Home  Donate  New  Search  Gallery  Reviews  How-To  Books  Links  Workshops  About  Contact

Leica IIIf
Screw Mount (1950-1957)
© 2010 KenRockwell.com. This page best with Corporate S regular and bold activated.

Intro  Specs  Performance  Deployment  Usage  Recommendations  Repairs

Please help KenRockwell..com

LEICA IIIf

LEICA IIIf (15.230 oz/431.8g with film, about $400 used) shown mit collapsible LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2. enlarge. You can get these at these direct links to it at Adorama and eBay (see How to Win at eBay). It helps me keep adding reviews of ancient equipment when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.

 

December 2012   LEICA Reviews   LEICA Lenses    All Reviews

Sample images: Route 66, February 2011

 

Great for: Ultra-high quality images from the smallest and lightest possible camera. The LEICA IIIf is one of the least expensive ways to get into the LEICA system. The IIIf looks so crazy and ancient that no one will give you a hard time photographing with it. Superstitious people who confuse DSLRs with weapons are not afraid of the IIIf.

Not great for: Action, automation or fast shooting. The LEICA IIIf works great, but for practical photography, it requires about twice as many knobs and settings to do the same thing as a modern fully-manual camera requires.

Introduction         top

Intro  Specs  Performance  Deployment  Usage  Recommendations  Repairs

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

I use these stores. I can't vouch for ads below.

The screw-mount LEICA IIIf is significantly smaller and lighter than any Leica M camera. It's so light that I often forget it's with me.

The LEICA IIIf is often quieter than LEICA M cameras, so in other words, it does what they do best, but even better. It is many times quieter than the noisy digital LEICA M9.

The IIIf weighs only two-thirds as much as a typical LEICA M. It weighs only half as much as most DSLRs, and less than one-third what a pro DSLR weighs, and delivers better image quality.

It is the same shape as LEICA M cameras, but is it slightly smaller in every dimension. LEICA M cameras are bigger than screw-mount cameras, and digital M cameras have gotten even slightly bigger.

The LEICA IIIf is an excellent sixty-year old camera. It sold for the equivalent of $3,500 in its day.

Facts, like "1/1,000 second shutter speed" or "longer rangefinder base length," are facts, but subjective observations, like "easy to use" must be taken from your own point of view.

This review takes three tacks simultaneously, for three different kinds of people:

 

Shooters

If you just want a camera to shoot, the LEICA IIIf shoots silently, but requires moving and setting about twice as many dials and levers as more recent manual cameras to make even the simplest settings.

Consider the LEICA IIIf for careful nature, travel and landscape photography, but a LEICA M3 (or Nikon FM or F6) is a much better choice if you're traveling with people who won't wait for you to make all the settings for each snapshot.

The IIIf has many advantages over newer cameras, but much as cars of its day required you to know how to set a manual choke and drive a three-in-the-tree manual transmission, the IIIf demands the same attention. (Actually, people who bought the IIIf had their own drivers, or drove Mercedes-Benz, which already had fuel injection back then, thus no chokes.)

 

The Early 1950s

Most of this review steps back to the 1950s, when this was the most extraordinary camera ever developed, and was the most impossibly expensive dream camera that everyone wanted.

Even at $3,500, the new LEICA IIIf was so popular that is was on backorder for the first couple of years.

I find it more fun to write about the IIIf from the perspective of its own time, when the incredible automatic flash synchronizer was an amazing first. Today for shooters, it's incredibly complicated, manual and backwards compared to an M3 or any other current camera.

 

Orthodox Leica Adherents

These cultists are people who believe that everything should be done as it was during the life of The Prophet, Oskar Barnack.

Anything newer, like parallax correction or levers instead of knobs for film transport, is needless frivolity. This unnecessary fluff detracts from their religious photographic devotions, and are therefore seen as the work of the Devil. These frills must be expunged.

For these devoted followers, the IIIf is the crowning achievement of The Prophet's Vision. The IIIf is as He, The Creator of modern photography, intended photography to be.

LEICA IIIf

Rear, LEICA IIIf. expand.

 

LEICA IIIf

Bottom, LEICA IIIf. expand.

 

The LEICA IIIf

Top, LEICA IIIf

Top, LEICA IIIf and collapsible LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2. expand.

The LEICA IIIf is LEICA's most popular screw-mount camera, having made about 180,000 of them.

