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Which vintage Leica to get?

Philippe waex , May 09, 2009; 09:46 p.m.

My Yashica 35 just died and I'll be looking for a new vintage rangefinder, probably a good time to get my first Leica. Any suggestion to help me chose a model is welcome.

Responses


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Cary Chin , May 09, 2009; 10:14 p.m.

It depends on what you plan to photograph and budget.

Alex S. , May 09, 2009; 10:25 p.m.

A good and fairly cheap Leica is the IIIf. There are also a lot of excellent screw mount 50mm lenses out there that do not cost much--Canon being both cheap and very good, plus being less prone to fogging than vintage Leica lenses. Learning to load it may be irksome for you.

If you do not mind spending a bit more, go with the the Leica M2 or M3. Or you might even consider an M4.

I am partial to the M2 because of it's unclttered 35-50-90 frames. But I am also a great lover of the M6 classic and M6 TTL for their versatility and build quality. By Leica standards, they are fairly cheap.

There are other vintage RFs that come to mind--Cannon being one--but Leica is simply the best and most repairable.

If you want a good cheap thirll, get a Canon 7 with 35-50-85-100-135 frames. Or a 7s for a bit more money. Canon RFs' weak points are their shutters. Stephan Gandy of Cameraquest assured me that his tech could fix Canon RFs.

Wentzu Chang , May 09, 2009; 10:49 p.m.

we have an old IIIc, beautiful...it is cheap to get on ebay. The draw back is, it is impossible to focus, and take pictures at night...it takes a while to get used to the focusing.

Richard G , May 10, 2009; 05:26 a.m.

Not sure how seriously you intend the word vintage. It makes me think of LTM (Leica thread mount) definitely. M2 and M6 great suggestions. I had an M4 which was superb. When that was stolen I bought an M4-2, a very under-rated camera. A late model is an excellent camera and usually very good value. Traded it in for the M6 but I intend to get this again. It is very slightly lighter than the others, but I could swear that I still remember the light feel of my M4-2 and 50 Summicron over the shoulder. It was my first and only all-black camera and I loved it and used it a lot and didn't baby it as much as my others. It should be the cheapest way in unless you find a bargain M6. Nearly all of the earlier ones are going to need a CLA unless it was done recently.

John Sypal , May 10, 2009; 07:48 a.m.

A Canon P with a new Voigtlander lens and you'd be set. Or, like in the picture below, match it up with a Canon 35mm f2.

John Shriver , May 10, 2009; 08:53 a.m.

The budget choice is any of the Leica III series. Well, I'd start at a Leica IIIa at least, since the 1/1000 shutter speed can be quite important with today's ISO 400 films in bright sun. But, realize that if you buy one, you many need to invest $100 to $200 in getting it up to snuff. With a new half-silvered mirror in the rangefinder, it's quite easy to focus. (Wen's RF mirror is probably tarnished.) The IIIc is equally fine, although the closer windows on the back make the viewfinder (not the RF) a little dimmer and squintier. The IIIf adds two features of minimal value -- a self-timer, and a very fiddly system of flash sync.
An alternative is the Canon II, III, and IV series. You get a single window with combined viewfinder and rangefinder. Slightly heavier than the screwmount Leicas, at least as well built. The half-silvered mirror is part of a cemented prism, and is not prone to failure like the Leica's. On the other hand, Canon's shutter curtain material on these cameras was less durable than Leica's.
Top-of-the-line in screwmount is the Canon P, 7, and 7s. The P is elegant, and has fixed 35, 50, and 100mm framelines. But they are Albada framelines, they aren't all that bright and distinct, and they are all there all the time. The 7 and 7s have true switchable bright-line frames, for lenses for 35mm to 135mm. The meter on the 7 is hit or miss, the meter on the 7s is respectable for a non-TTL meter.
For the M Leicas, the M2 has wonderful 35/50/90 framelines. If you're not into the 35mm focal length, then the M3 becomes a choice, with a high-magnification 50/90/135 frameline set. If you want through-the-lens metering, the M6 classic is the choice, with framelines in pairs so you get 28 to 135 framelines.

Peter Shawhan , May 10, 2009; 03:08 p.m.

What to get depends both on what you want and expect out of using a vintage rangefinder, and on your budget. Other posters here have offered you some good advice, depending on your preferences.

A Leica IIIf would be a good choice if you want the vintage experience with a capital V, and have a relatively modest budget. This camera would have such vintage features as separate rangefinder and viewfinder eyepieces, a winding knob rather than a winding lever, and a separate shutter speed dial for the slow shutter speeds. It would also need accessory viewfinders for any lenses other than a standard 50mm lens. There would be a large variety of Leica thread mount (LTM) lenses available for it, including vintage LTM lenses from Leica, Canon and Nikon (Nikkor) and current- production lenses from Voigtlander.

