The Phoblographer’s Guide to Buying a Used Leica

Most vintage Leicas retain their value very well over time. Be sure to brush up on these tips before you invest in a used Leica of your own.

Vintage Leica cameras are prized by many photographers for their robust build quality, reliability, and tactile feedback. While much of the photography industry today is predominately digital, used analog Leicas of yesteryear remain highly sought after camera. The nostalgia factor is undeniable, but their overall pleasing shooting experience undoubtedly plays a huge part as well. If you’ve been wanting to get your hands on a used Leica, here are some important tips to be aware of:

Best Value

Leica cameras generally command hefty price tags. If you want to get the most for your money (who wouldn’t?), the Leica CL, Leica M6, and Leica M4-P offer some of the best value when it comes to used Leicas. We’ve reviewed all three cameras and had the following to say about each:

Leica CL

“This camera is built like a tank and as good as most other Leica cameras I’ve used. Some people don’t like the shutter dial, but I do. Since I never keep a battery in mine, I don’t mind taking it out into the rain…”

from Vintage Camera Review: Leica CL (Leitz Minolta CL, Minolta CLE)

Leica M6

“Using the Leica M6 TTL is pretty straightforward. If you’ve never used a Leica before, then so much about it will annoy you. But if you’re willing to understand the philosophy of why and how it works, you’ll discover that it’s wonderful. To use the Leica M6 TTL you simply load some film into it, set the ISO, half press the shutter, meter the scene, adjust your exposure, and shoot. Of course, you need to pre-focus and all that good stuff, but the process makes you much more a part of the image than most modern picture taking does.”

from Review: Leica M6 TTL (The Best Film Camera They Ever Made)

Leica M4-P

“So why would you get a Leica M4-P? Well, if you want to have the widest variety of frame lines per your favorite focal lengths, if you want a very reliable camera, if you want a number of shutter speeds, and if you want a Leica M mount camera with a great viewfinder, then there is very little that can beat the Leica M4-P. Plus, they’re really decently priced.”

from Vintage Camera Review: Leica M4-P (Leica M Mount)

Lens Selection

A camera is only as good as the lenses you pair it with, and the same holds true for Leicas. If your wallet is still recovering after picking up a used Leica, consider checking out competitively priced M mount lenses from Voigtlander and 7Artisans. If you won’t settle for anything less than the very best, you can’t go wrong with Leica’s own M mount lenses or those from Zeiss. Just be prepared to shell out some serious moolah.

Know What You’re Getting Into

Most Leica cameras are rangefinders. It may require some getting used to if you’ve only shot with SLR style camera bodies. You’ll also get the most out of your used Leica rangefinder by zone focusing. If you’re not familiar with the technique, be sure to check out our Guide to Zone Focusing Your Camera’s Lens. If you’ve only shot with digital cameras and you’re just getting into analog photography with your newly acquired used Leica, take the time to learn the ins and outs of its operation. Shooting with an analog Leica is a unique tactile experience that, once mastered, can be very rewarding.

Required Maintenance

Although many photographers prize used Leica cameras for their simplicity in operation, it’s important to remember that they are still precision crafted machines. Unless you’re buying a used Leica from someone you know personally, and they’ve babied their camera throughout ownership, there’s really no way for you to know how the camera was handled. Think of it like purchasing a vintage sports car. After you’ve taken delivery of the vehicle, the first thing you’ll want to do is getting it inspected and serviced to make sure there aren’t any issues under the hood. Getting your used Leica CLA’d (which stands for Clean, Lubricate, and Adjust) is essentially the same thing. Do some research and make sure you send your used Leica to a reputable source to get CLA’d.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.