If Leica announced they were going to offer an brand new M3, built to the original specs, coupled with an updated non- aspherical Summilux 50mm f1.4 and original lens hood- and offer it as a kit for $1600, I suspect you’d stand in line to get a chance to buy as many as possible. The lens alone would be worth the price. Why then can’t people give away the brand new in box Nikon S3 2000 editions stowed away fifteen years ago when Nikon released the S3 Millennial edition? Think of this. A New Leica M-A, the current iteration of Leica’s mechanical film M, sells new for $4750, with free shipping ( for the 50mm Summilux add an extra $3750). Yet today you can find an unused, never taken out of the box S3 Millennial, with 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor that is every bit the equal of the Summilux, for $1600 or thereabout on EBay. That’s crazy.
In 1957 a LEICA M3 and 50mm f/1.4 lens sold for about $4,000 in today’s money, while the pro Nikon, the Nikon SP went for $3,000 with a 50mm Nikkor f/1.4. Released in 1958, Nikon designed the S3 as the lower-cost alternative to the SP, sort of the equivalent of the Leica M2 in relation to the M3. The only real difference between the SP and the S3 was the viewfinder. While the SP employed two separate viewfinders that covered the 28/35/50/85/105 and 135 fields of view, the S3 employed a single viewfinder with fixed 35mm, 50mm, and 105mm framelines and no parallax correction or frame switching. Frankly, if you confined your needs to a 50 or 35, the S3 was as good as the SP, certainly as robust and well- built. In 1958, the S3 with 50mm f/1.4 cost ¥86,000 (about $2600 in today’s money) compared to the SP which was ¥98,000.
Nikon SP, above, with S3 Millennial below
In 2000 Nikon reproduced the original S3 and offered it as the S3 2000 (“S3 Millennial”), an exact duplicate of their classic 1958 S3 in chrome finish. In 2002 Nikon released the black paint S3 2000 with a production of 2000 units. The initial retail price for both the chrome and black paint the kit was around $6000, and most were bought up by collectors and put on the shelf with an eye to appreciation. The rise of digital photography, however, knocked the legs out from under the S3 as an investment, and many collectors are selling their new, unused, still in the box Millennial S3’s for pennies on the dollar. Today you can find an unused, never taken out of the box S3 with f/1.4 Nikkor for $1600 on eBay.
With the M3 in 1955, Leica came up with an enduring design that made the camera a natural extension of the photographer’s hand. The M3 embodied minimalist functionality at its best, radically simple, both in design and function, everything accessible with minimum fuss. Of course, the M3 was the inspiration for Nikon’s first pro rangefinder, but the SP included some of its own innovations. For example, with its forward focusing wheel and shutter release to the rear of the top plate, it was designed to allow your index finger at the shutter trigger while using your middle finger to focus with the focusing wheel. One hand operation. (This is how the Nikon F, built on the rangefinder platform, inherited its unwieldy shutter position – the recessed shutter position had been designed to accommodate the focus wheel of the rangefinder series, but, of course, made no sense on the F which didn’t have a focusing wheel. Nikon moved the shutter trigger forward on the bottom up designed F2).
Nikon S3 Millennial with 50mm Nikkor f/1.4 and Leica M2-R with DR Summicron
The S3 has the same minimalist ethos as the Leica, simple to use and very reliable. It’s also made to the same incredible high manufacturing standards, hand built in the same manner as the M. And the Millennial Nikkor 50 is an exceptional lens, every bit the equal of the current Leica optics. While Nikon claims it’s a faithful recreation of the 50 era Nikkor 50, it does use modern coatings and tighter tolerances, and its output is markedly superior to the original Nikkor of which it is a recreation. Its a testament to Nikon’s optical expertise that a 50 year old optical design can match the best modern Leica optics.
So, if you want a new fully mechanical precision film rangefinder built by one of history’s iconic manufacturers, you can spend $8500 on a Leica M-A with ASPH Summilux 50 – or you can buy a chrome S3 Millennial kit on eBay for $1600-$1800 (or if you want the black paint version, $2400). If you choose the S3 Millennial, you can have the “Leica Experience” without the price premium, the snobbery and buffoonery, the condescending elitism, the ignorant comments from the hoi polloi, the envious looks from the guy with the x100; just the simple joy of using a superbly made mechanical rangefinder with a wide choice of excellent optics. And the camera is new-nobody else’s problems to deal with.
What’s not to like about that?