Saturday, June 27, 2015

Legends -- Leica IIIg, a pinnacle of design elegance

The Leica IIIg was the last of the screw-mount Leicas, and to my mind one of the most stylish Leica cameras ever made.

The viewfinder window had significant improvements over prior III models. It was enlarged and added brightline frames for both a 50mm and 90mm lens. Plus, these frames were parallax correcting as the lens focused. The split-image rangefinder window was still separated from the viewfinder window.

The IIIg was a transitional model bridging the original screw lens mount and bayonet models of the M-series. It co-existed with the new Leica M3 for those stalwarts who were more comfortable with the older technology. To make the transition easier for photographer, Leica made the M-mount so that it could adapt screw mount lenses with an adapter.

A mechanical gem, the IIIg is as much pleasure to use as it is to admire for its practical beauty.  It derives its no-nonsense good looks by wearing its functionality in its design in a form-follows-function sort of way.


The IIIg had a brief lifespan of three years from 1957-1960, when it succumbed to the more modern configuration of the Leica M3 introduced in 1954.


Mine is one of the earliest models from 1957 with a serial number of 905551. It is equipped with a Leicavit accessory base plate for rapidly advancing the film. The lever folded up into the base plate when not in use. In the down position the photographer could rapidly advance the film one frame by pulling the lever. Advancing the film was very fast. 

The Leicavit rapid advance lever extended for use. One rapid pull on the lever with several fingers advanced the film one frame. The system is quite fast, maybe even faster that the standard thumb advance lever system that replaced it. 


A film type and ASA (the former ISO) indicator was added to the back, a design that became standard on Leica M film bodies. 




The shutter speed dials of the IIIg were still separated to access the full range. High speeds of 1/60 and above were accessed by the top dial. For speeds of 1/15 second and slower you used the front dial, and for 1/30 second both dials were set to the same setting.  The large self-timer lever provided a ten-second delay. 


The two lightning bolts on the shutter speed dial correspond to electronic flash sync speeds of the 1/50 or 1/30 second. 
I always found the separation of rangefinder and viewfinder windows to be a bit cumbersome, but there was some method to the madness. It was quite an accurate way to focus, since the rangefinder window actually magnified the subject size. This made focusing the spit image finder both easier and more accurate. Moving your eye from one window to the other becomes intuitive, once you are used to it. 

The IIIg still maintained the separate windows for rangefinder and viewfinder. The viewfinder window on the right had brightline frames for 50mm and 90mm lenses. 
Handling a IIIg is a thrill akin to driving an old, finely-tuned sports car.  You know you have something substantial in your hands. You can literally feel the precision of  Leica design and build quality. With a Leicavit accessory attached and larger viewfinder the camera is quite fast in use -- the only major drawback being the separation of veiwfinder and rangefinder windows. 

Leica IIIg shown here with a 5cm f/1.5 Summitar lens, shade, and Weston Master III light meter.  

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