Category Archives: Collectible Leicas

Leica is F**king With Us Again

Leica M10-P Reporter

Leica Camera has announced a limited edition M10-P “Reporter” as a homage to press photographers.

The M10-P Reporter features a dark green design and Kevlar covering, a high-strength synthetic fiber used in ballistic-protective clothing.  This Kevlar covering will gradually turn the same color as its top and base plates through exposure to sunlight, “developing its own patina, which means that each camera will become a unique signature of its owner.” Leica M10-P Reporter sells for $8,795.00 and is limited to 450 units. No word on whether there will be a subsequent Lenny Kravitz version.

My Question: is there a guy who sits at a desk in Wetzlar tasked with thinking up shit like this that will drive us crazy?

The Leica M10-P Reporter in pre-patina state

The Leica Thread Mount Topcor 50 f/2

Topcor Leica Thread Mount 5cm f2

Weight: 9 ounces (255 grams)
Filter Thread: 40.5mm
Extension from Camera Body at Infinity Focus: 1.62″ (41mm)
Elements: Six elements in Four Groups
Minimum Aperture: F16, click stops

The Leica thread mount Topcor 5cm f/2 is considered one of the best normal M39 lenses of the pre-Summicron era. Some even claim it a match for the Summicrons of the 60s and 70s, at F5.6 and beyond on a par with the most recent versions of the Summicron. (It’s funny how much better Leitz optics are claimed to be unless of course, you’re selling a non-Leitz-made LTM, all of which apparently are “as good or better” than the Leitz version. I fall in with the “as good or better” crowd, finding the ’50s era Nikkors and Serenars typically more robust than that era’s Leitz’s and thus usually in better optical condition today).

Tōkyō Kōgaku Kikai K.K. (Tokyo Optical Company, Ltd.) was established in Tokyo in 1932 and started making lenses in 1935. Initially producing larger format lenses and lenses for the Japanese military, the company made LTM lenses after the War. These LTM lenses were first branded “State”, then “Simlar”, “C.Simlar” before “Topcor”. Topcor optics were considered fine optics back then. Topcon lenses were sharp, indicating a high degree of optical design skill, and build quality was good, on par with ’50s era LTM lenses from Japan and Germany. Mechanically it compared to the LTM Nikkor-s 5cm f2 and to Canon LTM lenses. My early production chrome “Topcor 5cm f/2” (no “s”) came attached to a 1956 Leotax F and has the look and feel of a typical ’50s era fast prime. It’s beautifully machined heavy chrome.

A 1956 Leotax K With the Chrome Topcor 5cm f2

The Topcor 5cm f/2 was sold with the Leotax series of rangefinder cameras from 1956 through 1961, available on the F, T, K, FV, TV2, and T 2L models. They don’t appear to have been sold separately from the Leotax. Early models were chrome, later models black: in 1956 the chrome Topcor f/2 5 cm lens appeared, replaced by the new chrome Topcor-S f/2 in 1957 and updated to the black and chrome panda version in 1958. A black aluminum barrel version was released in 1958. When the Leotax G arrived in 1961, its lens offering was a black Topcor-S 5cm f/1.8. (This new Topcor-S f/1.8 looks similar to the aluminum-bodied f/2, including the 6 elements in 4 groups optical design, 10 aperture blades and 40.5 mm filter thread, but the front elements are noticeably different). All versions of the f/2 feature an optical design of 6 elements in 4 groups, 10 aperture blades.

It’s unclear how many 5cm F2 Topcors were made. It’s uncommon to find them these days. Although maybe 25,000 Leotax’s were produced between 56 and 61, I assume many were purchased with the slower speed Topcor 5cm f3.5, a few more with the expensive 5cm 1.5 ( the 1955 brochure for the F’s introduction lists the 1.5 and the 3.5 5cm as the standard lens options). Undoubtedly many more have disappeared over the years, stuffed in old boxes in attics or simply thrown out as junk. Both the chrome and black Topcor 5cm F2 appear for sale on eBay from time-to-time, usually stuck to a Leotax body at relatively cheap prices. Sold separately, they command a premium price. Makes no sense, but then again, nothing about vintage rangefinder pricing makes sense.

