Leica M3


Código - IGEMO/#10150 cromada, #10151 negra
Producción- 1954 - 1968 #700000 a #1206999 (las últimas son de la versión verde oliva). Unas 226.000 fabricadas
Tipo de Cámara: Cámara telemétrica de película 24x36
Objetivos: Bayoneta Leica M
Tipo: visor directo telemétrico con corrección automática de paralaje

Base del telémetro: 69.25 mm
Ampliación del visor: 0.92X
Marcos: 50;90;135 (35 con anteojos dedicados para objetivos especiales de 35 mm)
Indicaciones del visor: telémetro, lineas de marco
Telémetro manual, mecánico, funciona por imagen desplazada y contraste
Medición y Obturador
Medición de la Exposición: ninguna, opcionalmente exposímetro externo acoplado a la rueda del obturador con aguja de ajuste.
Ajuste de la Exposición: selección manual de velocidad y diafragma
Sensibilidad del Exposímetro en LV: ninguna
Sensibilidad de la película (ISO) dial de recuerdo de la sensibilidad de la película
Velocidades del Obturador; 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50 (flash), 1/100, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, B; después: 1 -1/1000, B como en la M2
Obturador, control y tipo: mecánico, horizontal de tela
conector contactos X y M
Sincronizacion de Flash: 1/50

Transporte de la película: mecánico, accionado manualmente con palanca de rebobinado, liberado por leva

Alimentación Cámara completamente mecánica. No necesita pila.

Material: Cubierta y Tapa inferior de latón
Medidas: 138 x 77 x 36
Peso: 595 g

Diseño: Heinrich Janke (cuerpo)



Presentada en 1954 la Leica M3 es el producto de la necesaria evolución de la Leica III. sin duda contenía la combinación correcta de características y se presentó en el momento adecuado para ser un éxito inmediato.

La precisión de la montura de rosca M39 no era suficiente para las exigencias de los nuevos diseños de objetivos Leitz. La competencia de los fabricantes alemanes Contax, primero y Japoneses después, con Canon a la cabeza, hicieron progresar el diseño a un telémetro integrado en el visor.

The Leica M3 was introduced at Photokina 1954 and immediately became a hit. This camera with the then advanced features was the right instrument at the right time for the documentary and scientific type of photography that was the domain of the 35mm precision miniature camera with interchangeable lenses.

Many photographers who worked for magazines, fashion and studio photography did not consider the small format negatives as a serious tool and assumed that medium and large format cameras, like the Rolleiflex, the Linhof ideal format, the Plaubel and others were required. The Rolleiflex by the way was also used by many street photographers in the Paris of the 1950s, showing that not only the Leica could be used for this style of photography.

In these picture-hungry 1950s the Leica was not only challenged by the Rolleiflex but also by foreign competition.

The Canon Model IIb and IVSb (1952) offered a combined range-viewfinder of some sophistication and posed at least a very strong challenge to the Leica III camera in function but in particular in price. This mechanism was already in preparation at the Canon laboratories since 1941. It is interesting to know that Leitz was also in that same period of time thinking about such a device as the first sketches for a new camera-model indicate.

Leitz was well aware of the competition. But even without competition, the Leitz engineers were thinking about improvements. Having intimate knowledge of the camera, they were the first to note and recognize the limits and weak points of the camera, as an instrument and as the result of a certain manufacturing process.

The new style of photography, especially the speed and ease of operation of the camera when in action, and the demand for higher speed lenses, could not be accommodated within the design of the III-series. The rotating shutter speed dial, the knob for transporting the film and cocking the shutter, the viewfinder with the two separate functions for focusing and framing, the cumbersome film change and the slow change of lenses, all of these were offsetting the compactness, the extreme smoothness of the operational dials and the great efficiency of the camera.

The Zeiss Contax had already in 1932 introduced a series of improvements: bayonet fitting of lenses, single rangefinder with focusing and framing and even an integrated exposure meter.

Leitz were not alone in searching for a better solution. The bayonet mount was seen already in 1946 in the Witness, the opening back in the Ensign Multex from1936, the lever wind in 1951 in the Wenka, the crank rewind in the 1952 Condor II, the large long-based and bright viewfinder in the Casca from 1948, the combined rangefinder/viewfinder in the Canon SII from 1946, the parallax correction in the Canon IV in1954, the geometric speeds in the Periflex from 1952, the one speed dial in the 1936 Multex, the non rotating dial in the 1945 Alpa.

It is evident from these examples that the camera industry at large was looking intensely at the development and improvement of the rangefinder camera as a type. But Leitz had an honor to defend.

