Leica M3


No longer a newbie, moving up!
Nov 15, 2003
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North New Jersey, United States of America
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An opportunity has come up to purchase a Leica M3. As most of you know, I love collecting Pentax's. If I were to start a collection of non-Pentax cameras, Leica would be the one... so I'm a bit excited.

I've researched the M3 and M2 quite a bit but doing so has also made me a bit paranoid. There have been many reports of fakes circulating and I'm no expert at spotting a fake. The seller was given the camera by an old fellow as a gift and quickly responded via email the serial numbers of the camera and lenses. So far, the serial numbers seem to check out ( looked them up on Leica's website ). The seller is not familiar with cameras of this type but he seemed more than willing to meet up with me so I can see the camera in person.

Does anyone have any suggestions on what to look for spotting a fake?
Are fake M3's really a big concern?
How about tips on gauging its condition?

Fake Leicas are sold in big numbers nowadays. They are made in the former USSR and based on the LTM (Leica Thread Mount) cameras. They're mostly Zorkii or Fed cameras dressed up to look like a Leica, painted in black and numerous times even made to look like a war camera (i.s. Luftwaffe, Eigentum, Kriegsmarine). However, They didn't go to the trouble of faking the M series Leicas due to the much more complicated shutters and rangefinders. There are copies of the M series Leica but no fakes. What's the difference? These copies do not bear the name Leica.

The M3 is the culmination of the 35mm RF cameras, IMHO. Is the one you're looking at a DS or a SS (Double Stroke or Single Stroke)? Does it come with lens?

If so, take the lens off its mount and shine a flash light on one end, looking from a side at the other end. This way you will see whether the lens is scratched or if it has cleaning marks. A few of cleaning marks on the front element are ok as long as the rear element is pristine. Also you can see whether the lens is hazy or if it's got fungus or element separation. Those make the lens unusable without an overhaul which can be very expensive.

As for the body, look first at the leatherette covering. Is it in one piece? Then look at the top and bottom plates to see if there are signs of heavy usage, pits and scratches. Look also at the rangefinder to see if it's clear and if it works. Next, take the bottom plate off and see if the camera comes with its original take-up spool. Look at the film path to see if there are signs of heavy usage, check the back door (flip it open) and look for how heavy the camera has been used.

Generally speaking, you can get a working M3 (DS or SS) body for around $600. One that is in pristine condition will fetch up to $900.

I dunno what the guy is asking but if he wants something like $300 for the entire outfit I'd go for it. But before that, is there any chance we might see pics of it before getting it?
Wow... you're the man when it comes to collectables!

I'm in the process of setting up a time to meet up and take a look at the camera in person. The picture he sent does not show the details of the camera but from the looks of it, I don't see any obvious damage. He claims it was given to him by an old fellow for his assistance through tough times. He himself has never used it and it has been in its box for the past 5 years.

I'll let you know once I see it in person. Thanks again.
Indeed fake M3s do not existe. What do exist are shell-leicas ( i forgot the englsih word) which are void camera, only a bit of metal and glass so as to enable the sellers not to show expensive cameras on the shelfs.
They are sometimes sold as real cameras, but there's a huge weight difference when you hold it. however, they're nearly unspottable as long as the lens is not taken off, especially on ebay, because they are virtually real cameras. The only differnce is that there's no rangefinder, shutter or anything inside.
That's all.
Otherwise, the M3 is the absolute quintescence of cameradom, even if, as far as I'm concerned, I think M2s are much better because of their 35 frameline.
The M4 is cool as welll, but the advance lever's ugly.
The M5 are great (with a polarized viewfinder!! Not many know this detail, but if you tilt the camera in vertical position, the reflections will be vanishing!) but really tank-shaped.
The very absolute camera ever would be the M6J, with a M3 advance lever and look and the very convenient M6 rewind crank. If you know what rewinding a film with a button is, I think you'll see what I mean.

And anyway,
aren't leica rangefinders envolved M3s? ;)
So I managed to meet up with the seller. DOH! He was keeping the camera in the basement. So I took a look at everything. There's a lot of stuff in the box. The lenses in the whole package look mint externally. Unfortunately, I could not find enough light (and time.. dinner break from work) to examine everything closely. We worked out an agreement for me to borrow the just the body and 50mm until Sunday for examination. Great!

