Category Archives: Collectible Leicas

The Rare Rigid LTM 50mm f2 Summicron, 1960-1963

In 1956, Leitz introduced a rigid version of the 50mm f2 Summicron, the revolutionary lens first offered as a collapsible version in LTM in 1953 and in M mount in 1954. The 1956 rigid version constituted a revised optical design with a harder front element and deeper rear element. A “Dual-Range” M mount rigid version was also introduced at this time. Leitz produced this “second version” rigid Summicron, both normal and dual-range, between 1956 and 1968.

Between 1960 and 1963, Leitz also produced 1160 copies of  this rigid second version in LTM, making it one of the rarer and most valuable Summicrons produced. Of course, its rarity soon encouraged the assembling of fakes; the rigid Summicron’s lens head can be unscrewed from the rigid mount, and Leitz complicated matters by supplying rigid mounts in LTM for a few years so that owners of M and LTM bodies wouldn’t have to buy two lenses but could simply swap one lens head between two different lens mounts, M or LTM.

The end result is that it’s a good possibility that the LTM Rigid Summicron you’re being offered for sale is a frankenlens and not a true factory assembled version. The situation becomes further confused in that the true focal length of the rigid Summicrons differed slightly, depending on the version – 51.6, 51.9 or 52.2 – while the LTM rigid mount required a specific 51.9 focal length lens head, and many of these self-assembled lenses contain 51.6 or 52.2 lens heads mated to LTM rigid mounts.

How can you tell you’re looking at a rare factory assembled example instead of one made up from a replacement focusing mount and a non matching lens head? Fortunately, on the factory assembled models Leitz engraved the serial number of the lens both on the lens head and on the detachable lens mount. If these serials match, you’ve got a legit factory assembled LTM Rigid Summicron; if not, you’ve got a self-assembled frankenlens with potential focal length compatibility issues, one that can’t claim to be among the 1160 produced by Leitz.

A further complication in identifying a real factory produced version is that Leitz apparently produced them in dribs and drabs instead of one sequential run of 1160 consecutive serial numbers. According to Dennis Laney’s Leica Collector’s Guide, accepted serial number ranges for a legit copy are 1,599,XXX, 1,704,XXX, 1,706,XXX, 1,762,XXX, 1,763,XXX and 1,885,XXX, “but, as always with Leitz, the fact that a lens falls outside of this range does not necessarily mean it is not original” [Laney’s words]. The litmus test is the matching serial numbers.

*************

I was recently contacted by Bill Moretz, the owner of a reputable brick and mortar photo establishment in business since 1988 doing repair and photo lab services and equipment rental – asking me about a rigid Summicron he had in inventory he wasn’t quite sure exactly what it was. I had him send me some pics, did a little research, and then asked him to remove the mount from the lens head to see if the serials matched. They did. His rigid thread mount Summicron is a rare factory assembled original, serial number 1,607,043. According to Bill, everything in great condition optically and mechanically.

Bill has asked that I put the word out through the blog that the lens is for sale, and I told him I’d be happy to do so in order that he might avoid the pitfalls of Ebay and the various ways dishonest buyers devise to scam honest sellers out of collectible items. He’s asking $1950 plus insured shipping charges of $30 within the States. In my opinion, that’s a great deal as I see undocumented versions with various optical issues offered from anywhere between $1700 on the low end to $2800-$3000 on the high end. It comes with the original matching Leitz hood and lens cap.

If you’re interested, contact me at leicaphilia@gmail.com.

Hits: 2071

Now THIS is a Beautiful Leica

s-l1600-2 s-l1600-3

Currently for sale on Ebay from a seller in France, what looks to be an unused, pristine chrome two-lug M5, #13553167. The serial number puts its production date as 12/1972, which is smack dab in the middle of the M5’s production run but late enough to avoid the shutter issues that beset the earlier models. Seller claims everything works properly.

What would I pay for it? God only knows. I wouldn’t be interested in it as a collectible but as a user, so the box and all the supporting stuff would be irrelevant to me except insofar as it confirms the claim that the camera hasn’t been used much, but, of course, this potentially cuts both ways – lack of use for the last 45 years might leave you with a camera in need of service, and the one downside of M5 ownership is that M5 specific service isn’t cheap, usually double what you’d pay for a traditional M.

In any event, in my opinion, a good working M5 is about as good as you’ll get in a Leica M, and the chrome versions are the aesthetically more pleasing. Granted, not everyone agrees with me. Some Leicaphiles loathe the M5, which is their right. It’s my observation that the folks who hold the most negative opinions about the M5 are those who’ve never used one.s-l1600-1 s-l1600-5

Hits: 681

The Coming Crash of the Black Paint Leica Market

img_4597img_4601

This, as Best I Can Tell, is a “Real” Black Paint Leica M2

I think I’ve made it clear I’m not a big fan of the “Black Paint” Leica craze. There was a reason Leica started producing their black cameras in black chrome starting with the M5 in 1971 – traditional black paint Leicas looked like crap after a few years of use. Black paint finishes quickly wore away or bubbled up, to the consternation of owners who expected their Leicas to be durable. Black chrome was much hardier, not wearing away, flaking or bubbling. A definite improvement.

Somewhere along the way – I date it to the late 90’s – a guy named Shintaro in Japan started painting M cameras black for about $500 a camera. He had learned to do so by painting a few of his own cameras black, experimenting with various techniques until he could produce a black paint M almost indistinguishable from an original. He did so not for any nefarious reason but because he liked the look of a black Leica M2/M3, and the originals were scarce and, when found, usually beat up looking. He had started by simply posting his results on the net, and soon other M owners were contacting him asking that he paint their Leicas. A cottage industry was born.

A few years thereafter, I started seeing other people get into the game, offering to paint your chrome Leica black for a fee. The results ranged from the really bad – chrome cameras simply sprayed black with enamel – to those dechromed and refinished almost to Shintaro standard. By the mid-aughts, everybody seemed to either have, or want to have, a black repaint, the point being to have a black Leica M2/3/4, not a collectable.

An effect of all this was that the original Black Paint Leicas – M2’s, M3’s and early M4’s painted black by Leitz – came into vogue as collectables. And then, of course, the scammers got into the game, with varying levels of cleverness, offering to sell you an “Original” Black Paint Leica at collectable prices. It was easy enough to do. While Leitz produced black M’s in official batches, allowing a potential buyer to cross-check Leitz records to determine if a given Black Paint Leica was legit or not, the fact is that, back in the day, Leitz itself would paint your M2 or M3 black by request, giving you an “Original” Black Paint Leica even though the serial number of the camera didn’t place it in a run of official black models. On such exceptions to the general rule, a lot of repaints were pawned off on unsuspecting buyers, usually on Ebay, as originals, some even with fake paperwork claiming to prove their provenance.

