Leica M3 Still the Greatest

The Leica M3

is Leica’s best camera ever. Ask any Leicaphile. In fact, it was easily the most advanced camera when introduced in 1954. I suppose you can say it was Leicas “Golden Age”.

It was Leica introducing the bayonet lens mount, a flip-open film-loading door, a combined viewfinder and rangefinder system greatly improved. The German for this was “Messsucher”. Or the “M” system. It had a single shutter speed dial, its first thumb-lever wind, a film counter that reset automatically, viewfinder parallax correction, and a viewfinder that switched automatically depending on lens used! Very futuristic for the time.

Leica M3 – Over 220K Sold

They sold over 220,000 of these cameras between 1954 and 1966. Still holding the record for Leica. It was considered the epitome of camera design. And one other thing. It’s a good investment. Other models fluctuate with the market, and the digital Leicas always go down in value. But the M3 is like buying bonds. Slow and steady rise. It was really Leica’s masterpiece. And probably singularly responsible for their remaining an esteemed marque. Along with the Summicron 50mm,….a legend for sure.


Leica M3


While it’s still an awesome tool, it’s still not cheap. Although the tool you use in photography is sorta secondary, if you were going to only buy one 35mm film camera for the next 20 years,…this would be it. While I said “not cheap”, you can still save thousands over a new M7. (or M9-M10) And have probably Leicas best. One caveat. ALWAYS buy from a reputable dealer. After all, this is a camera that’s over 50 years old. Not that a private buy is bad. But I’ve even had my Nikon F4s CLA’d.

Your Last Camera

That said, you will never have to buy another camera in your lifetime. And according to fans, you’ll never want to. And I wouldn’t worry,…film ain’t going anywhere for some time. But beware,…you’ll be buying a lot more film. Though not super cheap, compared to an M9, they are giving them away. An investment you’ll never regret, When you’re using your digital cameras as paperweights in 10 years, your M3 will still be producing spectacular images.


Leica M3


When people talk about a Fuji X100 and others being “baby” Leicas,…I assume it’s tongue planted firmly in cheek. That said, no camera is going to make you a better photographer. However, I have a true beleif that using such a precision tool will inspire you.
It’s just the way of the world. But truth be known, an M7 is basically an M3 with tweaks. The basic design was so good, there is very little need to improve it. This one design is the actual reason for “Leica lust” that has held all these years.

Where’s M1?

Although called the Leica M3, it’s actually the first of the M cameras. In other words, I have no clue why it’s not the Leica M1. The Leica MP
.was released in 2003, and is basically an inferior and more expensive version of the M3. The Leica M3 is a manual only rangefinder camera. No electronics to break, no autofocus,…no nothin’. An your average aficionado wouldn’t have it any other way.


Leica M3


The M mount was developed by Leica in the ’50s and has remained so for all these years. Which means they accept all the Leica M lenses ever made and even screwmount with an adapter. Not to mention lenses from Zeiss, Voigtländer, Minolta, Konica and others. Including Russian lenses. While my VERY personal preference favor the Zeiss lenses, there is no doubt the Leica glass are not only optically exceptional, but one of the few lenses manufactured, other than a couple of old Nikons, that actually go up in value. So, they are an investment.

  • All scales and controls can be read and set while viewing the camera from the top.
  • A single viewfinder/rangefinder window. (sounds normal, but was a big deal at the time)
  • A “coupled” rangefinder with great focusing accuracy.
  • Both split-image and coincident type rangefinder.
  • Automatic Parallax compensation
  • All shutter speeds are on one dial. (again, big deal at the time)
  • Built-in automatic universal finder.
  • Interlocking shutter release.
  • Automatic resetting exposure counter.
  • Bayonet lens changing
  • Self-timer variable from 5 to 10 seconds
  • Flash synchronization for electronic units.
  • Automatic resetting of rewind.
  • Hinged back for foolproof loading.
  • Coupled exposure meter

Today’s “Normal”

While a lot of this sounds normal, that’s just because the Leica M3 made it normal. It took competitors quite a few years before they caught up. One thing is clear; the M3 felt “solid”. Like a real camera. Whether they actually used superior materials, or each part was hand assembled by 70 year old watchmakers,…I don’t know. I suspect much is myth. But to hold one is to “believe”. Like seeing Santa Claus.

