Category Archives: Leica M3

Memento Mori: Ohno Tsuneya, Oct 9, 1937 – Dec 23, 2017

Post-War children watching kamishibai in 1955 – from Human Symphony: The Photo Exhibition of Tanuma Takeyoshi, from the exhibition catalogue. Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. 2004.

By Shuya Ohno

[Editor’s Note: This was sent to me by reader Shuya Ohno as a beautifully designed PDF presentation. Unfortunately, I’m not sophisticated enough to publish the PDF as received, so I’ve reformatted it for publication. It’s a loving tribute from a son to a father and how that father passed his love of photography – and a Leica M3 – to his son.]

My father – Ohno Tsuneya – was born into a peaceful small town in the hilly countryside of Saitama prefecture, a few hours by train from Tokyo. His hometown, Chichibu, nestled among small mountains provided an ideal playground for a young mind to explore fields of wildflowers filled with insects, forests reverberating with cicadas all summer, and brooks and streams with nymphs, tadpoles, crayfish, and minnows. In town, he gathered with other schoolchildren on Sundays and spent his pocket change on candy so he could listen to the local kamishibai busker tell stories with his hand-painted pictures depicting fantastical illustrations of ghouls and heroes.

Like any boy during that time, he played baseball – that American import that’s also quintessentially Japanese. Like me, my father was slight in build, tall and lanky. Not athletic but loved to hike, ski, and explore. When the fever of war swept across the country, my father like all the young boys his age were indoctrinated at school to defend the motherland, and with their spindly arms taught to hold and wield bamboo poles as spears to poke at straw effigies of enemy soldiers.

My father in baseball uniform. Date and photographer unknown.

As the youngest of four siblings, my father had freedom to play. His father, a local politician, was a man of airs and appetites, a connoisseur who raised renowned hunting dogs that he had imported from Scotland. All the filial duties and expectations to succeed fell on my uncle, my father’s elder brother who my father no doubt worshiped.

WWII and the devastation of the country left Japan with per capita income less than that of India at the time. Late in the war, Tokyo in a single firebombing raid saw over 100,000 civilians killed, over a million homeless. Food was scarce. My mother’s mother sold off kimonos to buy rice, and sewed the rice into blankets to smuggle from the countryside to Tokyo for family. My father’s mother had to smuggle rice from more rural areas back to Chichibu. After the war, Japan threw itself into the long arduous task of rebuilding the country and society. My grandfather Ohno Tetsu died in 1950, during the American occupation of Japan. He was 46 years old.

My grandfather (second from right) with his prized hunting dogs. Date and photographer unknown.

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My uncle Ohno Mitsuya, boarding steamer to travel to San Francisco from Tokyo Bay. He is flanked by his two sisters, my aunts Noriko (left) and Kazuko (right). My father is in the back, second from left. Date and photographer uncertain.

My uncle Ohno Mitsuya sailed to the US to study journalism at the University of San Francisco. He never returned. Suffering from Marfan’s syndrome, he died presumably of a burst aortic aneurysm. He was only 23 years old. My father was still a teenager – and was now the only man of the house.

He came out to Tokyo to study at 9 years old, and eventually went on to study medicine at Jikei Medical University – the school he would later return to as a researcher and professor. He met my mother, Taniguchi Makiko when he was a student, bicycling across town to see her.

My mother was born on the first day of summer in 1940 in Tokyo, though her family hailed proudly from Kagoshima, the southern holdout of the last of the samurai. Her father Taniguchi Eizo served in the capital as an attorney for the City of Tokyo. During the war, her family fled to the countryside near Hiroshima after their house in Tokyo was firebombed. Eizo continued to work in Tokyo. On August 6th, 1945 my mother was 5 years old, playing when she and her mother saw a flash in the sky in the distance – it was the first atomic explosion and the end of the war. Eizo did his legal duty and served as a defense attorney during the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

The Taniguchi family: From left, my mother, Makiko, held by her sister Hamako, sister Hiroko, her mother Emi, younger brother Masamitsu, father Eizo, and sister Fusako.

Like my father’ father, Ohno Tetsu, my mother’s father Taniguchi Eizo died in 1950. He was 56 years old.

My father was 13, my mother was 10 years old when they lost their fathers. My mother’s mother, Emi, died after struggling with severe depression for eight years. My parents came of age without having a father in their lives.

My father hiking.
My mother’ student portrait.

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My father loved photography – the art, the activity, the ritual, the tools. One of the last times he and I shared an outing was a brisk February Sunday in 2004, a day before my 38th birthday. We spent the afternoon at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography to see a retrospective of Tanuma Takeyoshi.The exhibit spanned 60 years of Tanuma’s career, beginning with images of post-War children in Tokyo from 1949 that he took as a young apprenticing photojournalist.

In 1956, the Family of Man exhibition came to Tokyo. Tanuma was inspired by this exhibition and went to see it again and again. So did my father. The exhibition is still regarded as a grand undertaking, 503 photographs from 68 countries – its magnitude matched only by its own hubris and that of its curator, the photographer Edward Steichen.

My father, Michi, and me on Bear Mountain.

However naïve it may seem today, the driving aspirations and ethos of the exhibit, to capture and encompass humanity in its multitudes as a single connected family, was situated firmly in the liberal ideology of its time, reflected in the contemporaneously articulated charter of the United Nations:

We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and… to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

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My father before a camping trip, camera ready at his hip.

The post-war Japanese intellectual of the late-Twentieth Century was an amalgam of times and cultures. Adorned with a black beret or a bucket hat, tucked into a turtleneck, the aficionado of culture and the cool connoisseur of consumer goods practiced as an amateur naturalist, a hobbyist polymath, and a citizen of the world. Simultaneously Modern and Romantic, the intellectual eccentric saw himself as hero, like a Sherlock Holmes – a Victorian avatar that still stubbornly abides in Japan.

It is not surprising then that my father left us in the United States and returned to Japan. He had brought us, my mother and my brothers, Shinya and Michiyuki to the US when I was 6 years old. My parents remained a married couple – we were still a family – just separated by 13 time zones and 6,740 miles. He left when I was 14. I had worshiped him until then.

Family portrait with Christmas tree. Shot with a self-timer in our apartment in Fort Lee, NJ. ca. 1974

Throughout my high school days, I felt his absence, and filled it with rage. I was angry at myself for feeling angry toward my father – I felt like I was desecrating some sacred filial code. I drove my mother crazy, at times to tears. She deserved none of it. It took me into adulthood until I stopped following in his footsteps and abandoned science, until I worked feverishly making art, and then making social justice change that I felt relieved of my anger, forgiving my father and accepting and understanding him. He never saw it as abandonment, just a temporary necessity dictated by his work ethic. My mother eventually joined him after Michi graduated from Rutgers. Michi was perhaps the most American of us for having grown up in the US since he was 3 years old, but he too went to settle back in Tokyo.

Me at 17, Nara Japan
Me in my senior year of High School, 1984.

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My father taking a photograph with his Nikormat at a Bicentennial rooftop party. Photo by his close friend and colleague, Raymond Sweet. NYC, July 4th, 1976.

I inherited my father’s 1956 Leica M3 (#831611). It’s not that he bequeathed it to me. I claimed it a couple of days after he passed away. I like to believe he would have set it aside for me – but perhaps he meant to sell it. I didn’t know this M3 existed until I was rummaging through his cabinet of classic cameras, divvying up the collection between my brothers and myself. It was not a camera I had ever seen him use. He used a Nikormat while we all lived in the US. He gave that camera to my brother Shinya. My father used a black Leica M6 after that. But I knew what the M3 meant to him. We had years ago discussed its lineage and its reputation as the pinnacle of craft and industrialization, the greatest camera of the 20th century.

Industrialization and the availability of the easy point and shoot 35mm camera became a turning point for the modern world. Susan Sontag in her seminal essay, “Photography,” first published in the New York Review of Books in 1973 presaged my father’s relationship to his camera.

“The very activity of taking pictures is soothing,” she wrote, “and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel.” For my family, it was not travel but immigration in 1972 – jarring and alienating. Language proficiency, or rather its lack, always kept my father a little apart from interactions, a little behind in conversations. I could always see his desire to drop the bon mot, the jokes and puns he had in his head, if only he had mastery over English the way he had over Japanese. Instead, he had his camera. Sontag continued, “Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter.” It is a fine instrument for capturing and collecting moments but also a tool for defense.

Her essay is still incisive, perhaps more so with the advent of the cellphone. “People robbed of their past seem to make the most fervent picture-takers, at home and abroad. Everyone who lives in an industrialized society is obliged gradually to give up the past, but in certain countries, such as the United States and Japan, the break with the past has been particularly traumatic.” Migration only exacerbates this break.

For the last two years of his life, my father was bed-ridden in the hospital. He was intubated and then given a tracheotomy, taking his voice. By the end, he lost his desire to communicate, left his thick glasses by the bed and no longer cared if he could see.

My parents at Jikei University Hosptial. My father had undergone an aortic valve replacement surgery. Complications post-surgery kept him in the hospital for two years until his passing. My mother visited him every day. I took this photo with my father’s M6. 2015

I inherited from my father, not only his camera, but also his adulation for what he glimpsed in that Family of Man exhibit – a vision of humanity suffused with dignity and love for all people, an exaltation of the everyday, the celebration of the common person, and the democratization of art

​Now I strive to take photographs that express my love for the world. And every time I pick up the M3, every time I press the shutter, it is a continuing conversation with my father. The viewfinder of this old camera is his eyes, as I ask him, “Do you see? Do you see?”

My wife, Medhanit Tekle with two local children in Aksum, Ethiopia. 2018. We were married 6 months after my father’s passing. I took this during our honeymoon with the Leica M3.

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All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” – Susan Sontag.

Hits: 50

Miles Davis and His M3

Miles Davis and Leica

Miles Davis At Newport 1958. Miles with his Leica M3.

Miles Davis was a musical genius. ‘Genius’ is one of those designations that gets massively overused ( I just read a book on Garry Winogrand wherein he’s repeatedly referred to as a “genius”). It applies to Davis. He single-handily created a number of jazz idioms- cool jazz, bebop, fusion, and mentored many quartet era jazz greats – Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Wayne Shorter. Like all geniuses, he wasn’t afraid to fail, and some of his stuff, especially his later ’70s era fusion work, seemed strained on arrival, a repudiation of much he had done in the ’40s through the brilliance of the ’60s, although in hindsight, some of it works in a way hard to recognize at the time. But the best of it – The late ’50s Coltrane Quintets, the early ’60s Shorter Quintets, the brilliant fusion of his 1970 Bitches Brew– is transcendently sui generous, stunningly one-of-a-kind in a way unlike anything else produced before or since.

If you buy one ‘real’ jazz album in your life ( as opposed to the dumbed-down muzik played on elevators and restaurants), I suggest his 1959 Kind of Blue, featuring Davis’s ensemble sextet of saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. So beautiful it will make you weep. In 2003 it was ranked #12 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time in any musical genre, a list compiled by influential 20th-century musicians, critics and producers. You know you’re good when your peers universally recognize your genius.

