I was looking for a camera that would be smaller than my Leica M-A/Summilux 50 combination for use as an everyday camera; something I could put in a jacket pocket and carry around that would be less heavy than the M-A. After some research and a great article by Hamish Gill on this topic, I recently acquired a Leica IIIb body from Sherry Krauter the well-known Leica specialist (www.sherrykrauter.com), and a Summitar 50 mm f/2 lens. Sherry was very helpful on the phone and the camera was exactly as expected. Apparently it had belonged to a lady who used the camera, but her daughter had wanted to sell it. I got the lens on eBay where it was advertised as being in “near-mint” condition which, of course, it wasn’t. The aperture and focus rings were stiff and a bit rough to turn, and there was some internal dust, but the glass appeared to be free of scratches. So I sent the lens off to Youxin Ye (www.yyecamera.com) for a CLA (clean, lube and adjust). What a great man to do business with and very reasonable prices! The lens was back very quickly, and now I would confidently describe it as being in excellent condition
The IIIb was produced by Leica between 1938 and 1940 according to Wikipedia. The main difference between it and its predecessor, the IIIa, is the closer placement of the rangefinder and viewfinder windows. There is also some additional metal used to strengthen the body and make it more rigid. Beginning with the IIIc, the body was die-cast, so the IIIb is sometimes referred to as the last of the Barnack Leicas, designed by Oskar Barnack, and assembled by hand. The IIIb is also a thread-mount camera, meaning that the lens is mounted by being screwed into the body, not inserted using the later M bayonet mount. Shutter speeds (expressed as the reciprocals in seconds) are 1,000, 500, 200, 100, 60, 40, 30, 20 (and on the slow dial) 8, 4, 2 and 1. The slow dial can be set at any position between the 1/20 second and 1 second markings. There is also a bulb setting.
The Summitar 50 mm f/2 lens was in production from 1939 to 1953. There are several variations with either 6 or 10 blades (mine has 10), and some have coated glass. Mr Ye tells me that mine was produced during the early 1940s, which is astonishing when one considers the situation at that time. It is a collapsible lens, meaning the lens barrel can be pushed into the camera body, giving a smaller profile. To use it, the lens is pulled out and twisted to lock it into place for use. It’s too bad that modern lenses don’t have this useful feature. My lens has an unusual set of stops by modern lens standards: f2, 2.2, 3.2, 4.5, 6.3, 9, and 12.5. There are also no clicks at each stop.
Loading a Barnack Leica with film is supposedly more complicated than loading an M camera, but my first attempt was unremarkable. The film leader has to be trimmed to make it a bit longer and the leader has to be inserted firmly into the take-up spool. Then both the film canister and take-up spool are placed into the camera, and the bottom plate secured in place. It’s not very complicated.
Winding on the film also sets the shutter mechanism (like an M camera) and causes a clockwork-like movement involving the shutter speed selector and the film rewind knob. It’s quite fascinating to watch!
For my first roll, I used Kodak Tri-X 400, and shot outdoors (it’s winter here, so lots of snow) and indoors at the Walker Art museum. Here are some of the results. I was quite pleased with how these turned out, especially considering that the camera and lens are at least 70-75 years old. The lens sharpness is good at smaller apertures, and softer at wider apertures, but the indoor shots used a much slower shutter speed, so it’s hard to tell much from this first roll. Like most Leica gear, the camera and lens are clearly built to last, and it’s great to use such old gear and know that it is still fully functional. (Click on the images below to enlarge).
Thanks for reading!