Fancy a dabble into the world of collecting old Leica cameras? You don’t need a fortune and you can make your first investments for well under £500, according to Paul-Henry van Hasbroeck, the well-known collector and author.
Paul-Henry was speaking at another of those fascinating webinars hosted by Robin Sinha of the London Leica Akademie. During the lockdown, Robin has been working his socks off presenting a wide range of tips and lectures on all aspects of Leica photography.
Leica collecting is a popular pastime. One of the big advantages is that the starting bar is very low and the objects of desire are so small and easy to manage. You don’t need a four-car garage to house your classic Porsches, nor a palatial, warm shed for your Brough Superior motorcycles. And, compared with collectable cars and motorcycles – just to name two areas of interest – Leica collecting is something you start, almost on a whim, and see how you go. What’s more, old cameras don’t need much maintenance if you make sure that you get a good runner to start with.
Of course, the most desirable Leicas and lenses can cost a fortune, with £1m not unheard of for the juiciest tidbits. What Paul-Henry had in mind in his off-the-cuff suggestion is something much more down to earth, a way of building up a small collection that, with luck, will appreciate in value. The good thing, too, is that the cameras you choose will give you lots of pleasure; they are not just objets d’art to sit in your display case.
What should you be considering if you want to start, gradually, to build up a small collection? Paul-Henry has some suggestions for you. He’s split the advice into price ranges, starting from under £500.
Up to £500
1The Leica IIIf: Made between 1950 and 1957, this is the last of the small-viewfinder screw mount cameras which defined Leica over the previous twenty years. Expect to pay a little more for the more desirable “red dial” version such as the one in the photograph below.
2The Leicaflex SL2: Paul-Henry described as a beautiful single-lens reflex camera which made from 1974 to 1976. The SL2 and the earlier SL, introduced in 1964, aimed to meet the rapid increase in popularity and usability of SLRs during this period. They were limited because they didn’t keep up with the latest in SLR design and their relatively small selection of accessories. They were also extremely expensive in comparison with their Japanese competitors. But, 45 years later, a good used example is an affordable collectors’ piece. You’ll need at least one R-mount lens, however.
3The Leica II or III: Choose an older screw-mount camera manufactured before the second world war. Initial Leica II models were produced in 1932 and there is a vast range of model designations and variations. The III was very similar to the II with the addition of slow shutter speeds which are controlled by a dial mounted front.
From £500 to £1000
4The Leica IIIg: Made from 1957 to 1960, was the last of the screw-mount models and was sold alongside the M3. Its outstanding feature is the larger suspended frame finder which couples to the rangefinder to provide automatic parallax adjustment. However, as with the earlier models up to the IIIf, focus is still carried out by means of a second, much smaller window. The M3, introduced in 1954, was the first Leica to combine viewfinder and rangefinder in one window, hence the German name, Messsucher for M.
5The Leica M5: The first M to feature through-the-lens metering. Styling is unlike any other M, with a taller profile. The M5 was Leica’s attempt to attract a wider market for the rangefinder in its battle with the emerging SLR, but it was controversial and failed to attract enough buyers. Many would say that it is Leica’s finest rangefinder, others would disagree. It was introduced in 1972 to supersede the all-mechanical M4 but was discontinued in 1975 after some 34,000 units had been made. Leica, not in the best financial health at the time, was forced to resurrect the M4 and continue production until the altogether more acceptable metered M6 arrived in 1984. Times change, though, and the M5 is enjoying new popularity and is certainly worth collecting. Bear in mind, though, that it can be expensive if anything goes wrong, so make sure that you get one in full working order.
6The Leica M6: Of all the M models from 1953, Paul-Henry recommends the M6 as the one to go for. Introduced in 1984, it was the first normal-bodied M with through-the-lens metering. Just two or three years ago this camera would have been in the sub-£1,000 bracket but it has become extremely sought after, not least by younger photographers discovering film for the first time.
There are many other Leica film cameras made from the late 1920s to the mid-2010s that you could add to this list. All the M cameras, particularly the M3, M2, M4 could have a place in any collection, although prices have been rising steadily. The later M7, which features the fully automatic operation that you will find on the digital Ms from the M8 onwards, is an excellent camera which is marked down simply because of its complexity. Compared with a fully mechanical camera, such as the M3 to M4, it can be relatively expensive to repair.
How to choose? There are endless variations on Leica film cameras over the past 90 years and it pays to do your homework before taking the plunge. A good place to start is by browsing the websites of specialist dealers. While you can buy privately or via sites such as eBay, I’d always recommend starting with a reputable dealer. They are not necessarily more expensive than buying direct and you have the added confidence that you are dealing with a business. Some offer limited warranties, even on vintage cameras, so ask about this.
It’s a good idea to ask if your chosen camera has had a recent CLA (clean, lubricate and adjust) since the works can gum up and speeds become out of kilter after long storage without regular exercise. If your camera isn’t up to scratch, factor in around £185 for a full service on a screw-mount camera.