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The Leica M5: Leitz's big ugly failure, or not...

by Craig Hoehne, 2006 (updated March 2011)

The end of the 1960s heralded the finale to the golden age for Couple Rangefinder photography. It is often said that the last examples of a technological line represents the best of that technology. A view amply illustrated by the renowned Nikon S and Canon 7 series rangefinder (RF) cameras. During the concluding years of the decade these marques too had joined the famous Contax on the shelves of photo-history. The dominance of rangefinder cameras had been usurped by developments in 35mm SLR camera technologies. The humble rangefinder simply could not compete with the versatility offered by the likes of a Nikon F combined with zoom lenses.

Meanwhile, E. Leitz in Germany stood alone in championing rangefinders as the superior photographer's tool. It is true that they had already, albeit begrudgingly with the Leicaflex (1965), accepted growing consumer aspiration for SLRs. As other manufacturers continued to take the lead in development of their SLR ranges, Leitz envisioned a new rangefinder camera for a new era. Consequently, the radical Leica M5 was eagerly unveiled in 1971. Ultimately, the M5 was an advanced camera that represented the pinnacle of a matured technology.

Where to Buy

While Leica is no longer making the M5, you still can find used cameras available. Search Photo.net's Classified Ads Section. You could also consider going digital with the Leica M9, (buy from Amazon) (review).

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More Photographs of silver chrome M5s and features

Most notably, the Leica M5 was the first rangefinder camera to boast TTL (Through The Lens) metering. This was very much a state-of-the-art feature for any camera at the time. However, the innovation of in-board metering necessitated a total redesign of the classic Leica rangefinder. Incorporation of all the additional parts and circuitry needed for a TTL metering capability dictated an enlarged body size. The familiar and much treasured profile of M series cameras was summarily dispensed with. A design statement of its time, the M5's angular brutalist styling was a fundamental departure from the past. The tacky decade of the 1970s had impinged its uncompromising vision on conservative E. Leitz.

At the end of the day, consumers were not aroused by the specter of an expensive rangefinder camera, no matter how sophisticated or well made. The Leica M5 failed to meet sales expectations and production was prematurely curtailed. Development of the M5 was a serious miscalculation on the part of Leitz. The situation wrought a devastating effect and nearly ruined the firm. This market reality, together with the harsh styling that brought with it those debatable period aesthetics, has forever stigmatized this camera. Within Leica circles it continues to be demonized as biggest and ugliest Leica. "...The M5 is really an ugly Leica camera. I had a minty one a few years ago, but I traded it for some useful camera equipment" [Reference: Raid W. Amin, photo.net Leica Photography Discussion forum. (2002)]

Table of Selected Leica M Model Dimensions and Weights Model Leica M3

Table of Selected Leica M Model Dimensions and Weights
Model Leica M3 Leica M4 Leica M5 Leica M6 Leica M6 TTL Leica M7 Leica MP
Width (mm) 138 138 150 138 138 138 138
Height (mm) 77 77 84* 77 79.5 79.5 77
Depth (mm) 36 36 36 36 38 38 38
Weight (grams) 595 600 700 560 600 610 600
* Solid body dimension. Full height to top of film advance lever, 88mm.

On the positive side of the equation, the ergonomics offered through its enlarged dimensions are often appreciated by those RF users with bigger hands. Moreover, the argument of "oversized" cannot be supported against widespread acceptance of today's bulky pro-systems dSLRs. The Leica M5 measures up as tiny in comparison. It is true that the M5 is nowhere near as sweet looking as the curvaceous traditional Leicas. Objectively, however, the lines of the M5 are quite clean and uncluttered. The author would argue that standards of RF camera ugliness are set but the revamped Voigtlander brand, Bessa.

M5 Production History

Three M5 prototypes were made in 1970, and a preproduction series of 50 silver-chrome cameras was assembled the next year. Production proper commenced during 1971 with a further batch of silver chrome cameras. A subsequent batch sporting Leica's new "black-chrome" finish followed. The M5 pioneered "black chrome" which thereafter became a standard. Initially considered as an improvement, this finish has however, proved less hard wearing than traditional enamel paint over brass. Well used black M5s, now over thirty years old, tend to take on that "grayed old man" look.

Interestingly, once the Leica M5 had been introduced, Leitz continued production of small numbers of M4s. In addition, they began marketing the Leica CL, a pocket sized "budget" RF camera, manufactured in Japan by Minolta. Undoubtedly these added further competition to the Wetzlar factory's floundering flagship product. In 2002, when Leica AG updated the M series with the AE-featured Leica M7 (basically an "M6 TTL Electronic" model), the firm had clearly learned from its M5 experience, completely dropping production of the much loved M6.

Poor acceptance of the M5 forced Leitz's hand and the last unit, sn 1384000, came off the production line in 1975. In all only some 30 000 M5s were produced. With the exception of Kiev Contax copies, it seemed rangefinder camera manufacture had run its due course. With the failure of the M5 Leitz had intended to cut their, not inconsiderable, losses concentrating all efforts into SLRs.

