LEICA M3 User's Guide
1955 LEICA M3 und LEICA SUMMILUX 50mm f/1.4. enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use any of these links, especially this direct link to the M3 at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), and you also can get them from Adorama and OC Camera. It helps me keep reviewing these oldies when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.
LEICA M3 Buyer's Guide, including the various versions.
With the LEICA M3, you have an unlimited choice of every lens ever made for Leica M and M39 at your disposal. Unlike newer cameras, no lens is incompatible.
Ideally, all you need is one 50mm lens, and Leica's best 50mm lens ever is the LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2 with near-focusing range, dubbed "Dual Range," or "DR," in street slang. This lens has on-film performance as good as anything ever from LEICA (today's 50mm SUMMICRON-M is not significantly better optically), and the SUMMICRON with near-focusing range additionally offers the finest and most solid mechanics of any LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm lens ever made, and offers the closest focusing, to 476 millimeters, with its included near-focusing attachment. The lens focuses this close on its own; this attachment is to optimize the LEICA M3's rangefinder and viewfinder for its near range.
If you must distract yourself with other lenses, I prefer to use real LEICA lenses, which are defined as those that can take 39mm filters. As explained at Assembling a System, if you field lenses with more than one filter size, you'll go insane trying to manage all the disparate filter sizes.
Of course you'll need to use a separate viewfinder with lenses wider than 35mm.
21mm & 28mm
Forget the 28mm; it would require another finder, and we're going to field a 35mm lens, which makes the 28mm lens redundant. If you insist on fielding both a 21mm and 28mm lens, use the LEICA UNIVERSAL WIDE FINDER, which covers both of these lenses and more.
As either of these lenses requires an external finder, you must remove the LEICAMETER to use the acessory shoe. This is a pain, but as this is the biggest limitation to the LEICA M3, this is still a good thing.
For a 35mm lens, the choice is easy: one of my favorite lenses of all time is the LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2, specifically, the 1958-1969 version, also referred to as the "8-element" in street slang. It is available with the special finder optics that optimize the LEICA M3's finder, and has extraordinary optics, with none of the geometric distortion of today's ASPH 35mm lenses.
The 35mm SUMMICRON is my go-to lens for low light because so much more is in focus at f/2 with a 35mm lens compared to a 50mm at f/2.
The LEICA SUMMARON 35mm f/2.8 is a good budget choice, but I really do use f/2 often in low-light.
I'd pass on the LEICA SUMMILUX 35mm f/1.4, which also comes in a version with auxiliary optics for the LEICA M3, because I prefer the optical performance of the 35mm SUMMICRON. The 35mm SUMMILUX is soft and dreamy at f/1.4, so I'd usually shoot it at f/2 where the SUMMICRON is already superior, and more importantly, the SUMMILUX can't use 39mm filters, rendering it a logistical nightmare to field with other lenses.
Leica has made a zillion kinds of 90mm lens, all of which work great on the LEICA M3. Let's stick to 39mm filters, and of those, my favorites are either the LEICA TELE-ELMARIT-M 90mm f/2.8 for small size, or the LEICA ELMARIT 90mm f/2.8 for period authenticity.
My favorite is also period-authentic: the LEICA ELMAR 135mm f/4.
Loading, Advance and Rewind
1.) Hold the LEICA M3 upside-down, with the lens facing you. The LEICA Akademie demands that we not "load in the air," and compels us to go sit down some place, but as an unruly American, I load in the field.
2.) Flip up and rotate the catch on the bottom plate.
3.) Remove and reserve the bottom plate. I stick it under my arm, and you may stick it anyplace you like.
4.) Flip open the back pressure plate.
5.) Pull up the chrome tip of the take-up spool. The counter automatically resets at this point, you may hear it doing this as you remove the spool.
6.) Follow the diagram staring you in the face on the bottom of the LEICA M3: slip the leader under the spring of the take-up spool while holding everything exactly as shown.
If pulling out the spool and slipping the film under the spring catch is too much work for you, Leica announced a quick-loading conversion kit in the second issue of 1968 of LEICA Photographie magazine, part nr. 14 260,which sold for $60 corrected for inflation in 2011 ($9 in 1968). It's the newer forked spool and a clamp-on film positioning bar, giving loading akin to the newest LEICAs.
7.) Using both hands, set both supply and take-up spools into their holes. If you've done this correctly, you'll pull-out just enough film as you descend into the camera so that there is just the right length of film between both spools.
8.) Ensure that the sprockets are engaged, close the back, and replace the LEICA M3's bottom.
9.) I advance one frame, and then one more frame so the counter reads 0. I shoot this as my first frame. The more squeamish may prefer to waste this frame, which usually is on frame 00 as printed on my film. I do this to get 39 shots per roll.
10.) Watch for the line, dot or dots inside the rewind knob to ensure film is actually advancing.
11.) Set the film reminder on the back of the camera.
Achtung: Don't lose the take-up-spool, or you're dead until it's replaced.
Achtung: Don't loose the camera bottom, either.
Achtung: Keep your fingers out of the shutter, especially if you're positioning the film in the channel or positioning sprocket holes.
Stroke the lever.
With older "Doppel Verschlusssaufzug und Filmtransport mit einem Hebelschwung" (double stroke) models, be sure to move the lever twice.
Shoot. Squeeze the shutter button as you fire a rifle: slowly and smoothly in one continuous pull.
Watch for the line, dot or dots inside the rewind knob to ensure film is actually advancing.
Keep shooting until the film won't advance smoothly, which is usually just as the frame counter would be advancing to 39 with Fuji film, or to 38 with Kodak. Since we shot frame 0, this means we usually get 39 frames on Fuji, and 38 on Kodak.
1.) Move rewind lever, on the front near the shutter release, to "R."
The rewind lever resets itself automatically as soon as the wind-lever is stroked again.
2.) Lift the knurled rewind knob, and twist.
The rewind knob does not rotate as the film advances; it only connects with the film spool when raised.
Real LEICA photographers grab only the rewind knob and use it as a pivot with which to spin the entire camera around while holding it over their heads more quickly; I don't do that.
Try rewinding with right hand thumb and forefinger. Try applying friction with left pointer finger to prevent the knob from slipping back between twists.
1.) Hold the LEICA M3 upside-down, with the lens facing you.
2.) Remove and reserve the bottom plate.
3.) Pull-up the film can, or right the LEICA M3 and the film spool drops into your hand. The take-up spool is retained by a spring, ya.
4.) Reset the film reminder to null.
To mimic a digital camera, you would simply hold the LEICA M3 over a trash can, and the film would flop right out into the trash to dispose of your images promptly. I don't understand digital shooters' fascination with their ease of deleting pictures; but if this is your preference, this is a no-step process straight to the trash for images with the LEICA M3.
Metering and Exposure
Real LEICA photographers simply guess from experience, and if they are unsure, simply make a second exposure adding 1/3 more exposure in good light, and 3 times more in bad. For them, the camera and lens as shown at the top with no meter is ideal.
Today, especially for color work, many photographers prefer to use an electric exposure meter, especially the LEICAMETER.
The shutter speed dial of the M3 is not intended to be turned directly; it is too small. The LEICAMETER has a much larger knob which couples directly to the camera's speed dial, and the LEICAMETER's dial is so big and well knurled that speeds are easily set with one's shutter finger from the front of the camera.
With these LEICAMETERs, simply press the metering button, set the lens, and shoot. It's impossible to make a bad exposure.
See The LEICAMETER for full instructions for use with the LEICAMETERs.
Be sure to remove your lens cap as you shoot. Unless your subject corrects you, there is no other indication that you're photographing the back of your lens cap.
It's a good idea to cap the lens between shots if you're outdoors. The sun will burn a hole in your black cloth shutter if you keep your camera pointed at the sun with a wide-open lens, and more commonly with rangefinder cameras, light can sneak around the top or bottom of the shutter curtains and fog your film. This is why LEICA invented lens caps.
