by Karen Nakamura
The Leica III was a screw-mount, coupled-rangefinder built by Leitz Wetzlar in the early days of WWII: 1933-1939. Leica used different model designations, so the Leica III is known by some as the Leica Model F. It's a bit confusing because the variants of the Leica III are referred to as the IIIa, IIIb, IIIc, etc. using lower-case letters. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.
The Leica III was followed by the IIIa (1935-1940, 1946-1948), which was in turned followed by the IIIb (1938-1940) and then the IIIc which spanned through the post-War period (1940-41, 1946-). The IIIc is the preferred model by many collectors as it has a solid, die-cast body (rather than separate parts) and a redesigned shutter. The Leica IIIf is one of the most usable since it has flash synchronization, and the IIIg is the best of the III series with its large projected brightframe finder, but it was produced in small numbers, is rare, and very expensive.
When buying the kit above, I was told I was buying a IIIc, but it ended up being a plain-old III instead. Ignore the photo captions on this page that say it's a IIIf, it's really a III. Here's what I should have asked to make sure that I got the camera I wanted:
|Leica III||1933||Top shutter speed 1/500 sec, slow speed split at 1/20 sec|
|Leica IIIa||1935||+Top shutter speed 1/1000 sec|
|Leica IIIb||1938||+Viewfinder/rangefinder moved close together|
|Leica IIIc||1940||+Diecast body, body slightly larger, serial #360175 or greater|
|Leica IIId||1931||Very rare|
|Leica IIIf||1950||+Flash synchronization|
|Leica IIIg||1957||+Large brightframe viewfinder|
The Leica shutter is horizontal running and is made of rubberized cloth. The shutter design is basically unchanged up to the current Leica MP (2003).
The IIIf viewfinder is framed only for the standard 50mm lens and is not parallax corrected. There is a separate rangefinder window. Many people find this system to be complicated and a pain in the neck. Others appreciate the high magnification of the rangefinder and find switching eyes to not be that complicated.
If you use lenses other than the standard 50mm, then you need to use an accessory viewfinder. The Leica VIDOM (released circa 1933) is pictured here. It looks neat but in practice is not that easy to use. It's laterally reversed which means things are mirror-imaged (it gets particularly weird when you pan left and everything moves right). Rather than zooming like the Nikon/Soviet finders, it instead just shrinks the frame. So when you are at 135mm (the longest focal length), you're looking down a rather long tunnel at a small image. It is, however, parallax corrected.
It's very easy to knock rangefinder cameras like the Leica III out of horizontal or vertical RF calibration with small knocks or jars. This is fairly common on older (and even newer) rangefinders. Thankfully, Leitz provided for a way to adjust both horizontal and vertical RF calibration without opening the camera up.
The external adjustment is behind the large screw in the lower corner of the front viewfinder window. The outer screw is just a decorative cover; the actual adjustment is inside. It takes a VERY tiny screwdriver. The adjusting screw moves in and out as you focus the lens, so you may find it's easier to reach at either the infinity position or the close focus position, depending on your particular screwdriver.
Before you adjust it, check the vertical adjustment -- on a P (as with other V/VI - series Canons, and old Leicas) changing the vertical adjustment affects the horizontal adjustment, so if the vertical adjustment is off, it will affect the horizontal adjustment too. I find the vertical adjustment seems somewhat more likely to get knocked out of whack.
This is adjusted in the traditional Leica fashion by removing the knurled decor ring around the round rangefinder window, and turning the round glass front. This is actually a shallow prism and moves the RF image in a circle as you turn it. After you've adjusted it, you have to check the horizontal adjustment and reset it if necessary.
-- Jim Williams
Note: This operation while simple, has the possibility of fouling your camera if you have the wrong size screwdrivers or slip while the driver is inside the camera. Please use reasonable and appropriate caution when thinking about doing this.
You'll notice the color and sheen of the lens is slightly different from the camera body. Justin Scott in Australia wrote in saying:
The finish on this Elmar is nickel. Nickel was the predecessor to chrome, the later being introduced in the late twenties and early thirties, first known as "German silver".
If you look at any Leica I you will note the warm nickel colour of the lens and knobs.
|Camera Name||Leica III|
|Place of Manufacture||Germany|
|Date of Manufacture||1933-39
Serial #2785xx (mine is 1938)
Coupled rangefinder (39mm base length)
Leica M39 screw mount
Horizontal focal plane shutter (cloth)
External cold shoe (no flash synchronization ability)
Type 135 film (35mm standard)
|Dimensions and weight||
Body: xx x xx x mm, xxxg
Leitz was originally a microscope and scientific optics company. The first series of screwmount Leicas were designed by Oskar Barnack and have been named Barnack cameras by some. The prototype Ur-Leica was designed in 1918, but mass production did not start until 1925 when the Leica I came out. I have a write-up of the Leica III (1933).
The Leica M3 rangefinder was released in 1954 and represented the end of the Barnack-series of screwmount Leicas. The M-series had an integrated viewfinder/rangefinder with automatically switching projected framelines, coincident and split-image rangefinder, lever wind, hinged rear door, integrated shutterspeed dial, and M-bayonet mount. I have write-ups of the M3 (1954), M2 (1957), MD (1963), and M7 (2002). The Leica CL (1973) is technically not an M-Leica but it uses the M-bayonet mount.
The design of the Leica M has not changed considerably since the M3 of 1954. In 1967, the M4 came out with a crank-rewind instead of a knob rewind. Since then, the M series remained essentially unchanged from the Leica M4 (1968) up to the current M7. The only difference is that the M7 has an electronically controlled shutter and automatic exposure metering. (This leaves out the fiasco of the M5 which was considerably different and considerably unpopular at the time).
Leica's single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras have not been as popular as their rangefinders. I have write-ups of the original Leicaflex SL camera as well as the newer R3 and R6 SLRs and the R-mount lenses.
Leitz... blah blah.... and in 2000, fashion conglomerate Hermes bought 31% of Leica's stock. The only tangible result of this has been the emergence of the Hermes Special Edition Leica MP, dressed in the best coach leather and costing a mere US$8000.