Cameras that do not work are completely useless. They sit on the shelf, dusty reminders of the format or fixed lens or funky aperture ring that you’re not using. My fiscally irresponsible reaction to every camera calamity has been very simple: replace it, and place the camera in the “broken” pile (actually neatly arranged clear plastic storage containers) for future repair.

Except there is no future repair. I fall in love with the new camera and use that one until it, too develops a temporarily-fatal flaw. If only it really were temporary.

So that all ended a few days ago. I have a Leica M4 that scratches film. It developed this problem in late 2009. Given that it costs a bit of money to get a Leica serviced by a good technician, I wisely shelved it in favor of my Leica MP. In the meantime I sold off various other “backup Leicas,” including a Minolta CLE, an M4-2, and another MP. That left me with one M-mount* camera. And I dropped it a couple of weekends ago.
*M-mount is the name for a type of bayonet lens mount, a mount that until recent history was proprietary to Leica’s M series of cameras.

Technically I bumped it off a low, comfy chair with my butt. I was shooting with the Leica, sporting a 35mm Summicron, and a Canon L1 with a vintage Canon 50mm 1.4. I had been using the Canon the most, because of its fast lens, and had left the Leica in the back of the cushioned seat, lens hood safely tucked into the crease. Then a thunk, a collective gasp of the other guests, all tired at the end of an evening party, and my idiotic pronouncement “no big deal—it’s built like a tank.”

No doubt, the Leica MP (2003 version, not the super rare 1950s model) was the first camera since the M4 to truly feel like a brick, a heavy brass weapon at the end of a leather strap. I don’t coddle it, either. The black paint is wearing off the edges, which I see as a testament to using it and not fondling it. But dropping it’s another story. The bottom plate can get bent. The rangefinder can go out of wack. Glass can break.

Glass broke. In particular, the eyepiece, through which you see the magical rangefinder triangulation, had shattered. I didn’t realize it had happened until a couple of days later when I picked it up to shoot with it. That meant no M photography. No using the insanely sharp and gorgeous 28, 35, 50, and 90. No worries, I have other cameras. I have the Canon L1 and a host of screwmount lenses I can use with it. I have an old Tower (aka Nicca) Leica knock-off which also uses the screwmount lenses. (I also have three broken screwmount Leicas, but let’s not talk about them right now.) And I have a ton of old Minolta gear. I’m very fond of the inexpensive yet high quality Minolta lenses.

The Minolta XD11 jammed up next. Just this past weekend. The wind lever got stuck in its “out” position. In an ideal world I would jump to the SR-T 101 (mint, black) but the shutter on that one’s a little broken and it’s been in the service pile for even longer than the M4. I had to jump straight to the most utilitarian and uncool cameras in that line–the X-570, a plastic-clad Minolta body that’s feature-rich but is uglier, plasticky, and light. It’s also an SLR, which is great for some things but not as discreet for candid photography.

The Canon L1, the most lovely rangefinder of them all (except for the Canon L1 with black paint finish)

Since I began writing this post, the situation has become more grim. My beloved Canon L1, one of the most beautiful screwmount rangefinders ever (perhaps the only one more beautiful is the black paint version), is nearly impossible to focus. The rangefinder patch has faded. Just this afternoon, in broad daylight, I was struggling to get the second image to show up at all. Another one for the plastic bin.

There’s no real point to this post. On one hand, this series of camera failures and accidents reminds me of how lucky I am to have other cameras to shoot. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that a wise photographer would set aside a little bit of money every month for a repair fund. And on my third hand, I wonder if I’m a snob and if that super-inexpensive Minolta glass, coupled with cheap, plasticky yet perfectly capable bodies, is actually good enough for me.