Ironically, the sudden cessation of M series production at Leitz probably saved RF photography from a natural evolutionary demise. The end of the line for the Leica M came as a shock to diehard Leica aficionados and a movement quickly arose to resurrect production. Leitz was unexpectedly faced with renewed demand, albeit relatively small, for their recently relinquished product line. To silence its critics, fabrication of the M series was reinstated during 1977. With more economical modern production methods, the Leica M4 was reborn as the M4-2. And it is from this camera that the legendary Leica M6 sprung in 1984. It took nearly tens years for Leica to redevelop an M camera which matched the TTL metering feature of the vanquished M5. Its time had come and through the M6, a contemporary renaissance in RF photography was assured.

[Reference; Guinta, Filippo, Leica M mount cameras: a systematic approach, Giunta Libre, Italia (1996) pp. 285-312]

A natural progression

Despite its ground breaking design and unique styling the M5 is basically a logical progression from the M4. The conventional cloth type mechanically governed shutter and mechanism, originally developed for the M3 (1954), was retained. With this configuration the "set-in-stone" user specifications of 1/50th of a second flash sync and 1/1000th of a second top shutter speed, were preserved from the M4. It is worth remembering that these were still quite respectable figures for the period. The fact that Leica have been able to persist with these heady specifications on all other subsequent models into to the twenty first century, is quite remarkable.

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The optical rangefinder / viewfinder mechanism is the same as the M4, and that which was inherited from the M2 (1958). Rangefinder patch flare issues only surfaced in models produced after the M5. The Leica M5 adopts the regular 0.72 view finder magnification and therefore retains the established 49.9mm effective RF base length. As with the M4 the viewfinder provides bright-line frames for 35mm, 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm lenses. The 35 and 135mm frames appearing together as a pair.

The articulated plastic tipped wind-on lever, self-timer and bright-line frame preselector arm details, are of the same design as with the M4. The M5 was the last M series model to feature a mechanical self timer feature.

What's Different?

Continuing on from the M4, the M5 also incorporates a rapid film loading spool but is of an improved fool-poof design. Unfortunately with the demise of the M5 the superior take up spool died with it. I've never understood why the M4-2 and subsequent models retained the troublesome (to some) M4 loading system when a proven viable alternative was already available. The answer probably lies with economics and the cost cutting culture that went into the development of the M4-2.

To make way for the meter's electronics, the film rewind crank is relocated to the bottom-plate. The positioning forced the bottom-plate removal catch to be displaced to the opposite side. The unorthodox location of the folding crank is not an issue in practice. Overall it should be considered a better design to the smaller fiddly rewind systems typical of M and R series Leica cameras. The crank is similar in dimensions to that of the R8 and R9 film rewind and in use has a similar positive action or "solidity of feel."

The M5 was also the first Leica M to feature an X synchronised active hot-shoe.

Interestingly, the forward thinking that went it to developing the Leica M5 did not extend to provision for motor-wind film transport. After all, this feature was available with certain M2 cameras and carried on through to the M4.

Shutter Speed Dial

The shutter speed selector dial is of a different design to all other Leica M series models. The thin enlarged radius wheel protrudes a little beyond the face of the camera. This allows the user to seamlessly turn the speed selector dial with their right forefinger without having to remove their eye from the finder. A similar feature that mimics the M5s functionality in this respect was only later reintroduced with the M6 TTL (1998) and carried through to the current M7 model.

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The dial has full click stops between 1/1000 of second, through to the 1/2 second setting. The M5 was the last mechanical Leica M to allow intermediate speeds settings between full stop increments. In order to take advantage of the lowlight sensitivity of the inboard CdS photocell, stepless "B" (bulb) times are indicated from 1 second through to 30 seconds. These B scale times, however, are not coupled to separate escapements. As with any normal "B" setting the actual exposure must be manually timed by the photographer.

The Strap Lugs

A further intriguing idiosyncrasy of the M5 is its unusual strap lug configuration. (see illustration 2 above) The positioning, aligned both lugs along the short (viewfinder) side of the camera so that it hung vertically by the neck strap. Undoubtedly this arrangement was considered funky at time it was designed. However, it became a controversial feature of the M5. The issue was diffused with later cameras which had an additional or third lug, fitted at the opposite side of the camera. This then allowed M5s be hung from the neck in the more conventional horizontal position. It is also a far more logical setup for this particular camera, as the instruction manual states;

"Exposure measurements should be made with the camera held horizontally."

That is to say, with the M5 carried horizontally, it was at the ready for metering. The vertical hang of pre 1973 examples, makes rapid accurate metering a somewhat awkward operation.

On the plus side, the robust indestructible design of the M5 strap fittings was an overall improvement on traditional Leica M brass lugs which wear through overtime.

The TTL meter

At the heart of the M5 is its metering system. The then state-of-the-art, CdS (Cadmium sulphide) photocell still provides a very respectable working sensitivity range, from LV (light value) 0 to LV 20.

Incorporating a photocell into an M body presented considerable technical challenges. The answer for Leitz was an ingenious small (by the standards of the time) photoresistor mounted to a pivoting carrier arm. For metering the photocell sits up in front of the shutter curtain. When not in operation the meter cell arm is retracted into its own housing at the bottom of the camera's body cavity.

The meter is activated by winding-on the film transport lever. The photocell carrier arm engages toward final stages of the stoke action. Only then does the photocell instantaneously swing up into position directly in front of the shutter blinds. Once in position, the light meter remains active until an exposure is made. As the shutter release is depressed, the pivoting meter-cell reclines back into its housing, thereby clearing the film gate for the exposure to take place. Any slight pressure placed on shutter release button during metering, will cause the pivoting meter arm to move and introduce the chance of a false reading.

