USED Leica M Buyer's Check List
Don't let cosmetic imperfections bother you, they can save you up to 75%! As long as the body works right, you may as well save your money and not be bothered by minor scratches, minor dents, or engravings. Be on your guard, however, if the body is trashed. There's no telling what that one is like inside.
The first thing experienced buyers do is listen to the one second speed. It should be smooth, relatively on time, and without hesitation. A M camera weak point is slow speeds which are way too slow or hang up entirely. Remedy cost: $175-200 overhaul
Open up the back and watch the shutter through all speeds. Every time you change speeds, you should be able to tell a definite difference in the shutter speed as the shutter is held up against a light.
Watch the curtains close. Make sure the curtains open completely and close completely. Sometimes they hang up and only travel part of the way across, especially on slow speeds.
Watch the closing edge of the 2nd shutter curtain. After the shutter trips, you SHOULD NOT be able to see the seam on the left hand side of the shutter. If you can, it is a sign the shutter needs servicing.
Look at the shutter curtains carefully. With the back door open and no lens, look at both shutter curtains with a strong light behind them. Make sure they have no pinholes from the sun and they show no cracking. Unfortunately Leica M shutter curtains on the M3/M2's just don't last as long as their equally old competitors from Nikon or Canon. Remedy: $200 or more
On 1/15th, you should be able to definitely hear the whirling of two different speed gears
Hold the camera at arms length and look into the finder from the front and the back. It should be clear as a bell. You are looking for possible separation within the finder. Remedy cost: $400 or more
Focus the camera from near and far with a lens on the camera. Make sure the RF image is properly set at infinity and the images properly overlap. This is often out of adjustment, but the problem is only a minor adjustment.
M Finders are bright, especially the rectangular RF patch. If yours is not, clean off the rear eyepiece, the front VF window, and the RF window. If that does not do it, shine a flashlight through the finder system and look for fogging. Occasionally the finder system needs to be cleaned--not an easy job. IF you look thru the finder and part of it is black, the finder is separated or otherwise damaged. It's a VERY expensive repair.
M RF images should be bright. If you focus and barely see a 2nd image to line up, most likely the mirror is in need of cleaning or even replacement.
Use the preview frameline lever to make sure the finders quickly snap into and out of sight without sticking.
Use a strobe to check flash sync. With no lens on the camera and the camera back open, aim the camera and the strobe at any nearby preferably white surface. Push the shutter and make sure strobe pattern is seen across the entire frame.
Film advance should be very very smooth without any binding and very little effort. A camera which has set for years or one that needs servicing will require extra effort. It should be silky smooth and light. If it's not, you are looking at a $175 or more CLA (Clean Lubricate Adjust).
IF you are looking at a later M with motor capability, attach one to make sure all the internal contacts work.
IF your M has a built in meter, test it against a hand held meter you know to be accurate at both low and high light levels. Also remember to check the battery compartment for corrosion damage.
Don't Buy a Leica M "Project Camera" with obvious missing parts, jammed or damaged shutter, separated or damaged finder, among other things -- unless the camera is dirt cheap. Such bargains usually cost more in the long run and eat up a lot of time getting the camera right.
Get a reasonable return privilege if you discover something is wrong once you get it home and take your first roll. Always test any new camera with film before you use it on anything important. Don't think a reputable dealer is out to get you if something is wrong. Dealers are in it for the long haul and want a good reputation. The truth of it is that some defects show up only when pictures are taken and it's impossible to run test rolls through every camera.
Find a good Leica repair person who charges fair prices. Sooner or later you will need them, and it's much easier if you know your repair guy them in advance. Watch out for bargain Leica repairs, your camera could come back with bargain scratches from people who did not know how to work on it. Of course you can send your camera to Leica for repair, but be prepared for the highest repair prices and often a slow turnaround.
Revised: November 18, 2004 . Copyright © 1997-2004 Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved. This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind. Information in this document is subject to change without notice. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.