Henri Cartier Bresson

Barnack heaven

Leica IIIf Red Dial

Oh my God. I am lucky, lucky, lucky. In the past few days I have unearthed three beautiful finds. A Canonet QL17 GIII with its original instruction book, a Nikon FM2n with an unmarked 50mm f1.4 AI Nikkor (both for $5 each), and – a Leica IIIf RD ST fitted with a Summicron collapsible 5cm f2 lens. I will spill about the Nikon and Canon shortly in a subsequent post, but for now, I want to share the Leica with you.

Oscar Barnack designed the very first in Leica in 1914. The first World War intervened and stopped the first ones being sold until 1925, and Barnack, as head of Leitz’s construction office, continued designing improved variants until he passed away in early 1936. His legacy lived on in all of the screw-mount Leica cameras that were produced until their line was first eclipsed and ended by the bayonet mount M3, released in 1954. I say his legacy has lived on, as all of the screw mount Leicas were simple, graceful and above all small jewels of ingenuity and incredible quality.

Let me introduce my new best buddy – my beautiful Leica IIIf RD ST – meaning the red dial, self timer variant as shown here, fitted with its Summicron:

Some call it a IIf RD DA. More correctly, Erwin Puts (a Leica fanatic and generally regarded as an oracle) describes this as a “Leica IIIf Vorlauf ELC (RD)” and from its serial number it was actually made in Canada – making it rare and very, very collectable. There were only 4,000 Canadian units made out of a total of 184, 100 that were produced between 1950 and 1957. (Thanks, Leica Wiki:  http://www.l-camera-forum.com/leica-wiki.en/index.php/Leica_IIIf  )

The RD or “red dial” means the version introduced late in the production run with some red filled figures on the speed and flash synchronization dials. The ST means a factory-fitted self-timer is present. (The DA in some names refers to the presence of a delayed action – or a self timer…) Only one other version of screw mount Leicas was made after this one, and, yes, it was called the IIIg. It is very rare – I have never seen one. Mine dates from 1954, when the IIIf was marketed in parallel with the first M3s. The screw mount collapsible Summicron started life in 1953, the first year that this brilliant lens series was born, and is one of the very first batch of 6000 ever produced – I wonder if they have been mated all their lives?

My one was practically given to me by an old fellow who knowingly said it “has some issues”. I got it home, and checked it out. The list of issues: filthy, dirty chrome; scratched front element and dull glass; jammed aperture ring; missing vulcanite under the lens mount; and slow speeds issues.

Well here’s the health report after a couple of days:

  • chrome – sorted. Cleaned up nicely and shines like new with only a couple of minor rub marks, and a bit of brassing on the winder and rewind knobs;
  • scratched front element and dull glass – sorted. The lens had a very marked filter jammed on. I eventually got it off, and guess what – clean, clear, unmarked almost pristine glass elements all through the lens. This is almost unheard of as the front elements are notoriously soft, and most have been ruined by cleaning. It seems this one’s jammed filter saved it from this fate.
  • jammed aperture ring – sorted. I unscrewed the front section, and cleaned out the old hardened grease jamming it up with lighter fluid. It is now a very easy one finger adjustment.
  • missing vulcanite under the lens mount – sorted.  “Star brite” brand black liquid electrical tape mixed with talcum powder makes new rubber the same colour as the old vulcanite. This then is applied with a skewer to fill the missing area, and when nearly set is pressed with a sealing wax block that I melted and pressed onto a good area of the body to make an impression of the existing pattern. Looks pretty convincing.
  • slow speed issues – nearly sorted. Both curtains now open and close nicely. One half second times electronically as 0.55 secs so its only 10% out now. I have to check the fast speeds.

I have unearthed an old finder from my collection of bits and pieces which serves well as the 50mm bright line viewfinder this camera really needs. The camera’s rangefinder works perfectly, and even has a built-in diopter-adjust mechanism. It just keeps getting better. I am definitely going to get back into film with this incredible camera. I have promised this before and never followed through for long, but this camera has sparked something special in me again. My reading has informed me that Henri Cartier Bresson used exactly this combination to make some of his most famous images. What’s good enough for him surpasses my modest needs.

Dare I say it – I like it a whole lot better than my M6. It’s much quieter, too..

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