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Leica R5 & R-E: a review

The R5 was the first Leica reflex camera that featured through-the-lens (TTL) flash metering, provided photographers with a smart program exposure mode, and had a built-in eyepiece diopter correction. It also offered better anti-dust sealing of control elements and a faster maximum shutter speed compared to its predecessor, the Leica R4. It was produced from 1986 to 1991, first in Portugal ("Leitz"-branded) and from 1988 in Solms/Germany ("Leica"-branded). Both black and silver-chrome versions exist. The R5 uses the same compact, yet solid body as the R4, which in turn was based on the Minolta XD-11 (in Europe: XD-7).

Leica R5
Leica R5 with Elmarit 135mm f/2.8[ruimoraisdesousa]

The R5 offers spot metering in manual (M) and aperture-priority (A) modes, while full-field metering is available in program (P), shutter-priority (T), and aperture-priority modes. In A mode, the photographer chooses the lens aperture and the camera adjusts the shutter speed such that a neutral exposure is achieved. Similarly, in T mode, the user selects the desired shutter speed, and the camera picks the needed aperture accordingly. In situations without a neutral-toned area in the center of the image, the photographer can use spot metering by holding the desired exposure and re-composing the picture. The R5 also features an exposure compensation control around the rewind crank that can be used to lighten or darken the image. The R5's P mode offers an 11-step shift capability and additional flexibility over Leica's earlier reflex cameras. The user can now set the desired shutter speed and the camera's internal program will cluster shutter speeds around it in accordance with the exposure requirements.

Leica RE
Leica R-E Special Olympic Games 1992 edition[amoebahydra]

The Leica R-E was introduced in 1990 and produced until 1994 as an "Economy" version of the R5. It was largely identical to the latter, but lacked the Shutter Priority and Program exposure modes and was sold at a lower price point. However, in today's used camera market, the feature difference does not have a significant impact on pricing any more.

The R5's and R-E's viewfinder features an eye-level, non-interchangeable prism, with a viewscreen that can be changed if desired. Its displays include metering diodes, aperture, and shutter speed. Viewing is at full aperture, while a depth-of-view preview can be enabled. The standard viewscreen contains a coarse central microprism area and a central split-image focusing aid, which is surrounded by a matte focussing area on the remainder of the screen. Replacement viewscreens include a (i) a uniform groundglass screen; (ii) a microprism screen; (iii) a uniform groundglass screen with grid division; and (iv) a clear glass plate. The R5's viewfinder magnification is slightly lower than that of the R4, but offers a slightly higher eyepoint.

Leica R5/RE Specifications

  • Leica R bayonet mount;
  • Focal plane, electronic, metallic curtain shutter; 1/2000s to 15s;
  • Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual exposure modes (R-E: only aperture priority & manual);
  • TTL integrated or selective (7mm) exposure metering;
  • Ground glass, interchangeable viewfinder screen;
  • Hotshoe flash control; 1/100s, TTL-metering;
  • External controls for battery self-check, eyepiece shutter, multiple-exposure, selective/integral exposure, DOF preview, self-timer;
  • ISO range of 12 – 3200;
  • Film transport by manual lever; optional motor drive or winder;
  • No mirror lock-up;
  • Batteries: 2 x SR44 (LR44) cells or 1 x CR1/3N;
  • Dimensions: 138.5 x 88.1 x 62.2mm (width x height x depth);
  • Weight: 625g;

The Leica R5 and R-E have an electronically-timed shutter with vertical-traveling metal blades. Maximum shutter speed was increased compared with Leica's previous models. Shutter speeds vary in full-stop intervals from 1/2 second to 1/2000 seconds in M and T modes, and are continuously-variable from 15 seconds to 1/2000 seconds in A and P modes. In addition, photographers have access to a bulb (B) mode for long term exposures.

The R5 was the first Leica camera that offered TTL-flash metering. It provides off the film flash reading for operation with Metz SCA series flash units. Inserting the flash automatically makes the camera switch to 1/100 sec sync speed and activates the flash symbol in the viewfinder. TTL flash is measured by a secondary light receptor in the camera base, and always measures full field regardless of exposure mode.

Leica R5 FAQ

While the R5 did not have the problems of electronic failures that some early versions of the R4 experienced, it also has some minor niggles. In particular, some cameras have suffered from corrosion caused by impurities in the zinc casting. These defects show themselves over time through bubbles under the paint. The black-finished R5s are apparently more susceptible to this problem than the chrome versions. Some additional issues and questions that have been encountered by Leica shooter's are listed below with corresponding responses or suggestions.

What are the Leica order numbers of the different R5-versions?

Leica R5 (chrome): 10060; Leica R5 (black): 10061; Leica R-E (black): 10055; Leica R-E (Olympic Games 1992 edition): 10810 [leica-wiki].

How many R5 and R-E cameras did Leica produce?

About 34,000 R5 (30,000 black and 4,000 chrome) and about 6,100 R-E were produced and sold.

Does the R5 have an on/off switch?

No, the power is activated through the shutter release button.

Does the R5 show both the shutter speed and the aperture in the viewfinder when the camera is used in Program mode?

No, only the shutter speed is displayed.

Does the R5 make it possible to lock exposure when in integrated metering mode?

No, the user has to switch to spot metering to lock exposure.

What is the range of ocular correction on the eyepiece?

The correction amounts to +2 to -2 dioptries.

What if I need to get my R5 or R-E repaired?

Leica Customer Care does no longer service R-system cameras. The company suggests to contact Paepke-Fototechnik in Düsseldorf for any repairs.

Further Reading

Additional details on the operation of the R5 and R-E can be found in the respective Leica user manuals, which are available as free pdf downloads. Moreover, a comparison of all the Leica reflex cameras and the evolution of the system is contained in the R-camera compendium. A corresponding overview of R-system lenses with their core specifications is equally available on this site.