Sunday, May 1, 2016


Camera stores are a great source of anecdotes about photography equipment.  This certainly includes some rather odd ones as well, especially when it comes to camera repair.  Some of the strangest reasons for repair on a camera that I have ever seen are the following:

A gentleman came into the store with a camera that was obviously water damaged.  I asked him if he had gone canoeing.  He proceeded to tell me that he had dropped the camera into a toilet.  Happens all the time.

Another camera was in a very bad state.  It seemed to have gotten wet, but somehow looked different and strangely discolored inside the mirror housing.  The explanation was that someone had dropped an egg into it when the lens was removed.  I have heard of strange ingredients for an omelet, but that one is pushing it.

One of my customers had just purchased a new Leica R4 the moment we received the first shipment of the new camera.  It was less than a week when he returned with the camera totally beaten up.  Of course I was curious what happened.  His explanation sounded quite familiar; he had walked up to his car and set the camera on the roof to find his keys.  After driving off he saw his new Leica bounce along the road in his rear view mirror.  We sent the camera to Leica to have it repaired or replaced under their passport guarantee.  A week had gone by when the customer came in to inquire about his camera.  I explained that it would take a while longer for it to be taken care off.

This Leica was in a car accident.  Not only
did it survive, it was used to take photographs
of the accident scene

“I don’t want to wait that long to try out my new camera,” he explained, “give me another one with the same lens.”

He left, happy to be able to shoot with his new Leica R4.  Surprisingly, the camera that fell off the roof of his car was in good enough shape to be repaired rather than needing to be replaced.  That camera became a proud possession of his daughter.

Obviously, accidents can and will happen. But I have also seen examples of gross mistreatment of equipment.  I recently came across an amazing example of neglect of Leica equipment or camera equipment in general for that matter.  I had purchased a number of used Leica accessory items, most of which were in rather good shape.  But one item really stuck out.

It is a Leica Winder M4-2.  I immediately noticed a strange, white discoloring of the bottom of the winder, especially the battery compartment.  Upon closer inspection, the discoloring was actually a layer of gritty deposits.  I loosened the locking screw for the battery compartment, only to find out that it was not coming off.  I had to use considerable force to separate it from the motor.  The inside revealed the culprit for the bad shape everything was in.  The batteries had been left in the compartment for what must be a very long time.  While alkaline batteries are substantially more leak-proof than conventional batteries (which should never be used anyway), they do leak.  And leak they did.  As you can see from the pictures, the entire inside of the battery compartment was covered with the dried out, leaked inside of the batteries.  I did not attempt to remove the batteries.  It would have been a waste of time because the unit, including the actual winder, was beyond any possible further service life.





Far be it from me to judge how anyone should use their Leica equipment.  But this is a level of neglect that is hard to excuse.  Simply removing the batteries prior to prolonged storage of the equipment would have easily prevented this disaster…

However, there are also anecdotes of the legendary survivability of Leica equipment under very adverse conditions.  Much of this has been published in the past, yet it is always very interesting to read more about it.  Here are two accounts form The Luminous Landscape:

Pan-American Games, Winnipeg 1967

While I subsequently shot the 1967 Pan-American games with my Nikon F and an arsenal of long lenses, during the opening ceremonies I found myself just a few feet from the dignitaries on the podium, so I used the Leicas and 35mm, 50mm and 90mm lenses.

As Prince Philip gave his welcoming speech opening the games a huge thunderstorm broke and proceeded to drench everyone in the open-air arena, me included. Some large umbrellas were quickly erected for the Prince and he continued with his remarks, but along with about 30,000 other people I got soaked.

So did my camera equipment. I couldn't even attempt to protect my cameras, I just kept shooting throughout the torrential downpour. I changed lenses and film numerous times and just did the best I could.

As soon as the ceremonies were over I handed the film to a courier to race it to the lab and then headed back to my hotel to dry off. When I took the Leicas out of the bag they were dripping wet. Totally soaked, inside and out. I opened everything up and left the bodies and lenses on a table near an open window to dry out. I spent the rest of the day shooting with my Nikons, figuring I'd pack up the Leicas in the evening to send back to Toronto for replacement and repair.

But the next day I tried everything out and was surprised to see that they worked, and worked smoothly. I never did send it in for repair, then or afterward.  I probably put several thousand rolls of film through both Leica bodies over the next few years and never saw a hint of trouble.

Canadian Downhill Ski Championships, Collingwood 1968

My assignment was to shoot skiers during this important race.  The organizers provided me with a small wooden platform on the inside of a steep downhill curve and said, "Have a nice day".

I had brought my Nikon F gear consisting of 2 bodies and several medium-tele and long lenses. At the last minute I decided to also bring the Leica M3 and 90 and 135mm lenses as well, (just in case).


The early morning went well, with the temperature at about the freezing point and with a moderate overcast. But by late morning the wind picked up and the temperature started to drop. A light snow started and with the increasing wind created blowing snow conditions that were just this side of being strong enough to stop the race.

I wish they had stopped it, because my equipment and I started to freeze up. The first Nikon froze after about 45 minutes of these deteriorating conditions and the second one some 20 minutes later. Both were caked in frozen snow. I figured that my day was done but I pulled the M3 out from the bottom of the bag and started shooting as best I could with the 135mm lens.

I spent 3 more hours on that frozen ski slope shooting hundreds of frames with the Leica and it never missed a beat. By mid-afternoon when I called it quits I was half frozen, and my Nikons certainly were, but the Leica was like the Timex watch in the ads of the time, they just kept on ticking.

And finally one of my own experiences

I had just added a new Leica M5 to my camera equipment.  That once again reminded me of all the claims of the legendary reliability and survivability of Leicas in general.  One thing that had always intrigued me was the claimed ability of Leicas to function in very low temperatures.  Being that we were in the middle of a Minnesota winter, I decided to put the camera to a test.  The weather report forecast temperatures of -30F for the next morning.  That seemed to be a good temperature to see how well the camera would perform in the cold.


To give it a head start, I put the camera in the freezer overnight.  Then, the next morning, dressed for the occasion, I went to Minnehaha Park and down to the Minnehaha creek.  It follows a relatively deep ravine which is known to keep cold temperatures quite well.  I purposely carried the camera on a neck strap on the outside of my clothing to make sure it would cool down to the surrounding temperature.

I was out in the cold for about two hours during which I finished a whole roll of 36 exposure film.  The camera worked without problems, but I did notice that the focusing for the lens was noticeably stiffer than usual.  But that was about it.

After I finished the roll of film it was time to go home.  Contrary to my advice to others, I forgot to put the camera into a zip lock plastic bag.  I walked straight from the outside into my living room.  To my horror, the moment the camera came into contact with the warm, moist air inside, it instantly froze over with about a 1/8 inch layer of ice.  The camera was so cold that the moisture condensation on the camera instantly froze.  I watched it thaw out slowly, and as soon as any liquid formed on the surface, I wiped if off.

No harm came to the camera and it served me well for many years to come.

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  1. How on earth does one manage to drop an egg into a camera? That really must take some doing.

    1. I agree. But people even do strange thing deliberately. I once suggested to a customer to clean his lenses, they had a definite heavy coating of some gunk on them. He "advised" me that this was okay, that someone who "knew" about lenses suggested that the best way to clean them was to lick them.

  2. Ash Ponders wrote elsewhere: Moans about a neglected winder, freezes his M intentionally. Hah.

    1. Not a bad point, except I exposed the M 5 to conditions that are not harmful according to Leica.

    2. Ash Ponders answered: Throw an M5 through a black hole, it'll come out the other side within spec

    3. LOL That, however, would be way beyond recommendations.

    4. The winder obviously was mistreated, the M5 obviously not :-)

  3. Elie Vega commented elsewhere: All the Leica cameras with issues shown in this article are analog cameras. Have a nice day.

    1. What issues? Seems to me that the Leicas fared rather well compared to other makes. You can hardly blame the camera for being dropped into a toilet or someone dropping an egg into the camera with the lens removed.

    2. Is the poster somehow implying that Leica film cameras are inferior to their digital models?

    3. I hadn't given any thought to the fact that the article only mentioned Leica film cameras. To me, a Leica is a Leica, regardless of how it records images. But here is an account with a digital Leica:
      I was shooting an assignment when putting my Digilux 2 on a tripod, it slipped my hand and dropped onto a concrete floor from a height of about 4 feet. Ugly sound. I picked the camera up, checked it briefly, put it on the tripod and shot the assignment with it. No problems at all and the camera is still in use today in the hands of my wife.