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Sometimes you get it right the first time.
Leica M3


The Leica M3 is possibly the greatest single fetish item for Leica afficionados.

Introduced in 1953, it was the first Leica to have a combined viewfinder/rangefinder. Without repeating what has been said so far about this camera on thousands of web sites, I will offer the following observations.

It is difficult to compare an M3 viewfinder to any other M camera. The M3 finder is different in its design from the M2 and M4, M5, M6 and M7 finders that followed. At its most basic, it has three adjustments; near, far and rate. This is one more than current cameras have.

Another difference, one that is not immediately apparent, is that newer Ms have aluminized (or platinized) beamsplitters. The M3 finder, which has a gold-coated beamsplitter, looks like it has a bluish tint, with a gold rangefinder spot. This is intentional, and designed to increase contrast. The newer finders are brighter, but do not have the same snap.

The magnification of 0.91x is not, as some claim, life-size. In fact, in use, it is quite apparent that the M3 finder is not so magnified that you can keep both eyes open. But it is big and clear enough that you don't really mind. You can, of course, screw in the 1.25 magnifier. But then it's bigger than life.

This camera is designed to be used with 50mm lenses. The 90 and 135 frames, each of which shows simultaneously with the 50, are better than on later Ms, but they are still smaller than the whole field of view.

Single-stroke models often have notches above and below the spot which show the depth of field. These can be useful if you learn how to use them.

The M3 finder frameline field does not shrink as you get closer. It is parallax corrected, which means that as you get closer, the whole thing moves.


Vulcanite is not as bad as people say. It usually chips under the lens mount, over the film speed dial, and on the ends where the bottom plate connects, but those are easily remedied. When it's in good shape, it's kind of neat - sort of like plastic.


I don't know who came up with the rear of the camera for flash synch, but he should be punished if possible. There is no defending this placement of a cord. It's not that bad, though, because you aren't really supposed to use a flash with an M3.

The M3 flip-up back plate is a step up from the bottom-loading of yore. The story is that the big back is needed for a big pressure plate. I tend to doubt this, since a lot of SLRs have big pressure plates and swing backs. The M3 is so pretty that I can forgive this. But someone should have set up a redesign in the following 50 years.


The M3 wind lever is one-piece, and I think it is easier to use than the thumb-cramping levers on later M cameras. The rewind lever is not as bad as some people seem to think. It's easy to turn unless you are in a holy hurry to rewind.

A lot of people seem to be fixated on changing the M3 takeup spool for something else, like an M4 spool. Silly. If you have two M3 spools, you can change film a lot faster and more positively than one M4 spool.


Of all of the accessories that never made it, and all of those that did, I marvel that Leica did not come up with a tripod-centering socket.

In the end, the M3 just feels... cool. For the 50mm lens that is the mainstay of rangefinder photography, it is the ultimate driving machine.

But it won't make you take better pictures. That comes from inside.