Compiled and written by Andrew Nemeth, Australia
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Site last updated:  Thu, 14 Jul 2016

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How robust is the M's shutter?

Because the cameras are so small, expensive and jewel-like, there is a general perception (which for a while included myself!) that the M rangefinders can't stand up to the kind of roll-in, roll-out hammering the more down-market Nikon F2 or Canon F1 or EOS 1 can.

Well, think again! As reported by Will Wright in the LHSA article "On Leica Durability" (Viewfinder Volume 31, #4, Third Quarter 1998), at <lhsa.org/ leicadur.html>:

I went back in my file of Photo Techniques magazines for an editorial I remembered concerning just this topic-durability. I found it in the March/April 1966 issue titled "The Classic View".
 
The editor, Mike Johnston, was musing on the cost/value relationship of various cameras. He points out that the plastic point-and-shoot cameras have failure rates a fraction of an entry level SLR. He cites that the typical entry level SLR might have a shutter designed to go 5-10,000 cycles.
 
The next level up is the pro quality SLR like a Nikon F series which has a shutter designed for around 150,000 cycles or about 4,000 rolls of film. Most Nikon users would probably feel that is a conservative estimate. Then he cites a Leica M6 as an extreme of durability. Quoting Mr. Johnston:
 
" -consider a Leica M6. The antiquated Leica shutter, which is relatively so huge that it occupies most of the body cavity, has poor accuracy compared to a Nikon shutter and only so-so precision. (Of course we're talking about inaccuracies of fractions of stops, which doesn't have much visual effect on results.) But the M shutter is so over built and under stressed that it's fully capable of going 400,000 cycles, and, according to the company, in many cases doesn't even begin to show wear until 100,000 cycles.
 
" A Leica M may cost ten times what a cheap entry level SLR does, but it may last far more than ten times as long. This means that, astoundingly, even by strict cost/value accounting in absolute terms, exposure for exposure, a Leica M6 can be a better value than a point and shoot or an inexpensive entry level SLR! There's one caveat, you have to use it up. "

400 000 exposures is just over 11 000 rolls of film. Assuming an average of 10 rolls a week, that works out to over 21 years of continuous shooting…

Personal experiences

While all this sounds great, there's more to a shutter's robustness than how long it takes to wear out.

Maybe I have been unlucky, but three of the four Leica Ms I've owned since 1999 have had serious shutter reliability problems. The M4-2 had a sticky shutter button (which would jam unexpectedly at the most inappropriate moments). The M4-P had a 2nd curtain shutter brake failure, resulting in the shutter not opening fully on slow speeds. Finally, the M3 has been the worst, with two jammed shutter/wind-on mechanisms four months apart (both times after taking photos at 1/1000th of a sec).

That's four major shutter problems in as many years. Compare this to eighteen years of almost trouble-free Nikon usage (F, F2, F4s, F2A, F90x). In all that time I experienced only two shutter failures - one from a sloppily done Leica R mount conversion, the other from a dodgy, beaten-to-death F which I had bought for pennies.

Makes you think, doesn't it?…

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