The IIIf was a rumored secret as late as Summer 1950. People were told not to wait for a new camera, and just buy the IIIc. Then for Christmas 1950, Leica broke the news about the brand-new must-have IIIf.

It is quieter than many LEICA M models, and certainly quieter than any of the digital LEICA M cameras.

It's easy to shoot the LEICA IIIf digitally.

The LEICA IIIf has a 1.5x magnified rangefinder with a longer effective baselength than most Leica M cameras to give more precise focus, and therefore sharper pictures.

The LEICA IIIf's rangefinder has significantly longer effective base length than any digital Leica M like the LEICA M9.

The magnified rangefinder and the viewfinder are two separate windows. You look through one to focus, and move your eye to the other to compose and shoot.

LEICA IIIf rangefinder and viewfinder windows

LEICA IIIf rangefinder and viewfinder windows. enlarge.

The 1.5x rangefinder telescope often needs its own focus adjusted so that you can see it most clearly so that you can in turn focus the camera. This adjustment is the little lever around the rewind knob.

The LEICA IIIf has a smaller, but brighter, viewfinder than any LEICA M. This is because the IIIf's viewfinder is separate from the rangefinder, so it doesn't need the darkening that newer cameras need to ensure contrast against the rangefinder spot. The rangefinder is a separate magnified window.

The LEICA IIIf was the hot new ultra-expensive camera that everyone dreamed would be under their Christmas tree in 1950.

The IIIf is the most advanced true screw mount Leica. It incorporates 37 years of continual advancements from Oskar Barnack's first 1913 prototype.

The LEICA IIIf adds another first, a dedicated film-type indicator integral with the film-advance knob. It indicates in ASA and Weston, and indicates either color or black-and-white. An option was to have DIN readings instead of Weston along with the ASA indications.

The newer screw mount IIIg (1957-1960) came after the introduction of the LEICA M3 (1954), and incorporates some frivolous features, like parallax correction and multiple framelines, back-filled from the M series. Orthodox Leica fanatics refuse to allow these frills on their cameras.

With the LEICA IIIf, you have to use accessory finders for any lens other than 50mm. This is not a problem, since the best photographers use nothing but a 50mm lens anyway. Accessory finders are a pain. Orthodox shooters are quick to point out that the main reason Leica invented the M series with multiple-frameline finders was so that Leica could sell more lenses, not because it lead to better pictures.

The LEICA IIIf it is a great picture-taker, however it is far more primitive than anything else you're likely to want to shoot. The IIIf is the most advanced Orthodox screw-mount Leica, but it's still 60 years old.

The sort of people who love the IIIf are the same sort of people who prefer shooting muzzle loaders and black powder: the results are the same, but you have to do a lot more yourself.

The LEICA IIIf is great for nature and landscape shooting, but I'd want to shoot something more modern, like a LEICA M3, M6 or M7 (or a DSLR) if anything moves.

You have to reset the frame counter to zero manually for each roll of film, however it is much larger and easier to read than automatic-resetting counters. Since you always can see the entire frame counter dial, it's easy to see the "roll at a glance."

Today, you'll need to trim the leader of each roll of film to load film easily.

 

The "f" in IIIf stands for flash

The must-have feature of the new IIIf is perfect flash synchronization at all speeds up to 1/1,000 with both flashbulbs as well as both kinds (delayed and undelayed) of electronic flash.

Even with perfect sync (timing), you'd loose part of your photo at speeds faster than 1/50 with electronic flash, but with FP flashbulbs, it's easy to shoot at any speed up to 1/1,000.

A new flash synchro-contact point (flash sync terminal) is on the back of the camera, below the accessory shoe. The synchronizer cord that comes with the new flash unit locks to the connector when rotated 90.º

Automatic flash synchronization was a big deal in 1950. The month before, you had to buy and calibrate external synchronizers with three-way contacts to go between your cable release, shutter button and flash unit to get the flash to fire at the correct instant for even focal-plane shutter exposure.

For the first time, all you now have to do is set the automatic synchronizer dial to the correct number (read from a table depending on what flashbulb and shutter speed you were using) and you get perfect flash synchronization.

The synchronizer dial is controlled by moving the two little nubbins under the shutter dial, and there are numbers from 0 through 20 in red or black, depending on model.