Leica still service the M3 and parts are still being made. That alone should give you an inkling of the precision and commitment of this masterpiece. I guarantee you,…it is an object that in 100 years will be held in great esteem on ‘Antiques RoadShow’. And still work!


Leica M3


The M3 is much heavier than it looks. It’s not just solid, it’s dense. Its size belies its weight And silent. With a 50mm f/2 lens, it weighs about 36 oz. No Nikon F4s, but heavy for its’ size. (the Nikon, with batteries and 50mm, is almost 60 oz)

Legendary Shutter

The shutter speeds are easily changed, and marked well. From 1 sec. to 1/1000. And of course, Bulb. It has flash sync to 1/50. However, many Leicaphiles consider flash on a Leica M3 to be ‘blasphemy’. So, I won’t go there. People do swear it’s made them better photographers, and able to ‘read’ the light like never before. Again, I’ll leave my personal opinion out.


Leica M3


Probably one of the most famous things about the Leica M3 is the shutter release. “Buttery”. “silky”, “creamy”.  Sounds like the ‘Food Channel’. But I will agree,…it’s smooth. Especially considering the lack of help from electronics. It’s all mechanical! Quiet is as quiet does. Most of the time your subjects won’t even know you’ve already taken the picture. Take a DSLR, and imagine the decibel level about 1/1000 of that. That’s an M3.

The Leica M3’s framelines are never cluttered in any way with unnecessary nonsense. Nothing but the rangefinder spot. The M3 has a viewfinder magnification of 0.91X which is the largest of any camera except the Voigtlander Bessa. But it’s brighter. Even other Leicas lack that magnification. It’s the only rangefinder I’d even consider shooting action with. One view and you’ll be hooked.

Flash Blasphemy

Some insist the hot shoe is not for flash, but for wide angle viewfinders or Voigtlander or Leica lightmeter. Uhhh,…you can use flash. Any old Nikon thyristor or Leica flash will do. Most people like to have a red dot,…but that dot costs money. No TTL. (on M3) So I guess what Leicaphiles are saying,…you better know what you’re doing.

The flash sync terminals are unique and require an adapter. Or just use a hot shoe to PC connector. If I was a true Leica-nut, I’d probably beg you to not use flash, and only use Leica lenses. But I’m not. However, if I could only have one camera, and had no access to batteries or electricity, this would be it. But then, this is not a review site. Find Leica M 3





This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Great article! I own and love an M3 double stroke that was produced in 1956 and it is by far the best-made camera I own (and I own A LOT of cameras). It is truly a masterpiece. It was cutting edge for its time and Leica has only recently gone back to the legacy of the M3 with their MA series, which are all-mechanical M mount rangefinders that do not have a built-in light meter. It’s amazing how Leica got it right with their first M rangefinder 60 years ago and every M that came after it was just a rehash of the same design with minor changes.

    One thing I’d like to clarify: The 3 in M3 refers to the available frame lines in that there are 3; 50mm, 90mm and 135mm. The M2 was meant to be a “simplified” alternative to the M3 but it broke the numerical designation because it also had 3 frame lines; 35mm, 50mm and 90mm. An M1 was also produced but didn’t have a rangefinder at all. It just had a viewfinder without frame lines and was mainly used for scientific applications. One other thing to note is that the MP was originally produced alongside the M3. The P stood for “professional” or “press”, depending on who you ask. It also had some other alterations such as the omission of a self-timer, steel internal gears, and the external frame counter of the M2 and it usually came with a Leicavit rapid winder. The modern MP is a nod to the original but the only thing they really have in common is the name.

  2. The M3 is truly a revolutionary camera that set a standard in 35mm that still has only been nominally surpassed with tweaks. I didn’t know that about the “3”. Another thing I’ve learned.

  3. My M3 and my iPhone XS. That’s it.

  4. My M3 and my iPhone XS. That’s it for me.

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