Improving the handling of a Leica M: Tim Isaac’s Thumb’s Up Grip by Ashwin Rao

Improving the handling of a Leica M by Ashwin Rao: Hello everyone! Once again, it’s a privilege to write to you,. A big thanks goes to Steve for allowing me to share a bit of knowledge that I think may greatly help any of you have may have concerns about handling your Leica M camera.

A brief background on me

Plain and simple, I am a Leica enthusiast. If you have read my prior article on Steve’s website (click here to check it out), that should come through clearly. During my time owning the M8, M9 and film M’s, I have endlessly tinkered with the camera’s ergonomics, trying to find the ideal way to use the camera and to allow it to blend seamlessly into my photographic work flow. Over the years, this tinkering has lead me to several conclusions:

The Leica M camera is a beautiful tool to look at, hold, and handle

The Leica M camera is artfully crafted, but a times, this artfulness can make its handling challenging and even difficult

There are many tools to improve the Leica’s ergonomics, and there is no consensus in which modifications are the best ones

Modifying the M to your satisfaction is part of the ownership process and part of the pride of owning a Leica. Don’t be afraid to personalize this beautiful camera and make it your own.

The Thumbs Up CSEP-1 grip, fashioned by Tim Isaac of MatchTechnical Services, is one of the most elegant solutions to make your Leica M much more stable when held in-hand.

A background into handling Leica rangefinders, from my perspective

I have owned and used Leica rangefinders as my primary tool for photography for nearly 4 years. I know that’s not long for some of you, but for many others who have just begun to enjoy your journey into this world and style of shooting, there is so much to learn, and maybe I can help.

As I began to shoot rangefinders, I found that handling the Leica M body can be a challenge. While Leica bodies are sleek and ergonomic, they can be a bit slippery to hold in the hand. There’s not much to hold onto with grabbing an M body, with its clean lines, gentle curves, and carefully-machined structure. Many of you who are new to rangefinders may find that your shots may not be as sharp as you’d like. The little bit of blur that makes an otherwise amazing picture rather ordinary may be due in part to the challenge of holding the Leica M body.

Having come from the world of Canon SLR’s, I was quite comfortable with those cameras’ built-in grips, which allow for camera holding and shooting with one hand. While this adds to the bulk and profile of the camera, it is quite an elegant solution to being able to comfortably hold and shoot SLR’s for a long time.

Leica rangefinders, including every body from the M3 through the M9, do not have a built in grip. Leica would claim, as do many purists who shoot their bodies “naked”, that the grip is not necessary. They might say that you should simply apply the neck strap, wear it around the neck or one shoulder, and head out for a day’s shoot. For 2 years, I applied this philosophy, but was never quite satisfied with that solution. I am not much of a neck strap guy, preferring a wrist strap or grabbing a camera out of a bag for the times when I shoot. And I kept coming back to disliking that slightly slippery feeling of handling the M. And so, my tinkering began. How could I improve the Ergonomics of the rangefinder?

How’s I found the “Thumbs Up Grip”

About 2 years ago, I began my quest to “improve” the ergonomics of the M. I completed a comprensive search of several well known Leica forums, including the Leica User Forum (LUF), GetDPI forum, and DPReview’s Leica forum. These forums are populated by many members with far more experience with the rangefinder system than I. Many of these individuals feel quite passionately about their way of shooting. In fact, this seems to be a common trait among Leica photographers: Pride in ownership and pride in their unique shooting style and experience. If you ask their opinion, they will certainly give it to you, and the advice may not always be kind or candy-coated.

Based on the advise gleaned from countless hours reading forum topics, I began to tinker and “Mod” my M. I started by trying out a variety of cases, which only seemed to add bulk to the camera. I purchased and used the Leica M grip, which did help to a large degree, but seemed a less than elegant solution, as it added substantially to the bulk of the camera.. I then took a look at a variety of Half Leather cases manufactured by Leica, Luigi Crescenzi and Artisan & Artist, all of which received very positive reviews. It was then that I came across several references to Tim Isaac and his Thumb’s Up Grip. People seemed to endlessly rave about this little add-on, which attaches to the hot shoe in the back of the camera and provides a place to rest one’s thumb (where the film reloading lever may otherwise be) when holding the M. It did not add much, if any bulk, to the profile of the camera. It was secured well in its hot shoe and would not inadvertently slip off. And better yet, many claimed that the additional stability that it afforded the Leica M provided shooters with at least “one stop” of hand held stability, allowing them to shoot their Leicas at even slower shutter speeds. In other words, this extra stop might allow me to shoot at lower ISO’s or shutter speeds! Whoah! Cool. I had to try this device out.