The end result of all of this is it’s now difficult to know for certain if the Black Paint Leica you’re looking at is original, and thus exponentially more valuable as a collector’s item, or a “fake” repaint. Not that a good repaint isn’t nice for what it is; I’ve had Shintaro paint both an M2 and an M3 for me back in the day, and they were beautiful, but they were what they were – Shintaro repaints, and I eventually sold both as such. God only knows where they are now, and who might be claiming what about their legitimacy. And this is the problem. There’s so many repaints floating around, the distinction between real and fake is now extremely problematic.

*************

Which leads us to the larger issue – with all of these Black Paint Leicas floating around, most with varying degrees of questionable provenance, what’s the value of the real thing? The real thing, of course, is just a Leica painted black. Whatever value it might possess over and above its practical value as a Leica camera is artificial, a function of its perceived desirability, which is itself a function of its rarity, and Black Paint Leicas are now seemingly everywhere. Insofar as you can prove the legitimacy of your particular camera as an “original” Black Paint, the current market dictates that it possesses an extra value as a collectible. This in turn is predicated upon the requirement that there be clear means to authenticate its legitimacy – serial numbers certainly are a first step – but, in the era of the ubiquitous repaint, one never knows. It might be claimed to have been painted on special order from Leitz, or it might be a legit Black Paint that’s been repainted along the way, or, to muddy the waters further, it may be a repaint whose provenance has been purposefully faked with supporting documents and gains legitimacy after changing hands a time or two. Who knows? The point is this: no matter how much due diligence you do, there’s a chance your $10,000 “Original Black Paint M3” is a fake. And, given that reality, even if you own a real one, astute collectors are going to be skeptical.

img_4617img_4594img_4605

As an example, I recently received an email from someone inquiring where he might get a reasonable valuation of a black M2 he had come into possession of. It’s the camera you see above, and at the beginning of the post. It sure looks nice, which, prior to the repainting craze, would have made it highly desirable. Unfortunately, now, you could argue it makes it highly suspect. This is what he told me about the camera:

I have a button rewind m2 (from the first batch of 500) that was used for a year and then stored away in a closet and never touched again. It is in such amazing condition that no one believes the top isn’t a repaint (even though the serial 948896) puts it right in that group. The man I purchased it from at an estate sale was probably in his late 70s/early 80s said he had purchased it and then bought a nikon SLR and never used it again. It does look a little too good to be true although there is minor brassing on the advance lever and the back edge of the top plate as well as on the front edge of the matching summicron lens. Anyway I was wondering about avenues for appraisal/info on the camera etc. I am not eager to sell but may if the price was right.

I have every reason to believe his story. The serial number certainly puts it in a batch of original black M2’s. The explanation sounds reasonable, but then again, it’s an explanation we’ve all heard before, and you can see from his description that he’s already encountered a healthy skepticism when in fact all obvious signs point to its legitimacy. And that’s the dilemma increasingly encountered by folks trying to monetize their collectible Black Paint Leica. It’s also the dilemma facing a prospective buyer. Are you willing to take a $10,000 chance it’s real, or that it hasn’t been repainted, or that it isn’t an elaborate fake concocted in a basement in Stuart Florida? Not me, and my bet is that fewer and fewer future buyers will be as well, which doesn’t bode well for the market.

Hits: 5305

Automatic Leica M Leaf Shutter Prototype

m5a m5c

This is a “Leica M5” with Elmar 50mm f2.8 Compur shutter, designed by Leitz in the early 60’s. Calling this an “M5 prototype” is misleading. If memory serves me correctly, this was Leica’s first attempt at a metered M, dating to the early 60’s while the M4 was on the drawing board but not yet produced, and long before any plans for the actual M5. In actuality, it’s a prototype M7.

Yes it’s ugly, and Leica might have tanked in short order had they been stupid enough to produce it, but it’s still an amazing bit of Leitz history. As for the two ‘rangefinder windows’, the second window appears to be to read the shutter speed of the Compur lens.

Hits: 882

Heads Up, Lenny Kravitz

img_0106

You can be one of the lucky few to own a red anodized version of the Leica APO Summicron f2 ASPH, soon to be available from Leica for $8950. That’s only $1200 more than the black version. Only 100 pieces will be made, (not counting any further fabricated under licensing agreement with Third Man Cameras in Stuart, Florida).

img_0107

Hits: 1474

Caveat Emptor, Again (or, Do Not Buy Black Paint Leicas On Ebay)

s-l1600

******UPDATED BELOW: AFTER FURTHER INVESTIGATION, IT’S CLEAR THIS IS A 100% FAKE. SEE BELOW FOR DETAILS******

Another “Original Black Paint” Leica, this one an M2, for sale by “Third Man Cameras” on ebay (Ebay http://www.ebay.com/itm/332015997511?rmvSB=true). Is it “real”? Who knows. If by “real” you mean an actual Leitz made M2, yes, it’s real. If you mean an actual Leitz M2 painted black by the factory, debatable. The serial number, 929348 puts it in a 1958 lot of 2000 chrome M2’s. The first known factory BP M2 starts with serial number 948601. However, it could be a camera done in black by Leica on a client request, which wasn’t unusual back in the day.

According to the seller,

This camera was ordered through Leica New York in 1958 and then the camera was produced at the Leitz Leica factory in Wetzlar, Germany. The original owner said that he had to contact Leica via postal service to order the camera. This is why it still has an original L-seal. It was produced by Leica / Leitz Wetzlar in 1958 at the factory in Wetzlar, Germany. The original owner had some position in photography while in the military because he has many camera items in his Air Force trunk. This website shows the camera to be an original black M2 ( http://www.l-camera-forum.com/leica-…n/index.php/M2 )

First of all, that explanation looks awful suspicious. It claims both that “the original owner said,” implying that he had spoken to the owner….and that the original owner “had some position in photography because he had many items in his Air Force trunk” – implying he doesn’t have first hand knowledge of the owner (it’s called a “tell.”) Erik van Straten, who generally knows such things, thinks it’s fake, and posted the following two photos below of a legit early BP M2 on a popular Leica forum to illustrate the difference.  (Editor’s note: I think any reasonable person not completely blinded by Leica insanity would say most BP Leicas look like shit– if you want to see a black Wetzlar made Leica film M that doesn’t look like its been beat to death the way black paint M’s invariably do, find yourself a black chrome M4. I’ve got a BC M4, made in 1974, that looks like it just came out of the box).