Later cameras like the M3 calculated this automatically and no longer needed this setting, but if you used flash in the early 1950s, this was very hot stuff until the even more automated LEICA M3 came out a few years later.

 

Versions

1950-1952: LEICA IIIf with Black Contact Numbers

The first version of the LEICA IIIf had a slightly different set of shutter speeds than the newer version shown here. Back in the 1950s, speeds had not become universal from one camera model to the next.

The first version had black numbers everywhere, including the contact numbers on the synchronizer dial around the shutter dial.

The proper appellation of this model is the LEICA IIIf with Black Contact Numbers. Lay people often use an incorrect street name of "Black Dial" or "BD," even though all the dials are of course silver.

 

1952-1953: LEICA IIIf with Red Contact Numbers

The version shown here has red synchronizer contact numbers around the shutter dial.

The proper appellation of this model is the LEICA IIIf with Red Contact Numbers. Lay people often use an incorrect street name of "Red Dial" or "RD," even though all the dials are silver.

The synchronizers time a little differently, so be sure to use the correct synchronizer setting tables for your version of camera.

 

1954-1957: Self Timer added

The newest version of the IIIf added a self timer. It also has red contact numbers.

Street names for this camera often include "self timer" or "ST," but one need only list the vintage to identify it without confusion.

LEICA was always able to add the self timer to any older model, and for all I know, may still do it today.

Why would Leica make the IIIf for these four years when people could buy the far, far more advanced LEICA M3 instead? Because the M3 cost about 50% more, and most people already had a slew of screw mount lenses and accessories.

In those days, the Leica screw mount had been around as long as Canon's current EF mount today. If Canon suddenly introduced a new camera that cost 50% more than the 1Ds Mark III ($12,000) and used a new lens mount, would you buy it?

The great advantage in Leica's case is that all the older screw mount lenses work perfectly on the newer cameras, even today's M9, with a simple adapter ring. When Canon came out with the EF mount in 1987, you had to buy all new lenses because your old FD lenses were worthless on the new mount. Bravo, LEICA!

 

Canada

About 5,000 of the total of 180,000 LEICA IIIfs were made in Canada.

The rest are all made in the Holy City of Wetzlar.

 

Pricing

The LEICA IIIf was a hit because it was priced no more than the previous model IIIc which it replaced.

Depending on your choice of lens, it listed from just $2,500 to $4,260, corrected for inflation in 2009. (that was $280 to $472.50 in 1950 dollars.)

With the popular 50mm f/2 LEICA SUMMITAR lens it still listed for just $3,400, the same as the older camera without flash synchronization. ($380 in 1950 dollars).

The LEICA IIIf, body-only, listed at only $2,000 ($224 in 1950 dollars).

 

Compatibility

The LEICA IIIf works perfectly with all LEICA screw-mount lenses. Current M-mount bayonet lenses do not fit.

If you're using anything other than a 50mm lens, you'll need to slip an external finder in the accessory shoe.

Newer bayonet M mount lenses do not fit, but all screw mount lenses sold since 1931 work and couple perfectly on all newer LEICA M cameras with a simple adapter ring.

Yes, a 1931 screw-mount lens on an adapter gives perfect exposure coupling and automatic exposure on the M7 and M9, exactly the same as a new lens.

Screw mount lenses are also called M39 by Leica, as well as L mount, LTM (Leica Thread Mount), 39mm x 1.0mm thread, Leica Thread, and probably even other appellations.

This thread is still standard for enlarging lenses today, and some makers, like Voigtländer, still make screw-mount lenses because of their extraordinarily wide compatibility, even with today's cameras.

Leica has occasionally offered some current lenses in this mount, most notably, the current versions of the extraordinary LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2, LEICA SUMMILUX 50m f/1.4 and LEICA SUMMICRON 35mm f/2 ASPH.

 

Specifications with commentary         top

Intro  Specs  Performance  Deployment  Usage  Recommendations  Repairs

LEICA IIIf

LEICA IIIf, mit out lens. expand.

 

Flange Focal Distance

28.8mm.

(M-Kameras are 27.8mm.)

 

Rangefinder

1.5x magnification with an internal telescope.

Lenses focus as close as 1 meter (3 feet).

The focusing adjustment for the telescope (needed to see the rangefinder clearly) is the small lever under the rewind knob.

38mm physical base length x 1.5x magnification = 57mm effective base length.