Miles Davis and Leica

His autobiography. Miles, is a remarkable read. I highly recommend it, even if you’re not a jazz fan. It’s a fascinating study of the artistic psyche. Davis was raised in an upper-class black family – his father was a medical doctor – and Miles was classically educated both in music and the humanities. He was a man of great talent but also an elegant man of great style and sophistication, supremely confident in himself and his ability, as he should have been. But the shit he put up with as a black man in a white man’s world beggars belief. Conventional ’40s and ’50s white America treated him as an “uppity nigger” who didn’t recognize his place; Davis refused to play the game. Throughout, he coupled smoldering anger at ignorant, self-important white critics with a detached dignity that infuriated much of the jazz public. While relentlessly criticized for constant innovation, in retrospect he moved the jazz idiom along in necessary ways. He was both a fascinating artist and human being.

When asked about his Leica Miles claimed he knew little about it; as for his technical acumen, he just used the settings the man in the shop had shown him. I love that. Like his music, straight to the essence, no pretense.

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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.

Hits: 38

The Leica Experience Without the Leica

Nikon S3 2000 Limited Edition

If Leica announced they were going to offer a brand new M2, built to the original specs, coupled with a state-of-the-art Summilux 50mm f1.4 and original lens hood- and offer it as a kit for $1600, I suspect you’d happily sell your grandmother into white slavery for 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 $5195, with free shipping; for the 50mm Summilux add an extra $4395. That’s $9590. (Given you’re buying it from B&H in New York, add $870 in local sales tax: total price door to door $10,540). 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 MA with Summilux, for $1600 or thereabout on eBay ( hell, I’d argue that the S3 is better built than the MA). And few people seem to want them. That’s crazy.

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Nikon S3 Millennial with 35mm W-Nikkor

Millenial Nikon S3 with W-Nikkor 35mm 1.8

In 1957 a LEICA M2 and 50mm f/1.4 lens sold for about $3800 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.

Black Paint Nikon S3
Black Paint S3 Millennial With 50mm 1.4 Nikkor-S

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.   Nikon produced 8000 cameras by hand assembly, 300 per month. In 2002 Nikon released the black paint S3 2000 with a production of 2000 units. Nikon’s cost was more than the selling price of the camera, over $6,000 each. 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 M2/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 M2/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).

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Nikon S3 Millennial
Nikon S3 Millennial
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. It’s 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 $10,540 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, $2700. I’ve got a chrome version, which I actually prefer to the black paint version. For me, old Nikon rangefinders should be chrome). And, given Voigtlander offers many of their excellent and reasonably priced rangefinder lenses in Nikon S mount (21mm f4, 25mm f4, 28mm 3.5, 35mm 2.5, 50mm 2.5, 50mm 1.5, 85mm 3.5) you can assemble a nice system of new, modern optics for your new S3 without the problems that come along with 50-year-old lenses. 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?

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The Last M3 Ever Made….

…is currently for sale on Ebay for $395,000. Payable by Paypal.

“The last Leica M3 and “Newest” Leica M3 made. Production serial No. 1164865. UNIQUE, RARE, OUTSTANDING and SPECTACULAR in every respect!From the last and smallest batch of 20 cameras made in 1966, this being the FINAL and LAST camera of the production line and the final termination of THE GREATEST RANGEFINDER camera EVER MADE if not THE GREATEST CAMERA ever made.A true historical find and in NEW condition, NEVER USED, IN NEW condition as it left the factory more than 60 YEARS ago!
With the original matching serial No. service card and (red + white ) rope that came with the camera, box, foam fittings, caps and allNEW! condition with the original untouhed “L” seal.Along with letters of authenticity from Leica, special order request, original matching order # from the original owner in 1968, receipt and additional letter from Leica to reiterate the authenticity of this camera. “

Seriously. Would you pay $400k for a Leica M3? And if you would, would you think of buying it on Ebay?

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So Much Yes

Yes, I know this is satire, But still. It’s brilliant. I’d love to have this guy do some videos for Leicaphilia.

If you follow it back to YouTube, be sure to peruse the comments, which are almost as good as the video.

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This one? Satire? I’m not sure; it appears to be nothing more than a cute kid trying out film photography. Nothing wrong with that. In any event, Lindsey’s Grandpa sure has a nice M3:

https://youtu.be/by6ll3zJ7UE

On a related note, is there something inherent in Leica film cameras that compels new users to go to cafes to take pictures?

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Next, a sometimes literate, sometimes rapturous ode to the “Best Camera Ever Made.” While it’s easy to be smug and have a chuckle at their expense, I do like these kids’ enthusiasm, and I suspect I was probably much like them at that age. That being said, enjoy the video….just don’t be a “Hatter” :

https://youtu.be/OkSlZMiQ7AY

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Finally, this from “professional photographer” Kenneth Wajda. Let me preface this by saying: Mr. Wajda seems a nice man and I’m sure he’s a very competent photographer, probably infinitely more competent with a camera than me. He seems the sort of guy I could share a beer  with and learn a thing or two from. But, Dear Lord, there’s something unsettling to me about this, something undeniably disturbing about the whole thing from an existential perspective. Is that how I come across on Leicaphilia? Is this what I’ve been doing for the past five years? Is this me? If so, my apologies. Just shoot me now.

[ADDENDUM: I owe Mr. Wajda an apology. What was meant as harmless fun I realize now was a cheap shot at him. I’m all for taking cheap shots at deserving subjects, but, from all indications, Mr. Wajda is doing a great job of sharing his passion for photography and educating folks in the process. He deserves better than some fool on the internet making fun of him.]

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Leica M3 #1097779 and the Principle of Falsification

Having had published this blog for a few years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of interesting, knowledgeable folks who know a lot about Leica film cameras. Happy to say that I’ve been the beneficiary of more than a few person’s knowledge and expertise, in the form of advice given, life experiences recounted, expertise freely and gladly shared. I’ve taken advantage of the blog to sell cameras and lenses to readers, never an unpleasant experience among the many transactions. Suffice it to say that Leicaphilia readers seem to be good, decent people sharing a love of Leica film cameras and happy to do the right thing when dealing with others similarly situated.