If the M5 shutter has been cocked the light meter is permanently active. The only way to turn the meter off is to make an exposure. In practice, the meter can remain on for quite lengthy periods, without the risk of draining the batteries and consequent loss of meter functionality.

Because of its mechanical synchronization with the meter arm, some resistance can be felt in the latter portion of the stroking action of the film transport lever. The continuous silky smooth operation found with earlier models is therefore, somewhat lost. The travel of the release button is also slightly longer than that of previous Leica models. It is however, smoother feeling than the stepped operation of subsequent metered Ms.

Ordinarily, positioning the photocell some distance (8mm) in front of the film-plane would introduce significant metering inaccuracy, ie over different working apertures, lens focal lengths and even different lens designs for the same focal length. The problem was solved by adding a set of concentric patterned venetian blinds to the face of the photocell.

[Reference; Brueckner and Schaefer, "Exposure determination with the Leica M5", Leica Fotograpfie, Umschau Verlag, English Edition, No.2 (1972) pp. 72-74]

The unique M5 photocell design provides a highly accurate, tight 8mm diameter selective metering pattern. It is as close to real spot metering as it comes. The metering pattern of the M5 is considered a benefit to those who prefer the control actual spot metering provides over weighted averaging techniques.

Lens compatibility issues

The major drawback to the intricate pivoting photocell setup is that the exposed meter arm is very delicate and can easily be damaged. As a precaution against accidental damage the vulnerable metering arm automatically drops out harms way when the lens is removed from the camera. A damaged meter arm necessitates a rather costly repair.

Certain deep-seated wide angle lenses, such as the 28mm Elmarit (below the sn 2 314 920), and pre-M5 production Super-Angulon 21mm lenses, have rear elements that protrude well into the lens mount body cavity, to the extent that they interfering with the meter carrier arm. These cannot be used with the M5 without factory modification and are unable to take advantage of TTL metering. All later lenses within the Leica M range are fully compatible with the M5.

Another obvious danger to the M5s pivoting meter are collapsible lenses which if retracted will injure the carrier arm. Other problem lenses for the M5 include those with removable viewfinder attachments, ie the 35mm f1:3.5 Summaron and the 50mm Dual Range Summicron. The auxiliary optical attachments of these lenses butt up against the front plate of the Leica M5 and cannot be fitted without modification.

The M5 is also supplied with its own body cap and it is recommended that only this type be used.

References; Ernst Leitz GMBH Wetzlar, Older interchangeable lenses on the Leica M5, pub. 120-47/Engl. Germany, (1971)
Ernst Leitz GMBH Wetzlar, Instructions: Leica M5, pub. 110-88/Engl. Germany, (1971)

Setting the film speed

Film speeds for the camera's meter are set via a knob located within the central top deck layout. These are displayed as dual, easily read ASA and DIN numbers. The range of settable speeds is from ISO 6/9º to ISO 3200/36º. The film speed setting knob is not easily turned without fingernail purchase. The design insures that the knob cannot be inadvertently knocked onto an incorrect setting.

The positioning of the film speed readout means all of the camera's settings data is clearly visible at one glance from the top. This contrasts against modern M series cameras, where the film speed dial is situated on the rear hinge door, and ostensibly out of view. The M5 still retains the traditional rear positioned film reminder disc and it additionally incorporates a handy exposure calculator dial.

Battery Power

The Leica M5 is a fully mechanical camera and a battery is only required to power the inboard light meter. The CdS photocell is powered by a single 1.35 volt HgO (mercury oxide) PX 625 type button cell. Typically these provide a useful working life of up two years. Unfortunately for the M5, due to more stringent environmental laws, mercury batteries have been phased out and have become difficult or impossible to obtain in recent years. The advantage of HgO batteries is their long working life, delivering consistent current until exhausted. Stored mercury batteries will also keep well for many years, particularly if refrigerated. The alternatives to hard to get mercury cells are to use the 1.35 volt Wein Cell, (Zinc/Air) batteries, or compatible a 1.5 volt Silver Oxide button cells. The additional voltage of Silver Oxide battery will need to be compensated for by having a voltage regulator fitted to the camera.

The battery compartment cover sits at the side of the camera between the strap lug. It is of the threaded coin slot type and is more secure arrangement than the bayonet variety caps that surfaced with the M6.

More information on the Hg battery issue

Leica M series Specifications


Leica M Series Specifications
Model Leica M3 Leica M4 Leica M5 Leica M6 Leica M6 TTL Leica M7 Leica MP
Shutter Governing Fully mechanical Fully mechanical
Exposure Control manual manual manual manual manual manual/AE manual
TTL metering No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pattern Type 8mm spot 12mm selective area "weighted average" 12mm selective area "weighted average" 12mm selective area "weighted average" 12mm selective area "weighted average"
Sensitivity (LV) 0 to 20 -1 to 20 -2 to 20 -2 to 20 -2 to 20
Metering Cell CdS photocell Silicon Photo Diode Silicon Photo Diode Silicon Photo Diode Silicon Photo Diode
Measurement Technique Direct measurement from off the film plane photocell Reflected measurement off shutter curtain white disc Reflected measurement off shutter curtain white disc Reflected measurement off shutter curtain white disc Reflected measurement off shutter curtain white disc
Film Speeds (ISO) 6 to 3200 6 to 6400 6 to 6400 6 to 6400 6 to 6400
Battery Power 1.35 volts via HgO cell 3 volts via Li, or 2x 1.5 V AgO cells 6 volts via 2x 3.0 V li Cells 3 volts via Li, or 2x 1.5 V AgO cells 3 volts via Li, or 2x 1.5 V AgO cells
Meter Readout Dual match needle bar balance between two triangular LEDs triangular LEDs with central spot confirmation manual mode triangular LEDs with central spot confirmation

Numeric SS display in AE mode

triangular LEDs with central spot confirmation


Leica M bright-line frame statistics


(Production Range)

VF Mag.


