dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

Ready, steady, go!
Leica M3 vs. Feinwerkbau AW93 Light

Well, it was time for the inevitable comparison.  People were emailing me all the time, so I gave up and wrote it.  Hopefully, this will put to rest the eternal question of which of these cross-town rivals is the king of the German high-precision, high-priced, euro-to-dollar-sensitive, industrial heartland.  I've decided to put everything in a table for easy comparison.  That, and I'm wiped out from working today.

Criteria Leica M3 FWB AW93 Light
Basic construction Chrome-plated brass with alloy frame Nickel-plated carbon steel frame with alloy parts
Basic design German design, parts of which were copied by Russians Russian design copied by Germans
Made in Wetzlar, Germany (near Oberndorf) Oberndorf, Germany (near Wetzlar)
Color scheme Silver with black parts Silver with black parts
Accent color Red and blue enamel dial on back Blue anodized piece on front
Weight 820g (with lens) 1080g
Magazine Blackened metal canister, pre-loaded by user Blackened metal box, pre-loaded by user
Loading Cumbersome bottom latch/loading Cumbersome bottom latch /loading
User breakdown into 4 major parts 4 major parts
Ergonomics designed for Two hands, holding one's breath One hand, holding one's breath
Activating button Chrome plated, threaded Chrome plated, threaded
Release/lag Smooth, instantaneous Smooth, instantaneous
Maximum practical rangefinding distance 25m 25m
Used for Shooting the Olympics Shooting in the Olympics
Carry case Leather Plastic
Grip surfaces Vulcanite Walnut
Storage accessories included Body cap Chamber cap
Warranty 1 year 1 year
Maintenance interval 10 years 10 years
Accessory viewfinder Optional Optional
Image quality Excellent Poor
Target accuracy Poor Excellent
Cost Extravagant Outrageous

But the numbers don't tell the whole story.  We should talk about practical use.  Their capabilities seem to vary wildly.  The M3 turned out to be really lousy at the range.  Despite the fact that I donned the proper shooting equipment (Tilley hat, bifocal glasses, tan vest, marsupial pack, hearing aid and all  the other things I have observed Leicaphiles wearing), the Leica turned out to be a phenomenally poor shooter.  At 25m, there was not a single hole on any of the targets.  I tried this again and again with roll after roll of Tri-X.  Nothing.  And my ears really hurt from the noise all around.  People at the range started laughing at me.  So much for German precision and the inconspicuous nature of Leicas.

Something equally poor resulted when I took the AW93 Light out to photograph the Brooklyn Bridge.  Just as I had this great vista lined up through the sport finder, I was arrested and taken to a Homeland Security office.   I had some difficulty telling what was going on at first until I remembered I was wearing earmuffs.  I then had to spend a couple of weeks at a place called, "Bellevue."  Later, under controlled conditions (and after the police gave the AW93 back to me with a warning - "don't shoot [pictures] of things that don't belong to you" - clearly violating my First Amendment rights), I was not able to make the AW93 take pictures at all.  I suppose this was some kind of one-off factory defect.  Either that or the police must have abused it.  Troubleshooting was not easy, either.  I couldn't find any markings except "Westinger & Altenberger" and "5.6mm"; I thought that was the focal length (seemed like a long lens - 152mm overall - to have such a short length - retrofocus?).  Maybe I was using the wrong kind of film?  This totally soured me on German reliability.

I have written to both manufacturers asking for additional samples of these products so that I can tell if the results I achieved in the preceding two paragraphs were just coincidences or whether they are operating as intended.  I will let you know when they tell me.  I can envision a local telephone call between Solms and Oberndorf as they try to get their stories straight.

Dante's note: this, sadly, is how many camera reviews read to me