I read up more, and the more that I read, the more I became convinced that the Thumbs Up grip might be the tool of choice for me. I found that Tim Isaac had made a variety of modifications to the design of his grip over the years, and that it was nearing design perfection, according to recent reviews at the time. Luck had it that I saw a post on LUF from a Seattle Leica shooter that Tim Isaac actually had decided to travel to Seattle and was in town. Amazing! Just as I was considering this option of purchasing the Thumbs Up grip, Tim Isaac happened to be in town! So I went to Tim’s website,, and shot him a quick email….

About a hour later, Tim had replied! He was willing to meet me locally, and see my reaction to the Thumbs Up Grip in person. It turns out that Tim loves to get direct feedback about his products, and he uses this feedback to further master the design elements of his products. Tim also wanted to show me some new models that he had worked on to improve the function of the the Thumbs Up grips. Boy, was I excited! The guy who I had heard so much about on the forums, was going to meet with little ole’ me! We organized a meeting for a few days later, and the rest, shall we say, is history!

My morning with Tim Isaac

I was quite excited to visit with Tim, as I was about to leave on a trip to Vietnam with my M8 in hand. Anything that I could use to get more keeper images would be a worthy investment. Tim and his wife met me at a local eatery at Fisherman’s Wharf in Seattle, a picturesque place where many of the boats that are featured in “The Deadliest Catch” use as their port of call. It’s a fun place to do some photography, for sure, if you are ever here.

Meeting Tim was all that I expected and more. He and his wife are truly two of the nicest people that I have ever met. Tim brought along a series of his latest wares and designs, along with his own M8 and Noctilux! For those of you who may be interested, Tim makes a variety of items, including his excellent Beep, Bip, Bip, Bug, and Beast soft releases, His E-Cyplse viewfinder magnifiers and Eye-Cups, as well as an M-coder kit, for those of you who wish to add a 6-bit code to your older lenses, so that they can be optimized for Leica’s M8 and M9 digital bodies. All of these can be seen and purchased from his website. I was there, however, to view his latest Thumbs Up Grip Designs.

As a side note, all of Tim’s products are artfully packaged, and the Thumbs Up Grip is no exception. The box is artfully decorated, with a personalized note, magnetic clamp, and allen wrench provided to secure the grip to your Leica M. It’s clear that the Thumbs Up is made and packaged with a sense of pride, which makes owning it even more enticing to me.

The Thumb’s Up grip has gone through a series of modifications, as I have mentioned, and I was able to view 2 of his most recent designs, the CSEP-4 and CSEP-1. The CSEP-1 is pictured below, attaching to the hot shoe, and providing a stable grip for any M body


In my eyes, the Thumb’s CSEP-1 provides a very elegant solution to improving the camera’s ergonomics and suited my needs perfectly. The CSEP-1 minimizes bulk while maximizing functionality. Tim has designed the CSEP-1 to blend with the camera’s own classic lines, and it allows for hand placement in a way that makes shooting simple and and elegant. The protruding element of the grip is positioned to allow the photographer’s thumb to rest in a fashion that further secures the camera while in hand. It is a simple and elegant solution to the Leica M’s inherent slipperiness.

Below is an image of the Thumbs Up, mounted on my Leica M9:

The Thumbs Up CSEP-4

The CSEP-4 takes the design 1 extra step, providing a cold shoe that is positioned directly over the camera’s own viewfinder. This would help greatly for wide angle lenses (up to 24 mm on M9, and 21 mm on the M8), whose frame lines may not be visible in the camera’s native viewfinder. The photographer does not have to reposition his eye when switching between the camera’s viewfinder (which is still used for focus) and the external viewfinder, which is necessary for composition.

Given that my preferred focal lengths for shooting range between 35 mm and 90 mm, I didn’t personally see the added benefit of the CSEP-4 as necessary to my shooting needs, though you wide-angle freaks out there may find the CSEP-4 to be better suited to your needs.

