The Leica M4-P Overview

June 13, 2014  •  6 Comments

Canon 5D, Canon 50mm f/1.8 II, ISO 800, 1/50 @ f/4

Here is my not-so-secret mystery camera!  In early April, I found a great deal on a Leica M4-P, so I decided that my M3 needed a companion.  I had been passively looking for deals on a 0.72x viewfinder Leica, and with the upgrades that this camera has (more on that below), I couldn't pass it up!

The Leica M4-P is a 35mm rangefinder camera that was produced from 1980-1986. Unlike early Leica Ms, the M4-P (and M4-2) were manufactured in Midland, Ontario rather than in Weltzar, Germany.

Canon 5D, Canon 50mm f/1.8 II, ISO 800, 1/50 @ f/2.8

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium 400, 1/1000 @ f/11

This particular M4-P was made in 1982, and as I mentioned earlier, it has a number of modifications. The M4-P was the first Leica M to introduce what would eventually become the standard Leica viewfinder, with grouped framelines for 28/90, 35/135 and 50/75mm lenses. My M4-P has had the 75mm and 135mm framelines masked out, which I find gives a less distracting view while using 35mm and 50mm lenses. It also has the Leica MP anti-flare viewfinder upgrade, which prevents the rangefinder patch from being affected by flare when looking towards the sun. The white paint has been removed from the front and top of the camera, and the vulcanite has been replaced, with the original red dot on the front of the camera being removed in the process. There is also an M3-style lens release guard.

This M4-P was also recently serviced by the noted rangefinder technician Youxin Ye.  The camera feels amazingly smooth, and the film advance is even smoother than my M3's!  When I decide to get my M3 cleaned and re-lubricated, I will definitely use Mr. Ye for the job.

Leica M4-P with Leica M3

Canon 5D, Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS Macro, ISO 800, 1/50 @ f/2.8

Despite only being 18 years newer than my M3, there are a number of noticeable differences between the M3 and M4-P. While the M3 has a 0.91x viewfinder, the M4-P has a 0.72x viewfinder. This means when you're using a 50mm lens with the M4-P, there is quite a bit of extra space around the edge of the 50mm framelines, allowing you to see far beyond what's in the frame. Rather than using the M3/M2-style spool loading system, the M4-P has a quick-load system, with the take-up spool installed directly into the camera. Along with the new loading system, the M4-P also has an angled film rewind, which makes rewinding a roll of film slightly faster compared to the M3/M2 system.

Canon 5D, Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS Macro, ISO 800, 1/50 @ f/2.8

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium 400, 1/250 @ f/11

As with all Leica Ms, the M4-P feels quite solid in the hand. The body is the perfect size for me, as it is small enough to be discreet, and it fits well in the hand, but isn't too small that it's difficult to hold.  The M4-P was originally made with brass, but that changed to zinc with the introduction of the M6 in 1984. I have one of the brass bodies, which has the standard black chrome finish.  The brass bodies also have slightly larger 35mm and 50mm framelines, which are reported to be more accurate than the later bodies, although I don't have the experience to say for sure.  I don't find that there is much difference between the frameline or rangefinder accuracy between my M3 and M4-P.  With both, I expect that the final image will be slightly larger than what is shown in the framelines,  and just compose with that in mind.  This really isn't any different than using my 5D, which has a 96% coverage viewfinder.  The Ms actually have an advantage here, as I can see what's outside of the frame and compensate for it before the photo is taken.

Canon 5D, Canon 50mm f/1.8 II, ISO 800, 1/50 @ f/2.8

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium 400, 1/500 @ f/11

Similarly to my M3, the M4-P has a quiet shutter sound. It is just a subtle "click", as there is no mirror to move when a photo is taken.  The lack of a mirror allows me to take handheld photos while using much slower shutter speeds compared to a SLR. I can reliably take sharp, handheld photos at 1/15th of a second using a 50mm lens with either of my Leicas.

I ultimately plan to use a 4 lens setup with my Leicas.  I'm still not 100% decided on the focal lengths that will be involved, but at the moment I'm leaning towards primarily using 50mm and 90mm with my M3, and 21mm and 35mm with my M4-P.  The shooting experience with a 50mm lens between the M3 and M4-P is rather different, due to the M4-P having a wider viewfinder.  To put things into perspective, the M4-P is like using a 28mm lens with 50mm framelines in the middle, and the M3 is like using a 40mm lens with 50mm framelines in the middle.

The 50mm framelines in the M3 (left) and M4-P (right)

Canon 5D, Canon 50mm f/1.8 II, ISO 800, 1/60 @ f/4

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium 400, 1/1000 @ f/8

Unlike the M6 that replaced it, the M4-P doesn't have a built-in meter. After shooting with my M3 on a daily basis for the last few months, I'm pretty comfortable with estimating exposure, especially when shooting outdoors.  When I experience tougher lighting situations, I usually just use the light meter app on my iPod, which is always in my pocket to record exposure details anyway. On the plus side, this also means that there are no exposure details in the viewfinder, which leaves you free to concentrate entirely on composing the photo.

Canon 5D, Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS Macro, ISO 800, 1/100 @ f/2.8

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium 400, 1/250 @ f/11

The M4-P is a less expensive way to get into the Leica M system, with used prices usually in the $800-$1100 range, depending on the condition of the body.  The rare silver chrome bodies tend to fetch much higher prices, so if you're on a budget, you're better off looking for a black chrome body.

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium @ 400, 1/1000 @ f/5.6

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium @ 400, 1/1000 @ f/8

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium @ 400, 1/500 @ f/16

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium @ 400, 1/1000 @ f/5.6

Leica M4-P, Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM, Arista Premium @ 400, 1/1000 @ f/11


Comments

Dion(non-registered)
i love the looks of the custom m4-p. i am curious how did you removed the red dot and how did you removed the frame lines?! i would like to do that to my m4-p to!
Brendan Toews Photography
Thanks Steve, there're wonderful cameras!

Daoduc, you are correct. I had the 75mm and 135mm framelines removed from my M4-P.
Daoduc(non-registered)
Hi Brendan, the M4-p has 28 35 50 75 & 135 framelines isn't it?
Yours doesn't have 75mm frameline?
Steve(non-registered)
Brillant and Inspiring...

The all black gives it a very serious feel.

I just purchased a M4-P and hope to get it this week.
Perhaps I will consider an upgrade also.
Brendan Toews Photography
Glad you enjoyed it John! Along with the M4-P, Leica also manufactured the M4-2 and a number of lenses in Canada.
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