Tag Archives: Leica M3

The Genesis of the Black Paint Rangefinder

Nikon S2 black paint

The camera that started the trend of black finish was not the Leica MP, but the Nikon S2. The black paint Nikon S2 was introduced in October 1955. The black S2 is plated with black nickel and then painted.

The Nikon rangefinders possessed a fit and finish the equal of the Leica, although some folks mistake the inherent play in the fit of the detachable back for a lack of bodily solidity. It is not. In terms of finish, the Nikons sometimes bested the Leica. Unlike Leitz, the white markings are engraved – on the M3, M2 and M4 only the serial number is engraved – on the Nikon S2, all the white numerals, lettering and indications are engraved by hand.

The first of black M Leicas was a run of 5 black paint M3’s followed shortly by the famous black MP’s. Leitz made 150 of the black MPs.  The paint on these cameras is very dull and thin.

Black Paint M3 earliest

Black Paint MP 28

In 1958 Leitz introduced the M2 that was also made in black, the same finish and paint type that was used on the MP: dull and thin. Leitz produced 500 of the M2’s in this run of black paint production.

Black Paint M2 earliest

Towards the early seventies Leitz offered a service for those who were not happy with the flaking and bubbling paint on their early black M2’s. All the black parts were replaced by new ones and the original number was engraved, but slightly higher than the old ones from the fifties. The type of paint was the same of that of the black paint M4 and Leicaflex SL.

Black Paint M2 restored

For some reason lost to time, Leitz did not have a restoration service for the M3 as they did for the M2. However, owners could have their chrome M3’s transformed to black paint. These transformed cameras are very rare, due to the high cost. They were often made to match the Noctilux 50mm f/1.2, a black finished lens.

Black Paint M3 restored

The style of the engraved number will date the camera a bit. This one does not have any spaces in it’s number, so it can date from the M5 era when the numbers were engraved into the accessory-shoe without spaces. Note the position of the engraved serial number, just a bit lower than the M3 engraving.

*Thanks to Eric van Straten for the photos and expertise. This is essentially a verbatim reprint of a fascinating tutorial posted by Mr. van Straten elsewhere. Mr. van Straten is an amazing source of information for all things Leica film rangefinder related.

Goodbye Leica

By Adrian Boot. Originally published by Urbanimage.tv.  All photos by Adrian Boot

It was 1974 when I first began using a Leica, a second hand M3 with a 35mm f1.4 lens. It was a dream come true, a classic stealth camera that was fast, almost silent, small and brilliant in low light. You could take pictures without a tripod at shutter speeds as low as 1/15 of a second, and as long as the subject didn’t move even 1/8 of a second. Unlike its bulky SLR relatives Canon, Pentax, Nikon etc. all of which are disadvantaged with mirror vibration, poor focus systems and bulkiness, the Leica was fast, precise and small. Try holding a large Nikon SLR in one hand while shooting at slow shutter speeds, the results will be often be a blur. These days this is not entirely true given that most modern digital SLR cameras have some sort of image stabilization.

The Leica was designed around a roll of 35mm film. Designed by photographers for photographers. With near perfect ergonomics it was a camera that rested in the hand like a glove, allowing the photographer to remain unobtrusive, a true fly on the wall.  Leica became the gold standard of camera technology and although it had lots of imitators nothing else came close.

The Pretenders Chrissie Hynde live

BY the early 1980’s I could afford to upgrade to the latest Leica M4 with an enviable selection of lenses including that king of lenses, the Summilux 35mm f1.4. This was quickly followed by a second / spare body the M4-P. The P meaning professional. These sleek matt black bodies became my much loved workhorse cameras, over time becoming battered, scratched and dented, carrying the scars of many a great photo opportunity. Although well worn they never failed. These mechanical masterpieces were built like tanks, tough as old boots, like Volkswagen cars, a symbol of German engineering with accuracy of a fine Swiss watch.

Grace Jones New York Roof Session

Of course nothing is that perfect, and the Leica M cameras had limitations. They we’re useless with telephoto lenses. Anything over a 90mm lens was impossible especially in low light conditions. For concert and action work, I , like most of my colleagues, used Nikon SLR cameras with 200 and 300mm telephoto lenses and later huge telephoto zoom lenses. The downside was the weight and size of these cameras. Hang a couple of Nikon motorized bodies together with big telephoto lenses around your neck and not only do you stick out like a photographic sore thumb, but you would often end the days shoot with serious neck ache.

