Leicaflex SL or SL 2

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by stuart_pratt, Apr 4, 2018.

  1. l’m ‘toying’ with the idea of a Leicaflex, SL or SL2, having carried out a bit of net research, and coming to these models by a process of elimination over build quality and likelihood of longevity. I’ve not had a Leica before, so it might be interesting to see if the hype is justified. I already have several film SLR bodies, mostly of the eBay rescue variety, and none of which have cost me more than about fifty quid. Yashica FX1, Yashica TL Electro X ( x3, don’t ask!) Spotmatic SP2, Ricoh Singlex, Yashica FX-D, Rollei Vb, Mamiya RB 67, MPP Microtechnical VII, and the expensive one, a Nikon F100, that I blew £105 on. They all work, after a fashion, but selling the whole lot probably wouldn’t get me to an SL plus 50mm Summicron, so I won’t be doing that.

    I’m a fan of great mechanics, simplicity, good viewfinders and great optics, (please no cries of ‘ why did you buy that pile of junk then!’) but one thing bothers me. The rewind lever needs to be in the offset position to turn the meter on, and I am a left eye viewer, meaning it will poke me in the right eye. I could train myself to right eye view, live with it ( pictorial style mostly, so I don’t need to be fast) or bin the whole idea. If I don’t get on with it, I can always sell on. Anyone else who is a left eye viewer have one??

    Opinions on which model and what glass to slap on the front, given limited budget gratefully received. I have assumed I’d need to buy from a reputable dealer, and get one that was CLA’d, or factor in a CLA in the overall budget. Can anyone explain the 1/2/3 Cam nightmare to me in words of one syllable?

    I shoot mostly BW neg, and do my own processing and printing. Thanks very much.​
  2. SCL


    Having owned both, I favor the SL2, it being the last of the series and built like a tank. I used to be a left eye shooter but changed over years ago to right just so I didn't get poked in the eye by the film advance levers. As far as the cam guidelines, here is a simple explanation: Leica R Mount SLR Lenses - Photoethnography.com's Classic Camera DB Scroll down for the chart. Additionally, one can have lenses modified for different cam configurations.
  3. Thanks for the link to the chart, very helpful, as is your experience changing eyes. I know a clay shooter who had a stroke, lost the use of his right arm and learnt to shoot off his left shoulder, using one arm, so I am embarrassed that I even considered it as a problem!
  4. AJG


    Don't be embarrassed about being left eyed--if it works better for you, do it. When I bought my first serious 35 SLR, I ruled out Nikons since all of the ones that I tried kept their light meters on via pulling out the winding lever to a very uncomfortable position for me since I also use my left eye for focusing. The Pentax that I bought didn't do that, and I have used Pentax cameras ever since. Nothing against Nikon, which makes lots of great cameras and lenses, but if a camera isn't comfortable your photography won't be as good or as enjoyable.
  5. I loved my SL, and it had the best viewfinder I have ever seen. Keep in mind that these are big cameras, and pretty heavy for a 35mm SLR. A 90 2.8 Elmarit is a great lens, but then all of the R lenses are very, very good. Watch out for haze and fungus, as some lens models seem especially prone to this. You'll need to buy 2 or 3 cam lenses. Also, make sure the meter works properly, and ask about the viewfinder, as some of these have prism issues that will give you a darkened view through the viewfinder. My favorite model is the original Leicaflex though.

    A CLA/d Leicaflex can cost you a pretty penny, but I have found good shooters on eBay for $120 to $150. Again, ask about the viewfinder and meter before making a purchase. You mentioned a fondness for simplicity....well, a Leicaflex SLR is anything BUT a simple camera. They are notoriously difficult to repair, and the shutters were so complicated and costly to manufacture that I understand Leica lost money on every one before finally abandoning them for the later R3 cameras. Which is why I shoot my R Summicron 90 2 lens on a Nikkormat FT and a Nikon n8008s by way of a $20 adapter :]
  6. Exactly the reason why I got a Leica SLR a couple of years ago. With the right lenses (most of them), the hype is justified.
    While the SL/SL2 always attracted me, I started with a R6. I wouldn't rate it an exceptional body, but it's quite small, silent and light, and roughly in the same price range. And it won't poke your eye, as the rewind lever can stay flush. I also have a R3 and R7, but I like those less than I do the R6 for various reasons. Anyway, possibly if you want a mechanical body, the R6 is also worth considering.