Effective RF base

Viewfinder Bright-Line Frames
28mm 35mm 40mm 50mm 75mm 90mm 135mm
M3 (1954-1966) 0.92 (63.71mm) M3 spec.

35mm lens only

50 90 135
Only two VF mask settings are available for either, 35mm and 135mm lens FLs. The 50mm bright-line frame remains permanently visible.
M2 (1958-1966) 0.72


35 50 90
M1 (1959-1964) 0.72 35 50
M4 (1967-1975) 0.72 35 50 90 135
M5 (1971-1975) 0.72 35 50 90 135
CL (1973-1976) 0.60 40 50 90


0.72 35 50 90 135


0.72 28 35 50 75 90 135
M6 (1984-1998) 0.72 28 35 50 75 90 135
(1998) 0.85


35 50 75 90 135
M6J LHSA (1993-1995) 0.85 35 50 90 135


0.72 28 35 50 75 90 135
0.85 35 50 75 90 135


28 35 50 75 90
M7 (2002-     ) 0.72 28 35 50 75 90 135


35 50 75 90 135
0.58 28 35 50 75 90
MP (2003-     ) 0.72 28 35 50 90 135
0.85 35 50 75 90 135
0.58 28 35 50 75 90
MP3 LHSA (2005-2006) 0.72 35 50 90
Except for the M3, one of three VF masks are brought up, when either; 28 and 90 mm, 50 and 75 mm, or 35 and 135 mm lenses are fitted to a Leica M. Corresponding bright-line frames, where available, are displayed in these pair sets.

The Viewfinder

In a word, the M5 viewfinder is cluttered. This is mainly due to the intrusion of the TTL meter readout. In order to incorporate the readout bar the viewfinder mask is slightly larger than that of the M4. This brings with it the added benefit for spectacle wearers by making it easier to see the full viewing area. Otherwise the general overview resembles that of the M4.

The M5 Viewfinder Layout


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50mm frameline


The markings shown correspond to those brought up for a 50mm focal length lens

The Viewfinder Markings for 35mm and 135mm Focal Length lenses

M5-35-135-web.jpg (100456 bytes)
35mm and 135mm framelines

The markings shown above automatically appear in the viewfinder when either a 35 mm or 135mm lens is fitted to the camera. This mask may also be previewed by moving the pre selector switch outwards to the 35/135 position.

The large bright-line frame indicates the field of view for 35mm lenses. The metering field for the 35mm focal length is approximated by an imaginary circle around the bounds of the smaller frame corners. This frame also indicates the field of view for 135mm lenses. The metering spot for this focal length is shown by a full circle around the dimensions of the rangefinder focusing patch.

The Viewfinder Markings for the 90 mm lens focal lengths

M5-90-web.jpg (98862 bytes)
90mm frameline

Except for the presence of the readout bar the masking for the 90mm focal length is the same as for the M4

In addition, the viewfinder also incorporates some distinctive built-in features to delineate the extent of the metering field for different focal length lenses. For example, a set of four circular arcs surrounding the focusing patch, indicate the metering circumference for the 50mm lens focal length. These bright-line arcs are only visible when a 50mm lens is fitted. (see illustration above)

A peculiarity of the M5 is also the shape of its rangefinder focusing patch. The conventional rectangle shaped patch is extended with semicircular edges on the short sides. This feature marks the extent of the metering field for a 135mm lens focal length. It also serves as an approximation the metering coverage for 90 mm lenses. The metering field for 35mm lenses is estimated using the 135mm bright-line frame as a guide.

Meter readout display

The M5 meter readout is a dual match needle system typical of cameras produced during the 1970s. Why camera manufacturers moved away from this system, I don't know, as it gives the most comprehensive easily readable data of any display type. In keeping with Leica's design tendencies, the M5s metering readout is positioned along the lower extremity of the view finder. An additional illuminator window at the top of the viewfinder lights the "bright-line frame" style readout bar.

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One of the two sloping match needles is governed by the light entering through the lens. This floating needle is free to move as the light intensity changes. Its position is, therefore, controlled by the lens aperture setting. As the lens is stopped down, the floating meter needle responds by moving to the left. That is to say, the needle moves the same direction as the aperture ring is turned. Unfortunately the readout bar does not have a marked scale for lens apertures. Rather, wide apertures are simply indicated to the right-hand side and smaller apertures to the left. However, the display information provided is reasonably comprehensive. With experience actual values can be anticipated from the position of the floating needle along the bar.

The second needle is linked to the shutter speed dial and only moves when the shutter speed is changed. The shutter speed selected is also shown at the left-hand end of the readout bar. This meter needle also moves in the same direction as the shutter selector is wheel. Correct exposure is indicated when the two inclined match needles are made to cross over, either by changing the shutter speed and or lens aperture.

