Loved to be hated almost as much as the M5, the Leica M4-2 might still be considered the redheaded stepchild of Leica. It was a departure from the “perfect” design and operation of the M3 *cough, cough… stupid take up spool.
I don’t have the experience with Leica that many others do, but I do have some pretty killer friends that leant me a few different setups. The first Leica I tried was an M2 with the Voigtlander Nokton f/1.5. I used it for a couple shoots, and really liked the feel of the camera. I had only used a handful of rangefinders prior to this. I didn’t however, enjoy that stupid little take-up spool. I could see trying to swap film out in a hurry for certain things and having that little spool fuck-off down the sidewalk or table as it slips out of my hands. That being said, I loved the experience, but at the time I just couldn’t justify the costs.
I went back to just shooting my RZ and my Nikon F. I loved the look of the F and had wanted one forever. The only real problem was that I didn’t actually enjoy shooting it… Enter my second Leica experience. This time it was a sweet M3 double stroke and 50mm 3.5 collapsible lens. I had this camera for probably 2 weeks. I brought it everywhere. Shot rolls all over the place. This camera was a total joy to shoot. Of course, having never shot with a collapsible lens before, I sure as shit had 3-4 frames from my first roll where I didn’t extend the lens. But hey, everyone loves a blurry toned vignette frame, right? I gave that body back to my buddy and went on the hunt.
My problem was that I wasn’t willing to spend the $$$$ that an M3DS in good working order goes for in Canada. Piles of garbage that needed work were still selling for $1200+. I let the dream slide for a while and went about shooting with my other setups. I chatted with some Leica enthusiast friends and came to the realization that there were a couple models I could afford and they just happened to be Canadian! So, I spent the next month or so looking on various sites for a mint Leica M4-2, until I found the one that ultimately became my everyday carry.
The Leica M4-2 was made in Midland, Ontario, Canada between 1978-1980. People seem to love hating on this Canadian Leica… I actually love it. I bought it because it was affordable and Canadian. I even hunted for a mint body that was manufactured in 1979, so I could shoot with a camera manufactured in the same year I was born. Being a Canadian, it was pretty rad to have a Leica made on home ice.
All-in-all, it is a just a bare bones M4. Absent from the top plate was that wonderful Leica script engraving. Replaced by a much larger “Leitz” stamp. Vulcanite grip/wrap? Hell no… plastic. Black enamel? Nope, black chrome. There was a really ostentatious all gold Oskar Barnack anniversary edition of the Leica M4-2, but that was as fancy as it got. Even these limited edition gold bodies with a lens can be had for a little more than just an M6 TTL body. Leica didn’t even issue any black paint versions for the Leica M4-2.
People complained that with the change of the internal mechanisms materials, the Leica M4-2 was inferior, right out of the gate. All this meant was that the almost unlimited finite adjustments and tolerances of the M3/M2 couldn’t be made within the Leica M4-2 mechanisms. They were designed to be replaced upon failure. Not maintained. Leitz had said that the new material in the cameras would allow for them to stay accurate for longer periods of time, requiring less CLA appointments that the M4-2’s predecessors.
Leitz tried a new rangefinder system in the Leica M4-2 as well. I had heard complaints of the flare and ghosting in this type of setup, but not from anyone I knew personally. The camera didn’t seem to flare for me… until I got into some heavier backlight bright situations. I can’t actually see the rangefinder well enough in that situation to focus AT ALL… I was pretty frustrated the first time this happened in the field. I can honestly say I’ve definitely missed shots because of that fucking flare.
This is where I planned on inserting a shot of that flare… but for the life of me, I couldn’t get it to flare when I was shooting the details for this post… but trust me, it does happen, and it does suck.
The Leica M4-2 has 35/50/90/135 frame lines, so wider lenses need an external viewer. This drives me nuts, as I shoot a lot with strobes and would kill to be able to mount a 28mm and the trigger at the same time. Luckily, you can have the M4-P/M6 frame lines swapped into the M4-2 if it matters that much. (Once I need a real CLA, I’ll consider this option). Although, if you’re gonna go deep into the pocket book modifying an M4-2, you might as well get an M6. I’d modify mine, because the manufacturing and age of the camera mean something to me.
It also doesn’t have a self timer switch on it… another way for Leitz to cut manufacturing costs on this body. Funny enough, with all these “shortcomings” some could argue that this is the body that actually helped SAVE Leica. (We can open that can of worms down the road).
Now for a little more personal angle on the review… The Leica M4-2 is a joy to shoot. I prefer the tulip style “quick load” spool over the M3/M2, but it’s not without its faults. Of all the rolls I’ve put through the camera, I’ve only had trouble a couple times. Once right at the start of the process. This was just frustrating and not devastating like the second time… This time, I had shot almost half the roll and hadn’t noticed that the winder wasn’t spinning, which meant my film wasn’t advancing. SHIT. I was 15 frames in and was sure I had some gems on that roll. Maybe that little removable spool of the M3/M2 wasn’t the devil after all?
I utilize a lot of strobe in my work… so, this system may not have been the best choice, but it is fun to shoot everyday. I can deal with the slower shutter speeds, just to have that brass brick in my hands. I’ve shot more 35mm film since owning the Leica M4-2 than I have in the previous 5 years. It may not be an epic M3 or minty fresh M6 TTL, but all in all, if you’re looking for a price-point full size Leica M body to wet your beak… The Leica M4-2 may just be for you.