Category Archives: Leica IIIg

The Leica as An Investment

A Two Page 1973 Leica Advertisement

I ran across this 1973 ad for the Leica M5 and the Leicaflex SL and started thinking about the relative value of Leicas over time and how that value manifests itself today. Many of us consider our Leicas as ‘investments’ in the sense that it’s a pretty safe place to park some cash with the understanding that you’ll be able to get most, or all, or even more, out of it when you sell it. It’s a way I justify buying Leicas to my wife: we could either park an extra 3 grand in our bank account, serving no practical purpose except collecting chicken scratch for interest, or we could ‘invest’ it in the purchase of a Leica, a thing I’ll use and handle and admire and get some practical satisfaction from. I’ll take photos with it and it will inspire me to write about it on the blog. I’ll either like it or I won’t, but I’ll have the experience of having owned it, used it, better understood and appreciated it. And then, if we need the money again, I’ll sell it to a Leicaphilia reader and usually break even. Voila! Money put to good use. And a reader gets a decent deal on a decent camera that they know they can trust. What’s not to like? Of course, Leica could help me circumvent this process by sending me a camera or two to test, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Who knows? Surprise me, Leica. I promise you an honest review.

The first thing that struck me was how expensive, in real terms, the M5 was in relation to the Leica models that had come before. If you run the purchase price numbers given by Leica through an inflation calculator, you’ll come up with the equivalent amount of circa 2021 dollars that purchase price represents. So, for example, buying a Leica Model II d in 1939 for $100 was the equivalent of paying $1900 for it in today’s dollar; a IIIg in 1958 for $163 would be the equivalent of paying $1467 for it today ( interestingly enough, the Professional Nikon, the Nikon SP, with a 50mm Nikkor f/1.4, sold in 1958 for today’s equivalent of $3,000); today an M3 would cost new $2373, the M4 $2320. Expensive, but not prohibitively so. The M5 body, were it sold today, would cost $3663. That’s a big increase in price over the iconic M3 and M4. With a decent Leitz 50mm Summilux (the lens it’s wearing in the Leica advert), it’d cost you >$6000 in today’s money. So, Leicas were pricey even back then. And the M5, now the unloved ugly duckling selling at a discount to the M2-M7, commanded a premium price over the iconic M2, M3 and M4.

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Nikon Price Guide From 1976: Click on it to enlarge it and open it up in a new tab

It also gives us some sense of why the M5 might have ‘failed’ in the market [arguable, but that’s a discussion for another time], as opposed to its failure as an evolution of the M system [which it most certainly was not]. In addition to being technically deficient as a pro ‘system’ camera (based on the inherent drawbacks of a rangefinder) in relation to the Nikon F2 and Canon Ftn, it cost a fortune. To compare, a Nikon F2 Photomic with 50mm Nikkor 1.4, then the state-of-the-art, retailed for $600, although in actuality it sold out-the-door for maybe $500. The M5, you paid full price. Throw in $350 for a Summilux. In today’s money, that means buying a new Nikon F2 with 50mm 1.4 Nikkor in 1973 would set you back $3100, while an M5 with a 50mm 1.4 Summilux in 1973 would cost the equivalent of $6070 today. The M5 with lens was essentially double the price of the top shelf Pro Nikon with lens, which was then the professional’s system of choice.

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What do they go for today? You can sell the M5 and Summilux you bought in 1973 today, almost 50 years later, for +/- $3500. It’s probably going to need a going-over by one of the few techs who still work on the M5 – Sherri Krauter, DAG, one or two others, but that’s the buyer’s problem, not yours. Not a bad return for a camera you’ve used for 48 years. An M4 body, purchased in 1969 for $2300 will fetch you $1500-$1800; a single stroke M3 $1300-$1500; a Leica II d you paid $1900 for in 1939, today, you’ll you get +/- $300. Not exactly a prudent “investment” if you’re looking for a return on your money, but certainly excellent resale value of something you’ve used for half to three/quarters of a century. Like most things Leica, what appears crazy can in reality be quite prudent. Taking it all into consideration, buying a Leica is, moneywise, pretty much a smart idea.

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A Totally Anecdotal – Essentially Worthless – Lens Comparison

The Summilux 50mm f1.4 in LTM. Perfect for my IIIg

My wife claims I suffer from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a type of depression that’s related to the change in the season — symptoms typically start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. It’s why I can’t live in places like Amsterdam where you never see the Sun; I go nuts after a month or two of grey, skuddering skies. To support this she notes that every winter, once the sun gets low, I tend to put on my PJ’s and spend an inordinate amount of time watching dark, depressing Swedish movies with the blinds closed. I’ll occasionally walk the dogs in my bathrobe, which embarrasses her to no end. I’m generally lethargic and slow-witted, and my discretionary bourbon spending tends to increase.

I never really thought about it that way until she mentioned it to me, but I suppose she’s right. I have been feeling uninspired lately, especially in thinking of things to write about here. You can only say the same things so many times before it becomes stale. So, I’ve decided to do a “lens test,” you know, post a bunch of pictures from various lenses under marginally controlled conditions and then make sweeping judgments about them.

What motivated me to do this was this: for some reason, I’ve started feeling an urge to buy a new LTM Summicron for my IIIg, and I thought that maybe this would finally put a stop to my recurring, admittedly irrational desire to own at least one top-flight Leica lens, and a Summicron /lux- either the LTM 35mm ASPH or the LTM 50mm f1.4  Summilux- seemed the natural choice for the IIIg – the ultimate Barnack Leica paired with the ultimate Leica lens.  My sense is it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to my photographs (let me rephrase that – I know it won’t make a bit of difference). My opinion is this: unless you’ve got a really bad copy of a lens – super sloppy tolerances or misaligned elements, uncoated element surfaces, scratched or full of fungus –  most fixed focal length lenses from the 50’s onward give more than acceptable results, and many ostensibly “cheap” lenses can give results comparable to Leica lenses costing 10X- -100X as much. After all is said and done, a $2000 Summicron or Summilux won’t give me anything my Industar or Nikkor or VC can’t.

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What I did was this: I found every 35mm and 50mm lens I had that was capable of being mounted on an M-Mount camera, in this instance a Ricoh GXR with A12 M-Mount, and shot the same photo with it, same lighting, same f4 f-stop, same 1600 ISO. I chose f4 as the demonstrable f-stop because it was the first partial aperture each of them shared and it’s an aperture that’s wide enough to still give some sense of the character of the lens. Too lazy to go outside and find appropriate fence posts (why must every lens test involve fence posts?), I chose a bathroom mirror selfie; it offered a good gradation of tones, the tiled wall behind me, with its straight vertical and horizontal lines, might give some sense of any lens distortion and there’s also enough sparkly stuff in the shower door to highlight bokeh.  Perfect. As for post-processing, they were all shot as RAW and converted to jpegs in LR, where I also applied the exact same levels of marginal structure adjustments and sharpening, which is what I’d do with most any photograph I edit. Of course, all of the above decisions are completely arbitrary and  will affect the results in unknown ways, which is why informal internet lens comparison tests like this one are always problematic.

35mm lenses

The lenses tested were, in order of presentation – a 35mm f2.5 LTM VC Color Skopar Classic; 35mm f2.5 LTM VC Color Skopar Pancake; a W-Nikkor 3.5cm f2.5 for Nikon S;  an AF Nikkor 35mm f2 for Nikon F;  a manual focus Nikkor 35mm f2.8 for Nikon F; and a manual focus Nikon E series 35mm f2.5 for Nikon F.

Voigtlander Color Skopar Classic 35mm 2.5

35mm f2.5 LTM VC Color Skopar Pancake

W-Nikkor 3.5cm f2.5

AF Nikkor 35mm f2

Nikkor 35mm f2.8

Nikon E series 35mm f2.5

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50mm lenses

Lenses tested were, in order of presentation – a Russian made LTM Industar-22 5c.m f3.5 collapsible; a Russian made LTM Industar-26M 5.2 cm f2.8; a Russian made LTM Jupiter-8 5c.m f2; a manual focus Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8; and finally the current version AF Nikkor 50mm f1.8.

LTM Industar-22 5c.m f3.5 collapsible

LTM Industar-26M 5.2 cm f2.8

LTM Jupiter-8 5c.m f2

Nikon Series E 50mm f1.8

 

AF Nikkor 50mm f1.8

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Conclusions? With the exception of the AF Nikkor, all of the 35’s look pretty much alike. For some reason, the DOF is different on the AF Nikkor than the other lenses, why I have no idea. I see some marginal differences in contrast and how the lens deals with light fall-off behind its plane of focus, but that’s about it. You can easily tweak contrast in LR. Interesting because, while there’s not a Summicron in there for comparison, the VC Color Skopars, which will cost you +/- $350 used,  are considered to be excellent optics, not far removed from  the traditional 35mm Summicron, as is the W-Nikkor 2.5, at about the same price used, made for the Nikon S cameras. The other Nikkors are super cheap (+/- $200) while the E Series Nikon can be found for $30 used. I’ve always thought the Nikon E Series lenses, derided by purists when they first appeared in the 70’s because they contained some plastic parts, are incredible bargains, the entire line being excellent.

