Leica M4-2: First Impressions

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by mechs, Feb 10, 2021.

  1. Hi All,

    First post from a first-time Leica M owner. I just purchased a Leica M4-2 and decided to do a brief write-up about my first impressions of this beautiful camera.

    Digital action photog

    Though a hobbyist now, I have done professional concert and event work in the past. I shot some of my best photos using a Nikon D750 and Tamron 28-75 f2.8 combo, often in a dark and smoke-filled club, crawling around in a narrow photo pit and avoiding drunk crowd-surfers throwing beer cans on the stage. After three years of shooting metal and rock shows and festivals, which took me to a number of different cities and even as far as a few of countries, I decided to focus on my day job and took a long break from serious photography. In the meantime, I bought a Fujifilm X-E3 and a Fuji 23mm f2 and occasionally went out to shoot, nothing major or fancy.

    Turn towards film

    I then decided to sell my digital gear and focus on film. The machine gun approach that works in concert (and action) situations--I would routinely end up with 900-1200 frames a concert of 4-5 bands--didn't really work for me any more and I wanted to try something more challenging. I turned to film in hopes of bringing more thought and patience to my photography. I invested in a Nikon FE initially, then quickly added two Nikon FMs to my arsenal. My current Nikon FM is perhaps my favorite SLR of all time. I then added a Nikon 35mm f2 and started focusing on documentary-type work as a hobby. A couple of years passed by and my day job caught up with me again. Once again, photography took a back seat to whatever else was going on at the time. Until last week. Last week, I decided to celebrate my birthday with a nice toy, one that would hopefully inspire me to start shooting again and to potentially push my photography into new territory.

    In comes the Leica

    I had been wanting a Leica M rangefinder for a long time but never really seriously looked into buying one, until last week. I did a bunch of research, read a lot of reviews and user posts, and compared different models. I then decided that the M4-2 was the perfect machine for me. The all-black aesthetics and humble origins of this model kind of made me fall in love with it from the beginning. The history behind the M4-2 was also appealing to me and definitely played a factor in my decision to go for it. Luckily, I found one in excellent condition online and pulled the trigger. A few days later, a FedEx box arrived. Below I share my review of this camera and some of my thoughts.

    IMG_2436.jpg

    First impressions

    The camera immediately feels like a brick in my hands. It is sturdy and has excellent build quality, just what I expected from a Leica. The viewfinder is crystal clear and bright, the 35mm framelines are at the edge of the frame (I wear glasses) but work well enough for my eyes. The film advance lever has just the right amount of tension to it and is smooth. The shutter speed dial is firm and snappy, and the rewind crank is smooth. I was pleasantly surprised by the Leitz stamp as it has been stamped deeper than I thought it would be based on the reviews I had read. It is exactly like the Fujifilm stamp on my X-E3 (but of course much larger and more aesthetically pleasing). The shutter button is perhaps the smoothest and quietest I have ever had on any camera. It is simply a joy to use. In terms of overall quality, the M4-2 is the best camera I have ever held in my hand and I feel confident taking it everywhere and using it in any situation.

    Hands-on experience

    The camera is a joy to shoot with. I am using a Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar with it and have been very impressed with how smoothly this combo operates out in the wild. The rangefinder focusing mechanism, though new to me, is a ton of fun compared to the SLR/DSLR mechanisms I have used in the past. There is a lot more emphasis on precision and it all requires a little more work to get right. As a result, I find myself slowing down even more as I get a hang of it all. I am also still getting used to the longer minimum focusing distance afforded by a rangefinder camera but don't necessarily see this as a negative. I also really like the rapid film loading feature present in this and other M models. In some ways, I find it easier to load film this way than the classic SLR method.

    Limitations

    There are a couple of things about the camera I don't like. First, the vulcanized rubber, while nice and comfortable, does feel a little too much like my cheaper SLRs. This is something that has been mentioned many times over in the past and is due to the cost-cutting measures taken up by Leica during the production of the M4-2 and M4-P. There are a couple of small chips in the rubber in the bottom edges so I hope it will hold up long term. I am also not a huge fan of the frame counter with the plastic dome and wish it was real glass or made from a sturdier material.

    All in all, I am very happy with my purchase even though I could have paid less for a more banged-up copy of this model. Looking ahead, I am already considering buying an M6 TTL or M4 black along with a Summicron 50mm. Or I might decide to go with the Summicron and just keep shooting with the M4-2 for life. Decisions, decisions. I am currently shooting my first roll of film and hope all will turn out fine and that this machine won't need a service or repair anytime soon.
     