Over all, the readout display of the M5 is both, more comprehensive, and logical compared against the triangular LED balance arrangement of the original M6.

Battery condition check

Unlike subsequent metered Leica Ms, the M5 includes a manual battery test function. This is built in to the viewfinder mask preview lever. In models from the Leica M2 onwards the bright-line frame preview lever has click stop positions for each of the three viewfinder masks, ie the 90 and 28 focal length mask (left) 50 and 75 (central) 35 and 135 (right). The preview lever of the M5 has an additional forth (far right) point beyond the 35/135 focal length position which engages the battery test function. A quirk of the M5 stems from this battery test feature, as the action of preselector lever seems less positive and somewhat sloppy against that felt with other Ms.

In order to check the condition of the battery, the bright-line frame preview arm is held past the 35/135 position ie, pushed fully in the direction away from the lens. Good battery functionality is indicated in the viewfinder by the floating meter needle falling within the notched area under the exposure readout bar. The preset lever returns to it original position once the lever is let go.


In many respects the Leica M5 will always be defined by its troubled history, forever dismissed as hanging the wrong way, the wrong shape, the wrong size, the wrong weight and ultimately designated with the wrong model number. Potential users looking for a metered Leica M dismiss an M5 out of hand, at their own loss. The Leica M5 is arguably the best user model of all the M series. That said the M5 is not for everyone. This is not a camera that engenders blithe indifference; chances are you will either love it or hate it.

The author admits some bias toward this camera. I obtained mine in 1988, a time before the advent of internet fora discussions and therefore before I knew any better. The bottom line is that it is built on the features proven from previous Leicas and shares their build quality attributes. The M5 was the last model to be assembled according to Leica's traditional individual parts hand adjusted methods. Therefore, it has much of the solid smoothness of feel in use, as the more prized earlier models. Over the years the M5 has confirmed itself as a robust reliable tool capable of coping with the most demanding of conditions. Leitz put an enormous amount of thought and effort into developing the M5 and this translates into a very user-friendly photographic tool. After a short introductory period the M5 becomes intuitive to handle.

On the negative side the M5 does have some irritating quirks. Personally, I've never liked the vertical hang of my two lug version but have learned to live with it. Having to make an exposure to switch off the light meter can also be inconvenient at times. Otherwise the intuitive user interface allows the photographer to go about trouble free image making.

At the end of the day, the Leica M5 is simply a good solid work camera.

The Leica M5 User Manual

While Leica is no longer making the M5, you still can find used cameras available. Search Photo.net's Classified Ads Section. You could also consider going digital with the Leica M9, (buy from Amazon) (review).

Text, photos, and diagrams copyright 2006 Craig Hoehne

Readers' Comments

Add a comment

Bill Mitchell , March 27, 2006; 12:59 P.M.

I bought an M5 as soon as it came on the market, and eventually had to sell it because over time the meter would drift 1/2 stop, which was just enough to ruin shots made on Kodachrome, without being far enough off to be noticable and correctable. IMO the real reason that the M5 was a failure was the vertical hanging position, (as well as the truncated rather than rounded ends). It made sense from an engineering viewpoint, but as a photographer it was a PITA. The addition of a third strap lug came too late.

terence mahoney , March 27, 2006; 01:44 P.M.

The M5 was the last mechanical Leica M to allow intermediate speeds settings between full stop increments.

In actuality the correct information is that every Leica M body allows intermediate speeds to be set, however the M5 is the only mechanical Leica M (discounting the CL which in fact is no more a Leica than the Cosina-Bessa is a Voigtlaender) to allow reliable, linear intermediate speeds. This is due to the mechanism borrowing in some ways from the Leicaflex-SL in the manner which it couples with the exposure meter.

These B scale times, however, are not coupled to separate escapements. As with any normal "B" setting the actual exposure must be manually timed by the photographer.

In actuality at the "B" setting if one makes use of the delayed-action one can avail oneself of a mechanically-timed 1 second speed.

John Newell , March 27, 2006; 02:21 P.M.

Very nice article -- would make me want to go out and buy one if I didn't already own one! :-) The LFI piece by Brueckner and Schaefer ("Exposure determination with the Leica M5") is good reading. Until I read it, I had no idea of the complexities that were behind the apparently simple metering arm/photocells. There must have been dozens of equal or greater technical challenges -- the M5 was (and remains) a technological masterstroke.

Zapata Espinoza , March 27, 2006; 03:53 P.M.

If only for the fragile meter construction-this one had to die out.

Manfred Feuser , March 27, 2006; 05:28 P.M.

Hi Craig , not my favorite M but congratulation to this well researched and interesting review.

Vivek . , March 27, 2006; 06:27 P.M.

Impressive! Well done, Craig! Thanks!

Michael S. , March 27, 2006; 06:47 P.M.

Well done, Craig. I appreciated not only the M5 info and analysis, but also the comments on the way that camera "fit into" the era in which it was produced, and the comparisons between it and other cameras.

craig h , March 27, 2006; 11:18 P.M.


I appreciate the additional detailed information you provided. It is this sort of contribution that value add to reviews such as the above.

It's a shame though, that you perpetuate the myth about the Leica CL.

"(discounting the CL which in fact is no more a Leica than the Cosina-Bessa is a Voigtlaender)"

"The CL was designed in Wetzlar and manufactured by Minolta in Japan. ...Some later cameras were produced in Wetzlar."

