For the past couple of months I’ve been working on a new and comprehensive guide that shows how to differentiate between fake and genuine screw mount Leicas. As I was finished up that article, I noticed it had grown to over 4500 words and the words of Stephen Dowling rang in my head about people not reading long articles, so I thought perhaps I could have the best of both worlds and publish that super long “Mike Eckman approved” version, but then make a second TL;DR version which skimps everything down to only just what you need to know.
If you’re here and want to read that post, here is a link to the full version. I highly recommend reading the full version at least once, but if you just want the simplest possible explanation for how you can spot a fake screw mount Leica, here you go.
Super Short Intro
Screw mount Leicas were very popular in the mid 20th century and several companies made their own copies of the same basic design. Some were nearly identical to the original, others strayed from the original formula, adding new features.
Of all the copies that were made, Soviet FED and Zorkis are most commonly modified by counterfeiters to make fake Leicas. These cameras are easy to find on eBay today and often show up for sale, usually stating that they are in fact a copy, but sometimes you see some that are sold as the real thing, and people often want to know how to tell the difference.
Since over 99% of counterfeit Leicas started out as a Soviet FED or Zorki, this article covers the Soviet versions. There are probably a very small number of Japanese cameras turned into counterfeit Leicas, but they are not common, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever come across one.
The following are characteristics of Soviet FED and Zorki cameras that are still visible after being converted into a Leica. If you see a camera with one, or multiples of these characteristics, it is almost certainly fake.
If you have the real thing, you should see all of the following characteristics:
There. I did it. Spotting fake Leicas in less than 600 words.