Leica Buyers Guide

Posted on by Bellamy

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.
Cheers
Japancamerahunter

17 Responses to Leica Buyers Guide

Carlos June 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Everybody tells the same story.
To me there’s only one rule on remote buys:
- buy undamaged and cheap and let it be serviced, or get a proof that this camera has been serviced by the manufacturer not more than 3 months ago.
Everything else is asking for too much trust to any unknown person. There’s always a real reason behind a sale, that you’re not being told.

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    Bellamy June 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    This is true maybe for e-bay or craigslist, but I stand by the cameras I source for people and many of them come from private sales. Sometimes you cannot get a guarantee that the camera has been serviced recently because it hasn’t, but it is still viable. And manufacturer repairs are not always the best repairs. There are a lot of variables. Sometimes it comes down to feeling. I have built up a pretty good ‘bullshit detector’ over my years of being a buyer, so I can tell when something is not kosher.

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Jukka Watanen June 17, 2012 at 12:40 am

Dear Bellamy: What you say is true, but only partly true: My oldest posession The M4-2 with Abrahamsson rapidwinder has seen daily use from 1978 onwards and NEVER serviced. OK the film wind mechanism from the lever start to feel a little crappy, but wound thru the rapidwinder, still like new and great. The M3 double stroke, I bought about five years ago used, had a sticking shutter and generally a little dubious character. I took it to our master leica serviceman. he said: It is just sticky for not being used. Trip the shutter a couple hundred times and it will be okay. That was true ! The things to look, of couse apart from the finder, it has to be lining well and accurate, is HOW THE SHUTTER SOUNDS AND FEELS ! At 30 and 15 th second the sound has to be a healtht TSUP followed by a couple Tsik, Tsik, the shutter brake making that typical sound. Also on one second the sound has to be an even Surrr. and follwing different Surr on another note. That tells that the shutter is clean and no interruptions. What the leica M needs is USAGE, if you keep it on a shelf or in a locker, it will go bad. absolutely ! Shoot with it, if you want to onvest in something you admire on a shelf with a glass of Whiskey in your hand, buy a golden on NASA white Hasselblad those love to sit on a shelf… Rgds Jukka watanen

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Oleg October 24, 2012 at 1:51 am

Hallo, everybody. I would like to make a reply to Mr. Carlos.
One should not forget that among those who sell cameras there are people who are personally not attached to them and yet, they do this busines for their own reasons.
They often sell at very moderate prices. The latest event of that kind that revolted me was one power seller from Czech Republic who sold rare Rokkor zoom for $500.
I mean, that the guy has so many items in stock that he probably needs to regularly sell some of them to keep the others. No matter. We will never know his reasons. But the fact is: there is a guy somewhere in Old Europe who enjoys now this rarest lens for as little as 500 bucks. When you write that there is always a real reason behind the sell you just account for yourself. Not all of the sellers are liers, some are just stupid, some badly need money, some have to clean up the shelves, some feel the approaching death…. And besides all that, if you buy an OM-3 Ti tomorrow, what kind of a warranty can you demand from the guy who sells it?

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Sandy Blair November 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Follow your blog with interest. $10,000 question, why do most people appear to aspire to owning (and hopefully using) a Leica? From what I’ve seen there appears to be a lot of folk out there who have one (or more), but would be just as well served using a Box Brownie.

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john December 4, 2012 at 11:13 pm

I have a pentax k-1000. I am sure that a print from it versus a print from a leica would be indistinguishable assuming I attach good optics. john

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AkivaPhoto.net (@kashapero) January 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm

The prints may be the same but the enjoyment factor is not. And when you enjoy something you use it more. SLR’s are clunky and not as intuitive as a rangefinder. And Leica is the top of the game. IMHO there is nothing smoother than pretty much any Leica M over any other rangefinder and the M3 takes the cake.

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morris salame January 9, 2013 at 5:59 am

I have inherited 12 beautiful 1950′s Leica cameras that my brother had collected. I can send a photo.I would like to sell them all together. Do you know of anyone that i could contact? There are also lenses, cases, etc etc.

