Leica III is a feeling

There is no other camera that is as fascinating and inspiring as the vintage Leica from the forties and fifties of the past century. Without this camera, photography would not have become what it is today. No wonder that this masterpiece by Ernst Leitz and Oscar Barnack is still the most beloved old-timer from the analogue era.

The Leica III, mod f, originally from 1934, modified and upgraded in 1954 to the ‘f’ (flash syn). Photo: Albert Kampermann

For several months I have been the proud owner of a ‘Barnack’ Leica, the nickname for the rangefinder camera from Leica. Bought in a photo shop in Munich in Bavaria, Germany, a place that is also historically connected to the device. You can find Leica’s all over the world, from Japan to the US, but Germany feels more authentic. A camera that survived the Second World War there and the following 75 years. At 86 she comes into my life, almost scratch-free and still functioning well. Once you have had such a Leica in your hands, you understand why she has been treated with so much care and love. It is a piece of ingenuity and intelligence, fine mechanics of the highest quality. And all in pocket format for the amateur and advanced photographer.

Serial 139152 reveals the date of production, in this case 1934. Leica is the abbreviation of Leitz(sche) Camera and was manufactured in Wetzlar in Germany. Photo: Albert Kampermann

The camera is analog, so no software and no power source. Also forget an exposure meter or focus through the lens. Everything is manual from the early days of photography. There is also the challenge. You need to know about aperture and shutter speeds and a good eye to operate the rangefinder viewfinder. If you succeed, you will get the magic out of the camera put in your photos. Sharp and well exposed.

Leica III (mod)
Frontside of the upgraded Leica III, notice the little dial next to the lens. It sets the slow speeds from 1/20th of a second to B(ulb). Photo: Albert Kampermann

The camera works with 35mm film rolls that are still used today. Inserting a role requires a skill to be learned, unlike other analog cameras, the film is pushed in through the bottom. First the film leader must be extended (trimmed with scissors or Stanley knife), then applied to the film spool and together with the roll everything slides behind the shutter curtain. Tip: watch the following youtube movie on how you can best do that. There are also alternative ways, but they can cause damage to the shutter curtain!

Leica III (mod)
The Leica III series has a cover on the bottom that opens up the film inlay department. The drawing shows the extent to which a new roll has to be cut. Photo: Albert Kampermann

There are templates on the internet that show exactly how to cut a new movie. Is the film in? Turn the rewind knob (with the arrow) carefully so that the film is pulled tight. Then turn the film winder up, click on the shutter release button and repeat. Now the rewind button must also turn anti-clockwise. Your film is loading correctly! Now it’s time to choose a composition by using the right eye that acts as a viewer. You can focus on the photo via the left viewing glass. The rangefinder method means that a mirror projects two images of the composition over each other. Remove by double lines you can see in the composition (e.g. at a building, a tree or eyes in a face) with the focus ring from the lens and you have a sharp image.

Leica III (mod)
The image through the clear, external Leica SBOOI viewfinder. Photo: Albert Kampermann

Now you can choose the desired diaphragm on the lens (the standard lens for this camera is usually the excellent Leica 50 mm f / 3.5 Elmar, produced from 1925-1961). This camera contains the even better and more bright 50mm f / 2 Summitar from 1951. Both are high-quality collapsible lenses that also do an excellent job on digital cameras via an adapter. The shutter speed can be set on the camera after the wind button is turned for the next e-picture, not before! By slightly raising the shutter button, a time between 1/20 and 1/1000 of a second can be set. Furthermore, the small shutter speeds can be set to 1/20 with the small button on the front of the camera. This is an original III that had 1/500 as the fastest shuttertime, with a later IIIa modification where 1/1000 was added. In 1954 the camera returned to Leica for the f modifications that were offered by the factory as upgrades. F stands for flash and meant that a flash synchronization ring was placed under the shutter speed dial. The connection button for the PC syn cable was installed on the back with which the flashbulb could be lit (and yes they are still available). After all, what we now call hot-shoe was a cold shoe at that time, a fastening system for accessories. One was the clear external viewfinder for 35, 50 and 90 mm lenses or the Russian Turret finder that could cover all focal lengths (see 360 photo last below).

Leica III (mod)
Flash was a real innovation in the late forties and early fifties. Here the famous Ceyoo, the Leica flash system with bulbs. The Flash could be synced to almost all shuttertimes. And since you can barely find a manual for the Ceyoo flash, I provided a link to the pdf below. Photo: Albert Kampermann

Operating a Leica III has a steep learning curve. Not much has happened with my first roll. But it was a fantastic first experience to work with such an old, but solid camera. However, it is recommended that you first give your Leica a service, a so-called CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust) by a Leica professional. There are quite a lot of Leica IIIs on offer, sometimes at attractive prices and labelled ‘working’, but the latter doesn’t say much. You can’t expect these Leica’s to shoot still with light-tight shutter curtains or 1/1000th of a second after all these years. But because everything is mechanical and almost all parts are still available, the Leica III can be serviced to it’s original 100% state for a reasonable price (a CLA costs around Euro 300) and then the camera may last for another hundred years. Also be careful with the hundreds of types of counterfeits and copies of these Leica’s! Due to its popularity, it is the most cloned camera in the world. Prefer to pay a little more and buy your camera online at a well established (online) photo shop.

Leica III (mod)

There are still many accessories available for the Leica III. From viewfinders to flash units, tripods, bags. And to be honest, that also includes a classic leather storage bag. From the same time. You can choose from a broad range of old Barnack Leica’s, from the I, II up to Ia the Leica III-g. The latter is the most complete with the self-timer, but the IIIf probably the most advanced for that time and for the missing self-timer you can purchase the fun Leica Apdoo Self-timer, which you put on top of the shutter button and in 10 seconds mechanically a spring releases the shutter. Photography with a Leica III is pure photography but a separate exposure meter is recommended. The Leica is addictive. It’s not just photography, it’s a feeling. The Leica feeling.

Rotate the picture for 360 view. 

The most famous picture taken with the Leica III

5 Replies to “Leica III is a feeling”

  1. Your camera is actually a Leica iii. The Leica iiia was upgraded to have the 1/1000 shutter speed whereas the iiib was the first to move the rangefinder and viewfinder eyepieces close together and the diopter adjustment lever below the rewind knob.

  2. Hello. I just acquired what I believe to be the Leica IIIc. I can send pic if anyone would know for sure. I did do some deep research and came to that conclusion. What I’m looking for now is possibly an online manual of sorts. I am very familiar with analog cameras, just don’t want to do anything dumb and backward.

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