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Gear Reviews: Leica M3, The Holy Grail Of Leica M


The Leica M3, the holy grail of all M mount cameras.


Introduced in 1954, the Leica M3 was the very first M mount camera introduced by Leica.
It consisted of a viewfinder with rangefinder focusing patch in build, which was a first for Leica & also a standard bayonet mount in comparison to the screw mounts which it was producing previously.
Apparently, the Leica M3 is the most successful of all the M series, selling over 220,000 units & ending its run in 1966.


The M3 featured 50mm, 90mm & 135mm frame lines that automatically switches themselves when the lenses are mounted into the bayonet mount. The 50mm frame line would always be visible to the viewer. It came with a high viewfinder magnification of x0.92. The camera quickly became a top favorite with photojournalist but remained out of the reach to regular people due to the price.

Through the years, the M3 has gone through many revisions. I would say the two most obvious one would be the single & double stroke versions.

The M3 was mainly made in solid brass chrome coming from the Wetzlar, West Germany. If you have a original black painted or olive painted M3, you are probably sitting on a collector’s gold mine!


I actually already owned a Leica M2 before I came by the M3. The M3 wasn’t exactly on my mind when I’m looking for a camera. I was quite happy with the M2.
Then again, who can resist the charm of owning a piece of heritage. We’re talking about the very first M mount camera that rolled out what we have as a almost universal mount for most rangefinders be it Leica, Voigtlander, Konica or Zeiss.


I got this camera in through Rangefinder Forum. It was just there sitting pretty enticing me to just grab it & ship it down to Singapore from the USA.

My M3 which I have is in fact a dual stroke that has been modified to become a single stroke. It also has been modified to actually focus down to 0.7m instead of the norm 1 meter which is the standard for all M3s.


Build quality wise, I have to say, it is one of the really solidly build rangefinders from Leica, they just don’t build it like what it used to be these days. Solid heavy brass in silver chrome with beautiful inscriptions on the top plate & extremely sexy lines across the front where the view finder & focusing patch is.

Despite all that sexy nature, the M3 really feels like it can take quite a beating out in the field. I think all through the years, photojournalist that have used it can vouch for this & be the judge to how much this little guy can really take.


Shooting wise, it feels good ergonomically. The heavy brass gives the user a really nice weight feel while you are using it. In my opinion, I think I can’t really find much fault with the camera but I would say that the stroke is pretty long as compared to the M2.

The M3 is a pure 50mm shooter’s camera. Of course you can mount 35mm lenses on it. Its either composition through a external viewfinder or by using Leica lenses with goggles.


I think the reason for getting the M3 for me was because it was a pure classic. Leica made these cameras when they were at their peak of hand made & precision accuracy.

No doubt I’m not too much of a 50mm shooter but still, I do have 50mm lenses that pair up with the M3 nicely.


- shooting fast 50mm lenses without squinting your eyes.
- owning a piece of history.
- excellent mechanical movement.
- all sexy Leica scripted top plate.
- unobstructed 50mm frame line.


You can read up on my Leica M2 review here as well.

More info on the M3 here.



Review contributed by Gary Wang


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