The underrated Leicaflex standard : LUSENET : Leica Photography : One Thread

In many of the previous threads i've read that the Leicaflex Standard was obsolete even at introduction. While many of the its features seem archaic by today's standards, the flex was in reality right in pace with the technology of the day. In 1964 the Slr was just starting to replace the RF as the camera of choice for people, and the offerings were quite slim. Nikon started the revolution with the intro of the Nikon F followed by Pentax. Canon and Minolta wern't even in the picture yet. Exacta and a few others were producing Slr but they all lacked specific features that would make them totaly user friendly in comparison tpo the RF.( If I ever find a Pop Photography Camerea comparison from that era I'll post it just for laughs)Any ways back to the topic. Nikon set the pro world on its ear with the F. The original camera offered thru the lens viewing with automatic aperature. No meter simply an interchangeable viewfinder. Your choices were waist level, microscope, or penta prism, none of which offered metering of any kind. Field of view with the pentaprism was 92%. The biggest and most important feature was the instant return mirror(minimal blackout). All these state of the art features could be had for the outragious price of $400 US. Even Pentax at least offered a meter on the camera. Nikon's answer was the Photomic finder with external CDS cell. The Leicaflex hit the market with features such as instant return mirror, built in meter,automatic diaphram. These were earth shattering features in its day. It also offerd 98% field of view and shutter speeds visible in the viewfinder. Plus it incorporated the genuine Leice feel of silky smooth film advance and shutter release. The interchangeable viewfinder was omitted in order to have a more rigid body and a distinctly quieter operation. These features were yours for the mere fortune of $550 US. M3 at the time was $325. appox. While some of my dates are probably off( this is written from memory and the justifications I used to buy my first real camera). The flex was right on pace with the rest of the industry at the time. Unfortunatly the market moved ahead much faster than our friends at Wetzlar did.

-- andy wagner (, June 06, 2002


One of the design features that we with perfect hindsight say was not a good choice was the non-focussing viewscreen with only a central microprism focussing aid. IMHO one of the major advantages a typical SLR has over a rangefinder is the ability to focus anywhere in the field of view and the ability to evaluate the depth-of-field and degree to which the foreground and background are out of focus.

It seems that Leica's goal was to make the viewfinder comfortable to those with an extensive RF background: a bright, clear view with central focussing patch. It's this feature that makes me think Leica didn't fully grasp the SLR concept at first.

-- Douglas Herr (, June 06, 2002.

Doug again I must concur with your opinion. Leica did seem to be in a hurry to introduce an SLR, but then again this was a beginning and almost every feature was rather earthshattering with one upmanship amongst the manufacturers rather rampant.

-- andy wagner (, June 06, 2002.

one upmanship amongst the manufacturers rather rampant

Some things never change ;-)

-- Douglas Herr (, June 06, 2002.

>>> Field of view with the pentaprism was 92%...

I believe all Nikon F series cameras, regardless of finder attached, produce a 100% viewfinder. They're famous for it, and have advertised it since day one.

-- Kent Phelan (, June 06, 2002.

I don't believe that the Leicaflex screen was even close to 98%. The wonderful myopic folks at Leitz thought their competition was going to be the Zeiss Contarex, and ignored their Japanese peers.

-- Willhelmn (, June 06, 2002.

Re-check your facts. The Topcon RE Super (Super D) in the US, with TTL metering, debuted in 1963, two years before the Leicaflex. The Asahi (Honeywell in the US)Pentax Spotmatic, with TTL metering, and the Nikon F Photomic T, their first TTL meter prism, debuted in 1965, the same year as the Leicaflex. The statement that the Leicaflex metering was obsolete when it came out is not an exaggeration. The focusing screen wasn't obsolete, it was just plain ridiculous. The Topcon and Nikon both had 100% viewing and interchangeable prisms (although metering was lost on the Nikon if the finder was changed) and mirror lock-up. The Leicaflex's only unique feature was its 1/2000 top speed--not that it was particularly accurate.

The SL represented Leica's try-and-catch-up effort, and it was a good effort. The finder of the SL, while permitting focusing everywhere, was several stops brighter than any other contemporary brand, and remained so for almost 2 decades. To this day it is brighter than any R screen including the R8. The SL was also the first 35mm camera to incorporate a selective TTL meter; all the others at that time were either full-screen averaging or center- or bottom-weighted averaging. Mirror lockup was provided on those SLR's that had it, in order to use non-retrofocus ultrawide lenses, not to minimize camera vibration, but Nikon kept theirs around to this day (F5). Although the SL's mirror can be prereleased, it wasn't a planned feature, Leica intended to abandon lockup and save costs, now that the "Leica" 21/4 S/A had been designed by and purchased from Schneider.