So at home, to get a better look at what I was getting into.

good news.
* Its a more updated version. Single stroke.
* There is not one scratch or dent on the camera. Even the bottom plate looked great.
* I don't see any signs of heavy usage in the bottom plate or film path
* felt light seals are in very good condition.
* cloth curtain looks to be in good condition.
* take up spool is in there.
* timer lever and preview lever are smooth and do not stick
* The viewfinder is clear
* the advance lever seemed pretty smooth. A bit more tension and more stiff than my trusty spotmatic.
* The MC Leica meter agrees with my trusty sekonic that I trust. The meter itself has 2 very very minor scratches.

now the bad news.
* Although the lens looks brand new externally, it is completely hazy. I thought it was year's of grime on the front and rear elements. I cleaned it and to my dissappointment, one of the inner elements is hazy. Bummer.
* The shutter speeds are off. At first, the slow speeds were all way too fast. After a few interations, they started to come back and you can hear the speed gears starting to spin. At first, it was intermittent. Then it got pretty consistant. At this point, the slow shutter speeds seem to be similar to what I can hear/see on my spotmatic which has been CLA'd recently. As I work my way to faster shutter settings, there is definitely something wrong with 1/8th of a second. You can visually see that it is faster than 1/15th of a second and the speed gears cannot be heard. You can hear the gears whirling inside for both 1/4th and 1/15th of a second but not 1/8th.
* I'm not sure if this is normal, but there is some play in the shutter selection knob.
* And finally, the leatherette/vulcanite has heardened and cracked. The back door and side near where the bottom plate "hooks" to the body.
The camera itself (metal body surface) is almost flawless but the covering unfortunately has not aged as well.
* The original spool shows signs of rust. Darn basement.
* There's some green looking film like deposits around the base of the advance and frame counter.

At this point, I have not decided if I will keep the camera. I am very concerned that the camera just spent at least the past 5 years in a damp basement. The lens looks so pretty until you look inside. I am going to try and make it to a Leica dealer I know near my work to get some input. Perhaps, repair cost/estimates. I sit hear looking at this wonderful example and I am so sad that it wasn't taken care of... and used to take photos like it was intended to do.
Ouch! Basements ruin cameras! Well, if he's willing to sell it to you for cheap, go ahead.

My feeling about it:


-leatherette is the easiest thing to fix/replace. http://www.cameraleather.com has a kit for an M3 SS and it's fairly easy to do it.

-speeds being off--->expect about $175 to $200 for a CLA.

-film spool can be replaced, no big deal.

-have you checked the rangefinder also? Even if the viewfinder looks bright, the M3s suffer from a well known dimming of the rangefinder.


-the haze can sometimes be cleaned but that involves $$$

-in order to clean the haze (and it's not guaranteed to come off) one needs to disassemble the entire lens and clean each lens cell carefully. Unfortunately I have seen way too many 'amateurs' jobs at cleaning the Leica lenses. The Leitz lenses use a very soft glass and cleaning them (even with the traditional 'no scratch' photo tissue) ensures cleaning marks.

Your idea of going by a Leica dealer is excellent but make sure it's a reputed dealer, otherwise you'll end up buying something that you will regret and thus shelf it.

Let me know what happens, I'm curious... ;)
So the long story short, the deal didn't happen.

I went to the dealer first thing in the morning when the doors opened. This camera shop tends to get pretty busy during Saturday and their sales staff tend to spend a lot of time on each customer. I didn't want to compete for their time. Spent about an hour explaining and discussing the camera with their local Leica expertise. They agreed with a lot of my concerns over the camera and examined it themselves. In short, minus the cracking vulcanite they loved the cosmetic condition of the lens and body. It was an example of a camera stored away and forgotten. Unfortunately, not stored in the best of environments. However, they were not happy with the way the camera's feel and sound. The advance lever was significantly stiffer and rough feel. The internal mechanics were not as snappy nor as quiet as it should be. In essence, the camera didn't have the smoothness you'd expect from a cared for or even a well used Leica. Unless cleaned, the lens was not usable.

I started to think that they might be biased as I've been in that store a few times eyeing a few Leicas that have passed by. They know I'm serious about buying my first Leica and they would rather it be from that store. Not that I would ever think they were dishonest. I've done lots of business with them and I was never steered in the wrong direction. Anyhoo... They brought out 2 examples of M3 Leicas. Both showed a little more signs of use.. still in great condition but had "character" built in over the past 40+ years of use. One was advertised as in need of CLA ($500, SS) and the other was one I had examined before a few months prior. A DS M3 that was completely serviced, vulcanite covering replaced, and in perfect working ($1000). Now that I had something to compare, I can really tell the difference and understand what they were trying to explain. They even showed me of the ugliest beat around M4's I've seen... Despite its cosmetics, well used condition, and obvious need for CLA service, it still had a better feel and sound to it... throughout the range of shutter speeds. How surprising!

We then discussed my options and how much $$$ it would take to bring the camera in question into working order. In short, the hazy 50mm would cost about $100 and repairs on the body would start at $350 including new leatherette. No way to know the final cost of the repair until the camera is opened and an estimate was made. Estimates takes approx. 2 weeks and the repairs take between 6-8 weeks assuming the repairs are not overly complicated.

On my way back to the sellers home, I put a lot of thought into it. I started to feel that this beautiful looking camera can potentially turn into a money pit. This was my first Leica and I didn't want to start off with a bad impression. So I gave a very low offer halve knowing for sure he would not accept. He didn't and I returned the camera and back to work. Yes! I managed to fit in work in between all of this driving around. :)

So a few hours go by at work. I decided to again, make the trip back to the camera shop. At that point, I had decided that I wanted that M3 that I had eye'd for a while now. After about another hour of debating between a very nice M6 and the serviced M3, I decided to pass on the new up to date design of the M6 for the M3 that I've wanted for quite some time. Sales rep. demonstrated loading film and even threw in body/lens caps, metal hood, and UV filter.

So will the Leica "addiction" start.. we'll have to see... One thing is for sure.. If it has "Leica" written on it, Its expensive!

Moral of the story. Don't judge a camera by its cover.

Off back to catch up with work. cheers.
Good thinking on your part for passing on that deal. You're right, the Leica can be a money pit. Some day (soon, I think) you will have your M3.

Good luck in hunting one in good condition.


You'll be much happier with yur M6. It has the M3 advantages without the drawbacks, and a build-in TTL light-meter is truly great.
Morality : even if it's much more exepensive, buy your Ms at a camera shop because you can see it.
After much thought, I ended up with the DS M3 fresh from Leica servicing. Feels rock solid and its operation is buttery smooth... I can't wait to get out and shoot with it. The M3 is a camera that I've always had my eye from the point of view of a collector and user. Yeh, I know the M6 with its updated design has internal metering and so on.. but you forget we are in the "Collector's corner" forum... there's a reason why.. :)

If I need the services of a present day camera with all of the benifits, I've got a whole cabinet full of Pentax's with metering and a Canon EOS system at my disposal. On the other hand, I have no doubt that some day in the future I'll also have an M6 as well.
:thumbup: Congrats are in order!:thumbup:

You will absolutely adore shooting with it. What lenses will you have?
Thanks! I'm so excited...

For now, I have the "standard" 50mm Summicron f2 lens with matching metal hood and UV filter which was thrown in as part of the purchase. They advised to be especially careful with the older Leica lenses as the glass is pretty soft. Just a small concern given the quality of the pictures this lens has come to claim.

I brought the camera with me to work in hopes to sneek away for an hour or two and shoot a roll. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperating and I was playing catch up from the previous day's running around.

So pretty much just trying to be patient until I have my day off on Weds to head out and have some fun. I'm hoping to find a matching "working" MC leica meter but they are hard to come by. For now, my old trusty sekonic handheld will be just fine. I offered $150 for the working, good conditioned meter to the seller of the M3 I was considering but he didn't want to break up the set. IMO, he would have a better chance liquidating the equipment seperately. Oh well....

I did a little looking around the internet for a leather half case to help protect the camera while I'm out. man... expensive... but isn't everything Leica... The "Luigi" Leica half cases on Ebay look Awsome!.. but at $200?... and still has to be shipped from Italy. Oh yes... the addiction is starting to set in. I think I'm going to have to buy another display cabinet someday. :p
Ooooh... You're seriously addicted now!!!!:lol: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup:

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