Collectible Cameras :: The Leica M-Series

The Leica M-Series

Kindly reproduced with the permission of Amherst Media, Inc.  McBrooms Camera Bluebook.
The Leica M-Series
The Leica M-series rangefinder camera is an enduring classic, much sought after by professionals and collectors alike. Because anything with the name Leica on it is collectible to some degree, minor differences among cameras of the same model can translate into major differences in price. The fine points of Leica collecting are beyond the scope of this book, so only a few differences that affect price will be addressed below. If youíre buying or selling Leica with collecting in mind, several fine publicationsare available. Probably the handiest is a three volume pocket-size set from Hove Photo Books: Leica Pocket Book, Leica Accessory Guide, and Leica International Price Guide. Since this book is intended primarily for the practicing photographer and not the collector, I have omitted the special edition Leicas (such as the Everest, Jubilee and Safari editions), those cameras that were made in very small quantities (such as the MP and M4 MOT) and the cameras intended primarily for scientific use (such as the MD, MDa and MD2). These Leicas are prized by collectors and are bought and sold almost exclusively with collecting in mind, hence it serves no purpose to include them in a price guide for the practicing photographer.
Leica M3, M2 & M1
For the Leica M3, the following abbreviations are used: DS = Double Stroke advance lever, SS = Single Stroke advance lever. Some other abbreviations you may run across (not shown here) are: ST (Self Timer) and PV (Preview lever, which shows frames in the viewfinder for different focal lengths). Some M2s and DS M3s have no self timer and no preview lever. Some have a self timer, but no preview lever. I havenít listed the variants because the price differences are small. Many double-stroke M3s were converted by Leica to single stroke. These cameras, while not listed, sell for about the same as single-stroke M3s with serial numbers below 1 million. Because many sellers price their single- stroke M3s according to the serial number, Iíve listed separate prices for single-stroke M3s with serial numbers above and below 1 million. The M3 was Leicaís first bayonet mount rangefinder camera and, while the design dates back to 1954, it is still considered one of the finest cameras ever made. The M3 has a bright viewfinder, incorporating a parallax- corrected rangefinder and brightline frames for 50mm, 90mm and 135mm lenses. Shutter speeds range from 1 second to 1/1000, plus B, with M and X sync. M3s with serial numbers greater than 915,000 have single-stroke film advance levers. The M2 was originally intended as a less-costly alternative to the M3 and is very similar to its immediate predecessor. The main differences include an external film-counter that must be manually reset and viewfinder frames for 35mm, 50mm and 90mm lenses. Early models have a button release for rewinding the film, later ones have a lever, like the M3. Some collectors make a distinction in price between these two models, but I havenít here since the price variance is small. Less than 10,000 M1s were made, although they are not particularly hard to find on the used market at this time. I suspect this is because they are not very practical for photographic use. Essentially a simplified M2, the M1 lacks a coupled rangefinder and has brightline frames for the 35mm and 50mm lenses only.
Leica M4, M4-2 & M4-P
The Leica M4 was made in chrome and black. About 2,500 of them were made in Canada in both chrome and black. Altogether, less than 9,000 black M4s were made. Black M4s, whether Canadian, black enamel or black anodized, fetch quite a premium because of their relative scarcity and popularity among collectors, and arenít listed. Neither are chrome Canadian M4s (for the same reason). None of the above cameras should be confused with the M4-2 and M4-P. The M4ís physical appearance is similar to that of the M3, the most notable differences being the slanted film rewind knob with a built-in crank and a plastic-tipped film advance lever. Other differences are brightline frames for 35mm, 50mm, 90mm and 135mm lenses and a three-pronged drop-in film loading system that speeds film loading considerably.The M4-2 is an M4 with the following differences: it has a hot shoe, it does not have a self-timer and, most significantly, it was the first regular production M-series Leica to which a separate electric winder could be attached. The M4-P is similar to the M4-2, with one notable difference: 28mm and 75mm viewfinder frames were added, necessitating that all frames be shown in pairs. They are paired as follows: 28mm and 90mm, 50mm and 75mm, 35mm and 135mm. Like the M4-2, a separate winder can be attached.
Leica M5
The Leica M5 represented a departure from Leitzís traditional rangefinder design in a couple of ways. It was the first Leica rangefinder with a meter and it also was much larger than its predecessors. Its popularity never really caught on, although it is a fine picture taker. The semaphore-style behind-the-lens metering system hasnít been without its problems over the years and, because of this arrangement, a few lenses cannot be used on this camera; namely the 21mm Super Angulons and 28mm lenses with serial numbers below 2,315,000.
Leica M6
The Leica M6 is similar to the M4-P and differs primarily from its predecessor in that it has an integral TTL light meter. Unlike the M5, the M6ís meter employs a backward-facing silicon diode that reads a white spot on the shutter curtain to determine exposure. This provides the central 13% of the framed viewfinder area. The electronics for the meter are located where the self-timer is on the M4. As with the M4-2 and M4-P, a winder can be attached.