Why two cameras? Well one was for colour film and one was for black and white film. Sometimes one camera would contain fast film ASA 400+ and the other a slower but finer ASA 100 film. Making matters worse,  if I was on a trip that required live concert work along side candid back stage, fly on the wall photography, I had to carry 3 if not 4 camera bodies, all clanking around my aching neck. I would use the unobtrusive Leica M cameras for the backstage work. Hiding in corners or behind doors, popping off pics of Rock stars tuning guitars, arguing amongst them selves, chatting up groupies, or falling out with wives. It was all possible on a Leica, less possible on the bulky Nikons.

Tune up backstage at the Apollo

As we came through into the 90′s the technology gave us hard pressed photographers things like autofocus, image stabilization and more sophisticated through the lens light metering. Highly automatic cameras from Nikon and Canon became the choice of most professionals. Even thought the Leica had the best manual focus via its rangefinder focusing, it was unable to compete with these new technological breakthroughs. Autofocus was a relief for my ageing eyesight. But still the Leica remained a treasured part of my photographic life, although no longer as vital. My attachment to Leica was fast becoming more emotional than a practical solution.

Then as we came into the new millennium DIGITAL photography really began to overtake film. I resisted for a while, not entirely convinced that a digital image could be as good as a film image. So .. dipping my toe in the water with a Nikon D300 body I converted, and the results were astonishing. Combined with fast autofocus and multiple point through the lens metering and an array of other features, the images were pin sharp and perfectly exposed. The camera came into its own with low light, fast action live concert photography. Digital photography was at least as good as film photography, certainly here to stay. No more darkroom, no more poisonous chemicals, no more dust specks or scratch marks to retouch.

Sex Pistols

So when Leica announced the M8, a digital version of the classic Leica body compatible with my collection of battered M series lenses, I rushed out to buy one and although it cost thousands of pounds, It retained the solid metal build of previous Leica cameras, the same control layout and the same classic look and feel. My transition from film to digital was going to be smooth and painless, or so I thought. I had hardly removed the thing from its box when I started to notice problems. The battery and SD card both fitted under the removable base plate, a feature retained to preserve  classic Leica functionality. This feature on the Leica M4 was a fast and efficient way of loading a roll of film, but on the M8 it made changing the SD card as slow as replacing a roll of film.

Trying to use my new M8 to shoot some colour pics, I discovered that the resulting images showed a serious magenta caste that required special correction filters to be added to each and every Leica lens I owned. To be fair Leica did supply 2 of these expensive items for free, but the rest I had to buy, what a hassle. Then I discovered that the viewfinder frame did not match the lens being used, making framing a guess rather than anything accurate. The glass covering the LCD screen was soft and susceptible to scratches so I was forced to use a plastic film of the type used to protect mobile phones. Adding insult to injury Leica announced a camera hardware upgrade fixing these problems, but at a cost of over £1000. I was rapidly becoming disenchanted with Leica cameras.

I also bought a Nikon D3X, a top of the line Nikon digital body and the experience was very different. By contrast this was a dream to use, and has produced some amazing images. Frankly it pissed all over the Leica. Even so the Nikon was still a beast of a camera, heavy and bulky, but it worked. No cures yet for neck ache though.

Led Zeppelin

Now recently companies such as Sony, Epson and Ricoh have all started to make compact cameras that can take traditional Leica M lenses. A Sony NEX 5R or 7 costs under a grand and the innovative Ricoh GXR costs only a few hundred pounds and both have better sensors than the measly 10 megapixel sensor on the M8. Leica, bless them, have recently launched the M9 with a full frame sensor and price tag of around £5000, and I’m sure people will buy it. You don’t even need a good eye for photography, Just hang an M9 around your neck and you will impress people.

My days with a classic Leica camera are over, although the lenses will continue to be used and I am sure will produce impressive results. I have now bought a Ricoh GXR with a Leica mount. It fits in my pocket and with the low price tag I might buy two.

