Mail Bag: How Do I Protect My New-to-Me Leica M?

by Johnny Martyr

Okay, so this isn’t a true “mail bag” question because the most recent iteration of it that I’ve answered was posted to a Facebook group. But I have gotten this question a few times as a DM over the years too.

“I just got my first Leica, an M6, how do I keep it safe while still enjoying it?”

The first time that someone wrote me this I was rather perplexed. Had this person never owned a camera before? I mean, where do I begin that isn’t obvious? But I find that it’s useful when I think someone has asked a dumb question, to consider what I might be missing. And it’s this.

People often research and save for YEARS to buy a Leica M. Once they buy one, it can feel scary at first to handle it with the same casualness that we handle cheaper cameras.

So yeah, I guess I have taken for granted the little precautions I observe while carrying and using my Leica M’s. The question made me return to the first nights out to local bars with my 1999 M6 TTL and how nervous I got setting the camera down on a table cluttered with cold, sweating glasses of beer as a waitress slid everything over to make room appetizer plates.

Below are a few habits I’ve gotten into that seem to be useful. They’re in no particular order.

Use Your Leica

Outside of storing it in a climate-controlled vault, it’s good for your Leica to be used. Using cameras frequently moves lubricants around their mechanisms and keeps them oiled. This prevents drying and hardening of lubricants. It alleviates concerns about old batteries leaking acid into them and shutters left charged for too long. If your Leica does develop any kind of issue, you will become aware of it more quickly if its in regular use and can address the issue before it worsens. People don’t seem to realise that lack of use can cause problems with cameras. Some folks buy Leica cameras as investments, hoping to cash in on future resale value by keeping them mint and unused in the original box. This is fine if you are set up for properly storing a camera like this. But people who are not, might one day decide to cash in on their investment only to find something like a de-silvered beam splitter, or in the case of zinc top M6’s, that the metal has corroded. They may take some test shots only to find that the camera locks up after several dry fires. If you use your camera, you will have other concerns but you are unlikely to run into these.


I didn’t used to use neckstraps on my cameras unless I was shooting with two or three at a time. I never liked how neckstraps can get tangled and, particularly with rangefinders, get in the way of the focusing windows. But after dropping my first M6 a couple times, I found that Leica’s, being more dense than other cameras, can take pretty hard falls. I find it’s best to more or less permanently attach a thin but capable neckstrap such as the Leica 14312.

Thin neckstraps are easier to keep out of the way of the front windows of a rangefinder and can be wrapped around ones hand, both to keep from flopping around and to secure them to the hand like a wrist strap. Sometimes, if I am in the mood for shooting without a strap, I just wrap my 14312 around my hand a couple times and it functions pretty much like a wrist strap, but arguably more reliable and safe.

When not actively shooting, regardless of if I’m bagging my Leica or setting it down on a table, I coil my 14312 around the top of the camera, covering and protecting the exposed glass surfaces from damage. But also, to avoid leaving loose straps dangling around, ready to get caught and pulled to the floor by accident.

A buddy of mine has a few cats and a bad habit of leaving Leica’s laying around on tables around his house. On more than one occasion, a frisky feline friend has swatted at a swinging neckstrap until the attached camera came crashing down to the floor. This is not good!

I have also gotten into the habit of picking my Leica’s up by the strap first, and then the body. This negates the likelihood of the camera actually hitting the floor if dropped while attempting to pick it up, which I find, is the most likely time that I drop a camera moreso than during actual use.

Don’t Shoot the Sun

A dirty little secret that Leicaphiles don’t like to talk about is that you’re taking your camera’s life in your hands when you aim it at a beautiful sunset.

You see, while many cameras contain cloth shutter curtains, rangefinders do not have flipping mirrors like an Olympus OM-1 or Pentax K1000, so the taking lens can act like a magnifying glass and burn a hole right through a Leica shutter if it’s pointed at direct sunlight.

In my experience, it seems that older/aged/drier shutter curtains are more vulnerable to this damage than newer curtains. You don’t often hear about M6 and newer cameras getting a shutter burn, for example, it’s mostly those vintage guys. And folks who have told me about having one shutter hole, have later told me about subsequent shutter holes. So I think age is a big factor.

Since this weakness is also mentioned in user manuals, I take the recommended precautions when my Leica’s are out of the bag during bright, sunny times of day. When I shoot indoors or in overcast weather, I don’t even think twice about shutter burns.

Some people will tell you that shutter burns only occur when shooting direct sunlight at full aperture and therefore stopping the lens down is enough to prevent damage. But others will tell you that they’ve experienced burn holes even when stopped down.

The Leica M6 TTL manual recommends capping your lens when not in use. This is probably best practice because you’re also, of course, keeping debris etc off of the front element. For me, when I’m shooting a fast-paced wedding or street photography, constantly capping and uncapping is annoying and can cause me to miss shots though. So I often just stop down and keep my camera aimed downwards at the ground when not actively shooting.

To a new Leica photographer, all this may sound terribly bothersome but if you are a GOOD photographer and are constantly considering the lighting conditions as they change, it’s not much extra effort protect your camera as you become aware of being in the presence of direct sunlight.