I elected to purchase the CSEP-1 for my M8 and 2 of his BEEP soft releases (one for each of my film bodies), as I discovered that these soft releases, which screw in to the shutter release, add greatly to discreet shooting function (a word on this is below). All in all, purchasing these items was one of the BEST investments that I have made in my quest to make my M8 and M9 more useable. I ultimately sold my M8 to fund my M9, but the very first items transported from 1 camera to the other were my Thumbs Up CSEP-1 grip and the Beep soft release. Tim’s Thumbs Up has now traveled along with my rangefinder bodies to Vietnam, Egypt, Italy, and throughout my travels in the US. Like American Express, I “Don’t leave home without it.”

Applying the Thumb’s Up:

Applying the Thumbs Up Grip is simple. You simply slide the unit into the hot shoe, using an included Allen wrench to tighten the lug nut at the center of the shoe. This process does not affect the electronics or functionality of your M, other than rendering the hot shoe cold, meaning that flash units won’t be useable with the Thumbs Up grip in place.

My take on the Thumbs Up CSEP-1

I have now owned the Thumbs Up CSEP-1 grip for over 1 year. As I have mentioned, it hasn’t left my camera body even once, other than to be transferred from my M8 to my M9. The grip is fashioned to accommodate the photographer’s thumb comfortably along the right upper margin of the camera. The thumb rest has a slight taper to it that improves the resting point of the thumb, while the remaining fingers can curl around the front of the body to provide a secure, 1-handed grip.

So what do you gain in using the Thumb’s Up Grip? I think that you gain a great deal. The camera becomes much more of a pleasure to hold. Hand fatigue from contending with the Leica M body’s slipperiness is greatly reduced, as the CSEP -1 allows the thumb to naturally fall into a position of comfort that aids the camera’s stability. The CSEP-1 is elegantly fashioned, and its tiny profile actually adds to the camera’s aesthetic. I picked up a black model, which has brassed slightly in my year of using it, which only adds to its aesthetic charm. Functionally, the Thumb’s Up grip adds a fair amount of stability to the shooting experience. I would agree with the statement that one gains about a stop of hand-holdability in using the M with the Thumbs Up grip attached. Further, I am no longer nervous about dropping my M9 inadvertently. I also find that I can handle the camera well, with little hand and arm fatigue, even with the heaviest of lenses such as the Summilux 75 mm f/1.4 attached.

So what do you lose in applying a Thumbs Up Grip to your camera? Well, for one, you lose the function of the hot shoe. The CSEP-1 is a cold shoe (hence, the “CS” part), so adding a flash to the M is not possible if you wish to use the CSEP-1 or 4. In circumstances where you wish to use a flash, the Thumbs Up grip must be removed. For you Leica photographers out there who like to use flash, this may be a reason to consider other options in purchasing a grip. I, for one, have never used a flash unit on my Leica M, so a hot shoe is not necessary for me.

What doesn’t change when you use the Thumbs Up grip? You still have a cold shoe, which can be used to attach accessory viewfinders. You can always remove the grip and add a flash, if desired. In my experience, the camera body does not get damaged in any way from using the Thumbs Up grip.

In summary, I believe that the Thumbs Up grip is an invaluable and essential tool for those using any Leica M body. For many of you, that will mean the M8 or M9. If you are interested in the Thumb’s Up grip for your Leica M,, learn more for yourself, and consider this as a worthy addition to your Leica M arsenal. As of this writing, the Thumbs Up CSEP-1 retails for $162.38 when purchased directly through MatchTechnical.


I have no received financial benefit or incentive from any source in writing this review of Tim Isaac’s Thumbs Up grip. I simply love this tool that Tim has crafted and write as a very satisfied customer. I suspect that you will love this addition as well

A Brief word on Soft Releases

Soft releases are adds for the Leica M that screw directly into the camera’s shutter trigger. They add a bit of height to the shutter, and provide additional stability for the finger, when placed. They are “soft” because they can dampen the shutter trigger, making that action softer. If you do a search, these items come in a variety of shapes and signs and are fashioned by a variety of manufacturers. I settled on Tim Isaac’s releases and have tried a variety of his models over the years. MatchTechnical’s models are fashioned from brass and seem to have more substance than others that I have tried. I find that using the soft release allows me to more gently trigger the shutter when shooting. I like the way the soft release allows me to trigger the shutter. It’s mainly a feel thing, and it may be worth a try, if you are curious.

