When Ernst Leitz GmbH invented the M system in 1954, they named their first M camera the Leica M3 for a very good reason. The name M3 signaled to the unwashed masses that the camera was a rangefinder (the German word for this is messucher) with three framelines (the number 3). The name makes sense and camera-likers knew what they were buying. For this reason, the Leica M3 went on to be the best anything that anyone had ever made anywhere. But every Leica camera since then has been a gigantic leap backward, and a complete and unmitigated disaster.
In 1957, Leitz unveiled the M2, a slightly lower-cost camera based closely on the M3 design. It could have been a decent camera. But it’s not. Even if we were ready to forgive the brazen insult that is a non-glass-encapsulated film frame counter, there is one irreconcilable flaw at the heart of the machine. Its name does not make sense. Following the naming conventions of the three-frame-line-equipped M3, the M2 (Messucher two) should have two frame lines in the viewfinder. But it doesn’t. It has three.
I’d love to know what happened to the dolt at Wetzlar who flubbed that all-time flub. No doubt he settled for a career as a mid-level product designer at the local wooden toothpick factory. Good job, bro.
By now you’re thinking that things couldn’t possibly get worse following the M2 three-frame line debacle. Prepare yourself. It gets worse.
In 1959, Leitz unveiled the M1, and I know what you’re thinking. James, you’re thinking, please tell me it’s got one frame line.
Dude, I say resting a gentle hand on your shoulder in a not weird way, it’s gunna be okay, but it’s so much worse than that. To see an M1 is to look upon a double lie.
Not only does the Leica M1 have more than one frame line (it’s got two), but it ain’t even a gall-darned rangefinder! It’s a viewfinder camera! And those jerks who were working at Leitz sixty years ago couldn’t even be bothered to make a new top plate. They just stuck a piece of metal over the insultingly vacant rangefinder window, wrote “M1” on it, and enjoyed a good chortle at the local brat haus at the expense of all the fools buying the latest Leica messucher.
The M1 is the photographic equivalent of a ninety-year-old German man walking up to you on the sidewalk, tipping his Tyrolean hat, saying “I promise not to hurt you, and this is the same type of hat Abe Lincoln wore.” then smacking your tibia with a hickory switch. Why would Leitz do this?
Google Translate tells me that the German word for “viewfinder” is “sucher.” They should have called the Leica M1 the Leica S2, so then we’d know what we were buying (a viewfinder camera with two frame lines). I’d even accept it if they only softened their lie and called it the Leica S1. We’d still be “suchers” for thinking it had one frame line, but at least we’d be closer to a mutually respectful relationship with its maker.
The year 1963 saw the release of the MD, a medical-use Leica made for attachment to microscopes and other imaging tools. This camera, if you can believe it, has neither a rangefinder, nor a viewfinder. It’s got no sucher whatsoever! Frankly, I’d be surprised to find out that the MD ever even finished medical school.
The catastrophic train derailment that was Leitz’s naming methodology seemed as if it might miraculously land back on the tracks in November of 1966 with the release of the Messucher four. Leitz’s Leica M4 was announced to indeed show four frame lines in its viewfinder, bringing initial optimism to a multiple-times-bitten and very shy public. Imagine the backlash when camera-likers the world over finally got their hands on the M4, and the true depth of Leitz’s stone-cold betrayal became clear, even through the blinking tears.
Sure, the new Leica M4 showed four frame lines, but it showed two of its four frame lines at the same time. What Leitz really produced with the M4 (aside from seventy-seven dump trucks full of broken promises) is a camera that shows two individual frame lines (50mm and 90mm) and one pair of frame lines (35mm and 135mm), totaling three frame lines. It’s simple math. In the same way that covering two legs in unison make up a single pant, naturally, two frame lines displayed simultaneously equals a single frame line.
The M4 could have been an acknowledgment of past sins and a stoic step toward healing. Instead, it was a failure only matched by the shaky logic and mixed metaphors found in those last two paragraphs.
The Canadian-made M4-2 and M4-P piled insult onto injury in ways that are too flabbergastingly graphic to type. We are the potato fries and Leitz’s lies are the gravy in our poutine of misery (can I just say that I actually laughed out loud when I typed this last sentence?).
With the M5 of 1971, Leitz continued to slap its long-time fans, who’d been waiting patiently for a correctly-named camera for almost twenty years, in the neck. This camera should have obviously had five frame lines (it’s the Messucher 5, after all). But it has four frame lines only. Four. And a stupid light meter. And what’s with that dumb body? And what’s with those strap lugs on that one side of the camera? And what’s with it not being able to use every single lens Leitz had ever made in the history of time? And what’s with that time Leitz said light meters were for people who lack creativity in that ancient print advertisement that I’m sure only I can remember? Way to flub it again, bros.
It’s at this point in history that we should expect that Leitz would fail. They’d been betraying their customers for decades. The brand was in such dire financial straits that they nearly went bankrupt. This diminution of the German firm’s fortunes was blamed on market forces and the veritable tsunami of competition from Japanese SLR makers, instead of on the real cause – Leitz’s failure to name their cameras correctly.
Okay, let’s just… let’s just hold on a minute here? I mean, I was all-in on this one. I was really going to just blast on through the entire timeline here, right up to the M240 and M10, and talk about how neither of those cameras have ten or two-hundred-and-forty frame lines. But, I mean. I just can’t do it. I have so many presents to wrap, and I’ve written a couple hundred articles on cameras. I just gotta take a few days, you know?
You get the joke right? This was all a joke. I love Leicas.
Hey, thanks for visiting. See you next year!