Leica M4-2

Leica M4-2 Review – Leica’s Redheaded Stepchild – by Ryan HK

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.

Leica M4-2

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.

Leica M4-2

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.

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.

Leica M4-2

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).

Leica M4-2

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.



Instagram: @ryanhk_

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38 thoughts on “Leica M4-2 Review – Leica’s Redheaded Stepchild – by Ryan HK”

  1. The M4-2 is no longer the ‘redheaded stepchild’ as prices have gone way up recently. That mantle now rests with the M5 but people are slowly catching on that the M5 is actually a really good camera.

    I’m in the minority in that I actually prefer the removable spool in my M2 than the quick load in the models that came after. Never once in my years of using the M2 have I ever had to rapidly change rolls quicker than what the take up spool allows, but I’m not a street photographer (I’m in the minority there too). I also like the security of the take up spool, when the film leader is in, you know its in and theres no need to waste frames winding unnecessarily to make certain the film has taken up. Just insert the leader, pop on the baseplate, 1 shot and wind, Done!

    With the 0.72 viewfinder you can use the whole of the viewfinder window to approximately frame for a 28mm lens, this is where the 28mm frame lines on later 0.72 cameras reside anyway. It won’t be as accurate (if a rangefinder framing can ever be truly accurate) as a dedicated viewfinder like Hamish is working on but it does the trick.

    1. It’s actually insane on how much they’ve gone up in even the last 6 months. I’ve never really shot street stuff, but for me when I’m on location or shooting an environmental portrait session, I found that I fumbled a bit with the spool, but I’m sure that just comes down to using it a little more. I haven’t tried to just use the whole window yet, but maybe I’ll give it a shot and see how “accurate” it is. I’m currently hunting for an M4-P or M6 so that I can just have a dedicated 28mm body for environmental portrait work.

    2. I agree regarding the M2 spool and 28mm’s. I’ve never had a roll of film slip on take up when I’m shooting my M2 – it’s slow but when it’s in you know it’s secure. Besides, If I wanted fast I wouldn’t be shooting a 54 year old mechanical rangefinder 🙂

      My most used lens is a VM 28mm Ultron, and I find it easy to reliably frame using the entire VF window. I actually have a Voigtlander 28mm brightline finder and never use it because the focal length works so well with the M2’s built in finder.

      Not sure if I agree with the M5 taking over the mantle… Maybe a few years ago, but nowadays I’m only reading good things about them, and when they come up for sale (which doesn’t seem to happen often) they are consistently going for more than a clean M3.

      1. I’m never in a rush reloading… until I am. 🙂 But, ya, I’m sure i’d get used to the take up spool after putting more than a few rolls through one. Interesting about the M5 pricing. Here, they’re still well below $1000CAD and M3s in super beat condition are usually $1200+CAD. I’d actually consider grabbing an M5 now while they’re cheap and just shoot it as a spare body. Especially if the 28mm lines up with the whole viewfinder window.

  2. Interesting overview. That flaring r/f spot must be a pain. In passing, you’re in debt to the swear box to the tune of C$4.????

    1. Funny enough I never had the issue until I was on a trip and using the camera… Then Bam! Couldn’t see anything, let alone the focusing. Laughed pretty hard when I was in an almost identical situation shooting the photos for this post and I couldn’t get the rangefinder to flare.

  3. The frame lines in the M4-2 are more accurate than those in later M’s, where they “shrank” the frame lines to fit in the 28mm frames. Not until the M8 and the digital M’s after the M9/ME did Leica go back to the frame lines optimized for 2m like in the older M’s.

  4. I’m sure that somewhere, at some point in time, collapsible lenses on a Leica made sense, but that time had surely passed by the time the M cameras arrived.
    Mine is a -P, not a -2, but they are pretty close cousins. Mine replaced an M2 at a time when that particular collector market was really hot — sold the collapsible lens with it and avoided both the CLA and the downtime that would have caused.
    The Canadian M models are very solid, well-finished, and work day in and day out. The M4-P does have the 28mm framelines. I don’t notice flaring in the viewfinder.
    Can’t shoot with cameras made in my birth year because I don’t want to coat my own plates.

    1. I’m currently hunting for an M4-P… Just for the 28mm framelines and having a second body on-location. I can’t believe how much they’ve jumped in price now. For a couple hundred dollars more, you’re into M6 territory.
      Isn’t coating your own plates all the rage these days anyway??? 🙂

    2. I think what people forget about collapsible lenses is that you *can* collapse them, you don’t *have* to collapse them…

      My 5cm Summicron Collapsible is always extended unless it’s going into the bag for a while and I need it small.

      1. Ya, I only collapsed it to slide it back into the bag (small slot). I had forgot those couple times to extend it before firing, right after pulling it from the bag.