Ref. Filoppo Giunta, "Leica M mount cameras", pp 314-339

When the facts are reviewed objectively the CL is inarguably very much a Leica camera. It has received pejorative revisionism due in great part to 'Leica snobbery' because it was made in Japan not Germany. Yet the model, thirty years on, still provides great service to owners who continue to use them right through to this day. Just like any other Leica camera.

Regards C.

Terence Mahoney , March 28, 2006; 09:23 A.M.

And so are many millions of 30 year old cameras, which are not Leicas, so that proves nothing. In fact the CL lives on today only due to the effort and willingness of its devotees to spend time and money nursing them, much in the same manner as MG and Jaguar automobiles of that era. The CL earned its "pejorative" reputation in service, or shall we say lack thereof. Its meter is infamously prone to repeated failures, the shutter is also many times less durable than that of the true Leicas, and unlike any other M Leica its rangefinder beam-splitter is prone to de-silvering. Add to that the pitifully short physical baselength of the rangefinder, dimished further by the 0,6x de-maginification, and the plastic film clip of the take-up spool which is prone to breakage, and the CL falls short of every known parameter upon which it could be compared to the other members of the M range. I have never before heard nor seen any documentation that any CL was ever produced at Wetzlar, however that is irrelevant as the point of manufacture has no bearing whatsoever on the facts that place the CL far below the other Leicas. If it was in fact designed in Wetzlar then for the first time in history the Germans tried their best to copy the 1970's Japanese paradigm of the cheap-to-make compact rangefinder, because in every imagineable way the CL was a departure from the standards of quality and engineering that were Leica's hallmark.

Peter Volle , March 28, 2006; 09:47 A.M.

Excellent review. It may be added that the third strap lug and the M4-P frameset with 6 frames (including frames for 28mm and 75mm lenses) can (even today, afaik) be retrofitted by the Leica customer service if required. My M5 works fine with a battery adaptor for SR44 silver oxide cells, so for me there is an alternative to mercury cells and no need to use Wein cells. All in all the M5 is a perfectly usable camera that as a user I prefer to all the other Ms.


John Newell , March 28, 2006; 10:39 A.M.

One general comment on the early paragraphs of the review. These give me the impression that the decisions of the Leitz engineers regarding size and styling might have been 1970s (admittedly early 1970s) developments and/or casual accidents, but neither is the case. In terms of how long the camera that became the M5 was under study and development, remember that the Viso III (introduced in 1963, if I recall correctly) already accommodates the taller height of the M5. There are early M4 prototypes that are visibly really proto-M5s, which suggests that the M4 was originally intended to incorporate TTL metering and that what we know as the M4 was really a stop-gap, intended to rationalize and update the M3/M2 product line until the "real" M4 (which in the event was the M5) could be fully developed.

In terms of the shape of the body and the camera's controls, there is an interesting article in the #4 issue of the 1972 volume of LFI on how the Leitz engineers approached the design of the M5. It's clear that they really spent a lot of time on even minute details, such as the shape of the ASA/ISO adjustment dial. I doubt any detail, such as the squared corners of the M5 body, was a casual decision! If they goofed, they did so intentionally.

That really is the story and the irony of the M5 in my opinion. The Leitz engineers poured immense amounts of time, thought, money and probably love into the design of this "ultimate" M-body. They designed and built it to the highest standard that the firm had ever achieved. In many ways, it eclipses all prior M bodies and ist still viable competition as an excellent working tool. Ultimately, though, Leitz misjudged the market and, probably, their product. The market for rangefinder cameras had shrunk under the onslaught of the Japanese system SLR camera, and the market that remained for a top quality RF camera was not ready to accept a Leica M body that departed from the pattern introduced with the M3. Indeed, the reaction to the right/wrong-way shutter speed dial and even the slightly increased height of the M6TTL/M7 demonstrates that a significant portion of that market is still reluctant to accept changes in that pattern! Which, to borrow a phrase, proves that even if you build it, they will not necessarily come.

Carsten Bockermann , March 28, 2006; 10:46 A.M.


your review really makes me regret that I sold my M5 a couple of years ago.



Peter Mead , March 28, 2006; 02:52 P.M.

Craig, Very well communicated and amazingly detailed. A real pleasure to read.

~ Jon ~ , March 28, 2006; 07:46 P.M.

Nice job, Craig.

craig h , March 28, 2006; 08:53 P.M.

John, I'm glad you jumped in.

I do give the impression that the M5 just materialized out of the ether overnight, and as you pointed out that was not the case. It's a point worth reinforcing, that the M5 was obviously a camera in which Leitz expended a great deal of effort and pride. That is evident in the superb detailing and the quality of finish. The result was a very modern camera, both in terms of styling and features.

The gut feeling I get, is that much of the negative reputation of the M5, stems more from its poor sales figures than anything else. A,"if nobody bought it, it couldn't have been any good", mentality if you will.

That perception was probably reinforced by the reintroduction of the M4 after the M5 was scrapped. The M4-2 basically tapped into a hardcore market of Leica traditionalists. Of course the dynamics around the M5's history and people's attitudes toward it are much more involved. If anything the M5 is an interesting camera because of the strong emotions, both good and bad, that people seem to have toward it. I've never met anyone who takes a neutral position.

I should also make a disclaimer,I cannot claim to be an authority on Leica cameras, rather simply a photographer who has used them over the years. Regarding the kind comments above about "well researched"... I committed a fraud... fact is I my research never took me further from the office. Basically sat in front of the computer with a few old Leica catalogues, manuals etc, together with my M5 and typed away. A case in point is the table;

"Leica M bright-line frame statistics"

where I followed conventional (and erroneous wisdom) on effective RF base-length measurements.

Steve Gandy (http://www.cameraquest.com/leica.htm) cites Sherry Krauter, "Viewfinder", 2nd Quarter (1995) and Gunter Osterloh, "Leica M: The Advanced School of Photography", as definitive authorities on RF base-length data. Models from M4P onwards have a slightly larger base-length (69.25mm) than earlier Leica Ms (68.50). The M6J has a base-length of 68.85mm. These measurements would of course refect differnt effective base-lengths provided in my table above.

regards C.

Dead Metaphor , March 30, 2006; 02:20 P.M.


Thanks for the review. I've been in love with my m5 since the 70s. The best camera Leica ever made. I even think it looks great, but then again I'm not objective. But other M's have come and gone, while the only M I wont ever sell is the M5.

Vuk Vuksanovic , March 30, 2006; 11:35 P.M.


you're quite right that the CL suffers by comparison to other M bodies, yet lenses are a lot more important and it so happens that the summicron 40 (standard for the CL) is one of the best ever made.

btw--i do admire your devotion to quality. is there a place i/we could see some of your photos? i can't seem to find a link in your profile.

terence mahoney , April 03, 2006; 11:56 A.M.

Many wedding albums here in Dublin contain my shots. If any of those folk want their faces on the internet they can put them there themselves. I don't do "personal photography", it's too much like work. My hobby is bird-watching, without a camera.

craig h , April 09, 2006; 05:42 A.M.


another worthwhile M5 URL

google translated from French

ben conover , September 05, 2006; 02:31 P.M.

Great review, very well written and made some sense to me, even though I've never held a Leica, yet.


Paul Levin , February 02, 2007; 07:10 A.M.

Thank you.

Justin Scott , April 09, 2007; 08:12 P.M.

Dear Craig, I have lost your e-mail address. Can you make contact please? 03 9923-6155 Sincerely, Justin Scott

Lawrence Impey , November 05, 2007; 12:00 P.M.

Nobody seems to like to hang this camera vertically but in fact it's a wonderful idea, provided you know where to hang it! An M5 should hang over your left shoulder, not over your chest. Now, because the camera is hanging vertically you can bring the viewfinder up to your eye in one swift movement. This is impossible with conventional, horizontal strap lugs, which ensure that you will hang the camera over your chest. By comparison this is rather uncomfortable and indiscreet, don't you think? It seems the Leica designers really did think of everything with the M5.

John Wayne , November 07, 2007; 04:13 P.M.

Great Review :}

Margot Mills , September 27, 2008; 05:38 P.M.

The M5 is a wonderful camera, I would reccomend leica owners to keep, do not sell, your camera. does anyone know what size the internal battery is?

Albert Spohn , January 25, 2009; 04:12 P.M.

Wonderful article, but is it really considered a universal truth that the camera is ugly? I find it extremely attractive. Then again, I find B-52s and Tiger Tanks to be attractive as well...

Ian Tindale , April 10, 2009; 04:51 P.M.

"improved fool-poof design"!

Stephen York , March 31, 2012; 12:55 P.M.

I finally got one of these cameras after years of waffling.  I'm stunned.  In terms of practicality, it tops even my M7, and it's loads more fun to shoot.  In terms of 'fit and finish' it's the nicest camera I've ever owned, and through the last two decades I've owned plenty of Ms; M4, M6, M6ttl, MP and M7.  And no, it's not big.  Perfect for my large hands, and smaller then a 'normal m' in a 1/2 case.  What are people talking about?  Sure, it looks different, and then you realized form followed function.  I've come to the conclusion that most Leica users are concerned with image, and I'm not talking about what appears on the negative.  I use to be one of them, and I don't begrudge people that either, but don't bash a camera unless you've used it.  I need to get another one of these M5s so that I can let my M7 go to someone who'll appreciate it a bit more.  The M5 simply rocks.  Beautiful camera.

David Strachan , June 06, 2012; 09:48 P.M.

I'm getting into Leica!

I love well built cameras, particularly rangefinders.  Based on what I have researched the M5 looks very good...I am considering buying one. 

Thanks for the really great review and observations about the M5; you have helped me immensely.

David Strachan

Enrico V. , July 24, 2012; 11:44 A.M.

Leica M5: the "professional" M

Hi, this is what I think about Leica M5...

Leica M5 is mi favourite camera.

I own a Leicaflex SL2 system, a Spotmatic system and a Nikonos system too, and my hands are rather big...

I think that the (great) review failed to understand this camera, as most people, but let's start from the beginning...

In my opinion, problem with M5 is due to previous Leica M3 and M4; like all Leica M cameras, they are wonderful ones: legendary lenses, ergonomic, silent, style and people accustomed with them are very happy...

I think Leica with M5 want to build the best camera ever, reflex included: to do that, designers try to overtake limits of others previous M camera. They designed a great internal lightmeter, a joke to do zone method, and to match reflex camera they changed the shape for the best ergonomic with visoflex. In my opinion Leica M5 is the best camera to use with visoflex (280, 400, 560...), very well balanced, and best  balance with "huge" Leica lenses: noctilux, summicron 90, 135s...Professional camera are generally "bigger" than "prosumer" camera(nikon F2 vs Fm, ecc) because, generally speaking, "professional" lenses are bigger, and to balance the camera with lens, is better to design them big and weighty. Even more, they changed the position of speed dial, great to shot in "aperture priority", and position of the rewind lever to overtake the limits of previous cameras.

