I get my hands on my first-ever Leica & find it mostly intimidating.
So, as you can tell from my slowly increasing pile of albums, I went to Munich with my wife over Christmas & New Year’s. it was a wonderful trip, not least because a) There’s a Lomography Gallery Store there, b) you can buy film at any chemist’s, and c) I was on the lookout for a Leica.
Happily, not far from our hotel was the photographic mecca that is Foto Sauter.
Not only was Sauter crammed with digital goodness, but it had a full third of it’s floor space dedicated to refurbished analog cameras, including 3 spinner racks of refurbished Leicas, ranging from €50 all the way to €1000+. After a few days of ghosting by the window, I went inside & approached the gent at the counter. Mercifully, he spoke excellent English, so I did not need my wife to translate.
“You want a Leica?” he said. “That’s good. But do you want it to collect, or to work?”
“I want it to work.”
“Okay then. This is the one you want.” And from behind the counter, he pulled out this:
I was mystified. I actually broke out into a sweat handling it. it was heavy. It didn’t have a light meter. It didn’t have an internal viewfinder, just an optic that stuck out on top. the film was loaded by taking off the bottom, not the back. He also explained a complicated process of trimming the film leader lengthwise for 10cms or so, or it would catch.
Most of this went over my head. I just knew I wanted it. He named his price (about twice what I had been hoping to pay) but after nearly passing out, I got the go-ahead nod from my wife & bought it.
Later, at the hotel, I googled the serial number & discovered it was a Leica If: a variant of the Leica IIIf, of which only about 16,000 were made. It lacked a rangefinder or a viewfinder, as it was meant primarily for scientific use, such as being attached to microscopes or Visoflex arrays.
I named her Gretl.
So once I got Gretl back to Australia, I trimmed a film leader, loaded it up, took a few test shots around the house…
The aperture dial is on the front of the extendable lens, and the focus is adjusted via a little handle on the side of the lens.
The focus is extremely detailed at close range, with measurements for 1, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.7 & 2 metres, before becoming more sensible at 2.5, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20 & infinity.
This means that if you’re between 1 & 2 metres, you have to guess your distance to within 1/10th of a metre, or the height of an average coffee cup. Not easy when you’re just eyeballing it.
I found the shutter to be pleasantly soft, with no jarring clack, just a sharp little whirr, and despite it’s weight, i had no trouble holding it still.
So then I went shooting at the local park.
I did my best to gauge the distance, while an app on my iPhone made light meter recommendations.
After getting the photos back i was pleasantly surprised: despite the failing light, 200 ISO film & a lot of guesswork, the pictures came out beautifully, with some soft focus & bokeh effects, but pin-sharp when required.
Part of me wondered how, despite the being unsure of lighting or focus or whatnot, I still managed to love this Leica. The answer came to me out of the blue: I shouldn’t think of Gretl as an SLR without things, I should think of her as an awesome Lomography camera and just have fun!
Overall I am very happy with my pricey little German scientist. While I won’t be taking any close-up portraits with it, I will definitely not be leaving this collector’s item on the shelf.