Category Archives: Thread Mount Leica

Amelia Earhart’s Leica….

…is up for sale by some guy on Ebay. 70K. Rest assured, it’s legit. Ms. Earhart was kind enough to sign some paperwork saying it’s her’s before she boarded her plane (the paperwork “almost like new”):

Im selling Amelia Earharts camera which was gifted by her to a family memeber in 1933 after returning back from a  trip to Chicago with her Husband.
The camera has been in my family possesion since that time and has been in long term storage, the camera appears to be working correctly.
The hand signed card was personally signed by Amelia and given to my Grandfather  along with the camera by Amelia Earhart back in 1933 in Rye New York
Everything is authentic , Ive known this camera all my life
the signed card is almost like new as it has been stored carefully
will post world wide
I would like the camera to go to a museum if possible.
Please note I have absolutley nothing to prove that this was in fact Miss Earharts Camera and research would need to be done to confirm such, I have absolutely no idea how to do that myself. From memory over 40 years ago my Father told me that she found it fidly to load, Miss Earhart may have studied Photography , my Grandfather had said as much and described her as a keen photographer , she preffered a Kodak folding camera as I recall being told a very long time ago. she was also described as very nice and down to earth,

Could be true, I guess, although it reeks of the typical “Third Man Camera” scam. Apparently, the same camera had previously been up for auction last year in Glasgow with a similar story:

A RARE camera which belonged to American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart is to go under the hammer in Glasgow.The pilot’s prized possession will be just one of a collection of vintage and modern cameras to go on sale this month.

Around 120 lots belonging to photography enthusiast Ian Macdonald, from East Ayrshire, are to be auctioned off by McTear’s Auctioneers on March 24.The jewel in the crown is a Leica 1, which was gifted to Amelia Earhart by her husband George P Putnam.The black paint camera, which was made in 1929, is thought to have been given to Ian’s grandfather Wullie Macdonald when he worked for a cleaning firm that collected laundry from hotels and homes in New York.One of his jobs was to collect clothing from Earhart’s house in Rye and during a visiting in 1933, he commented on the aviator’s camera.

Earhart, who was the first women to fly solo across the Atlantic, told Wullie she preferred to use another model and gifted to him along with a signed card.It is expected to reach between £10,000 and £15,000 and includes a leather carry case, lens cap, range finder, two reloadable film cassettes and holder.

Ian said: “The story behind this camera is fascinating and of all the ones I own it definitely evokes the most emotion as it’s been in my family for so long.”My grandfather began the collection, then my father continued it until it was eventually passed down to me.”Over the years I’ve added to it but I feel now is the right time to sell and allow others to get enjoyment from these great cameras.”

“A Leica camera and accessories that once belonged to pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart, which is among a collection of Leicas, prototypes and other cameras due to be auctioned this month by McTear’s Auctioneers, Glasgow”

I don’t discount the possibility that the story is true and this was Amelia Earhart’s Leica, but my sense is it’s another half-baked scam designed to fool some hapless collector with more money than sense. You just need one, and God knows they’re plentiful in Leica land. However, if you’re going to command a $69,500 premium for the camera based on that claim, you’d better have the proof locked down. In this instance, the “proof” is his word based on a tall tale Grandpa Wullie told him and a signed note alleged to be from Ms. Earhart.  While living in Los Angeles in 1923, Earhart did work in a photography studio; and she and a friend later briefly operated their own photography business. But there seems to be nothing in the historical record indicating Earhart used a Leica; on the contrary, all evidence points to the fact that she used a Kodak folding camera (the seller has cleverly noted the same in his auction). There’s also another guy claiming he owns Amelia Earhart’s camera).

It’s usually the specificity of the story which raises the red flags – the fact that the camera was special ordered by a Busby Catenach of Wawatusa, Wisconsin; or the father’s notes indicating some crucial fact, contained in a letter dated 1946 complete with return address and zip code (US zip codes weren’t used until 1963); or, in this case, the claim that the camera “is thought to have been given” to Amelia in 1933 and then by Ms. Earhart to grandpa in the same year because she found it “fidly to use” whereupon in went into his collector’s vault along with the signed note – yet the camera looks very well-used, presumably by Ms. Earhart.

