Leica M Camera Buyer’s Guide!

Leica M Camera Buyer’s Guide! (Film Ms)

Matthew Osborne Photography / Mr Leica

December 2016

Leica M3 Portrait

How did this post come about?

When I think back to buying my first analogue film Leica M camera I’m not sure how I decided to buy the particular camera I did.  Lots and lots of research I guess but I don’t really remember finding any information that summarised in simple terms how each Leica M camera is different or perhaps best suited my needs.  It doesn’t help that Leica M cameras all look pretty much identical to the untrained eye too! In this post I try to list some of the main differences between each Leica M camera which might hopefully make it easier for you if you are looking to buy a Leica M film camera.  Please note I have only covered Leica M film cameras and it does not include Leica digital cameras.

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Leica M Camera Timeline

Here are all the major Leica M film cameras released from oldest to newest (excluding special edition cameras and showing the approximate release date/ production start date).

  • Leica M3 (1954)
  • Leica M2 (1958)
  • Leica M4 (1967)
  • Leica M5 (1971)
  • Leica M4-2 (1977)
  • Leica M4-P (1981)
  • Leica M6 Classic (1984)
  • Leica M6 TTL (1998)
  • Leica M7 (2002)
  • Leica MP (2003)
  • Leica M-A (2014)

Generally speaking the higher the M number the more recent the camera was released (with the exception of the Leica M2 that was built after the Leica M3, the M4-2 and M4-P that were released after the M5 and with the Leica MP and M-A being the most recent).

Common Featurers to all Leica M Film Cameras

*to my knowledge for the cameras covered in this article

  • Maximum shutter speed 1/1000
  • Flash sync speed 1/50
  • Rangefinder focusing system
  • Uses 35mm film
  • Leica-M bayonet mount lenses (or L39/M39/LSM/LTM Leica screw mount via adapter)

Leica M3 + Summicron 50 DR

Leica M Camera Buyers Guide

Framelines – bright lines in the viewfinder for composition

  • Leica M3 – 50,90,135 (individual framelines – so only see one at a time)
  • Leica M2 – 35,50,90 (individual framelines – so only see one at a time)
  • Leica M4 – 35/135 pair, 50, 90 (Individual & pair)
  • Leica M5 – 35/135 pair, 50, 90 (Individual & pair)
  • Leica M4-2 – 35/135 pair, 50, 90 (Individual & pair)
  • Leica M4-P – 28/90, 35/135, 50/75 (pairs – see 2 framelines at a time)
  • Leica M6 Classic – 28/90, 35/135, 50/75 (pairs – see 2 framelines at a time)
  • Leica M6 TTL – 28/90, 35/135, 50/75 (pairs – see 2 framelines at a time)
  • Leica M7 – 28/90, 35/135, 50/75 (pairs – see 2 framelines at a time)
  • Leica MP – 28/90, 35/135, 50/75 (pairs – see 2 framelines at a time)
  • Leica M-A – 28/90, 35/135, 50/75 (pairs – see 2 framelines at a time)

Viewfinder magnification / options

  • Leica M3 – 0.91x (most magnified viewfinder)
  • Leica M2 – 0.72x
  • Leica M4 – 0.72x
  • Leica M5 – 0.72x
  • Leica M4-2 – 0.72x
  • Leica M4-P – 0.72x
  • Leica M6 Classic – 0.58x / 0.72x / 0.85x (0.58x is for use with winder lenses)
  • Leica M6 TTL – 0.58x / 0.72x / 0.85x (0.58x is for use with winder lenses)
  • Leica M7 – 0.58x / 0.72x (0.58x is for use with winder lenses)
  • Leica MP – 0.72x /
  • Leica M-A – 0.72x

Rangefinder focusing

  • Leica M3 – 1m to infinity (close focus goggles allow focusing from 0.478m)
  • Leica M2 – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica M4 – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica M5 – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica M4-2 – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica M4-P – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica M6 Classic – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica M6 TTL – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica M7 – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica MP – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)
  • Leica M-A – 0.7m to infinity (can use lenses with close focus goggles)

Battery required to take a photo?

