Once upon a time, most things were built to last and people knew how to care for them. From refrigerators and washing machines to automobiles, regular maintenance was approachable and assumed. With mass manufacturing and the complexity of computer chips, however, "user serviceable" is pretty much a thing of the past. Today, major appliances fail with regularity, a three year old computer is outdated, and a 25 year old car is an "antique." We tend to use things until they don't work anymore, and then replace them. With things that are built to last, however, maintenance is the hidden key.
The plus side of owning Leica is that the design and gear is built to last. The downside is that in our disposable culture, it's difficult to remember how important care and upkeep can be for a mechanical item that's built to last. This was brought to my mind recently when my 28mm Elmarit IV developed a bit of a stiff patch when close focusing. As with any camera issue, my first reaction was panic at the thought of having to replace the lens. But then I remembered: it's a Leica.
This particular lens is not only a Leica, but it was built in 1998. Lenses are a bit like an engine: the metal parts do the work—but it's the oil between them that allows them to function. Oils break down with use and with time.
My options were to send it to Leica (either Solms or to New Jersey), or find a private camerasmith to take a look. Quick research revealed that going through Leica was rarely a pleasant or quick experience, so I opted to look into private options.
Eventually, I came up with the names of three well-regarded Leica camerasmiths:
TLC Camera Repair
4554 Chestnut Street Ext.
High Point, NC 27265-8642
118 Purgatory Road
Campbell Hall NY
2128 Vintage Drive
Oregon, WI 53575
Both Gus and Donald quickly responded to an email. I didn't hear back from Sherry. Both Gus and Donald provided estimates for the cost of repairs based upon a description of the problem. Gus was backed up with work, however, and Donald thought he could get to my lens immediately, so off I mailed the Elmarit.
True to his word, Donald worked fast, and was highly communicative. He had the lens apart the day UPS handed it to him, confirmed his cost estimate by email, and completed the cleaning and adjustment in a day. He had the lens back in the mail to me in short order. Round trip, I was deprived of the lens for less than a week! The 28mm feels great again, and probably will for another 17 years.
With a modicum of care, Leica lenses last many, many decades. If one of yours doesn't feel as silky-smooth as it should, I'm happy to report that Donald Goldberg will set things right quickly, at a reasonable cost.