Before the infamous red-dot there were the Barnack Leica’s. These compact rangefinders were designed by Barnack to take motion picture (35mm) film so that he could carry them around without giving him trouble with his asthma. The Leica III was the companies World War 2 camera and was the direct competitor to the Zeiss Ikon Contax line (which is why the Contax IIIa was featured earlier this month). I do like this camera but it really is one I like to hate so I don’t want to get rid of it really, it’s an excellent camera mostly due to the lens and it is small enough to fit in any sort of pocket and of course has the cache of being a Leica with everything that entails.
Format: 35mm, 24×35
Lens: Interchangeable, Leica Thread Mount (LTM)/M39
Year of Manufacture: 1940-1951
Despite my personal issues with this camera which I will discuss in the next section this really isn’t a bad camera. It’s small, fairly light, without feeling cheap. Add a collapsible lens like the Summitar or Elmar and you can easily toss this camera into a pocket and go out onto the streets. And as for the camera it’s pretty low key, low profile and I can really see why street photographers and combat photographers would use them. Along with the simple construction comes a simple and easy to use design, remember these were designed by a man who had aesthma and needed something small and compact. And finally…I can’t let this go without mentioning the amazing optics that you can get for this camera!
Despite this camera holding pretty high status among photographers there are two things that for me really keep this camera more on the shelf and the lens mounted on an M39 to E-Mount adapter for use on my digital camera. The first is the loading, drop in, from the bottom. Yep and it is really difficult to master and get it working as you also have to pull out the leader and re-cut it so that everything catches…if you’re lucky (I was lucky this time around and it worked the first time). The second is the dual window rangefinder/viewfinder. The rangefinder is incredibly small and hard to work with I have missed the focus several times because of this.
I like this camera, I really do, but because of the two major sticking points, I tend to leave it at home in favour of something a little easy to use on the go. Not to say you shouldn’t get one, they are really well built cameras with top notch optics that are equal to Carl Zeiss. So if you like this style of camera and want to fashion yourself after Henri-Cartier Bresson and do B&W street photography in Paris by all means. On the plus side these are the cheaper of the Leica cameras on the used market. But if I had a choice, I’d spend the extra money and pickup a Leica M2 or M3 body and mount Voeitlander glass or use an adapter to mount the Summitar I have.
The one thing I will point out is on the used market there are a tonne of copies out there that are branded Leica but really aren’t. Probably the easiest way to tell is if they are marked with Third Reich (yes, Nazis) military markings you’re actually holding a Ukrainian copy by Zorki. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area and have a Leica III series camera and need it identified I suggest North Halton Camera Exchange, one of the owners is a former Leica Employee and will gladly give you a hand!
All photos taken in Oakville & Burlington, Ontario
Leica IIIc – Leitz Summitar f=5cm 1:2 – Kodak TMax 100 @ ASA-32 – Kodak Xtol (1+1) 8:45 @ 20C