  • Leica M3 – No – N/A
  • Leica M2 – No – N/A
  • Leica M4 – No – N/A
  • Leica M5 – No – Battery only needed for light meter
  • Leica M4-2 – No – N/A
  • Leica M4-P – No – N/A
  • Leica M6 Classic – No – Battery only needed for light meter
  • Leica M6 TTL – No – Battery only needed for light meter
  • Leica M7 – Yes&No – Can use at 1/60 & 1/125 only without battery
  • Leica MP – No – Battery only needed for light meter
  • Leica M-A – No – N/A

Brass or zinc top plate/ base plate (brass dents / zinc cracks)

  • Leica M3 – Brass
  • Leica M2 – Brass
  • Leica M4 – Brass
  • Leica M5 – Brass
  • Leica M4-2 – Brass
  • Leica M4-P – Brass (earlier cameras) Zinc (later cameras)
  • Leica M6 Classic – Zinc
  • Leica M6 TTL – Zinc (Mostly)
  • Leica M7 – Brass
  • Leica MP – Brass
  • Leica M-A – Brass

Precision components (brass) or cheaper components (steel/plastics)

  • Leica M3 – Brass gears (Least cheap components)
  • Leica M2 –  Brass gears (Some cheap components)
  • Leica M4 –  Brass gears (More cheap components)
  • Leica M5 – Steel gears (More cheap components)
  • Leica M4-2 – Steel gears (Even more cheap components)
  • Leica M4-P – Steel gears (Even more cheap components)
  • Leica M6 Classic – Steel gears (Even more cheap components)
  • Leica M6 TTL – Steel gears (More cheap components)
  • Leica M7 – Steel gears (More cheap components)
  • Leica MP – Brass gears (Some cheap components)
  • Leica M-A – Brass gears (Least cheap components)

Hotshoe or coldshoe (for flash photography)

  • Leica M3 – Cold shoe (can still use a flash via sync cable)
  • Leica M2 – Cold shoe (can still use a flash via sync cable)
  • Leica M4 – Cold shoe (can still use a flash via sync cable)
  • Leica M5 – Hotshoe (can use common flash such as Nikon)
  • Leica M4-2 – Hotshoe (can use common flash such as Nikon)
  • Leica M4-P – Hotshoe (can use common flash such as Nikon)
  • Leica M6 Classic – Hotshoe (can use common flash such as Nikon)
  • Leica M6 TTL – Hotshoe & TTL flash with SF-20 unit
  • Leica M7 – Hotshoe (can use common flash such as Nikon)
  • Leica MP – Hotshoe (can use common flash such as Nikon)
  • Leica M-A – Hotshoe (can use common flash such as Nikon)

Built-in light meter

  • Leica M3 – No
  • Leica M2 – No
  • Leica M4 – No
  • Leica M5 – Yes
  • Leica M4-2 – No
  • Leica M4-P – No
  • Leica M6 Classic – Yes
  • Leica M6 TTL – Yes
  • Leica M7 – Yes
  • Leica MP – Yes
  • Leica M-A – No

Film rewind mechanism

  • Leica M3 – Rewind nob (slower)
  • Leica M2 – Rewind nob (slower)
  • Leica M4 – Rewind crank (faster)
  • Leica M5 – Rewind ratchet on base plate
  • Leica M4-2 – Rewind crank (faster)
  • Leica M4-P – Rewind crank (faster)
  • Leica M6 Classic – Rewind crank (faster)
  • Leica M6 TTL – Rewind crank (faster)
  • Leica M7 – Rewind crank (faster)
  • Leica MP – Rewind nob (slower)
  • Leica M-A – Rewind nob (slower)