A Canon P would be somewhat more expensive, but would offer somewhat more in the way of modern conveniences. It would have a single viewfinder/rangefinder window, a winding lever, a single shutter-speed dial, and viewfinder frames for 35mm, 50mm and 100mm lenses. It could take a wide variety of LTM lenses, including not just Canon LTM lenses but Leica, Nikkor and Voigtlander LTM lenses as well. It was very well built.

A Leica M2 would cost more than either a IIIf or a Canon P. It would be a more modern and convenient camera than a IIIf. Like the Canon P, it would have a single viewfinder/rangefinder window, a winding lever, and a single shutter-speed dial. It would also have separate viewfinder frames for 35mm, 50mm and 90mm lenses, either triggered automatically by the lens mounts or controllable by a lever on the front of the camera. It could handle a broader variety of lenses than the IIIf or the Canon P. It could take either vintage or current production Leica M mount lenses, as well as current production Zeiss and Voigtlander M-mount lenses and some older Minolta and Konica M-mount lenses. Using an LTM to bayonet adapter, it could also take all of the LTM lenses that a IIIf or Canon P could take. It would be a highly precise and durable piece of equipment.

For what it's worth, I own both a Canon P and a Leica M2, and while the P is quite a good camera, I prefer the M2.

Any one of these cameras is now old enough that it would be advisable to get a professional cleaning, lubrication and adjustment (CLA) if the camera had not had one recently. This might not be cheap, but would represent an investment in both the performance and the longevity of the equipment.

Any one of these three cameras (or other comparable models) would also require the use of an external, hand-held light meter.

Kerry Kennedy , May 11, 2009; 02:14 a.m.

I have IIIc's, IIIf's, and a M2, M3 and M6 classic. All neat cameras, all with quirks.
Since you are coming from a Yashica 35, a nice modestly priced camera, I am going to suggest you get a Konica auto S2. I bought my first one in vietnam in 1966 in the PX for $35. It has provided the biggest bang for the buck of any camera I own (over 100).
It has a f/1.8 45mm lens which is quite sharp. The combines RF/VF is large and superior to any LTM Leica. It has brightlines that adapt for parallax. It can be operated in full manual mode or in automated shutter priority mode. One problem is that it was designed for 1.35 mercury batteries, but there are workarounds. It is a fixed lens camera.
You can probably pick one up for around $50. The bodies are durable and hold up well in their old age. I suggest that you try one and see if it meets your needs.
For reasons that I can't express well, I love my Leica LTMs but loading film is a pain, the separate viewfinders and rangefinders are squinty, but while their design is faulty, their workmanship is first rate.
If you get an LTM, send it to john Maddox for a CLA. If you get a Leica M, plan on winning the lottery if you intend to have a variety of lenses.
I sometimes wonder if Leicas are a blessing or a money pit curse.

Andre Sainderichin , May 11, 2009; 05:30 a.m.

Hello Philippe, My two bits worth... I own a 1936 Leica IIC, a 1950 IIIf, a 1998 M6 TTL. They're all great cameras. The older two I got fairly cheap on eBay (about 400$ with lens and case), the M6 I bought privately, much more expensive (about 3000$ with 50mm an 90mm lenses and cases). They're all excellent cameras. The older ones are not too expensive (but I agree with the others contributors: get them a CLA, they'll be transfigured), lenses are reasonable cheap and easy to find. They were so incredibly well designed and built that a great many survived into the 21st century, which explains that even in excellent condition, they're quite affordable. I don't think their design is faulty: it was state of the art back then, but our ideas about design have evolved. Although I have to admit that film loading in the TMLs is a tad tricky. But: if you cut the leader in half (lenghtwise, of course) for an extra 2 inches or so, I find it's no great deal.
OK, I'm a snob. But walking around Florence or Sienna or Paris with a Leica II, is sort of a statement. Holding and working these jewel-like pieces of precision equipment is a joy, time and again. They force you to take your time for a photo (winding, focusing, setting diaphragm and shutter, framing), provide you with a fantastic experience, every picture you take. And the lenses are of course excellent, even the older ones. OK, they may not have coating, contrast will be lower, but other than that: excellent. I rarely use a lightmeter, so for me, they're just fine. The M6 of course is a modern camera (TTL metering), very convenient and well thought out, with an incredible line of incredibly expensive lenses. If you can afford it, go: excellent value.
I don't know about Canon or Konica. But you might check the thread I launched a few weeks ago on this forum re: the Voigländer Vito RB. Of course, it doesn't have interchangeable lenses, but other than that, it's a very good camera, built like a tank, that you can pick up for relatively little money.
Good luck, and have fun! André


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