Be sure to extend your collapsible lens before shooting, there is no stupid-proofing with 50mm lenses as there is with the 90mm f/4. A simpleton could shoot all day with a capped or collapsed lens. This isn't a problem; simpletons don't shoot LEICA M3s.
Real LEICA shooters focus simply by feel: the lens' focus tab or lever has only one position for each distance, so LEICA shooters instinctively know by feel how to guess and set the distance as they turn to shoot some rapidly developing event.
All LEICA-M lenses, 1954-present, work perfectly.
All LEICA screw-mount (M39) lenses, 1933-present, also work perfectly, with an adapter. With these adapters, the framelines automatically set themselves, and focus works perfectly.
The rear sync terminals are unique, use adapters with common PC cords.
You may use both connections at the same time.
Flashbulbs: Fully automatic synchronization to 1/1,000.
Electronic flash: Only to 1/50.
Unlike "digital" cameras, the LEICA M3 offers infinitely variable manual shutter speeds between 1/50 and 1/1,000.
The early LEICA M3, with scientific shutter speeds (1-2-5-10 dial), may be set to any speed between 1 and 1/5, and to any speed between 1/50 and 1/1,000 (per LEICA manual, 1955).
The newer version LEICA M3 with geometric speeds (1-2-4-8 dial) may be set to any speed between 1 and 1/8, and to any speed between1/50 and 1/1,000.
Slower speeds (like 1 second) will have some afterbuzz, meaning that they are supposed to buzz a little bit after the exposure completes. Feel free to advance the film without waiting for the buzz to stop.
Early LEICA M3s have professional 3/8" tripod socket threads, while and newer LEICA M3s use the more common amateur 1/4"-20 threads
Most Americans use 1/4" tripod screws, in which case a simple bushing will change the 3/8" to a 1/4" thread.
LEICA M3 Buyer's Guide, including the various versions.
Help me help you top
I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.
The biggest help is when you use any of these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, eBay, Ritz, Calumet and J&R and when you get anything. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places always have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.
If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
As this page is copyrighted and formally registered, it is unlawful to make copies, especially in the form of printouts for personal use. If you wish to make a printout for personal use, you are granted one-time permission only if you PayPal me $5.00 per printout or part thereof. Thank you!
Thanks for reading!
Private Daten. Your results will vary, these are with my samples as note to myself. Keep out. fernhalten! nicht betreten!
1955 after gus 30 oct-13 Nov 2010 roll 7093 focus tests.
New 1963 M3 serie 1 072 RF does not quite go to inf w/ 35/2 serie 2099, before Gus
After Gus Fall 2010:
LEICA M3 1963 RVP50 29 Sep 2010 Roll 4160
01 dresser 50/1.4 1.4/50 AOK
30 Sep 2010
06 toy story 50/1.4 250 2m EI40 AOK
07 palm 35/2 1000 11' 2099 EI50 AOK
50/2 DR 1467 AOK
90/2.8M 3824 OK or close?
90/2 APO 3875 CLOSE
90/2.8 chrome 2044 FAR
135 tele 39mm black 2461 OK?
90/2 chrome 1740 Close
135/4 chrome 1881 AOK
90/2.8 tele 3452 AOK
135/4 tele 46mm CLOSE
October 2010 Roll 4804 10/10/10
90/2 Canada black * NF a little close
90/2.8 chrome 2044 81a? Far
135/2.8 2849 + B+W KR3 a little close
135/4 tele 39mm 2481 81a Far (a little)
50/2M 3766 81A AOK
31 March 2009 after I recalibrated 1955's RF:
90/2 canada CLOSE at 7m, far at 8 ft., OK 28 ft
90/2.8 1960 beater 1752794: 7m far, 28ft far,
90 APO : OK (close?) 28 ft, close 7m,
90/2.8 394-- elmarit OK-close 8 ft, close 7m, OK-close 6m, close 28 ft.
26 October 2009 (end of fourth Yosemite roll on 1955 M3)
old 1960 90/2.8: way close, even after Gus
1961 135/4: perfect!
Old 35/2 1964: too close
1970 50/2: moderately close
M3 1955 before Gus: