Don't Buy a Collapsible Leica Lens with Haze

Recently I saw a too good to be true deal on a Leica 50mm F2.8 Elmar lens. It was a M Mount and collapsible, which would be a good compliment to my 50mm Summicron DR that is heavy but very precise. The only issue is that it had haze behind the front element but for $160 it was a small risk for a potentially great lens. 

The Culprit: 50mm F2.8 Elmar, you can see the haze too.   Photo is from  Used Photo Pro  who graciously accepted my return too. 

The Culprit: 50mm F2.8 Elmar, you can see the haze too. 

Photo is from Used Photo Pro who graciously accepted my return too. 

Fix Old Cameras has always warned me that haze can't be taken lightly, it can either be really easy or ruin the lens. Most of my experiences with hazy lenses has been really easy. You open up the lens, use some alcohol to wipe away the haze and you're on your way. But older collapsible Leica's have a known issue where the oils in the aperture blades evaporate over time and etch lens. Etched is not haze, it looks like haze but is more like running sandpaper over the element. This ruins lenses. 
At first I thought no big deal, let's put a couple of rolls through and see what comes out. Surprisingly it handled some situations really well and really bombed on others. Direct light made it extremely soft and almost unusable. When light didn't hit the lens directly it took some amazingly sharp and clear images. I waffled over keeping it but David Hancock woke me up, "Return it. There are ones out there without unfixable haze. If you want that look with a future lens, grab a UV filter and scratch it up." This had me walking back from the cliff. 

Collapsible Leica lenses are an enticing bargain. They're cheap, easily found and sometimes a great value. But turn down any one you see with haze. Every Leica repair person I contacted wouldn't even take a look at it. I thought I could live with it too, but it's not fun to shoot with something your always going to worry about.

How I Got a Cheap Leica

So how do you get a cheap Leica? Well you have to do two things: be patient and get lucky. 

I had wanted a Leica for a long time. Doing this camera review/manual business for multiple years I was getting a little tired of buying cameras and constantly thinking about gear. Leica's since their inception have been cameras that people lusted after and copied. They've also been used by some of the greatest photographers on the planet to shoot some of the greastest photos of all time. For me getting a Leica was a way to turn off a silly question, "maybe new gear will make you better". By most standards, there isn't anything better than a Leica. There was only one issue, I didn't want to pay Leica prices, the $$$$ of cameras. 

Adorama camera has been a place that always have good camera deals and I'd noticed they had some really questionable prices on Leica cameras, see screenshot below. The catch with these cameras were they had some functional issues, maybe the shutter was jammed or the rangefinder needed adjustement. The deals would only last minutes though, so I needed a way to figure out a way to get there first and grab it. After some googling, I stumbled across website change monitoring programs that alerted you to when a website changed. Visualping was the service I used and after some tinkering the site was aimed at the used rangefinders section on Adorama. 

Like how is this possible?

Like how is this possible?

From there it was a waiting game. I would get an alert in my inbox and check to see what had changed. On one lucky day I saw my beloved M4-2 get listed for $200, the only thing wrong was it needed a rangefinder adjustment and a missing frame selector tab. I added it to my cart, threw in a pack of T-MAX 400 and fist pumped the air. To be alive. 

The Receipt of the Crime 

The Receipt of the Crime 

The camera came a few days later and it was in great condition. The only issue was that it had some missing parts and the bottom plate was silver instead of the matching black. I called Youxin Ye to solve the missing parts issue, he forwarded me to Leica represenative in NYC who shipped me the frame selector tab from Germany. Twenty-six dollars and a week later I installed it on my camera. I later took the camera to a friend to adjust the rangefinder. 

Next was lenses, getting a Leica is one thing but the lenses are where things really get expensive. I planned on using a Jupiter 8 lens or the Japanese Summicron, Canon 50mm F1.8 Rangefinder Lens, but thought it was a bit silly to get a Leica and then cheap out on the one thing that matters, lenses. Ideally I'd like to have a 50mm but those were out of my price range (sub $500) and I focused in a 40mm Minolta Rokkor Lens that was made in Japan. While not technically a Leica lens it was an M mount lens, highly regarded and affordable. I purchased one a little more conventionally by getting a copy from Japan via Ebay. 

So has it changed me? Yeah, it has. After shooting with it for a for almost a year now I'm glad I took the plunge. I have taken some of the best images I have ever taken in the past year and have purchased the least amount of cameras also. I think my improvement has more to do with the latter though, you get better at what you put your time into. If you put your time into buying cameras you'll become an expert at that. When I stopped trying to buy cameras I started reading more about photography and giving myself goals with photography. I shot a bunch more and got better at shooting. 

You may of noticed I'm not saying much about the camera making me better, because it hasn't. Gear helps but without having a vision and a goal I'd probably be in the same place. This doesn't mean I won't stop shooting the camera but now I know it isn't everything. I just had to prove it to myself. 

*Side note: The camera is really amazing, it's the most fun thing to use and everything is in the right place. Especially the film advance which is so buttery smooth you have to feel it in person to adequately describe it. It's got some issues like the inane film loading mechanism but it's the best camera I've ever used and handled. But still, it's just a tool. Just a really really nice tool. 

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