Falling in Love with Film & Promising to not buy a Leica M3 – Part One

By Zach Chmael

I’m going to talk about myself first. I know – “Another self-indulgent millennial who spent their formative years being told that they were special amongst a sea of beige… deluded into a false sense of self importance”. I get it. Now, my mom definitely did tell me I was special but, believe me, I’m aware that I am exceedingly normal in all of the most boring ways. That being said, I promise this anecdote will be worth it (probably).

Leica M3 & Kodak Portra 800

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way –

Simply put – I love unique machines. Difficult machines. Machines that make you ‘work for it’ in order to achieve the best out of their intended use case. There’s a simplicity and art to mastering something that, without the direction of a skilled hand, is simply a dormant mishmash of periodic elements arranged in a carefully designed order.

A Stradivarius is an objectively beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but in the hands of Antonio Vivaldi it is transformed into an act of poetry.

A Formula 1 car is a fascinating marvel of engineering, but only Ayrton Senna can make it dance in the rain.

Now, I am neither a racecar driver nor a master of anything (despite my very best efforts, remember that I am not special). Though, what I can confidently say is that I am someone who truly appreciates the beauty in the convergence of engineering and creativity to create art; and film photography is one life’s finest examples.

The story of my entrance into photography likely isn’t too dissimilar to that of many of yours.

My first camera was a Nikon D40, their entry-level DSLR that I received as a birthday gift the summer before my first year of high school.

I loved it.

I grew up with a family whose idea of ‘vacation’ was to lug my sibling and I to far off reaches of the world, oftentimes with many unconventional means of transportation (ask me about the time we had to emergency land a bush plane in Costa Rica). Throughout all of this excitement, however, my father would always have a Nikon slung over his shoulder; without fail.

To finally have a Nikon of my own to document our adventures together was an incredibly special moment.

So I cut my teeth in the world of digital photography, and every camera I’ve owned afterwards (Canon 5DMKII, Lumix S5) has naturally lived within that ecosystem… millions of photos and thousands of hours of editing… until now.

Leica M3 & Kodak Portra 800

This past summer I was crashing on a friend’s couch on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I was back up in the office for work as I’d recently moved after a couple year stint living in the city myself. While I have you, let me tell you that New York City is a drug as equally addicting as photography, but that’s a story for another time.

Needless to say, I was happy to be back.

This particular trip we were sitting down at a favorite Thai spot in the upper reaches of the neighborhood, and as the noodles and beers began to flow we got to shooting the sh*t about some of our usual suspects; classic motorcycles, the inescapable passage of time… and photography.

Leica M3 & Kodak Ultramax 400

Now, unlike me, my buddy was already well entrenched in the world of analog photography. He owned a couple of Canon AE-1 bodies, a Nikon F3 and a more modern EOS 3 for his daily carry. He also worked with a local lab in the city to develop and scan all of his work; compared to me he was a seasoned professional.

I, rather foolishly, had never really had a keen interest in film photography. In my limited exposure it had always seemed particularly inefficient and laborious when compared to my modern, exceedingly cushy and relentlessly forgiving, digital workflow.

“Then why do you insist on only riding old, air-cooled Ducati’s?” he snarked as we clinked glasses to begin our fourth round.

He had a good point.

I’d recently bemoaned the later models for being too muted and easy to ride, in a word… too ‘digital’. I liked my motorcycles full of character, difficult to tame and, most importantly, incredibly rewarding for those who took the time to properly learn and appreciate the nuances of the bike.

Photography isn’t too dissimilar, especially when it comes to analog.

Leica M3 & Kentmere 400

Now I was curious. Was film photography a medium, and workflow, that I’d personally find even more fulfilling?

I had questions.

We settled up at the bar and stepped, or rather stumbled, back into the riff-raff of the city. I was on a mission to learn more.

The first time I held his Canon AE-1 in my hands I knew this new curiosity was going to be more than a passing spark on a hazy New York night. It felt right.

Tactile. Purposeful. Subtle.

Everything you needed and nothing more. I liked it. I liked it quite a bit.

Once he showed me some of his scans from wanderings around the city and Europe it was game over; I was hooked.

I spent the roughly 4 hour train ride back home researching everything I could about film photography – from cameras and film stocks to color theory and workflow. I knew I wanted one. I just needed to figure out what made the most sense for me.

I will forever stand by my claim that I try to be practical, I really do. The issue therein lies, however, in the inherently impractical passion that is photography. Or at least that’s how I try to rationalize it with my wife.