And who the hell just gives an expensive Leica with all the extra goodies – given to you, no less, by your husband as a present – to the laundry man when he asks about it? Think of all the potential universes out there, and tell me with a straight face you can see that happening in one of them. [ Laundry Guy: “Nice Leica, Ms. Earhart!” Amelia Earhart: “Yeah, it’s a beauty. George gave it to me for my birthday. He’s such a dreamboat, that George. How thoughtful of him! Want it?” Laundry Guy: “You mean, like for nothing?!?” Amelia Earhart: “Yup. And, while we’re at at, allow me to sign a card for you proving it’s from me. Maybe it’ll help you sell it for scads of money someday after I get lost at sea!” Laundry Guy: “Gee. Thank you, Ms. Earhart!” Amelia Earhart: “No problem…and Wullie? Make sure there’s extra starch in Georgie’s shirts”.]

And don’t get me started on the signed note: it simply looks too good, all shiny and new, and in a plastic sleeve no less, a sleeve which wouldn’t conceivably be commercially available until the 80’s, and darn, doesn’t that note fit all nice and snug in that plastic sleeve.

In other words, if Mr. Ian MacDonald thinks he’s on the level (and he may), it sure appears Grandpa Wullie’s been telling him one heck of a story. And if you’d “like to see the camera go to a museum,” then ring up a museum instead of hawking it on Ebay. Just a thought. At least he’s considerate enough to wear white gloves when he uses the thing.

Gift Cam

A Gift From a Friend: a Leica IIIf

By Ron Himebaugh

It’s unusual to use film nowadays. With the advantages of digital technology using film can seem pointless. That is unless process is the point. And if that is so, then why not go all in, with a rangefinder, even a bottom loading “Barnack” camera? Compared to contemporary digicam-o-matics there are a few hurdles, but once you are used to viewing through a peephole finder, focusing through another, trimming the leader, setting the film counter, mastering a cumbersome loading procedure and keeping your finger off a spinning shutter dial, it all falls into place.

These nuisance factors aside, film not only has its own image characteristics but the process itself of using film holds its own reward. That process requires an investment of attention and respect for the medium that seems missing in the iPhone age. Not that something has to be difficult to be worthwhile, but can some things be just too easy? (for a great argument for the iPhone, see this). It is hard to escape the feeling, which has been noted since photography was invented, that the easier it is to take pictures the easier it is to make them bad. Of course the idea is to take more good pictures, and in this regard the older technology can encourage thoughtful engagement. I think.

Old cameras are cool, with the look of precision, the heft of substance. They feel good to use because they respond in a satisfying tactile and audible way. Does anyone fondle a Canon SureShot? I think that if you like the way something feels when you use it, then you will use it and get better at using it, and the better you get, the more you will use it, etc.

Remember the Kodak Instamatic? It was designed for folks who couldn’t be bothered going through this sort of trial just to get a film loaded. In the thirties the Barnack loading scheme must have looked pretty good to the plate camera crowd. Even the M3 was a bottom loader albeit with a hinged back for easier access to the film. Not until the Leicaflex did Leitz think a conventional side hinge provided enough rigidity for the necessary film flatness.

I am thinking these things because someone gave me a camera.

My friend Chris, visiting from out of town and, knowing my interest in film photography, asked if I had a Leica and would I like one? He had meant to bring it and would send it when he returned home. A week later it came: a lllf, and– bonus! – it was the self timer model. It is the kind of camera I like to get, showing some dirt, a little history, accumulated effects of time passed, needing love, warmth, and a rubdown.

Ta da!

How nice this, my favorite screw mount camera, the penultimate Leitz bottom loader. It is to my mind the most attractive of all Leicas and surpassed in sheer industrial beauty only by the Zeiss Contax lla, of the same time period. The Contax was more advanced, with a combined view- and rangefinder, removable back, and spectacular, as opposed to merely excellent lenses.

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My own experience with Leica could be said to have started with my first good camera, a Made-in-Occupied Japan Canon, with a very Elmar-like Serenar lens. It was 4 weeks of paper route earnings, $20 in 1961. I was 13 and my next big buy was a 13th edition Leica Manual, filled with sophisticated photo topics: document copy work, forensic and lab microscopy, sports photography, photo-journalism, medical and scientific documentation, lens formulations, and terms like Newton’s rings and circles of confusion. The manual was intimidating but churned a need for a lllf and a Summitar lens—the M3 was impossibly out of reach. Wanting to know what was inside the camera I took the Canon apart—regrettably easy to do—and had a paper bag of parts and no idea how to put them back together. Some time later the hard sought lllf and Summitar landed.

Stack o’manuals, gift -cam and Nikon F. The F came along 3 years after the 3f in this picture was built. It represented a quantum leap in capability over the Leica.

I have digressed.

The camera Chris sent to me had belonged to his Dad, who, as I understand it, used it in his work, principally to take pictures for instruction guides that he wrote. It had been long in disuse, which is death to a Leica. Chris has no real interest in photography, and—thank you, Chris–generously gave it to someone who would use and value it. I am grateful.

A beautiful 3f in need of a little make-over

Q-tips, mineral spirit, toothpicks, an hour or so and the job is done. The chrome was pitting in a few areas. It had, I believe, interacted with moisture and leather over time to build a residue of vertigris, but it came off more easily than I thought it would.

A new skin from Cameraleathers.com replaced the failing vulcanite, and while a traditionalist (or would not be using Leica in the first place), I have a fondness for gray leather covering. Or, in this case, faux leather.

Here is what it looks like:

The winding has a slight hitch, not bad but it isn’t quite right. The one second works well when limbered up, but characteristic of old timers, is stiff after sitting awhile. It will go to Youxin Ye for a tune-up. He is a short drive away and I like watching him work and he seems to enjoy the company.

One useful item for these peephole rangefinders is a bright line finder and of course Leitz makes a nice one, the SBOOI.

My Gift Leica with the Leitz  SBOOI viewfinder

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The 1/15th shutter speed works great.

The photo above was taken with my new IIIf, the one below taken with a different lllf that I  happened to have in my pocket. It was some affair where I would not ordinarily take a camera. It shows the usefulness of a small and handy camera that was the impetus for Max Barnack’s invention in the first place.

I suppose we all have a small handy camera nearby, but this one uses film. I don’t say it’s better.

Yes I do.

Better and more fun.


Ron Himebaugh is a fellow bourbon drinker who has followed photography since he was twelve – “followed” meaning an equal interest in cameras, images, and the act of taking pictures. He has a “disturbingly large collection” of photo books  rivaled by an even less healthy impulse to accumulate classic film cameras. You can find some of his work on Flickr, at Hank Carter,  an ironic reference to Elliott Erwitt’s nickname for Cartier Bresson.

 

Using as Opposed to Collecting

A Like New Black Nikon F: One More Beautiful Thing I Don’t “Need”

If you’ve been reading this blog with any regularity, you’ll know that i’ve been periodically selling off equipment in a professed attempt to de-clutter my photographic life. [More to come shortly.] I woke up one day and realized my collection of ‘must have’ cameras and lenses had grown ridiculously large. I’m not necessarily against owning a collection of cameras, it’s just that, when it comes to photography, I’m not a ‘collector’ but rather fancy myself a user. You’d think that having a lot of cameras and lenses would be beneficial for someone who intended to use them for specific purposes, but in reality it doesn’t work that way. What happens is that the multitude of choices you’ve given yourself make choosing more difficult. Faced with the decision of what to pick up and use, I find myself defaulting, usually grabbing the same camera and the same lens as always, saving myself the trouble of having to deal with the cognitive dissonance that comes along with justifying whatever choice I would have otherwise made. And then there’s the emotional component, you know, the fact that I got such and such camera at such and such time and such and such place and did such and such thing with it back in the day, all part of the myriad of irrational factors we consider when we make value judgments about the things we own. Such are the anxieties that come with affluence.

You’ll also know that I tend to lapse into abstract discussions about things as I’m doing here, a habit I’ve possessed since young (my favorite book as a teenager was Nausea by JP Sartre (!)), and have an annoying habit of citing obscure thinkers to make a point. From a psychological perspective, it’s probably overcompensation, something I learned early on as a non-conformist teen with a middle finger up to any authority; when faced with the specious claims of those who claim authority to speak, you can often shut them up by one-upping them with competing claims based upon arcane sources, given that those in positions of authority dread admitting you might know arguments and authorities they don’t. Using this method, many years ago already I had come to the realization that most of those who claim authority over a subject are usually full of shit, their claim to it easily deflated with some critical argument.

One thing I have concluded, with certainty, is that cameras, however beautiful or iconic they might be, are still just things produced and meant to be used. You can put them on a shelf and admire them, but the satisfaction that brings is fleeting because, at bottom, they’re tools to be used, and where they find their meaning is in their use.

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A Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar, disassembled, cleaned and calibrated by Mr. Sweeney himself. Is it a rare, super-cool lens to use with your Leica? Yes. Do I “need” it? No.

But I digress. The reason for this post is to sell some stuff. In this case, really good stuff, the stuff I’ve been holding off selling in the hope I’d find a reason to keep it, because, frankly, I’m getting down to the equipment I have a real emotional attachment to insofar as one can be emotionally attached to things. It doesn’t help that the IRS is sending me letters suggesting I owe them money and hinting at extraordinary measures to collect it if it’s not immediately forthcoming. So much for emotional attachments. The IRS notwithstanding, I’d recently reached the conclusion that my photographic life would benefit from some further downsizing. Specifically, I’ve concluded I “need” the following: 1 film rangefinder camera with 21/35/50 lenses. And 1 digital camera with a lens. That’s it. The rest, nice as it might be to have, is redundant and certainly not required.

