Camera review: Leica M3

September 17, 2008

This is not a review. It is just a tribute to one of my most loved tools, the Leica M3.

The Leica M3 is a complete manual rangefinder camera which was first introduced in 1954 (mine is from 1956). It is the prototype for all Leica M cameras, such as the M2, M4, M6, M7, MP, and M8 digital. These cameras dominated the market as the prime tool for journalists in the 1950s and 1960s. They were eventually replaced by SLR cameras and have since been filling a small niche for enthusiasts, professionals who still appreciate the handling, and collectors who keep them in their showcases.

Yes, a Leica feels and looks great, but that doesn’t make your pictures any better. What makes the difference, besides your individual skills, in this case is the rangefinder that gives you a different approach towards your photography. In my opinion, the type of viewfinder plays a much larger role in the outcome of your images than any features like brand, optics, functions etc etc etc.
That’s why I divide my tools into SLR, Rangefinder and Meter Prism Viewfinders that you find in medium format cameras like Hasselblad, Rolleiflex etc. Each of these will produce a different perspective, a different speed of photographing, and thus a different result.

The M3 with its 0.91 bright viewfinder with the broad round edged frame for the 50mm focal length lets you focus on the most important aspect besides exposure, i.e. composition. The larger-than-usual magnification makes focusing easier, too, and thus produces very sharp pictures.
The M3 is a solid peace of metal and heavier than it’s size suggests. It feels solid and reliable.
There are no automatic features, no light meters (you need an external meter), no autofocus, and definitely no picture review like on a digital camera. Therefore the M3 is not really a very practical camera. On the other hand, you just don’t get distracted by blinking lights and displays, the sound of winders and shutters, and once you have set the exposure you just keep shooting which really feels liberating. Especially compared to a modern DSLR with all its functions that I find very distracting.

Saying that, after all this gadget praising:
A Leica M is great fun and a joy to use. But it won’t per se improve your photography. Don’t let the gadget get between you and your photography!

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