Leica M3 Rangefinder Film Camera Review: The Epitome of Excellence

Leica M3 Rangefinder Film Camera Review: The Epitome of Excellence

Camera Review

Leica M3 Rangefinder Film Camera Review: The Epitome of Excellence

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Leica M3 Silver Chrome
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Leica M3 Black Repaint

The Evergreen Leica M3 Rangefinder Camera

I first encountered the Leica M3 in a Japanese drama where the main character inherited his father’s silver chrome camera. And that’s the legendary Leica M3 rangefinder camera. It looks a bit different from other Leica cameras, some said Leica invested and used the best material on the M3 and they cut cost in the later model – Leica M2. Whether or not I think we need someone from Leica or another expert to explain this. What true to me is that this camera has everything such as a self timer, mechanical film counter and a bright and high magnified coupled window. I had owned three different Leica M3 in single and double strokes. They all perform really smooth. But when it comes to framelines and focusing, I did have some sat back in terms of using Leica M3 as my own film camera. 

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Leica M3 Black Repaint
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Leica M3 Silver Chrome

When it comes to film cameras, there’s no doubt that the Leica M3 rangefinder is an iconic and revolutionary piece of equipment. Introduced in 1954, the M3 has a storied history and a reputation for exceptional quality. In this blog post, I’ll share my personal experiences with the Leica M3, as well as provide some insight into its features, variations, and why it remains a popular choice among film photographers today.

The Leica M3: A Revolutionary Rangefinder

The Leica M3 was a game-changer when it was first released. Its 0.91x magnification viewfinder set a new standard for brightness, clarity, and ease of use. This made composing images with 50mm lenses a breeze, and the M3 quickly became the go-to camera for professional photographers and enthusiasts alike. 

The M3 was produced in both single and double stroke versions. I have tried both versions and it really is a personal preference and I prefer the single stroke versions more. Some collectors believe that M3 models with serial numbers over a million offer the best mechanical quality which has all the improvements that Leica made. Throughout its production, Leica made several modifications to the M3’s design, including changes to the so-called “Buddha ear” strap lugs. These variations make each M3 unique and highly sought after by collectors.

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Leica M3 Silver Chrome
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Leica M3 Black Repaint

The Black Paint Leica M3: A Museum-worthy Masterpiece

Among the many variations of the Leica M3, the black paint version stands out as a true work of art. These cameras are incredibly rare, and their value has skyrocketed in recent years. The black paint finish gives the M3 a sleek, timeless aesthetic that has earned it a place in the hearts of collectors and photographers alike. The patina speaks the history of the photographer that stands with time. The brassing referred to the black enamel paint off that scuffing off from the body that is made with brass. Black and gold are the best contrast and eye pleasing tone that Leica black paint brought to collectors’ eyes. Each of them is unique and the areas of brassing depends on its owner’s habit and preference. Some even classify glossy enamel or matte enamel paint, some require extensive use to reach that semi glossiness on the black paint.

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Leica M3 Black Repaint
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Leica M3 Black Repaint
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Film Counter and Shutter Dial
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Self timer

My Personal Experience with the Leica M3

I’ve had the pleasure of owning three Leica M3 cameras, and both have provided me with exceptional experiences. The bright, large viewfinder made it a joy to use with 50mm lenses. However, my preferred focal length is 35mm, which necessitated either a lens with a built-in “goggle” to correct the framelines or an external viewfinder for accurate composition.

One common issue with the M3 is oxidation in the rangefinder focus patch, which can make it difficult to focus accurately. I had my Leica M3 repaired and fixed by Kanto Camera Japan, it was done beautifully, the focusing patch was quite difficult to use in that copy and I eventually sold it. Despite this, the M3’s solid build, unique design, and exceptional quality have endeared it to me and countless other film photographers.

Ultimately, I returned to my Leica M2 for sentimental reasons, but my experiences with the M3 have left a lasting impression.

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Leica M3 Silver Chrome with Summicron 35/2 V1 (8ele) Goggle
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Leica M3 Silver Chrome with Summicron 35/2 V1 (8ele) Goggle
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Leica M3, Noctilux 50/1 V4, Reflx Lab 400D pushed to 800, Hong Kong
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Leica M3, Noctilux 50/1 V4, Reflx Lab 400D pushed to 800, Hong Kong

Absense of Lightmeter

In my opinion, the light meter reading is only an indication of correct exposure. However, in photography, it is up to your experience and creativity to use the reading to achieve over or underexposure, which can help you achieve the desired image. The built-in light meter on a camera offers the convenience of having everything in the viewfinder, allowing you to set the shutter speed and aperture, press the shutter, and advance to the next frame. However, using an external light meter, such as with the Leica M2 or Leica M3, can slow down your process. Sometimes I use “eye” metering, where I take a reading when I am outdoors and then use my judgement to adjust the exposure by increasing or decreasing certain stops, rather than relying solely on my light meter. Another approach with an external light meter is to take a reading off the camera, inputting all the necessary information, including the desired aperture value and shutter speed, before approaching the scene. This way, you only need to focus inside the viewfinder and can concentrate on framing and capturing the best moment without overthinking.

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Leica M3, Summicron 50/2 v1 Collapsible Radioactive, Fuji Acros 100, Vienna

Shutter Sound

I would describe the sound of the Leica M3 and M2 as the most pleasing among all Leica cameras ever produced. Its quietness is remarkable, and has an exceptionally soft and silent shutter sound. I have been told that the shutter sound quality may depend on the repairman who tunes the camera, or even the batch of production. 

