by Johnny Martyr
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to use their aged or damaged Leica equipment…
So here’s an updated list for the new year, 2023. Both of shops I’ve used, and ones that my colleagues have recommended, who love to work on Leica cameras and lenses. My list is United States biased because that’s where I live and am the most familiar with.
Many of these folks are pretty old school and have terribly dated websites or other quirks to their operation. Don’t let that dissuade you! And please be patient when waiting for your gear to return. Many techs run single person, home-based operations and the most well-known are fairly swamped with work. I often hear that a six month or so turnaround is not uncommon. Communicate expectations up front and appreciate the context of this kind of work.
If your camera exhibits an issue that indicates it has not been serviced in many years, expect that full “Clean, Lube and Adjust” or “overhaul” will be recommended and consider taking this. Old, neglected cameras often have more than one issue and it’s better to get the entire camera serviced than to address what could turn out to be multiple problems and require multiple trips back and forth to the shop that cost exponentially more time and money.
I should also point out that in repair circles, there are disagreements on what defines popular terms like “full service,” “Clean Lube and Adjust (CLA)” and “overhaul.” I HIGHLY recommend that you specify what you want done and request an itemization of the work that a tech intends to do/has done. This way, there are no disagreements or confusion and things are documented accurately.
Be sure to discuss the preferred packaging methods with your technician. And do not forget to factor two-way insurance into your shipping costs when deciding to mail something out.
Below, I’m also providing recommendations for vulcanite replacement. This is a pretty easy repair or upgrade that even a Leica photographer can handle!
So here’s The 2023 Leica Repair Tech List, in alphabetical order!
Okay, okay, I know that I said this is a US-based Leica repair list and comprised of businesses that I’ve personally used or was recommended by trusted friends. None of this is the case with Cameraworks-UK, but bear with me here! I became aware of the work of Alan Starkie and his decidedly non-corporate business, Cameraworks by way of their insightful blog posts. It’s rare for repair techs to speak candidly about the details of their work and, being an engineer, I gravitate to ones who are transparent and articulate about their methods. I’ve spoken to Alan via email about a Barnack Leica project and I have been impressed with his thoughtful and detailed responses. He offers more than simple repair. Cameraworks-UK can also provide quality repaints and other functional customizations such as an M6 style loading kit for the M3 and M2, replacement frameline masks and new M3 prisms. Alan is even building a replacement light meter for M6 series cameras. And get this, if you send them your M6 for a full overhaul, apparently, they will upgrade the viewfinder with flare-free optics for free! Unlike most repair shops that warranty their work for six months, Cameraworks-UK warranties it for TWO YEARS! The only snag is that it’s gotten expensive to ship cameras to and out of the UK. Alan says he’ll still accept overseas work if “you organise to pay import charges up front or we charge you as a disbursement on top of the repair charges.” Expensive and inconvenient perhaps, but Cameraworks-UK could be the best choice!
Everyone knows Don though many call him DAG. You hear the name everywhere you hear Leica. He upgraded my M6 TTL 0.85 with the flare free MP finder optics, rebuilt my 5cm Summitar and calibrated my 90mm Summicron when I first purchased it. I plan to send him some damaged lenses this year. Dan’s fairly chatty and certainly responsive via email. He handles all of of Dan Tamarkin’s service work. DAG also sells Leica parts as well as smart little devices that he himself has created such as an illuminator that brightens framelines.
I ordered replacement leather for my 1930 from Morgan Sparks at Camera Leather but stupidly managed to lose it after a couple years of indecision about replacing the vulcanite. I happened to have a discount code for eBay where I found another US supplier called Hugo Studio. I thought their black Moroccan .6-.7 thickness calf leather looked pretty good. It’s a bit thicker than Leica’s original vulcanite but still fits tightly. It has a LITTLE bit of of sponginess in its feel that I really like. Very shiny, smells fabulous and as seems easier to grip than the original covering. It maintains the same original look in terms of grain and color. My camera is a I/III conversion, so I ordered the kit for a III. The leather went on perfectly and still looks fantastic almost a year later with regular use.