One of the benefits of the blog is that I’ll frequently receive inquiries from people I don’t know, asking me about a camera or lens they’ve inherited or been given, and it’s always fun to help them identify what they have and often tell them they might have a few thousand dollars worth of equipment in hand, especially when they’ve previously been pitched a ridiculously low-ball offer by a friend, family member or local camera dealer. Invariably, they go away happy, armed with a fair assessment of the worth of what they have and grateful for the help.

A few weeks ago I received the following email inquiry from a guy in Alabama, name and exact location not really relevant at this time:

Sir, I came into possession of a Leica M3 a few years ago after my father in law passed. It appears never used, has multiple lenses, and some paperwork. The camera serial number is 1097779. From what I have been able to research online, there appears to be a wide valuation range, especially with the lenses. Can you provide an estimate or recommend a reputable appraiser for these items? I am happy to provide pictures of the camera and lenses. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Interesting: a late-run M3, apparently “never used,” with a bunch of lenses. Could be worth something. So,  I did what I’d usually do; I went to the appropriate source and ran the serial number given as a preliminary matter, and ….Holy Shit! did I read that right?….M3 #1097779 falls within one of the last 150 camera runs of factory produced Black Paint M3’s. If it’s genuine, this could be a very valuable camera. And it comes with “multiple lenses and some paperwork.” Yup…send me pictures. Send me a bunch of pictures.

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Above are a a few of the pictures sent back to me in response, pictures of what is obviously a Black Paint M3 with serial number appropriate for the claim. At first glance, and taking into consideration the relatively poor quality of the pictures, yes, it looks in damn good condition, possibly “never used”; as for the lenses, they all have their own boxes, apparently with matching serial numbers, at least one of them is black paint (the Tele-Elmarit 135 f4) and there’s some documentation about the provenance of the camera.

Back to the appropriate sources for reliable information on recent auction sales of legit Black Paint M3’s – and my research indicates that there is ample reason to assume the M3 body itself, without any of the lenses, might fetch in the neighborhood of +/- $40,000. I’ve found evidence of sales of legit Black Paint M3’s into the +$60,000 range.

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I’ve spoken with the owner at length, told him what I’ve repeated here, and am assisting him in proceeding in a manner that protects his ability to sell the camera and lenses for a legitimate price, without being screwed by unscrupulous “friends,” dealers or scammers. Luckily his wife, the daughter of the guy who purchased the camera back in the 60’s, recently turned down an offer of $3000 for the lot, rightfully deciding to make further inquiry about the value of the lot prior to making any decisions. She has numerous student loans to repay. Hence, the email to me.

I suppose the whole thing could be an elaborate scam – I’m not above being naturally suspicious in such instances; it could be an elaborate ruse cooked up by the likes of Third Man Cameras which I’ve documented recently. But everything about my interactions with the owner indicates legitimacy. The serial number matches a recognized run of Black Paint M3’s. The story behind the camera has the ring of truth. So: I’d like help from the collective wisdom of my readership: anything that looks out of place or doesn’t add up? I’d love your input.

People make decisions about what they’ll believe in two different ways. Most folks, uncritical thinkers, make an assumption and then go looking for facts that admit the assumption true. It’s a thought process that attempts to rationalize a flimsily supported belief by cherry-picking data that support the belief while willfully ignoring contradictory evidence, and it’s what scam artists rely on to hook you. You want a black paint M3, you see one with all the documentation being sold on Ebay – ‘Certificates of Authenticity’, Bills of Sale to a guy named Busby Catanach in Wisconsin, appropriate boxes and pamphlets, some cock-and-bull story about buying it from a guy at a garage sale – it all looks good because you want to believe, so you buy it for $21,000 on Ebay, which is a steal!…and you invariably find out later, if at all, that you’ve gotten screwed. Of course the seller knows nothing. This is the Third Man Camera business model. A sucker truly is born every few minutes.

Critical thinkers only make provisional assumptions until those assumptions have been tested by a process of skepticism.  In dealing with a question like this, they’ll adopt a provisional assumption provisionally supported by the known facts – it’s legit, let’s say – and then look for reasons that might falsify the assumption. Find reasons that don’t fit. If you look and look and look, and everything still fits, it’s a good bet your provisional assumption is correct. This is how good science operates – via the principle of “falsification.” If you can’t falsify a proposition no matter how hard you try, the proposition is probably true,

I’ve been unable to find anything in all this that leads me to believe this M3 is anything but a legit, pristine Black Paint M3, part of a batch of 150 produced by Leitz in 4/64. Anybody see anything I’m missing?

 

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Why Do “New” Leica Film Camera Owners Always Seem to Want the M3?

A Leica M3. A Beautiful Camera, No Doubt

It’s a question I’m increasingly asking myself. It seems rather predictable these days: prospective first time Leica film camera owners fixate upon the M3 as their entree into Leica film camera ownership. Granted, find one in decent condition and it’s a wonderful camera, exemplifying all the characteristics associated with the hand-built fully mechanical M’s. And, of course, it’s iconic, the original Leica M, with a quarter million production run between its introduction in 1954 and its replacement with the M4 in 1966. But, if you’re considering buying an iconic mechanical M film camera, and assuming you’re going to want to use it to produce photographs as opposed to propping it up on a shelf somewhere, is it really the best choice?

If you want an “iconic” all mechanical film Leica M, you have 3 choices: the M3, the M2, or the M4. (I’m not going to even debate the relative merits of the LTM Leica IIIg, introduced by Leitz in 1957 as the culmination of the venerable Barnack screw-mount line. That’s a discussion for another day.) Starting with the M5, Leica incorporated metering into the M line, necessitating a battery but, more importantly, setting in motion the incremental increases in ergonomic complexity that led to the anti-iconic electronic M7. The M5 and M6, both metered, both excellent cameras, in my mind don’t qualify as “iconic” – just try to picture Henri Cartier-Bresson using an M5 or M6 to take the picture of that guy jumping over the puddle behind the Gare du Nord.  Enough said.

As for the M4-2 and M4-P, both non-metered all mechanical M’s, purists argue they ‘really’ weren’t legitimate M’s but rather stop-gap cost-cutting throwbacks used by Leitz to buy time while they figured out what to do about the M line post-M5 debacle. At the very least, it’s a truism that neither camera was aimed at, or appealed to, the working photographer. If your goal is to own the camera that best embodies the M’s evolution from professional working tool to sentimental throwback, then the M4-2 is the camera for you. Plus, both it and the M4-P just look cheap, the M4-2 with a tacky “Leitz” logo stamped onto the top-plate; the M4-P with the same stamped logo and also a hideous red dot on the front vulcanite. Yuck. And they both continued the unfortunate trend, started with the M5 and brought down through the M lineage to this day, of stamping the “Leica” and the M designation on the front of the faceplate, an unnecessary cluttering up of the camera’s simple lines, with the result being the start of the now well-established practice of showing your hard-core Leicaphile cred by taping these over with black tape. Finally, there’s the recent all mechanical MP, an admirable attempt by Leica to maintain the iconic M profile in the digital age, but alas, too expensive and without any vintage cred.

Neither of these are “iconic” Leica Film Cameras

So, we’re left with the M2 and M4 as alternatives to the M3. The M2, prospective owners might think, would have come before the M3, but they’d be wrong. The M2 was first offered for sale in 1958, four years after the introduction of the M3, intended to be a simpler and less expensive alternative to the M3. There were some cost-cutting features vis a vis the M3: the exposure counter was an exposed dial you reset by hand as opposed to the M3’s auto-reset windowed counter, and Leitz found a way to cut production costs of its viewfinder in relation to the costs of the M3 viewfinder; but, the M2 viewfinder is main reason many working photographers opted for the M2 over the M3, and I would argue it’s also the reason the M2 remains the preferable alternative if you’re a first time Leica Film camera owner.

This One Certainly Is

The results of long experience with M’s by serious photographers seems to have confirmed the belief that the true “native” focal length for the 35mm rangefinder camera is a 35mm lens, itself a perfect combination of focal width with “normal” perspective. The 50mm focal length, especially when used on a rangefinder, seems just a bit too narrow, a bit too restricted in venues like enclosed low-light spaces where M’s have traditionally been most effective. The downside of the M3 is its .91 viewfinder magnification, a life-size magnification perfect for using a 50mm Noctilux, Summicron or Elmar and longer 90 and 135mm lenses but too narrow to use with a 35mm focal length without auxiliary finder. Hence the M2 with .72 magnification viewfinder allowing native framelines for 35/50/90 focal lengths – offered by Leitz a few years after the introduction of the M3 – as much a response to the limitations of the M3 as it was a “reduced-cost” alternative.  It’s no coincidence that the M2 became the M of choice for working photographers using Leicas in the 1960s. It was, and remains, the more practical alternative if your interest is using the camera.

Which brings us to the M4, produced by Leitz from 1967 to 1970 (marginal production as well from 71-75 when the M5 was also being offered as the first metered M). It retains the native .72 magnification viewfinder of the M2 with a bunch of incremental improvements: a 135mm brightline frame in addition to the 35/50/90 M2 trio, a really cool-looking angled cranked film rewind in place of the M2/M3’s fiddly lift-up knob that took forever to rewind a film roll, a faster 3 prong “rapid loading” (!) take up spool, and it was offered in black chrome, a much more durable finish than the black paint M2’s and M3’s that looked like crap after a few months of intense use.

Now THIS is a Real M4: Not bunged up with tacky logos or Red Dots, and not dumbed down to a price point

What I really love about the M4 is its solidity and refinement. To me it feels even more solid yet refined than does the M3. It’s a non-metered M with all the kinks worked out. It is the last iconic M (The M5 being ignored for the moment because of its unique form factor) that truly embodies all the virtues of the Leitz hand-assembled bodies. It is to the non-metered M line what the IIIg is to the Barnack line – the model line’s most refined and sophisticated representation. Were I to choose one Leica M body that most closely met the criteria of a useable iconic M, it would be the M4. Give me mine in black chrome please.

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Anna Baldazzi’s M3 Up For Auction

Anna Baldazzi is an Italian free-lance photographer who worked both in Italy and New York. She’s photographed everything from Julie Christie on the set of Dr. Zhivago to Federico Fellini and Salvadore Dali, all with the M3 above.

Bonham’s London is auctioning off her M3 #1078602, factory black paint, mated with a 50mm f2 Summicron #2031524, purchased new by her in the sixties. Expected final hammer price is $4900-$7300 USD.

 

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The Camera That Brought Me Back to Myself

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“The Leica strikes me as a symbol of revolt against the boredom of everything ordinary and modern. It’s useful for works of art, but not much else. It exudes the kind of authenticity that we have been denied every day of our miserable lives. You don’t use this camera to please a client or to make a deadline; you don’t use it to make money at all. When I pick up this camera I know I’m holding the perfect tool to do something deeply personal and creative, something that no one else can criticize.”


I was obsessed with photography when I was young. I lived in Memphis and I wanted to follow along in the tradition of William Eggleston, whom I idolized. I studied for four years and made a very serious stab at capturing the tumbledown look of the South. I even worked at a newspaper for a time. But something went wrong. The work simply wasn’t good, and in spite of stupidly struggling with the problem day and night, I just couldn’t find my way to the ideal image. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t know what I was doing.