Leica M3 & Kodak Portra 800

But alas, I began my search with truly the most practical of intentions. I was going to get a used Canon AE-1 from a reputable dealer and test the waters of film photography before really investing in the medium. Maybe. Juuuuust maybe if I was feeling sentimental I’d get a Nikon F3 in homage to my father and my first camera; but that was as ‘dangerous’ as I’d get. I made this promise to myself. I was going to be smart.

… So I bought a Leica M3.

Hamish will be happy to know that he played a pivotal role in my reckless departure from my original claims.

I’ll get to that.

Part two coming.

Share this post:

Find more similar content on 35mmc

Use the tags below to search for more posts on related topics:

Contribute to 35mmc for an ad-free experience.

There are two ways to contribute to 35mmc and experience it without the adverts:

Paid Subscription – £2.99 per month and you’ll never see an advert again! (Free 3-day trial).

Subscribe here.

Content contributor – become a part of the world’s biggest film and alternative photography community blog. All our Contributors have an ad-free experience for life.

Sign up here.

About The Author

By Zach Chmael
Zach is a 30 year old photographer, filmmaker & motorcycle enthusiast.
View Profile

Comments

Bradley Newman on Falling in Love with Film & Promising to not buy a Leica M3 – Part One

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

As a vintage racer (both me and the cars I race), AND a Leica M3 owner, I felt every bit of this. I'll argue that while few before or since Senna could make a race car dance in the rain the same way, driving a race car to *my* limits and seeking constant improvement is hugely analogous to honing my skills as a photographer. Getting better at making photographs is just an exercise for myself. Similarly, winning a club race means I spent thousands of dollars to get a $7 paper flag. I can't wait for part two.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gary Smith on Falling in Love with Film & Promising to not buy a Leica M3 – Part One

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Although I have 5 digital cameras I also (currently) have two film cameras of the type I used when I learned photography 50+ years ago. I recently tried to add a medium format film camera to the pile but it was a torturous failure (article somewhere in Hamish's queue). I'd been thinking I might try to convince a local shop to let me have their single copy of a Mamiya m645 1000s for $100 less than they're asking but last night (while browsing their inventory online) I came across a Leica IIIc and a 50/2 collapsible Summicron that together would run $1450 USD. The IIIc looks a little quirky but it is a Leica (and let's be honest: I've always wanted one). Thanks for your article - looking forward to Part 2.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

James Evidon replied:

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

I suggest you look for a Leica IIIE instead. It has a much better viewfinder. I have one with the collapsible 35mm 3.5 Elmar and 50mm Summitar. Takes beautiful images and is quite small. The film advance is so smooth and has so little resistance, I just roll my index finger over it to advance the film without removing my eye from the viewfinder. It's just as easy or even easier than the film advance leve on my M.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

James Evidon replied:

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

I meant to say Leica IIIG . Sorry.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

David Dutchison on Falling in Love with Film & Promising to not buy a Leica M3 – Part One

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Fun read. Photography isn't about convenience (unless you are unfortunate enough to be a professional), Shooting with an M2 always puts me in a different frame of mind - so does my Nikon F, my Rolleicord and my Nex7 - and it's the mind that chooses the way we frame the world.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Eric on Falling in Love with Film & Promising to not buy a Leica M3 – Part One

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Excellent choice of camera. Enjoyed mine while I had it.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Nick Orloff replied:

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Zach, Nice analogy ... I'm not a motorbike guy, I use classic cars as my 'justification' for buying old cameras. Looking forward to part 2.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock on Falling in Love with Film & Promising to not buy a Leica M3 – Part One

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Great choice of camera - although I prefer the M2 for looks and framelines - hope you get some lenses contemporary to the period too !
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Zach Chmael replied:

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Thanks! I picked up a summicron 50mm from the early 70's as well when I bought the camera

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Timothy Hancock replied:

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Good choice - the 90mm Elmar f4 is amazing value for money if you can find a good one.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

J. on Falling in Love with Film & Promising to not buy a Leica M3 – Part One

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Hi, one question - why don't you go in full throttle and set up your own darkroom? Getting started is not that hard or expensive initially and there's a way to do it if you mean it. It's another level of immersion, you'd love it from what I can read about your approach to things. What you're doing right now seems like sitting on one of your Ducatis and faking engine noises with your mouth while doing that movement with your right hand *wroom wroom* Thank me later. Oh and promise not to buy me a Leica, please.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Zach Chmael replied:

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Hahah all very fair points. I am incredibly tempted, I definitely would love it...

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Geoff Chaplin on Falling in Love with Film & Promising to not buy a Leica M3 – Part One

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Thanks Zach, nice story. Yes the M3 is a lovely camera (and so is the MP) if you can find a good clean one, and it sounds like you did. Looking forward to part 2.
Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *