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Leica M4-P: Camera Idol

I dried off my hands and returned to my desk. One missed call, and my heart sank--it was DHL Uh oh, I thought, will they take it back to Japan? Can they do that? I wheeled round, grabbed my mask and ran down to the street in front of my apartment. I flagged down the DHL driver, who gave me my package. Just as quickly, I bounded upstairs and opened up my package--a Leica M4-P with a 50mm summicron. All mine.

Collectors in other fields talk of their grails--the single piece that they fetishize above all others. Watch collectors whisper of Patek Phillippe minute repeaters, and fountain pen collectors speak reverently of certain Omas pens. It's the sort of enthusiasm that keeps the juices flowing through a hobbyist community but that also divides insiders from outsiders.

I think Leicas occupy that ground for many photography people, especially if they have taken a class with "street" or "decisive" on the syllabus. I fall into that trap, but I admit all Leicas more or less look alike to me. In fact, the only one that looks different is the M5, and although I think it's fine, there's a collective sense that people should avoid it. At any rate, after extensive research about the shapes of film advance levers and top plates, I settled on the M4-P. It has the classic Leica shape, all the frame lines that I could think of and no light meter. I went back and forth on the last point. But I decided against a light meter for two reasons--number one, the Leicas with light meters are more expensive. It seemed to me that an M6 classic version costs about $1000 more than an M4-P in the same condition. Number two, there are many good light meters available. I keep a small Voigtlander light meter attached to my M4-P, and it's reliable enough. It's field of view also works with a 50mm lens, so I'm golden.

I bought the camera from Japancamerahunter. It was a painless process, and I would not have relied on anybody else to make this purchase. I've followed the JCH website for a very long time--once I asked him about a Rollei SL66 (another story), but this was my first transaction with JCH. I would recommend their services to anybody who wants to buy excellent used camera equipment. The M4-P that I pulled from the box was exactly as it was described. I asked JCH for a camera in excellent condition, and that's exactly what they sourced for me. A stunning camera and lens combo. Here's a link to JCH's website and their recent video about the Leica M4-P. If I end up looking for another lens or body, I'd go straight back to JCH.

At this point, I've shot a fair number of rolls with the Leica. I've taken it on family vacations, on trips to the beach, and, yes, even to take some photos on the street. It is a wonderful performer. It is absurd at this point to write another Leica review, especially of a model in the M series. Like I said, they all look alike, and they function in the same wonderful way. Mine is quiet and reliable, and I've found it easier to load film into my M4-P than I expected. It may a bit of a learning process for people who haven't focused on a rangefinder before, but I don't think that concern should be overstated. It's pure delight.

My favorite thing about the camera is the bright, empty viewfinder. It keeps me engaged and cheery as I burn through film. I would only raise two caution flags for people who'd like to buy and use a Leica M4-P. First, the camera is quite dense even if it's not particularly heavy. I have mine on a Peak Design strap for comfort and added assurance. Second, four-eyed photographers should be careful: the eye piece is made of metal. I bought a cheap little plastic eyepiece to protect my glasses, and it has saved me a lot of headache.

Most of the time, I don't like to leave my M4-P in a camera bag. It typically sits out on a shelf where I can look at it and think of the next time I can take it with me to take some pictures. There are many reasons not to buy a Leica or a film camera. But the experience of using an M4-P is truly second to none. You wouldn't expect anything less from an idol.

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Mar 14, 2021

It seems to me that owning and shooting a film Leica is more than just "taking pictures". When shooting film with this camera, you are going back in photographic time, to the history of early photography, to film as a medium to capture images, to the history of Leica as a early benchmark for cameras, and to all the great B&W photographers that came before. Keep shooting! There are more decisive moments yet to be captured!

Mar 15, 2021
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I will keep trying--its fun to break out some film!

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