Years passed. The shitstorm of trying (or failing as it were) to be a responsible adult destroyed my illusions about producing a great work of art, and for a full decade I lived very poorly, having completely lost the thread of my original vision. My camera collected dust and was eventually forgotten amongst other weird relics from my former life as a “creative person.” It was a cliche I laughed about, wondering how I could ever have been so naive. I made asinine remarks whenever I encountered people who liked to bullshit me about “following your dreams” and so forth. I worked in the service industry, mopping up after rude tourists who had apparently made better life-decisions than I had. My conclusion was that even if you completely threw yourself into what you truly cared about, no one would ever thank you for it. You would have to cram it into your off hours with little or no emotional energy left for the task. You would have to pay for it out of your own empty pocket. Things would only get more and more difficult as time went by. You were doomed.

I may have been wrong; I don’t know. That’s just what I happened to be feeling during those years of insecurity.

Things went on uneventfully in this way, until about a year ago, when something interesting happened. I was unemployed, and having some time on my hands, I found my way into the obscure world of Tarkovsky movies. Something in his imagery got through to me, and a  long-lost memory flickered to life. I started dreaming about photography again, and those dreams quickly escalated to a feverish obsession, just like it had been in the 90’s, when I was a teenager.

My fiancé, sensing the crisis, offered to front me the money to buy some new photography tools and start over. It was a Purple Rain kind of moment, white guitar and all. Her generosity was enough to change everything for me. In spite of the desire to be optimistic, we’ve got to be real and acknowledge that it’s impossible to think about creating a body of work when your life is in shambles, and your idea of luxury is a pack of cigarettes. Sometimes you just need some help, and god willing, sooner or later you might happen to get some.

I wanted to use a Leica. I didn’t know why; I just did. Maybe it was because all my favorite images had come from this mythical camera. It was impractical, weird, anachronistic, expensive. I had a very hard time talking myself into believing that it made sense to get one -because it didn’t. I could have used any cheap camera, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to do it right this time. No compromises. It’s odd how you can know something at an emotional level, but you have to drag your rational mind, kicking and screaming, along with it.

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

oxendale5 oxendale1I won’t bother reciting all the reasons why Leica cameras are special; we’ve heard it all before, and a good bit of it is true. I settled on the M3 with a 50mm Summicron lens, and I am not disappointed. I love this camera. I have spent many afternoons staring at the thing over a cup of coffee and wondering why I care so much about it. As strange as this may sound, the reason is not entirely obvious. Yes, it is a “nice” camera, beautifully designed and a pleasure to operate… but that isn’t enough. It’s a camera after all, not a designer accessory (at least it used to be). The images it has produced for me are excellent, but if it were really about image quality and sharpness we would not being using 35mm film in the first place. There’s something else going on with this camera. I think the things people say about it are just excuses for fetishizing something when they can’t rationally explain why. People are complex creatures full of unknown depths, and the Leica speaks to those depths.

I thought about this carefully and I came to the conclusion that the magic of the thing is in the sheer impracticality of it. The Leica strikes me as a symbol of revolt against the boredom of everything ordinary and modern. It’s useful for works of art, but not much else. It exudes the kind of authenticity that we have been denied every day of our miserable lives. You don’t use this camera to please a client or to make a deadline; you don’t use it to make money at all. When I pick up this camera I know I’m holding the perfect tool to do something deeply personal and creative, something that no one else can criticize. Hell, the idea of it seems almost subversive to me after all these years, and that is a very powerful feeling.

Leica signifies all these things to me, and probably to a lot of other people as well. It’s what the kids at the art college would call the Leica’s “discourse.” Some part of you senses this when you have one in your hands, even if you haven’t got the slightest idea what it is. It seems so serious,  so pure. The thing’s got gravity; it’s literally heavy. The symbolism is clear.

Today I am back in the fight with the kind of impatience and desperation that could only come from having wasted so many years without taking a photograph. I went out with just this one camera and one lens, and worked up a photo essay about depopulation in the high plains of Colorado. Good or bad I don’t know, but it is without any doubt the single best piece of work I have ever done. It has been like rediscovering all the lost ambitions of youth, and learning that they weren’t dead after all. Moreover, they have come to fruition, finally. I think the inspiration of the camera may have had something to do with that.

Joseph Oxandale was born in Louisiana in 1980 and earned his BFA from the Memphis College of Art in 2004. After doing a stint with The El Dorado News-Times in Arkansas, he moved west to Colorado. He currently lives in Denver.

To see more of his excellent High Plains photographs, visit

http://oxandaleworks.weebly.com/high-plains-lament.html

oxebdale5oxendale6

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The Coming Crash of the Black Paint Leica Market

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Hollywood Gets the M3 All Wrong ( errrr…Possibly Right?)

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The above is a still from the new Hollywood “Blockbuster” Kong: Skull Island, the premise of which, apparently, is that King Kong is found running around what appears to be Viet Nam in the 60s/70s wreaking havoc and the people above, among others, are tasked with capturing /wounding /incapacitating /killing him.  The young woman is, apparently, a PJ. She’s shown using a Leica M3 with what looks like a 50mm Elmar (note the indented bevel on the front of the lens) and the close focus attachment for a DR Summicron, which makes absolutely no sense under any imagined scenario. Even were that a DR Summicron, I’d question what a 60’s era PJ in Viet Nam would be doing using macro focusing while on combat assignment in SE Asia.

