Tempered Indulgence, the Leica IIIc

Between the years of 1940 and 1951, the skilled craftspeople at the Leica factory in Wetzlar, Germany painstakingly hand-crafted and hand-assembled one hundred and thirty one thousand Model IIIc 35mm rangefinder type camera bodies.

The vast majority of which featured no unusual markings, no rare customization.  Just many thousands of perfectly mass produced, boringly precise copies of exacting standardization.

The Leica IIIc is not a camera for collectors.  It’s a camera for photographers.

If you’re even remotely interested in owning, and actually using a Barnack Leica rangefinder, the IIIc is undoubtedly the body for you.  Understand it.  Appreciate it.  And you’re guaranteed not to be lead astray.

Because they were produced in such quantity for over a decade, there are more IIIc’s in existence than any other Barnack Leica, and this keeps their price in the mild $150-300 price range.  Whenever you can get a Leica for cheap, you should do it!

While all Barnack Leica’s may look identical to the uninitiated, the IIIc sports several virtues of utilitarian elegance that set it apart from other Leica’s and make it the ideal daily driver.

Before we sing praises on the IIIc, let’s work our way backwards through time and through the alphabet, starting with the last LTM Leica and why I don’t endorse them as fervently.

The IIIg was the newest, most advanced of the screw mount Leica lineage.  But due to its short production run of just three years and insipid collective hatred of Leica’s conventional porthole finder windows, the IIIg commands a rather princely sum. It’s often not far south the cost of a cheap M body.  I wouldn’t recommend going straight for the IIIg unless you find that you really just cannot live with the Oskar-Barnack-designed  view/rangefinder windows but don’t want the larger, faster, more capable M.

Leica shooters are obtuse by nature though, so I totally get it if you’re the type who will settle for nothing short of a black paint IIIg.

The IIIf was the last LTM body with the conventional 1930’s style rangefinder and is loaded with timely features to accommodate flash synchronization.  Personally, I don’t use flash on my Leica’s and the thought of doing so inspires nausea.  This renders the flash sync port, additional hardware and engraving around the shutter speed dial, nothing more than painfully distracting clutter.

There’s nothing worse than a cluttered Leica.  Well, maybe nothing.  Some IIIf’s were even built in Canada!  GASP!

Self-timers also became available part way through the IIIf lifespan.  While I think they present well, again, it’s a feature that most photographers would rarely use and, in fact, may find cumbersome.  About the only redeeming feature of the IIIf is the film reminder device which is quite smartly built into the the advance knob.

The IIId is merely a collectors’ curiosity, having only been alive for less than 500 copies.

This brings us to my champion everyday ever-ready Barnack, the immensely shoot worthy, gangster of gestalt, the practical and pithy Leica IIIc.

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Leica broke its 1/500th top shutter speed record with the IIIa in 1935.  1000 is the top speed that the eccentric German camera maker continues to cling to for the 35mm M line up through today.  So 1000 is good, particularly since many LTM lenses only stop down to f16, not 22.  The IIIc inherits this once blazingly fast, now sadly slow top shutter speed.  I think this is an important feature for a daily driver, don’t you?

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In 1938, Leica moved the view and rangefinder windows a little closer together with the IIIb.  This makes moving from one to the other, that much quicker.  Additionally, we no longer have the circular RF patch but the full rangefinder window shows the double image which many shooters will likely prefer.  With these modified windows, Leica also moved the diopter control to a lever that is collared around the rewind knob.  On earlier models, it was easy to unintentionally adjust the diopter, not so with these newer III’s.

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Keeping mindful of hindering unintentional adjustments, on the IIIc, Leica added a locking mechanism to the slow shutter speed dial on the front of the camera (the one flaw of my 1947 IIIc; the knob of the locking mechanism is missing!)  This seems like a little thing but remember, when loading the Leica, one needs to set their shutter to bulb.  So even if you don’t make use of the slow speeds very often, you would still find yourself chasing the correct setting on previous models as a result of the dial being non-locking.

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Then there’s the accessory shoe.  On older Leica’s the accessory shoe consisted of a simple plate screwed onto the camera.  Period accessories fit these shoes but anything not made specifically for that camera may require some creativity, such as a bit of cardboard from a box of film, to make a tight fit.  To address this unsightly mess, the IIIc’s shoe is more than a plate of sheet metal.  It’s a device.  It contains two pressure rails that tightly hold accessories in place.  The parts that take the abuse of installing and uninstalling accessories are also more heavily chromed than the rest of the body so as not to incur damage.

Are you falling asleep?  Here’s where I want to wake you up.

The IIIc is the oldest BEST MADE Barnack.

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Why?

Because with the IIIc, Leica outdid themselves.  They increased the strength of the body by making it a single die-cast part.  It’s also slightly longer and demonstrably more rigid than previous models.

This may not seem like a big deal, but if you get the chance, I want you to do a little test.

Lay hands on a pre-1940 Leica and give it a good squeeze.  Press your thumb into the back panel of the camera.  Don’t worry, you won’t hurt it!  But you can feel the aluminum flex.  Not so with the IIIc.  Press as hard as you like.  Press with all your fingers if you like, with both hands.  No flex.  That’s fucking cool, right?  Only Leica makes a camera that’s tougher than Leica!

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Inside this fire-hardened new body casting, Leica installed a totally new frame counter and more rugged mechanisms.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Post war IIIc’s received heavier chrome plating, resulting in a finish of much deeper appearance and dramatically less prone to brassing than pre-war Leica’s.  I’ve looked over a few IIIc’s and the newer ones, my 1947 model included, are by and large nearly new in appearance.  Given the precision of these cameras, thickening their chrome top coat emphasizes each finely milled detail.  It’s actually quite startling the quality of appearance given the age of these little wonders.  You really have to see one with your own two eyes to appreciate what I’m talking about.  Though my beat, black 1930 is a more historically relevant camera, my 1947 literally turns heads and starts conversation where ever I shoot it.  Even the staff at the Leica Store DC have seemed genuinely impressed with it on more than one occasion.

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So with the IIIc, you get all these great little evolutionary features that make for a good, dependable, practical daily driver.  And you don’t get the baroque clutter of the IIIf.  That’s right fellow film photographers, nothin’ but clean lines and good times with the Leica IIIc!37108346462_f4c923d29b_b

And if you still aren’t convinced that the Leica IIIc is the ultimate LTM, just ask legendary film director, Stanley Kubrick!  Doesn’t he look thrilled?

Self-Portrait

Thanks for reading.

Happy shooting.

*All color images depict my 1947 Leica IIIc with grey GripTac covering, Leitz 5cm f2 Summitar lens with Summicron style hood and 5cm Leitz brightline finder.  

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