    3. I suppose in the early years collapsible lenses certainly made sense, especially if you take into account that the ERC was far more popular than it is today. The compact size and space saving wasn’t that significant until the combo was placed in the case, the saving in overall volume then becomes quite apparent. I suspect that collapsible lenses were also less expensive to make.
      Most of Leitz’s early 50mm models, especially the Elmars, were collapsible versions only, even versions in M bayonet mount. They also offered the f2/50 Summicron in collapsible and bayonet mount. And then there is an f4/90mm collapsible Elmar, too.
      Interestingly, if one compares period Contax r/f lenses, there are rigid and collapsible versions of the f3.5/50 Tessar, with the rigid one being quite rare, but only a collapsible version of the f2 Sonnar, and a rigid version only of the f1.5/50.
      So it seems there must have been merit in having collapsible versions.

  5. The M4-2 which languished in Leo’s Camera stock for well over a decade after being discontinued was my first NEW Leica. The camera is now well travelled and well used and performing perfectly. The complaints at the time of issue were the fact that the gears were steel, not brass, as they had to be to withstand the winder…the film counter disk was printed, not engraved. I, too, am astounded how ALL Leica M bodies have leapt in price in the past few months, perhaps it is the fact that 7 Artisans , CV and others are making affordable, modern lens options that one can afford and that deliver stunning results. There were only 16-17,000 M4-2 cameras made, I am shocked that the collectors have not gobbled them all, particularly with the myriad of engravings (Canada Made in Canada, Wetzlar Canada etc) By the way the guy in New Hamshire making new glass plates does an awesome job AND THE M4-2 DID KEEP LEICA ALIVE! Mark in PDX

    1. Well, this is almost new… it never had a roll of film put through it before I got my hands on it. So, that to me was pretty awesome. The affordable glass is probably one contributing factor along with the resurgence of film in all aspects of social media. I’m hoping to get an M4-P so that I can have dual Canadian bodies on set… To me, that would be pretty rad.

      1. Hey Ryan I have a Canadian m4-p that I’m looking to sell. I shoot mostly 50mm now (Same VC lens as you in fact!) and the 28 framelines is too wide for me to be accurate in focusing. Shoot me an email vnmunhoz @ Gmail I live in Montreal.

  6. I own both an m4-2 and a m3. I have to say the m3 is made better. I also have mis loaded my m4-2 before.. nothing infuriates me more than the quick load system. its only virtue in my opinion is that it has no removable parts. this being said I have had my m3 for 6 years and have never lost the take up spool or miss loaded it. I have heard and read that the m4-2 is made better than the m6. I have to admit I feel like its true. I have heard issues with the m6 plastic gear for the frame counter. My m4-2 just got back from a cla from yye camera and it works flawlessly. I had fog in the view finder and now its all gone and feels like a nice new camera. I usually keep my voigtlander 35mm f2.5 on it and it feels super compact. I will probably swap the film advance lever for an older style one in the future as well. the camera really does not get the recognition it deserves though.

    1. Mine is headed out on Monday for a CLA… I’m gonna miss it! But, I can’t wait for it to come back good as new. I miss having the slower shutter speeds these days.

  7. By the way, if you want to create a make it yourself truly rare Leica M4-2, the red Leitz dot from the plastic base plate protector of a R 4/5/6/RE etc is a fine stand in for the one that was on the first few M4-2 (Like the one on the M4-P) The serial numbers will give your attempt to create a fake collectible but…why not

  8. Hi Ryan,
    Nice review on the M4-2. Jill Krementz shot many of the portraits in her book “The Writer’s Image” using a Leica M4-2. I received a small, unexpected inheritance last year – enough to get a Leica M4-2. I contacted Ken Hansen in NYC. He had an M4-P that I got instead. Very happy w/the M4-P. They are also getting $$$.
    My M4-P suffered an odd incident. My wife & I flew to Ireland last October. We landed in Dublin in time for breakfast. I finally had a chance to pull out my camera. A huge hunk of vulcanite fell off the camera in my hand. I had a mini-roll of gorilla tape and I taped over the bare metal. There was no indication that the covering was loose before we left Boston. I can only make an uneducated guess that the high-frequency vibrations from the A/C loosened up the covering. I had a new, black leather cover installed (removing the red dot) when we returned. Problem solved
    The odd, oversize “Leica” logo on the top of the camera is a throwback to LTM cameras.
    I’ve got an M2 with the pop-out spool. I got a tip from a retired press photographer: get a couple of extra take-up spools and attach your film to them. Switching to a fresh roll is fast & fool proof. When you’ve run through a couple of rolls, you’re ready to reload. At that point, you stop for a coffee or a Negroni, jot your notes and plan the rest of the day.

