Germany 1954 – Compact – 35 mm – Rare.
The camera industry of the 20th century articulates itself around a certain number of super iconic cameras, many of them produced by Leica. The Leica M3, is definitely a major cornerstone in that regards.
Introduced in 1954, the Leica M3 sets a new standard for rangefinders and introduces a design that will remain almost unchanged for over 50 years, even surviving the transition to digital.
The M3, although scandalously expensive in its day, was the biggest commercial success of the M-series, with over 220,000 sold.
Only few cameras have achieved such a super-star status among photographers and it is not uncommon to read comparisons to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or even the Mona Lisa. It was voted by Stuff Magazine and Ebay as the “Top Gadget of All Time”. In the 1959 novel Goldfinger, James Bond uses the Leica M3, deftly carried in his attaché, as yet one more impossibly expensive bauble of the ultra-rich. Iconic photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson have immediately made the M3 their camera of choice.
The Leica M3 is a brilliantly simple jewel of mechanical and optical perfection. It simply does what a 35 mm camera needs to do, better than any other 35 mm camera. With a new very luminous collimated viewfinder, a new faster bayonet lens mount, a double stroke arming lever with a central release trigger, the M3 defines rangefinder features for the next decades.
There are very lengthy and expert reviews on the web, none of which seems to identify any flaw in its design beyond its excessive pricing.
In 1957, Leica came out with the M2 introduced as a budget alternative (note the lesser number). Some dare say the M2 viewfinder might be a bit better than the M3’s but that does not seem to be relevant to the fan community.