Buying a Leica, or not…

Over the last six months or so I regularly browsed the usual online market places looking for a well preserved older Leica M model at a reasonable price (which seems to be a paradox in itself!). I was surprised to see M2, M3 and M4 models popping up new on ebay every week. There seems to be quite some trading with these 50 to 70 year old mechanical gems. Checking online offerings of M-Leicas almost every day over a few months I learned two things: It is not easy to set your highest price to a successful level, because there is plenty of people out there willing to spend a fortune even for partly damaged M-bodies, which I find strange. And because of this, there are quite a few dubious people around trying to trick you into deals not worth your time, let alone the money.

When I started my quest for a Leica, I had the stupid idea to find a model matching my year of birth. I thought if I spend such a large amount of money for a 50+ year old camera, it should be something special. Like a birthday present bought for myself. This restricted my search to the M4. One day I found a beautifully preserved model – judged from the photographs. What also drew my attention was the rather low price of just under 600 Euros for an immediate buy. Knowing that well-preserved M4s on ebay normally crack the 900 Euro level, I wondered why the camera was still available. Even more so, since I had seen M-Leicas appearing in and disappearing from auctions within a few hours, when there was a good match between preservation and price. I decided to ask the dealer some specific questions regarding the camera, to make sure that this wasn’t a fraud. In his reply he did not answer those questions, but instead sent a few very general comments… and I kept my hands off the deal. The following weeks I regularly checked, whether someone would buy it, but nothing happened. The M4 was still on offer. Then I received an email from ebay saying that they tracked my conversation with the dealer and that they had blocked his account due to “some irregularities”. Phew….trusting my gut feeling was obviously the right choice!

After this incident I cautiously continued to look for M-Leicas, and also included the M2 in my search now. The full metal advance lever of the M2 I like better than the plastic one of the M4, anyway. And in contrast to the older M3 it also has proper 35mm frame lines in the viewfinder, a feature I definitely wanted to have. A few more weeks of (unsuccessful) browsing and bidding and I started to have second thoughts about the whole endeavor. Why do I want to have this Leica M in the first place? What exactly do I want to use it for? Is it worth to spend such a large amount of money for it, especially if I play it safe and purchase it from a trusted camera shop? On top of all this I would have to face the fact that the camera body alone does not lead anywhere without investing in a proper lens as well. In my head, the next couple of hundred Euros were already dripping from my bank account – it would be my first Leica after all and there was no fleet of M-lenses waiting at home to be mounted on a new camera body. Finally, I decided that the “I want to own a Leica M”-project will have to go on the back burner for the time being and a few weeks ago I stopped camera hunting.

As I have written in a previous post, I am not a camera collector. I don’t want to fill up a vitrine with prestigious cameras just for the sake of having them. Apart from the fact that cameras don’t get better when sitting in a shelf unused, I only want to own them, if I have reason to believe that for a certain photographic project or genre a specific camera model is the perfect fit for the job and may outperform any other camera I already have. The stunning performance of the Leica lenses in combination with the perfect ergonomics of the M bodies is certainly such a reason. But what are my current photographic projects, which would suffer from not using a Leica M? I can’t think of any…

In the end I had to admit that, against my conviction, I obviously got infected by the Leica virus (quite an infectious one!) which made me longing for one of these fantastic cameras – a fair enough reason by the way, but not for me at this time and under the current circumstances. The obvious genre I would have used the Leica for is street photography. Zone focusing, sunny 16 and all the rest of it, but you may remember that I own an Olympus 35 SP, often dubbed a “poor man’s Leica” due to its stunning optical performance and reasonably low price. I have been using it throughout 2019 for my “Last Day”-project and fell in love with this camera. It has about the same format and weight as a Leica M, has a pin sharp 42mm lens and (for the lazy photographer) can also be shot in full automatic mode thanks to a very precise light meter with spot function. One of the main differences between the Olympus and a Leica – apart from some mechanical quirks of the Olympus – is the fact that it has a fixed lens. Although the 42mm lens has proven to be perfect so far, there may be a time in the future when I can’t help but want to change lenses on a rangefinder and this will certainly be the time when the hunt starts again!

One thought on “Buying a Leica, or not…

  1. Pingback: Photographer or collector? – Light & Grain

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