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Leica M3 - 1954
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• First Leica with M mount and combined view/rangefinder

• $447 with f2 lens in 1954 ($3623 in 2010 dollars)

Leica had been making 35mm cameras since the 1920s and defined the category, but in 1948 Nikon came out with a rangefinder that was more advanced (Nikon S, shown in this app). In many ways it combined the best features of Contax and Leica, with a combined view/rangefinder, removable back (you loaded a Leica from the bottom), and bayonet lens mount. In 1954, with the M3, Leica closed the gap. (You still loaded from the bottom, though.)

The Leica M3 has a bayonet mount (the M mount), a combined view/rangefinder and, unlike the Nikon S, a quick-lever film advance, although that was matched by Nikon with the S2, which also came out in 1954.

Leica M cameras stayed much the same all the way to today's M9. In 1971 the M5 got a built-in exposure meter, but, of course, no Leica rangefinder ever got auto-focus. (Nikon completely lost interest in professional-level rangefinders after the Nikon F came out in 1959.)

The M3 shown here belonged to my brother-in-law who bought it used in the 1960s I think. Its obvious hard use mostly came from him--as far as I know, it was the main camera he used while his family was growing up.

His Leica's serial number, 816597, puts its date of manufacture at March 1956 according to CameraQuest's list. Note that it has a frame-line selection lever, which the original model shown in the ad didn't have.

Leica rangefinders are much loved by photographers who use them or once did, and mostly ignored by everyone else.

Leica M3Ad from Popular Photography, July 1954Ad from Popular Photography, Sept. 1955Leica M3 brochure
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Leica M3 brochureLeica M3 brochureLeica M3 brochureLeica M3 brochure
Leica M3 brochure

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