After spending years wishing for a Leica, any Leica, I happened upon an advert for a Leica III that caught my eye. Now, to be honest, I really wanted an M3 with the attached light meter as in King Kong Skull Island fame, but that was way out of my price range. I was almost as enthralled by the camera as I was by Kong himself. I have even bought a couple of Russian Leica copies, including the Zorki 1 to quell my desire, but still, I wanted one. If I actually was ever to own a Leica, it would have to be a thread mount like the Zorki, not an M series due to the price difference. And there was the advert, saying they had a Leica III in great condition with a lens, just serviced and with a 20% discount. The camera the Zorki 1 was based upon. I still thought about it for a couple of days. I looked at other listings and their prices, it just seem too good to be true. Finally, my sister said, “oh just do it!”
So I did.
So looking at this website and given the serial number on mine is 140686, it was made in 1934. That means it was made 10 years after the series was first produced, a very early model with only 1500 being made. There is so much history and information about this camera on the net and in books, I am not going to go into any of that now.
As soon as mine arrived I put a film in it and went to Tokyo, taking photos along the way until I reached a one-hour developing shop. I already knew how to use the camera due to my experience with the Zorki 1, they really are very similar. The feel, the action, the sound. I shot and then I waited. It was a dull, cloudy day.
When I got the contact sheet back I was a little underwhelmed. I had paid for a cd so I went to one of the shop machines and printed a couple of the shots. They seemed ok, but not what my heart was expecting.
So the next day I loaded a Rollei RX 25, the right speed for the camera’s era, and went for a walk around where I lived. Then developed the film at home as soon as I got back.
There are three similar shots that I tried at different speeds and apertures, none made a difference, still too dark. Again I was a bit disappointed, but I wasn’t sure why.
Maybe it was the lens, maybe it was my expectations, but I thought I would try a newly arrived Jupiter lens on the Leica body and see if that changed my feeling towards the camera.
So this time I tried JCH street pan with the Jupiter lens and Leica body.
I took it to my workplace, taking pains to avoid faces when taking shots. I wanted to see it capture moving people. This was really the first camera portable enough to capture life and people living it, moving in it. Then I walked to another camera shop, forgetting I had used a black and white film…so then I walked home and developed it in D-76.
Ok, so the Jupiter lens has a different quality to it…but still the feeling persisted. And finally, two books I had ordered at the same time as the camera arrived.
I had been looking at this camera all wrong. I was comparing it to my other cameras. It is nothing like them. This camera is a piece of history, a trailblazer and the machine that started an industry. It is the Model T of cameras. Of course, cars would have come along without the Model T and cameras would have eventually become more portable without the Barnack. But this was it, this was the camera series that started it all……and it is still working. It is still working so well that I compared it to cameras 80+ years younger which I have not done with the other very old cameras I have tried.
The Leica III was much easier to use than the folding cameras and the results were far better. Even though I might not use this camera much, I will never sell it. I have yearned for a Leica from the moment saved up my pocket money and I bought a Zenit 11. I think I just need a little more time to appreciate what I have and what this camera has seen. AND it is an investment that will only appreciate over time.
UPDATE: I tried the summar lens with a UV filter to try to reduce the haze. Here are the results.
It didn’t really help. Though I do like the photos. I looked at the lens and it seems really clear, so I am not sure why the haze persists. Maybe I am over exposing the negatives.
I recently cleaned a couple of lenses, with my confidence boosted I decided to take off the front element of the Leica lens and attempt to clean the haze. In the end, it was just one tiny, tiny screw. It was more awkward than difficult. Once I got it all back together I retried the lens on this camera. Unfortunately, I had a little difficulty developing the film. It got stuck on the reel and I had to load it a couple of times. Even so here are a few shots from the cleaned lens.
We despite the issues with development, I think the haze has improved. I think I still prefer the Canon lens though.