    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  2. SCL

    SCL

    Congratulations on your purchase...I used a M4 for 43 years, and it was my favorite of the Leica film models, although now I'm using an M2 and several screw mount bodies. Although lots of people like the M6, I found the viewfinder a bit too crowded. And then there is the current issue of electronics failures and Leica's lack of support or replacements. Think before jumping into this one. And have fun!
     
  3. I also use an M4-2 and it is my "go to" camera which I use for 35mm and 28mm lenses. As I shoot color, I do have and use the clip on shutter speed linked MR4 meter. As a left eyed shooter, I use the motor winder. The only issue I have with the camera is the viewfinder/rangefinder that tends to flare out when hit with angled sunlight. In low light it is a wonderful camera to use. I leave an Abrahamsson black Softie shutter release button screwed into the shutter release which allows me to shoot winter pictures without having to take off gloves. Often regarded as one of the "red haired triplets" along with the Leica M5 and Leica CL, one in good repair is often cheaper than the same vintage M4 series. Your lens choice is a good one. If you decide to shoot available light B/W, the 35mm Summicron f2 series do a wonderful job. I use an M3 for 50mm and 90mm work, others may wish to comment on how well they work on the M4-2. Good camera choice.
     
  4. I bought my M4 cameras new way back when with Summicron lens. Later bought a used M3. Best investments ever, I looked through an M6 viewfinder, finder just not as bright as M3 and M4. Also, I don't really like diods +o-. That is my only gripe with Plaubel Makina 67. Also. the diods tend to make one too fussy. My wife bought an M5, also an excellent camera. Perhaps the last camera built to Leitz standards.
     
  5. The M4-2 was my very first Leica M camera (I used a Leicaflex SL all the way through high school) purchased when I was about 22 years old, so it holds a bit of nostalgia for me. I've toyed with picking one up for many years since.

    BTW, the RF condenser, which helps prevent RF parch flair-out, was removed from the rangefinder about half-way into the M4-2 run; from that point forward Leica built rangefinders without it - until 2003 when the MP was introduced (on which Leica put it back in). If your M4-2's serial number is < 151xxxx it most likely does have it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2021
  6. Thanks, SCL. I'm also not too hot on the idea of an electronic model so we'll see. Investing in more quality glass is definitely a wiser move.

    I think the Summicron is probably the next purchase for me, either the 35 or 50.

    Bill, mine is 153XXXX, according to Wikipedia, that puts the production date sometime in 1980 and one of the last 4700 black M4-2s ever produced.
     
  7. How do you like it compared to your Nikon FE? Pros and cons?
     
  8. The M6 is hardly an "electronic" model. If the meter fails, the camera operates just like your M4-2. The M6 classic will likely be repairable longer than the newer M6TTL.
    Anyway, lenses before bodies is a good strategy.
     
  9. Welcome to photo.net.
    Asking for advice from someone who hasn't shot more than a roll of film in his new camera, is not going to give the best answer.
    I suggest you wait until their honeymoon is over.
    If you can't wait, you could start your own thread, and likely get a greater range of opinions.
    I own several FE's and a range of Leica M cameras and wouldn't mind responding to your thread if you could make your question a little more specific to your interests.
     
  10. Thanks for the answer. I was just hoping for a quick opinion, but perhaps I’ll start a thread.
     
  11. I understand, but it is really comparing apples to oranges. SLR vs rangefinder, Automatic exposure versus no meter/manual, Prosumer build vs pro build quality etc. so the question is not easily or quickly answered.
     
  12. NHSN is right in that I haven't had the camera long enough to have any definitive opinions about it. That said, I will say that it feels much more sturdy and slightly heavier than the FE. It is superior to the FE in every respect (e.g., build quality, operation, and overall experience). It's also slightly more compact length-wise but definitely a little thicker. With the Voigtlander 35mm attached, it is stealthy and perfect for street or documentary style photography. I would say the difference in feel and operation justify the x10 price difference for sure. If you have any specific questions about the FE vs M4-2, I'm happy to answer them.
     
  13. Can the M4-2 be retrofitted with the RF condenser and if so, any idea regarding the cost? With the flair minimized, and a Rapidwinder or Leica motor that would eliminate any issues I have with my M4-2 and make it a perfect 35 body for a left eyed street shooter.
     
  14. Don Goldberg ("DAG") charges around $200 + shipping for the RF condenser upgrade - a little less if done with a CLA.
     
  15. Congrats on your M4-2 acquisition! I once had a "beater" M4-2 that worked perfectly, that I regrettably sold a little over a year ago since I also have an M6 Classic and didn't see the need to have 2 M-film bodies (it seemed redundant at the time, but now I feel the seller's remorse). Anyway, as you may already know, the M4-2 was regarded as the redheaded stepchild of the M film line, although the issues that were the cause of complaints in the past are pretty much gone now as they have either been serviced or were later examples in its production run that had those problems resolved.