In my opinion Leica thought in this way: "You can buy a previous Leica m3,2,4 or CL for usual lenses: but if you want the professional M, here you are!".

Leica wrong marketing. Pleople buy Leica loved the ergonomic and the style of previous Ms, and did not care about Visoflex: and for usual lenses, from 21 to 90 (few people use 135, and about nobody Visoflex...), others Leicas was overall best. Simply, customers wanted a leica M4 with a TTL lightmeter: Leica M6, but this is another story...

So, if you are accostumed to use a Leica M5 with the half leather case, in orizontal position, even with usual lenses (from 21 to 90), probably you will have steadier shots, "bigger-heavier-steadier", that's why is my favourite camera. Even more, is the only Leica film camera with self-timer with a lightmeter inside...But if you do not care about Visoflex and to have a TTL lightmeter with self-timer, other ones are, overall, probably better...

These are my opinions, regards Enrico.





Alex S. , November 14, 2012; 07:36 A.M.

This is a superbly crafted article from Craig.  It is well balanced, exploring this eccentric first attempt at a TTL metering rangefinder by Leica.  The M5 is, in my view, an aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing camera.  I have played with the idea of buying one for years.  Why haven't I bought one?  Meter worries mostly.  Batteries are no issue, however, as I can get all the batteries and adapters I need in Japan.  There are wonderful things about the M5, like the oversized shutter speed dial, the shutter speeds display in the viewfinder and the match needle metering.  If only it could accept a motor or rapid winder.  This 2006 review by this excellent reviewer has again sparked my interest in the M5.

Andrew Fishkin , March 01, 2014; 03:56 P.M.

Great article. I just bought an M5 fully serviced (black, 3 lug) from Sherry Krauter and can't imagine a better film camera.

stuart walker , September 03, 2014; 12:29 P.M.

I believe that Junku Nishimura thinks that too Andrew!

I have two M5 bodies, one with a 50mm f/1.4 and one with a 50mm f/1.5.

They are super working tools and especially for low light work at a slow (handheld) shutter speed

Andrew Fishkin , October 28, 2014; 11:24 A.M.



My outfit is pretty close to yours.  For all-Leica I carry the 35mm f/2.5 Summarit, 50mm f/2 Summicron (v5) and 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit (thin).  If I anticipate a lot of indoor or night photography or just want its special look, I'll switch the 50 cron for 1937 uncoated Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm f/1.5 Sonnar.  Either way, the M5 is fantastic.

stephen jahrling , April 15, 2015; 12:24 A.M.

I have used Leica screw-mount gear for years and am just now getting into M-mount (better late than never). Just bought a black chrome 1971 M5 and a new Elmarit-M f2.5 75mm. Great camera, fine lens, extremely quiet with a solid, lovely feel to it. Bigger and heavier than my iiiG, of course, but not terribly huge. Just bought a 1.5 volt battery converter from the Netherlands and will run a roll of cheap Kodak color print film this week - just develop the negs with a photo CD to check overall sharpness and image quality. Very excited - I really love the M5 so far. As for the "brutalist" lines, it reminds me of the Mercedes 280-SL convertibles from the '70s and '80s - slightly boxy, but elegant in their own way. Also revved up to be getting back to B&W film again. As for the lug issue, I usually shoot from a small shoulder Domke bag, rather than use a strap. Plus I enjoy the idea of using gear that makes some Leicaphiles blanche, if not hurl their breakfast. But then I tend to march to my own rhythm section in general. =)

allan crook , August 18, 2016; 03:06 P.M.

I had a 2-lug M5 for some years.

I liked it.  even the shape!. the weight was not noticeably different to my M2

totally reliable, as a travellers camera, in all temperatures.  imo it had/has:

- best metering of any leica:- mine with a 50 summilux was ideal for subtle, low-light people photography, giving atmospheric results

-best ergonomics of any M, the shutter-speed dial is ace.


- I think quietist shutter of all the 5 Ms' I have owned -  M2-M6.


best viewfinder of any M, cooatings p used prevent flare

-fastest loading system of any M.  

                                                                                      - mine, with a 50 summilux eas great ideal for subtle low-light people photography.

fastest rewinding of any M - handy.


either of the camera 'ever-ready' cases were any good.  a soft one with a zip - no real protection, hard onewas huge.  ugh.


I later had an M&; I tink the M5 was better overall, in use. (contraversial, I know)

apparently the common wisdom is that M5 prices have stabilized, after an upblip caused by japanese rediscovery of it, years ago.oh, I remember seeing a newsreel, showing one f the popes official photographers using one in the vatican...because it was silen tand ideal for available -light photography, where flash could disturb?.  so there.

my camera had an immaculate satin-chrome finish. - shiny as a III series.

the camera is now mostly a 'glass cabinet model', shame.  if you want a film camera, its a goodie.- best if you can handle and check all functions before payment.

the electronics used within the camera must be of the sub-miniature type. gossen/metrawatt are stillservicing the leicameter MR; so presumably still available - not everything is on a IC chip, even today.

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