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ZDP-189 January 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Having collected more cameras than a museum and considering that I spend much of each day photographing, developing, scanning or talking cameras, I was quietly convinced that one day I would be ready for my own Leica.

After much research and having borrowed a body or two, I settled a tidy, but not quite mint M4 with M6 framelines. I got a great deal on it due to the generosity of a friend and it became my 40th birthday present to myself. I chose that model because the M4 is pretty much the epitome of all that I felt I was missing with my 70s rangefinders, Hexar and Zeiss Ikons. It was handcrafted and engraved, understated and precise, built like a tank, yet possessing every refinement that did not require batteries. Yes indeed, the M4 was set to be the ultimate Leica that required neither a bank loan, nor brainwashing.

Little did I know that I had already brainwashed myself through my research and the spending had hardly started once I had bought the body. However, it’s not right to buy a $900 M4 and then put a soviet lens on it. That would be like driving your Ferrari on Cheng Shin re-treads. It started, innocuously enough, with a pre-war Elmar. Then came a 35 and 50 Summicron, and a few other lenses, bits and bobs. Before long, I had spent the equivalent of a Hasselblad 500C/M, 5/2 T* and Leaf back on what amounted to man-jewellery.

Not that it’s particularly effective as man-jewellery. It doesn’t pull women, at least not as well as a Yorkshire Terrier would. It doesn’t win one the respect of one’s peers, either. There are typically two sorts of Leica-man, the user and the über-collector. The enthusiast-user rightly cares only what images you can make and the collector won’t be impressed with something as mundane as an M4 with a scuffed top plate. No, he wants something hanging about his neck the likes of which is seen only in a museum or Leica collector’s guide, such as a KE-7A. Thus, the only people that will be impressed by a common-or-garden M are the sort that ask “Didn’t they stop making film years ago?”

The M4 is a beautiful mechanical wonder, though, like a big brass automaton. That reminds me, the main thing I don’t like about my M4 is that it’s about twice as heavy as I’d expect or want. I’d used various M’s before and knew what I was in for, but many people who hadn’t the privilege may not be prepared. It’s a millstone that comes with neckstrap lugs. Although it appears to be built like a tank, it isn’t. It’s built like a grandfather clock. I’m not going to be chucking it about; I still baby it, lest it be further scuffed, dented, or mechanically damaged. I don’t baby otherwise more valuable cameras as much. The biggest problem is the lack of a meter. I used to shoot meterless, but I no longer have the confidence. I’m either fiddling with a meter, pontificating about the zone system, or asking a mate when I should be shooting. Even when I know the exposure, I spend too much time playing with my knobs (ooh-err) and missing that decisive moment that I would have captured with anything but an early Leica. These last three factors conspire to make me leave it at home, but for the first few days of the year, till my new year’s resolutions are forgot and I am back to my old ways. Please don’t take my comments the wrong way. I’m not debating whether the Leica is a great camera or a great waste of money. Maybe a Leica is just the right camera for other photographers. For some people, it’s as if the camera becomes an extension of the photographer, not in the way at all.

One aspect of the article that I thoroughly agree with is the need for an expert to give the camera a proper look over prior to purchase. This may be done by an experienced buyer, a camera technician, or an intermediary such as JCH, or even by the seller if he is trustworthy enough (such as a good friend or a very reputable store). The reason is that a Leica is not really a commodity. Sure, there is a market price for an M4 or LHSA MP3, but condition, recent CLA and other factors, like parts authenticity, early vs late model, or even ‘lucky’ serial numbers can make a huge difference in the value of a camera. The difference an expert buyer can make is worth his fee. This advice applies especially to Leicas, Contaxes Nikon SP’s, Contarexes and other high value collectible cameras of the era that are still prised as working cameras.

Furthermore, someone like Bellamy who knows so much about not only cameras and their prices, but photography and photographers, can properly advise his buyers as to what kind of camera makes sense for them.