    1. Cheers Daniel!
      The extra take up spools idea is solid. Really would let you just bomb through the reload on-location. Funny enough, I would have never thought to do that.

    2. Daniel, those pressmen get around. A couple of months ago I commented in someone else’s Leica post with this very same pressmen’s tip. ????

      1. few month ago I sold my M4-2 and bough an M-A. I keep it three month, as it is a juwel but not a tank like the m4-2.
        honestly I like the recess window and the leitz engraved. ( or molded). So I sold the M-A and found an other M4-2 , a IIIF and a beautiful hasselblad 500c.
        you can use the M4-2 , hardly , it feel like more it get used and get marks, more you are attached to it.
        this is for me the best Leica M

  9. Great photos Ryanhk, especially the browny box photographer. Nice to read a M4-2 review without the usual apologies and tape over the badges. I’ve had one for 30 years now along with a couple ELC lenses and that all Canadian kit has served me very well. After a recent CLA, a famous Leica doctor even begrudgingly admitted the “bad rap” was rather unfair. My M4-2 has
    “Leitz Wetzlar” on the top plate and “Made in Canada” beside the hot shoe with nothing on the back. These early cameras share the viewfinder of the M4 with condenser. The change came midway through production and continued through the M6s. So not all M4-2s flare.
    In my experience, the rapid load works best when fussed with least. Just follow the instructions in the old manuals. Hold the camera with the back plate closed, gently lower the film with the leader in the tulip into the camera and let the base plate seat the film. Don’t open the back plate and fiddle around. Cock the shutter and release. Gently wind the film back to resistance. Cock again while watching the rewind for a half turn. The base plate will have put the film in the correct place on the sprockets. It’s meant to be quick and easy and you’ll get an extra frame to boot.
    PS I followed the link to your website and look forward to reading your blog. Winter in Calgary takes a brave soul. Hope for a Shinook.

    1. Cheers Greg! Oh, I’ll never apologize for shooting on an M4-2 or through the Voigtlander lenses. 🙂 I love that combo. I even have the original manual for it… a friend gifted me the manual he had in his collection.
      I fled Calgary for the winter. Spending most of my time on Vancouver Island (even though last week we got close to 2.5ft of snow there). I only really commute back to Calgary when I’m shooting for clients. It’s been -25 to -40c both times I’ve flown back in the last month… I’m going to try and avoid coming back until closer to April now! haha.

    2. Greg. Many thanks for the tip regarding loading the ‘2 ‘P and MD-2. Next time I reload my Canada trio I’ll follow this. Interesting that your markings are different: my pair of ‘P bodies have Made in Canada on the back while the MD-2 simply says Canada, just like the one pictured by Ryan, above. Cheers. DM.

  10. I also have an M4-2. It was my very first leica body and I chose this body over other body because it managed to reunite what I was looking for: Frame lines for at least 35 and 50, a hot shoe ( yes I do use flash on my leica, no shame), internal (and automatic) frame counter and an affordable price. The M4-2 has all those qualities.
    Bonus: mine is a 78’ made model, I can say the same of me.
    Most of it are black chrome, with no red dot leica on the front. So it was made stealth from the beginning.
    I bought mine from a journalist that used it in Africa and other places around the world. So it shows signs of heavy wear, but nevertheless it is still working properly. Despite of its age, its usage, the comments about being a cost effective leica, it a very good and reliable camera!
    Like Robert C, I use it with a Voigtlander 35mm f2.5. It is a very compact set up that perform very well. Because mine was a heavily used camera, I am not coveting it like a piece of art. It is my go around camera. Now it enjoy a simpler life of holiday trip and family reunion.
    Don’t tell everyone it’s a good camera, it keeps the price low.

  11. I have an M4-2 like you, first batch….one of the best M without doubt with the MA. And I had 14 M….yes 14!
    All this story relayed by rumors with no ground are false.
    The first batch has the condenser and don’t flare. It is in fact the best M viewfinder with the MA ( the MP is less bright).
    The top plate leitz is super nice. Full brass. The mechanism is far more stronger than the M2/M3
    The black chrome is the stronger of all the M….it is chrome then blacked.
    Let say : the M2 is pain to load and not exist in black chrome. No automatic counter….The M4 is too expensive. The M6 IS IN ZINC….the M6j has the worst viewfinder…
    Even the MA has not the recess window wich is better…so
    The M4-2 is the pinnacle of the M serie.
    And beleive me price will go up when people will realized it…
    Made in Canada,?
    Some M4 too and believe me most of the actual M and M6/7 are and were made in portugal…
    It does not matter.