The Leica as An Investment

A Two Page 1973 Leica Advertisement

I ran across this 1973 ad for the Leica M5 and the Leicaflex SL and started thinking about the relative value of Leicas over time and how that value manifests itself today. Many of us consider our Leicas as ‘investments’ in the sense that it’s a pretty safe place to park some cash with the understanding that you’ll be able to get most, or all, or even more, out of it when you sell it. It’s a way I justify buying Leicas to my wife: we could either park an extra 3 grand in our bank account, serving no practical purpose except collecting chicken scratch for interest, or we could ‘invest’ it in the purchase of a Leica, a thing I’ll use and handle and admire and get some practical satisfaction from. I’ll take photos with it and it will inspire me to write about it on the blog. I’ll either like it or I won’t, but I’ll have the experience of having owned it, used it, better understood and appreciated it. And then, if we need the money again, I’ll sell it to a Leicaphilia reader and usually break even. Voila! Money put to good use. And a reader gets a decent deal on a decent camera that they know they can trust. What’s not to like? Of course, Leica could help me circumvent this process by sending me a camera or two to test, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Who knows? Surprise me, Leica. I promise you an honest review.

The first thing that struck me was how expensive, in real terms, the M5 was in relation to the Leica models that had come before. If you run the purchase price numbers given by Leica through an inflation calculator, you’ll come up with the equivalent amount of circa 2021 dollars that purchase price represents. So, for example, buying a Leica Model II d in 1939 for $100 was the equivalent of paying $1900 for it in today’s dollar; a IIIg in 1958 for $163 would be the equivalent of paying $1467 for it today ( interestingly enough, the Professional Nikon, the Nikon SP, with a 50mm Nikkor f/1.4, sold in 1958 for today’s equivalent of $3,000); today an M3 would cost new $2373, the M4 $2320. Expensive, but not prohibitively so. The M5 body, were it sold today, would cost $3663. That’s a big increase in price over the iconic M3 and M4. With a decent Leitz 50mm Summilux (the lens it’s wearing in the Leica advert), it’d cost you >$6000 in today’s money. So, Leicas were pricey even back then. And the M5, now the unloved ugly duckling selling at a discount to the M2-M7, commanded a premium price over the iconic M2, M3 and M4.

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Nikon Price Guide From 1976: Click on it to enlarge it and open it up in a new tab

It also gives us some sense of why the M5 might have ‘failed’ in the market [arguable, but that’s a discussion for another time], as opposed to its failure as an evolution of the M system [which it most certainly was not]. In addition to being technically deficient as a pro ‘system’ camera (based on the inherent drawbacks of a rangefinder) in relation to the Nikon F2 and Canon Ftn, it cost a fortune. To compare, a Nikon F2 Photomic with 50mm Nikkor 1.4, then the state-of-the-art, retailed for $600, although in actuality it sold out-the-door for maybe $500. The M5, you paid full price. Throw in $350 for a Summilux. In today’s money, that means buying a new Nikon F2 with 50mm 1.4 Nikkor in 1973 would set you back $3100, while an M5 with a 50mm 1.4 Summilux in 1973 would cost the equivalent of $6070 today. The M5 with lens was essentially double the price of the top shelf Pro Nikon with lens, which was then the professional’s system of choice.

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What do they go for today? You can sell the M5 and Summilux you bought in 1973 today, almost 50 years later, for +/- $3500. It’s probably going to need a going-over by one of the few techs who still work on the M5 – Sherri Krauter, DAG, one or two others, but that’s the buyer’s problem, not yours. Not a bad return for a camera you’ve used for 48 years. An M4 body, purchased in 1969 for $2300 will fetch you $1500-$1800; a single stroke M3 $1300-$1500; a Leica II d you paid $1900 for in 1939, today, you’ll you get +/- $300. Not exactly a prudent “investment” if you’re looking for a return on your money, but certainly excellent resale value of something you’ve used for half to three/quarters of a century. Like most things Leica, what appears crazy can in reality be quite prudent. Taking it all into consideration, buying a Leica is, moneywise, pretty much a smart idea.

The Last M3 Ever Made….

…is currently for sale on Ebay for $395,000. Payable by Paypal.

