Match Technical Thumbs Up
Last updated on February 13, 2013
There exist many products out there that serve to improve various ergonomic shortcomings that shooters consider their cameras as having. Some are more useful than others, some perhaps so much so that using your camera without them just wouldn't feel right. The Match Technical Thumbs Up is such an accessory for Leica M (and other) bodies. Once you use it, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.
In a nutshell - the Thumbs Up is a solid, CNC-machined chunk of brass that comes in a variety of configurations and finishes, and slips into the hotshoe to provide a thumb rest and grip. It's probably fair to say that most digital M shooters (especially those with larger and heavier lenses) would prefer to have such a feature on their bodies, as the balance and grip of the camera... Could be better. With the Thumbs Up, you can securely grip the camera and hold it in any position, regardless of lens mounted (even the Noctilux) and do it single-handedly. Now imagine what it could do for your comfort, security and shooting technique when using both hands.
In many ways it's reminiscent of the film wind lever, which many of us hook our thumb on to act as a grip for the camera. But it's not ideal; it's narrow, uncomfortable and moves. The Thumbs Up is compatible with every M body released, film or digital - and designed to sit below the top deck and film wind lever! Furthermore, the rubber pad behind the circular cut-out can be trimmed to accommodate the flash sync port on older bodies.
Is it worth the (on average) $130 USD price? At first, admittedly - we were skeptical. We tried the stick-on 3M "rubber foot trick." But once we tried the Thumbs Up (several years ago, actually) we were sold - and we think you will be, too.
Packaging and Presentation
We have to first take a moment to show you the exquisite packaging for the Thumbs Up. Completely custom to the product and top notch in theme and execution. With a distinctly Asian flair, the packaging is custom fit to the various Thumbs Up models for secure transport and makes for a lovely presentation. On the outside, it's simple and understated, showing just the Thumbs Up name and logo:
To open the box you first open a flap to the left, which is held closed with an invisible magnetic latch - then another to the right. In the middle is a closed-cell foam bed with an exact cutout of the Thumbs Up model in question:
Protected from damage and rattling around, you can be assured of an unblemished product. Also included, providing both a nice touch and what sets the packaging apart so well - is a charm attached to a card reading:
Many thanks for your support of my Thumbs Up design - Tim Isaac
There are a variety of charms, so you're never quite sure which one you'll get in your particular box! Also provided in the box, if your particular Thumbs Up model requires it, is an allen (hex) key for tightening up the set screw atop the coldshoe to lock the Thumbs Up in place (more on this below).
The first Thumbs Up, then made for the M8, was a simple affair in two versions - basically a shorter one (model 1) and a 15mm longer one (model 3) depending on where you wanted your thumb to rest. Since it mounted into your hotshoe atop the camera, and didn't offer a coldshoe (in case you use finders) it instead featured silk screened focal lengths that the finder would show; 24-35, 50-75 and 28-90. A nice touch, even if you have the combinations memorized. It came in silver and black - both rather glossy.
The next iteration saw the introduction of the Thumbs Up EP-1S and EP-3S. They embodied all of the features of the original design but with the addition of the EP ("Ergonomic Profile") thumb rest - which is now beveled. It's 22º on the EP-1S (as well as the later CSEP-1S and CSEP-4S models) and 8º on the EP-3S, rather than 0º (or straight up/down). This is more comfortable and provides a more even application of pressure. Small change, big difference! Logo and model number writing was now made optional to provide a cleaner, more "stealthy" look. The finishes are changed to semi-gloss, better matching the bodies. Definitely improvements all around in preserving the clean look of the M.
Finally, in 2012 the base was extended and a silicone rubber strip has been added which spans the entire length of the Thumbs Up. It also has the logo and model number molded into it. This serves to dampen vibration better, provide a more stable contact with the camera body and better protect it from scuffing. Since it extends this contact area with the body slightly... If you've cut (or bought) a half case specifically for use with the Thumbs Up - it might need a tiny modification. All in all, these slight production changes over the last six years show a continued interest in providing the best possible product.
From the first to the most current, the various Thumbs Up models are all CNC machined from a solid billet of brass. Leica chose this same material for the top and bottom plates of (most) M bodies and many lens components for a reason. Both B+W and Heliopan also chose brass for their high-end filter frames, albeit for a different (and irrelevant) reason. The point is, brass, when used in the right applications - provides a solid, quality feeling. It's very malleable, takes high-quality finishes well and it goes without saying... The finish "brasses."
The workmanship of the Thumbs Up is exceptional and clean. Not a tool mark, flash or burr to be found anywhere. Every edge is smoothly radiused; there are no sharp edges that can mar the camera or cut your fingers.
You can get your Thumbs Up finished in silver, black, steel grey (M9) or anthracite grey (M-E). They're all a semi-gloss finish that works well with the painted bodies as well as black chrome. The finish is hard-wearing and durable. Carrying our cameras over our shoulders or around our necks - the Thumbs Up (which sticks out the furthest) is getting most of the contact wear from brushing against the body. Despite this, it took quite a bit of use before brassing (and it looks great). It is easily as durable as the camera finishes themselves and they should age well together.
Most folks would find the Thumbs Up to be an immediate improvement to the ergonomics of an M. Especially those with larger and heavier lenses... If you shoot something like a Noctilux, most Summilux or even some Summicron lenses you might just consider this essential equipment! Providing your thumb a comfortable rest and very secure grip on the back of the camera, it not only helps to stabilize but also counter-balance the weight (or length) of such lenses. You can easily handle the camera with one hand, gyrating it to any position without losing grip. Furthermore, using proper technique and perhaps a soft release will ensure that camera shake is minimized.
The various Thumbs Up models slide into and mount via the hotshoe. There are varied opinions about this. For starters, we'd wager that 99% of you out there never use a flash. So losing the hotshoe isn't of a huge concern. The mounting of the Thumbs Up is solid; there's no wobble or looseness unlike, say - mounting a flash. While this may make removal more difficult; you want this to be a solid connection for it to do its job. Rest assured, it does. Will it stress the hotshoe through torsion or other torque? It's entirely possible... But in order to do that (and cause damage to the camera) you'd have to drop it, in which case you've got bigger issues. This concern, while legitimate - isn't really an issue because of the extra support against the camera body (especially in the newest version). It won't be twisting or torquing anything.
The simplest models, the EP-1S and EP-3S, don't have a coldshoe. You could think of them as a sort of "hotshoe cover" even, as it provides a smooth top surface on the camera. It looks cleaner, the hotshoe ears won't snag on anything and the contact area is protected. This is probably our favorite model since it's so clean, simple and light.
Models of the Thumbs Up that provide a coldshoe include "CS" in their part number... For example, the CSEP-1S and CSEP-4S - which have one and two coldshoes, respectively. The single coldshoe model is geared more to those that use a viewfinder at least occasionally, and without resorting to removing the Thumbs Up to mount it. It adds very little extra bulk or weight, but there is a slight cost. While not as clean as the previous models, this is a good compromise. With the single coldshoe model, it's simply a few millimeters above the existing hotshoe. This generally won't be an issue with composing except when shooting at the minimum focus distance - you'll have a tiny bit more parallax error to correct for.
You can outfit the coldshoe (or your hotshoe) with an accessory cover to clean it up and prevent snags and damage if you'd like. It's made of a smooth, black plastic with a fingernail groove for easy removal. If you're not using your hot/coldshoe then it's probably not a bad idea to slip one of these into it. If nothing else, it looks nicer.
What if you'd like to mount multiple viewfinders, incorporate a bubble level/cube or move the viewfinder closer to the camera's built-in one? The double-coldshoe Thumbs Up, model CSEP-4S will do just that! Where the CSEP-1S gives you one coldshoe, the CSEP-4S gives you two.
But first, a cautionary tale. We had used all the various models both with (and without) a single coldshoe for so long that we never bothered tightening up on the set screw (using the supplied allen/hex key). It didn't seem necessary and allowed one to remove the Thumbs Up quickly (in case a flash was needed). When we mounted the CSEP-4S, we were a little surprised to see that it pivoted in the hotshoe slightly. Over a couple of emails and a phone call to Tim Isaac at Match Technical, and the mystery was solved. The extension for the extra coldshoe provides another lever by which to pivot the Thumbs Up by - and it's also important to tighten the screw on ALL models! To install correctly, you should push the Thumbs Up fully and flatly against the camera while you tighten down the set screw - quite snugly (it's okay)... That screw pulls up against the underside of the hotshoe ears, in effect clamping in place. It results in a more solid, safe connection to the camera than the non-coldshoe models for this reason (though it's hard to notice and we've never had a complaint).
We find that the double-coldshoe model allows us to mount a single viewfinder in perhaps the ideal position - all the way to the left, over the existing viewfinder. You can shoot in landscape orientation without your nose hitting the back of the camera and it's quicker and easier to switch between focusing and composing. The view will be about the same. And for what it's worth, the viewfinder is moved away from the center of the camera - so you can more easily read lens settings (over the top of the body). If you shoot with an external viewfinder a lot, the CSEP-4S might be the best model for you. Just keep in mind the slight parallax error when you get close up as you've moved the viewfinder not just up - but over as well.
It really comes down to your own habits and preferences. Match Technical has you covered. Whether you prefer to have the smooth finish of covering the hotshoe, or having a single- or double-coldshoe option to mount any combination of viewfinders and levels. You could think of the CSEP-4S as an "accessory rail" for the top of your camera.
There are several solutions to the problem that the Thumbs Up aims to solve. We've tried them all. The Thumbs Up easily provides the most secure-feeling and comfortable grip, bar none. Are there any cons? Half cases. If you plan to use one, you need to get one that's "Thumbs Up friendly" like a Luigi or Zhou case. What else? As mentioned earlier, there's the fact that it attaches to your hotshoe. If the Thumbs Up causes damage to your hotshoe, chances are you're going to have bigger problems to worry about. Finally, maybe the price - $130 USD isn't cheap... But we'd say it's worth its weight in gold as it does what it says, does it well and looks great doing it. And for what it's worth, the customer support (Tim Isaac!) is both helpful and responsive.
Whichever Thumbs Up model you choose - you won't be disappointed with the materials, workmanship or finish. It's a well-engineered, further refined to perfection and mature product at this point. We have one on each of our cameras and no longer consider them optional or "accessories." As much as this will hurt as a pun - we can't resist... We give it a thumbs up!