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tomsand March 5, 2013 at 12:06 am

“There is not such a thing as a cheap Leica.”
Yes and no, I would say a Leica is very cheap or let’s say it has a very reasonable price. I am a photography teacher and these days the students enter the school almost hundred pro-cent with an APS-C chip size camera and zoom lens kit. I think this is the most expensive Camera equipment I can imagine. Why ? Because they will put it beside after four weeks and wont return to it once they start using a film camera. They do this, because they are realizing better results from film, not so much technical wise, but in terms of composition, decisive moment etc. All things which are truly important for a photographer. Maybe this is happening by the punishment of film cost ? I don’t know, but obviously it has to do with concentration. A concentration on the outer and the inner world. In every class of 15 students you have one or two who become fast shooters, who are able to grab things on the street or where ever they go. For those I suggest successfully a Leica. And if they are very poor and most students are, they at least can afford a M2 Body for €400 or a M6 Body for €700. And even so the camera body might be 30 – 60 years old, it will last for their whole life as photographers, it always can be repaired. What a cheap buy. Unfortunately they need also a lens and good lens is crucial. For those who can’t afford a Summicron 35 or 50 and also not an Elmar 2,8/50, I suggest buying a Russian Jupiter-12, 2,8/35 and using a M39 Adapter. Some people say the russian lens are crap, but I have seriously tested many of them – they aren’t. The Jupiter-12 is a Zeiss Biogon. In 1945 when red army came to Dresden they took not only the machines and the blue prints, but also the engineers and moved them to Krasnogrosk a suburb of Moscow. Yes, the russian production had tolerances, but which does not. I checked many of this items, and not one was really bad. Stopped down to 4 or 5.6 the optical quality was superb. If you are lucky you can still find that lens for €60, of course cheaper in former Soviet Union states. Altogether you can have an analog camera for about €600 which produced pretty fine and sharp images. I would say a quality you simple won’t get from any SLR. If a student complains about not having AF and 12 zone light metering system. I take him or her on street and he sees how I am using a Leica MD-2. I use a hand light meter and very often not even that and I focus by estimating distances and some times I am not look thru the attached view finder. After a few rolls he/she is gone be adjusted to that way of shooting, feeling free and getting astonishing results. So I guess his Leica is gone be a very valuable device for him and on that way there is not such a thing as a cheap Leica.

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Ruhayat July 20, 2013 at 6:53 am

I’m a recovering Leica M junkie. After buying a brand new M6TTL that was somehow left to collect dust on a dealer’s shelf 6 years ago, I quickly went through the modern Leica M catalogue from the MDa to the M8. I stopped there because I didn’t get on with the digital M bodies – too fat. In fact, I sold off the M8 after 2 months and swore not to buy another digital M until they can fit one into a body the size of the film ones.

Anyway. My feeling is that if you are a photographer who uses his/her cameras daily, then it is possible to get a comparatively cheap Leica. Because you wouldn’t care much how it looks. User grade Leicas can sometimes come along at bargain basement prices. But of course, the Leica basement is $800 upwards, whereas you could pick up an old Pentax M system – my ME Super body is actually smaller than my M’s – with a complete set of lenses for that kind of money.

Chronologically, I have owned the MDa – M4-P – M6 – M6TTL – M7 – M8 – MP. I skipped the M4-2 due to the documented issues with it, which makes it more of a lottery that I can’t be bothered with. My one remaining wish list is to own a heavily brassed M4 black paint. And my OCD yearns for an M5 just to complete the list – I never considered the M3 or M2 because of the film loading.

Of these cameras, the one I sold off and would buy again is the M7. The Auto Exposure is very convenient for travel and snapshots. Stick a 28mm or wider on it, and it becomes a real point and shoot. You don’t even need to focus through the rangefinder – just hyperfocus on the lens.

The best M I have owned is the MP. It’s just so beautiful, both in looks and in operation.

But the best bang for the buck would be the M4-P. It doesn’t seem much on paper, but the camera is smaller and lighter than the later Ms, and you can feel this difference in your hand. It’s probably the cheapest M you can buy, too, and quite rugged. Plus, the 50mm framelines are bigger than most of the others, so if you use 50s, the M4-P is the perfect fit. I think these days you can get an M4-P + decent Cosina Voigtlander lens for the price of an M6 body. If you need a metered camera, though, then the M6 is the next best thing, but I’d rather save up some more and get one of the early M7 instead.

