Leica M5 Review
Introduced in 1971 the Leica M5 is often a forgotten entry into the Leica M system line up. While some blame it for the near bankruptcy of Leica with it being seen as a financial failure, others see this as a lost gem as it was ahead of its time having an innovative design (which was not continued), TTL spot-metering and a hot-shoe to mount flashes on. These advancements were not seen on any M camera to this date with TTL metering and hot shoes being included on the majority of M cameras from this point onwards. Leica M5 sales were very poor and production only lasted four years with a total of 33,900 cameras being made. Though many say it was the large size and diversion from the classic Leica design that were to blame for these bad sales it can also be put down to the high price of $4200 (adjusted for inflation) this made it more expensive than the Leica M4 and most of the M5’s competitors.
The Leica M5 will always have a special place in my heart because although the Leica M3 is my favorite Leica of all time, it was the M5 that got me seriously into film photography as well as the Leica ecosystem. I brought a black chrome M5 in my first year at college and it stayed with me for a year until I swapped it for the M3. I have fond memories of using this camera because it was my first time using a rangefinder and for the first time I was shooting more film than digital which in turn allowed me to home my skills in the darkroom and value handmade photographic prints.
I used this camera exclusively in my first year end project at college which resulted in me achieving a distinction and being invited to exhibit my work at the Menier gallery in London. The camera served me well and paved the way for my future using rangefinder cameras for their inconspicuous looks size and weight. Yes you read that right. Though the M5 is much larger and heavier than all other film M cameras it is still more inconspicuous and lighter than some SLR set ups. I was using the M5 with a Voigtlander 50mm F/1.1 lens which balanced very well on this camera. I found the spot meter on this camera to be very accurate and a joy to use. Another function which though a departure from the classic Leica design was the shutter speed dial which due to its location could be operated while having the camera at eye level.
It has been around three years since I swapped the Leica M5 and I am getting more and more tempted to purchase another one. While being an oddball Leica it was also the last standard edition Leica to have brass top and bottom plates. This may not seem important but for me it just feels better in the hands having a more durable feel, it is one of those things you need to personally feel to understand. As well as this you can still find good condition M5’s for around £500 so is a good investment as all Leica prices have been slowly creeping up and this will also happen to the M5 when the time is right. For me the M5 is a overlooked M camera that should be seriously considered. Though I admire this camera so much it goes without saying it dosnt win awards for being good looking as every other M camera looks better in my opinion. If you want a Leica M with a built in meter but dont want to join the hordes of people using Leica M6’s and M7’s then I would highly recommend the M5 as you will defiantly be impressed and stand out.