Leica M3: 60 years old, good as new for the 21st-century retro shooter
The Leica M3, the first M camera which was introduced in 1954, is still one of the most sought-after retro shooters even after 60 years. It is increasingly favoured by younger photographers who appreciate the purity of a perfectly built, quality instrument that performs as well in 2015 and it did all those decades ago.
Film is making a comeback, perhaps as a protest against the all-pervading feature creep of modern digitals but, I suspect, mainly because a film camera offers a pure, no-frills photographic experience. This renewed popularity of film is nowhere more evident than in the Far East, particularly in Japan and in Hong Kong as I found on my recent visit to the former colony.
Of all the vintage film cameras on the market, some for for as little as £25, it is Leica that grabs most of the attention. As a result, the prices are in line with the original high cost. Half a century ago a Leica film camera had a hefty price tag of around £125, equivalent to £3,500 in today's money. This is very much the same as you will pay for a new new Leica film camera. However, unlike digital cameras, where a year or two makes a world of difference in terms of imagine quality, all Leica film Ms are capable of the same excellent results, irrespective of age.
You can pick up a decent M3 for between £350 and £800, depending on condition, from a number of sources including Peter Loy, MW Classics, Red Dot Cameras and Aperture Photographic, to name but four of my favourite recommended dealers.
Most purchases, though, will need a little attention after upwards of half a century and a CLA (clean, lube, adjust) is a wise investment at around £150 on top of the asking price. A completely refurbished, ready-to-go example is relatively unusual and I was drawn to this early 1956 M3 when I saw it today in Aperture's store at 27 Rathbone Place, near Tottenham Court Road station.
The previous owner had sent it back to Germany last year for a €1,000 refurbishment so it will not be in need of any attention for some years. As a 1956-made camera it originally featured the double-stroke film advance mechanism which was standard until 1958. The designers of the quick-lever advance had feared that the sudden strain could break the film, so two half advances were introduced as a precautionary measure. From 1958 and serial number 915251 the single-stroke mechanism was introduced. This particular camera has been factory converted, probably around 1960 I would imagine, to the later single-stroke operation.
While the M3 is one of the most popular film Ms to dangle around your neck, it has one disadvantage. There are no 35mm framelines. For this reason many prefer the M2, which was a concurrent but slightly cheaper version of the M3, or the later M4 which is the last of the M cameras without built-in light metering.
If, however, you favour a nifty fifty lens and you are looking for a good M3 guaranteed to be in pristine condition, this 1956 classic is a good buy. Aperture is listing it at £790.