“The last Leica M3 and “Newest” Leica M3 made. Production serial No. 1164865. UNIQUE, RARE, OUTSTANDING and SPECTACULAR in every respect!From the last and smallest batch of 20 cameras made in 1966, this being the FINAL and LAST camera of the production line and the final termination of THE GREATEST RANGEFINDER camera EVER MADE if not THE GREATEST CAMERA ever made.A true historical find and in NEW condition, NEVER USED, IN NEW condition as it left the factory more than 60 YEARS ago!
With the original matching serial No. service card and (red + white ) rope that came with the camera, box, foam fittings, caps and allNEW! condition with the original untouhed “L” seal.Along with letters of authenticity from Leica, special order request, original matching order # from the original owner in 1968, receipt and additional letter from Leica to reiterate the authenticity of this camera. “

Seriously. Would you pay $400k for a Leica M3? And if you would, would you think of buying it on Ebay?

Heinrich Hoffman’s Leica

Leica IIIa “Heinrich Hoffmann, Berlin”, 1935 Leitz, Wetzlar. No. 178859. This Leica IIIa with engraving “Presse-Hoffmann, Berlin Nr. 6” is the camera of notorious NAZI press photographer and journalist Heinrich Hoffmann, Munich, later Berlin.This Leica IIIa with serial number 178859 was sold on November 8, 1935 to “Monsieur Hoffmann de Munich”. With Hektor 2,5/5 cm as originally equipped.

Heinrich Hoffmann (12 September 1885 – 15 December 1957) was a Nazi politician and publisher, a member of Hitler’s intimate circle and Hitler’s official photographer. Hoffmann received royalties from the use of Hitler’s image, even on postage stamps, which made him a millionaire during Hitler’s years in power. After the Second World War he was tried and sentenced to four years in prison for war profiteering. He was classified by the Allies’ Art Looting Investigators to be a “major offender” in the plundering of Jewish art, as both art dealer and collector. Hoffman’s art collection, which contained many artworks looted from Jews, was ordered confiscated by the Allies. He recovered the art in 1956 by order of the Bavarian State.

Letter from Ernst Leitz Wetzlar GmbH to French owner of the camera confirming its authenticity

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Benito Mussolini greeting German ldr. Adolf Hitler, whose right arm is in a sling after he was injured during an assassination attempt planned by his own military officers. (Photo by Hoffman)
Hitler admires a model of the Volkswagen car and is amused to find the engine in the boot. He is with the designer Ferdinand Porsche (left), and to the right Korpsfuhrer Huehnlein, Dr Ley, Schmeer, and Werlin. (Photo by Hoffmann/Getty Images)

Woo Hoo! “New” Lenses From Leica

 

Leica has just announced three “New” [read: make some cosmetic changes to an existing lens and run it as a limited edition while jacking up the price to reflect its scarcity] lenses. First is a black-chrome Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH,  (shown above), made to resemble the classic Type 2 lens from the 1950s with the scalloped focus ring, all brass hood and cap, edition of 700, priced $1,600 dollars more than the standard 50mm f2 ASPH.

To put this in perspective, you can buy 4 copies of the 50mm 1.1 7Artisans lens in M Mount, give 3 of them away as gifts, keep the remainder and then also buy the standard Leica 50mm f2 ASPH, all for the same price as this lens.

Next is the  Leica Summaron-M 28mm f/5.6 in matte black paint with matching hood, edition of 500, $400 more than the silver version.

Finally, the Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. in silver, edition of 300, an extra $400 more than the black version.

The Leica KE-7A

The KE-7A is a specialized black chrome M4 made in 1972 by Leitz in their Midland Canada plant and offered in a limited run of 505 pieces  for the U.S. Army. 460 of those units were acquired by the Army. Where the remaining 45 civilian pieces went is unclear.

KE-7As were fitted with modified shutters to operate in temperatures to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, were dust sealed for military field conditions and made to withstand explosive concussion (i.e. bomb blast). The 460 military versions were engraved to indicate that they were standard issue US Army property ( specifically, each with FSN (Federal Stock Number), Cont. (contract designation), and U.S. (United States) markings) and came supplied with a Leitz Midland made 50mm f2 “Elcan”.  The Elcan 50mm f2  (“Elcan” being a contraction of “Ernst Leitz Canada”) was constructed of 4 elements for minimum size for military use. Where the “KE-7A” designation comes from is anyone’s guess.

In 1972, the M4 had been discontinued and replaced by the M5. I can only assume that the Army had placed its order during M4 production and Leitz were committed to provide a camera based on the M4 design. As with all assumptions, this may be wrong.