    For lenses at a budget, my first recommendation would be the Summicron 50mm; easy to find and decent priced. Alternative would be the 60mm macro, which I also have - it's an excellent lens on all accounts, but for me it misses something compared to the 50mm. But hard to go wrong with either. All other lenses unfortunately tend to cost quite a bit more, except the Elmar-R 180mm (which I have - nice lens, but not as a first lens).
  7. Leicaflex is not something I'd recommend for someone on a limited budget, unless you are willing to lose that entire budget if you make a purchasing mistake. The problem with vintage mechanical Leicaflex is the same problem afflicting the Zeiss Contarex (and Hasselblad, to a degree): bizarre construction that only a tiny handful of rapidly-aging gurus know how to repair properly (at fees that would make your ears bleed).

    Everyone raves how beautifully "overbuilt" these cameras are, but "overbuilt" doesn't necessarily mean "intelligently built with a rational eye toward the servicing every camera will eventually require". The Leicaflex shutter mechanism is an Achilles Heel that may or may not bite you: lucky owners never experience a problem, but even a perfect example could break down at whim, and suddenly that bargain $200 Leicaflex becomes a terrifying money pit. The prisms are another weak point: de-silvering runs rampant in these 40 y/o bodies, and is the number one "gotcha" sellers conveniently don't mention in their $150-$200 Leicaflex listings.

    Thats just the bodies. Next we encounter the insanely expensive lenses: if you truly are on any sort of restricted budget, that should be your dealbreaker right there. There was period of some years not too long ago when most of the common R lenses dropped to quite reasonable prices: that period is over. It died when Canon dilettantes in film schools realized they could use R glass to make "distinctive" movies on their DSLRs, then Sony nailed the coffin shut when it introduced the A7R mirrorless. Today, everybody and his mother with money to burn is chasing after R glass to adapt to digital, which drives prices higher on an almost monthly basis. Many clean 50mm Summicron Rs have drifted out of reach to bargain hunters, and every other focal length is way too pricey now.

    Mind you, I'm not saying you shouldn't audition a Leicaflex if you feel drawn to one. The SL2 especially was one of the most exquisitely crafted photographic instruments of all time, handles like a dream, and was the only SLR ever made (other than the Nikon F2) that could meter down to -2 EV without an accessory booster. The super-bright focusing screen combined with that sensitive meter made the SL2 a killer available-light rig. Just understand, there really aren't any bargains: any example you see listed for as cheap as a used Nikon F is bound to have expensive problems, one way or another. This won't matter if all you want to do is play with a Leicaflex to scratch an itch, then quickly resell. But if you really think you'll fall in love with it and keep it, expect to pay a minimum $400 for a decent guaranteed Leicaflex SL with 50 Summicron (more for the SL2). Additional lenses will each easily cost the same.

    You have to think of it like some of us who got into Hasselblad "on the cheap" when prices dropped significantly. Neither Hasselblad nor Leica were ever intended to come into the possession of mere mortals without thick wallets: they were designed for professionals and the wealthy, who could easily afford the upkeep (and the glass). Every time one of my Hassy lenses fails, and I know I'm facing down another $350 shutter overhaul, I curse a blue streak. Then I remember: the Zeiss Distagon I paid $400 for three years ago was still selling new for $4000 as recently as 2004. The intended buyer for a new $4000 lens didn't blink at a $350 overhaul every couple years: it was nothing to them. As with vintage luxury cars, the purchase price may tank enough for us to afford them, but the service costs don't budge an inch: a $10K Mercedes is all fun and games, until the brakes go out. Thats the Leicaflex.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2018
  8. Thanks for the detailed response. I’ll take all that on board. Mostly, this is an itch that I want to scratch. I’m currently looking at an SL with 3 cam ‘late’ version 1 from a reputable dealer with 6 month guarantee at £299, including case. It’s in good shape cosmetically at least, and this seems like a pretty good price. I may get burned, but I might take that chance.

    One day, I’ll have a Hassleblad too!
  9. That sounds like a good prospect, coming from a known dealer with warranty. The price is within reason, esp if this SL has the upgraded metal lens release button instead of notoriously fragile red plastic (if its the plastic, just be careful not to bang it with anything). Three cam lenses are desirable because they don't need to be modified for use on later electronic R bodies (should you ever decide to expand your R kit). One thing you'll note with Leica: there's no end to the nitpicking and ranking of various lens versions. Some feel the earlier "snub nose" single cam lenses were the best (and vice versa), but in real world use it would be very very hard to tell the difference, and the later 3-cam is more versatile body-wise.

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