My favorite film camera to use...

Leica M3

My 2 years with the Leica M3 have been incredible and I've created some of my favorite images with this camera. Now I should preface this whole blog by saying, I'm currently downsizing and lookin for the perfect film 35mm camera setup that does everything I need and want out of a camera. Keep in mind that my needs and uses for a camera will probably not be the same as your needs.

First off, confession time, I've actually owned 2 copies of the Leica M3. When I initially bought the M3, it was to use while my M2 was in the shop. The M2 had been back and forth from the shop for about 6 months, and at some point during this time, I was tired of not being able to shoot film, so I found a pretty beat up copy of a Leica M3 on MPB for $1000, the camera even came with a light meter, which by itself goes for about $200 on eBay. Now, I'd heard that the M3 was a better build than the M2, and I don't know if it's true or not, but when I held the M3 in my hand, it surely felt like it was a better build than my Leica M2. Now, being primarily a 50mm lens user, shooting primarily the 50mm lens felt extremely natural with the Leica M3. The frame lines that the M3 has are incredible, they are so big and so easy to use. I also own a 90mm lens, and shooting on the Leica M3 with a 90mm lens is even easier. The reason shooting a 90mm on the M3 is easier, is due to the fact that the M3 has a .91 magnification, vs. the M2's .72 magnification. I never really shot a 35mm lens on the M3, but the few times I did actually turned out well, I either zone focused, or just approximated what the image would look like; however, if I had to do it all over again, I'd opt to get an external viewfinder.

Now, there really isn't much to the Leica system, if you're used to shooting film, or with a camera, everything is right in front of you: shutter speed, aperture, & your ISO is determined by the film stock you're shooting. There's something to shooting with the M3 though, it's like poetry, and the experience is unlike any other camera you'll ever own. I think like most, Leica lured me in with the fully manual experience, and not to mention those lenses are perfect, or damn near. Now, the shooting experience isn't quite perfect, metering is solely on you the photographer and I gotta say, shooting with the M3 did make me better at reading light. I'd either use the popular sunny 16, use a handheld external meter, or just guess. To my eye, I felt like I just about hit on most images, if not all. Of course I'd error on the side of caution and overexpose if possible & occasionally bracket my shots. I primarily shoot with black and white film when I shoot with the Leica M3, but I like to mix it up every once in a while and throw in a roll of color. I almost feel like the M3 was made for black & white, although the color looked good, those black & white images are something else. Pair the m3 with a 50mm Summicron, and you're golden. Now I didn't get a chance to pair this camera with the legendary 50mm Summicron Dual Range, but boy do I wish I did. I have the 50mm Summicron V.3, an excellent lens, to pair this body up with, and I've printed countless images with this pairing over in the darkroom at UTSA Southwest. At the bottom, I will have plenty of images taken with this camera, as you'll see, mostly black & white.

Okay, so this camera is legendary, and almost perfect, but it's not entirely perfect for my use. For one, for someone with poor vision like myself, the M system isn't the greatest, considering I have to wear glasses most of the time. I feel like being able to press your eye right up against the viewfinder probably provides an incredible experience; however, I'm not able to do that because my glasses create a space between my eye and the viewfinder, I'm then unable to see the entire image with my glasses on. It's not the worst, but it's also not ideal either. If you don't wear glasses, then don't worry about it and buy the M3 right away! If you're like me, you wear glasses and primarily shoot with a 50mm focal length, then get a Leica with a .72 viewfinder. If 28mm, or 35mm is your focal length of choice, and you want to comfortably be able to see the full viewfinder, then get a Leica M6 TTL with a .58 viewfinder. Being able to properly frame your images is honestly everything, don't just run out and get a Leica to get a Leica, get the right Leica for you. What's truly unfortunate though, is that the M3 has the absolute best 50mm frame lines, and now having shot with this camera for 2 years, it's hard to want to go to another M camera that has inferior frame lines in my opinion. The frame lines on the more modern film Leica's are actually what keep me away from them, such as the M6, M7, MA, & MP. I know I'm being picky, but these cameras are so pricey that it's worth getting the right one for me.

My second con for this camera is kind of a big one, the camera lacks a hot shoe. This means no flash without an adapter. There is an adapter you can purchase, there's even a cold shoe to hot shoe mount that I was using, but it adds a wire to everything, and it's honestly kind of a pain to use. I know some photographers never use flash, and that's totally fine and if that's you, well then you're set. But, I actually really like using flash. One of my favorite ways to use flash is at an event, or a party with friends, and to shoot some off camera flash, or handheld flash images with a cord plugged into my camera. This introduces a lot of shadow into the images, and overall is a great look. Not being able to comfortably do this with the Leica M3 is a big annoyance to me. Further, because of the lack of a hot shoe, the M3 is not great in the studio. Now I know, it's a rangefinder, so rangefinders aren't even considered to be the best camera for portraits in general, despite their extremely fun user-friendly experience. So keep that in mind, if you're looking for a do everything camera like I am, studio portraits included, this isn't it. I've used this camera triggering my Godox lights and it honestly just wasn't fun and a bit clunky. Now, I did use the camera with some continuous light in studio, and that was actually super fun. I'll post those below, I think my developer was old because I'm not really crazy about how the images came out, but that's more on the developmental side and not on the actual shooting side of things. So, if you're considering using a consistent light, then you'll do just fine with this camera in studio. Why this doesn't work for me, is because if I'm planning a shoot with my Godox lights, which are wireless, then I do all of my photos on digital, have everything setup and just throw the trigger on the film camera, and knock out a set with that camera as well. Theoretically, I can do this with the M3, but it makes for a clunky setup, much easier to just do the shoot with continuous lights, where this gets tricky though, is having to rely on outlets, and that sort of thing. Also, extremely annoying, the M3 flash sync is only 1/50th of a second. All this to say, it'd be much easier to use a different film camera in studio and maybe that's on me for wanting too much out of one camera. Maybe trying to do modern things with a vintage camera is the problem I'm creating for myself, maybe I should just enjoy the camera and use it for the things that it's actually designed for. Oh well, I'm too far down this journey already.

My closing remarks on the Leica M3 are that, if you don't ever see yourself shooting flash with the camera, plan on only shooting with a 50mm lens, potentially 90mm lens, then this is the camera for you! It truly has been one of my absolute favorite cameras to ever shoot with. Who knows, maybe I'll buy one again down the line; but, I'm at a point in my life where I'd really like to minimize on the things that I'm not using, I'd rather someone else be able to give this camera the love and care that it deserves.