Camera Gear Artikelen

Enter the elusive 58mm 1.5 Sonnar lens in Leica screw mount. 

Every now and then you see them for sale on auction sites. The ever returning question is, are they real, or are they Russian fakes? I have a theory on their history…

Some time ago, I suddenly was certain I needed a trigger winder on my 1938 Leica IIIa. Not having a transport lever on the camera made it a bit slow in use when I am shooting in the streets.

The Leica-made trigger winder is in fact a trigger bottom plate. It takes the place of the normal bottom plate, it has a spring to make the trigger return and that construction has one flaw: the trigger is connected to the film winder axle with the spring by means of a silk ribbon. And these ribbons sooner or later always snap.

What is it that gets people excited over a Leica that is painted, instead of chromed? For some people, a Leica in black paint is irresistible. As if it were covered in pheromones. An article on the magic of Leica Black Paint cameras. How unique are those cameras really?

Leica gear is well-loved, most-wanted and highly sought-after as a result, as we all know. But some Leica stuff just trumps it all: the black paint items from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. That's were the truly big bucks can be found, that's the stuff that dreams and collections are made of. Every collector hopes to one day scoop up a prime example for a handful of nickels and dimes.

So it is not that strange that sales of the coveted Black Paint Leica gear command larger attention, but also are a larger risk due to bigger bucks being involved.

Shortly after World War II started, Leitz found itself in a sort of a predicament. The foreign shipments of shutter cloth material had seized due to the outbreak of the war. All that was left in stock was an experimental shutter cloth, which had different rubber layering and was red in color. Cameras that were ordered by the German Army, Navy and Air Force had to be delivered to Berlin, they were part of the war effort that German companies had to make.

Leitz decided to use the red shutter curtain material, even though there were doubts on its durability. And over time it became clear that the shutter cloth indeed gave in, the rubber started to desintegrate and left sticky black spots of goo on the shutter.

As a result, wartime cameras with red shutter curtains are pretty rare nowadays. 

 This particular camera is a red curtain Leica IIIc, which also had a seldom-seen 'N-L' engraving on the top plate. It is believed that these cameras were delivered to the German Heer (Army) in The Netherlands (die Niederlande), although that does not explain the dash in the engraving...?

This particular Leica M2 started out it's life in 1963 and was used by German press photographer Herbert Ahrens until his death. When I bought it the sticker from his 'Pressedienst' was on the bottom plate. It looked very beat up but was still working flawlessly.

The camera was stripped from its chrome in 2012 and repainted in semi-gloss black paint. The craftsman that did the job spent many hours tapping the dents out and he recoated the camera with seven coats of a special UK military paint. Every coat of paint had its own oven bake to toughen it and was subsequently sanded down a bit to make the next coat stick. Result: a very durable paint job. This camera is eight years older than I am and delivers the image every time.

 

A shot of re-painted Leica M2 with the then newly-aqcuired Summilux 35/1.4 pre-ASPH. Near-new, cool! It had been used for three rolls only, in 1982! 

What's up, Doc?
The Leica M3 was a revolutionary design. It had a combined rangefinder and viewfinder, with parallax corrected frames that matched the focal length of the mounted lens automatically. The viewfinder was the brightest ever made and was unrivaled until the Voigtlander Bessa R camera hit the market, in 2000. It featured a new and patented bayonet mount. The M3 was the first camera with an advance lever, instead of a knob. It had a rear door that swings up, to make film loading easier.

The camera became a huge success. During its production time, 215,944 chrome cameras, 3,010 black paint cameras and 144 olive paint cameras were produced in Germany. The Ernst Leitz Canada factory, based in Midland, Ontario, manufactured another 7,080 cameras, presumably all chrome. Total production of M3's was 226,178. Production ended in 1966.

Attention: The M3 was called M3 because it features three focal length frames in the viewfinder: 50mm, 90mm and 135mm. The later released M2 was called M2 because it was a simplified (but yet updated) camera, which still had three frames in the viewfinder! The M2 will have its own article on johanniels.com, just like the M4 has.

Every now and then you see them surface, those expensive and rare Leicas. The Leica Luxus, for instance. Only three of those gold plated Leicas were ever made, and only one of those is known to be in existence today. Or the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffen or Kriegsmarine engraved Leicas of the second World War. But most of the time these 'rare' cameras are fakes. How can you tell the true Leicas from the fake ones? A small guide.

 

A Leica-faked Zorki-1 with Industar-22 lens, the Elmar 50mm 3.5 look-alike.

The Leica M4 was made from 1967 to 1975 and was a very successful camera. Again, it was a true photo-journalists camera: the 35mm framelines from the Leica M2 were carried over to this model and it also had the 135mm framelines that the M3 had but the M2 lacked! Lenses to go onto the M4 without issues thus were 35mm, 50mm, 90mm and 135mm, making it the most versatile Leica M until then. In addition, it also received a quick-rewind crank which was fitted on the body with a clever, tilted design. And, the quick-load kit that was available for the M2 became standard on the M4.

All in all the production numbers are: silver chrome cameras 47,191, black cameras 8,990, Motor-capable cameras 905, and furthermore Ernst Leitz Canada built another 2,355.

The black cameras were black lacquer until 1972, and later cameras were built in black chrome. Nowadays, the black paint cameras are much sought after and the black chrome cameras are regarded as way less desirable, because most people find that the black chrome wears off ugly, whereas the black paint cameras show brass underneath.

 

Featured in this article is a Leica M4 that went through its paces. I always imagine it served in Vietnam, since many photo-journalists who worked there and used Leica's, chose the M4. The camera's introduction year 1967 was the pinnacle year in the US intervention in Vietnam.

 

I picked it up from a Chinese student in The Netherlands, who did not tell me where he got it. It had been used in a hot climate: it was totally gummed up with dried up sweat from gripping, with dust and dirt, and it even had a dry piece of grass in the mechanism as I found out when I checked it out once back home!

This is what it looked like after that cleaning: