A Leica M is forever, they say. A Leica M is indestructible. What I can personally say is that I have been a rangefinder owner for many years now and I am convinced that where there is a flow of energy that pushes us to run more and more, there is also an opposite one that invites us to slow down. The M series from Leica, where M stands for Messsucher in German therefore rangefinder in english, is notoriously a manual focus camera that forces the photographer to slow down, reason, feel more about the scene that he is going to photograph.
The question is whether this added value that a Leica M can give you can withstand the harshest weather that can be encountered by taking it on trips that include remote areas, desert and sand, snowy areas with hostile temperatures.
The short answer is “YES“.
The compact dimensions of the body and optics, the indispensable accessories which, even if mounted, are almost unnoticeable and its versatility, makes the Leica M a perfect travel companion, whether you photograph people or landscapes.
I took my Ms to many areas of Africa, across Europe and the rest of the other continents. Never a problem. They took whole showers where I, as an irresponsible person, didn’t care much about protecting them until after I finished taking my photos for my assignments. I brought it to extreme temperatures: -25 °C. No problem. In desert areas: no problem.
Definitely having an air pump with you helps to avoid problems such as dirt and dust on the sensor while away from home, which would compromise the final quality of the pictures especially if you usually use high ƒ numbers value in your aperture ring (the M has no automatic sensor cleaning mechanism, remember).
But the Ms, especially the latest incarnations, are designed to be Weather Sealed (which is very different from being Water Proof) by transferring all the doubts of the case to the lens department which, by their nature, were never created with the concept of tropicalization in mind.
Not directly at least. Because in reality the M lenses system is designed with minimum tolerances and so tight distances between the moving parts that they do not actually need any additional gasket to get them the Weather Sealed label.
If we want to worry about our Ms, we need to focus more on humidity than atmospheric agents such as water, sand and frost. Moisture can actually create damage (mostly temporary) inside our camera.
It happened to me too, in a situation far from to be extreme: I was just arrived at my house in Tuscany, in a mountain area with a high humidity rate also for the city where I was coming from, Rome. This change in humidity combined with a very different temperature (range of about 10 °C difference in a short time) created problems with the rangefinder itself, causing it to get stuck when I tried to focus at the minimum distance
Experience and patience made me put the camera in its bag and place it near a radiator for a few hours. And when I took it back in my hand no problem was present anymore. After an hour I would have had a photographic assignment and it would have been annoying to go with one body of the two that I had brought with me for the job, no longer working.
My advice is therefore to take the assumption that a Leica is for life and make it ours again as in the times of the film, perhaps taking care to bring an air blower and some freezer bags with you where you can store it before suddenly changing environments with very different temperatures (enter home with the camera in hand, where the environment is hot and dry, coming from outside with a cold and humid climate for example).
Enjoy your Leica M camera, in wilderness too.