I switched to Leica M3 and shot film after 20 years

I have tried shooting film a couple of times after the beginning of this century, but my success rate has been pathetic. I never finished the roll.

I used film up till about 2003 or so and went fully digital after that. So, film photography is nothing new to me, but I lost my interest to film, because digital was so much more practical for commercial work.

Leica M3 + 35mm F2 + Fomapan 400.

However, lately film photography has started to interest me again and I decided to try, if I can finish a roll of black and white. But, I needed a camera first, because I got rid of all my film cameras years ago.

Leica M3

I’m a Lumix ambassador, so I’d gladly shoot on Lumix, but there are no Lumix or Panasonic film cameras. Well, there are some plastic point and shoot things, but I wanted something else. I also didn’t want to shoot on any current mainstream brand, because it didn’t feel appropriate. On top of that, I wanted a mirrorless film camera.

Leica M3 + 35mm F2 + Fomapan 400.

Fortunately there are many now obsolete camera brands, that used to make very nice cameras back in the day. But, I really felt a strong pull towards Leica, a rangefinder Leica. Panasonic and Leica have a lot of collaboration these days, so that would also be an upside. Unfortunately, used film Leicas are really expensive and I wasn’t sure, if I was going to even enjoy shooting film.

Luckily my old friend, an ex press photographer, had an M3 with a 35mm Summicron, that he was not using and he agreed to loan that to me. This was more than perfect. I could try film and do it in style without buying an expensive camera.

Leica M3 + 35mm F2 + Fomapan 400.

While my friend was packing and sending the camera to me, I started to look for film and necessary gear for film developing. I really wanted to shoot Kodak Tri-X and process it in D-76, because that used to be my favorite combination long time ago.
However, I found out that, for whatever reason, the price for a roll of Tri-X is more than €10 here in Finland and that felt a bit too much.
After some searching I came across the Fomapan 400, which had some good reviews online and the price was €4,50 a roll. I decided to give it a try. My choice of developer was the Ilford ID-11, which is basically the same stuff as the D-76, but is was cheaper here in Finland.
I also bought a used steel tank with four reels. I prefer a steel tank over a plastic one, because the steel reels have no moving parts and can be loaded even when wet. The plastic reels have to be 100% dry before you can load the film in.

Leica M3
The Leica M3, Summicron 35mm F2 and a roll of Fomapan 400 film.

The camera arrived, I loaded it with a roll of Fomapan 400 and went on shooting film. My friend’s Leica is made in 1955 and the lens in 1969, but they both have a very nice solid feel, even though they are not nearly in mint condition.
The M3 and a 35mm lens are a bit strange combination, because the viewfinder in the M3 has frame lines only for 50, 90 and 135mm lenses. Therefore a 35mm would need and an external viewfinder or something called the goggles. I had neither and I had to guess my framing and composition, because the lens was quite a bit wider than the viewfinder. That was somewhat irritating, but tolerable on a loaner camera.

The shooting experience on a vintage Leica M is quite different from shooting on a modern digital camera. The M3 is an extremely basic camera, everything is manual, there’s no light meter and no battery is needed. You have to have some sort of light meter, but on a sunny day it’s not too hard to use the sunny 16 rule either.
There are light meter apps for phones, but I still have a Gossen light meter that I used.
I don’t chimp a lot on digital, but I do it occasionally and I guess it’s impossible not to chimp at all. With a film camera you can’t chimp, and at least I felt, I was observing much more what is going on around me instead of playing with my camera. I was not even thinking about sharing anything, because that would have been impossible.

Gossen light mteter.

I felt I was literally going back to basics, back to when photography was very simple. Maybe it was more complicated to get started and the learning curve was certainly steeper, but I still think shooting film was, or is still, much simpler than digital.
I don’t think I could go back to shooting film only, but it was nice to try film again and to be able to enjoy it.

Leica M3 + 35mm F2 + Fomapan 400.

