M4, Zeiss 21/4.5 ZM, Contax 21mm finder. That little square Ci sticker under the frameline preview lever was there when I bought the camera, apparently the logo of the importer in Italy that first sold the camera.

A year and a half ago I got my hands on a Leica M4. This was my first foray into that world, the world of collectors, expensive lenses, mythical performance and all the other stuff that comes with it. Silly, I know. But in any case, I finally got one! It was a 1968 model (if the serial number calculations are correct), 10 whole years older than me! And it worked.

It did. It worked perfectly for approximately 3 frames. And then the rangefinder was out of alignment. Or maybe it was out when I bought it and didn’t notice. The good thing was that it did come with a warranty, as such I took it back to the shop and they sent it off to be repaired. 4 weeks later (things in the world of Leica take a long time) it came back. Perfectly aligned, yet only able to focus down to 1m (instead of the 0.7m it should). After a few words with the shop I decided to just take it as it was, after all my lens at the time (a Zeiss 50/1.5) could only focus to 1m and I did not want the “repairer” who fixed it like that to “fix” it again.

Out it went to another shop, promptly fixed but the bad news came: the 1/500 and 1/1000 speeds were a bit slow and the curtain travel iffy (giving me dark bands at high speeds). About 1 stop slow and even though they adjusted it and replaced a spring it was not guaranteed to remain good for long, the camera was well worn and the dark bands returned later in the year.

I kept shooting with it but at the same time started looking for a specialist repairer, someone who does not just do a service, someone who can do a complete overhaul. A few weeks passed and I cut the list down to two candidates: Kanto camera in Japan and Camerworks in the UK. There are others too, but these two were the ones with the better online presence and, interestingly, did actual customisations too!

It is a funny world that of mechanical camera repairs. All of it seems to be the people that used to be the tech staff in the glory days of film, now setting up their own businesses. Most of it is word of mouth, a phone here, an ancient-and-out-of-date website there. The two above though had a presence on Instagram, a website and, importantly, samples of their work.

So that got me thinking. Yes, would be great to get the camera working perfectly. But what about making it truly mine. There were endless options, colour combinations, leatherette replacements and what not.

In the end, I decided to keep it simple. One issue was that any paint job would mean the camera being away for the best part of a year. A bit too long to be honest. Additionally, the cost of the repaint on top of the modifications would bring the price not far off £1000. Again, a bit too much.

So, I took some photos of the camera to annotate and asked for these mods:

  1. Remove the timer lever. That thing just got in the way as far as I was concerned. Yes, I did actually use it twice but if I want a timer I have the FM2n for that sort of thing.
  2. Remove the frameline lever. I honestly do not understand what the point of that is. The only use I can think of is if you want to see what the framing would be with a lens you do not actually own. If you own the lens then 3–4 times using it are enough to know where the lines would be. So out it goes.
  3. Replace the leatherette. The old one was peeling off a bit and in any case would have to be replaced with one that did not have the holes for the timer and preview.
  4. After talking to Camerworks I decided to go for their optional re-coating of the finder.
  5. I also wanted to get rid of the two flash ports at the back, however Alan at Camerworks said that would not be a clean job without a repaint, so we decided not to do it.

And that was that. I sent it off to be changed forever. The 3 months it would take became 5, but eventually the UPS van arrived and there was my M4. My M4.

On first sight, the removal of the two levers makes the camera lines much cleaner. Holding it, my fingers could grip it uninterrupted without having to work around them. The viewfinder also has a bit more sparkle and clarity, especially when shooting into the light. Finally, the film advance is amazingly smooth and quiet. It was smooth before but now it is just sublime!

The only little niggle? Alan (the Camerworks owner) is a bit too thorough and transferred the little badge under the frameline lever to the new skin! A bit of a d’oh moment there, I assumed it would be gone and did not make a note to get rid of it. But after looking at it for a day or two I do like it. It just carries that little something from the history of the camera. My camera.

Thanks for reading! :-)

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