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Leica M3, Summicron 50/2 v1 Collapsible Radioactive, Ilford FP4, Prague

Loading and Rewinding

Taking out the spool from the camera and clipping your film lead into the loading spool before putting it back into the camera requires extra steps. While some may find this process slow, it can actually be much faster than loading a Leica MP or M6 if done properly.

Rewinding without a knob may be slower, but you can always use an accessory to aid the process. I appreciate the simplicity of this component, which is also shared by the Leica M3, M2, and MP. However, in practical terms, the Leica M4-style rewind lever is superior, being much faster to use. Some may question the need for a quick rewind when finishing a roll of film, but I have personally encountered numerous situations where a beautiful scene presented itself while rewinding. To address this issue, I purchased a SOOM film rewind lever for my Leica M. With this accessory, I no longer experience any finger pain if the film is too tight inside the camera.

There are two types of spools available in the market: the Leica original quick loader and the 3D-printed one-piece spool. In my opinion, the Leica original quick loader is overpriced and, despite its name, I don’t think it is actually quick to use since it has two pieces. On the other hand, the 3D-printed one-piece spool offers the same functionality without requiring an extra piece on your baseplate. If you’re interested, you can purchase it here.

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Take up spool
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Leica M3 Black Repaint

Why Film Beginners Should Consider the Leica M3

For film photography beginners looking to invest in a Leica M model, the M3 is an excellent choice. Its legendary reputation, distinctive design, and unmatched quality make it an evergreen camera that will never go out of style. The M3’s large, bright viewfinder is perfect for those learning the ropes of film photography, and its compatibility with a wide range of lenses ensures that you’ll never run out of creative options. It is also relatively more economical than getting a Leica M6 or MP.

However, be prepared to invest in additional accessories like an external viewfinder or get a lens that has a goggle if you prefer to shoot with focal lengths other than 50mm. Also, keep in mind that you may need to address oxidation issues in the rangefinder focus patch to ensure accurate focusing. Another reason to think about is the light meter. Leica M3 doesn’t have one with it, so you need to use your phone or an external meter to get the exposures reading.

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Pressure plate
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Gear

Film Shooting Style - External Metering

I think the most important reason to choose a Leica M3 over a meter-equipped Leica M6 or MP is the enjoyable shooting experience. An external light meter provides a better sense of the overall film shooting process. Using an external meter teaches you how to obtain correct exposures, and gives you an understanding of the shutter speeds and apertures you are selecting. This makes a huge difference because the built-in meters of cameras like the Leica M6 can easily be fooled by harsh backlight or other tricky lighting conditions, resulting in incorrect exposures.

With the Leica M3, you learn to check the light levels before even looking through the viewfinder. As a beginner, I found that with my Leica MP, I needed to double or even triple check the meter reading every time I looked through the viewfinder, while also focusing and framing the shot. This increased my chance of missing shots. The Leica M3 with an external meter taught me a better sense of dynamic range, how light levels transition, the difference in stops between areas, and how I want each area exposed. Do I want to over or underexpose? I can predetermine all this before focusing and framing.

I enjoyed this process immensely. The external meter slows you down and makes you contemplate each shot more carefully. It provides an insight into exposure that built-in meters do not. For me, this superior shooting experience is the most compelling reason to choose a Leica M3 over its meter-equipped counterparts. The Leica M3 cultivates a skill and understanding of film photography that serves as an invaluable foundation for any serious photographer.

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Leica M3, Summilux 35/1.4 v1 (Steel Rim) Goggle, Arista Premium 400, Hong Kong

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Leica M3 rangefinder camera is a timeless classic that continues to capture the hearts of film photographers, both beginners and experienced alike. Its reputation for quality and performance, combined with its unique design and variations, make it a worthy addition to any photographer’s collection. I think Leica M2 and M3 are both nice entry film cameras if you want to enter to the Leica world with the absence of a light meter. 

To put myself in a beginner’s shoes, I will focus on three key points. Firstly, the light meter is an essential element for shooting film, and having good experience with film can help keep you motivated. Secondly, whether you prefer shooting with a 35mm or 50mm lens. If you shoot only with 50mm then go for Leica M3. You can refer to my Leica lens reviews to see how both 50mm or 35mm lenses look, and decide whether you want a standard or standard wide-angle lens. Lastly, budget is a major concern. When I was researching Leica cameras and lenses, I debated whether to save the amount I would spend on a Leica M6 for a lens instead. This could mean getting a Leica M3 with a 50mm lens and an external light meter, which would provide me with a good quality camera body and lens. If I went for the Leica M6, I would probably only be able to afford a Voigtlander or other lenses like the Canon L39 mount. In my opinion, you won’t be disappointed with a Leica M2, M3, or even a Leica M6. Each has its own place in the market, and what’s more important is to go out and find photography opportunities to take memorable photos!

Leica-M3-rangefinder-camera-review-m-mount-coupling-film-photography-gear-sample-Summicron-50mm-f2-50:2-collapsible-v1-yellow-filter-street-photo-arista-premium-400
Leica M3, Summicron 50/2 v1 Collapsible (Yellow Filter), Arista Premium 400, Hong Kong
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Leica M3, Noctilux 50/1 V1 E58, Kodak Double-X @800, Hong Kong

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2 Comments

  1. Wonderfully written article Ta Hu Sa ! The Leica M3 is a favorite for me too, especially w/ Noct (long base length). Loved your article and photographs on Nikkor 50mm 1.1 ! I’m really surprised i stumbled upon your awesome blog. Very inspiring and the your film photographs rock! Awesome ! Keep up tne awesome work. i’m on IG at @corypix Mahalo Thanks from Hawaii ! cory Lum

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