From Steve: Thanks Ashwin for this superb and very informative article! Also, be sure to check out his great photography blog HERE! You can see more of his photos at his flickr page as well!


Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store!

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  1. Not quite sure if I’m really hot on this. While I can see merit in the idea, and based on the photos I’ve seen so far – am I correct in stating that if you use an M240, the thumb gizmo effectively renders the hot shoe and the Visoflex port useless? If I’m wrong, if some kind person would please drop me a line and explain it to me I would be most grateful..

  2. Hi Ashwin, I have just bought a Fujifilm X10 to use as a “everyday” camera that fits in a larger pocket. I´m a Nikon fan and have just upgraded my D300 to a full format D600, but a heavy DSLR is not something you always carry around. Anyway, in my search for a camera strap for the X10, I ended up at “gordy´s camera straps” where I ordered a nice handmade wrist strap. In Gordy´s vast gallery with pics of customers cameras I found a lot of soft releases from which made me curious, so I visited their site. It all ended with me ordering not only a soft release, the “Satin Red Bop” but also a “Thumbs Up EP 6S” for my X10. I have tonight had a very nice email conversation with Tim Isaac of MatchTechnical and I´m really looking forward to receive my order from them. I know that most people who read this are probably Leica fans, but the Thumbs Up and Soft releases also fit well with Fujifilm cameras. My first camera experience was by the way with my dad´s old Leica, wish he never sold it…
    Best regards,
    Ulf Hellerstrom, Sweden

  3. Hey guys, does anyone know if you can use these with the older leica’s? im trying to see if the sync ports in the rear will obstruct the flushness of the grip.

  4. Ashton, thanks for the terrific advice. May I ask where you bought the black and red wrist strap shown in the article? And do you have any concern about attaching a strap to only one of the camera lugs? Thanks very much.

    • Hi Jeff, it’s a Gordy’s wrist strap. Purchased online, if you google Gordy’s Straps, it comes up. Best of luck! No concerns at all in using these straps the past 3 years. The Lug strap is close to indestructable….


      • Thanks so much for the speedy reply, Ashwin. I’ve ordered an EP1 Thumbs Up and a strap from Gordy’s. I really appreciate your advice.

  5. Thank you Ashwin much appreciated, I’ll do just that, it was the concern about the framelines that led to the question so I’ll try and pay a visit, just wished I lived nearer a main dealer. Maybe one day.

  6. Hi Robbie,

    I like the 1.4x magnifier because it results in the viewfinder having a 1×1 magnification, so that what you see with your eyes is neither magnified no shrunk by the native 0.67x viewfinder magnification. Using the 1.4x magnifier, 50 mm framelines are just visible. I would try out both for size at your dealer to see what feels better, and go from there. For me, I sometime shoot with both eyes open, and the 1.4x magnifier makes this possible without making my eyes go crazy.

  7. Hi Ashwin, regarding the viewfinder – it seems from reading some reviews that the 1.25x is recommended for 50mm lenses and 1.4 for longer. You mention that your 1.4 works well on 50mm and above, would you recommend it for a 50mm or is it too much? I’m thinking about getting one, mainly for my 50 lux but I also use an old 90 tele elmarit from time to time and although I’m sure the 1.4 would be better on the 90mm my main use would be the 50mm and I’d want it to be as clear as possible without losing the frame. Which magnifier would you recommend?
    Thank you and Steve for your time and much valued opinion

  8. Yup, the eye cup is the leica 1.4x viewfinder magnifier. It allows a 1:1 magnification, works well with leica’s lenses 50 mm and up, increasing the size of the viewfinder patch and frame lines.

  9. Steve, It’s great to hear that you have made a satisftying leap from SLR’s into the world of rangefinders. I am excited for you and remember that feeling 4 years ago when I picked up by first M6 and 50/cron and went out on a stroll. It was liberating. Keep in mind that the 2 systems are so different that there can be a period of challenging transition (you lose AF, zoom, mega-telephoto lenses, macro), but you gain discretion and Image quality (to my eyes, at least). And the lenses, oh…the lenses….so sweet.

