Tag Archives: Leica M3

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.

Arguably “Tasteless” Leica Luxury Editions Go Way Back

As Leica has increasingly moved away from its historic origins as a working camera and been transformed into a luxury commodity, it has been criticized by purists for what many think a craven pandering to excess – witness the “Sultan of Brunei” Special Edition Leica of 1995.

LeicaM6platinum_Sultan_C

 

The reality is somewhat different. As early as 1929, only 4 years removed from the introduction of the original Leica A, Leitz was offering “for a small extra fee” a dyed calf leather covering in place of the standard vulcanite. The discriminating Leicaphile had the choice of 4 different colors: green, blue, red or brown.  In the same year, Leitz also introduced the “Luxus Leica,” a standard Leica A plated in matte gold and covered with red lizard skin.

A rare calf-leather covered Leica A from 1930 – one of only three examples known to exist – sold for 120,000 Euros in 2011. Unlike the gold-plated Luxus, the calf-leather Leica A is understated, and in my opinion very beautiful.

Leica1 calf leather

 

In 1957, Leitz offered a gold plated M3 complete with gold meter and collapsible Summicron; in 1979, a 1000 unit run of gold M4-2’s were produced with gold accented Summilux; and in 1984 a 1000 unit run of gold R4’s.  All proof that tastelessness and wretched excess have co-existed since the beginning with leicaphilia.