5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Leica M4-2 and Zeiss ZM 50mm f2 Planar – By Thomas Inman

January 24, 2019

I got into film photography in 2017 starting with a square format TLR before picking up an Olympus 35 RC which became my daily carry. I love the tiny RC and the relative quality you can get out of the Zuiko lens, the 42mm focal length also really seems to suit my perspective when shooting street. I wanted something a bit more special though and something that could be adapted to different uses as I like shooting portraits of family and friends, and the occasional landscape too.

With the imminent arrival of my first born I managed to convince myself that a Leica was the right choice for two reasons. Firstly I wanted a camera that would (hopefully) last a lifetime. Something that would be with me through the years that I could document my family with. Secondly I wasn’t sure when was I going to be able to justify dropping that amount of money on a camera again. So I’d better get it now! Makes sense right?

The amount of information you can pull off the internet is sometimes a curse and I found myself paralysed by trying to make the “perfect” choice. I had ebay pages and blog posts open for weeks at a time trying to decide exactly what I wanted. After much deliberation I picked up a Leica M4-2 and Zeiss ZM 50mm f2 Planar from the lovely people at West Yorkshire Cameras.

I struggled to get to grips with the 50mm at first for my usual wider street shots and was a little bit disappointed my compositions on the first few rolls I had developed. The technical results were brilliant though and I was really happy with the portraits and more intimate vignettes I had shot. The shots here are all from a holiday to Malta I took a few months after picking up the M4-2, on my favourite stock Kodak Porta 400.

Fishmonger on a rainy morning in Sliema

A splash of light in the alleyways of Mdina

Auberge de Castille in Valletta

A crowd disembarks the ferry arriving to Valletta from Sliema

Abandoned water polo pool in Valletta

I hope you enjoy these images. I post my film photography on Instagram as onehp if you’d like to see some more.

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  • Reply
    January 24, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    love the Leica. i always struggled with the light in Malta given its so bright especially in places like Medina with alleys and courtyards and then really brights sunlight. how did you approach that? lovely shots btw.

    • Reply
      Thomas Inman
      January 24, 2019 at 5:29 pm

      Hi Martin, I think for the Mdina shot because there’s no sky the dynamic range isn’t too bad. I’m usually metering for the shadows and overexposing a stop with colour film, and Portra has such good latitude that the highlights are easily recoverable. I also apply quite a flat profile in Lightroom on my scans which probably plays into the image looking more balanced. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    January 24, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    Congratulations on the birth of your child! You’ll never lack for a subject or ideas. A good post. the M4-2 & M4-P are underrated but the camera buying public is catching on. I got a beautiful M4-P from Ken Hansen in NYC and it’s a joy to use. I also have the Planar, and I’m quite pleased with the results I get from it.
    My favorite pic of your series is the window washer & the canon. Give me a good juxtaposition, a bagel & strong coffee any day. I’m a happy guy.
    Continued good luck with your camera.

  • Reply
    January 24, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks Tom, love your choice of travel pics. Oh, and thanks for the wasted 1/2 hour browsing West Yorkshire Camera website.

  • Reply
    January 24, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    Great combo. The M4-2 would be my choice over the M4-P. The M4-2 has the same frame line coverage as the earlier M’s compared to the later film M’s where the frame lines are pushed in a bit more to make room for the 28mm frame lines. The M4-2 is also less prone to RF patch flare. In the M4-P and M6 Leica removed an element that caused RF patch flare under some circumstances.

    • Reply
      Thomas Inman
      January 24, 2019 at 5:40 pm

      That was one of the things I read about when I was picking between the two Jim and I figured as I wasn’t keen on anything wider than 35mm that the M4-2 was a better choice.

  • Reply
    January 24, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Zeiss and Portra, what a great combination. Your photos lokk beautiful, and sharp as if they were digital.

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    January 24, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    While I like the way you went about your process of choosing this camera and lens, I find the images underwhelming. They are just snapshots which may as well have been from a phone. None of them show the way a Planar renders colour and contrast. Sorry to tell you this as I’m a Manc too!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      January 24, 2019 at 8:14 pm

      Does a photo need to show how a lens renders?

    • Reply
      Thomas Inman
      January 24, 2019 at 8:55 pm

      The low colour and contrast is probably more down to my digital workflow after scanning, I’m more of a fan of a muted pallet and flatter image so I tend to drop the contrast and highlights down. I did shoot some slide film on the same trip which I don’t flatten quite as much, here’s an example https://www.instagram.com/p/Br_BpewBGbu/ .

  • Reply
    Ashley Carr
    January 24, 2019 at 8:16 pm

    Great review and congrats on both your new arrivals, the baby and the Leica!

    I’ve had an Olympus RC, RD and SP all great cameras all attached to great lenses. Personally I’m not a fan of the Zeiss Planar despite owning and loving the Zeiss Biogon 35/2. The Planar has tons of barrel distortion, something I’ve never understood given the quality of other Zeiss ZM lenses. The 42mm Zuiko on the RC certainly betters the Zeiss in that regard (as does practically every other 50!).

    Just enjoying your Instagram feed now..too stuff!!

    • Reply
      Thomas Inman
      January 24, 2019 at 9:04 pm

      Thanks Ashley. The SP is definitely on my list of cameras to own at some point as I hear it’s an improvement on the RC and only a little bigger. I’ve not really noticed the barrel distortion to much, but looking again at the polo pool image I guess you can see it there. I’ve picked up the 35mm Biogon too recently and enjoying that so far with the limited rolls I’ve put through, much more similar to the RC I’m finding in how I can envision the frame before I raise the camera.

  • Reply
    Ashley Carr
    January 24, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    The SP has a very special lens. Whenever I look back through my negs/co tact sheets over the years the ones from the SP stand out every time, they just have a very special look.

    I have thought of picking up another SP. It is quite a bit larger than tbe RC and, if memeory serves, it’s bigger than the M2 I shoot now. The reason I haven’t picked up another is because I’m so happy with my M2 now with its 35/50/90 lenses.

    Now if somebody lifter that lovely G Zuiko off an SP and popped it into an M mount I’d be all over it for sure!

  • Reply
    January 24, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    Nice review Thomas, and congrats on your newborn – best thing on earth! (As I always tell people, it’s like having a puppy that eventually starts talking). I think your photos convey a real feel of the places you visited, which is what travel photography is All about – we’re hobbyists, not fine art photographers, and we’re here to encourage each other. Onwards and upwards.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2019 at 11:31 am

    Interesting review. I have only owned one Leica, an M6 with a 35mm Summicron, which I returned within a week. Frankly, I have never understood the fsscination with the brand. If I had the $2K to spend on a 35mm today, I’d choose an Olympus SP or RC every time.
    Lest ye take me for a troll….please enlighten me as to why it is worth so much money. Still don’ t get it.

    • Reply
      Thomas Inman
      January 25, 2019 at 9:53 pm

      There’s a couple of things which when compared to the RC make it (just about) worth the premium for me. Ability to change lens was one. The combination of the longer rangefinder base length and the incredible viewfinder is the other. I figured I’m going to be doing lots more family portraits and candids so being able to hit the focus, especially with the lens wide open, would be worth it to me. It’s still objectively more expensive than it should be for those features but the great thing is that, at least right now, enough people place value on the Leica brand that it would be easy to sell it on for what I bought it.

  • Reply
    Robert C
    January 26, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    I shoot with the same camera and lens. I also use the 35mm 2.5 Voigtländer color skopar with this camera. the zeiss lens is great though sharpest lens I have used on film. just had my m4-2 cla too its a real gem.

  • Reply
    Graham Line
    June 11, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    Read about the finder flare issue back before I bought my M4-P (after years with an M2) and have to say I’ve never experienced any such problem.
    My lenses are f2 or slower and I don’t shoot toward the sun very often. I bought the M4-P to get the 28mm frame lines — plus someone was begging me to pay a stupid amount for the M2. A trusted dealer had just gotten in a pair of M4-Ps and i picked the smoother of the two.

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