    Regardless, it seems that you are well appointmed with tha half case, thumbs up grip, etc….Congrats again, and enjoy the new journey!

  10. Hi Ashwin/Steve, after many hours of self cross examination I finally listened to the ‘small and simple is best’ voice in my head and sold most of Nikon kit. I took the leap of faith and I’ve recently received my new M9. It’s beautiful, there is no other word for it. I no longer feel flustered, faffing about with setting and menu decisions. I’m just an enthusiast who wants to take good quality spur of the moment shots with minimal thought – it felt like I was sitting a test every time I took the SLR out, maybe I’m just not techy enough but I just want to take pictures not study electrical engineering. So, and to the point. This is my first adventure with a Rangefinder. I was so excited when it arrived, it was like taking Astro Wars out of the box for the first time as a kid. The difference is I didn’t feel like I was going to drop Astro Wars but it felt like I was going to drop my beautiful new M9. Say what you want but a good SLR does feel safe in the hand. My initial excitement waived as I worried about how to hold it, all that money on a camera and I’m worrying about how to hold it so I don’t drop it, that can’t be right can it? I needed a solution and that’s when I found your article about the Thumbs Up. It’s now on the camera and it just feels so natural, I can see how users of the film M’s would miss that support so much. I’ve got myself a wrist strap and a half leather protector case and with the Thumbs up I feel I can quickly draw beating the Sundance Kid to the shot no problem. It’s now feels like my perfect camera, it’s just a shame it has to come as an accessory when it’s clearly a natural fit. I’ve got the base EP mod1 piece as that’s all I need but I also managed to get it in Steel Grey to match the top of the camera, happy days. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for the tip and keep up the very good work.
    Best wishes

  11. The large “Thumbs Up” name on the unit destroys any chance of this being “one of the most elegant solution(s)” IMHO. Also, why the large model number on the unit? Does anyone really care what model number it is? Why not put the model number on the back of the unit?

    I always thought Leica people were really into the way their cameras looked. The large and excessive writing on this unit totally destroys the look of the Leica for me.

  12. Hi Ali,
    I got my grip directly from my Leica dealer here in Seattle (Glazers Camera). I’d recommend trying the Thumbs Up grip first, as it adds a lot of stability and may be all that you need. If you want to add the grip, as above (see images for what my camera looks like), then you can buy from B&H, Adorama, or the like…it’s called the Leica M8.2 /M9 grip. Make sure the grip you get matches the covering on your M8/9….There’s an off market grip too, forgot the name, that people like, but I find its style to clash with the M8 and M9, so I stick with Tim Isaac and the M grip.

    Tim is the nicest gentleman I have ever worked with in the Leica community. He’s a true gentleman and scholar and his response is prompt and rapid. He’ll get you your products quite fast. Enjoy them! They make the M cameras such more of a delight to use!

  13. Thanks Askwin,

    Tim at MatchTechnical is awesone…Just ordered everything I could from him! Did not see the M-grip…where did you get yours? Will order your cool strap at Gordy’s. Thanks again!


  14. Hi Ali,

    The hand/wrist strap is made by Gordy’s straps. Just google “Gordy’s straps” and the site will come up. Please check out comment # 13 above for details on his site.

    I did not get the M-Mate 2 baseplate, as I don’t feel a major need for quick SD card and battery removal (plus I use the M-grip as well as the thumbs up for combo stability).


  15. Great article…ordering the thumbs up and beep. Where did you get the handstrap and M grip? Also, what do you think about the M-Mate 2 baseplate for the quick removal of the battery and SD card made by Luigi at Leicatime? Would love your feedback.

    Thanks in advance for your reply.


  16. @ designed:

    Glad that you enjoyed the review. I agree that the Thumbs Up is pricey. There may be a couple of ways to look at it.

    1. Tim Isaac is not funded by a large company, but is a solo designer. It’s just him and his wife who create these beautiful devices and then have them fashioned. The grips are packaged artfully, and the whole deal is first class. Kind of like Leica. Overpriced, but worth the cost? Only you can decide

    2. The cost of owning a Leica is quite high in and of itself. THe Thumbs Up grip’s cost is relatively small compared to the Leica grip ($250-300), for example

    Steve’s site is awesome, gotta say! It’s a daily check in for me these days!