The Fomapan 400 proved to be quite decent film, especially for the price. I developed it in ID-11 1+1 for 13 minutes and I like what I see. This is based on only one roll and I have to shoot more to make my final verdict, but my initial impressions are favorable.
I have to say that a monitor is not the right way to view film photos. I printed some the photos that I shot and they look so much better on paper.
I will probably also shoot some Tri-X too now that I realized I can enjoy film.

I’m sure I’m going to shoot more film in the future, but I have to get my own camera first. The loaner Leica has been standing unused too long and the exposure times are not accurate. The camera needs some CLA to work perfectly again, but since it’s not mine, I can’t decide what happens to it. I’d also like have a camera lens combination, that was meant to work together.
But, I found out, that I can have good fun shooting film again, which was my main purpose to try film.

18 thoughts on “I switched to Leica M3 and shot film after 20 years

  1. I think there is something many people forget. To take a picture is not only to look at the picture when it is ready. Especially for an amateur fotographer like me it is also important to enjoy the moment when taking the picture. For this reason I used normaly a Pentax K1 with the new and huge 50/1.4 and older 31/1.8 85/1.8. Everything of this feels good, but it is big and heavy. So I also bought a GX-80, 20/1.7 (oly)12-45/4 a few weeks ago, because it was the smallest possible solution with good image quality and body stabilisation. But it is also important to me that the mechanic of the gear feels good!
    I also found that using a small camera change the behavier of the people around me and my thinking when I took a picture. The relationship between a photographer and the enviroment is different with different kind of camera.
    And absolut the same it true about using a small M3 and B/W film. It feels different, it smells different, the people look at you in a different way. Even if the picture is the same, the feeling is completly different.

    I used the Fomapan many times in the past. I think it is a nice film! In the past they also had B/W slide film and a special kit for developing slides themself. This is even better than using prints on baryt paper because of the size when viewing it. But I did not know if it is still made.

    The reason your Leika did not work, the grease inside becomes to old. I had the same problem with an old Pentax ME Super. I think this can happen with every old gear, but it is possible to repair it.

    1. Thanks for sharing! You are right, it’s all tied together, the camera, situation, feeling etc.

  2. the m3 is a very reliable camera… up to today you can still repair the m3
    and the lens looks a leica 35mm ver 4 summicron… if it is… it is one of the best 35mm every made… a very balance lens…
    from the video you mention that you are a Lumix ambassador…
    and I think you should try this…
    use your Lumix camera… try to copy the film negative… there should be a pixel shift mode where you can create a super resolution photo.
    the result is amazing…

  3. Mr Matti, that’s great that you tried out a Czech film! Why not adopt the same independence towards Lumix products – being an ambassador should not stop you from experimenting with other brands. As creators, we are fuelled by our independence and free spirit, and should protect them fiercely and unconditionally. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and moments with Leica. Its body is very elegant and nice to look at.

  4. I never abandoned my film cameras. I have a Hasselblad body and three lenses to go with it. Before switching to mirrorless, i had a boatload of Nikon bodies and lenses. With my Lumiz, I even got an adapter to use my old Nikkors on it. Finally, I also still have my old Zone VI 4X5 view camaera and a Graflex Speed Graphic. I plan to retire in the next two years and will get back to my film roots.

    Until then, you have provided some valuable lessons for me on Lumix settings. It will take me a decade before I learn how to reallyuse the GX7 to its fullest. The same is true for my Nikon D700.

    Thank you for putting in the perspiration to give me inspiration.

  5. Hi Matti,

    A great roll of film you’ve made there. BW and colour are two different ways of seeing: in contrasts or in colours. You can see in contrasts really well. Your friend might decide to get the camera going again. Here in Germany in a town nearby called Düsseldorf there is a quite good and inexpensive repairman called Dieter Bilzer.

