leica SL meter question

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I picked up an SL in 8.5 condition with a 50 f2 2 cam for $480 the other day, which I thought was an ok deal from Charlotte Camera. I asked if the meter worked (yes) and wether there was any yellowing the the finder. They said no.

When I unpacked the camera the finder looked clear with maybe a trace of separation in one corner. The big problem is the meter. It seems to work fine indoors ( or so I think ) but is funky outside in the sun. The needle seems to want to stay at the bottom of the finder unless I'm in dark shade.

Not knowing much about these old meters, I'd like to know how to go about checking it out. I have a spot handheld, can I just compare readings? Why does the meter needle drop so low in the finder in bright sunlight? The readings were a ways off from what I expected for using sunny 16. Lastly, if the meter is dead, but everything else is ok, should I keep the camera? How much of a refund should I ask for? Should I just skip it and buy a new FM3a?

Help? Many thanks

-- J. Rivera (jrivera@vapop.ucsd.edu), September 25, 2001


The first step is to make sure the battery is a 1.35V mercury battery or an acceptable alternative (check the archives).

When the meter works correctly it's as good a spot meter as you can get except that it's not as sensitive as the SL/2 or R8.

If the meter doesn't work correctly, I'd return it.

-- Bud (budcook@attglobal.net), September 25, 2001.

If I remember well, when the needle is at the bottom, it indicates an overexposure. I think you have already seen that ISO is correct (no 1600 but 100 for example in bright sun) and the polarity of battery is respected (+ vs +) (about voltage, in Italy doesn't exist more 1,35V but 1,5V). The SL offers the possibility to adjust the exposure meter by three screews that are behind the black stripe visible over the metal ring where you attack the lens. But isn't easy to use it.


-- (giannantonio@comune.re.it), September 26, 2001.

The Leicaflex SL meter can be repaired or recalibrated for the kind of batteries you are using. The meter is calibrated for 1.35V PX625 mercury batteries which are no longer available. You can get it recalibrated for 1.5V silver oxide batteries. Two of my SL's were CLA'd by Sherry Krauter of Golden Touch Camera Repair. She also repaired and recalibrated the light meters. A CLA along with some repair work can cost upto $300! I am surprised your SL's meter is working indoors as it is not too sensitive, compared to modern cameras. I would have expected it to work outdoors in bright light.

$480 is a fair price for the SL with the 50mm/f2 lens. If everything else is working I would keep it. But then I like Leica cameras and lenses! A Nikon FM3A would get you a newer and more functional camera, but you can't use Leica lenses with it! You have to decide whether you should succumb to the Leica mystique!..............

-- Muhammad Chishty (applemac97@aol.com), September 26, 2001.

Using a 1.5v battery in an un-recalibrated SL will give you about a 1.5-stop discrepancy at one or the other end of the scale; in other words, you can't just compensate the ISO, the response is not linear. With a 1.5v battery you can probably expect accurate exposure in the middle of the brightness range, with up to 1 stop error at either end. However if the needle suddenly bottoms in bright light, this is not a battery-type problem. You should check the contact in the bottom of the battery compartment. Carefully clean it with an ink eraser, but note that they tend to get fatigued with age and sometimes make intermittent contact. I fixed mine myself but the fix involves more than probably the casual user would want to get into. Also, with the camera back door open, put the shutter on "B" and hold it open. Looking through the film gate, down on the "floor" of the mirror box there is a "port-hole" under which is found the CdS meter cell. If the porthole has a clear window (as opposed to a louvered one) the camera has the early meter cell, and there is some possibility that it is "going". These are all just informational points; since you've just bought the camera it is the dealer's responsilibility to see that it either functions correctly or else refund you your entire purchase price.

-- Jay (infinityst@aol.com), September 26, 2001.

I think that the meter cell may indeed be passed it. If this is so then your store may try to fob you off with a non-Leica repair shop. While this might work, it might very well not and involve you in much time back and forth when it comes back "repaired" and still not working. So I would consider returning it and getting your money back. A Leica replacement of a metering cell will be very pricey. Maybe it is just the contacts, as Jay suggests?

In general the SL is a very reliable camera - but you will need either original 625 cells or a CRIS convertor or Wein cells to get the metering to work accuratly. I use the CRIS convertor.

If you want Nikon then by all means get the Nikon, but SLs and 2 cam 50mms are plentiful and a steal by most Leica prices and then you can use optics that, in my opinion, are considerably better than most Nikon optics, particularly wide open, which is surely the main point of getting any kind of Leica. So if you give it back, you should very easily be able to pick up another SL + 50mm.

I love the old 50mm Summicron-R - it produces a real classic Leica image. I use the newer one only because it is lighter and has the built in lenshood.

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), September 26, 2001.

Thanks for the input.

The battery says varta 625, but not PX. I spoke to the guys at Charlotte and they think that battery is to high a voltage. They are going to send out a wein cell for me to test.

The nikon comment was in reference to all the trouble I've had buying used equipment over the years. Never a completely trouble free transaction. But I do want to use leica optics and can't afford new. I guess the slog continues.

I'll keep you posted.

-- J. Rivera (jrivera@vapop.ucsd.edu), September 26, 2001.

Current Varta 625's are 1.5V batteries. Varta stopped making the 1.35 Mercuries in December of either 1999 or 2000.

Note that alkaline batteries may start out at an even higher voltage than 1.5V and then have a nonlinear discharge rate.

I just took my SL with 90 Summicron-R out into a blazingly bright Arizona day and couldn't get the meter needle to peg. However, I didn't point it directly at the sun. I'm using a Varta Mercury.

-- Bud (budcook@attglobal.net), September 26, 2001.

Talked to Don at DAG and explained the stituation. He thought it was a voltage problem, not a meter problem from what I described. Not wanting to wait, I found a wien cell locally and put it in. The meter readings are now much more in line with what I'd expect and compare with my spot meter. I could not completely peg the meter outside in the blazing San Diego sun, even when poited at an almost white stucco wall. So it appears the meter is fine. I'm going to do some more testing in the next couple of days.

Thanks for all the help, by the way I'm totaly stoked (that's happy for you non California types!).

-- J. Rivera (jrivera@vapop.ucsd.edu), September 26, 2001.

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