30027677283_4b51ba30a7_z 30361395470_a2c7e43850_z

The wear on the camera looks contrived to me, less a product of long usage than someone’s idea of what that usage might produce ( google “Lenny Kravitz Leica” for further edification). For me, the ‘tell’ that it’s not legit is the documentation. Real Black Paint Leicas, sold through reputable sources i.e. not Ebay, almost never come with original purchase documents…because almost nobody would have saved these documents for 60+ years. It was just a camera, a working camera for someone. Nobody buys a a BP M2 back in 1958 and then fastidiously files away the paperwork for 60 years with the idea they’d someday need it to prove its authenticity. I could be wrong, however, but, like most things Leica, I’m probably not.

s-l1600-1 s-l1600-2

******UPDATE******

OK, so this one is a stone-cold fake, sold by Third Man Cameras in Stuart, Florida  (whose motto is “Measuring Integrity.” True). I ‘thought’ it looked suspiciously like a previous “Original Black Paint M3” I had written about some time ago. I went back and compared the two auctions. In the first auction, for the M3, is a certificate of ownership said to be from Leitz Wetzlar to the original purchaser, a “Busby Cattenach” from “Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.“. In this new M2 auction is included a certificate of ownership from Leitz to the original purchaser who is listed as “Archie Baldwin” at the exact same address as Mr. Cattenach in “Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.” So, either Busby Cattenach and Archie Baldwin lived together back in the 50’s and shared a fondness for one off Black Paint Leicas; and both kept all the supporting documentation; both made sure to leave it all with the camera once they died; and then this seller just happened to find both cameras at different estate sales at different times, both in Florida…or these are fakes.

I contacted a genealogist friend and asked her to track down any “Archie Baldwin” who had served time in the Air Force and lived in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin in the 50’s. Nothing. No Archie Baldwin showing on any census records or public directories in Wisconsin, now or ever. No “Busby Cattenach” showing on any census records or public directories in Wisconsin, now or ever. Clearly, the provenance of these cameras – Leica M2 #929348 and Leica M3 # 756902 – have been extensively faked.

*************

The larger question is whether Third Man Cameras is an unwilling dupe or a scammer. It just so happens that Third Man Cameras happens upon a lot of extremely rare Black Paint Leica items with extensive provenance.  Third Man Cameras eventually sold the fake Black Paint M3 mentioned previously, Mr. “Busby Cattenach’s,” for over $10,000 to someone through Ebay, even after they, the seller, had been alerted that the camera was a fake and had responded to the person alerting him of that fact as follows:

“My God your [sic] right. Thank You so much for pointing this out. I acquired this item at an estate sale. Before I purchased the camera I checked to see if this company called Leica ever made cameras in black during that time and I found that they did. So I proceeded with the purchase. I checked your information and you are 100% correct. I am going to contact the estate sales lady in the morning. I guess I will also remove the auction. This is terrible news for me. I wonder if there is any way that this could still be authentic? Any more information you have would be appreciated greatly. Thank you so much for pointing this out. I have a lot of work to do to cancel this auction. I’m going to start now. Thanks again and please let me know if you have anymore info regarding this camera. Regards”.

Which, of course, is such incredible bullshit it defies logic that anyone with any critical reasoning ability would not see through it – He sees this camera at an estate sale, knows nothing about Leicas (“this company called Leica”) yet holds off buying it until he confirms that the company made cameras in black at that time? Right.

They’ve since sold a Black Paint screw mount Summicron (with sketchy looking certificate) for $15,000, and another for $4500. The interesting thing about this seller is that seemingly every vintage Leica item he sells is accompanied by suspicious amounts of “original paperwork” claiming to authenticate the item for what it claims to be. Invariably, the Black Paint items are accompanied by a surfeit of certificates, invoices, letters, sales tags, boxes etc. How this guy in Stuart, Florida keeps finding these incredibly rare collector’s gems, while reputable auction houses almost never turn up the same amount of stuff, and certainly nothing with the extensive purported documentation this guy seems to produce for every item he sells, I’ll leave to the reader’s better judgment.

And clearly, this seller knows a lot more about “this company called Leica” than he cares to admit. From trolling through his feedback, it looks like he came into possession of a bunch of spare parts from Leitz – “Leica Camera Parts – Massive Inventory – New Stock – M2 M3 M4 M5 M6 M7 SL” – a few years ago and probably found the means there to fake various invoices, tags, certificates etc that might establish fake provenances for repainted cameras. It was after this inventory sale that the “Official Black Paint” items start appearing for sale on his site at fairly regular intervals.

Further investigation reveals that Third Man Cameras is operated by a Henry Obert of Jensen Beach, Fl, (a mere 5 mile jaunt down the road from Stuart) in Martin County, Florida, and the “Office Manager” of Third Man Cameras is an Erica Obert. Some auspicious googling turned up the following on photo.net in 2012:

Leica Airbrush paint

Henry Obert , Jan 29, 2012; 07:47 p.m.
Hello Friends. Im going to strip the chrome off my M3 & repaint it black. I want to use my Iwata airbrush. I was curious if any of you have suggestions for a good airbrush paint and a primer as well for use on cameras.

and then these pictures of a “Henry Obert” and “Erica Obert” from the Martin County Sheriff’s office:

27943486-henry-obert 38708387-erica-mills

Can’t make this stuff up.

He’s been contacted and the fake Black Paint M2 auction has been taken down without explanation. In contacting him, I offered him the chance to explain the various discrepancies as noted here. I’ve not yet received a response of any sort. If I do, I’ll be happy to publish it. Suffice it to say, his explanation better be good. Really good.

Hits: 3497

For Sale: The Leica That Didn’t Take the Famous Photo of Che Guevara

 

korda
Alberto Korda and his Leica IIIc

A Leica III camera belonging to Alberto Korda, he of the famous photo of Che Guevara looking revolutionary, is currently for sale on the Dutch auction website catawiki.nl.

korda-1

Korda’s Leica III

The Leica III is being sold by Korda’s son, Dante, who describes the camera as follows:

My father, Alberto Korda, was one of the few cuban photojournalists responsible for capturing the world’s attention with the Cuban Revolution Propaganda. He followed the Cuban leaders around and became Fidel Castro’s personal photographer for more than a decade (request from Fidel Castro, who was one of his admirers). My father’s passion and exceptional skills as a photographer made every event of the revolution a magnificent moment, a genuine representation of an era of changes and beauty.

This camera was one of the favorite cameras of my father. My father actively used this camera in the fifties and sixties and kept it the rest of his life. That’s why it’s likely that my father took with this camera one of the world’s most famous photo’s ever made. The iconic image of the freedom fighter Che Guevara.

Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and provenance from Dante Korda

Unfortunately for Dante, this is not the camera his father used to take the iconic shot, which was taken with a Leica M2.

heroico1

Korda took the photo on March 5, 1960, at a funeral service for Cubans killed when a ship carrying arms to the revolutionaries in Havana sunk. He attended on assignment for the newspaper Revolución, carrying a Leica M2 with 90mm. Castro, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Che were on the speaker’s platform. When Korda approached the platform, he immediately noticed Che. “I remember his staring over the crowd on 23rd street.” Struck by Guevara’s expression, Korda lifted his Leica M2 loaded with Plus-X and took just two frames — one vertical and one horizontal — before Che turned away.

Hits: 2396

Gear Excess or Minimalism: What Makes You Happy?

stuff

Lately, in a conscious quest to simplify my life, I’ve found myself thinking:

  • Why exactly do I own what I own?
  • What could I sell and not miss, practically speaking?
  • Do I really need that?
  • What is it costing me to own that?

I have way too much stuff. Cameras and lenses to be exact. It’s a first-world problem, no doubt, a function of an affluence we often don’t recognize because it’s become so common. It starts with the best intentions, but usually ends up where I find myself – with a surfeit of beautiful, shiney, pleasing things I never use. Which is a shame, because the mechanical cameras and lenses I’ve collected – whether they be Leicas or Nikons or something else – deserve to be used.

When I hold onto camera I don’t use, even though just the possessing gives me pleasure, (and this is especially true for the mechanical cameras I tend to buy and collect), it does indeed cost me something, if only in the time spent organizing, contemplating, and/or servicing the camera I’ve accumulated. And it costs the larger gearhead community something too – a camera that could be being used by someone as opposed to sitting on a shelf.

So, I’ve decided to start selling off the things I can’t justify sitting on my shelf. It’s difficult, as I can always find a reason to hold onto something. But usually the reason I find is the same reason I bought it – it’s beautiful/cool/iconic/historic etc and I want it. Good enough reasons, I suppose, but not compelling enough to convince my wife, who is currently in desperate need of a shiney, new, large capacity refrigerator.

With this in mind, I’ve started a new page you can reach from my homepage entitled, simply enough, “For Sale.”  Everything you’ll find there is mine. It all works. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. I’m not selling it for any other reason than I just don’t need it.

I’ll be listing further items as current items sell, so feel free to check back in for other items in the future.

Hits: 1387

It’s Good To Be King (or Queen For That Matter)

queen

I’ve shaken hands with Royalty, and it was no big deal. The woman I was with at the time – an Anglophile who had been married in Westminster – informed me I should feel special. I didn’t, even though Prince Charles had sought me out to shake my hand, and not vice versa. [Editor: absolutely true story.]  What, I wondered, should I feel special about? He certainly seemed nice enough, no doubt, maybe a bit peculiar looking the way old money can be, but, had I not known who he was, that knowledge freighting the encounter with a myriad of social, class and political assumptions, he would have been just another middle aged guy exchanging social pleasantries. He spoke to me briefly, idle chat about the Shakespearean production we’d just seen, and then he was whisked away in his Aston Martin. Must be Nice, I thought.

As a good American, I’ve never understood the public fascination with Royalty. It’s a great gig if you can get it, I guess: live in a castle on the government’s dime, your solemn face on the local currency. Have parades in your honor, squat at the Ritz in Paris, meet with important and influential people, all of them deferring to you. Snap your fingers and people instantly appear and cater to your every whim. And you don’t have to work, even though hardworking British taxpayers will subsidize your family to the tune of $50 million pounds a year.  When you strip away the pageantry, it seems little more than a monumentally obscene public-assistance program to one family of inbred layabouts. Makes me wonder about the Brits.

Not that we’re any better. America is a nation of rapaciously selfish, vacuous, violent and ignorant people who think they, as Americans, can do as they want because, when you get down to it, the reality is that God wants it that way. Go to any Donald Trump rally and you will be gobstruck by the complete lunacy of a large portion of our citizenry. Even so, we Americans possess the dignity of free idiots, beholden to no one but our capitalist overlords, able to indulge our endless stupidities without the need to subsidize a Royal Family to legitimate it all. We are above such nonsense.

In their defense, the current generation of Royals – Princes William and Harry – seem stand-up guys, both having served their time on the front with the British military, which is more than I can say of the plutocrats who send American kids off to war for a variety of crazy reasons. With the exception of a few principled Democrats, their kids stay home while average American kids go to be maimed and die doing the country’s dirty work.

But I digress.

*************

queen 1

That’s the Queen, above, Prince Charles’ “Mum,” with a beautiful Leica M3 and Summicron. She is, apparently, an avid photographer. For all the useless photographs we have of her, it’s interesting to see the Queen on the other side of a lens – in this instance a 50mm f2 rigid Summicron fastened to her beloved Leica M3. Leitz Wetzlar gave her this particular model, specially engraved, in 1958.

In 1986, when asked to choose a stamp image to commemorate her 60th birthday, she chose a picture of her with her Leica M3, which is sort of weird, if you think about it, unless, of course, the Queen is a hard-core Leicaphile. If so, I’d be interested in knowing why, way back then, she preferred the M3 to an M2 or even a IIIg. Does she still have her M3? Was she ever tempted to trade it in for a newfangled M5 in those crazy 70’s? Still shoot film? And what, pray tell, does she think of this whole new digital thing? Now that, and not some idle chitchat about the latest stuffy production of some long dead playwright, would be an interesting topic of conversation, one I’d be happy to engage in were she to approach me. In any event, I’m not sure what she’s shooting now, but whatever it is, she probably didn’t pay for it.

queen stamp

Hits: 3298

An SLR Oskar Barnack Would Like

unnamed (1)

By Wayne P.

Upon return of my first Pentax AP (the first Pentax M42 screw-mount SLR marketed in US) from Scott Hendrickson’s outstanding CLA service, one of my first thoughts was that this might be very close to what Oskar Barnack would have designed, had he been compelled to design an SLR.  This impression did not come from merely the obvious similarities in the way shutter speed is selected – not to mention the fact that maximum shutter speed is 500 – but comes from the feel of the advance lever, the sensation of the shutter release, the sound of the shutter, the solid feel; the overall gestalt of construction and mechanism. It is as if someone very knowledgeable and satisfied with the design of a rangefinder put it to themselves: “how can I  best design a camera with the advantages of SLR focusing, but retain as much of the rangefinder camera convenience as possible?” And in doing so they rendering a masterpiece.

The chrome finish is very similar in appearance and feel to my Leica IIIc and IIIg. The tension and overall smooth feel of the film advance lever is very similar to the M2…but not nearly as long in stroke.  The shutter, although a bit louder – and I mean “a bit“ –  has the same general sound as an M camera. Nothing rattles; whether cocked or not, it feels and behaves as though chiseled out of a solid block of metal; furthermore, exclusive of the prism hump, the overall size and weight of the camera is about the same as an M2.

The view through the finder is enough to make any nostalgia buff smile: the central region is a large ground glass area surrounded by fresnel rings…that’s it;  reminding very much of the focusing screen of a Hasselblad 500C.…. No lines, needles, LED light; no numbers, lettering or anything else to distract you from the various parts of the scene that magically fades in and out of focus as you compose. Again, to stick with the main comparison, it is as close to the simple magic of a rangefinder patch as is possible with an SLR prism arrangement. The camera is doing nothing for you; you experiment, moving your eye toward and away from finder window, finding what works best for you….making the experience entirely your own. Any improvement in result will come purely from improvement in your skill and effort.

If I may …. an exposition on an aspect of OVF (optical viewfinder) not often expounded upon in the great OVF vs. EVF debate: that being, the EVF robs you of some cherished moments with the unique characteristics of fine old glass – or even, fine new glass. With EVF, you never do actually get an opportunity to view the world through the lens. With Pentax AP, you do get this opportunity, and in the most raw interpretation of the act. Even if the photograph does not turn out exactly as you envisioned, and you walk away without the prized, perfect image, you still have the view, the joy, of that vision in your head. You were there. You saw it through that magical Zeiss 50mm 1.4 Planar….. With an EVF, well, you watched the video.

On the subject of lenses, this is another aspect of the AP that will sit well with those used to rangefinder photography. While not as small as the delightfully tiny and lightweight lenses used on a Barnack Leica, they are small. The AP, packed with Pentax M42 55mm f2, 35mm f4, and and 105mm f2.8 does take up more room than my IIIC with comparable lens set, but can be packed- with IIIC, including comparable lenses- in my Domke F-5XB……a shoulder bag not much larger than my shaving kit.  Oh, and there is still room for the superb, and cheap, M42 Takumar 50mm 1.4 – if you feel the need for a fast lens.

At this point, given the length and breadth of modern comprehensive camera reviews I have read over the past few years, I begin to feel somewhat inadequate to this task. There is not really much, beyond the sensation, i.e. “haptics,” of use to expound upon. it is, quite literally, in substance, nothing more than a metal box to facilitate: storage and advancement of film; manual focus of lens; selection of shutter speed, and activation of shutter. But for a mechanism of that type, it is superb.

There you have it: spartan in feature; elegant and solid in design; able to stand up to the test of time; convenient in size and weight; unobtrusive and fulfilling in operation. I am pretty sure Oskar would have liked it.

OBTW, I own two. One came with a Takumar 58mm f2.4 lens attached, the second came with the Takumar 58mm f2.0. In both cases, camera and lens, together, resulted in a raid on the family treasure of about half the value that either of the lenses, alone, would normally demand.

If you see one for sale, pick it up and give it a fondle.

unnamed

 

Hits: 1204

A Leica In A Bag

Bag with Leica“Leica Leitz KE-7A Set Sealed Unopened Extremely Rare”

Schouten Select Cameras is offering a Leica KE-7A on Ebay for $45,300. Apparently the fact that it comes in a bag pushes the price up by $5000:

As said the camera is offered as originally sold in a sealed and unopened paper bag. A x-ray photo is included to show the contains of the box. You see these kind of camera more but the rarity of this camera is that it is offered in the original sealed paper bag. Although I do not advise I can open the bag to inspect the camera for you at a Euro 5000 nonrefundable deposit. If you decide not to buy at any reason the deposit will not be refunded as the value will then be less. The set is offered without any warranty. Bank transfers only for this item. Picture no. 7 is a sample photos and not photos of the actual item (thanks to Leica Store Lisse – Foto Henny Hoogeveen).

Only you can decide if the bag is worth an extra $5000. Here is the actual bag:

Leica-KE-7A-1294805_04A Bag Worth $5000 because it purportedly has a Leica in It

Does that mean a buyer can pay $40,300 and have Schouten keep the bag?

Apparently, Schouten also gives you the option, not of buying the camera (or the bag) but of looking in the bag – for $5000. You don’t get the bag, you just get to look in it. How many looks you get for $5000, or whether they charge $5000 a look, remains unclear.

In any event, Schouten promises you there actually is a Leica KE-7A in the bag, and not a brick. They’re offering an X-Ray, purportedly taken of the bag, as proof. How you could possibly tell that what you’re looking at in the X-Ray is a KE7A, or whether the X-Ray is even of the bag (could it be an X-Ray of another bag?) I’m not sure. For $43,500, you’re simply going to have to take their word. Whether they plan on charging you to look at the X-Ray remains unclear as well.

*************

fake scultureFor Sale: One of 4 Genuine “Fake Leica Leitz Sculptures”

If a Leica In A Bag is not exotic enough for you,  or if your inability to look into the bag absent handing over $5000 in cash to some Dutch guy selling the bag is a dealbreaker for you, Schouten will sell you a “Fake Leica Leitz Sculpture” for $83,750, and they’ll throw in One Day Shipping, anywhere in the world. Absolutely Free.

Apparently, the guy who made this made several editions: a “Huge Fake Leica”, a “Small Fake Leica”, a “Fake Leica” in gold and a Fiberglass model. Offered is the “Small Fake” one. It is not in a bag, and is available to be looked at. As best one can tell, you will not be charged to look at it.

What model Leica it purports to be is unclear. It has the angled rewind crank of an M4, a red dot of an M4-P, a battery housing of an m6 or m7, and a slow shutter speed dial of a Leica III, which leads me to surmise that the guy who made it is Russian.

Hits: 1610

Another Leica Fish Story

BP M3 5414 3I found this recently, posted to a popular online photography forum by someone who knows a lot about cameras and, as best I can tell, isn’t prone to spreading ridiculous stories on the net:

OK, I’ve seen my share of camera bargains. They include an early Nikon One which sold for $12.50 at a yard sale (one of 4 cameras sold for a total of $75), another Nikon One advertised recently on Craig’s list for $375, an unsynced Nikon M four lens outfit thrown away in the trash, and an original chrome Leica MP outfit also thrown away in the trash.

Well, this beats them all hands down and comes from a retired New York City police photographer whose word I trust completely. He writes:

———————————————-

“Back in July 2002, I was leaving my apartment and across the street where my police car was parked a young couple was having a yard sale to help fund their wedding.

I noticed a Black and Tan Nikon duffel bag on the ground near a small table.

I walk over, and they greeted me as their neighbor but didn’t know my name. When I went to pick up the duffle bag, I noticed on the table:
•2 original Black Leica MP’s both with matching black paint Summicron 50/2

•Leica 72 Half Frame Camera

• 2 Black 50/1.2 and 1 Chrome 50/1.2 Noctilux lenses

• a 250 Reporter GG

• 3 Black Paint M3’s with Leicavits and a bunch of other stuff.

They had small round adhesive stickers on everything. The MP’s were selling for $15 each, lenses $10, etc. I added everything up on the table and if I bought everything, it would’ve cost me $115. The young man said:

“If You take everything, just give me $100 even and the bag is on me.

I asked them to give me some history behind those cameras and lenses and the young lady said:

“It was my Dad’s Stuff. He passed away a few years ago. These can look pretty as decor if you’re into photography. No one here is really into it, besides the fact they probably don’t make film for them anymore.”

The Young Man chimed in an said:

“I don’t even know where the film goes”

I requested of the young lady:

“Would you mind fetching me a bed sheet or table cloth if you don’t mind”

She replied:

“Why?”

I replied:

“I want to cover this table while I give my broker a chance to drive up from the city because you probably have between $300,000-$500,000 worth of vintage German Camera equipment and I will stay here with you until he arrives”

The young lady had her hand over her mouth, and about 30 seconds later both of them broke down in tears.

When my photography broker arrived and did his thing, he said:

“You’re a much better man than me because I would’ve walked off with everything…But it’s pretty cool, I suppose it was the right thing to do”

I replied:

“It wasn’t the right thing to do…it was the Human thing to do”

This was a young suburban couple struggling to start a life together. I didn’t even contemplate “Should I or Shouldn’t I”…
They were a young and innocent couple who didn’t know any better. I look at it from a standpoint that I wouldn’t want that done to me.”

A great yarn, no doubt, but could it possibly be true? I guess it could, but I’m betting against it. In any event, if you believe it, I’ve got a bridge I might be willing to part with on very favorable terms.

*************

We’ve all heard the stories over the years – the Leica MP with Leicavit turning up in a dead uncle’s closet, the black paint Nikon SP on craigslist for $15, the guy who buys a black paint M3 at a yard sale in New Jersey along with all the appropriate documents attesting to its authenticity. I suppose these could really have happened just like the story says, but, knowing human nature, I suspect the stories have morphed from an initial kernel of curious truth to the status of “fish story.” [It’s not like I’m not susceptible to the phenomenon – My story of “meeting” HCB does have a kernel of truth: in 2004 I saw him at the opening of a Sarah Moon show in Paris. Of course, as I am apt to tell the story now after a bourbon or two, HCB and Sarah Moon came to my Paris exhibition and then we all went out for coffee afterwards.]

MP 39 2

And it’s not like there aren’t some incredible finds out there if you get lucky. Probably 20 years ago a friend casually mentioned to me that he had a box in his closet filled with old junk cameras from his uncle. I asked him to get it out and show it to me. Upon opening the box I found an M2, an M3, a LTM Nicca, and 4 or 5 Leitz lenses, including a Canadian 35mm Summicron and a Super Angulon with finder. Being the good guy I am, I fought off the urge to offer him $25 for the lot and helped him clean everything up and sell it on Ebay, netting him a cool few thousand bucks and me a free M2 for my labors. And then there’s been an item or two bought from ignorant sellers in arms length transactions that have netted some seriously nice kit for bargain prices – a IIIg with a W-Nikkor 35mm 1.8 LTM lens I bought for a few hundred and then turned around and sold for $2500 ($1900 for the Nikkor, $600 for the IIIg); a IIIg with pristine collapsible Summicron for a few hundred, etc.

But there’s something about the reported event that doesn’t pass the smell test. First, how is it that the “Dad” just happens to accumulate an incredible amount of rare, collectible stuff, it and it only? You’d think there’d have to be a few pedestrian items too, a Canonet or a Minolta SRT-101 in there somewhere. Three Noctilux? Really? And think of it this way – if “Dad” really was as important a guy as his camera collection indicates, don’t you think his kids might have some sense that what he had was valuable? But the kicker for me, the “tell” as it were, is in the inconsequential details (isn’t it always?): “they probably don’t make film for them anymore….” Sounds like a reasonsble thing for a clueless kid raised in digital to say in 2016, but in 2002? In 2002 film cameras were normal; it was digital that was esoteric.

So, In spite of my sense that the original poster honestly believes the story, I’m calling BS. It is, however, a lovely fish story.

Oh, and did I ever tell you about the time HCB and Sarah Moon came to my show in Paris?

Hits: 2918

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.

Hits: 1179

The Myth of the Ubiquitous Fake Leica

IIIg 1

This is Not a Fake Leica

Occasionally, you’ll see the subject of ‘fake’ Leicas earnestly debated on some internet forum site, usually started by someone who’s thinking of buying a Leica but wants to make sure what he’s buying is genuine. He’ll post a pic of the proposed purchase, note something he considers a minor anomaly, and will throw out the question of whether what he’s considering purchasing might be an elaborate fake concocted by the Russian Mafia in some subterranean workshop in Kharkov.

Needless to say, these discussions bring all sorts of self-described experts out if the woodwork, critiquing posted photos and pointing out various “tells” that should alert someone that something, somewhere is fishy, be it the look of the script, or that the serial number seems misaligned with the rest of the top plate, or it just doesn’t look like the one he once owned/borrowed/saw/held/read about in Popular Photography.

There’s currently an active thread on this very issue on a forum I will not name (to protect the innocent), an internet meeting grounds that offers almost unlimited hilarity if you desire to observe the human condition at its most unintentionally duplicitous – faux sociability masking aggression, sad virtual friendship rituals, misplaced bombast, “look at me” histrionics, naked power displays by ignorant forum moderators, pretentious buffoons who correct your English while quoting Chaucer. (This is not to say that there isn’t much of value there – there is if you know how to find it, but, of course, the human condition being what it is, the really knowledgable usually keep their own counsel while the neophytes trumpet their ignorance or give vent to their psychological maladies from the safety of their avatar. As an aside, I’ve often thought that the social machinations of internet forums would make a killer sociology PhD thesis. Who knows? Maybe somebody – that guy on your favorite forum you actively dislike, who always seems suspiciously intent on roiling the waters – might be doing just that…).

In any event, pardon the digression: we were talking of the subject of alleged Leica fakes, and the interesting phenomenon where otherwise rational people seem to spot them everywhere. If you deconstruct the assumptions made by the more suspicious, it seems that there must exist a fully functioning manufacturing plant, presumably somewhere deep in the bowels of the former Eastern bloc, tasked with machining Leica clones to exact specifications so that somewhere, somehow, they might sell them for the real thing and make a hefty profit in the bargain.

image

This is a Fake Leica

So, using the tried and true heuristic of the parsimony of explanation (google “Ockham’s Razor” for further details) if you merely suspect its a fake its probably not, the general rule being its a real Leica if it looks like one, unless its gold plated or has a swastika tattooed on it, or its a titanium M7 with “Property of Henri Cartier-Bresson” engraved on the top plate. For the most part, “Fake” Leicas were pre-internet phenomena, thriving on people’s greed and gullibility in conjunction with their ignorance of the nuances of various Leica models, itself a function of the relative difficulty of piecing together historical information about Leicas. You’d find them being sold at swap-meets or street fairs, usually in the Eastern bloc. If you knew much of anything about Leicas, they were easy enough to spot, usually a FED or Zorki crudely masquerading as some unidentifiable Barnack Leica, sold to suckers for a quick buck.

