Produced from 1977 to 1981, the M4-2 was either the death of the classic M or the return by Leica to the true path and salvation of the brand. Or maybe both.
The 1971 M5 was a deviation from the classic M body that was not well received by the market. The Liecaflex SLR showed that Leica was not Nikon or Canon. It did not get much traction. The CL joint venture with Minolta was successful in the market but not as profitable as Leica needed. By all reports the company was in trouble. They pushed the M4 back into production as a stop gap and then launched a redesigned more economical (read: profitable) model the M4-2.
There were a variety of changes some cosmetic, like the move to a stamped top plate from an engraved one. But the real change was a move away from hand assembled and custom tuned parts to mass produced parts and assembly. Production was also moved to Canada. The move to Canada was not a new thing they had built Cameras in Canada before but the assembly method and production parts changes were a challenge.
Between the design changes (perceived by many as downgrades) and the quality issues due to the parts and manufacturing changes, the M4-2 is perceived as a less desirable M by some and a bargain find by others. The production was only 16,000 unites, lowest of the major M series. Without the issues, the lower production would be enough to drive the price up because of relative scarcity.
If I compare the M4-2 to an M4/M2/M3 can I see a difference in quality? Well yes, maybe. But how much of that is a function of perception or the specific units? Is the M4-2 still a fantastic camera? Yes. Will your friends who all shoot Leica MPs or M3s think less of you for showing up with an M4-2? If so you may need new friends.
One of the changes that happened with the M4-2 was the addition of a motor drive capability as standard. I shot it both with and without the optional Leica Winder M4-2. The winder replaces the base plate and advances the film automatically one frame.
The M4-2 does not have to be the pinnacle of Leica glory to be a good camera and the perception helps keep the price below some of the other Ms. I got nice results and it preformed like a Leica. Was it the smoothest Leica I have ever shot? No, but it was also one of the cheapest and a more affordable entry to the Leica M world.
I can not say the same for the Leica Winder M4-2. It worked fine but almost doubled the size of the camera. It is faster than hand winding but for my shooting, I don't need that speed. It actually added a false urgency to my shooting. I found that I was taking pictures faster than I needed to be and taking multiple shots of subject that did not merit the extra shots. Another limitation is that because it replaces the base plate you can only take it off or put it on between rolls or in a darkroom.
So don't dismiss the M4-2 because of the bad reputation, but only get a power winder if you workflow calls for one.
Lens: Nikon -S.C 5cm f1.4 - Nikon rangefinder lens with an adapter to Leica M
Film: FujiColor 100