What I actually have at this point is this (even though I’ve been gradually selling off things now for the last year or two):

  • -A mint black Chrome Leica M4 ;
  • 2 Leica M5’s, one black, one chrome, the chrome version needing a new beam-splitter but otherwise quite nice;
  • a Leica IIIg, in need of a general overhaul;
  • a Leica IIIf, also in need of maintenance;
  • A chrome Leicaflex SL body;
  • A standard prism user black paint Nikon F with a stuck shutter;
  • A standard prism black paint Nikon F with perfect 50mm f2 Nikkor-H, the nicest Nikon F I’ve ever seen and definitely a collector;
  • a Nikon S2 in need of a CLA;
  • A Bessa R2S with Voigtlander 25mm, 35mm and 50mm lenses and a few Nikkor RF lenses as well;
  • A Nikon F5 with a slew of manual and AF Nikkor lenses;
  • A Contax G2 with 45mm Planar and data back who ISO button is stuck that I’ve been using to take one picture of myself in the mirror everyday for about 6 years now;
  • A very nice, seldom used Leica M8;
  • A Ricoh GXR with M module;
  • A Ricoh GXR with Ricoh 28mm, 50mm and zoom modules

Frankly, as my wife periodically notes to me, that’s ridiculous.

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Pretty Much “Perfect” Black Chrome Leica M4 # 1381902 (1974). Selling this will hurt.

In deciding what to sell and what to keep (for now), I’ve taken into account what I’d recoup from selling a given item, as an example, the Nikon F5. It may be the most sophisticated, bulletproof film camera ever made: incredibly robust, full of all the features we now expect of DSLRs, it sells for a fraction of its true photographic worth. A quick trip to Ebay sees them selling for $200 and up. That’s nuts. Keep batteries in it and that camera will be working long after I’m dead, plus you get to use the full range of Nikkor lenses, manual focus lenses dating back to the 50’s all the way up to full frame AF Nikkors being produced today. All of that is worth more to me than $250 in my pocket, irrespective of how few times I use the camera. The F5 I keep. Likewise, the cameras that need service. Sell em now for next to nothing or have them serviced and sell them for what they’re worth. So, the Chrome M5, IIIg, IIIf, user Nikon F, the Nikon S2 and the Contax G2 all stay. Next step is to get them serviced, sometime down the road. Which leaves me with a working F5 and tons of optics for it, a Bessa R2S with 25/35/50/85/135, a black M5, a mint black M4, a mint black Nikon F with mint period correct 50mm Nikkor-H that’s apparently been on the camera since new (since it seems as unused as the body and plain prism), a little used M8 and two Ricoh GXRs.

The M5 I keep, as I’ve had it 40 years and is the one camera I’ve always said I’d never sell although it would make sense to sell the M5 and keep the Bessa with its Voigtlander Nikkor mount lenses. Given this, I’ll keep both. As for the digital bodies, I’ll keep one GXR with the 28, 50 and zoom modules.  If I can’t meet my photographic needs with

  • a Nikon F5 and about 20 Nikkors of various size, shape and focal lengths
  • An M5 with a 21/35/50
  • A Bessa R2S with a 25/35/50/85/125
  • A Ricoh GXR with 28 and 50 modules

then clearly my “needs” are driven by something other than what’s necessary.

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Selling this one too. Got the boxes and all the ancillary stuff. Just don’t need it.

How does someone who’s always considered himself above the petit-bourgeois consumerist mindset end up with so much pretty stuff? Good question. It sneaks up on you; while you’re busy chuckling at the lost souls on the photo forums commiserating with other lost souls about which new Fuji body they need to replace last year’s Fuji kit, which 6 months ago replaced the 2015 Fuji, you yourself are engaged in the functional equivalent, buying another camera just because, telling yourself your motives are somehow better, less suspect than the neurotic consumerists who populate the usual sites. You’re not. You’re just another American who’s bought into the idea that happiness comes from stuff, especially really nice stuff like used Leicas.

[ So…., a bunch of things – the M4, the M8, the F, the CZJ Sonnar etc – will be going up for sale on the “For Sale” page of the site. They should be up in a day or two.]

 

Ode to a Barnack Leica

wayne 1

The following is prose, so it really isn’t an ode. But if it could be, it would be …an ode to a Barnack Leica.

To paraphrase something I read in the Forward to the Oxford Book of English Prose: Science moves forward, but stays in constant flux. What is established as true in fact today will be proved wrong tomorrow. (The great brains of Science disagree whether we, or anything at all, really exist……throw that one into the next photo technology dispute you encounter.) What remains constant is the condition of man.

Read any great classical work by Victor Hugo and you will see the truth of it: the same behavior, thoughts, emotions, responses and interpersonal problems that plague the characters in a Hugo story apply to us as we go through our lives even today. As I enter middle, middle age, I sense the bigger payoff, for me, as I head into the last chapters of my life, will reside in Hugo…..and paying attention to the constants of being human.

I do not know, but I suspect that this attitude is, at least in part, responsible for my recent interest in using Barnack Leicas and LTM lenses. The pull is strong; I believe it has more to do with me than the cameras. The cameras have always been there, but I have only recently evolved to the point where I appreciate what they represent. I wish this had happened sooner in my life. I’ve wasted a lot of time and effort being distracted by things that, in the final analysis, matter very little for what is true in life, let alone what’s true in my photography.

It says something that, only hours after receiving my Barnack Leica (that’s it below), I already had loaded it and had taken a number of photos.

Given the fact that optics are always advancing, its an 80 year old camera that will age with me.

wayne

This was sent to me by Wayne Pinney of Indiana, who describes himself as a “perennial novice.” He’s written here before. I love how and what Mr. Pinney writes: spare, well-written, to the point, no artifice, and best of all, thoughtful and literate. In other words, everything I’m usually not. If most of what’s been written by me on this blog is a Sony A7, Wayne’s writing would be a simple, elegant Leica M2.

The Insanity of Leica Collecting: Exhibit #367

iiig camcraft 2

This is a garden variety Leica IIIg with an M-mount shoe-horned onto it by a guy in Wisconsin. The seller is selling it on Ebay and wants $5600 for it (http://www.ebay.com/itm/Rare-Leica-I…3D222038038261). According to his description this is a must have for a collector:

Norman Goldberg (inventor of the Camcraft N5 Motor and the Leitz New York Motor), went to Wetzlar in the late 1950’s and he was shown the Prototype Leica IIIG M Mount. He was inspired to try to convert one, and he did, he converted 5 or 6 IIIG Screw mount Leicas to M mount. This camera is still in the possession of Norman Goldberg’s son, Don Goldberg. Don has checked the camera and it is 100% functional. It is a Very Rare and Unique Camera which should be part of any serious Leica Collection, or if you prefer shooting with finest Screwmount camera Leica ever made with your modern M Mount Aspherical Glass, this is the camera for you! Don has checked All functionality and has gone over the camera with a total CLA, and the camera comes with a 1 year warranty from DAG. Do Not Pass Up this opportunity to add this to your collection! Good Luck!

Now, granted, Don Goldberg is a great guy and all, and I’m sure his father has an impressive lineage with Leica cameras, but why would you pay $5600 for this so you could use “your modern M Mount Aspherical Glass” with it, when you can buy a decent IIIg for $500 and a Screwmount to M Adaptor for $25 and get the exact same thing? [*Of course, as pointed out to me almost immediately by alert leicaphile David Smith, what you would need is an M to screwmount adaptor, which doesn’t exist, for my scenario to play out. This is what happens when you blog after drinking too much bourbon. So….damn if this camera isn’t a unique IIIg afterall. But $5600? I’m not sure I see it when you can buy any number of modern SM voigtlander lenses if you’re looking to use modern optics on a IIIg. Of course, this begs the question of the value of the camera as an historic item].

In any event, somebody will buy it and be very happy they did, for whatever reason. It just won’t be me.

New Jupiter-3, the “Jupiter 3+ Art Lens,” by Lomo

Jupiter 8

Very interesting new lens offering from LOMO, a re-issue of the “legendary” (!) 50mm f.15 Soviet made Jupiter-3, itself a clone of the older Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar.

Here’s the description on the LOMO website:

Over half a century since the original Jupiter 3 lens was designed, we’re extremely proud to introduce the New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens to our line of exquisitely handcrafted Lomography Art Lenses. Designed by the highly experienced Lomography team and manufactured by the expert technicians at the exact same Zenit factory in Russia as the original lens, the New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens retains the strong character and Soviet spirit of its forbearer — crisp sharpness, smooth, natural colors and lush, dreamy bokeh — while also transcending it in many ways.

