Replacing a Zeiss Ikon with a Leica M3

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: may 2015; revised: mar 2018; readers past month: 2840

Leica M3 with Leica Summicron-M 50mm Lens

Since early 2012, I have been migrating my camera equipment to an all Leica M system (see Almost Everything Must Go). I’ve sold all of my SLR cameras and lenses and acquired a Leica M9 and a Zeiss Ikon camera, with three Leica M lenses (21, 50, and 90mm) and a Zeiss ZM lens (35mm). It’s a nice kit. I’m very pleased with my choices.

Although I like the Zeiss Ikon very much, I have been looking fondly at the Leica M4-P for the past couple of years — ever since I handled one at a local camera store. I’ve been thinking of replacing my Zeiss Ikon with one. I’ve also been considering the other Leica M film cameras.

About a month ago, I met a woman in Milan whose husband died a few years ago. He owned several cameras, including a few Leica cameras and lenses. She wants to sell them since she never uses them. I agreed to take inventory of what she has and to go with her to a local camera store to get them to sell the equipment on consignment.

In the batch of cameras is a Leica M3 double-stroke camera (see photo below) that she let me borrow. I’ve only had it for a couple of days and shot only one roll of film — which hasn’t even been developed yet — but I like the camera so much. It’s so sweet. Because it feels so good to hold, it makes me want to take plenty of pictures. I’m going to buy it from her and maybe sell my Zeiss Ikon.

Maybe I should keep both film cameras, but I’m trying not to have more equipment than I use regularly. Probably, I shouldn’t buy the Leica M3. But I want it and I think it’s the better film camera.

I do prefer some of the features that the Zeiss Ikon has over the Leica M3: a bright, large viewfinder; a built-in TTL light metering; and an aperture-priority setting for automatic shutter speed. It also has a hot-shoe flash connection on top and a small window on the back to see the film cartridge inside.

There are some aspects of the Leica M3 over the Zeiss Ikon that I like: a cooler look; a nicer feel when holding it; a slightly smaller size; a self-timer shutter release; large 50mm frame lines; all mechanical (i.e., no battery) functions; an external flash PC connector, which I prefer over a hot-shoe; and a much quieter shutter because of the rubberized canvas curtain — I like to do street photography.

The main feature that I will miss if I sell the Zeiss Ikon will be the built-in light meter with aperture-priority settings for the shutter. Instead, I’ll have to judge for myself or use my Sekonic LH-358 light meter. Carrying that meter cancels out the smaller size feature of the camera. Plus, the shutter speed measurements on the light meter won’t always line up with the shutter dial on the Leica M3: this one has the older settings (i.e., 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, etc.). But I can adjust to that fairly quickly.

By the way, the photo above shows the camera with a Leica 50mm collapsable lens. I’m not buying it since I already have an excellent 50mm Leica lens. It also had a light meter that was attached to the top. Since that thing ruins the cool look of the camera, I won’t be using it.

I’m not sure what I’ll do, but for now I’ve adopted the Leica M3 and added it to my equipment list. I have some time before I have to pay her, but unless the photos look a mess when they’re developed, I’ll probably buy it. I can decide later about selling the Zeiss Ikon.