Leica M3 Custom: One droolworthy camera and lens
Take a battered old 1950s double-stroke Leica M3 and turn it into highly desirable custom camera in six months. This is what James Fox-Davies decided to do with the M3 he bought on eBay. Not only did he have the body transformed into one of the coolest Leicas I've ever seen, he also matched it with a most unusual lens: A Noctilux competitor that I have never before seen on a Leica.
James enlisted Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter to advise and outsource the painstaking work to specialists in Japan. Six months later, after a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing between London and Tokyo, the completely renovated camera and lens arrived back. It is James's one and only film camera and the camera he uses most of all.
After trying most M types made between 1954 and 2015, James decided that he preferred the original, the double-stroke version of the M3. Initially, because of fears that the lever wind could break the film, Leitz engineers built in a safety mechanism so that the lever has to be flicked twice to advance the film and cock the shutter. Later M3s, after serial number 915250 in 1958, had a single-action lever. However, many earlier M3s were factory converted to single-stroke in the following years.
James likes the idea of the double action and is in the habit of flicking the lever once after every frame and then again before the next picture. One advantage of this is that the shutter is never vulnerable to action in error when the camera is in the bag, nor do you have to try to remember whether or not you advanced the film after the previous shot. I tend agree with him on this. I have both double-stroke and single-stroke M3s and there is something special about the earlier model in the way it works.
Not one to stick with the conventional, James also paid special attention to his dream lens. Eschewing the many delightful offerings from Leica, he selected a 50mm f/0.95 Canon, a lens that can be compared with the Leica Noctilux but is considerably cheaper, lighter and shorter. In fact, it looks the business. Back in Japan, this lens was reconditioned, fitted with a fully functioning M mount and painted to match the camera, right down to the red and yellow colour scheme.
James was already an avid reader of Japan Camera Hunter and seen Bellamy's many conversions and restorations; they are generally acknowledged to be the best you can get and it's no wonder connoisseurs beat a path to Tokyo. James freely admits he was a difficult customer and tried Bellamy's patience to the full, but the result was worth it.
More on James’s special M3:
Also... Bellamy Hunt has just posted details of some more of his customised cameras