Retro Finish Before It Was Retro

Retro Finish Before It Was Retro

My curiosity satisfied about the silver-coloured titanium body of the new Fujifilm X-Pro3 camera, I drifted up the stairs and through the hallway past the new storage cabinets – and was taken with the collection of old Leica bodies and lenses that have washed up on the self there. These were chrome finished and blackened before the modern digital era and i was curious to see how well they were made and whether they had lasted.

Take note that these are collector’s bodies and lenses – not intended for work any more…though some of them may well be able to continue taking pictures. The Leica M- mount hasn’t altered all that much and you never know till you click one in and have a go…

The leading image is a screw-mount camera – well preserved, with formed brass cover plates that have been chromed – and tough chrome it is, too. The dichotomy in culture between the hardened pro who wears the finish off and the fastidious amateur who doesn’t is on the amateur side here. Both approaches are valid – assuming that the pro has used the camera as a money-making tool and by the time they have worn through the brass covers to the gear wheels inside, enough profit has been made to afford a new camera. The amateur don’t get paid and values the camera all the more because of this.

Of course there are extremes – I’ve seen digital forum reports of people taking files to the bodies of new digital cameras to make them look like they have been in a war. Eek. On the other side, I’ve seen people obsess about the external surface of their equipment so much that they never actually use it for anything but stroking and test shots.Please try to steer a central path…

This Leica is earlier in the firm’s output. That was a black paint finish at one time – I ‘d be willing to bet all the wear is genuine. I’m sorry that I can’t tell you whether it is enamel or lacquer. Look at how well the vulcanite, or whatever the covering is, has lasted. Some Leica coverings chipped – particularly around the stud and lug that secured one end  – but rarely did they lose enough rubber to justify a complete re-finish.

Here’s a much later M-series camera with black chrome finish. Tough-wearing, but prone to bearing the occasional scuff mark that could never polish out. The black paint cameras could be retouched so that any scuffs were practically invisible.

Here’s a departure – the wonderful mechanical mirror box that made the Leica M into a reflex – long before the Leicaflex was marketed. I’ve no idea whether it was a Leitz product or had been farmed out to Novoflex, but I do know it actually worked. I used one on my M4 in the 70’s with 480mm Telyt lens. All mechanical, and a preset aperture as well…so it was a good day and clear sky lens. However, once you’d tuned the thing to lift the mirror just before the shutter button pressed the camera’s release and then locked the setting, it could do reflex sighting for air shows like a beauty. And it produced some envious glances from the other enthusiasts lining the runway.

The finish is a black crackle enamel and, like Red Green, is both handsome and handy.

Final finish is the dear old M-mount 50mm Elmar. It was a good hard-working lens at f:8 and you would be amazed at how many Perth married couples were welded together with photos through them in the 60’s and 70’s. There are three separate silver-coloured surfaces in this lens, and later examples may have racked up more. Every part of it was functional – with the various portions supporting clip-on lens hoods or screw-in filters separately and a truly accurate depth of field scale that you could feel in the dark. You could also bayonet this lens on unseen in the dark by referencing the red plastic dot.

Mind you, you had to remember to pull the blessed thing out and lock it before producing your masterpieces.


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