Leica M3 (1959) – Part 1

Over the past few years of buying and shooting vintage cameras, there’s one camera I never thought I’d actually own, and that’s a Leica. Why? A Leica always seemed like a “bucket list camera.” Nice to look at, but too expensive to own. Of course, I had to ask myself, do they live up to the hype? Or do photographers tell themselves they are outstanding cameras to justify spending the money?

About a year ago, my friend Scott Smith purchased this M3 from our mutual friend, Maurice Greeson, who is a Leica collector and expert on all things Leica. Scott decided that after purchasing an M6, he wasn’t using this M3 as much as he used to. It was a hard decision for Scott to sell me the M3 because it’s in beautiful condition, and Maurice had taken excellent care of it. In a small way, I had to convince Scott to sell it to me. However, with all Leica camera owners, I consider myself the “current possessor” of this camera. The build quality will outlive me or any of its future owners. And as a side note, I’ve promised both Scott and Maurice visitation privileges as long as I have the camera.

Leica M3 (1959)

Production of the M3 began in 1954 and was the transition point for Leitz to move from screw-mount lenses to the updated Leica M Mount. The M Mount was able to give new M-series cameras a single viewfinder/rangefinder window. The M3 features a coupled rangefinder with an incredibly bright viewfinder, and a focal plane shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/1000th second. Early models of the M3 had a two-throw film advance, meaning you had to move the film advance lever twice to move the film to the next frame. And those early models also had German-based shutter speeds of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, etc. This M3 is a single-throw model and came with a Leicameter MR.

Several version of Leicameter’s were made starting in 1951. The MR was manufactured from 1965-1967 and has CdS cell behind a small lens. The meter mounts to the flash shoe on the camera and is coupled with the shutter dial. A meter reading is taken by pressing the needle release button for 2 seconds, then using the channel scale, you know where to set the correct lens aperture.

When I initially purchased the M3, I didn’t have a lens. Maurice loaned me his 5cm f/2.0 Summicron-M (1956). This lens is the second version of the Summicron 5cm and is a rigid lens, meaning it doesn’t collapse like the original. The updated lens increased the distance between the front lens elements. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of this lens on the camera. All the photos below were shot with the 5cm f/2.0 Summicron-M lens, making this part one of a two-part post. In the next post, I’ll share some images taken with the M3 and the new 7 Artisan’s 50mm f/1.1 lens.

Overall, I’m very happy to have an M3. A few friends have joked with me about becoming a Leica snob, or professing the “Leica lifestyle.” It’s been an ongoing joke with me and Mike Williams. I don’t see myself becoming obsessed with Leica gear. I may have champagne taste, but I’m always on a PBR budget. I’ve never used a rangefinder that has such a big, bright, viewfinder. That’s probably my favorite thing about Leica cameras. And the camera is so quiet to operate, you almost don’t hear the shutter click. And again, I could go on-and-on about the build quality of this camera because it is incredible.

Camera: Leica M3 (1959)
Lens: 50mm 5cm Summicron-M f/2/0 (Rigid/2nd version) (1956)
Film: Kodak Tri-X 400
Process: Kodak D-76 (1+1) 9:45 @ 20c
Scanned: Epson V600 Photo

 

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About Shaun Nelson

Learning to shoot analog in a digital world. UtahFilmPhotography.com is dedicated to sharing information, sharing experience and sharing knowledge about film photography and vintage cameras. View all posts by Shaun Nelson

7 responses to “Leica M3 (1959) – Part 1

  • Johnny Martyr

    Congrats on the score, welcome to Leica! 😉 And remember, keep your lenses stopped down in or capped in bright sun, a somewhat difficult habit to get into. Also, if you enjoy big bright finders, the Voigtlander Bessa series give the Leica M’s a run for their money despite being less accurate. Happy shooting!

    Liked by 1 person

  • nataliesmartfilmphotography

    Well done on your find. The photos look great 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thursday Night Reading Room - News & Things you might have missed (Week 1 26th July to 2nd Aug) - Canny Cameras

    […] Shooting down the M3 Shaun Nelson starts  a 2 part review of Leica’s Legendary M3 over at Utah Film Photography […]

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  • Geoffrey Rivett

    Don’t forget that Leica Ms take the wonderful array of Canon LTM lenses with the simplest of raptors. Canon lenses from 35mm to 135mm cost 10% of Leitz glass, and no normal photographer will suffer from their use; the 50mm f 1.4 is a joy, and the 100m f.3.5 a small miracle.

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    • Shaun Nelson

      “99% of the lenses are 100% better than photographers” — Scott Bourne. I don’t buy into the Leitz glass hype. There are tons of fantastic lenses like you’ve mentioned. Thanks for the comment.

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    • Johnny Martyr

      I agree that there are unbelievably terrific and cheap lenses aplenty in M/LTM mount that should be explored and not written off simply because they’re not Leitz. However, I think that respect is due where respect is due. A big reason I buy/use Leitz lenses on my Leica bodies is their build quality which is second to none. I have and continue to use other brand lenses but there’s a noted difference in feel and, as some will eventually find out, in durability. To many, there is a gestalt that is not fully appreciated when using third party glass on a Leica body. I used to use a Voigt 50/1.5 before I could afford my Leitz 50/1.5. I found that I really hit my stride on the Leitz simply because it felt and functioned so much more nicely with my M6 TTL.

      In terms of optics, particularly pre-ASPH and ASPH M lenses are typically much higher scoring on MTF charts than other brands. Zeiss and Voigtlander often are pretty competitive if not even higher in some cases. This isn’t hype, this is measurable.

      From a philosophical or practical matter, sharpness and lack of optical aberrations may not be important as how one uses a camera/lens, how the film is processed/scanned/printed all can detract from resolution and maximizing resolution is seldom the aim of GOOD photographers. HOWEVER, I also think it’s a bit of reverse-snobbery to discount real Leitz optics.

      I think if you’re going to use an M, it’s worth USING AN M, at least some of the time. I love my Voigt 15/4.5 and wouldn’t even consider buying the Leitz equivalent. But I appreciate my 50/1.5 and 90/2 Leitz lenses too.

      And that’s all I’m trying to say is, explore. Don’t write off cheap stuff as crap for being cheap, nor the expensive stuff as being pointless for being expensive. Enjoy!

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