The Exceptional Leica M4: Apotheosis of the Leica M?

Apr 6, 2017  By Jason Schneider

#BelieveinFilm with the Leica M4

The Leica M4, the lineal descendant of the landmark M3 and the simplified M2, commenced production in November 1966. It combined the features of both of its predecessors and added a few of its own, all aimed at enhancing convenience and flexibility. Its superb 0.72x range/viewfinder provides projected, parallax-compensating frame lines for 35 mm, 50 mm, 90 mm and 135mm lenses and it incorporates a self-zeroing frame counter like the one in the M3. The M4 also has a more conveniently angled plastic-tipped film-wind lever, more contemporary looking self-timer and frame line-selector levers, and an ingenious angled film rewind crank in lieu of the traditional pullout knob on the M3 and M2. It also employs a fixed, 3-slotted take-up shaft instead of a removable spool to make film loading quicker, more secure, and less fiddly.

After the M4’s slated successor, the M5, debuted in 1971, production of the M4 was briefly halted for a time, but the larger, costlier M5 didn’t sell very well despite its built-in metering, and M4 production was quickly resumed. In 1975 a special Leica 50th Anniversary edition was offered, and production of the M4 ceased shortly thereafter—a glorious finale for a truly great Leica M. In 1977 Leica launched the updated M4-2, based on the M4’s body, deleting the self-timer and using a streamlined production process to reduce manufacturing costs. The original Leica M4 is considered by many Leica fans to represent the high point in the evolution of the Leica M, due to its exquisite range/viewfinder design and its unsurpassed mechanical quality. According to official stats a total of 60,691 Leica M4 cameras were made, 47,522 in chrome, 6,775 in black chrome, 4,899 in black lacquer, and a mere 31 in olive lacquer for the military.  There were 650 Made-in-Canada M4s, 1750 Jubilee (50 Jahre) cameras, and 50 black KE-7A units, considered M4 variants. Serial numbers start at 1175001 (1967) and end at 1443170 1975) but there may be gaps in the sequence. Heinrich Janke and Hans-Kurt Uellenberg are credited as the M4s principal designers.

To say that the Leica M4 is an exceptional user-collectible is an understatement, and considering their unique status, M4s are currently quite affordable. Clean, functional examples are trending on eBay at $750-$1,100 in chrome or black (body only) or about $1,500 with lens and/or coupled meter. Mint ones and 50 Jahre models easily fetch twice that much, and factory olive military models, even well-used ones, start at about 12 grand.

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