    1. Francois,

      I completely agree about the m4-2 going up in price. it already has since I bought mine (for 600 but needed a cla due to the finder being foggy) one thing people always forget about the m4-2 is it was the first m to come standard with the option to add a motor winder or leicavit. I recently bought a leicavit for mine. they also did not make very many of the m4-2 compaired to other leica m cameras. I believe aprox 2000 each year for eight years. compared to the m6 not that many. least thats what the serial number batch numbers tell me.

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  13. In the 70’s I mostly did my rangefinder shooting with M4’s, after various ltm and M2 and M3’s in the 60’s. When the M5 came out I sold one M4, but after a year regretted that and got an M4-2 when that came out. I got one of the very first ones that came to Vancouver, and immediately had problems. It went in for adjustments a number of times (we had a local Leica service centre at the time) and then, while on a hike, a strap eyelet came out as it hadn’t been installed well, sending the camera with an also new 35 Summicron crashing downhill to their demise. Leica took the camera and lens back, replaced the lens and I found a decent used M4 which I used for many years. No more M4’s for me. BTW, the M4-2 is not brass; it’s a zinc alloy. That was one of the cost savings, and the reason it was black chrome (the first M to have that). Black chrome doesn’t work well on brass and black paint is not so good on zinc.

    With regard to the frame lines: until the 28 Elmarit came out and became popular, 28 frame lines weren’t a big requirement, but it took Leica a couple of camera models to incorporate the lines in the viewfinder of the M4-P. Frame lines did not become ‘less accurate’ or ‘more accurate’; they changed size depending on priority and lens usage. Frame lines were adjusted so that the frames never showed less than the lens delivered. That meant that the frames in early cameras were adjusted for a 1m minimum focussing distance for lenses from 35mm to 90mm and 1.5m for 135mm lenses. When the M4-P came out and the 75 Summilux was introduced, the frame lines were adjusted so that for lenses from 28-50mm they were correct for 0.7m, for the 75 for 0.8m, for 90mm still for 1m and 1.5m for 135mm lenses. So for ‘normal distances’, ie, 5m or infinity, the frames now showed significantly less than before for the shorter lenses. They were just as accurate, just for a different distance. Only in the last 10 years or so has this been changed again, so that frame lines are adjusted for 2m, showing a larger field of view for any given lens than at any time before. Now, of course, you have to make some adjustments when shooting at minimum focussing distance as the frame lines will show more than you will get, potentially cutting off some of your subject.

    If you run out of accessory shoes, there are a couple of options, but they’re out of production. There are three different double shoe adapters that Cosina made, of various heights. They’re not hot shoes. They were intended to be used with things like their 12mm and 15mm finders at the same time as their bubble level. Works very well. Yashica made a double hot shoe, but it’s fairly rare. I have one that also has a couple of extra contacts for their dedicated flashes.

  14. Sorry; I meant to say that ‘frame lines were set so that they never showed MORE than the lens delivered’.

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  16. Nice review with a lot of useful information for helping me find a film today tp go with my M240. BTW, the camera strap looks like a Gordy’s camera strap but wider. What kind is it and where could I buy one? Thanks.

    1. Thanks David… I actually made the strap. I make my own neck and wrist straps, which are pretty similar to Gordy’s, but with a different type of leather and binding method for the ends.

  17. Christopher A. Junker

    I’ve owned Leica since receiving a IIIg for my 21st birthday. In the 50+ years since, my M4-2 continues to be my “go to” camera for a unique reason. I am left eyed and for a while the Leica motored M4-2 was great as i didn’t have to take my eye off the viewfinder window to advance film. Then I started using a baseplate Rapidwinder which is both smaller and lighter. that turned the M4-2 into the perfect left eye camera except for the flaring viewfinder. Now it is going in for a CLA and installation of the upgraded viewfnder/rangefinder. It’s a great camera.

  18. Bob Beamesderfer

    I’ve owned two M4-2s, and while it was certainly different from my M2 in the mechanical feel, from a shooting standpoint the differences are nil. Modern 35mm factory loads can be tricky with the M4 tulip take-up spool, but a leader template can extend the current factory roll leaders to the needed length.

    I miss my M2 in particular because back in the early ‘70s, Leica made a neat little kit with a slotted spool that didn’t need to be removed and a plastic bit that attached to the baseplate to ensure the film was pushed completely into place. This not quite the same as the M2-R, a limited edition model.

    The snooty M3 crowd will always look down their DR Summicron goggles at the M2 and M4-2, and probably the M4-P. I also owned an M4-P, which apart from the frame lines was pretty much the same camera.

    Some M2s came without a self-timer. The lack of one on the M4-2 and M4-P never bothered me nor made me think these were lesser models because of it.

    One final note, I’m guessing some people think Leitz sent the B Team engineers to Midland and Rockleigh to design, build and repair cameras. Sure, that makes complete sense.

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