Buying a Leica IIIf

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by michael_levy|3, Apr 4, 2018.

  1. In an upcoming course I will need a film Camera. I see a Leica IIIf (with Lens) for sale locally for a reasonable price. The posting claims the Camera has been CLAd recently. Any advice before I proceed? I have not owned a film Leica before.
  2. Assuming the camera (and lens hopefully) were, actually, fully serviced, the camera should be perfectly useable for the purposes of participating in a photography class.

    If you have not used film before, it may be a "challenging" camera to learn. For one, just loading a roll of film takes some care for even those used to using screw mount Leica cameras. You need to Google "loading film into a screw mount Leica" read and maybe even view one or more of the videos dedicated to the process.

    I would probably be more inclined to look for a nice copy of a mechanical film SLR with a meter that takes batteries still available today, like a Pentax MX, Nikon FM or FM2, Canon FTb or the like.
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  3. Since the deal is local:
    • Listen to the longest shutter speed running down and figure out if that sounds reasonable.
    • Focus on something detailed at infinity and check if you hit a hard stop and range meter images are aligned (vertically and horizontally).
    • Check the lens for cleaning marks (older Leica coatings were rather soft / easy to scratch).
    • Try to inspect the front side of both shutter curtains visually for holes
    Before you contact the seller maybe re-run an internal sanity check?
    LTM Leicas were a milestone in gear's history... But:
    • Nasty to load; you'll have to cut the leader of each and every film.
    • Knob wound
    • Not that great for alternative focal lengths than 50mm
    • Still expensive
    • Flash usage will be a bit of a PITA, you'll need an adapter from Leica to PC socket and can't check if sync is working whenever you reload the camera since you can't see the back of your shutter.
    • comparably long minimum focusing distance
    • Oddball proprietary cable release (or adapter?) required
    Do you own something like an exposure meter?
    Don't get me wrong; I am sure HCB would still take great pictures with such a camera if he was still alive & young.
    LTM stuff looks good and doesn't weigh too much.
    Looking at my personal needs &/ taste I'd go for something that allows me to change lenses and shoot something longer as conveniently as 50mm. (A zone focused wide should do well enough with an external finder on a LTM).
    If you are confident about remaining happy with just 1 lens for film: Go ahead! Otherwise maybe get a pre-owned film body taking DSLR lenses you already have (or 'll get anyhow).
    FTR: I own a II f but haven't used it, due to lack of a Leica (or not Soviet) LTM lens. If I had to shoot film, I'd grab my M4-P instead of the Monochrom. If things smelled like serious portraiture I might end buying an EOS.
  4. One of my first cameras was a IIIF. The problem is, after owning a IIIF, nothing else will ever feel as fine or refined.
  5. I would add to what Greg said, a poky, vague viewfinder and slow to operate separate viewfinder and rangefinders.
  6. SCL


    I love the old screwmount & newer M mount Leicas and own several, but I think there are far better choices for a new film user, some of which incorporate metering, and some of which incorporate autofocus lenses. If you list your specific requirements we can offer a wide range of selections for you to consider which may be more suited to your needs and skill level.
  7. with a 50mm I wouldn't call the separation of them "slow", it feels rather quick and easy to move your eye from one to the other, considering how close they are together.
    Another issue with seasoned cameras: How dim is the range meter?
    My II f 's is "dim" as in "too dim to shoot in a dark pub", compared to more recent M's patches. I don't know much about Leicas. In the M3 the silvering of the beam spliter prism ages and a British tech offers a resilvering service which renders once too dim beaters sufficiently competitive. - Maybe LTM bodies can benefit from similar treatment?

    Meet your seller indoors and figure out if that camera works for you.
  8. If you wear glasses and/or are left eye dominant, the IIIf will be awkward to use. Additionally, there is no correction in the camera viewfinder for parallax error, that feature came later with the IIIg and M series Leica cameras. Many of the Leica lenses are subject to flare which severely degrades the image. If you go the IIIf route, your Leica lens images will benefit with the use of a lens hood. If you haven't done so, go online and find the IIIf instruction manual and see if it is really what you want to use for your photography course. It does work well for candid shots as it is quiet small and compact. The camera choice advice above is very accurate regarding better and less expensive options. However I went from a Kodak Instamatic 500 to a Leica IIIg in 1967, I still use the IIIg on a regular basis as it just works well for me. I hope you enjoy your photography class with the introduction to film photography.
  9. google how to use a leica IIIf or something similar and get a simple instruction booklet, read that & work out where you need to go. Instructions for Leica III, IIIa, IIIc are pretty much the same.
  10. I'm going to disagree with Jochen on at least one point. You don't have to cut the film leader. However, loading is slower than with the M cameras, because there is no back flap. You do, however, have to set the shutter dial to T and open the shutter to make sure that the film is settled properly. I'm pretty sure you can work that out.

