It’s easy to replace or re-cover your Leica’s vulcanite/leatherette
If you’ve ever owned any of the classic Leica M bodies before the “modern” M6 then you know that the vulcanite is not always fully intact or might even be peeling in more than one spot. Most of the time I recommend you just keep the camera the way it is since the original vulcanite is quite hardy.
The newer digital Leica bodies have a much nicer rubberized type of vulcanite on them and I wouldn’t personally bother replacing them. The stock sandpaper-like cover on the MP and M8 however are just not practical in my opinion; this is where a third-party replacement cover comes in.
If you’ve never worked on a camera before it’s probably a terrifying prospect to think about replacing or re-covering your camera body’s vulcanite/leatherette. Honestly though it’s a lot easier than it sounds.
With a bit of patience and this guide you should be able to re-cover a body in just under an hour. It will take a bit longer if you’re obsessive about fit and finish though so plan for that.
Before You Begin
It’s important to note that replacing the cover on a brand new digital body like the Leica M-D, Leica Monochrom (Typ 246), Leica M10 (or really any current model you can still buy brand new) will immediately void your warranty.
I strongly recommend against it unless you really, really want a different covering or it needs to replaced due to damage. The choice is yours, obviously and I share this for informational purposes only.
If you want to replace your Leica cover yourself, it’s either going be tricky or fairly straightforward depending on your camera body and whether it’s a modern Leica or a vintage Leica film camera. This, plus your level of dedication and how obsessive you are about the fit also needs to be taken into account. Other than that just set aside a good chunk of time for the process. It’s better you have enough time to finish than to leave the camera naked and without a covering for an extended period of time.
The older film bodies like the Leica M2, M3, M4 (and their variants) and M5 are trickier to do especially on the models that have a self-timer because you have to get the covering around those levers.
There is a way to remove the self-timer and preview levers first but I don’t recommend going that route unless a) you really know what you’re doing and have the proper tools or b) happen to have a local Leica technician that you can bring your camera to. If you have access to the latter, just bring the camera and get the technician to do the re-covering for you if possible.
Replacing the cover on the Leica screwmount bodies isn’t covered in this guide but those are even more straightforward to do since the cover essentially just wraps around, front to back.
The Leica M3 has many variations depending on year of production so make sure you know exactly which one you have before ordering a new cover.
What to consider:
- the strap lugs: early model bodies have the ‘Buddha’ style strap lugs, later models the standard round eyelets (also called ‘moon style’
- the back door: it’s important you measure the width of the vulcanite yourself because the doors are interchangeable and earlier models had a slightly shorter cover piece on the back
- preview lever, self-timer lever, or both: early models had one lever or the other, never both; later models usually have both levers
The Leica M2 is more straightforward since it has less variations compared to the M3.
What to consider:
- rewind mechanism: button rewind or lever rewind; easy enough to distinguish and self-explanatory
- lens release: some models have the extra M3-style guard around the lens-release button but this is very rare
- preview lever, self-timer lever, or both: like the M3, early models had one lever or the other and later models usually have both
The Leica M4 is straightforward–it has both a self-timer and preview lever. The M4-2 and M4-P models only have the preview lever.
If you have an M4-P or M4-2 you just need to decide whether or not you want to keep the Leica logo on the body or have it ‘removed’ altogether.
The Leica M5 comes in either a two-lug or three-lug variant so order the cover that matches.
Newer Film Bodies
Newer film bodies like the Leica M6, M7, MP, M-A (Typ 127) and the newer digital bodies are far easier to do since they usually just have the frameline preview lever to deal with. If there’s a battery cover for the meter make sure your kit has one specifically cut for it.
Apart from the camera, you may want to get some optional tools to help you apply the cover.
If you’re using the “wet” method (more on this later) you’ll want to buy an alcohol-based hand sanitizer like Purell
Replacement covers usually come in a “pre-cut kit” for your specific body type and/or variant. For film Leica bodies, it should also include a replacement cover for the back door.
See the note above if you have an M3 because the vulcanite on the back door had different lengths.
The newer Leica M6, M7 and MP bodies also have a battery compartment which you’ll also want to re-cover. The kit should come with a tiny replacement piece for it too.
If you’re buying a replacement cover that isn’t synthetic–ie. kid leather or something similar–do NOT use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or you will ruin the leather. You can probably use a brush to apply a tiny amount onto the body but I still recommend against it.
An optional, but very handy little tool to have is a plastic spudger or a bone folder like this. Otherwise you’ll want a soft plastic tool of some sort to press the body covering into those hard to reach places on the camera. Don’t use anything metal or items that may ruin or discolour the covering.
You can also get spudgers on Amazon from $5-10. Use a round-edged spudger obviously like the black or grey one below (second and third from the right below).
If you feel inclined, you can also get a nice French manicure and use your nails instead like the expert technician covering the Leica M9-P Edition Hermés in the video below at around the 2:34 mark:
Before I forget, if you have a digital body and ever need to get it serviced by Leica you’re going to lose your cover and will have to re-buy and re-do it again! The upside is Leica will cover your camera for you with whatever material they have. This is what happened with an M8 I re-covered and had to send in to New Jersey for a CLA a few months later. I’m not sure what they do with film bodies since I get mine serviced by a local technician and have never needed to replace the covering.
Where to Buy Replacement Covers
There are basically two places that I recommend you buy replacement covers from: CameraLeather.com and Aki-Asahi.
Aki-Asahi is based in Japan so click on the “English” link on the top-right if you’re not a native Japanese speaker or can’t read it =).
CameraLeather, on the other hand, is based in the U.S. Unfortunately the web site is poorly designed and hard to navigate. Despite its appearance though, they are indeed a legitimate business
Here’s a shot of my Leica M2 lever rewind (no self-timer) with the Mahogany Kid Skin leather I bought from there:
For something closer to the original vulcanite or if you have a modern body and have one of those slippery leatherette coverings like a vanilla M8 or an MP you can swap it for a grippier material like the one on the M9 bodies from Aki-Asahi.com.
Here’s what my M8 looked like with the original sandpaper like covering:
And here it is after with an Aki-Asahi #4008 leatherette which you can see has some bumps on the side below the finder (it’s bugging me even more now, time to re-apply!):
Once you’ve ordered and received the kit, you’re ready to go!
If you’re having trouble removing the vulcanite, check this video out:
And here’s a great tutorial from the Leica Society based on a Leica M5 but works equally well on any of the other Leica M bodies.
Once you’re done don’t forget to take a picture of the finished product and your handiwork! Nothing like a new cover to make that Leica look all sexy again!