    Here's a great summary of the history; in essence, the M4-2 "saved" the M line that continues its legacy through the digital models of today. I always found it interesting that there were complaints of the M4-2's lack of smoothness in its steel gear advance mechanism compared to that of the original M4, even though that same design carried through to the M4-P and M6, both highly regarded Leica bodies in general.

    Again congrats, many years of enjoyment and hold on to it. The way Leica film bodies are priced now, I would have to pay double to replace the M4-2 I used to have.

    EDIT: P.S., the 35/2.5 Color-Skopar is an outstanding lens, superb sharpness and contrast... I also used to keep it on my M4-2, but now it pretty much "lives" on my M8.
     
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  16. Thanks, Allan. I got my first roll of film developed and I must say the Color-Skopar is indeed incredibly sharp and contrasty. The more I learn about the M4-2, the more I believe some of the negative press around it is unfair. Many of the specs that it was criticized for became standard features on later models and I think it might be related to the "Made in Canada" label rather than actual specs. In any case, I am a happy camper.
     
    Ricochetrider and allancobb like this.
  17. Nice write-up, mechs. Short but sweet. I have owned about a dozen Leicas over the years, including the M4-2, plus lenses... and stupidly, I eventually sold every last one. In hindsight, I can see that I wasn't great at making decisions...

    I've been almost all digital for ages - probably since the early 2000s. I once thought that I'd never shoot film again - after all, what was the point, given the efficiency of digital? Well, now that digital cameras are better than ever, I'm starting to think about buying some more serious 35mm hardware, including 300mm lenses. I have found a lab which I think is terrific, and I'll be testing them again soon with another roll or two.

    I'm not sure about buying another used M body, as the prices are quite high. They're still much cheaper than a new body. But, I think that if I'm buying another M body, it's going to be a new one. Probably an M-A.

    BTW I wanted to buy this set a few years ago, but the price was a bit steep for my taste:

    ralph-nelson-camera-set

    Yes, I suppose an M4 is an M4 is an M4, and it's the photos that you make with it that really count. But still, I would love the honour of owning and using that kit.
     
    arthur_mcculloch|2 likes this.
  18. Thanks, Karim. That is such a cool story and cool looking camera as well.

    On a separate note, I just shot my second roll of film with the M4-2 and feel more comfortable with it. It's a total joy to shoot with but I did notice something peculiar and thought I'd reach out to all of you.

    I've noticed a spot on the rangefinder window, which I unsuccessfully tried to clean with lens cleaning wipes. Now, my viewfinder is bright and clear, and the focus patch is white. I have no problems with focusing or anything of that nature. So my question is, what could this spot be and should I try to clean it some more or leave it be? Do smudges or internal dirt and fog impact the focus patch at all? Picture attached.

    IMG_2474.jpg
     
    Karim Ghantous likes this.
  19. The small window is a light source for the RF patch - the cleaner the window, the cleaner the RF patch. Listen to the slow sounds (15th of a sec. in particular) - you should hear a slight bounce after the initial click. On the rest of the slow speeds you should here a smooth consistent buzz. Any irregularity in these sounds will indicate the shutter is dry and time for a CLA.

    Why did I get into all of that? Because the RF patch window looks like it has internal fungus and could be a sign of other issues. Maybe it's time for a CLA?

    Minimally the "smudge" should be cleaned out as fungus has a tendency to spread. If this is the only issue it's just a matter of removing the topcover and cleaning the class and the area around it. This, by itself, would be a fast and easy repair.
     
  20. You’re hooked now mechs! “Resistance is futile, you will be collimated” , rangefinders not the Borg. ;-)

    I’ve had a pair of M4’s since the late sixties, over half a century! They’re a lifetime camera, look after it.
    One of mine was assembled by Leitz Canada so technically a Canuck like me, even if it’s engraved Wetzlar.
    A couple lenses are also Canucks, 35mm Summilux, and 90mm Tele-Elmarit. Too bad they stopped production.

    Christopher... A local shop in Victoria has a couple M4-2 motors on their website. Quite inexpensive under $100 Canadian.
    They claim 3 FPS, but mention “they’re hard on cameras”! If knowing that you still want one their site is....
    “Camera-traders.com”. They’re a legitimate company and often have quite unusual Leica gear.
    Some interesting stuff under accessories, like a mouth operated shutter extension made by Leica.
    The prices are often aimed at collectors of the rare stuff but have gotten so nice stuff reasonably.
     

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