Black Paint Leica MP 39* to be Auctioned in Stockholm

MP 39 1 MP 39 2 MP 39 3 MP 39 4 MP 39 5

Up for auction December 6, 2014 at LPfoto Auctions in Stockholm, a rare duplicate numbered black paint MP with Leicavit:

Leitz Wetzlar, 1957, Black paint, Double stroke, a duplicate from an original series MP13-MP150, with matching black Leicavit MP. A extremely rare camera, in original condition except body housing with small strap lugs and self timer, with matching chassis number P-39* inside the camera. This is the only MP we have ever seen with a duplicate number, not two Leica cameras have the same serial number. If Leica ever almost duplicated a number, the second item had a star added after its otherwise identical serial number. In good working order, with dark brassy patina after hard professional use.

Starting auction price is 350,000 Swedish Krona (approx $47,500 US dollars). Clearly, this MP has seen more than its share of “hard professional use.” Frankly, it looks like something your heirs would find in a box in your attic and throw in the trash. I suggest whoever ends up with this thing should at least spend the extra $25 for a new vulcanite cover at http://aki-asahi.com/. Hell, while you’re at it, why not have Shintaro repaint it for you?

******

Probably the nicest M being auctioned is a black paint 1960,  Single stroke M3 with L service seal, from original black paint series 993501-993750.  It’s been beautiful restored to new condition by the Leitz factory in the 1980’s with new and vintage parts and then never used. Starting auction price is $6750 US Dollars. Now THIS is a beautiful M3.

29564_1 29564_5 29564_7

In addition to the MP and M3 noted above,   LPfoto is auctioning a number of other interesting collectible Leicas, including:

Leica IIIg LPfoto 1Leica IIIg LPfoto 2

Leitz Wetzlar, 1960, Black paint, from an original series 987901-988025, with Leitz Summaron 2.8/35mm No.1678210 (BC) and front cap, rear top plate and lens with “Triple crown” engraving. A great rarity, only 125 ex in black paint made for the Swedish army 1960, and this beautiful camera is in a very clean 100% original condition and never restored, and even rarer with Summaron 35mm lens (approx. 30 lenses made). Provenance: Bought by the owner at FFV Allmaterial (=Military surplus), Ursvik 1977. 

Starting auction price 390,000 Swedish Krona (approx $52,750 US Dollars)

Leica IIIg LPfoto 10 Leica IIIg LPfoto 11

Leitz Wetzlar, 1960, Black paint, from an original series 987901-988025, with Leitz Elmar 2.8/50mm No.1636136 (B, Filter rim with one minor dent), rear top plate and lens with “Triple crown” engraving. A great rarity, only 125 ex in black paint made for the Swedish army 1960, and this camera is in 100% original condition with dark brassy patina and never restored. Provenance: Bought by the owner at FFV Allmaterial (=Military surplus), Ursvik 1977. Slow shutter speeds irregular.

Starting auction price is 350,000 Swedish Krona (approx $47,500 US dollars).

Buying a Black Paint M3 on Ebay. Caveat Emptor.

fake BP1

Black paint Leica M3’s are rare, as in really rare. And, like all Leica rarities, they’re expensive. One recently sold at  auction in Hong Kong for $472,00.00.  So, imagine my surprise when a “Leica M3 100% Original Black Paint Finish – With Original Documents,” above, showed up on Ebay with a No Reserve starting price of $.99, complete with ample paperwork  from Leitz, NY proving its provenance. The seller (he of two feedback) apparently bought the camera from an estate sale:

  • Leica M3 in original black lacquer finish – Early Double Stroke
  • I recently found this entire set an estate sale. I have been a member of eBay since 1999. I recently started this new account. There is no reason for concern because any potential buyers will be protected under the buyer protection plan established by eBay and Paypal
  • M3 comes with original receipt, guarantee, and gold tag
  • All serial numbers match and you can verify that Leica made Black M3’s during this Serial Range by going to this website (L-camera-forum)
  • L Seal is intact on Camera
  • Camera come with its original brass body cap – made by Leica for their black cameras
  • Auction has plenty of original brochures and manuals (see photo)
  • Camera has glass film Plate
  • Camera is operating perfectly and firing at all speeds
  • Timer is working correctly
  • Viewfinder is clean and clear
  • Camera has been tested recently and takes wonderful photos
  • This camera has to be the rarest camera on eBay currently, a very early run of Leica’s Black finished M3’s
  • Kind Regards

fake BP3

fake BP2

Is the camera a “real” black paint M3? Who knows. Suffice it to say that there are numerous red flags that suggest its a fake: according to Leica’s records, before the original black paint MP’s, from no. 13 to no. 150 (1957), just after batch M3 882001-886700, no black M’s were made; the vulcanite looks suspiciously new; and the wear looks just a bit contrived. The amount of supporting paperwork also seems contrived, too comprehensive for a camera that was used as much as this one purports to have been (in my mind, somebody who would hold onto all that original paperwork and sales brochures, i.e. with an eye to posterity, probably would have treated the camera a little better).

Fake

But….Leica’s records, unfortunately, are incomplete, because the verified black paint M3 sold at Hong Kong auction this past May is serial number 746572. And this guy seems to think his, serial number 779019, is legit too. It is known that Leica would produce black paint M’s on order – even before the first “official” black paint M3s were produced in 1957/58.  Keep in mind: in 1955 black Leica’s were not “collectible”; maybe the original owner, a Busby Cattenach from Wisconsin, simply wanted a black camera, ponied up his $324 and had Leitz, NY send him one special, and 45 years later some guy with a new Ebay account and two feedbacks grabbed it for a few hundred bucks at an estate sale in New Jersey. It could happen.

Whatever’s up with this camera, it’s no longer for sale on Ebay, having been pulled down after a day or so on site, which is a shame, since I’d already configured my Bidnip account to bid it up to $2100 at the last moment. So much for scoring an under-the-radar deal on Ebay.

Black Paint M3 w/ Lenses Sells for $472,000

BP M3 5414 1

LEICA M3 SERIAL NO. 746572 1955 

Sold at auction, price HK$ 3,658,000 ($472,000 US Dollars) L&H Auction, Hong Kong, May 3, 2014.

This is the 2nd Black Paint M3 camera ever made and the lowest number known to still exist. The camera has the earliest features found on the M3, including an early style rewind knob and four holding screws for the top plate. The camera has also had a factory conversion for use with the  Leicavit-MP, although the automatically resetting frame counter was kept with the help of a Leica M4-sytle counter resetting mechanism, which makes this a very unusual and probably unique Black Paint M3/MP camera.

BP M3 5414 2 BP M3 5414 3

The camera sold with three very early black paint lenses with both lens caps. The first lens is an early Summicron-M 2/5cm (#1587297) in brass mount with a factory conversion. The infinity lock for the focus ring was taken off so the owner, who was a professional photographer, could use it without blocking the lens. The second is a very rare Summilux-M 1.4/35mm (#1730613) without the spectacles and with chrome front ring, one of the most sought after M lenses. The third is a Summilux-M 1.4/50mm which comes from the first batch with brass mount. The design of its knurl on the focusing barrel is unusual and can only be found on a few other very early Summilux and also some of the Summilux prototypes (i.e. Summarit 1.4/50mm).

This camera is extremely rare because it is the second one of the first batch of only six black painted M3 and it retains the original four screw top plate. 

BP M3 5414 4

The moral of this story: hold on to that Leica C ‘Hello Kitty’ shooter of yours. In 60 years it could be worth some serious money.

“Leica Photography” Is Dead. Leica Killed It.

josef-koudelka-france-1987

PORTFOLIO ITALIA - ITALY PORTFOLIO

Above are two of my favorite photographs from two of the twentieth century’s most skilled and creative photographers. Both are powerfully evocative while being deceptively banal, commonplace. A dog in a park; a couple with their child at the beach. Both were taken with simple Leica 35mm film cameras and epitomize the traditional Leica aesthetic: quick glimpses of lived life taken with a small, discrete camera, what’s come to be known rather tritely as the “Decisive Moment.”

Looking at them I’m reminded that a definition of photographic “quality” is meaningless unless we can define what make photographs evocative.  In the digital age, with an enormous emphasis on detail and precision, most people use resolution as their only standard. Bewitched by technology, digital photographers have fetishized sharpness and detail.

