre-M7 film bodies) then you might see a lot of blank frames if you're the type to wind on before stashing the body in the bag due to accidental releases. Though they all will do this to varying degrees. In the end, think about how you like to shoot... Next time you're out, take a moment to notice how you're tripping the shutter just before you take a shot. You should be able to get an idea of which to choose. Here's a sort of "periodic table" of the releases:
One last quick set of notes. If you're shooting with an M-E or M Monochrom then let them know when ordering as these bodies require a shorter thread due to a slight difference in shutter release design. If you're not shooting with a Leica M body at all - consider the diameter carefully before ordering. For example, with the Zeiss Ikon you'll likely want to stick with the smaller diameter releases.
The finishes are the pièce de résistance and what really set Match Technical's soft releases apart from the competition. The absolutely gorgeous, hand-painted finishes. There are a variety of them - from more subdued blacks and silvers to bolder and brighter reds, yellows and even more artistic special editions. Combined with the variety of sizes and shapes it can actually be a bit daunting to pick just one!
Bugs, Dragons, Fish and Operas? These are the special editions. While Beep, Boop, Bip and Bop are always available in the basic colors of silver, red or black and optional "logo" - these are more artistically finished designs and more limited in number. The Bug is a cute "lady bug" paint job and while available in a number of colors, really shines in red - we got a number of comments on it during testing. The Dragon has a distinctly Chinese flair and looks equally impressive in gold or red (on black). It comes in all four shapes and sizes. Fish is similarly ornamental and features a pair of ornamental carp. Finally, there's the Opera which sports a wicked little face in a variety of colors:
What the finishes have in common is an absolutely smooth, slightly warm to the touch, highly glossy finish. It's gorgeous. It's also hard wearing! We've taken thousands of shots with these soft releases - with the camera hanging around our necks, getting taken out of and put back into camera bags, over the shoulder... They still look like new. If anything, it seems - you're just buffing the gloss more.
But Do They Work?
We haven't done any scientific testing, but we can say that they very much seem to help. Based on "feel" alone, they're a nice improvement over the stock shutter release button. But in terms of the "softening" action... It requires a little effort on your part as well in practicing good technique. Being made of solid brass, they offer a bit of "mass" or "solidity" to the release. It gives the detents a seemingly cleaner, quicker and more controllable action. It's also easier to trip the shutter gently because they extend the release out of the collar - no longer recessed. Finally, in combination with breathing control you should be able to shoot down to 1/8s or less, depending - some say they give you about a stop extra stability. Hard to put a finger on it exactly... But overall, we give it a Thumbs Up (sorry, puns intended!).
Interestingly, with a cheap eBay version we compared them to - the Match Technical soft releases didn't exacerbate the "notchy" feeling of some camera shutter buttons. Notably the M9, M8 and M7, more or less in that order. The reason being the three detents for meter, exposure lock and shutter release. Some cameras can be rather rough, for a variety of reasons. The smoothness of internal components is not the best out of the factory, surprisingly - and can also stand to be better lubricated. New cameras tend to be worse than well-shot ones after being broken in through use. In any event, the cheap release almost had a "crunchy" feel, which was not pleasant. We attribute the mass of the higher quality releases to being the key to this difference. As if the weight balanced out vibrations in the mechanism rather than amplifying them.
We can unreservedly recommend Match Technical's soft releases. From a materials and workmanship, finish and performance point of view they deliver. If you're in the market for a soft release, you might find a similar product - but what truly sets them apart from the competition is the large variety of configurations and beautiful artwork finishes. No matter which one you choose, each is an improvement over the bare shutter release button, enable a better release technique and present a way to personalize your camera. Something for everyone. Current pricing is $13-24 USD each - competitive and reasonable. You can find them at Leica Store Miami as well as directly through Match Technical.