The Zagato Leica

Zagato is an independent automobile design company and total design center located northwest of Milan, Italy. Apparently they’ve been hired by Leica to create a limited edition M10, price approximately $26,000.

My question is this: what is the Zagato M10’s purpose? Who is it being made for? To do what with? I’d feel vaguely foolish carrying one about for regular use and I don’t care who designs it, or what its made of –  it’s an M10 with non-functional design cues added to appeal to people who know the Zagato name. I’m not sure what car designers, even the best, can add to a photographic device, and the filmed advertisement for it above never articulates an answer to this obvious question. So, the motive behind the camera appears to be pure, vulgar ostentation. Why, when you could easily do so much better?

In any event, regardless of who it’s designed by, it’s not half as cool as a nice, well-used IIIg with Leicavit, which isn’t merely a beautiful design, but was designed as a working camera by designers who were also photographers, functionality always being the best design principle. That’s what the current people running Leica seem not to understand: the timeless designs of the iconic Leica Film rangefinders were a result of functional decisions. Now, design decisions seem to be about bling.

This is a Beautiful Camera. It was designed by camera guys at Wetzlar

As for collector value, I wouldn’t put money on any digital device having long-term value as a collector’s piece, given it’s not a mechanical device but an electronic computer with all the inherent obsolescense problems associated therewith.

Instead of projects like this – designed by luxury car designers or inspired by rock stars – you’d think someone at Leica would think back to Leica’s history and proudly work from there. Is that too much to ask, Leica?  Instead of these pointless vanity pieces, why not play to your strengths and your history and design a new all mechanical film camera, you know, the kind that made you famous. Yes, there’s still a market for serious film photography, certainly a larger market than that of the Zagato M10, and it seems to me you’re the obvious company to exploit it. How about this: stress minimalism – a 35mm rangefinder w/o meter, simple mechanical shutter, manual focus M-mount with capability to use the full range of Leitz optics. Give it an updated body design, not something radical but an evolution of the LTM and/or M models and their timeless designs. Make sure it has an engraved top plate. Please do not put a red dot on it, or a dot of any color. Hand assemble it, just like the IIIg and M3. Price it fairly for both leicaphiles and Leica AG. Don’t do something stupid like giving every buyer a roll of Tri-X to sweeten the deal. Do not put someone’s name on it. In other words, act like the proud company you once were. I’m pretty sure a sufficient number of people would line up to buy it. Or, if that’s too ambitious, why not make a new run of M3’s, much like Nikon did with the S3 and SP in the early naughts…not a replica, but an actual M3 indistinguisable from the ones you made through 1966? I assume you’ve got the tooling to do it. Make some in black paint. Offer it with a Leicavit. Call it the M3R. Leicaphiles will go nuts.

Whichever of the two options you choose, you’ll be trading on the Leica name in a way that honors your history in a serious way and shows some basic understanding of why the Leica name means so much to so many in spite of your heretofore short-sighted vulgarization of the brand. You’d make a lot of us really proud, you’d make a huge splash in the camera world, you’d bolster your flagging reputation with serious photographers, and you’d probably sell a few cameras. And you wouldn’t have to pay some famous designer to do it.

Leica O Series #122 Sells for $2,800,000

A Leica 0 Series No. 122 has sold for 2.4 million euros (2 million hammer price plus surcharge) via Westlicht auction, a new record price for a camera at auction.The Leica 0 series was produced by Leitz in 1923, two years before the commercial launch of the first Leica. Leitz produced 25 test cameras, of which three are left in their original condition.The previous record holder, another Leica O Series, was auctioned by Westlicht in 2012 for 2,160,000 euros. No word on whether Amelia Earhart owned either of them.

Also auctioned were a Leica MP-89  for 456,000 Euros from the collection of Jim Jannard (the founder of Oakley, if that maters), and an Leica MP-2  for 432,000 Euros.

For my money, the most interesting Leica offered was a Leica MP, serial number MP-310 with all original features, (e.g. body without self-timer and with early strap lugs, matching back door, double stroke advance), with matching chrome Leicavit MP and Summarit 5cm 1.5 #1515004, in beautiful condition. Final hammer price 54,000 Euro ($57,000), which in this day and age of astronomical vintage Leica prices, almost seems cheap.