Internally there was a war waging between the group of engineers who followed the Barnack philosophy (most prominent Adam Wagner) that every part had to be as small as possible and looked for the solution with the smallest number of parts and the new generation. This group, under the guidance of Willi Stein consisted of Erich Mandler and Willi Keiner (responsible for the rangefinder), and Wehrenpfennig for the bayonet fitting, rangefinder coupling and overall construction.

The bayonet mount is not unique for the M3. Originally this mount was planned for the new Leica IIIg and there exist some prototypes of the IIIg with bayonet mount. Ernst Leitz was in favour of this camera, but assumed that the competition with the M3 would be too heavy.

Willi Stein started the design of the M3 in 1943 when he was assigned to the development of a large format camera, presumably for war purposes.

The finished product was ready in 1952 and a prototype series of 65 cameras was built for testing purposes. The camera production of the Leitz company was located in the first two floors of the Hausertor-Werk: the Leica M3 was to be built in that location too. When production soared after 1952, Leitz decided to expand and started the enlargement of the main buildings at the Karlsmund area. Here the new Hochhaus II and III were to be constructed and from 1957 all cameras were made there from the 7th floor.

Why Leitz waited till 1954 with the introduction and production of the M3 is a matter of some debate. There is one psychological reason for this wavering. Leitz was very attached to the Barnack camera and not without good arguments. The classical look, the high popularity and the absolute velvety feel of the camera were extremely seductive. He understood the technical and commercial necessity for the new camera, but the larger size, the highly functional design and the more complicated manufacture did not persuade him fully. Where the III-series seduced, the M-series impressed. And the M3 had more than 800 parts, where the IIIf was assembled from 655 parts.

The M3 certainly was an impressive and highly functional photographic tool. And the Japanese, who had just prided themselves in catching up and even surpassing the manufacturing and engineering quality of the Leitz camera were truly shocked.

Canon especially was increasing production rapidly and even came close to Leitz in 1954, the year of the M3 introduction. The Japanese engineers were very much impressed by the shutter design with the non-rotating dial with equidistant spaces between shutter speeds and the clever design of the viewfinder where real and virtual images were combined into one superb instrument. In this sense the M3 represented the pinnacle of the rangefinder camera construction in the 1950s and 1960s and could demonstrate its superiority against the rangefinder competition of the Japanese and the lurking challenge of the single lens reflex camera. In sheer production numbers of rangefinder cameras however, Leitz was surpassed by Canon after 1959.

It took the Leitz engineers about a decade to design the M3 and the final product was so advanced that even today (2012), almost sixty years later, the basic structure has not changed. Anyone using the M9 or M8 will immediately feel at home when switching to the M3 (or vise versa). The fact that the design can survive a half century of technical development points to two different explanations. The easy one is to state that the design was so advanced that the competition could not improve on it. The more plausible argument is that the CRF camera as a species had reached the apex as a photographic tool already in the 1950s and had maneuvered itself into a cul-de-sac. The main challenge for the Leica engineers in this second decade of the 21st century is to surprise oneself with a new concept in the face of the challenge by the plethora of technically innovative digital and electronic components embedded in the so-called mirror-less compact system cameras.

The M3 started with the convenient serial number 700000 in 1954 and ended officially with serial number 1164865 in 1966, but a small batch of olive green cameras has been allocated in 1968 with # 1206962 - 1206999. Some M3 cameras have been made/assembled in Midland, Canada.

There were numerous changes internally and externally during the first two, three years after the introduction and it was until 1958 that the M3 got its final design and the camera was manufactured till 1968 unchanged, bar some variations made necessary by changes in material and production technology. The large amount of internal changes might indicate that the camera was introduced too early, due to market pressure.

There are three identifiable versions of the M3. The first version is the most basic: no frame selector lever, double-stroke advance lever, pressure plate of glass, because Leitz feared that the fast transport could generate electrical sparks by the friction between metal and the film base.

The second version (1955) added the frame selector lever and switched from glass to metal for the pressure plate (from # 844000) and the third version had the international shutter speed range 1-2-4-8-15-30-50 (flash)-60-125-250-500-1000 and from # 915250 had the single stroke advance lever. Two models with gold plating (including lens and exposure meter) have been identified. The M3 with serial number 1.000.000 has been given to Ernst Leitz in 1961. The M3 with serial number 1.000.001 has been given to the famous photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.

