1980's Leica

Leica R4

Leica R4

The Leica R4 was Leica’s second SLR camera from the collaboration between Leitz and Minolta.

First introduced in 1980, the R4 went on to become the most successful R system camera.

And for a good reason!

It was smaller, lighter, and came with added features. Features that gave the camera a competitive advantage against its other cameras at the time.

But what are these features?

Keep reading to learn more.

Features of the Camera

One of the features that made the R4 such as a success was the introduction of multi-mode operation.

The R4 came with four operating modes. These were:

  • Manual mode (M)-Could only work with spot metering.
  • Aperture Priority mode (A)-Could work with both spot and center-weighted metering.
  • Shutter-Priority (T)-works with center weighted metering:
  • Program mode (P)

Previous Leica SLRs didn’t come with program mode. The introduction of the program mode in the R4 brought it to par with other SLRs at the time.

The second reason why the R4 became so successful was the broad array of lenses compatible with this camera.

And not just any lenses!

Thanks to the R-bayonet mount, the R4 gives you access to all R-system lenses, from the 15mm ultra-wide lens to the 800mm lens.

Another reason why the R4 became so popular was the improved metering system.

The R4 came with both spot and center weighted metering. Although these features were present in the Leica R3, the R4 metering system came with a new mechanism that made the meter more sensitive.

In the R4, light isn’t reflected through a small secondary mirror. The R4 uses a large slightly offset Fresnel reflector with a semi-transparent surface. Thanks to this system, the R4 can take photos even during a bright day.

The R4 also came equipped with an electronically timed vertical-travel metal shutter that could achieve a maximum speed of 1/1000 sec.

And here’s the best part!

Despite being an electronic camera, it’s still possible to take photos with the R4 without batteries thanks to the mechanical shutter that can achieve a speed of 1/100sec.

There’s more!

Like other cameras at the time, the R4 came with a built-in position for the use of a motorized film travel.

The Viewfinder

The R4 came with a big bright viewfinder that could achieve a magnification of .9X.

This viewfinder came with an eye-level non-interchangeable prism. However, the viewscreens were interchangeable. With this camera, you had the choice of five viewscreens. These were:

  • The standard viewscreen with central split-image focusing aid
  • Plain matte screen
  • A matte screen with grid lines
  • A clear screen with no split-image.
  • A screen with crosshairs.

The Leica R4 viewfinder is however a bit cluttered when compared to that of its predecessors. When looking through the viewfinder, you’ll see the:

  • Metering mode
  • Shutter speed
  • Memory hold
  • Aperture
  • Flash ready
  • Manual override
  • Exposure

Design and Physical Description

One of the most noticeable features of the F4 was the smaller body.

Leitz redesigned the casing, hoods, front plate, and controls to give the R4  a more compact body. This compact body became so well received that it was continued in the Leica R5, R6, and R7.

At first sight, it’s possible to confuse the R4 to the Minolta XD-7.

One common feature between these two cameras is the position of the thumb-powered film advance. With this film advance, you don’t have to move your eye from the viewfinder to advance the film.

Different Versions

Leitz manufactured several versions of the R4.

One such version is the Leica R4s MOT. These were the first version of the R4 and was in production until 1981. This labelling was mainly to indicate that the R4 was motor ready.

In 1983, Leitz introduced a simpler and cheaper version of the R4. This version didn’t have the program and shutter priority mode.

Shortcomings of the Camera

Despite all the improvements, the R4 came with some of the shortcomings of the R3.

For starters, it doesn’t allow TTL flash metering. It also doesn’t have a mirror-lock up option.

Some of the early bodies of the R4 also had faulty electronics. However, this issue was addressed with a later version. Before buying, make sure you confirm your camera has working electronics. 

Final Thoughts

Do you see why the R4 was such a commercial success?

Not only was it visually attractive, but it also improved drastically on what previous Leica SLRs were unable to do.

So, if you’re looking for a hardy camera, and a cheaper option to own a vintage Leica, you’re sure to love the R4.


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