Here is the LEICA IIIf rangefinder's effective base length compared to newer LEICAs:

 
Physical Base Length
Rangefinder Magnification
Effective Base Length
IIIf
38mm
1.5x
57mm
M3
69.25mm
0.91x
63mm
0.85x
69.25mm
0.85x
58.9mm
0.72x
69.25mm
0.72x
49.9mm
0.58x
69.25mm
0.58x
40.2mm

Leica has made diopters for the combined rangefinder and viewfinder eyepiece.

 

Viewfinder

0.5x magnification.

Soft-edged image displayed against black.

Leica has made diopters for the combined rangefinder and viewfinder eyepiece.

Clean image, no framelines, no focus patches, no nothing except your image.

Covers 50mm (5cm) lens, only.

For other lenses, use the LEICA VIOOH Imarect finder (1940-1964), which gives more precise framing than even today's LEICA M9's finder. The VIOOH's sharp-edged image is adjustable both for parallax, and also for magnification changes with distance. The VIOOH Imarect finder is so good that I also suggest it for use with LEICA M cameras for more precise results.

 

Shutter

Horizontal rubberized cloth focal plane.

1 - 1/1,000, also Time and Bulb.

Different models have different sets of intermediate speeds.

The latest models have a self-timer.

Cable release: requires the same screwy nipple adapter as the Nikon F and Nikon F2. I have no idea why Nikon copied the cable release of the screw-mount Leicas in the 1950s, when Leica had already moved to the current cable release socket with the M3 of 1954.

 

Tripod Thread

Professional 3/8."

Use a bushing to fit common 1/4" - 20 tripod heads.

 

Weight

empty: 14.465 oz. (410.0g).

mit 36-exp film 15.230 oz. (431.8g).

mit collapsible LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2: 22.855 oz. (647.9g).

 

Performance         top

Intro  Specs  Performance  Deployment  Usage  Recommendations  Repairs

President Nixon's Helicopter Christmas 2009

President Nixon's Helicopter. enlarge.

1952 LEICA IIIf, 1957 LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2 collapsible, 2008 B+W MRC 39mm 81A, f/9.5 at 1/50, 1.7 meters, 2007 Gossen Digisix meter read LV 13••, Fuji Velvia 50, NCPS process and scan.

Frame 19.

 

President Nixon's Helicopter

No Park. enlarge.

1952 LEICA IIIf, 1957 LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2 collapsible, 2008 B+W MRC 39mm 81A, f/10 at 1/100, 1.2 meters, 2007 Gossen Digisix meter read LV 15•, Fuji Velvia 50, NCPS process and scan.

Frame 30.

 

Ryan at Legoland, January 2010

Ryan at Legoland, December 2009. bigger.

Snapped with a 1952 LEICA IIIf, 1957 LEICA SUMMICRON 50mm f/2 collapsible, 2008 B+W MRC 39mm 81A, f/5 at 1/100, 2.2 meters, 2007 Gossen Digisix meter, Fuji Velvia 50, NCPS process and scan.

Frame 31.

 

Carls Jr

Carl's Jr. enlarge.

1952 LEICA IIIf, 1963 LEICA ELMAR 50mm f/2.8 collapsible, 2008 B+W MRC 39mm 81A, f/11 at 1/100, 50 feet, 2007 Gossen Digisix meter read LV 15-15•, Fuji Velvia 50, NCPS process and scan.

This was frame 39. Digital does't even go to frame 39, or even the 37th frame; when you fill your card or your buffer, you're bonked.

Not that these shots are any good, but I knocked them all off on one 36-exposure roll of film, just goofing around taking my kids to Legoland and running errands. God only knows what I could knock out if I took the IIIf someplace scenic.

La Valencia 16 Nov 2010

La Jolla's La Valencia, 16 November 2010. bigger.

1952 LEICA IIIf, Velvia 50, 1999 LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 (M39), 2008 B+W MRC 39mm 81A, 1/100 at f/11, Pocket Light Meter application on my iPod Touch, NCPS process and scan.

 

I've covered most performance aspects in the Introduction. Here are some more.

The LEICA IIIf is quiet, compact, and as you'll see below, easy to use.

Technical performance is limited only by your choice of lenses and film, and more so by your ability as a photographer.

 

Rangefinder

The dedicated, magnified rangefinder works great.

