The Leica M3 is a camera I have lustered over since the beginning of my photography career almost eleven years ago now. Obviously, it looks absolutely beautiful as far as mechanical design and engineering go, and although you hear a lot of people saying the camera you use doesn’t matter, I actually believe it does. I believe if you are using a camera that you are attracted to, you are more likely to go out and shoot with it, thusly making more images. The more images you make, the better you will become.
“So… how and where did you finally manage to get your grubby little mitts on this sexy little number?”, I hear you say. Well, let me tell you.
There is a small privately-owned camera store here in Okayama where I’m living now. The guy who owns it is an old Japanese guy, probably in his 80’s, whose hands shake vigorously all the time…and just happens to be a Leica fanatic. His store is filled with every kind of analogue Leica you can imagine. I would often stop by to say hello and have a look around his store. We would talk for ages and he would show me all kinds of treasures.
There was a Leica M3 in beautiful condition that has been CLA’d sat in the display cabinet with a very reasonable price tag on it. I checked the serial number and found out it was made in April, 1960 — it is twenty years older than me. Every time I would go and see him, I would tell him “that M3 will be mine one day!”. Eventually, I came into some money that I used to pay off my credit card debts and luckily, I had some money leftover. I went straight to see my friend the shaky hand man at the camera store, slammed the money down on the table, and said “give me that M3!”.
I have never held an M3 before. I used to have a Leica M5, so I thought I was ready and to know what to expect but I was wrong. The shop owner opened the display cabinet and with his shaky hands began to pass me the camera. “Don’t drop it with your shaky hands” I was thinking to myself as he was handing it to me.
The moment I held it I knew it was something special. I always hear the Leica fanboys saying how it’s the greatest Leica ever made and I would think… yeah whatever, but really, they are right. This thing feels amazing. The weight of the brass body, the sleek design, the precision of the mechanics, the M3 just screams “SHOOT ME!”
After getting over the initial shock and excitement the next thing I did was to fire the shutter and crank the film advance lever. You know you are in the presence of mechanical perfection when you first wind that lever. Smooth as butter… smoother than butter, and then click! Almost silence as I press the shutter. “Is it broken? Did it fire?” I thought to myself quickly while re-cocking it for another go. I have been so used to my Nikon cameras sounding like earthquakes going off that I thought the Leica was broken. “Quiet isn’t it?” said the owner of the store.
Speechless, I just nodded my head with a silly grin on my face.
One of the main reasons I have always wanted the M3 over say and M4 or M6 is the viewfinder. I am a 50mm focal length guy, always have been and always will be — as the Carl Zeiss 50mm f/2 ZM above should demonstrate. I love that focal length the best. I have used it for so long now that I can see the frame lines without even a camera to my eye, I know what I’m going to get with the 50. No bull sh*t… straight to the point photography.
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The first time I put the M3 to my eye I was blown away, firstly by how big the viewfinder is — almost 1:1 magnification — and secondly by how bright it is. It has bright blue tint that helps make it even brighter. In it is the biggest and brightest viewfinder of any Leica M camera and it doesn’t disappoint. The rangefinder patch is big too, very big, making focusing such a joy.
Loading film! Is it troublesome? I wouldn’t say it’s troublesome but it is slow. If you are used to loading SLR cameras with the back door that swings open, then it will take a little getting use to loading an M3. But even though it’s slow it’s not a problem at all. I threw in a roll of ILFORD HP5 PLUS and threw the camera around my neck then went about my day. By the way, I don’t go out shooting because I am shooting all the time. The camera is addictive, it makes you want to shoot everything. I burned through my first roll in a matter of hours. Since buying the M3 just last week it hasn’t left my side. I take it everywhere with me, and I mean everywhere. It has become a part of my body!
Ok… so onto the next thing. The light meter, or lack of one. I don’t even think is a “thing” but many photographers do. I believe a real photographer should know light. Too many people these days rely too much on their light meters. I learned light early on in my photographic journey, and can usually guess within one-stop what my shutter speed and aperture should be in all lighting situations.
At the time of writing this article, I have many rolls of film through the M3 since buying it and every single frame was pretty much a perfect exposure. One thing that really winds me up is when people say they want an M6 because it has a light meter in it. I think that having a built-in light meter should never be a primary factor when buying a camera… but that’s just me!
To sum up, as you can probably guess by now I love this thing. It’s everything I imagined it would be and then some. I think I will own this camera for the rest of my life. I truly believe I will keep it so I can hand it down to my son when he is old enough.
The M3 is everything I need and nothing more.
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