Apple Airtag

I’ve mentioned them here before and I don’t think many of my readers take it seriously but an Apple Airtag or similar tracking device offers invaluable insurance against loss and theft of your new Leica. A buddy of mine once put his father’s black paint M4 down for a minute in a public place to help his kid with something. By the time he turned around to pick up his beloved family heirloom, the M4 was gone. Just like that, something that was used to take treasured family photos for many decades was no longer a part of this family’s story. Some of you might lean back in your chairs and criticize the actions of my friend, thinking that you’d never do such a thing. But it’s just a fact that hurried moments happen to all of us and we sometimes put our equipment down to tend to something. Why be fraught with worry each time you have to do that? With an Airtag attached, I don’t feel constantly paranoid of forgetting my gear or someone walking off with it. I also think that Airtags might be a better theft deterrent than black tape. Bad things of course can still happen, but now I have a safety net. I keep my Airtags attached to the 14312 neckstraps using cheap, light weight silicon holders. I also keep an Airtag clipped to the outside of each of my camera bags using a Belkin Airtag holder and a common split ring. For their low cost and usefulness, I really don’t see any good reason NOT to attach these to your most expensive or prized cameras.

Silica Gel Packets

I keep a couple packets of silica gel in both my camera bags and the China cabinet where I store my cameras and lenses. Humidity is bad for photography equipment, particularly as it ages. Silica gel packets don’t cost very much to buy new and often come packed in with various products when purchased. So it’s not any big feat to toss a few wherever your new Leica will spend it’s time when not in use. This will keep the air around your camera dry. And every once in a while, toss your silica gel packets in the microwave for a few seconds to remove the absorbed moisture. A small bit of maintenance will go a long way.

Black Masking Tape

Some folks like to place tape on their Leica to cover ostentatious logos, make notes about film speed or even to protect the edges of their expensive cameras from wear. I personally recommend black masking tape by Pro Tape. I’m working on another blog about why I prefer this specific tape which I will link here when it’s ready, but suffice to say, most other types of tape leave residue or can peel paint off the camera when removed. Masking tape will not do this and is also easy to rip, remove and is non-reflective. I use tape on my Leica’s when shooting in unfamiliar areas. I also don’t use flash so I tape up the accessory shoe and flash sync ports so they don’t get damaged, worn, or collect grime. I feel like just having a roll of black maskig tape in your bag will encourage you to find uses for it!

Products that can damage your Leica

Collectors and armchair photographers love to buy shit to decorate their Leica’s with. You see soft shutter releases with matching hot shoe covers and decorative flash sync port covers too. Just like with iPhones, there are a million aftermarket companies trying to make a quick buck off Leica owners. And guess what? Those companies will be happy to ignore your emails when their product damages your camera. I use some accessories myself such as clip-on light meters and a Thumbs-Up Grip. But I strongly encourage you to minimize the amount of aftermarket accessories that you might use to adorn your camera. If they aren’t necessary or absolutely help you take better photos in some way, consider using the same money to buy more film instead. I have experienced problems such as using crappy aftermarket Chinese filter adapters from eBay seller heavystar that cross threaded my Summitar lens. I have come to the conclusion that soft shutter releases do nothing to help anyone shoot better at slow speeds. They are easily lost and if one isn’t cast correctly, it could break off inside the shutter release. I bet a lot of people put excessive pressure on their accessory shoes sliding things in and out of them that fit too tightly. I sometimes use a Thumbs-Up Grip on my Barnack Leica’s, but I’ve got a model that can be tightened to fit correctly rather than fitting snug on it’s own. Leather straps and half cases are other popular accessories. I can’t help but wonder if off-gassing from those expensive, treated leathers could contribute to corrosion on Leica M’s with zinc tops or de-silvering of beam-splitters. Some of this is speculation of course, but all I’m saying is to think carefully before throwing money at these companies who couldn’t care less about your photography and the condition of your expensive equipment. If you think something is really going to help you take a better photo and it is low risk, go for it. But if you’re just buying something because it looks cool, consider if it was worth fucking up your camera over using it.

Well, that is about all that I can think of! Hopefully I’ve finally and thoroughly answered the question “how do I protect my new Leica M?” Some of these, I wish someone had told me about!

Thanks for reading and enjoy your awesome new Leica camera. Take good care of it and it will take good care of you!

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2 thoughts on “Mail Bag: How Do I Protect My New-to-Me Leica M?

Add yours

  1. From over 20 years of ownership of M and LTM Leica’s and lenses I have derived one basic rule, never, never let anybody else handle the camera!

    Over the years I have seen the following happen, not to me personally but to others I know or simply watched in horror. Not for the faint-hearted new owner, but here goes;

    “Oh I used to have one of those when I was young, let me show you how fast I can wind on” …. snap goes the shutter curtain as the wind on jams.

    “Ah a Leica, built to last, mmm the rangefinder is out though, good bang on the table will fix that”. Well, it certainly adjusted it!

    “These were built to be used in wars, see you can drop it on the floor, and it will still work” 😢 Wrong, plain wrong.

    At a camera swap meet father to son, “all Leica lenses will fit all Leicas” accompanied by crunching noise of R mount meeting M mount in a weird encounter.

    I used to have one of those, it’s a Canon/Nikon/Zeiss/whatever from the 50’s. If they do not know what it is, do not let them hold it or play with it.

    Worst ever? Stranger, very polite, asks to hold an M4 which he passes to his 6-year-old son to appreciate, which he did by lobbing onto the floor as there was no picture to be seen on the back…😓

    So dear new owner, cherish your new tool, use it to the limit, learn about the pleasures of owning one. Let others look and gaze, even sniff your Leica. Never ever let them hold it!

    Liked by 1 person

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