Do remember to adjust the focus lever on the top left for the sharpest rangefinder image, and Leica suggests practicing to ensure you get your eye in the exact center.

The rangefinder is as or more precise than any modern LEICA M camera, however it is not more accurate.

The IIIf's rangefinder lacks the adjustability of M cameras. The IIIf's rangefinder can be calibrated at one distance, and that's about it. M cameras allow adjustability at more than one distance, so typically you won't get perfect focus at every distance with a IIIf.

No problem; for precise use, experience will show you how to correct at different distances with your IIIf.

 

Viewfinder

The viewfinder is brighter than LEICA M cameras because it has no need for the semi-polarization used when a rangefinder spot is added.

If has no rangefinder in it; it's just a soft-edged image in black.

The image is a small 0.5x image, sort of like a DX DSLR.

There is no blockage with the standard 50mm f/3.5 ELMAR with A36 filter mount.

There will be a little blockage when a filter is attached, and minor blockage when used with newer E39 filter-mount lenses.

The viewfinder is so close to the lens that parallax isn't a big deal, but blockage will become a big deal if you try to get smart and use bigger lenses.

For bigger lenses, like the 5cm f/1.5 LEICA SUMMARIT, the external VIOOH finder is more precise, more accurate, and has no blockage problems.

 

Noise and Vibration

The LEICA IIIf is at least as quiet as LEICA M cameras, and many times more quiet than the noisy digital LEICA M cameras.

 

Shutter Gate Opacity

I ran around all day in the California sunshine without a lens cap. I did try to keep my lenses stopped all the way down.

I saw no leakage.

 

Film Economy

39 frames on a 36-exposure roll.

 

Rewind Time

About 30 seconds.

 

Stealth

This is a goofy-looking old camera.

Normal people won't even give you the time of day if they notice you carrying it, which fits in exactly with our genius plan.

When my wife saw me carrying it, she said "get rid of that sh*tty camera. Go get a real camera; I want some decent photos of my kids."

 

Deployment         top

Intro  Specs  Performance  Deployment  Usage  Recommendations  Repairs

 

Straps

I suggest using the current LEICA Strap, which attaches instantly without tools or marring the camera.

 

Light Meters

Real photographers have enough experience to know the correct exposure settings based on conditions. For instance, indoors is f/2.8 at 1/25 at ASA 400.

Learners who need light meters have many choices. Leica made LEICAMETERs which slipped in the accessory shoe.

 

LEICA IIIf and LEICAMETER 2

LEICA IIIf and LEICAMETER 2. enlarge.

 

LEICA IIIf and LEICAMETER 2

LEICA IIIf and LEICAMETER 2. enlarge.

Today, learners use the Gossen DIGISIX and optional shoe adapter to pop it in the accessory shoe. You won't be able to see the setting of the shutter dial under the DIGISIX if you use it in the accessory shoe.

I leave the DIGISIX set to ISO 100, so the LV numbers are universal. I transpose them in my head for the ASA in use. This way I always know when readings are wrong, and can guess well, too, since the same number always corresponds to the same light.

With Fuji Velvia 50, it's easy to remember that at 1/50, f/2 through f/16 covers LV 9-15 with an 81A filter, without needing the calculator dial.

If you use an iPhone or iPod Touch, the Pocket Light Meter application works great, once calibrated.

 

Lenses

Most lenses screw-in so that their top index marks are at about the one o'clock position, not straight up. This is so you can see them when you have accessories in the shoe.

Original LEICA screw mount lenses are at least 50 years old today. You'll need to check them with the flashlight test. Most will have some haze, and often this isn't a problem. If it is, Gus Lazzari can almost always fix it.

Leica made a very limited run of modern 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON-M, 35mm f/2 SUMMICRON ASPH and 50mm f/1.4 SUMMILUX lenses in screw mount. It is unlikely you'll come across any of these, but if you do, they offer the best performance. I still wouldn't suggest either current 50mm even if you can find them: each is so much bigger than 1950s lenses that you'll have half of the camera's finder blocked. You'll need an external finder with any of these. See my LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2 (M39) page for specifics.

The best lens for the IIIf is a 50mm. It's the only lens you really need, and the only lens covered by the built-in viewfinder.

As 50mm lenses made in screw mount go, the best common lens is the 50mm (5cm) f/2 collapsible LEICA SUMMICRON. It came in both screw and bayonet mount; you of course need the screw mount.