Sherry’s “Golden Touch” is another buzzword in Leica circles. She actually trained at Leica in the 70’s and, like DAG, is practically famous for her work. Sherry’s website indicates skill with all screw mount and M bodies. Apparently she’s the authority on M5. But she does not seem to be a fan of M6 and newer cameras. Based on the experiences of a friend, I would recommend doing business with her over the phone as opposed to email and sticking with older, non-electronic Leica bodies.
Who better to repair a Leica than Leica? Rather than send your gear back to the Fatherland, if you’re located in the United States, it’s likely more practical to mail out to Leica New Jersey just like the US Leica Stores do. I’ve phoned Leica NJ a few times for estimates/information and it’s been easier than learning to speak technical German. For many of us who shoot out-of-warranty Leica products, the cost of official Leica service is not reasonable. And in recent years, Leica have drawn a line in the sand as to how old a device they’ll accept for service. I’m not completely clear on where that line is because I think it may be shaped more like a zig-zag! But yeah, official Leica repair is probably a great option for newer gear and also a good source of information.
I have yet to send a project to Frank and have only enjoyed some pleasant conversations via FB Messenger. But my buddy and former AP photog Vince Lupo trusts Frank implicitly with all his rare/old Leica gear. And I don’t personally know anyone more knowledgeable or who has owned more Leica’s than Vince. So this is quite a strong recommendation.
DC photojournalist and nightowl, Ben Eisendrath takes pride in recklessly thrashing his Leica’s in pursuit of the perfect shot. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit for dramatic effect but when Ben and several other local photographers recommended that I stop in to see the boys at Pro Photo, I took their advice. A couple months ago, I dropped off a 1989 90mm Summicron and a 1933 5cm nickel Elmar with them. When stopped in to retrieve my lenses, I found a couple nitpicky things that I wasn’t happy with, but the original issues had been addressed. Dick, the veteran repair tech on staff discussed my concerns and also did some fine additional work straightening and repainting my rare black FISON lens hood. While we were talking, Dick took notice of my 1930 Leica and began drawing diagrams of how the shutter works and rough testing mine for accuracy, without my even asking him to do so. The guy is clearly just passionate about his work and I learned alot from him in just a few minutes. I have to tell you though, if you are particular about small or cosmetic details, Pro Photo might not be for you. If you’re in the area and just need something to work again, they’re a good choice.
Morgan offers replacement body covering for many classic cameras and was one of the first guys to do so. Some are flashy, some are near direct replacements and some are practical upgrades like his product called Grip Tac. I used that on my Voigtlander Bessa as well as Leica IIIc. It’s a rubber material that is very textured and looks similar to original vulcanite but is very “sticky” and helps you hold the camera better than smooth, somewhat slippery leather. When I recovered the Voigtlander, Morgan kindly gave me an additional panel to cover my accessory T-Winder. And he was very communicative when I had trouble getting the covering on my IIIc. My buddy Joey Pasco used Mr. Sparks’ seal grain black leather on his Leica M2 with great results. I’ve seen a number of complaints about lack of communication or not receiving products from him but I’ve been a happy customer three times over the course of about a decade. Check out his website and see if there’s a covering right for you!
A few years ago, I gave my friend Andrew a IIIf that I got cheap and needed more work than I wanted to put into it. He passed it on to Youxin who replaced the shutter, replaced the beam splitter and of course fully cleaned, lubed and adjusted everything. Andrew says the IIIf is absolutely perfect now. Another friend of mine, Joey has sent Ye an M2 and M6 for complete CLA’s, an finder upgrade on the M2 and to repair a dropped 35mm Summicron. He was very happy with all of the work done. I’ve spoken to Mr. Ye via email and he is very friendly and responsive. He loves to work on screw mount Leica and Leica-type cameras. Of note, he also recommends DAG for some Leica M work!
Well, that’s all I’ve got! What repair techs do you entrust with your Leica cameras and lenses? Let me know in the comments if you have more recommendations or might share your experience with the folks listed above.
Best of luck with your repairs and routine maintenance.
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!
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