I've been photo crazy lately, and I just couldn't leave well enough alone. A 1956 Leica M3 Double Stroke showed up at my house last Friday.
I've been envious of the photos captured by fellow forum and flickr members with their M8s and M9s using fast glass while I was trapped with the Elmarit f2.8 on my X1. Don't get me wrong, I've been thrilled with the results my X1 can deliver. At this point, I carry it around more often than my Nikon. The problem comes at night. I've learned that all I can do is set the aperture to f2.8, the shutter to 1/60s, the ISO to 1600 and HOPE I got enough exposure that I can save something from the RAW files. If you slow the shutter beyond 1/60s, people are blurs. Nobody holds still for 1/30s unless they are deliberately frozen to pose for a photo.
Slowly over the past year, it's eaten away at me. I knew very well that if I was going to upgrade my camera gear, the sensible decision would be to go with a new Nikon D7000 body and some fast glass. For months I knew that was what I should do. Then suddenly, I'm bidding on M3s.
The M3 has no electronics. There is no Auto mode. There isn't even a meter. If you don't manually set the shutter and aperture correctly, you've just wasted film.
And the film is another daunting thought. I haven't shot film since around 2001 when I got my first digital camera. Suddenly, each photo costs money. Suddenly I've gone from being able to shoot hundreds of pictures at an event to being able to shoot 36. Suddenly instead of being able to review the shot I just took and adjust, then retake it, I have to know I'm right before I risk the shot. I was hoping to be able to shoot the art car parade with it, but I took 303 photos of that parade. As I was clicking away with my X1, trying to capture each and every entry, I thought, how much would this be costing me and how many shots would I be missing while I changed film in the M3?
For the past week the M3, which is 22 years older than myself, has been sitting on my coffee table staring me down. It's like she's saying, "Do you really think you're up for this kid?"
I could tell most people go with a vintage 50mm Summicron f2.0 as their first lens. However, I was bargain shopping, so I ended up snagging a Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4. No, I'm not thrilled that it won't match up with the framelines, but it was both cheaper and in much better condition than the old Summicrons that I could afford. Plus, the images that were driving my lust were all produced with the Noctilux. I wanted to go as fast as possible.
So what happens? Will I end up with a roll of poorly focused underexposed/overexposed film? Will my shots look anything like the ones I'm lusting after? I'm nervous to find out.
There is some solace in this experiment. Yes, I may find that I'm a terrible manual photographer. I may find I'm horrible at focusing a rangefinder. This may destroy my ego. However, I'm pretty certain that unlike any other brand of gear, I'll be able to get back exactly what I paid for the M3 and the lenses.