The big problem with the common 50mm LEICA SUMMICRON, made from 1953-1957, is that the front element is made of glass as soft as chalk, so every sample by now has gotten dull from over 50 years of rough cleaning.

It will take you a few months of looking at this direct link to it at eBay to find a good one (see How to Win at eBay). Expect to pay about $500 for a nice one if you find it, or about $250 for one with worn glass as almost all are. Unscrupulous dealers call the ones with dull front elements "coating" or "cleaning" marks; run away from those.

Leica made the optically superior rigid 50mm f/2 SUMMICRON lens in screw mount, but they will cost you because they are rare.

The 50mm f/2.8 ELMAR is very good, and most are in good condition.

Heck, even the original 50mm f/3.5 ELMAR (1925-1961) is a swell performer, even uncoated! I have a seventy-six year old one from 1934 and it works great. The only gotcha with the original f/3.5 ELMAR is that the aperture is adjusted on the front of the lens, so you have to pull the filter every time you want to adjust it.

You can get either ELMAR for about $250 in very nice shape, and it's what I'd suggest unless you want to look for a year for a clean SUMMICRON. Then again, with film, you'll want f/2.

For a lens faster than f/2, you're looking at the LEICA SUMMARIT 5cm (50mm) f/1.5. Its performance isn't that great, but more seriously, its big 41mm bayonet filter front will block much of the camera's finder image, asking for the use of an external finder, and the dedicated 41mm bayonet filters, mandatory for most photography, haven't been made in 50 years. This SUMMARIT is also prone to worn and hazy glass, so I'd spend my time trying to find a good sample of the much more practical f/2 SUMMICRON.

For a wide lens, there are plenty of 35mm (3.5cm) f/3.5 screw mount lenses. The best is the SUMMARON; the ELMAR was much earlier and crummier. Expect to pay about $300 for a nice one, as most are.

For a tele, you will get the 90mm (9cm) f/4 ELMAR. Expect to pay about $150. It is sharpest when stopped down.

Most older screw mount lenses use push-on A36 filters, for the lens' 36mm outer diameter. For these lenses, use either hard-to-find A36 filters, or the LEITZ SOOGZ adapter for standard 39mm filters.

The LEICA VIOOH Imarect finder (1940-1964) is needed for any lenses other than 50mm. I got mine at this direct link to it at eBay (see How to Win at eBay). It gives more precise framing than the built-in viewfinder. It's better than even today's LEICA M9's finder, so it's a great idea to get one. The VIOOH's sharp-edged image is adjustable both for parallax, and also for magnification changes with distance.

For the best results with the VIOOH finder, be sure to set its own parallax distance adjustment manually before each shot.

Do not soil your LEICA by attempting to attach rubbish from the likes of modern-day Voigtländer. Why would you want to waste your time, insult your camera and look foolish in front of your friends? The only real reason to shoot with a LEICA IIIf is to use LEICA's superior optics, not to waste film with dinky lenses.

 

Lens Hoods

Forget using hoods on a 50mm lens with the built-in finder. You'll block half your viewfinder.

 

Tripods

The LEICA IIIf uses a professional 3/8" thread.

Use a bushing to fit common 1/4" - 20 tripod heads.

 

Usage         top

Intro  Specs  Performance  Deployment  Usage  Recommendations  Repairs

Find and read LEICA's user manual. I'm unsure if it's available online.

A key point of the simplicity of the IIIf is this note below the table of contents:Operate a LEICA in the dark

If you can't operate every aspect of your camera with your eyes on your subject, what good is it? That is the problem with the digital garbage of today: these digital cameras demand more attention than the subject itself.

 

Light Meter

I use this Light Meter app.

 

Film Loading

There is one very important trick that I didn't notice until I noticed this message on the bottom of the camera as I was struggling to load it:

LEICA IIIf film leader

FIlm must be trimmed to have a longer leader, and exactly two perforations must show at the bottom.

If you don't trim your film properly to provide a longer leader tongue, the film will get jammed in the gate and not load. Standard out-of-the-box film will not load properly until trimmed.

If you do trim your film, it slides right into the IIIf and loads very easily.

To trim it, I count back 13 perforations along the bottom, and cut it out with my Swiss Army knife. Be sure not to cut across a perforation, as the edge might get caught trying to load. Leave two perforations pulled out of the canister out at the bottom as shown above, and you're good to go.

