The Leicaflex: a review
The Leicaflex was Leica's first single-lens reflex camera. It was released in 1964, laying the foundation for the R-series of cameras and lenses that was to constitute Leica's flagship photographic system for the following 45 years. The original Leicaflex, which is sometimes also called "Leicaflex Standard" to differentiate it from its SL and SL2 successors, was an all mechanical, precision-crafted, solid tool for the professional or enthusiast photographer of the time.
However, the Leicaflex was to some extend already technologically outdated at the time of its release. The camera did not have a TTL-light meter and its viewscreen was not full-focusing – amenities that SLR from other manufacturers already offered at the time. Also, the Leicaflex had a minimalist feature set and did not provide any exposure or focus automation, did not allow interchangeable viewscreens, and did not even have a hot shoe. Some photographers appreciated this minimalism and found ways around the shortcomings, while others were expecting more capabilities and conveniences from Leica's premium-priced flagship. The Leicaflex was available in Silver Chrome and Black, with the latter version being relatively rare.
The Leicaflex has an eye-level, non-interchangeable prism and viewscreen. Inside the viewfinder, there is a metering needle on the right-hand side and a shutter speed display at the bottom. Viewing is at full aperture. No depth of field preview is available. The viewscreen has a central microprism area, while the remainder of the screen is clear glass. This Leicaflex-viewscreen is very bright, but only the central microprism area can be used to focus. Also, since the viewscreen is not full-focusing, it can not be used to evaluate depth-of-field, and it does not work well with macro or very long tele-lenses.
The shutter on the Leicaflex is mechanically-timed, and consists of horizontal-travel rubberized cloth. It offers speeds from 1 to 1/2000 sec, plus bulb mode ("B"). The flash sync speed is 1/100 sec. The mirror can be locked-up via a lever on the front of the camera to reduce vibrations during long exposures (or to fit the Super-Angulon-R 21mm f/3.4 wide-angle lens).
Leicaflex Standard Specifications
- Three-lug Leica R bayonet mount;
- Mechanically-timed, horizontal-travel rubberized cloth shutter; 1/2000s to 1s;
- Manual exposure with metering needle control in viewfinder;
- External CdS metering cell;
- Fixed viewfinder screen, with central micro-prism for focusing;
- Cold-shoe; Flash operation through cable connection for electronic flash units (sync speed 1/100s) or flash bulbs;
- Self-timer with 10 sec. delay;
- Film transport by manual lever;
- Power supply: 625 mercury cell or equivalent;
- Dimensions: 148 x 97 x 57mm (width x height x depth);
- Weight: 770g;
The Leicaflex does not offer TTL-metering. Instead, it features a CdS meter cell, which is powered by a 625 mercury battery. The metering cell, its battery, and a battery checking button are located on the front of the pentaprism housing and give the Leicaflex Standard its distinctive, easily identifiable design. The meter reads an area roughly equal to the field of view of a 90mm lens. Correct exposure is achieved by matching the meter needle and the follow pointer in the viewfinder. However, due to the non-TTL nature of the metering, adjustments to the exposure values have to be made when working with extension tubes or macro lenses at close distances. Also, it can be difficult to work with long tele-lenses on the Leicaflex, as the metered area is much broader than the actual field of view.
| Headline specifications of all Leica R-system cameras
||Leicaflex||2000||-||M||No||non-TTL||148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0||770||~32,500||1964 - 68||200-400||check|
||Leicaflex SL||2000||sel||M||No||non-TTL||148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0||770||~75,000||1968 - 74||125-250||check|
||Leicaflex SL2||2000||sel||M||Yes||non-TTL||148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0||770||~25,000||1974 - 76||400-600||check|
||Leica R3||1000||sel & int||A/S/M||Yes||non-TTL||148.0 / 96.5 / 64.6||780||~70,000||1976 - 80||125-250||check|
||Leica R4||1000||sel & int||P/A/S/M||Yes||non-TTL||138.5 / 88.1 / 60.0||630||>100,000||1980 - 87||150-250||check|
||Leica R4s||1000||sel & int||A/M||Yes||non-TTL||138.5 / 88.1 / 60.0||620||~25,000||1983 - 87||150-250||check|
||Leica R5||2000||sel & int||P/A/S/M||Yes||TTL||138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2||625||~34,000||1986 - 91||250-500||check|
||Leica R6||1000||sel & int||M||Yes||TTL||138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2||625||~24,000||1988 - 92||400-550||check|
||Leica R-E||2000||sel & int||A/M||Yes||TTL||138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2||625||~6,100||1990 - 94||450-600||check|
||Leica R6.2||2000||sel & int||M||Yes||TTL||138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2||625||~21,000||1992 - 02||500-750||check|
||Leica R7||2000||sel & int||P/A/S/M||Yes||full-auto||138.5 / 98.8 / 62.2||670||~30,000||1992 - 97||350-450||check|
||Leica R8||8000||sel, int, multi||P/A/S/M||Yes||full-auto||158.0 / 101 / 62.0||890||~36,500||1996 - 02||500-600||check|
||Leica R9||8000||sel, int, multi||P/A/S/M||Yes||HSS||158.0 / 101 / 62.0||790||~9,000||2002 - 09||1,000-1,500||check|
One challenge nowadays when considering a Leicaflex camera is that the light meter in the SLR might need to be adjusted to work with modern batteries (if it has not yet undergone modification by a previous owner). The mercury cells that supplied a constant 1.34V to the metering cell do not exist any more. Andrew Nemeth lists some alternatives and work-arounds on his website. – Below is some additional information on some other aspects of the camera.
What was Leica's order number for the Leicaflex?
Leicaflex order number: 10002; [leica-wiki].
How many Leicaflex cameras were produced?
Leica produced and sold about 37,500 Leicaflexes.
What is meant by Leicaflex Type 1 and Type 2 (or Mark 1 & Mark 2)?
These expressions refer to camera variations. The earlier Type 1 cameras have a pie-shaped exposure counter, a tripod socket attached by three screws, and no meter switch, while the later Type 2 cameras have round exposure windows, a tripod socket integrated in the bottom plate, and a meter switch built in the advance lever.
Since the Leicaflex Type 1 does not have a meter switch, how can power drain be avoided?
Battery power can be preserved by covering the metering cell, for example by putting the camera in an ever-ready case.
Can all R-lenses be used with the Leicaflex Standard?
No, some later introduced lenses require more clearance between the reflex mirror and the rear element of the lens. In particular, the 16mm Fisheye-Elmarit-R, the 24mm Elmarit-R, the 35mm Summilux-R, the 80-200 f/4.5 Vario-Elmar zoom, and 50mm Summilux-R should not be attached to the Leicaflex.
Is the Leicaflex compatible with ROM-lenses?
No, Leica-R lenses with ROM electronic contacts cannot be used with any of the Leicaflex cameras (unless the ROM contacts are removed and the lenses are retrofitted with the Leicaflex metering cams).
Where can I get my Leicaflex serviced and repaired?
Leica does no longer support R-system cameras. The company recommends to send cameras to Paepke-Fototechnik in Düsseldorf for any repairs.
Additional information on the Leicaflex can be found in the pdf-version of the Leica user manual. Moreover, a description of the evolution of all Leica reflex cameras is contained in the R-system camera overview. A similar compendium of R-lenses with their main physical specifications is equally available on this site.