First developed in Soviet Russia in the late 1940’s, the original Jupiter lens was crafted by the optical pioneers at the Zenit factory in the suburbs of Moscow and came to be loved for the incredible character it gave to the millions of images captured with it. Now, Lomography is  continuing the legacy of this famed lens and transporting it to modern times with substantial design improvements. Equipped with a versatile 50mm focal length and f/1.5 maximum aperture, the New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens has an outstandingly shallow depth of field at large apertures and yields stunning results in all kinds of settings. Whether you’re shooting in low light or bright sunshine, you’ll end up with an extremely unique image quality that makes this lens incredibly special and gives a character entirely its own!

The New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens is being produced in small batches and thus will be available on a very limited first-come, first-served basis. Head to the Lomography Online Shop right now to get yours! For more info, head to the New Jupiter 3+ Art Lens site.

  • 50mm f/1.5 Jupiter 3+ Sonnar
  • Rangefinder coupled 39mm Leica Screw Mount
  • M-Mount Adapter included, Triggering: 50mm Frame Line
  • Aperture: f/1.5 – f/22
  • Clickless F/stops
  • Perfect round aperture for maximum bokeh
  • Weight 7 5/8th oz
  • Size: length extending from the body at infinity 36mm, width 48mm
  • Lens Barrel Chromed Brass
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 0.7m
  • Focusing Scale in meters
  • Filter Threads 40.5mm
  • Classic Zeiss Sonnar Lens Design: 7 Elements in 3 Groups
  • Easily adaptable to any Mirrorless Camera via a M mount adapter – Sony, FujiX, Panasonic, Olympus etc
  • New version of the Soviet Jupiter 3, which was a war prize of a 1930’s Zeiss Sonnar design

Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5cm 1.5 for Leica

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For a very short period during World War II, the Carl Zeiss Optical Factory at Jena built Sonnar lenses in the M39 lens mount used by their biggest competitors, Ernst Leitz Cameras in Wetzlar. During WW2 trade with Nazi Germany was either restricted or forbidden in most countries. The German government, needing foreign currency for the ongoing war effort, appointed the president of Carl Zeiss to coordinate export of German products, probably because of Zeiss’s established contacts with foreign companies.

Carl Zeiss-made Contax foreign sales, along with Leitz’s, had plummeted during the war. However, German military organizations were commissioning Leica cameras to be used by military photographers and  German journalists assigned to the Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and the Wehrmacht. To ensure ongoing Zeiss production, the president of the Carl Zeiss Jena plant ordered that Leicas should be fitted with Carl Zeiss lenses. And so Carl Zeiss in Jena retrofitted several Contax mount lenses for the Leica Thread Mount: a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50mm f2.0, a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50mm f1.5, a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 85mm f2.0 and a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135mm f4.0. All were produced and sold, although in quantities limited by the contingencies of war, until the end of WW2.

By the end of the war, the Russians had overrun Jena and appropriated the Zeiss manufacturing plant there. The Soviets ran it under their auspices for some time, continuing to produce Zeiss optics under the Carl Zeiss Jena brand, including the M39 LTM Sonnars. The company that remained, “Carl Zeiss Jena,” was not a “fake” company bearing the name of Carl Zeiss; it was the same company in the same factories where all the pre-WWII lenses were made. The company name remained “Carl Zeiss”, and the location of the company remained marked on the lens as the wartime lenses had been.

The Soviets subsequently dismantled the factory and transplanted it to Charkov in Ukraine. They took with them to Charkov Zeiss designs, machines, stock, and workers forced to relocate to Charkov, where the Zeiss factories were reconstituted by the Russians as restitution for the German’s destruction of the Charkov FED plant during the German invasion of the Ukraine. They left, as a legacy, an unknown quantity of Carl Zeiss Jena lenses in M39 mount. These Zeiss Sonnar lenses are the progenitors of the the Jupiter-3 (50mm f1.5), Jupiter-8 (50mm f2.0), the Jupiter-11 (135mm f4.0) and the Jupiter-9 (85mm f2.0), which would be built to the same design, and often with the same machinery, as the Zeiss optics built in Jena. The Russians even adapted the Contax-mount Biogon 35mm f2.8 to their Jupiter-12 35mm f2.8 in LTM.

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The legitimacy of M39 LTM Leica Mount Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnars are often called into question by web “experts.” The problem is that much of the factory records were plundered or lost during the Soviet occupation,  offering fertile ground for all sorts of whacky “Red Scare” theories about the Russians “faking” CZJ lenses. Contrary to what is usually claimed, almost all the M39 lenses that have come onto the modern market are genuine and can be established as such with some critical examination (see below). What seems to confuse collectors is this:  many of the CZJ Sonnars are post WW2 Russian Army Of Occupation lenses, which are only different in build date from their WW2 German build counterparts. However, the internal components are the same as the 1941 to 1943 assembled lenses, and they were assembled with Zeiss machinery and know-how. All Jena factory made WW2 CZJ M39 lenses made during the war had “ears” just as their Contax counterparts did (remember, these were retrofitted Contax lenses), while the post-war Russian-made LTM lenses were produced with Jena factory optics, machines and parts, often don’t have “ears”, but are still legitimate “Carl Zeiss Jena” lenses.

