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No Batteries Required, My Weekend With Leica

Having the task of cataloging the cameras that slide through our auction house is one of the exciting parts of my job. When a consignment that included a massive (seriously) collection of photography equipment came in I was ready to dig in and find some buried treasure. Unpacking box after box, I found no shortage of interesting and unique pieces of equipment- most notably a collection of Leica M3, 1A, III, and various lenses. The Leica Brand offers some of the most sought after cameras, and they were just sitting in an old tomato box. I was stunned. Trying to hide my enthusiasm, I brought the box back to my desk and began sorting through the bodies, organizing by model and condition. I found them for the most part to be in excellent condition. Having looked longingly at the Leica brand since I was a teenager just beginning to learn about photography, I decided to shoot a few rolls of film with the Leica M3 (lot 6328) and Leitz Canada Summicron 1:2/35mm lens (lot 6329). I felt as if a new level had been unlocked. Often described as “The Greatest Camera Ever Made” I found it hard to refute that claim.

The M3 fits perfectly in the shooters hand, you intuitively grab it as it was meant to be held. Its viewfinder brighter and clearer than any other I have looked through before. The 100% mechanically operated camera functions exactly the same as the day it left the factory, and for this camera that is not extraordinary. The M3 provides only what you need and nothing more. No TTL metering, autofocus or WiFi synch to your smartphone; the image is made by the photographer, the machine is there to make sure the moment in time is captured exactly how you want it. These modern amenities that the M3 lack, force the user to contemplate and think before shooting. Even with extensive knowledge of aperture, shutter speed and depth of field the muscle memory for using this machine had to be learned, and the sourness of missing the shot you wanted to make must be channeled into remembering to think faster next time and to plan ahead.

To test the camera, I spent a sunny weekend walking around my South Philadelphia neighborhood and Center City Philadelphia and another weekend with the M3 on Long Island. At first I felt clumsy trying to familiarize myself with the functionality of the truly manual rangefinder. Using an off camera light meter was new to me, as being a product of modernity I have spent most of my time using “Through The Lens” light meters (TTL) essentially the camera telling you how to set the exposure via a meter in the viewfinder. I chose Kodak Portra 800 to provide the warm tones and fine grain that I wanted to match with the sharpness of the summicron glass. As I made my way through two rolls I became more and more familiar with setting my exposure. At the end of the day rewinding the film I was more impatient than usual to see the results. I hopped into the subway towards Girard Avenue for Indie Photo Lab, I can’t recommend them enough.

Soon enough I received an email informing me that my photos were ready, going through the prints I was able to relive my weekend and remind myself when I'm composing a photo to take an extra few seconds and double check my exposure and focus. The Leica M3, for all of its praise, is not what is going to make you a great photographer; just as simply sitting in a muscle car does not make you a successful race car driver. The reliability of the camera and the quality of the glass only stand as a testament to the honesty of the M3, its German engineering puts in the class of high precision machines that with a regular oil change will out last most things.

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