[Editor’s Note: Within 30 minutes of posting this, I’ve been inundated with smarter, more knowledgeable readers noting that it’s clearly a Summaron 35 3.5 with goggles for the M3. Of course.  One more example of why one shouldn’t drink whiskey and then write things on the internet. In this particular instance, the culprit was a 200ml bottle of Old Malt Cask Unfiltered Single Malt Scotch, bottled at the “preferred Golden Strength of 50% alc. vol” by Blair Athol Distillery, that my wife had just brought me back from Scotland.]

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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?

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Leica Announces New Digital M3D: “Back to Our Roots”

111Mike Evans tries out the new M3D on a crisp April morning in Bad Wolkenkuckucksheim (Photo: George James, Leica M-P and 50mm Apo-Summicron)

An M3 with a digital back: This has been the holy grail of Leica M photographers ever since the relatively bulky M8 was announced in September 2006. Why can’t we keep the size and weight of the film camera but have the advantage of digital, they wondered. Now they can have the best of both worlds.

Leica has today met this demand from a vocal majority with the announcement of the Leica M3D, a camera that has identical appearance, dimensions and weight to the first M, the M3, but with a digital sensor replacing the film plane. It was shown to the press this morning in the popular spa resort of Bad Wolkenkuckucksheim near Wetzlar.

Advance lever

The M3D offers the very essence of digital photography combined with the simplicity of film shooting. The only adjustments possible on the M3D are aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Even the ISO is not automatic, it has to be selected manually by means of a central dial on the back of the camera where other digitals would have a screen.

In a nod to tradition, the M3D even sports a film advance lever, just like the original M3. You have to advance this after every shot to re-cock the shutter and remind yourself that you are shooting digital film.

The M3D is similar to the M7 film camera in operation. It will accept any M lens and will be welcomed by rangefinder enthusiasts who have become frustrated by digital bloat and the emphasis on in-camera processing that epitomises most cameras on the market these days. Surprisingly, in view of the retro feature set, the M3D offers an auto shutter speed setting similar to that found on newer digital M cameras and on the still-current M7 film camera. This enables aperture priority shooting which is what most rangefinder photographers prefer.

RAW only

The Leica M3D is one handsome camera and serves to consolidate Leica’s new-found willingness to return to the purity of the rangefinder. The first step in this direction was the stripped-feature M262 but even that did not go as far as to dispense with the screen, nor with many of the processing options and buttons that go with jpg shooting. From now on it’s RAW only and that is how most rangefinder fans like it.

Speaking at this morning’s press conference, Leica CEO Hektor Barnack said that the M3D represents the epitome of the rangefinder experience. “This is das indubitable Wesentliche”, he told journalists: “This is the camera rangefinder enthusiasts have been waiting for. No screen to chimp on, no buttons to press in error while handling the camera, no menus to distract or confuse. It’s a pure, film experience but without the cost of developing and scanning. It is, not to overemphasise the point, back to our roots.”

Stripped down

“Now we have catered for the techno modernist market with the outstanding Leica SL, we feel confident in stripping down the M even further. No longer does the M have to address every facet of the market. For all those photographers who still carry around our film cameras, including the M3, the M3D is likely to be a very compelling alternative.”

I have to say that ever since I tried the all-steel M60 edition, which turns out to be a rather heavyweight progenitor of the M3D, I have been convinced there is a need for a stripped down digital. By offering the film experience but without the film, the M3D is an economical alternative to an older film camera. I for one will not miss the high cost of processing and scanning.

The Leica M3D will be with dealers by the end of May and will cost £3,600 in Britain (including VAT) the same price as the film M7 or the MP.

*This is a reprint of the original scoop, first reported on Macfilos.com by Mike Evans on April 1, 2016. Editor’s Note: Macfilos is a great blog with a lot of interesting content. Check it out.

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Buying A Leica M? A Guide for Users Not Fondlers

m2 m3

Want Chrome? Buy an M2/3/4. Black versions are stupid expensive, plus, in spite of what Lenny Kravitz says, they usually look like shit. An iconic M should be chrome.

Want Black? Buy an M5 or M6. Ironically, chrome versions of the M5 and M6 will run you more because they are rarer. Both the M5 and M6 black versions are black chrome, unlike the M2/3/4, which are black paint (with the exception of some later black chrome M4s), and don’t suffer from “brassing”, which is the single dumbest affectation heretofor conjured up by Leica fanatics.

Want to avoid the herd? Buy an M5. It has a meter, and it’s a better camera than the metered M6. Better ergos, better meter, cheaper, shows you’re serious about your Leicas and don’t give a damn what Leica snobs think.

M5

Want one iconic M body? Buy the M4. Best Leica M ever. It’s better than the M3 because it accommodates a 35mm lens without an external finder, and it’s better than an M2 because it’s easier to load and has a better film rewind. I might argue that the M5 is an even better camera, but, admittedly, the styling of the M5 is not “iconic.”

Leica MR4 2

Want to be like every other dentist who’s got bitten by the Leica bug? Buy an M6.

Avoid the M4-2 and the M4-P. The original “Dentist Leicas.” Leitz produced them as cost-cutting versions of the M4 after the M5 failed to sell in sufficient numbers. These days, they’re as expensive as a comparable condition M4. Buy the M4. It’s a better camera, has better fit and finish, has an ingraved top plate while the M4-2 and P have a cheesy Leica logo painted on the top plate. As if the forgoing isn’t enough, the M4-P comes with a hideous red dot affixed to its front.

Avoid the M7. It really isn’t an M. Seriously. It replaced the sublime sound and feel of the traditional M shutter with the metalic clacking of its battery driven electronic shutter. How incredibly gauche. If you really think you need Aperture Priority Automation and a pocket full of battery power (you don’t), get a Hexar RF for a fourth of the price, because the Hexar is the better camera, and frankly, you’re not a real leicaphile to begin with.