Another thing which confuses collectors is that, even before the partition of Germany, there were three organizations with the name of Zeiss.  Carl Zeiss Optical, established by Carl Zeiss; after Carl Zeiss’s death sole ownership passed on to his partner Ernse Abbe, who established Carl Zeiss Stiftung which would acquire Carl Zeiss Optical as one of its core divisions. Carl Zeiss Stiftung grew and diversified,  in 1926 acquiring four camera manufacturers, merging them to form Zeiss Ikon, its photographic equipment division, based in Dresden. Zeiss Ikon bought lenses from Carl Zeiss Optical for its cameras but Carl Zeiss Optical was free to supply its lenses and other products to other camera makers too. Given all of the above, confusion and misunderstanding seem to trail vintage Zeiss optics at every turn.

Illegitimate CZJ lenses do very infrequently pop up for sale, usually by sellers in the former Eastern Bloc. These are Contax lenses hacked into Russian Jupiter lens mounts, being sold as original  Carl Zeiss Jena M39 Sonnars.  Or they’re Jupiter-3s with the front lens ring removed and replaced with a fake Carl Zeiss Jena lens ring. Those are the fakes.  But it seems to me that there is no practical incentive to try and turn an old Jupiter 3 into a CZJ. The effort and expense of machining a CZJ front ring and replacing it in a early 50’s era Jupiter 3 doesn’t match what little extra money the CZJ would bring over a Jupiter 3 sold as such. So, the bottom line is this: if you’re lucky enough to have found one along the way, your CZJ Sonnar is probably genuine, irrespective of the irrational claims of some self-appointed experts who see fakes everywhere.

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If you know what you’re looking for, it’s not difficult to spot a fake. The first step in determining whether its a fake Zeiss lens converted from a KIEV is to look on the lens’ focusing ring. Russian lenses use metric screws while Zeiss used non-metric screws. Additionally, the Zeiss ring has one short and one longer screw; converted KIEV lenses have equal length screws; the Kievs will typically have a big “M” for the focusing  scales while real CZJ’s will have a small “m”; and the “T” engraving on the front shield, which should be red, will often be white on the fakes. *

In his book Non-Leitz Leica Thread-Mount Lenses, Marc James Small states: “For the most part, [the wartime] lenses have serial numbers in the 2,6xx,xxx to 2,8xx,xxx range, are ‘T’-coated & marked, & all are inscribed ‘Carl Zeiss Jena.'” The 276 series was the last true wartime series, 279 and up were produced in the Jena plant after the Russians had completely taken over Zeiss plants and production. Thus, my copy, #2,866,450, the one shown in the photos, would have been produced in the Russian run Jena plant post-war using Zeiss optical glass, parts, labor and know-how.

I bought my copy from a guy who was selling camera equipment he had inherited from his father years earlier. It was dirty and unused for probably 30 years before he put it up for sale on Ebay, from Ohio, with some really cheesy photos and a description that clearly indicated he had no idea what it was. In talking to him afterwards, he told me his dad had brought it back with a camera from Germany during the occupation, but that’s about all he knew. The lens, bearing all the marks of being legit, cleaned up nice. I had it disassembled and the tech said it had the internal markings consistent with an original.

Older lenses like the CZJ Sonnar weren’t designed with the same tolerances as today’s computer designed and robotically manufactured optics. They don’t have the same  materials and were subject to more impurities.  They age and discolour.  They often have a single coating rather than being multicoated like modern lenses. The Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar is a cool lens, both as a collectible and as a user, obviously very vintage in character – not very contrasty, not super sharp wide-open but better and better as it’s stopped down. Wide open it has a beautiful soft character with a creamy rendition of out of focus areas, nothing like the clinically harsh and contrasty look of modern Zeiss optics built by Cosina. The photos below are good examples of its character.

I find it a great lens to use on my M8, a way to build some imperfection into a digital image. Or, better yet, pair it with some Double XX pushed a few stops and developed in D76: perfect.

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Carl Zeiss Jena 5cm 1.5 Sonnar. Photos by Andrew Fishkin.
* I’m definitely not an expert, so please take what I’m saying here with a healthy dose of skepticism; I’m essentially repeating common wisdom with respect to telling the real from a fake. If you have better information, and if some of mine is wrong, please feel free to set me right.

