I’ve owned my Leica IIIa for about 4 months now, and it has never stopped giving me pleasure in photography. As Hamish wrote in his post about owning a screw mount Leica, there are 7 reasons, but I think there are way more. And by the way, it’s about the cheapest possibility to get a taste of Leica gear. A nice screw-mount Leica is much cheaper than an M, even cheaper than the Leica CL (which is an amazing camera in itself!).
There are an infinite number of reasons to own one. Not the least one being that dry, reassuring shutter sound that says: “OK boss, I got it, took the picture, put it on your film. Sure you’re gonna have fun with it!”
Then there is that wonderful solid feeling this contraption confers to you. You can basically feel the steampunky gears, the brass, the springs as they whirr away inside. Set it on longer exposure times and you’ll be amazed with the smooth, soft sound of the gears.
Everything about this camera tells you it will be there for a long time if only you give it a bit of care, say an overhaul every 20 years or so. Imagine 20 years! Imagine your fancy DSLR in 20 years….
Strange that you can fall for such a complicated, convoluted camera. There’s the thread mount.. a hassle when it comes to change lenses in the field. The solution: Don’t! When you leave home, screw on a lens for the day and don’t weigh up your pockets with other lenses. And don’t take a camera bag please! Be free, move easily, be ready with your camera in your hand!
Then there’s these two peepholes, one for focusing and one for framing… who the hell thought that up? But it works. Get used to it, or pre-focus your lens and live with it.
We’ll not linger on the teeny tiny finder here, I raved enough about that one and it’s alternatives on my blog (see below). Take a look if you like, but basically my findings are that you can ruin the good looks of the Leica OR have a nice viewfinder…. for you (and me) to decide!
As for the lenses, you have a huge choice of them – old and (nearly) new. From Russia with l…. no, flaws or from Germany or Japan. Nearly all lenses are decent, most are excellent and ALL have character, lots of it!
Any lens I screwed on was a new revelation, a new thing to explore and to like. Anytime I went out with the IIIa, firmly attached to my Gordy’s wrist strap, it has given me pleasure. Pleasure and very rewarding pictures. Here are my beauties:
From ‘biggest’ to best, here are my beautiful lenses (read my comparison on www.whyfilmcameras.com) – try to find SLR lenses this gorgeous!:
Eddy wrote about his experience with an Elmar 3.5 in his post about the finder he built. I have had a very nice surprise with an Industar 50 – the later, collapsible and coated version. Looks similar to the Elmar, just a tad bigger. It is, together with my Summitar, my favorite lens. Much sharper than the Jupiter 8 I bought with high expectations, but which disappointed me greatly. The Industar is tack sharp, renders very nicely with a great retro feeling. I love that lens!
Now I am very much tempted to rely solely on this camera and two lenses as I wrote here on my humble blog. The Summitar and the Industar (The Tar brothers). I feel that I will have to focus more in the future, to use a consistent set of camera and lens. Concentrate on the essential, photography.
I’ll not go as far as to swear to use one camera and one lens only for one year – I know myself! But I think I will go with this beauty while still retaining the Olympus XA2 that basically lives in my pocket, and a couple of Canon SLR’s that are dirt cheap and have great glass also. I’ll just have to spring for a CLA for the Barnack… It has it’s faults!
There’s definitely a light leak in the shutter curtain guides as I get nasty light infiltrations when changing lenses in full sunshine, and well, I’d like to be sure the little guy is OK for the next 20 years! The rangefinder and viewfinder might benefit from a drop of Windex and perhaps some adjustment, though focus is quite OK.
Coming back to the finder, I hacked the viewfinder from the Canon AF7/8 as I recounted in a former post here, I bought an Altix finder with 35, 50 and 90mm ‘blinds’ and I scored a Voigtländer Kontur finder on eBay (cheap as it’s quite battered but nothing some spray paint can’t fix). I wrote a piece about those finders for my blog and you can view it here (desperately need some traffic there!!).
All told, this Leica IIIa is the best thing that happened to me in a long time. As soon as I held it in my hand I knew we would get along nicely. Oskar understands what I want from him… OK, I called him Oskar, after his dad Oskar Barnack… and no, I’m not crazy! I call my cameras whatever I want! Anyways, we work well together, and I can only recommend to anyone to try his hand on one.
Enough words now, I’ll let Oskar express himself some more:
Thanks for reading!