The internet has changed that business model. Anybody can now easily acquaint themselves with every nuance of every Leica model, pictures attached, with a few clicks of a mouse. As for the anomalies that give rise to suspicion – top plates were replaced, serial numbers re-engraved, or switched, or not inscribed at all. Leica engraved fonts changed subtly over time; Leitz changed things here and there without explanation or documentation. Remember, back in the day Leicas weren’t collector’s pieces, they were working cameras, meant to be used and repaired in a pinch for further use. Nobody was keeping an eye on maintaining their future viability as collector’s items.

Hits: 1869

The Mystery of the Leica Panda

Panda M6

Leicaphiles being what they are, any variation from the standard garden variety Leica model offers a potential opportunity to claim a “rare” collectible model, and, of course, to price it accordingly in the hope that someone, somewhere, is willing to pay a premium for it. Take the Leica M6 “Panda” for example.

The “Panda” is a name given by some imaginative Leicaphile to a series of chrome M6’s produced with the trimmings – shutter advance lever, rewind crank – of a black chrome M6. According to folks in the know, there are approximately 1000 of these “Panda” versions floating around, all apparently produced by Leica between 1991 and 1994. The variation was never officially noted by Leica, and no explanation has ever been given as to why Leica produced them in this manner. Lack of parts? Drunken Octoberfest shenanigans? Just screwing with us for the hell of it? We’ll never know.

Leica Panda 2

In any event, if you’ve got one, congratulations, you’ve got a “collectible” Leica.

The Mysterious M5 Panda

Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized I actually own that most elusive of Leicas, the M5 Panda. This iteration of the M5 is seemingly so rare that no one, anywhere, seems to be able to confirm its existence. Yet, there it is, sitting in front of me, even though I’ve put out the appropriate feelers from collectors and long time Leica users and have come up with nothing. Crickets.

20160117-20160117-R1099304-Edit20160117-20160117-R1099305-Edit-2

Its serial number, #1347010, puts it squarely in the last runs of M5’s, all silver chrome, produced by Leitz between August 1972 and May 1974. The fact that both the shutter lever and the hotshoe with serial number are black make it pretty clear that it came from the factory this way. Yet I’ve never seen another like it, and a Google search turns up no pictures and only one or two anecdotal claims that someone, somewhere, had one like it sometime in the past.

Maybe its obscurity is simply a function of the low esteem in which both collectors and users hold the M5 (see numerous of my other posts about why I think the M5 is a great camera and its unfortunate reputation is undeserved), but the fact that this camera clearly exists yet nobody has acknowledged or recognizes it, puzzles me.

In any event, if you own one like it, or know of the story behind the M5 Panda, tell me about it at leicaphilia@gmail.com. Until such time as I hear differently, I will claim to possess one of the rarest of rare Leicas: the Leica M5 Panda. It might even be for sale… at the right price.

*Thanks to Marco Cavina for the M6 panda photographs

Hits: 1504

Two Well-Used M2’s

two m2s

Found this picture of two well-used Leicas floating around the net and know nothing about their provenance except the obvious:  two black paint M2’s, one with an MP Leicavit and what looks to be a collapsible mount uncoated Summar 5cm f2, (although the serial number indicates a production date of 1933, which is claimed to be the last year Leitz made the Summar in a rigid mount prior to introducing the new type collapsible).

The Summar was Leitz’s “fast” 50mm, produced between 1933 and 1939. It was generally considered inferior to the Zeiss 5cm 1.5 produced in Jena for the Contax and for a limited run in LTM during WW2.

Hits: 1047

Three Tough Leicas

imageThree Leicas on display at the Ginza Leica store in Tokyo. From right to left: a Leica II that deflected a bullet and saved the photographer’s life. The middle camera is a Leica II with lenses found in the Hindenburg wreckage. To the left is an SL2 MOT with Motor and 35 mm Summicron that fell 25,000 foot (7600 m) from a Phantom II fighter jet. Battered but in one piece, and deemed repairable by Leica.

Hits: 1975

The Myth of the Necessary Leica CLA

imageVisit any photo forum that discusses Leica film cameras and you’ll hear it time and time again: the first thing you need to do when you buy a used Leica is to send it to someone for a “CLA” (clean, lubricate and adjust). In the religion that is Leica, this notion has reached the status of revealed truth, questioned rarely, if at all. Like many faith based claims, its built on received certainties and little else, certainly not the facts as they present themselves in practice.

The bottom line is this: given the operating tolerances of finely tuned mechanical Leicas, its better not to open up a sophisticated device like a Leica film camera without a legitimate reason to do so. “Legitimate reasons” might include hanging slow speeds, or stuck shutter, or a dim viewfinder. But, absent these, you’re throwing away your money while subjecting your camera to potential harm. Ham fisted attempts to clean and adjust are legion, and unless you’re sending it to Leica (read: extremely expensive) or a reputable third party tech like DAG, Sheri Krauter (read: slow and expensive) or Youxin Ye, you’re just as likely to receive your Leica in worse condition than before you sent it away.

I like to buy used Leicas on Ebay. If you know what you’re looking at, you can still score some serious deals, but invariably it will involve the old Leica with matching lens and case that has been sitting unused in a box in the closet since grandpa died in the late 70’s. The worse the accompanying pictures of the item, the better the potential deal. If most of the description involves the camera case and how beat up it is, or ignores the collapsible Summicron while spending inordinate time describing the accompanying dead Leicameter, you’re potentially in for good luck, because you’re clearly dealing with a seller who can’t discriminate between what’s valuable and whats not. You’d be surprised by how nicely an old beater with cracking vulcanite, covered in decades of accumulated dirt and brown gunk in the body crevices will clean up with some lemon juice and a griptic covering from cameraleather.com (assuming cameraleather.com sends it to you within the next 18 months, but that’s another story you can learn more about with a quick google).

Conventional wisdom holds that such a camera will need to be CLA’d immediately otherwise your new Leica will be worthless. In my experience that’s rarely the case. Even for cameras that have sat unused for decades a CLA is unnecessary, even if the slow shutter speeds may initially be a little funky ( and usually they’re not). Most cameras just need use; the shutter mechanism needs to be exercised regularly to loosen up the stiffened lubrication. Usually a few days and a couple of hundred cycles of the shutter and,voila!, the slow speeds are working fine, or at least close enough to be within the margin of error. For that matter, who really cares if the 1/2 sec is a wee bit off sometimes? When was the last time you shot under 1/15th of a second anyway? Probably never.