As for the 50’s, they all look pretty much alike again, with the exception of the Jupiter-8, which is markedly softer than the others. With all of the FED LTM lenses, sample variation is the norm. Both Industars look great at f4, indistinguishable from the excellent AF Nikkor 1.8 which Nikon enthusiasts rave about. I paid about $20 each for the FED lenses and the Series E and $80 used for the AF Nikkor.

Would a $3500 Summilux be much better? I doubt it. It may have better MTF charts, feel smoother in operation, make you feel special etc etc, but whatever marginal increases in optical performance it might possess mean little or nothing in practice. It sure is a beauty though; no doubt about it. Is the enhanced pleasure you’ll presumably get by toting it around on your IIIg instead of a 20$ Jupiter worth the extra $3475? Only you can answer that, although I don’t begrudge your decision. It’s your money.

The larger conclusion is that “comparison tests” of lenses are gimics, interesting to read, fun as an intellectual exercise, but of no real value if what you’re looking for is an objective evaluation of the critical optical merits of a given lens and its practical implications for use.

Suffice it to say I won’t be buying that Summilux.


  • I’ve posted slightly larger jpegs that you can click on and open for further examination if you’re that sort of person.

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Cartier-Bresson’s LTM Summicron Sold at Auction

hcbsummicronHCB’s LTM Summicron

WestLicht  Auctions just auctioned off Cartier-Bresson’s 35mm Summicron, shown above.

“Unique lens used by Henri Cartier-Bresson with his black paint IIIg camera: the black paint 8-element lens (with very clean optics) was transformed from the original M-mount lens (0.7m, red plastic dot) on special order by removing the bayonet ring. Also the focus-tab was modified by removing the infinity lock and an extended lever was built-in. The lens has the same index dots made with nail gloss as the famous 2/5cm black paint collapsible Summicron used by HCB. It comes with both caps and a confirmation of authenticity by Lars Netopil from April 2015.”

Final Hammer price: 38,400 euros

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Life is Good

20160930-r1099706-editAbove is a picture of what’s currently in front of me, Friday, September 30th at around quarter to 5. The wine is a Dutton-Goldfield Russian River Zinfandel, circa 2006. I uncorked it last night after arriving home from an 85.5 km ride at 28.6 average km/hr (statistics courtesy of Strava) on my Formigli custom made road bicycle, but, feeling slightly gassed, corked it back up with the idea that I’d drink it later (today).

Next to it sits a Leica IIIg with incredibly cool Carl Zeiss Jena 5.cm f1.5. It sits on a book I’m currently reading, and enjoying – Frederic Gros’ A Philosophy of Walking. Next to me, snuggled up against me, is Buddy, a curious looking hound I rescued from the local APCSA a few years ago, who just happened to become my best friend. Lucky me. The IIIg has no reason to be here except that I’m just enjoying its company. While it’s loaded with a 36 exposure roll of HP5 (after of course, snipping the film leader just so to make sure it’s loaded properly), I don’t anticipate I’ll be using in in any capacity. I’m just admiring it. I brought it out here just to look at it while I enjoyed my Zinfandel.

What’s the point of this? Who knows.

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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.

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Street Photography on the Way to Work

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By Frederic Strauss for Leicaphilia. All photos by Mr. Strauss (Leica IIIg, 35mm Summaron, Tri-X @ 800)

In the early 1990’s I was using a bunch of different cameras. I like small, stealthy cameras for a variety of reasons. I was using a couple of auto cameras, a Contax T, a neat little Canon pocket camera and my ‘big’ camera was a Minolta SRT 101.

A business partner’s father had recently passed away, a doctor, and he had told me he would lend me one of his dad’s Leica cameras. I waited, with great anticipation, but after a few weeks he told me he could not find them and that one of his brothers may have taken them. Disappointed and tired of waiting, interest now stirred, I rented an M6 with a 35 Summicron for a weekend. The feel of the camera, the manual control,  the simple interaction with the Leica were wonderful. I shot a few rolls, returned the camera on Monday and dropped off the film for development and contacts. The next evening I looked at the contacts and that was it – I was hooked on the shooting experience and results. Totally. That Friday I bought an M6 and a 35 Summicron. I gave away the Minolta and lenses to a friend who could not afford a new camera system.

