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Leica Mayfair: Where nightingale poo on the sensor is a clear and present danger

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  Bruton Place, looking towards the leafy Berkeley Square. On the left is the Leica Store and on the road, Leica
Bruton Place, looking towards the leafy Berkeley Square. On the left is the Leica Store and on the road, Leica’s Café Optik. (Leica M10 and 21mm Super-Elmar f/3.4)

It is perhaps no coincidence that Leica UK set up shop in one of the poshest areas of London, Mayfair no less. The showrooms, offices and excellent public coffee bar are in Bruton Place, a mews parallel with Bruton Street and a stone’s throw from the legendary Berkeley Square — of A Nightingale Sang fame. It’s where Regency bucks resident in Bruton Street kept their carriages and their teams of prancers, out of sight round the back with the tradesmen. But nowadays even the mews tradesmen are of a superior sort, Leica included.

Dame Vera Lynn is regarded as the foremost songstress of the second world war era (excluding alien contenders such as Marlene Dietrich or Zarah Leander) and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square is just one of her set pieces. There were many others, but I have my own anecdote concerning Vera Lynn, as it happens (I have many anecdotes, remind me to tell you a few some time).

Many years ago, probably in the late 1970s, I was returning by train from a Birmingham business meeting to my office in London. In those days there was a full restaurant service, even on such a short one-hour journey, and I would normally plonk myself in the dining car for the duration, eating whatever was à la mode at the particular time of the day. In this instance, it was afternoon tea consisting of cucumber sandwiches and clotted cream on everything.

  You can get up to all sorts of interesting things in the Leica
You can get up to all sorts of interesting things in the Leica’s Café Optik, including checking your iPhone. My friends, unfortunately, are not Leicaphiles so I could just as usefully taken have them to Starbucks. Not back coffee, though ( (Leica M10 and 21mm Super-Elmar f/3.4)

As we arrived in Euston, full of scones and jam, I was surprised to see the staff lining up on the platform at the exit door. A lady in late middle age stepped off the train and, in unison, the white-coated waiters sang We’ll Meet Again. At Euston Station! Indeed, it was none other than the great songstress, Dame Vera, being regaled with another of her staple favourites. She loved it and, no doubt, counted it as a regular occurrence, a true set for a musical as I thought at the time.

  I wonder how much that costs? In Mayfair, if you need to ask the price you can
I wonder how much that costs? In Mayfair, if you need to ask the price you can’t afford it

But I digress. Last week I took my M10 in for sensor cleaning, resisting the temptation to pick up a Bentley Bentayga on the way from Green Park Tube. Sensor cleaning is a free service provided by Leica (so long as you don’t abuse the privilege) and you can just walk in and leave your camera.

If you are lucky it will be done in an hour or two or you can arrange to pick it up another day. I had an irritating spot of dust on my sensor. Fortunately, considering the area, it wasn’t nightingale droppings. Or even effluent from Dame Vera’s Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover. She was big on birds, but only posh birds; none of your common or garden pigeons.

  At the Piccadilly end of the  Piccadilly Arcade  which runs down to Jermyn Street, once the haunt of  Beau Brummell , and a fine place for gentleman
At the Piccadilly end of the Piccadilly Arcade which runs down to Jermyn Street, once the haunt of Beau Brummell , and a fine place for gentleman’s shirts, shoes, suits and accessories. Note the Royal Academy reflected in the curved shopfront in the foreground. I wonder how much that window costs to replace? Probably nearly as much as a Bentley Bentayga

This is what I did, with a weekend intervening, and called in to collect the camera from the ever efficient and supremely knowledgeable Jimmy Hughes. He and David Slater between them do most of the sensor fettling. Scrubbing the sensor of an M10 isn’t for the squeamish, so best to leave it to the experts.

Now, Leica Mayfair occupies two opposing properties in Bruton Place, a relatively quiet thoroughfare even at the worst of times. On the left-hand side (looking towards Berkeley Square) is the retail store where you can find a full complement of Leica cameras and accessories, binoculars and some rather tasty bags to carry away your spoils. 

  The Piccadilly Arcade
The Piccadilly Arcade “shopping mall” was attracting the rich and famous when Westfield was still housed in a wooden shack at Botany Bay

Opposite, though, is a facility that is probably unique in the annals of camera manufacturers’ HQs — Café Optik. Here you can relax over a cappuccino or flat white, read a few books, examine the changing exhibition prints on the walls or watch some product videos. You might even bump into such luminaries as Leica Akademie chief, Robin Sinha, or the big boss himself, Jason Heward. It’s all very friendly and down to earth. 

  Perspective can be an acquired taste with the Super-Elmar, but when you are only a few feet from a large building it works
Perspective can be an acquired taste with the Super-Elmar, but when you are only a few feet from a large building it works

I had a couple of friends with me because we were on our way to lunch in Great Scotland Yard. Sadly, however, their interest in Leica was overshadowed by the contents of their iPhones. Shame on them. But Robin Sinha was there, asking if I had been tempted to upgrade to the M10-P. Yes, but no I won’t, was the answer.

  The quick and the dead: Everything goes in Mayfair as long as you have a deep wallet
The quick and the dead: Everything goes in Mayfair as long as you have a deep wallet

The whole area around Bruton Place, especially New Bond Street and the wonderful arcades leading to and from Piccadilly, is the preserve of the super wealthy. Buying an M10-P and a Noctilux is an impulse buy for such people, so Leica’s goodies are akin to the sweetie display at the checkout till in Tesco. Pure impulse. More serious and expensive spoils are to be had in Asprey or one of the dozens of other exclusive establishments in the area. 

Setting forth from Leica Mayfair, I had my newly fettled M10 in my hand and it was attached to a lens I seldom use but one which is perhaps the sharpest and most underrated optic in the catalogue, the superb 21mm Super-Elmar ASPH f/3.4

The Super-Elmar makes a great lens for street photography since at f/8 you can just bash off the shots without worrying about focus. This is Leica’s finest autofocus M lens — with the refinement of “no focus”. Everything’s there, clear and sharp, provided you set the lens to around 1.5 or 2 meters. It’s one of those lenses where you can stand side by side with your subject, point the camera into the wide blue yonder and yet end up with a shot of the subject, even if they have a red dot on the forehead. Stealthy it certainly is.

If you are visiting London, it’s a great area to explore and it provides opportunities for the odd picture or two, not to mention a coffee and bun at Leica Mayfair. It’s a bonus you shouldn’t miss. 

Børge Indergaard has published a good review of the Super-Elmar

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Well, this lens could be enough reason for buying an M – even if it would mean re-mortgaging! It’s really fascinating what you have got out of it, Mike. Also your reference to Børge Lindegaard is well worth checking out

  2. For a small moment I thought you were going to announce you took it in for sensor clean, all gratis naturally. And then left with an M10-P. 🙂 Dave

    • Patrick, I can’t say I employed any particular technique. I Super-Elmar was on the camera when it went in for sensor cleaner, so it was all I had on the day I retrieved the M10. I didn’t use a technique — I just pointed the camera generally in the right direction and took a few quick shots as I walked through Mayfair. I was with friends, so couldn’t lurk, and these are all therefore very quick snaps. They are helped by the lack of a need to focus this lens. It needs less thought than using an autofocus lens.

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