Basically Leica has been late to the SLR supper table since the get- go and have remained behind the pack, technologically, ever since. Fortunately for Leica, they seem to have a knack of developing a market for their product as opposed to developing products for the market.

-- Jay (, June 06, 2002.

If you have a moment, take a peek at Gandy's cameraquest:

Asahi Pentax introduced their SLR in 1957. It had an instant return mirror but no auto diaphragm. Minolta's SR-2 beat Nikon by a bit but I don't think it had an auto diaphram either. The Canonflex also came out in 1959, had an auto diaphragm and a removeable prism. The Canon R2000 with a 1/2000 shutter came out in 1960.

I guess the chaps at Leica sat back and looked at what was going on and picked and implemented the best features. I'd say the Leicaflex was more conservative than obsolete.


-- Duane K (, June 06, 2002.

I guess the point I was really tring to get across was that the flex was introduced right at the point where the SLR was becoming the camera of choice for photographers and the advancements were very rapid(kind of like the computer industry is today). I must admit dollar for dollar the Nikon F offered the most features even though some were obtain by purchasing optional finders. The way Leica obtained the 98% view finder was by including the shutter speeds along the bottom (you can see through them for what its worth) Duane I believe your exact statement was used by Pop Photog that "Leica did wait and take the best features at the time and incorporate them" Anyways at its introduction the flex was pertty "state of the art" and I don't think they took the Japanese as a serious threat to their market share. Many of them weren't as they are no longer around. Most of them fell because they lacked the quality the pro's and serious amatures demanded.

-- Andy Wagner (, June 06, 2002.

Interesting that today original Leicaflexes go for a lot less than SL2s. Is the SL2 that much better? And later R3s are less again. Can someone possibly explain?

-- David Killick (, June 07, 2002.

original Leicaflexes go for a lot less than SL2s. Is the SL2 that much better?

Yes. It's also much more scarce and the last of the hand-built Leicaflexes so collectors have driven the price up too. IMHO the best value among the Leicaflexes is the SL.

-- Douglas Herr (, June 07, 2002.

I think that in practical terms the Leicaflex is a good camera and whether the unusual focussing mechanism is a plus or a minus is a little difficult to say - I appreciate its brightness, but I also find its inability to focus on anywhere but the center irritating. The meter works really just fine and as I have said elsewhere at least is more accurate at low light levels than the SLs. I agree that it is conservative rather than obsolete. The Photomic F prism is rather large and perhaps not elegant. I don't think the Canonflex had a TTL meter - it had a similar arrangement to the 'flex. I doubt Leica did consider the Topcon much of a competitor - they were surely even more off the radar than Leica even then. I think the real reason that Leica lost was that they left it five to six years too late. The Nikon F offered a full and very extensive lens line in 1959. When the 'flex appeared it only had 4 lenses (but with the promise of more on the way). It was also more expensive. By this time people had jumped on the F and were not really into the 'flex. The Contarex was also trumped totally by the Nikon F - again it had a very high quality but a much more limited and expensive lens selection and in many people's opinion a brute of a body. The Pentax (and the Nikon for that matter) offered stop down metering when they first appeared. The SL at least was ahead of the curve in offering open aperture metering when it appeared.

The original Leicaflex, SL and SL2 are beautifully made cameras - simple and easy to use.

-- Robin Smith (, June 07, 2002.

Andy, You are not readining the responses. You say again "Anyways at its introduction the flex was pertty "state of the art" ". it just isn't true. I remeber when it came out, looking through the viewfinder and having a good laugh. Trying to focus with a dinky kittle spot was ridiculous and the meter was the beginning of Leitz' always being technologically behind all of the others. If Leitz had come out first with the SL, they MIGHT have had a chance to compete with the big boys in SLR's. But they haven't done that for about 40 years. As to the present stae of the R8, just look at the quarterly business reports Leica publishes and see how successful the R sytem is.

-- jay goldman (, June 07, 2002.

Please pardon my typos.

-- jay goldman (, June 07, 2002.

Jay I agree If they would have introd the Sl they would have been on even ground,or even ahead. But wasn't the flex promised for some years prior to its intro? If they really would have taken Nikon seriously they would have backed up the introduction with a wider range of lenses. I think they figured that Nikon was no competition in ther rangefinder camera so all they had to do was put the Leica name on an SLR and they'd corner that market also. You are right about them being to conservative over the last 40 years, it has almost cost them the entire company. Hopefully they'll get another Barnarck to give them an edge.

-- Andy Wagner (, June 08, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