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I still use the M6 today with my favorite 35 Summicron. I’ve added lenses over the years but still mostly use the 35 Summicron. Eventually I did get the promised Leica cameras from my business partner, bodies only, an M3, IIIc, a IIIg, all as gifts. I purchased screw-mount lenses for the IIIc and IIIg. I use the cameras on an impromptu basis. The screw-mounts really connect you to the process of capturing the image you are after.

I carry one of the cameras with me almost constantly. When I go to work I walk less than one block from the train station to my office in Manhattan, certainly a photo rich environment. Since the year end light is much less in the morning I push Tri-x to 800 to give me more latitude to shoot at a higher speed, particularly with the 35 Summaron F3,5 on the IIIG.

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Frederic Strauss is an  architect in New York City. He uses a Leica M6, an MP and IIIg with a 35mm.

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Resurrecting an Ebay IIIg

IIIg 1AAAAAAA-18

Before and After

One of the pleasures of buying old Leicas is that, if you ask, sometimes you’ll get the backstory from the seller about the camera you’re buying. Usually it’ll be regarding an old beater that’s been in a box in the closet for some time, often since the death of the original owner. The seller – a son, daughter, or heir –  knows little to nothing about cameras but knows, in some sense, that dad’s old Leica is probably still worth enough to sell it on Ebay.

I recently picked up a IIIg with collapsible Summicron and 135mm Steinheil Munchen Culminar. From the pictures and the description buying the camera was a 50/50 proposition – it might be functional, it might not. The optics might be clear and trouble free, they might be fogged, full of fungus and worthless. Considering the potential risks, I threw in a last minute lowball bid and won.

Imagine my surprise when I received the camera and found it to be in exceptional condition: bright viewfinder, contrasty rangefinder, almost unmarked chrome body, shutter speeds fully functional to 1 second. Other than the vulcanite having dried and flaked off, the body itself almost looked new. The Summicron was immaculate: almost no marks on it, beautiful front coatings, no haze and almost no dust. It just needed a good cleaning. The Steinheil was full of fungus and went directly to the bin. No loss. Wasn’t interested in the lens to begin with.

I emailed the seller to thank him for the camera, told him I would keep it and use it with pleasure and asked him what he knew of its providence. He replied:

I’m glad to know you will take great care of my dad’s camera. He used it a lot when we went to the beach and mostly on vacations to the Caribbean, Hawaii, California, Puerto Rico, Europe, etc. That camera has literally been around the whole world as my parents were people who loved to travel. I mostly remember him setting up the focus, aperture and fiddling around for the longest time with it when taking a picture of my mom and me. My mom would get so mad because we would literally be standing and posing for 5 minutes waiting for him to get the perfect clear shot while listening to his portable radio play the theme song to Dr. Zhivago, the only song he liked to listen too!

Sadly, my dad suffered a major stroke in 1982, and never recovered from it. He passed away in 1984. So now that I think about it, the last time the camera was ever used was probably 1980 or ’81 when I graduated from H.S. When we went on local trips, they always used my mom’s cheesy Kodak. Only at the beach for some reason he liked to use that Leica.
So as I mentioned, it sat in a box on the shelf all these years. It never got wet, (outside of light rain which I believe is where the staining came from inside the carrying case). It was never abused.The black plastic outside of the camera must have become brittle while it was sitting around on the shelf. The broken pieces were lying inside the case as if they literally fell off as it was sitting. One or two small sections broke away as I was handling and inspecting it. I have never operated that camera a single time as my father wouldn’t let me touch it! My mother never knew how to work it. So I literally know nothing about it. I don’t know what battery power’s it and had no clue how to load the film. I was even afraid to clean it as I didn’t know how sensitive it is. I assume the black plastic on the camera can be replaced and if so you will have a mint 1950s or older camera in great condition. I wish you all the luck with it.

I love stories like this. Clearly, this camera meant something to his father, and it’s nice to know I can give it a second life and respect it in the same way his dad did. I looked up the serial number and found it had been made in the year of my birth, a further happy coincidence.

I’ve since sent of to Cameraleather.com for a tan griptac covering. Morgan sent it to me within the week and I recovered the camera with a minimum of fuss. This one is a keeper.

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