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: