Nobody would argue that knob-wind Leicas are fine cameras that look as beautiful as they perform. With use of more modern designs, however, it doesn’t take long to realise that these cameras are a bit slippery in the hand, due to the symmetrical rounded sides and lack of front or rear grip.
A neat accessory that Match Technical released several years back is the Thumbs Up Grip. They make different models for specific digital Leicas and other digital bodies that do not feature/require a film advance lever. Because knob wind film bodies don’t have a lever, however, they are also compatible.
The particular TU model that I purchased is the CSEP-2. It was designed for the Leica X1, with a tiny hole for an LED view but thanks to Gary Nylander’s blog, I found that this model also works well on my 1930 I/III and 1947 IIIc. The CSEP-2 features an accessory shoe that’s slightly higher than the built-in shoe. This way, you can still use a brightline viewfinder, Voigtlander VC II Meter, or other handy accessories while the TU is installed.
Leica stores actually sell Thumbs Up grips so if you live near one, it’s a great chance to try before you buy. When I visited the DC Leica Store, they didn’t have the CSEP-2 in stock, only models without the accessory shoe. Cosmetically, whatever model this was, looked even nicer but I wanted the shoe. My point is, there may be other models/styles of TU that you may prefer but still fit a knob wind or other brand camera just fine.
But back to my rig…
The CSEP-2 fits nicely on my knob wind Leicas. It’s machined from solid brass and is coated in a high gloss black enamel that took some time to wear at the edges. The curl of the grip is graceful and smooth to the touch. Build quality certainly matches well with a vintage Leica.
Installed, the Thumbs Up allows ample access to all controls on the Barnack Leica. Things get a little tighter, I hesitate to say “cramped” but space is certainly good. Grip is drastically improved. I feel perfectly confident holding even my invaluable Leica knob wind bodies with the Thumbs Up only, no strap, in one hand! A good degree of additional control comes with use of longer/heavier lenses.
Unlike most accessories, and even other Thumbs Up models, the CSEP-2 locks onto your camera. Using a small Allen wrench, the grip clamps securely into the accessory shoe. I have no doubts regarding its hold on the camera.
I’ve read debates in forums regarding the pressure that’s exerted on the accessory shoe. About how the accessory shoe simply isn’t designed to take this pressure. While this may be a concern with larger, heavier cameras, I just can’t see this as a problem on a tiny, fairly lightweight LTM Leica. I also haven’t had any practical issues using the Thumbs Up for the approximate two years I’ve owned it.
Obviously, on black bodies, the Thumbs Up can wear the finish on the accessory shoe, but no moreso than a finder or flash would. On my chrome IIIc, I haven’t noticed any wear.
I personally do not like to use my Voigtlander VC II meter on the Thumbs Up because the height of the meter off the camera looks inelegant. Admittedly though, this is just an aesthetic preference and the combo works just fine. The additional height is negligible for use with a viewfinder.
There’s not much one can do to improve the design of knob wind Leica rangefinders but the CSEP-2 is a worthy addition. If you enjoy shooting “strapless” or are just a gear-head, I certainly encourage exploring the various Thumbs Up models by Match Technical, not only on Leica knob wind bodies but, really any classic camera. I sometimes also use my CSEP-2 on a Voigtlander Perkeo folding medium format camera. There are probably many possibilities.
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!