When Leica released the Leica M3 in 1954, they probably had no idea about how big of an impact the camera would make. Today, the M3 remains the company’s most iconic camera ever made. It has stood the test of time very well and is every purist’s dream come true. By the time its production came to a halt in 1966, over 220,000 M3 cameras had been sold.
The M3 was the first camera from Leica featuring the M-mount that’s still in use today. This makes the Leica M3 compatible with all the M-mount lenses made till date. It is for this particular reason too that the camera remains highly acclaimed. The camera was considered groundbreaking then, and even today, it remains a jewel of mechanical and optical perfection.
In terms of features, we aren’t looking at anything much here. The M3 just does what it needs to do, take pictures; and the experience is really something. It does not promise all the bells and whistles, but when it comes to the basic functionality, nothing can beat it. The smooth mechanicals are a pleasure to work with. The large and clutter free viewfinder is an absolute beauty.
Who is the Leica M3 for?
Everybody who gets to use the Leica M3 for once wants to keep it. Any Leica owner who knows about this camera wants one. Camera collectors go crazy for it. And photographers who already own an M3  would love to get another one. That’s the beauty of this camera. But with that said, the M3 surely isn’t for everybody.
The first thing that will upset many people is the price. As with Any other Leica, the M3 does not come cheap. You really need to dig deep down your pockets if you want to get one.
The camera is pretty simple to use, but as it’s a purely mechanical camera, you need to know what you’re doing. There’s no light meter and auto modes to assist you. So, if you are a beginner, you will find it pretty challenging to use this camera.
The compact rangefinder body is perfect to carry around. Street photographers, travel photographers, and any other professionals who love film and like to travel light will find the Leica M3 perfect for them.
Leica M3 features
|Lens mount||Leica M-mount|
|Dimensions||138 x 77 x 33.5 mm|
|Shutter speed||1/1000s – 1s, Bulb mode|
|Flash sync speed||1/50s|
|ISO range||ISO 160-2500|
|Framelines||50, 90, and 135mm|
The Leica M3 has a typical rangefinder design; a design that’s still acclaimed today. It’s quite compact making it a perfect compact companion to be walking around with.
While there’s nothing much to complain about Leica’s design, there’s one thing you should consider on the M3. Unlike other cameras like the Leica M6, the shutter speed dial on the M3 is quite small. That’s because the camera was designed to be used with a LeicaMeter. This actually is not a big deal but I feel spoiled with the larger dials on my other cameras. See also our full Leica M6 Review here for more information.
This is the first Leica camera that introduced the film advance lever. Prior to the M3, there used to be knobs that you needed to twist to advance the film. With the lever too, you can come across a variation depending on when it was made. While earlier models needed you to use two shorter strokes to advance the film, the later models require a single but slightly longer stroke. Again, this too doesn’t matter much and is just a matter of personal choice. Both the designs are buttery smooth to work with.
Anyone who has used a Leica M3 will tell you that the viewfinder on the camera is the best one ever made. I have not seen anything that tops the viewfinder on the M3. It is the biggest and the brightest viewfinder ever.
To start with, it has a magnification of .91x. This means that the images you see with the viewfinder is huge; perfect for critical focusing and when working with longer focal lengths. And if you have used other Leica cameras, you must have noticed how they are prone to flaring and ghosting in certain lighting conditions. But with the M3 you will not come across those issues. It’s that good.
Another feature that makes the Leica M3’s viewfinder standout is how clutter-free it is. There are no distractions – only clear frame lines to help you compose your shots better. This makes the whole experience of taking an image distraction-free.
The camera has frame lines for 50, 90, and 135mm focal lengths that you can see through the viewfinder. The 50mm frame lines are always visible and putting on a 90mm lens will automatically select the corresponding framelines. In case you need to go wider, like 35mm, there are lenses that come with goggle-like attachments to reduce the magnification of the viewfinder. However, keep in mind that using them will reduce the brightness of the brilliant viewfinder.
Film rewind knob
Let me admit, the first time I had to rewind my first roll of film, it felt like it took me ages to do it. Unlike other film cameras that I was used to working with, the experience with the M3 was quite slow when it came to rewinding the film because the rewinding knob lacks a crank. You’ll thus have to resort to twisting the knob. For more selection of the best film cameras, see our Best 35mm Film Cameras here.
Experience working with the Leica M3
The experience of using an M3 is what makes it worth having one despite the fact that it is a very old camera. When you use the camera, you can feel the precision with which it was built and it makes up for an amazing experience.
When you turn the lever to advance the film, it is smooth. I know it cannot be expressed in words; you have to try it to know what I’m talking about here. And then there’s the shutter. Made of a rubberized cloth, it is near silent and so satisfying. Perfect if you want to walk around with the camera taking photos of street subjects.
Loading the Leica M3 can be quite an experience too if you lack patience. It’s not particularly quick compared to the quick loading mechanism that’s in the cameras like the Leica M6. When loading the M3, you need to insert the leader into a slit of a take-up spool. This is what takes up most of the time. And every time I tend to hurry myself, I tend to mess things up. So I’d advise you to take it slow.
Should you get the Leica M3?
Leicas are expensive. But, if you have the budget and are in the market for a Leica that shoots film, you can consider the M3. The images that the M3 produces are without a doubt spectacular. But, the output totally depends on you – the photographer.
The camera has no built-in metering system, no auto modes, it’s all manual. And neither is it designed for So, the success or failure of the images is all up to you. If you are inclined towards getting the M3 and are aware of these caveats, the Leica M3 can be a great camera to own. It will serve you very well for a long time to come.
If you still want the M3 but want the confidence that a light-meter provides, you’d want to have a look at the Leica M6 as well.
Final Verdict on Leica M3
The Leica M3 is a very simple camera which is a result of engineering brilliance. It is a superb camera to work with and is probably the only camera you will ever need if you want to capture moments one frame at a time. The full mechanical experience can slow you down, but that’s the beauty of it. This camera will immerse you in the process of photography.