As for accompanying optics, a good careful cleaning with a Lens Pen ( my favorite photo accessory of all time) and your front and real elements should be clean and smudge free. Of course, the lens itself may need disassembly and cleaning if its fogged or has fungus, or if the heliocoils are bound up, but usually you can get a good enough eyeball view of the lens when listed by the seller to get a decent sense of whether the optics are good. As for scratches and internal dust, well, ya takes your chances, but almost all optics older than 20 years are going to look pretty bad when you shine a flashlight into them. Yet, remarkably, most of them still look fine to the naked eye (how we used to judge them back in the day) and take good photos undifferentiated from a like model in “mint” condition. Lenses are to be used, not to shine flashlights through. If the lens is to be used with film and wet printed, stop worrying. A little internal dust (commonplace on vintage lenses) or some cleaning marks or scratches on a front element won’t make a bit of difference except in your head. If you’re a 100% magnification pixel peeper type, well, move along. I suspect you’re not going to be interested in vintage optics anyway, and if you are, well, that comes along with the territory.

 

Hits: 17804

 Actually Using An Old Leica to, You Know, Take Pictures

Leica IIIg LPfoto 1A sublimely beautiful Black Paint Leica IIIg. You can actually take pictures with it

Call me a poseur, or a hipster, but old screw mount Leicas are really fun. Not just setting them on a shelf and admiring them, or walking around the house while fondling their knurled knobs and beautifully machined parts (as I’m known to do), but actually taking them out and shooting film with them, just like they were meant to do. They’re so ‘retro’ that they’re not, and for those with a philosophical bent, this sort of meta-activity (activity meant to comment on the activity itself) can be immensely satisfying, not to mention the pathetic looks you’ll get from the iphone crowd or, better yet, the conspiratorial nods you’ll sometimes receive from a fellow traveller of advanced age. For me, however, the best part is passing paths with somebody sporting a digital Leica with “Swiss Anti-Fingerprint Coating,” often wearing a beret and taking pictures of people in coffee shops in the touristy parts of town, Billingham or Ono bag conspicuous by its immaculate appearance. These folks, when they notice you – and trust me, they’ll notice you, because for all gearheads the act of being out and about with a camera is all about seeing and being seen – often wear a look of morbid fascination, fixation admixed with potential danger,  as if I was carrying a live grenade with the pin removed. I suspect they really want to inquire about it, but don’t quite know what it is or what to make of it, or, if it goes that far, how to use it.

I’m often asked, usually by the iphone crowd, “Does that thing work?” Hell yes it works, because it was built to work seemingly forever, because it’s a sublime fusion of simplicity and function, overbuilt to last for as long as you continue to service it. Keep it in use, and the most you’ll have to do is send it off to a reputable service tech like Youxin Ye every 30 years or so.  I have no doubt that my grandkid’s grandkids, if they were of a mind (and could figure out how to load the thing) could be using it in another 100 years. Try that with your M240, or is it an M260 now?

*************

Of course, some of the earlier screw mount Leicas – the IA, for example –  are so outdated that even a hopeless romantic like me finds them impractical to use. In 2000, leica offered the an 0-Series replica, fully functional and sold through Leica dealers, to celebrate the 75th birthday of the 35mm Leica camera. The camera is virtually identical to the 1923 Ur-Leica prototype #104 resident in the Leica Museum. No thanks. I like my nostalgia authentic. In my mind, using one of these is like going to Las Vegas and claiming you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. If I’m going to use a screw mount Leica, I’m going to use the best, most technologically advanced screw mount Leica ever built – the Leica IIIg, not some cheesy historical replica dedicated to the Sultan Of Brunei [on a side note: how is it that Leica culture could be so schizophrenic as to give us both the sublime IIIg, M2/M3 and M4 and also the “Hello Kitty” M6?].For sale-12Released in 1957, the IIIg is Leica’s last screw mount camera. Had it been released in 1950 or 1953, it would be have been far more influential in subsequent Leica lore, because it’s a superb camera that’s really fun to use.   Leitz had introduced the Leica M3 four years earlier in 1953 as a clean sheet design with a new lens mount and the now iconic M styling. The M3 set a new standard for 35mm rangefinders that lasts to this day.

The IIIg was introduced as the logical last evolutionary step of the old Barnack design series, a last tip of the hat to more conservative Leicaphiles who still preferred the familiarity of the Barnack camera. Its new features were incremental – the same basic ergonomics of the IIIf with a redesigned top cover and a larger and improved viewfinder similar to the M3, including an extra frosted window for the projection of different frame lines into the viewfinder.

Leitz produced and offered the IIIg for only 3 years, 1957-60, years when the M3 was meeting with professional  raves and impressive sales. Japanese manufacturers were also offering their updated alternatives to the M3; the IIIg not only had to compete against the better spec’d M3, Canon P and Nikon S3, but after 1958, the Leica M2, itself a runaway success much like the M3. Next to these now iconic cameras, the Leica IIIg was a technological dinosaur, lacking the combined VF/RF assemblies of the M3 and the Canon and Nikon that allowed for a single, much larger eyepiece for simultaneous focusing and composing.

aaaa-08413The author’s incredibly cool Leica IIIg

The Leica IIIg was much like the screw mount Leicas that had been produced by Leitz since the 20’s, featuring only incremental changes from the previous Barnack Leica, the IIIf ‘Red Dial:” A larger .7 mag viewfinder with two sets of illuminated, parallax corrected framelines for the 50/90 focal lengths; Shutter speeds calibrated with a modern shutter speed progression – the 2/4/8/15/30/60…. ; Separate flash synch dial replaced with two flash settings at 1/50 and 1/25th on the shutter speed dial; A film reminder dial placed on the back of the body that exceeded ASA 100.

The IIIg is not as common as earlier Barnacks.   Consequently, they sell for substantially more than a well cared for IIIc or IIIf, and most of them sit on collector’s shelves or circulate among us Leicaphiles in quixotic buy/sell attempts to finally satiate an obsessive compulsion to find The Perfect Leica.

*************

aaaa--36

Above is a photo I took in a Paris street with my IIIg and a first generation collapsible Summicron. The photo isn’t going to win any photojournalism awards, I’m sure, but I really like it just the same. It reminds me of what I love about the city – an eclectic mix of the profane and the sacred, where the beautiful peeks out at you in the most unexpected places.  It also seems appropriate that it was taken with an old Leica, the sort used by HCB for many if his iconic Parisian photos. What’s printed above is a simple scan of the negative with some minor fiddling in Photoshop. But I also have an 10×15 silver print of the same photo, printed by HCB’s own master printer George Fevre, one of my most treasured photographic possessions. How cool is that? My own Parisian “decisive moment,”  captured with an iconic Leica film camera and printed by one of the World’s most masterful printers, the same guy who printed HCB’s stuff. That’s what you call “living the dream.”

 

Hits: 2513