There is no such thing as a ‘cheap’ Leica
I have decided to put together a little article for you about Leica cameras in response to the amount of questions I get about them in my inbox. I hope this helps you all a little bit.
That is correct, there is no such thing as a cheap Leica. One of the main questions I get is “can I get an M3/2/4/6 for $600 Mr. Camerahunter?” Now, I would love to say yes to you, but I would be lying. That is not to say you cannot, but it is extremely rare to find one at this price. When you see a Leica camera for a fantabulous price it is either being sold by someone who has no idea what they have got (little old lady going through her poor deceased husbands man cave), or it is because it could be stolen (shifty looking bloke with a twitchy eye and a peg leg). I shall be totally honest, I am not going to be able to find you a Leica camera for $800. It is just not going to happen.
Or the other reason is because it could be in dire need of a service. And this is an important point that I would like to get across. A Leica camera is a precision instrument. The early Leica cameras were built in such a way that they are essentially like fine watches on the inside. Even the M5 and on are built to very exacting tolerances. This means that you have a camera that needs to be maintained.
When your Nikanon 5D800MkVII coughs and splutters you can have it serviced, but after a while it is basically dead. This is not really true of Leica film camera. As long as there are parts and as long as the camera has not been smashed into little pieces, shot or set on fire then you should be able to keep the camera working forever.
So this is what I am really getting to, as there is no such thing as a cheap Leica. When you are searching for one of these cameras you should be very sure of what you want and be aware that is going to cost more than you think. If you are looking for a cheap Leica that is fine, but you should be fully aware that the camera could not last long before it needs a service, and servicing can get pretty expensive.
If you get the chance, go to your local used camera store and ask to see their finest Leica and then their doggiest Leica. Fire off the shutter in all speeds and you will be able to tell the difference. Look through the viewfinder, you will see the difference. There are certain things that you should be looking for when you are buying a camera, but there are more things you should be looking for when you are buying a Leica, they are special like that.
Lets put together a little list of the things that will help you find the right Leica for you…
1. Body. How is it? Are you looking for a shelf queen or a user? Scratching does not matter, it is made of metal, but dents do matter. Minor dings are OK, but are there massive dents? You might want to reconsider. But, don’t judge a book by its cover. That dog of a Leica might be mechanically perfect.
2. Shutter. How is it? Check all of the speeds and check that they are accurate. Now wind the film advance. Does it feel like it has been lubricated with angels tears? Or does it feel like a chainsaw being dragged over a pebble beach? If it is the latter then you will be servicing that camera before very long.
3. Inside. Pop that little beauty open and have a look under the hood. How is the shutter curtain? Full of holes? Uh oh. Clean and spotless? Jolly good. Is the door sticky? How about the film plane? Make sure everything runs smoothly when you cock the shutter.
4. Finder. Have a look through the finder and what do you see? Make sure to use the frame selector lever to check that you can see all of the frame lines and that the RF patch is bright. Then pop a lens on the camera and make sure the RF patch matches up and is in alignment.
5. Feeling. This one is important to me, and you should not discount it. I believe that each camera will talk to you and tell you if it is the camera for you. When you pick it up you will know if this is the camera that you want. But be careful. Don’t let your feelings get the better of you. You could end up buying something shabby just because it felt right.
So, there you go. You can spend thousands on one of these cameras, if you have that kind of cash about, but you don’t have to. If you are sensible, don’t want to have a completely pristine camera and you make sure that you check everything properly then you can have a very nice camera that will not cost you the earth. Set yourself a budget, then add about $500 to that to be on the safe side. Lenses are a different matter, and something that I shall cover in a different post.
Whenever I buy a camera for someone, I check all of these things to make sure that the camera is perfect for my customers, so you should be doing this too.