By Chuck Miller, reprinted from the Albany Times Union
Five years ago, blogger and good friend Teri Conroy gifted me a camera that was in her family’s possession – it was a vintage Rolleiflex Automat MX. I’ve used it for many photographic excursions, and I still use it off and on today.
And last Friday… someone else gifted me a camera that had been in their family for generations. They hoped that I would find a new use for the camera, that I would appreciate it as much as they did.
I met the family – Polly and Pat and their daughter Claire – at the Gateway Diner in Albany. We shared a meal, and then Polly showed me the Quantaray camera bag. And inside – along with two speedlights and an ever-ready camera case… was this:
My heart nearly stopped. This is a Leica M3 rangefinder 35mm camera. It’s one of the early models; the serial number identified it as manufactured in 1955.
Whether you shoot with a Nikon, a Kodak, or even a Canon, there’s one camera brand that simply exudes class and precision and delight. To hold this camera is to hold a precision instrument. This camera will make you fall in love with photography. And that camera is a Leica M3.
You know how people will look for a modern digital camera like the Fuji X100 and say, “That’s the next Leica M3″?
Well, there’s a reason for that. To own a Leica is to own a true piece of art.
The family and I talked for a while. I wanted to find out more about the camera’s previous owner – Polly’s father. His name was Evan Leighton Richards, and he was a reporter and columnist (and photographer) with the Times Union‘s sister afternoon publication, the Albany Knickerbocker News, during the 1950′s and 1960′s. He later worked in public and private service, and passed away last January at the age of 86.
“He was always using that camera,” Polly told me, with a smile on her face. “He went everywhere with it.”
And there it was, in my hands. A sixty-year-old camera with all the gleam and wear of sixty years of photos taken – everything from news stories to family get-togethers. This is cool. Way cool.
When I got back to my place, I examined the camera again. Then I called my friend Catherine, who’s been my trusted friend and confidante for many, many years. When I told her that I received a Leica M3, her first words were, “My father had a Leica M3, it was the most amazing camera and he took the greatest pictures with it.”
Why do I get this feeling that this little camera is going to change my life – and, for that matter, for the better?
And now it’s my turn. My turn to work with this stunning camera. My turn to discover if using a Leica M3 is everything everyone says it can be.
First test roll – a pack of Kodak BW400CN, a black-and-white film that can be developed in contemporary C-41 chemicals (i.e., drop it off at Walgreens). And on what was essentially the first truly warm day of the season… I took a short trip through the Adirondacks. First stop – Stillwater.
Then I cut across Route 9P to Saratoga Lake. Found this beachfront scene at Dock Brown’s Restaurant.
And although the Malta Drive-In hasn’t opened for business yet, at least the sign has let people know that there will be an upcoming movie season…
And just for the heck of it… a new (for me) angle of the Hadley Bow Bridge.
Let’s start out with the positives. Look at the freakin’ detail in these shots. I’ve only used one other rangefinder in my arsenal (my Kodak Medalist II), but this little beauty is just ten levels of impressive. The mechanics on this camera are amazing, the shutter is whisper-quiet, this camera is just totally cool and awesome and stellar, all at the same time.
Okay, the negatives. Give me a second.
There are no drawbacks. This camera is swank.
My utmost thanks to Polly and her family for allowing me to bring new life to Evan’s camera, and to give it a new run through the world. If I can get shots like with a pack of Kodak B&W drugstore-developable film in this chassis … imagine what I could get if I packed a roll of efke in here. Or a roll of Fuji Velvia. Or maybe even some Kodak Ektar. Or some Revolog boutique film.
Yeah, Chuck is going to have fun with this camera.
Lots and lots of fun.