  6. This Leica M3 is odd, because it has an M4 film winder and DA lever, So it has been taken to pieces and refurbished. As 50 year user of Leicas, still using screw thread IIs and IIIfs, plus an M2, M3 and M4, please continue the use of these marvels. I have had a digital phase and at times they are necessary evils for the job in hand, but the pleasure of film, processing and enlarging is one of the thrills in life. Nothing worthwhile was accomplished without effore; do not begrudge it and you will end with strong images


  7. It´s weird to realize just how much have changed since the dawn of digital. I read “no battery needed” and my instant feeling was “that´s…. not right” before realizing that is exactly how it used to be. I love film but I have to admit that there is no turning back for yours truly. Great article!

  8. Hello Matti i am Josip from Croatia.I saw you story about Leica M3 and film after 20 year.I have same situation.I have Leica M2 in mint condition and i shooting one black and white film too after many of shooting with digital cameras.The feeling was great.I have full equipment for developing and enlargment and feelings is come back.Film is not dead definitly.I bought a film from Berlin Adox csm 2.Its new film for 35mm and specification is magnificent.Adox says that resolution of this film in specific parametars (big iris new developer ) is amazing 500 megapixel.Its unbelievable.Its better then many digital sensors.I am working at Croatian tv and digital media is plastic too much sharp and unnatural.Black colour is not black white is not white and no magic in montage as enlargments in analog process.Thx for your interview and you are not only and i like your comeback…We must stay together…i m 50 year old and you better understand me then young people who never hear for film.Have a nice day Matti….

  9. Back in the 60’s I used a pair of Canon rangefinders .. one loaded with fine grain (ASA 40) and one with Tri-X (ASA 2400, dev’d in Diafin) .. lenses were Summicron 50mm F2, 35mm, 135mm.
    Did my own darkroom work .. 8×10 gloss and 11×14 matte. Now I’m using Panasonic 4/3 with a variety of lenses.

  10. I have a question for you. This M3 has a serial number showing that the camera is from 1955.
    The M3 productions from this time were double stroke and had a shutter speed dial of 1-2-5-10-25-50-100-250-500-1000. I myself have an M3 from this time with serial number 754 753. I have the history of the camera since it was sent from Wetzlar to a photo shop in Copenhagen. How can it be that a camera with a lower serial number has a different top, like younger M3s that were single stroke?
    K. Kristjansson.

  11. I recently did the same but with a Nikon FM2 and a 40mm lens it was bliss, and I really enjoyed it. So as I am actually a Leica Digital photographer I found myself looking at Leica MA’s and now I have a new one in my hands as I went a bit crazy and brought one just as Leica was increasing their prices this last May and I found the last one in the UK at the old price. The price increase would have added another £400-00 to the camera which would have meant that I did not buy the camera. I am very happy to have this wonderful camera and it is a treat to use Black and White film again, I am lucky as I also have a good lens set for Leica M mount so I have been in camera heaven since it arrived.

  12. Matti—from Colorado—-I miss your Panasonic videos, for one. I also missed the opportunity to purchase some of your photo T shirts. Are you still selling—0r so?

    I also use a M3 & prior to that a 111F, which my parents purchased in 1955-58 in
    Germany–that is when I started to “fondle” cameras, in my youth and I have been at photography for 46 years now, a former Nikon user (Nikkormat–F2-3) and now the Panny G9 a range of lenses–using the 14-45, 14-140, most of the time, occasionally the 42 prime & the 35-100.

    Back to Leica M3—Which I use on occasion now–not my day to day camera——M3, only one lens, the Summitar 50mm, the original lens on my 111F, a screw mounted lens but with an adapter, (bayonet) now compatible with the M3. I too do darkroom work, Ilford HP5 & Dektol. I do no use a light meter for the M3 as I know “light”, but what I need perhaps is suggestions for “focusing”—Especially at say the F5.6 & 6 meters—“rapid focusing”, not
    fidging with the camera looking for the “correct parallax”, nor using the info on the lens barrel if I can avoid it.

    Your suggestions working “rapidly–close up” a la C. Bresson, Gary Winnogrand

    Raymond A. Bleesz
    VVAGP Co Founder
    Edwards, Co

    http://www.vvagco.org—under Leadership–Raymond Bleesz

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