Film loading separate take-up spool insert

  • Leica M3 – Yes (slower to load)
  • Leica M2 – Yes (slower to load)
  • Leica M4 – No (has quick loading film mechanism)
  • Leica M5 – No (has quick loading film mechanism)
  • Leica M4-2 – No (has quick loading film mechanism)
  • Leica M4-P – No (has quick loading film mechanism)
  • Leica M6 Classic – No (has quick loading film mechanism)
  • Leica M6 TTL – No (has quick loading film mechanism)
  • Leica M7 – No (has quick loading film mechanism)
  • Leica MP – No (has quick loading film mechanism)
  • Leica M-A – No (has quick loading film mechanism)

Viewfinder condenser / prism (risk of being unable to focus without it)

  • Leica M3 – Yes
  • Leica M2 – Yes
  • Leica M4 – Yes
  • Leica M5 – Yes
  • Leica M4-2 – No condenser removed – risk of flare/ ghosting/difficulties to focus
  • Leica M4-P – No condenser removed – risk of flare/ ghosting/difficulties to focus
  • Leica M6 Classic – No condenser removed – risk of flare/ ghosting/difficulties to focus
  • Leica M6 TTL – No condenser removed – risk of flare/ ghosting/difficulties to focus
  • Leica M7 – Yes
  • Leica MP – Yes
  • Leica M-A – Yes

Leica M6 by Olympus Pen-F

 Small Print

*Please note

  • The information is sourced from personal experience and a range of websites
  • There are many many Leica M camera variants/ specials that may not fit the above
  • Leica cameras continued to evolve so some traits may overlap from last/next model
  • Information is simplified and generalised but there is full detail on other websites
  • I own Leica M3s, M2, M4-P, M6 Classic and have not used other models
  • Non-factual comments such as ‘faster’,’slower’,’cheaper’ is a generalisation
  • This review does not include the M1 or MD models
  • External viewfinders are available if you want to use a lens wider than the frameline
  • Some camera lenses have close focus goggles such as the Leica Summicron 50mm DR
  • The Leica M3 can be used a 35mm lens using 35mm focusing goggles

**Mistakes

  • If I have omitted some obvious information or have classed a camera incorrectly (being for the majority of cameras produced for that model as I know there are lots of camera variants) please let me know and I can update it.

Leica M6!

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Mr Leica - in Action!

***Enjoyable

I hope you find this very simplified guide of some help.  I enjoyed researching the information and I now know how to distinguish the difference between my Leica M2 and Leica M3 at a glance from the front!  The Leica M3 has a plain frameline illumination window and the Leica M2 has a fresnel type illumination window (vertical stripes in the window next to the viewfinder window). 🙂

Matt

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Leica M4-P

Leica M4-P

Matthew Osborne Photography / Mr Leica
December 2016

12 months on since my last Leica camera purchase, the Leica M6 Classic, I found myself buying another Leica M film camera.  It was completely unplanned (as usual) and I happened to have a free hour researching cameras online.  I stumbled across to me what seemed a real bargain.  The often less regarded Leica M4-P.

Intro

The Leica M4-P is a 35mm rangefinder camera like all other analogue Leica M film cameras.  I bought a black chrome M4-P and it has a 0.72x viewfinder the same as my Leica M6.  The Leica M4-P was in production from 1980 until around 1986 and was based on the earlier Leica M4 camera and followed the Leica M4-2. leitz-m4-p-black2

Leica M4, Leica M4-2, Leica M4-P

To take a step back, the Leica M4 was released in 1966 and saw Leica introduce a few new camera features including; a film rewind crank to replace the vertical rewind knob of the M2 and M3 (will make rewinding film so much faster!), a new angled film advance lever and faster film loading by removing the need for the separate take up spool (as used in the Leica M2 and M3).

The Leica M4-2 was released in 1977 and was similar to a Leica M4 but with a hotshoe rather than a cold shoe (The Leica M2 and M3 also have cold shoes).  The later Leica M4-P variant was similar to the Leica M4-2 but also had 28mm and 75mm framelines added so it could be used with the newer Leica M lenses. Frameline pairs are 28/90, 35/135, 50/75 meaning you always see two framelines in the viewfinder.