  17. Thanks for the reviews. I have read similiar statements about the Thumbs Up elsewhere too, but descriptions about the soft releases seem to be a tad more scarce.

    My only gripe about the Thumbs Up is the price, which is too much. Yes, it’s a bargain compared to the M Grip, but one is a tiny accessory sold by a workshop and the other is a baseplate replacement sold by Leica (and even that is overpriced). Probably the price point isn’t bad compared to the M system price, but the used M8s are now finding homes with those previously out of reach of the Leica goodness.

    Otherwise, thank you Ashwin and especially thank you Steve for a great site. I think a certain Rockwell character should get a bit worried…

  18. Hi guys, thanks for all of the comments. Here are some responses:

    @ Daniel H: I agree that the Thumbs Up is a bit pricey, but knowing it’s benefit (and given the price of Leica gear anyways; heck the grip costs $250, this is a small price to pay for better handling), I highly recommend it.

    @ Chris Moss: Yeah, I am totally not interested in flash on a Leica, personally

    @cidereye: Definitely get one. So worth it, and it really helps with the Shake caused by the M8 and M9’s shutter. I gain at least a stop of hand holdability

    @ La Dra: Thanks! THe CSEP-1 is my favorite of Tim’s grips. As for the leather strap, it’s fashioned by a gentleman named Gordy. If you google Gordy’s Strap, you can find him. He’s based out of Washington on Whidbey Island and is also a great guy. His wrist straps and body straps are awesome and cheaply priced, and very well made. CameraTechs in Seattle also sells these out of their store, but check with Gordy of Gordy’s straps as well.I have had my Gordy’s strap as long as my Thumbs up and it too hasn’t left my camera.

    • I know I am late to this article, but I recently got a second hand M8.2 and adding the Thumbs Up grip has really improved the ergonomics and comfort carrying the camera around or taking one-hand shots. It is awesome. Thanks for the review.

  19. Ashwin, great comment, thanks.
    I am thinking on getting an M8 and that CSEP-1 is a “most have one”.

    One thing that I also loved from your pictures is the leather wrist string with the red cord. It seems son handcrafted, that makes the M8 really look like a simple and direct tool, not a “Swiss army knife” (if you know what I mean. How could I eventually get one of those?

  20. I noticed for the first time when shooting with my M8 the other day out in the cold how much camera shake I was getting when I can usually hold the thing steady as a rock at low shutter speeds with my film RF’s. Stuff Leica’s heritage and aim for every RF still to look like a 50+ year old M3 (at least the M3 has a wind lever to brace your grip on!) , camera’s are for using after all & not looking at!, they should have put a nice moulded grip on it front & rear like say the Contax G2 and problem over!

    With the ThumbsUp on there I would have gained the stability I needed without a doubt, the cost put’s me off but it is well made and I’ll be getting one ASAP I think.

  21. Great post! Ever since before I got my M8 I was seeing a lot of talk about the Thumbs Up, and after using the M8, I definitely want to try one out. Seems a little pricey, but the benefit seems like it would be worth it over time. Thanks a lot for a Steve-style “real world” type view. Definitely thinking of getting one soon.

  22. Thanks for confirming what I’ve already read on other sites.

    P.S. Pretty sure the camera in the 5th photo is an M9, not an M8… 😉

  23. @Jerry_R: Tim and I emailed prior to me writing thiw email. He is readying a hotshoe version of his Thumbs Up grips for sale in a few months time.

    @ Daniel: Fully agreed. The Frankenfinder on the Thumbs up does require a bit of a mental shift down…

    @susan Ebel: No problem. The bug is quite fun!

  24. Thanks for the detailed article on the Thumbs Up and soft releases. I have the bug for my M7 and find it works very well and adds a little bit of fun!

  25. i have one since a long time and it really helps. The only thing to think about is when i use my WATE with the universal viewfinder, i have to mentally “shift” the vision i have a (little) bit down, since the viewfinder sits a little bit higher than normal on the M9.

    there is a version with 2 shoes, but flash is impossible, there is no electric contact replication. only useful to put 2 viewfinders at the same time, but with same alignement limitations as said.

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