Before digital, a photographer would choose a film format and film that fit the constraints of necessity.  Photographers used Leica rangefinders because they were small, and light and offered a full system of lenses and accessories.  Leitz optics were no better than its competitor Zeiss, and often not as good as the upstart Nikkor optics discovered by photojournalists during the Korean War. The old 50/2 Leitz Summars and Summitars were markedly inferior to the Zeiss Jena 50/1.5 or the 50/2 Nikkor. The 85/2 and 105/2.5 Nikkors were much better than the 90/2 first version Summicron; the Leitz 50/1.5 Summarit, a coated version of the prewar Xenon, was less sharp than the Nikkor 50/1.4 and the Nikkor’s design predecessor the Zeiss 50/1.5. The W-Nikkor 3.5cm 1.8 blew the 35mm Leitz offerings out of the water, and the LTM version remains, 60 years later, one of the best 35mm lenses ever made for a Leica.

But the point is this: back when HCB and Robert Frank carried a Leica rangefinder, nobody much cared if a 35mm negative was grainy or tack sharp. If it was good enough it made the cover of Life or Look Magazine. The average newspaper photo, rarely larger than 4×5, was printed by letterpress using a relatively coarse halftone screen on pulp paper, certainly not a situation requiring a super sharp lens. As for prints, HCB left the developing and printing to others, masters like my friend and mentor Georges Fèvre of PICTO/Paris, who could magically turn a mediocre negative into a stunning print in the darkroom.

50’s era films were grainy, another reason not to shoot a small negative. Enthusiasts used a 6×6 TLR  if they needed 11×14 or larger prints.  For a commercial product shot for a magazine spread the choice might be 6×6, 6×7, or 6×9. Many didn’t shoot less than 4×5.  If you wanted as much detail as possible, then you would shoot sheet film: 4×5, 5×7 or 8×10.

What made the ‘Leica mystique’, the reason why people like Jacques Lartigue, Robert Capa, HCB, Josef Koudelka, Robert Frank and Andre Kertesz used a Leica, was because it was the smallest, lightest, best built and most functional 35mm camera system then available. It wasn’t about the lenses. Many, including Robert Frank, used Zeiss, Nikkor or Canon lenses on their Leicas. It was only in the 1990’s, with the ownership change from the Leitz family to Leica GmbH, that Leica reinvented itself as a premier optical manufacturer. The traditional rangefinder business came along for the ride, but Leica technology became focused on optical design. Today, by all accounts, Leica makes the finest photographic optics in the world, with prices to match.

Which leads me to note the confused and contradictory soap boxes current digital Leicaphiles too often find themselves standing on. Invariably, they drone on about the uncompromising standards of the optics, while simultaneously dumbing down their files post-production to give the look of a vintage Summarit and Tri-X pushed to 1600 iso. Leica themselves seem to have fallen for the confusion as well. They’ve marketed the MM (Monochrom) as an unsurpassed tool to produce the subtle tonal gradations of the best B&W, but then bundle it with Silver Efex Pro software to encourage users to recreate the grainy, contrasty look of 35mm Tri-X. The current Leica – Leica GmbH – seems content to trade on Leica’s heritage while having turned its back on what made Leica famous: simplicity and ease of use. Instead, they now cynically produce and market status.

For the greats who made Leica’s name – HCB, Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka – it had nothing to do with status. It was all about an eye, and a camera discreet enough to service it. They were there, with a camera that allowed them access, and they had the vision to take that shot, at that time, and to subsequently find it in a contact sheet. That was “Leica Photography.” It wasn’t about sharpness or resolution, or aspherical elements, or creamy bokeh or chromatic aberation or back focus or all the other nonsense we feel necessary to value when we fail to acknowledge the poverty of our vision.

The Leica M3D

Leica M3D black paint, November 2012 (1955, serial number M3D-2)

david Duncan Camera 2
Only 4 M3D’s (M3D-1 to M3D-4) were produced by Leitz. All were custom made for LIFE magazine photojournalist David Douglas Duncan. Each was mated to a black Leicavit without the standard MP engraving. (Note the auxiliary rewind crank, presumably added by Duncan after the fact.)

If you see one on Ebay at a decent “Buy It Now” price, snap it up quick (don’t expect it to be described as “Minty” however). This M3D, with Leicavit and Summilux, was sold at auction on November 24, 2012 for 1,680,000 Euros.