    I do speak from experience, in case you're wondering - I have owned and used both Barnack and M bodies.

    P.S. You don't have to use vintage lenses - Voigtlander made a bunch of relatively modern LTM lenses. They're not cheap, but they're good.
  11. Karim Ghantous, could you just expand that comment on loading film in a IIIf. I have one, and have had occasions when the film has not loaded. So what do you mean by setting the shutter to T. Walk me through your loading procedure. I would appreciate it very much. Regards, and thanks, Arthur (apiarist1)
  12. If I may jump in with a comment.

    When the film is being difficult to load with my Barnack Leicas (I have a couple that are really ornery) it is because the film is becoming stuck between the pressure plate the edge of the film gate which consequently prevents the film sprocket holes from engaging the sprocket roller next to the take up roll. If you set the camera to "T" and fire the shutter to open the curtains, you can reach into the film gate and slide the film so that it aligns properly with the sprocket roller. The lens need be removed to allow you to reach into the film gate, of course. My description is making this sound more complicated than it really is.

    There is another, simpler way to load a Barnack. With the bottom of the camera removed, slip a thin card or piece of plastic in behind the film gate. Then just slide the film down into the camera between the card and the pressure plate (the side of the card away from the film gate); this prevents the edge of the film from hanging up on the edge of the film gate and usually the film goes right into place. Once you are sure the film is advancing properly, remove the card.

    I use a 2"x4" piece of plastic cut from a plastic milk container, it is nicely rigid and thin. I found an ordinary credit card too thick but hotel key cards seem to work as well. I have managed to reliably load a IIf without cutting a long film leader in this way. Put an extra card in your wallet to keep it handy.

  13. Depending on the price of the Leica, you may want to at least look at a Soviet-era Leica clone like a FED or a Zorki, although I'd personally prefer a Kiev Contax copy, myself.

    With modern negative film latitude, Sunny-16 LINK exposure will be close enough.
  14. Wendell, that's a terrific idea.

    This video actually shows that method (Warning: turn off the sound if you are not in the mood for random music):

  15. Thank you all for the posts: just some great stuff here! As it happens, the seller (on Craigslist) has not replied to my offer, so I am on the hunt again.

    Regarding cutting the file for loading - looks like it is all but impossible to find a Leica ABLON trimming set at a reasonable price, but I did find a 3D printing file for one.
    (Leica ABLON style film leader trimming guide. by PariahProps) I sent this file to a local 3D printing shop here, and they quoted me around CAD$25 for one. I would use this an X-Acto knife: I think I am too clumsy for the plastic card method.

    There is a local dealer with a III on sale - I plan to drop by armed will all the suggestions above, and have a look at it.

    Thanks again: really appreciate the posts.
  16. Actually, regarding the video I posted, the person did the wrong thing - he should have slid the film behind the card, not in front of it.
  17. SCL


    I've used an Ablon as well as other mfr take-offs. IMHO they are a waste of time...just cut a diagonal of the appropriate length with a scissors.
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  18. My first 35mm camera was a new Leica IIIF (in 1953), and I've been using them ever since.
    I would not advise anyone to start film photography with one of these wonderful little mechanical masterpieces. You'll spend all of your time learning how to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the IIIf rather than learning how to photograph.
    Like so many others on this thread, I'd recommend that you start with a nice old SLR (such as a Canon EOS).
    Richard Williams likes this.
  19. And I found that,
  20. I think it's more straightforward to trim the leaders of a few films before you go out rather than messing about with business cards every time. You don't need an Ablon or a ruler - just count off the unpaired sprocket holes (23 in the IIIf manual, below) and use scissors. It only takes a moment, and avoids the risk of film chips breaking off an uncut leader and jamming the mechanism. Folding scissors (I use a Leatherman Micra tool) are useful if you ever need to do this in the field.


    That said, I wouldn't choose a screwmount Leica for a photography course. Manual and late model AF SLRs are plentiful, less quirky, more versatile, and mostly cheaper than a IIIf - you could even buy something like a Nikon F100 and a lens or two for less. Or, as the original poster uses digital Ms, it might be worth paying a bit extra for (e.g.) an M2 that can use his existing lenses.
    Gus Lazzari likes this.

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