Bringing a dead Leica R4 back to life.
Marwan el Mozayen on repairing a dead Leica R4.
By Marwan el Mozayen
At the beginning of the year, I visited a photo enthusiast who wanted to reduce his camera collection. I had not found anything interesting for me. As I was leaving he asked me if I would be interested in a defective Leica R4. Maybe I could do something with it, otherwise, he would throw it in the trash. Such statements always make me shudder. The R4 was the camera of my dreams in my teenage years. He told me the camera was his father’s and since it didn’t work he had given it to a repair company for an estimate. They refused to repair it because the damage was a typical problem of the R4. He had been advised that the camera suffered from total electronic damage which was irreparable.
Repairing the Leica R4.
Interestingly, the camera triggered in the mechanical emergency mode at 1/100s. The light meter and the automatic program modes showed plausible values. Well, I thought before it ends up in the trash I would take it since it as it was free. I then forgot the camera in the glove compartment of my classic car, which was then parked in the garage for a long time because I had no time for trips. In October I needed the car for a classic photo shoot and the camera was in my hands once more.
The housing looked perfect and I thought it was a real shame that it should no longer work. I put it on a shelf as decoration. When I had a quiet moment I picked it back up and looked at everything a little closer. I’m always a bit wary when it comes to specialists who attest to an R4 a total electronic damage. It is not uncommon that their opinion turns out to be an unqualified misjudgement. What struck me was that if you wanted to release in non-emergency mode, the viewfinder LED began to flicker inconspicuously and then go out completely. I had the feeling that something was happening in the camera that could not be executed.
A known error is a dirty release solenoid that activates the shutter. This error seemed to fit with these symptoms. The magnet is relatively easy to reach, you only have to remove the bottom plate and the battery case, and for better access from all sides, you also have to remove the tripod thread. All this can be done easily with a good watchmaker’s Phillips screwdriver. You just have to lift out a plastic foil and now you can see the magnetic switch perfectly. Now you just have to push away the now visible hammer and clean the contact surface of the magnetic switch with some white spirit or alcohol. I use a cut piece of thin cardboard for this. The lever could be lifted, but this took more force than one might expect. This is typical of resinification of lubricant. The cleaning itself was done very quickly. Reassembly was assembly also quick. Fresh batteries were inserted, and the camera cocked and the first time the shutter was pressed it worked!. Oh, what a miracle. The Leica R4 lives!
Cleaning the solenoid
After this treatment, all shutter speeds triggered flawlessly. To be on the safe side, I repeated the cleaning a few more times. This experience confirms the statement in my interview in SGC issue number 7 with Leica specialist Paepken that a really large part of the defects of most R Leicas can be traced back to simple electromechanical contamination due to long periods of non-use. And these can usually be permanently repaired without the use of spare parts by a simple CLA.
After a few releases and in direct comparison with my functioning R4 cameras, I noticed a shutter lag. This is also caused by a known problem. Some people believe that a particularly long shutter lag is due to the design. This is not correct, and I was able to fix this as well. I will report on this in the next blog.
Firing the Leica R4’s shutter after maintenance
Please note: I am not a trained camera technician, so the procedures I describe are the result of my personal experience. I recommend everyone takes their Leica to an experienced technician for repair. This way you will get a guarantee for the work. If you follow my camera repair advice then you do this at your own risk!
You can read more on Marwan’s love of the Leica R4-R7 series cameras in Issue 7 of our print magazine. This can be purchased at https://shop.silvergrainclassics.com/magazines/silvergrainclassics-7.
A full list of our print magazine articles can be found at https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/magazine/index-of-articles/.
Images © Marwan el Mozayen 2022.
You might also be interested in a previous SilvergrainClassics article on Italian camera repair man Luca Bonicalza https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2022/10/luca-bonicalza-camera-repair-in-milan/