My Leica buying recommendation based on my experience, therefore, would be: M4-P for best bang for the buck. Got more money? M7. Got even more money? Nothing less than the MP will do.

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Ruhayat July 20, 2013 at 7:02 am

I also second the Jupiter lenses. I have the Jupiter 8 (50mm f2.0) and Jupiter 9 (85mm f2.0). Both are Sonnars, which have dual personalities – softer and characterful at wide open, modern looking and sharp at f4.0 upwards. Jupiter 8 + M4-P would be an awesome, robust combo that would keep me happy for years.

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Toby Madrigal January 20, 2014 at 4:37 am

Regarding a “cheap” Leica, I’d say it has to be either the MDa or the MD2. The original finderless M body was the MD. Only made for a couple of years. I’m not wealthy enough to collect Leicas per se but, having researched them, I’ve made a mini-collection of the Documentation Leicas – all three of them. I use the MD with a Visoflex 11 plus the 280mm f4.8 Telyt lens. This outfit is reserved for cricket matches. The MDa is used with a 3.5cm f3.5 Summaron lens and 35mm finder.
The black, Canadian-made MD2 is used with a 21mm f3.4 Super-Angulon lens. This is the second of fives variations of the 21. I use the MDa combo for general travel photography, using Hyperfocal distance focusing. Some metering is done with a Weston Master V and Invercone. The MD2 and 21 tends to be used in cities for the spectacular angle of view. I was fortunate to get a Leica 21 finder cheap, it had been dropped and has a crack up the middle, however, sides are fine and that’s the important parts when using ultra-wides. I also have a 1935 made Leica 111. This is my pocket camera. I retract the Summar and it slides into my jeans pocket. A lad was showing his girlfriend his digital camera, I noticed it was the same size as my 111. I discreetly lifted it out of my pocket and placed it on the cafe table. The girl said to him “what’s that?” looking round, he stared at it, then said “excuse me……..”

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David Murray January 20, 2014 at 8:48 am

I second the comment about the Russion lenses. My father in law decided to take up photography once he had retired. He bought 4 cameras. 2 German, 2 Russion.
The Germans did not work. The Zenit and Zorki did. He decided not to use the Zorki. I bought it off him. Later, when a legacy permitted, I bought a Leica M3.
Using a screw to M adaptor, I mounted the 50mm f2 lens on my M3. With B&W film (XP2) good results. The Zorki lenses like mono film. That’s when you get good results. Colour (in the Zorki) gives strange colour casts. These lenses were computed for mono film and give good results. Do not turn your noses up at them.

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Paul Circle April 24, 2014 at 4:03 am

Hi Film-Leica Bugs-well chalk this up to Kamera Karma-But I have been Very fortunate buying Hurt Leica M3-DS-Late 50′s Refurbished Into a M4 with a broken prisim Transplanted VF and well for under cost at Ebay. Granted these cameras were Hurt ugly puppies that were a real exercise in Patience repair but got lucky at repairs thru local US Leica Youxin Yee (member LHS) in top notch repairs that was know here at Leica Canada tech in Markham. I hunt for ANY Film SLR RF at second hand stores-Yard sales-Craigslist-Local Photo Unis-Training schools you name it…I can’t say which camera is best (For Poor mans M9 I use PanaLeica micro four thirds with LTM lens MF Primes Pentax-Nikon-Cannon with adaptors from Craigslist and the results are a Hybrid quality that I have connected into an Apple HD Pro Screen and HAVE Fooled People into believing that…Hey its a 200 cdn camera with a 20 buck adapter with a lens that’s older then me and a Manual Focus one that I picked up for under 30 cdn available light No Flash…Not digital but guess what Good enough to fool people who quite honestly don’t know any better. So All I can say is What ever works. Happy shooting and I have to recommend The Fantastic Doc Finding Vivian Maier self taught nanny by day social misfit Camera Artist. Seek and yee shal Click
Over and Out
Film Film mmmm Goode!
Paul
Circle
canada

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