Which Film Leica to buy first?

As with anything it's a good idea to research the Leica M series before you make your investment. I hope this post can serve as a comprehensive resource on all the different variances between M bodies. Though they seem similar at a glance the different M's have their own quirks and features from frameline selection to rewind leavers. I'll run through them chronologically and save my comments on the best one to buy until the very end. Perhaps you'll have made your own decision by then.   

 

Whichever M you go for be sure to factor in an additional $150 for a CLA (Cleaning, Lubrication & Adjustment) to ensure everything is running correctly. A technician will take the camera apart and remove anything that shouldn't be inside but also test the shutter speeds for accuracy and ensure that the rangefinder is properly calibrated.

Leica M3 - The Original

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The Queen's M3, with the incorporated Meter sitting on its hotshoe.
  • Framelines: 50mm, 90mm, 135mm
  • Magnification: 0.91x
  • Meter: None 
  • Production: 1954-66

Despite the '3' this is the first Leica rangefinder and arguably the best. The 0.91x viewfinder is big and clear but has a blue tint to it. The high magnification (and rangefinder base-length) makes it the most comfortable and accurate Leica to use with longer focal lengths. Be prepared to shop around to find one in a good condition, due to their age some of them are missing part of the vulcanite covering, particularly on the rear door. There are two film-advance options for the M3: double stroke (DS) and single stroke (SS). It doesn't make a huge amount of difference but matters to some people.

The M3 doesn't have framelines for 28mm/35mm lenses so you'll have to use shoe-mounted finders for these. If shooting wider lenses is something you do often then perhaps this isn't the one for you. 

If you want the classic-est of classic cameras go for this one.

Leica M2 - The little brother

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  • Framelines: 35mm, 50mm, 90mm
  • Magnification: 0.72x
  • Meter: None 
  • Production: 1958-67

People bash the M2 for being inferior to the M3 and it used to sit at 70% of the price but the prices are drifting closer together every year. Leica marketed it as a cheaper sibling to the flagship M3 but the only real cut-corner is the frame-counter which must be manually reset after each roll. On the other hand this camera was the first to feature the now-standard 0.72x finder and the first to feature 35mm framelines.

Despite the blue tint the M2 finder is clear and simple, perfect for the 35mm focal length. 

A rare modification to the M2 gave it the faster loading system of the M4. These are more expensive and are sold as the 'M2-R'.  

Leica M4 - A step forwards? 

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  • Framelines: 35mm, 50mm, 90mm, 135mm
  • Magnification: 0.72x
  • Meter: None 
  • Production: 1967-75

This is the last of the old school Leicas. Essentially an updated M2, the M4 added an automatically updating frame counter, a faster rewind lever (compare the winding lever in the picture to the rewind knobs on the M2/3) and a quick-load system - previously you’d attach the film leader to a removable spool inside the camera but the M4 had a fixed update spool which became the standard for all future M’s. 

 

Note: The M4-2 was a produced as a panic reaction to poor M5 sales and was made from cheaper materials. They’re still a decent camera but I’d recommend a 2/4/4-P if you’re looking for a meter-less M with 35mm framelines. 

Leica M5 - Hmmmm

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  • Framelines: 35mm, 50mm, 90mm, 135mm
  • Magnification: 0.72x
  • Meter: Yes
  • Production: 1971-75

This ugly freak of a camera almost killed Leica. It was larger, heavier and generally… clunky. Things were moved around, extra features were added but it just didn’t fit together as a package. Despite it being so unsuccessful commercially it actually introduced some new features and was the most technologically advanced Leica until the digital M8. The shutter speed was displayed in the viewfinder and it was the first to have an integrated lightmeter. The M5 is also incompatible with some wide angle lenses (and the DR summicron) due to its metering system.

 

The used prices for these go pretty low so I guess they gives you more bang-for-your-buck when compared to other M's. People might think you’re weird though.

 

Leica M4-P

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  • Framelines: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75m,  90mm, 135mm 
  • Magnification: 0.72x
  • Meter: None 
  • Production: 1981-87

After the catastrophic M5 leica were in a bad place, they needed to get a new M on the market and they needed to cut a few costs in doing so - The M4-P was their solution. Moving production from Germany to Canada allowed them to save on production costs but some claim the build quality also suffered. 

 

The M4-P was also the first Leica to have 28mm/75mm framelines, though at a cost. Whilst the previous M bodies had automatically selected framelines for up to 4 focal lengths they had usually displayed just one set of framelines at a time. With the M4-P Leica decided to show three pairs of two: 28/90, 35/135, 50/75. Whilst having more framelines gives the user more freedom in selecting lenses it also clutters the viewfinder forcing the user to ignore the 75mm framelines when composing with a 50mm lens. This became the standard for future M’s.

Leica M6 - A Classic (or TTL?)

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  • Framelines: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, 90mm 135mm
  • Magnification: 0.58x, 0.72x 0.85x
  • Meter: Yes (TTL flash with later model)
  • Production: Classic 1984-98 TTL 1998-02

The M6 is essentially an M4-P with a meter in it. The M4-P revived Leica and allowed them to move their production back to Germany suggesting a return to optimum build quality. Later M6s came with TTL flash metering and are can be recognised due to their larger shutter speed dials (which decrease in speed when turned clockwise, contrary to every M before it) and the letters TTL stamped on the hotshoe. 

 

Note: The M6-TTL was actually 2-3mm taller than the previous M6 and it blocks the use of a few accessories.

 

Leica M7 - Electro 

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  • Framelines: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, 90mm 135mm
  • Magnification: 0.58x, 0.72x, 0.85x
  • Meter: Yes (TTL flash too)
  • Production: 2002 - Present

The M7 introduced Aperture-Priority mode to the M range but the electronically controlled shutter means you can only use 1/60 and 1/125 when your battery dies. Whilst the M6 turns into an M4-P when it runs out of power the M7 is crippled. Carry spare batteries. The only other update on the M6 is a digital shutter speed readout in the viewfinder. This is for the camera to tell you its selection whilst in A mode but it also lets you spin the wheel without taking your eye from the viewfinder and remain confident of the selected speed.  

Leica MP - Mechanical Perfection

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  • Framelines: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, 90mm, 135mm
  • Magnification: 0.58x, 0.72x, 0.85x
  • Meter: Yes 
  • Production: 2003- Present

Imagine a camera with the viewfinder of an M6, the build quality of an M3, the rewind knob of the M2/3 and the price of an M9 - that’s the MP. Aimed at Leica’s more discerning customers the MP really is the last word in build quality and craftsmanship. You can’t get a better film Leica but you’ll be paying the price of two M6’s for the privilege.

 

Leica M-A - MP without a meter

Leica M-A.jpg
  • Framelines: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm, 90mm, 135mm
  • Magnification: 0.58x, 0.72x, 0.85x
  • Meter: Yes 
  • Production: 2014 - Present

“What if we took the meter out of the MP?” - Someone at Leica, the day they invented the M-A

 

If you were looking for a film M but couldn't make up your mind I hope this guide has cleared up any confusion. Truth be told any film M (apart from the M5) is going to give you the Leica rangefinder experience so keep an eye on prices and get the one that you feel suits you best. Just remember to keep some cash for the lenses!

Jonathan

 

PS. I made this flowchart in case you're still stuck

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