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Leica Scratches or Corrosion Issue

Update May 11, 2015

Leica refused to fix the camera for free until I guessed and emailed the CEO directly. They then fixed it for free, sent it back for free, and sent me a book of selfies taken with Leica cameras.

Once I get the batteries for the Leica back I’m 90% sure I’ll be selling it. Why? Honestly I find my Canon EOS 6D more is comfortable, faster, quieter and has longer battery life than the Leica ME. I’d rather sell the Leica ME and put that money into traveling more around Asia, photography workshops (I’ll be at Foundry this year), or as a reserve fund for buying another camera body if the 6D eventually breaks (I doubt it will, it seesm awfully solid).

Update April 1, 2015

Updated with toned down language. I feel the first version was a too strongly worded and in hindsight I wish I’d been more subtle. The honest thing to do is to push the updated article back out through the same channel.

I feel like this will eventually get resolved, but I still think the customer service is lacking.

I go back to thinking about what happened in the late 1990’s when I had an issue with my first Apple laptop. I called Apple and they apologised. A box was on my doorstep the next day, I put the laptop in the box, and a fixed laptop was back on my doorstep two days later.

Update March 31, 2015

Based on recent emails with Leica I do think it is now being looked into more seriously.

On a Leica forum some reasonable theories came up. No one there thinks it could be caused by a mechanical clearance.

Prevailing theories are:

  1. It’s sensor corrosion. Apparently what look like scratches can often be corrosion forming in lines.
  2. That I tried to clean the sensor myself or had someone clean the sensor improperly for me. (All I can say is that this didn’t happen).
  3. That the camera was cleaned somehow before I bought it (but I bought it new…)

My money is on either sensor corrosion or that something got behind the shutter and scratched the sensor.

My recommendation is that if you want a Leica get a M6 or the M240 (which has no known corrosion issues). The Leica M9, ME, and Monochrom have corrosion issues which are known to look like scratches. It can take a long time, and potentially a roundtrip to Germany, until the corrosion is properly dealt with under warranty.

That said, I don’t like the M240. From my trip to the Leica store in Kyoto:

“I told the salesman that I didn’t like the Leica M240 or the Leica T and he just shrugged and said “Yes. The Leica ME is the best for photographers.” I’m glad that Leica’s marketing message about the ME being for the basics of photography seems to be true. No one was trying to upgrade me to the next camera in the line today.”


There may be a flaw with the digital Leica M rangefinder cameras that I haven’t seen reported elsewhere. The flaw would be that dust works its way through the lens and behind the metal shutter, causing scratches to the sensor as the metal shutter operates.

I’ve been corresponding with Leica about this issue for more than two weeks without resolution so I felt it was time to mention it publicly. I’ve been told that my sensor is scratched and asked if clearance could cause this issue. That direct question has never been answered.

I first noticed this in an f/16 shot of monks near the river in Phnom Penh with blue sky in the background. Below is the picture and a detail of the two scratches I saw1. The picture is terrible and skewed but I left it unedited on purpose.

Scratches in the top left and bottom right of an image of monks in Phnom Penh. Below, two crop shots showing the scratches in more detail.

Thinking that these scratches were only hair I sent my Leica to the Singapore service center for cleaning. They told me that what I thought was hair was actually scratches and asked 1200 Singapore dollars (about 875 USD) to replace the sensor. The camera, purchased April 2014, is still under warranty for another year.

How would nonlinear scratches occur on a sensor? I’m no hardware expert but my best guess is that it has to do with the accordion design on the M9/ME shutter (image from Ken Rockwell’s page). Cloth shutter film Leica cameras should not have this issue: at the worst it would scratch a single frame of film.

An image sent to me by Leica Camera Singapore showing the scratches on my sensor. Edited with Snapseed to increase contrast so that the scratches are more easily visible. Here is the original lower contrast image, leading to the theory that this could be corrosion and not scratches

  1. There’s also some dust on my lens in this shot. I’ve left it uncorrected for this image. I clean my camera regularly, but this is Cambodia after all. [return]