The Rondelles at The Bell House, Brooklyn, July 9, 2010

Unintentional but luckily welcome

Like many users, I imagine, I have a love/hate relationship with the Leica III series of cameras. These were the last Leica “screwmount” cameras and have an attractive old-fashioned look.  (They are called “screwmount” because the lens screws into the camera body, rather than having a turn-and-click bayonet mount found in the more contemporary Leica M series and most other removable-lens cameras. Cameras and especially lenses are often also called LTM, for Leica Thread Mount, in order to differentiate them from other mount types.) When they work correctly, and when the user is using them correctly, they are a joy to use. With a collapsible lens, they fit nicely into a jacket or cargo pants pocket. They have quiet shutters and a quaint, non-threatening look.

They’re also a pain to use, compared to a lot of cameras. Like all Leica rangefinders, you have to partially disassemble the camera to load and remove film. You have to pull out a take-up spool and attach your carefully re-cut film leader to it, then slide the whole mess (cartridge, loose film, and spool) back into the tiny, dark cavern of the camera, make sure the camera sprockets are taking up the film correctly and not chewing it up, then close the whole thing up.

Until Through the last screwmount model (the IIIg) you focused using one viewfinder and framed with the other (the IIIg combined the two). (Thanks to Hongjoo Lee for the correction – see comments below.) It’s not a “fast” shooter in that respect unless you’re estimating distance or hyperfocal focusing or otherwise not caring about adjusting focus or composition with the viewfinder. An accessory viewfinder (sliding into the shoe on the top deck of the camera) is often a good idea, but creates an awkward silhouette that makes the whole apparatus less pocket-able.

Leica III with Jupiter 3 lens

Isn’t it pretty?

So why use this thing? Because it’s cool. It’s fun to use. It’s quiet. It’s unusual wind mechanism (to someone who started on an SLR) is subtle. It looks awesome. And as I pointed out above, it’s not threatening. People think it’s an antique, a dusty old curiosity being brought out for some fresh air. But it’s just as capable a camera as any other 35mm rangefinder.

But back to my headline: one of the more common problems I’ve personally experienced is a dodgy film advance. This is likely a combination of user fault and equipment cleanliness/lubrication. It’s important to make sure the sprockets are pulling the film when you advance it, that the take-up reel is firmly pinching the end of the film, that the new leader you cut is gliding through the back of the camera smoothly, and that you didn’t leave slack in the cartridge. (And, for overzealous users or those who lose count, like me, that you didn’t load the cartridge with too much film.)

What you get when the film doesn’t advance enough, of course, is frames that overlap each other like the above and below shots. Luckily, I love them! In order to get anything at all in this club, I deliberately underexposed the shots, hoping the highlights would be enough to define each scene. In this case, each overlapping section is getting an additional exposure, bringing some variety to the light. It also brings a sense of movement and excitement to the scene, which is perfect for The Rondelles and their high-energy, explosive punk-pop sound.

But alas, there’s no button on my Leica which allows me to do this on command (there actually is such a thing on some other cameras). I could have it modified, but I don’t like doing that to my cameras. Instead, I’ll just continue to shoot these old, brass gems and hope that my accidents are always happy.

The Rondelles seen through a Leica needing cleaning

The Rondelles at The Bell House, Brooklyn, July 9, 2010