Don’t worry about cosmetics. Ironically, most beat up users function much better than “Minty” collectors grade because they’ve been used and kept in spec via use. Nothing is cooler than a Leica that shows that it’s been well-used instead of sitting on a shelf somewhere.

Forget about a CLA’d camera. Just buy one that works; get it CLA’d if and when you need it. Stop worrying if your 1/8th shutter speed sounds slightly off. Only collectors and fondlers give a shit about irrelevant things like that. Just use the damn thing and enjoy it.

Look for bright viewfinders with bright rangefinder patches.

Make sure the shutter curtains aren’t whacked.

To Summarize: If you want a non-metered M, buy an M4, chrome or black chrome as you prefer. If you want a metered M, buy a black chrome M5. If you absolutely need AE (you don’t) to use with M mount optics, don’t buy an M7; buy a Hexar RF and use the money you’ve saved to buy 400 rolls of HP5. Whatever you buy, don’t buy something that looks like its been sitting on a collector’s shelf. It’s probably not going to work as well as your basic beater that’s been used, and you’re going to overpay for the privilege of doing so. In my mind, you simply can’t get any better than a beat up, well used chrome M4. In addition to the pleasure of owning and using an iconic photographic tool, you’ll get some serious street cred from real Leicaphiles as opposed to the status conscious wannabees toting their latest digital Leica swag.

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A Quick Ebay Tutorial on Leica M Cameras

Buying a Leica on Ebay can be a frustrating experience. Finding a “Minty” M can be hit or miss at best, and knowing the subtle differences between M models can be daunting. Ebay wants to make it easier on us, publishing a helpful “Product Description” for older models. Below are the actual Ebay product descriptions for Leica M film cameras:

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Leica M2: Ideal for Sports Photography

“A compact rangefinder film camera, the Leica M2 (camera body only) lets you capture the beautiful moments of your life, even when you’re on the go. This Leica film camera has a manual focusing system that lets you capture sharp and bright pictures. With manual exposure control modes, this rangefinder film camera lets you take snaps just the way you want. Featuring shutter speeds from 1 sec to 1/1000th and B, this Leica film camera can click good quality images of moving subjects, making it ideal for sports photography. The Leica M2 (camera body only) also features a self-timer, to make sure you get in a few snaps of yourself!”

 

 

Summicron w m3

Leica M3: Leica’s First Camera With TTL Metering

“Compose your shots accurately with the Leica M3 camera, which combines a rangefinder and viewfinder in one. The large and bright viewfinder of this 35 mm rangefinder camera has a magnification of 0.91x, giving you a wide coverage of the scene. With shutter speeds from 1-1/1,000 seconds, this Leica film camera lets you clearly capture moving subjects. The Leica M3 35 mm rangefinder camera uses interchangeable lenses, providing the flexibility to shoot various scenes. Featuring TTL metering, which measures light using a built-in meter, this Leica film camera eliminates the need for a separate, hand-held meter.”

 

 

Leica MR4 2

Leica M4: A Chameleon of a Camera

“The Leica M4 is a classic rangefinder film camera that exhibits the excellence in craftsmanship of the Leica M series. This Leica 35 mm film camera is equipped with a rangefinder, so the images you get are sharply focused. The body of the rangefinder film camera is made of metal casting, designed to perform well even in tough conditions. The Leica M4, being a chameleon of a camera, can be used for different kinds of photography. Additional reasons that make this classic Leica 35 mm film camera a must-buy are the fast film loading, quick rewinding, and the self-resetting film counter.”

 

 

M5

Leica M5: A Sleek Point and Shoot Autofocus Camera

“The Leica M5 is a sleek point and shoot camera that captures excellent shots with every click. This 35mm film camera boasts tough construction with precision handling. The Leica M5 has fast shutter speed of 1/2 to 1/1000 sec that ensures quick and accurate shots. This autofocus camera is a mechanical camera with innovative and new features like a TTL meter, stylish and ergonomic square body, base plate fitted with rewind crank which together make this 35mm film camera user friendly. The Leica M5 has a view finder that displays the shutter speed and meter read. It also features a shutter speed dial that is present on the front of the camera. The shutter of this autofocus camera winds smoothly and silently.”

 

 

m6-black

Leica M6: A Highly User-Friendly Device for Bright Images

“Enhance your photography skills with the Leica M6 camera, offering focused photography with manual operation. The 1 – 1/1000sec shutter speed, this Leica 35mm film camera can easily capture fast moving objects. The 0.72 and 0.85 viewfinder versions of this Leica rangefinder camera complement the 35mm frame line, so that you click bright images. The battery used in the Leica M6 camera only controls the internal light meter for capturing bright pictures. This Leica 35mm film camera has the TTL light metering mode that controls the amount of light emitted by the flash, producing consistent images in all light conditions. The mechanics used in this Leica rangefinder camera makes it’s a highly user-friendly device.”

 

 

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Leica M7: Finally! Built-In Flash

“The Leica M7 0.85 is a stylish and compact 35 mm rangefinder film camera, that is ideal to carry anywhere. The fast, easy manual focus system of this Leica film camera allows you to focus the lens by hand. With a Leica camera flash sync of up to 1/50th of a second, this 35 mm rangefinder film camera allows you to capture high speed images. Additionally, this Leica film camera has an on/off switch that prevents your battery from draining when not in use. What’s more, you can even shoot in low-light conditions, thanks to the built-in flash of the Leica M7 0.85.”

To Summarize: if you’re shooting sports, the M2 is the way to go. If you want that vintage feel with TTL metering, the M3 (You’ll get the added bonus of “wide coverage” with the M3 finder). Need Autofocus? The M5 is for you. Built in flash? Get the M7. Which leave us with the M4 and M6, whose “improvements,” if any, seem to be more hype than substance.

 

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