Leica fanatics use the special ABLON cutting guide (Nr. 68,320, $27.00 corrected for inflation in 2009 [$1.80 in 1939 dollars]). If you shoot a lot, the ABLON is nice because the film drops right into perfect position with little tits that poke in the perforations. The ABLON comes with its own cutter in its own small leather case, bravo!

People who don't read directions go through all sorts of dangerous antics, like sticking their fingers through the shutter, to try to load the film improperly.

The reason you need to make the leader longer is because the film has to slide past the film gate, with the pressure plate in place. The back does not swing open.

When you trim your film properly, there is no bottom edge that has to jump over the other film rail, which is what hangs-up people who don't read directions.

When properly trimmed film is loaded, only after it's in place do you advance the full width of the film over the gate, so all works as The Prophet intended.

Now that you know this, you'll be fine as you read the printed manual to load the film.

In a nutshell, first trim your film. Then set the advance-rewind lever (by the shutter button) back to "A," remove the bottom plate, remove the take-up spool, slide the film leader under the clip of the take-up-spool, drop both film canister and take-up spool into the camera at the same time (turn the rewind knob is it doesn't drop down; this is also where it jams if you didn't trim your film), make sure the sprocket is engaged in a perforation by turning the film advance slightly, pop on the cover, wind the film, lift and set the advance knob film reminder, and then set the frame counter to zero. Easy.

Newer models of the IIIf have a small "pusher" attached to the bottom cover to help the film run better in the proper tracks.

To unload, set the advance-rewind lever by the shutter to R for rewind, pull up the rewind crank, and have at it. The dot on the shutter release button moves as the film spins the sprockets, and stops just before the last of the film is drawn back into the cassette.

 

Lens Mounting

This couldn't be easier: they screw on and off.

Use the infinity lock to lock the focus ring, and only then grab the lens to remove it. The infinity lock is designed to take the torque; the close-range stop of the focus helicoid is not.

The lens tubes of collapsible lenses should be drawn forward and locked during mounting and unmounting.

If you really want to follow proper Leica procedure, align the lens' focus knob with the viewfinder window as you present it to the camera.

Don't allow direct sun to hit the naked shutter when lenses are removed. Keep the IIIf in your shadow.

The index marks usually stop to the left of center so that you can read them with accessories in the shoe.

 

Focus

First look through the rangefinder (the leftmost peephole) and move the lever around the rewind crank so that the image is clear. This focuses the 1.5x telescope of the rangefinder so you can see it best with different distances.

Once the rangefinder itself is in focus, focus the lens until the two images coincide.

The rangefinder telescope focus adjustment keeps moving as I carry the IIIf. Maybe some chewing gum would help keep it in place.

 

Shutter

The shutter dial cannot be set unless the film is wound. Don't try to move it when the shutter is uncocked.

Once wound, lift the dial to set it.

The top shutter dial rotates 360.º

Keep your fat fingers away from the top shutter dial when firing. It is connected directly to the shutter rollers and spins as the shutter exposes your film. If you obstruct it, you'll get weird exposure.

You can see the shutter's setting when not cocked by using contact number "2" on the synchronizer dial as your index.

There are two shutter dials: one for the fast speeds, and one for the slow speeds.

The fast speed dial is on top where you expect it.

The slow speed dial is on the front of the camera, just below the fast speed dial.

For fast speeds, set them on the top dial and leave the slow speed dial locked at 25.

For slow speeds, set the fast dial to "25-1" and set the speed on the slow dial.

For Bulb, set it as B on the fast dial, with the slow dial of course set to 25.

For Time, set the fast dial to "25-1" and the slow dial to T. The shutter opens and stays open until you move the slow-speed dial away from T.

Unlike most M cameras, intermediate speeds may not be used in the fast range.

Intermediate speeds may be set on the slow range dial. For instance, for 1/4 second, set it just a little away from 5, towards the 2.

Since the shutter dial isn't easy to see under a Digisix meter, I tend to shoot at the same speed and change the apertures instead.

Leave the IIIf uncocked when you put it away.

To use a cable release, get a screw-on nipple adapter. It's the same as the adapter for the Nikon F and Nikon F2.

 

Flash

For electronic flash and studio strobes, adjust the red scale of the synchro-dial below the shutter speed dial to contact number 20 and use a shutter speed of 1/50.

For classic electronic flashes with built-in delays to simulate flash bulbs, set contact number 0 and use 1/25 of a second.

For focal-plane (FP) flashbulbs, set the synchro dial to the contact number listed in Leica's table below. The guide numbers are in feet for 17º DIN (ASA 40).

LEICA IIIf Red Dial Syncronizer Table

Exposure Guide for LEICA IIIf Cameras with Red Contact Numbers.

I don't have a table from Leica for earlier IIIfs with black contact numbers. These are different from the red numbers.

Leica also provided a guide for use with conventional flashbulbs intended for leaf shutters. Leica doesn't recommend these bulbs, since they are designed to give light as a short peak and lead to uneven exposures. The more exotic FP flashbulbs are designed for a more even light output over a short period of time for curtain travel.

 

Recommendations         top

Intro  Specs  Performance  Deployment  Usage  Recommendations  Repairs

The LEICA IIIf is a wonderfully small, quiet and ultra-high quality camera.

If you don't mind a lot of fiddling just to make the most basic settings, you'll do great.

Since they are sixty years old, you most likely will want to send it out for an overhaul before using it.

 

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Paul Racicot who made this fine camera available to me to review.

Many more thanks to his dad, Thomas Racicot of the US Army, who fought for all of us in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War so that we could be here today reading about this.

This Leica has a story.

Thomas Racicot was stationed in Munich Germany in the early 1950's. He took his wife and kids, including Paul, all over Europe.

His son Paul was born in Munich, and his brothers were three and six years old. Their dad bought this LEICA to photograph the beautiful scenery in Germany. He dragged the whole family all around Europe taking photos.

One time a Russian border guard tried to confiscate this LEICA. Thomas Racicot pulled out his trusty Colt 45 revolver and said, "you're not taking my Leica."

The Russian guard backed off, presumably because Thomas Racicot was a deadly serious crazy American soldier. Thomas Racicot had spent a lot of money on this camera, and wasn't about to give it up.

Paul didn't remember this event because he was only a baby, but his older brothers both thought that they were all going to die!

Of course with men like Thomas Racicot, the USA always wins, and he, his family and this LEICA passed safely on to this day. Strength brings peace.

Thomas Racicot passed away in October 2007, but his contributions to America and the world's peace will never be forgotten. I hope I can do him at least a little bit of service using and preserving his old LEICA today.

 

Repairs and Overhauls    top

Intro  Specs  Performance  Deployment  Usage  Recommendations  Repairs

LEICA IIIf Repair

Many thanks also to Gus Lazzari for doing a complete overhaul on this IIIf so I could review it here.

I'm amazed at the work that was done.

As received, I almost loaded it up and went shooting, until I realized that the slow speeds were sticky, then stopped working.

I sent it in for an overhaul, and was astounded at what came back.

What I sent in was a moldy old camera. Like many old cameras, the finder wasn't very clear, the shutter was sticky, the shutter curtains were crinkled, and it had green oxidation goo around a lot of the edges of the chrome.

It came back looking almost unused, as you can see in some of the illustrations above. They even replaced the fake leather perfectly, as you can.

The finder and rangefinder are now as clean as the day this IIIf was delivered back in München in 1952. The rangefinder is dead-on, with perfect alignment.

All the green crud is gone externally, and everything is so clean I can hardly believe it's the same camera I dropped off.

The shutter curtains were replaced with new material, using the original tracks. Of course after a full overhaul, the shutter works perfectly.

All this, and no tracks were left. Gus did an amazing job resuscitating this 60 year old camera to like-new performance. I'm sure it will give another 50 years of service before needing any more adjustment or cleaning.

 

More Information    top

Pacific Rim Camera has some tabulations of production numbers.

LEICA Photography, Christmas 1950, introduces it as NEW! starting at page 10.

LEICA Photography, Fall 1951, has an article explaining how synchronization works.

There is a short mention of the newly added film alignment bar in the Winter 1952 issue of LEICA Photography.

 

Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

The biggest help is when you use any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

As this page is copyrighted and formally registered, it is unlawful to make copies, especially in the form of printouts for personal use. If you wish to make a printout for personal use, you are granted one-time permission only if you PayPal me $5.00 per printout or part thereof. Thank you!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

Home  Donate  New  Search  Gallery  Reviews  How-To  Books  Links  Workshops  About  Contact

January 2010