This Old Camera: Leica R4

Did not expect this at all.

Through the kindness of friends, I was able to borrow a Leica R4. If I am honest a hunt for a Leica R camera was the starting point that ended with my recent Contax 137 MA Quartz.

 

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Honestly expected to like, even love this camera.

Its:

  • All black.
  • A Leica for Pete’s sake.
  • Build. A sturdy tank of a thing.
  • A number of quite clever internal metering modes.

Some ding it for having Minolta internals. Not me. I love Minoltas. Plus this camera feels nothing like a Minolta. They definitely hit it with the Leica brick bat.

Usually, I can find something to like about near any camera. But I struggled with this one.

So what is the issue? Not 100% sure. If I had to make a wager…

  • It goes a bit past sturdy and pulls up right next to feeling heavy.
  • Feel. It does not feel good. Top is metal. But the leather. How did they manage to get leather to feel like plastic? Is it leather? The Canonet feels way better for instance.
  • Controls. I consider myself a fairly bright fellow. But these controls, while not necessarily that difficult, are at war with my limited attention span.
  • Mode overload. The modes are great actually but seem needlessly complex.
    • ‘m’ lower case is manual. Does not impact operation, but being the sole lower case mode triggers my self-diagnosed low-grade OCD.
    • ‘A’ with a circle. Aperture priority. Has a long name in the manual, but let’s call it center spot metering.
    • ‘A’ with a square. Another aperture priority. Has a long name in the manual, but it is scene average metering.
    • ‘P’ Program controlling both aperture and shutter speed. if you have the right lens. More on that later.
    • ‘T’ something. No, wait I remember this is actually neat. Shutter priority mode. The bonus? The shutter speed indicator with LEDs oriented vertically on the right of the viewfinder switches to an aperture scale. Hard to explain. Neat to see in action. Lost a few seconds playing with it… But you have to have the right lens.
  • The lens thing. At first I thought aperture priority was wonky. Then I figured out that stop down metering has to be used. My guess was that the lens was the culprit and I was right. All R lenses are not created equal. Aperture ring linked AE requires a 3 cam lens. After some googling I found that the lens in question is a 1 cam lens. This is aggravated by the fact that metering is only active while half pressing the shutter or pressing the button on the mode dial. So stop down metering means pulling the lever back while pressing another button to keep metering active while also turning the aperture ring. Then release the lever and take the shot. The opposite of fun actually.
  • Lens prices. Need a 3 cam, buy a 3 cam to eliminate needing to do stop down metering you might say. But these lenses are quite expensive. For reasons I cannot fathom this 1 cam lens is expensive. They run around $400. A 3 cam version is even more. And this is a humbly spec’d f/2 lens. The f/1.4 is more.www.ericlwoods.com

There are pluses.

  • With the proper lens, this has program, shutter, and aperture priority modes.
  • Ingenius viewfinder.
  • Leica lenses. Price no object this is a great thing.

Result? When I borrowed this camera I thought there was a high likelihood I would end up wanting to buy it. Nope. Though this is a fine camera that could make someone very happy for the first time ever I am seriously contemplating removing the roll of film I started in it and calling it a day. I have no desire to shoot another frame with it.

That about does it. Your mileage may vary. If you are like me and for some crazy reason you find yourself wanting a film Leica SLR I would recommend you either borrow one like I did or make sure you purchase it from a store with a great return policy just in case first. You may love it.

 

Happy shooting.

-ELW