BLACK BEAUTY 3: LEICA M4-P
My M4-P was the first current Leica I'd ever bought, let alone the first new one. And it was, without exception, the worst. It took about a decade to break it in and get it running smoothly, and long before that, I'd realized that the black chrome was a disaster. I'm told that modern black chrome is much better, but this wore so badly and so quickly that a Leica dealer friend (not the one who sold me the camera) suggested that I send it back under guarantee. The illustration above also shows clearly how shallow depth of field is with a 90-180 macro lens (Vivitar Series 1), even at f/16.
Fortunately, I didn't buy it for its looks. I bought it to use, which was just as well. I'm still using it, well over 30 years on. You can see from the pictures above how the black chrome wore through to a rather unpleasant silvery finish, which arguably wasn't as unpleasant on the light alloy bits such as the eyepiece and the rewind crank as on the brasswork: mine is an early one with the brass bodywork rather than zinc.
Quite quickly, even the blackest blacks turned into a sort of charcoal grey, which would have been fine if it hadn't been for the parts where the finish wore away, very quickly indeed. Incidentally, as you can see from the picture above, I swapped an M2 back for the M4-P back, which struck me as quite impressively ugly. My only remaining M2 now has an M4-P back on it.
The one clever thing about the M4-P was the plastic-tipped wind-on lever, which didn't wear anything like as badly as the plain, black-painted brass lever on my MP. Sometimes I suspect that Leicas have on occasion embraced purism for the sake of purism: plus royalist que le roi, more royalist than the king.
But, if you like Leicas, even a Leica that isn't quite as good as other Leicas is better than most of the competition, which is why I still have (and use) this one. Also, something I've noticed while working on the Black Beauty series is that very few of the black paint (and black chrome!) cameras that I've photographed for this series are anything like as badly worn as I remembered, even the Pen W. It's a salutary reminder of the simple truth that if we actually use cameras, the physical finish will wear.
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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016