As a Leica photographer and a strobist and someone using a Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f2.8 ASPH lens and Leica Summicron 75mm f2 APO lens three words above have already sold the camera to me – “hotshoe”, “28mm framelines” “75mm framelines”. (OK it was 5 words sorry!)  More details below.

Leica M4-P is regarded as not the best Leica M camera

  • The M4-P saw the start of Leica using precision parts as part of a cost reduction program and it is said the M4 and later Ms are not as smooth as the earlier Leica M3 and Leica M2
  • The Leica M4-P has zinc top and base plates not the traditional brass plates
  • The Leica M4-P was built in Midland, Canada not Germany to save cost (with an exception to those cameras made in the last year of production when production was moved back to Wetzlar, Germany in 1986 before being replaced by the Leica M6)
  • The Leica M4-P has no lightmeter but is otherwise similar to a Leica M6 so why not just buy a M6
  • The Leica M4-P has a “cluttered” viewfinder with too many framelines (vs. the older Leica M3 and M2) but is the same viewfinder as the Leica M6
  • The Leica M4-P is said to suffer from flaring in the viewfinder (the same as the Leica M6)(I don’t remember experiencing many issues with my M6)
  • The Leica M4-P Leica red dot is positioned on the front right side of the camera rather than front centre to hide the adjustment screw

So why do I need another Leica!?

I guess I don’t really need another camera but I managed to construct a good argument for the purchase!  Here is a summary of the Leica M4-P vs. my other Leica M cameras.

Leica M4-P vs. Leica M3

The Leica M3 viewfinder does not have 28mm or 35mm framelines and does not have a hotshoe so I can’t use the M3 with flash triggers and off camera flash.  The M3 also has the slower to use film take up spool and rewind knob which are not ideal if working fast at a Leica wedding or on location with a model / client.

The Leica M3 is arguably better built and smoother to operate than the Leica M4-P.  The Leica M3 has THE best rangfinder viewfinder,  I think, if using 50mm lenses.

Both my Leica M3 single stroke and Leica M3 double stroke cameras currently need recalibrating to be able to use accurately with fast lenses like the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.

Leica M4-P vs. Leica M2

The Leica M2 viewfinder does not have 28mm framelines for accurate framing with the Leica Elmarit-M 28mm ASPH. (I have just used the entire M2 viewfinder field of view as 28mm to guesstimate to date).  The M2 like the M3 does not have a hotshoe so I can’t use it with flash triggers and off camera flash.  The M2 like the M3 also has the slower to use film take up spool and rewind knob which are not ideal if working quickly.

The Leica M2 is arguably better built and smoother to operate than the Leica M4-P.

Leica M4-P vs. Leica M6

The Leica M4-P is basically the same as my Leica M6 Classic, just without a built-in light meter.  The same viewfinder/ framelines, same zinc top plate and base plate, the same film rewind knob and film loading .

My Leica M6 currently jams at around 25 exposures so I bulk load my own film so not to waste the last 10 or so shots on a standard 36 exposure roll of film.  It can be repaired but other than that the M6 is a great camera and I use the M6 perhaps the most of my analogue film M cameras because of the hotshoe.  The faster to operate film rewind crank is also a great help.

Leica M4-P vs. Leica M8 / Leica M9 / Leica M240

For completeness, the Leica M4-P is better than my Leica M8, Leica M240 and the Leica M9 I replaced as the M4-P is analogue! I probably don’t need to say any more other than to use the hashtags #believeinfilm, #filmisthefuture ! 🙂

Summary

So to conclude, when I saw a used Leica M4-P camera (on sale at a reputable online store in the UK) at almost half the price of my Leica M6 Classic and half the price of my new Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f2.8 ASPH lens (*Blog post to follow) and that I can use with flash and hopefully shoot an entire 36 exposure roll of film in I jumped at the chance!

I buy Leica cameras to use rather than to polish so to get a slightly more used Leica camera at a discounted price is far better for me than a mint boxed camera at full price.  I am also not a Leica puriest as for one I use flash photography a lot but also I don’t mind too much where a camera was made or if the top plate is made of zinc or brass.

Leica M4-P, welcome to family! 🙂

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