These variations may be of interest for some collectors who are in general extremely obsessed by small differences in the construction of the camera (a black or white colored frame counter indicator for example). These details may be necessary to prove the originality and authenticity of a specific model. It would be of more value to provide insight into the changes made necessary by engineering or manufacturing requirements.

For the average user (then and now!) the bright view/rangefinder, the easy film loading (through the bottom, but with a central hinged flap in the camera back) and the fast change of lenses were the most conspicuous and desired changes. In all these respects the previous LTM models were to say the least rather awkward and required much training.

The rangefinder had a physical base of 69.25 mm and a magnification of 0.92, giving an effective base of 62.32 mm. The previous model III had a physical base of only 39 mm, but a magnification of 1.5, resulting in an effective base of 58.5 mm, just below the M3 base.

The shutter was unique in allowing intermediate speeds to be set between 1 - 8, 15 - 30 and 60 - 1000. While not really practical, this feature enhanced the impression of a precision engineered instrument.

The rapid wind lever could be used with two strokes (later one stroke), but could also be inched forward in small increments and with practice could speed up the film advance.

The viewfinder is a very complex opto-mechanical device, but could be used only with lenses from 50mm focal length and longer (90 - 135). One can look through the finder with both eyes open to facilitate framing the subject. The price to pay is the use of a special 35mm lens with a separate viewfinder. This one does distort the view and is not up to the quality feeling that the M3 normally generates. Most lenses for the M3 at the time of the introduction were of focal lengths 50, 90 and 135 mm, and only with the Summaron Leitz proposed a 3.5/35mm specification (the 5.6/28mm lens was a thread-mount construction).

There is much mythology around the Leica M3, mostly generated by collectors and admirers: there is a persistent claim that the M3 models with a serial number above 1.100.000 are the best. The evidence for this statement is never provided and one might assume that the argument behind the claim is based on the idea that in the last production years all problems have been fixed and the trained workforce is at its best.

It is also claimed that the M3 (and the M2/M4 are included as well) are the best engineered and finest M-cameras ever made. There is no denial that the smooth and silent operation of the M3 is unsurpassed and hardly equalled. The material used for the gear-trains in the M3 is a softer metal and the elaborate surface treatment ensures an excellent mesh of the tooth flanks. Last but not least the careful assembly and the final adjustments by dedicated craftsmen might produce the finishing touch. The special version with olive green paint has been made for the German Army.

Even fifty-year old M3 cameras can be serviced today and restored to an ‘as-new’ condition. Early advertisements from Leitz stressed the fact that the purchase of an M3 is a "lifetime investment in perfect photography". It is evident that the designers and engineers in the Leitz company did not assume that their products would have a technical lifetime of a half century. It is common practice that technical products are designed for a limited life span, but with high reliability and durability. The M3 has been designed with almost unlimited replacement of parts and numerous vital adjustment possibilities. It is reasonable to assume that the engineers based the construction on a life expectancy for the camera of 15 - 20 years or more than 5000 - 10000 rolls of film (or 150000 - 300000 exposures). Manufacturing technology in those days was not supported by sophisticated stress and failure analysis and prudent engineers calculated with a large safety margin. Even gears that are hardly subjected to stress are over-dimensioned. Given the fact that the even the latest M3 bodies are now well beyond the calculated life span, it is inevitable that defects will occur (vulcanite becomes brittle, rangefinder colors yellow and so on).

On the other hand it is also possible to have the M3 serviced and enjoy the possession and use of one the great classics in camera history.

M3 Problems
The main problem that the fifty-year old M3 is having these days is balsam separation in the rangefinder. Unlike the minor shutter lubrication issues that are to be expected and can be easily fixed, the rangefinder balsam separation is a major problem.

The M3 rangefinder is a very intricate design using multiple prisms glued together using Canadian balsam glue, made from the resin of pine trees. Unfortunately, as an organic glue it has a finite life span and will degrade. This may show up in the finder either as minor "crazing" or cracking along the edges where two surfaces are glued together. It may look iridiscent or opaque. Basically crazing is the first step towards finder separation. Hold your camera up to the light and look at it from the front (lens side) and make sure all of the edges of the finder frame are complete.

Total prism separation is also possible. In this case, the entire viewfinder will black out, or the rangefinder patch will become invisible or black out. This can happen gradually as the result of crazing, or suddenly due to a strong force (dropping or knocking the camera).

Previously, it was thought that this was the end of the finder and that the only option would be to put in the (much inferior) Leica M6 finder as a replacement. However, several repair places are now offering to repair your M3 finder by regluing and/or resilvering them:
•CRR Luton: M3 Finder Restoration (United Kingdom)

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