Couple of years ago, I was still a digital shooter. The idea of getting back to film photography crawled to my mind in the spring of 2016 after stumbling upon my old Canon AE-1 along with my old negatives. It didn’t take me very long before I started to think about getting into film Leicas too. Late last year I acquired a Leica M4-2 and after getting to know it, I thought I’d share my thoughts about it.
For me Leica represents sophistication, intelligence and heritage.
Leicas have a strong mythos that has came about for a very good reason. Leicas are not for everyone. They may seem almost like a secret society, that select’s it’s members carefully. Leicas are generally horrendously expensive, which primarily excludes it’s members, but in addition to that, you have to understand Leicas. For me Leica represents sophistication, intelligence and heritage. It is of course just a camera, but it stands for completely different things compared to any other camera.
The “affordable” Leica
Leica M4-2 isn’t a collector’s item as such. It is basically a simplified version of the popular M4 with some less expensive materials from the era when Leica needed to cut production costs. For example the leatherette is plastic, not vulcanite and some of the gears are made out of different metals. There is a bunch of small differences compared to a normal M4, which are pretty irrelevant to someone who’s getting one purely for shooting.
Why did I choose the M4-2?
Out of all vintage M-models, I found M4-2 (and M4-P) to be the most suitable for my taste. They seemed to be the most simple models out there with relatively good availability. I didn’t want a light meter. I enjoy intuitive metering very much and I already have plenty of cameras that have meters and other gizmos. In other words, something like an M6 (or anything newer) did seem like my cup of tea. M6 is also not quite vintage enough for me and the prices are very high. I like the M3 as well, but it has that slow film loading system that quite doesn’t appeal to me. Also the body design of M4 is much more refined. I was delighted to discover that M4-2 doesn’t even have a self timer. The lever is just in the way and I never use one. I just wanted a well built, fully mechanical camera that would be as simple as possible.
A superb camera!
Leica M4-2 is a superb camera. I’m currently shooting it with Leica Summaron 35mm f2.8 lens that renders beautiful images. I’ve even switched to finer grain films to be able to get more out of the rendering.
Shooting with a Leica has been as joyful as I’ve always imagined. I’ve had few rangefinders before, but they just weren’t the same. I’ve had two Canonets, but even the beloved QL17 GIII isn’t anything near a Leica experience, even though they are described as the poor man Leicas. I really don’t see that as a fair comparison. Some say Leicas are over-engineered, but I think they’re just right. I kinda wish more cameras would be as well-built, because it seems like a no-brainer, that a camera should be made this precisely. The mechanics are such a joy. Everything from the film advance to shutter sound are very satisfying. Almost perfect.
If you ask me, compared to some other rangefinders, the most notable difference isn’t even the build quality and performance. It is about the history, heritage and sophistication. Leicas are not just some cameras — they feel soulful. I wouldn’t recommend a Leica necessarily to everybody. For example, I can’t imagine most people getting along with the rangefinder focusing or the fact that you cannot have zoom lenses. Leicas are not allrounders, but rather exclusive, niche cameras for someone who values the Leica philosophy and values.