Resurrecting an Ebay IIIg

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Before and After

One of the pleasures of buying old Leicas is that, if you ask, sometimes you’ll get the backstory from the seller about the camera you’re buying. Usually it’ll be regarding an old beater that’s been in a box in the closet for some time, often since the death of the original owner. The seller – a son, daughter, or heir –  knows little to nothing about cameras but knows, in some sense, that dad’s old Leica is probably still worth enough to sell it on Ebay.

I recently picked up a IIIg with collapsible Summicron and 135mm Steinheil Munchen Culminar. From the pictures and the description buying the camera was a 50/50 proposition – it might be functional, it might not. The optics might be clear and trouble free, they might be fogged, full of fungus and worthless. Considering the potential risks, I threw in a last minute lowball bid and won.

Imagine my surprise when I received the camera and found it to be in exceptional condition: bright viewfinder, contrasty rangefinder, almost unmarked chrome body, shutter speeds fully functional to 1 second. Other than the vulcanite having dried and flaked off, the body itself almost looked new. The Summicron was immaculate: almost no marks on it, beautiful front coatings, no haze and almost no dust. It just needed a good cleaning. The Steinheil was full of fungus and went directly to the bin. No loss. Wasn’t interested in the lens to begin with.

I emailed the seller to thank him for the camera, told him I would keep it and use it with pleasure and asked him what he knew of its providence. He replied:

I’m glad to know you will take great care of my dad’s camera. He used it a lot when we went to the beach and mostly on vacations to the Caribbean, Hawaii, California, Puerto Rico, Europe, etc. That camera has literally been around the whole world as my parents were people who loved to travel. I mostly remember him setting up the focus, aperture and fiddling around for the longest time with it when taking a picture of my mom and me. My mom would get so mad because we would literally be standing and posing for 5 minutes waiting for him to get the perfect clear shot while listening to his portable radio play the theme song to Dr. Zhivago, the only song he liked to listen too!

Sadly, my dad suffered a major stroke in 1982, and never recovered from it. He passed away in 1984. So now that I think about it, the last time the camera was ever used was probably 1980 or ’81 when I graduated from H.S. When we went on local trips, they always used my mom’s cheesy Kodak. Only at the beach for some reason he liked to use that Leica.
So as I mentioned, it sat in a box on the shelf all these years. It never got wet, (outside of light rain which I believe is where the staining came from inside the carrying case). It was never abused.The black plastic outside of the camera must have become brittle while it was sitting around on the shelf. The broken pieces were lying inside the case as if they literally fell off as it was sitting. One or two small sections broke away as I was handling and inspecting it. I have never operated that camera a single time as my father wouldn’t let me touch it! My mother never knew how to work it. So I literally know nothing about it. I don’t know what battery power’s it and had no clue how to load the film. I was even afraid to clean it as I didn’t know how sensitive it is. I assume the black plastic on the camera can be replaced and if so you will have a mint 1950s or older camera in great condition. I wish you all the luck with it.

I love stories like this. Clearly, this camera meant something to his father, and it’s nice to know I can give it a second life and respect it in the same way his dad did. I looked up the serial number and found it had been made in the year of my birth, a further happy coincidence.

I’ve since sent of to Cameraleather.com for a tan griptac covering. Morgan sent it to me within the week and I recovered the camera with a minimum of fuss. This one is a keeper.

1976: The Year Art Photography Changed

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Prior to 1976 ‘serious’ photographers shot black and white. William Eggleston changed that. On the 25th May 1976, courtesy of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the accompanying book, ‘William Eggleston’s Guide’, color photography arrived as a serious photographic medium. The subject is a rather laconic view of fly-over America, subject and era lending itself perfectly to the Kodachrome aesthetic. Eggleston had pioneered the photographic trope of the banal as interesting, the ordinary as revelatory. While this idea, played out as it has subsequently been, now might seem trite, it was revolutionary in 1976.

The MMA reprinted the book in facsimile in 2002 along with an essay from photography critic John Szarkowski.

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Eggleston is a Leica gearhead. He owns over 300 leicas. This is a picture of a a handbuilt case he uses to store and transport some of them. This particular case holds 13 different Leica cameras and a couple of old Canon rangefinders for good measure. The case itself is a leather briefcase that Eggleston retrofitted with wood panels.

Eggleston is particular about the earlier Leica thread mount bodies. In addition to standard issue models, his collection includes rare limited-edition and custom-painted bodies. He claims he uses all of them. Eggleston admits his gear fixation “has grown into something of an obsession.”

Ironically, the photograph above was shot by Eggleston using a Fuji X-Pro1.