The Leica Dilemma

Ah, the Leica M3. What can I say about this camera? Sadly, not a whole lot.

Truth is, I don’t know much about this camera, and it showed in my first roll. Or lack thereof. Because there was nothing on the first roll.

Or the second roll, for that matter.

But even though the problem could definitely have been the camera–it is a pretty old little gem–I had a feeling it was me. Primarily my loading skills. And the Leica’s hard-to-load system.

I’ll be frank here: loading a Leica M3 is a total pain in the ass.

Unlike the other 35mm cameras out there, which load in the back, this one is loaded from underneath, confusing total newbies like me. One has to remove the reel on the right, then curl the film around said reel and slip both the cartridge and the reel into the camera.

Luckily, this camera has a little “trap door” which allows you to look at the back and see if it’s loaded properly.

But getting the film into the camera is just step one. Step two is making sure the film is winding properly. I skipped this step the first two loads, assuming that as long as it was wrapped around the reel, it would wind properly. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP (unless you are a Leica guru and know what you’re doing). You will waste film.

On my third loading attempt, I made sure the film would wind by slipping it into the notch on the reel. The youtube video did not show this, and I’m still not entirely sure it’s what that notch is there for, but I did it anyway. Then I took a picture and, using the trap door, made sure the film was winding.

Rewinding took a lot longer the third time around, which was a good sign. But I exposed the last three frames or so because I wasn’t sure it was rewinding (it wasn’t) and I found I hadn’t pulled the rewind button out far enough.

Still, I got results! Proof that the Leica M3 does work.

So, here’s a little step-by-step for the Leica newbies like me. Note: I’m not a master. This is just what worked for me. Follow my directions at your own risk.

How to Load a Leica M3:

  1. Remove bottom of Leica
  2. Remove reel from right-hand side
  3. Tug a little film from the cartridge and slip it into the notch on the reel
  4. Carefully slip the cartridge into the left-hand side while simultaneously slipping the reel into the right-hand side until both lock into place.
  5. Check “trap door” and make sure film is not creased or folded or loose.
  6. Press the shutter button and wind the film to make sure film is winding.
  7. Close the back and replace the bottom of the camera.
  8. Press the shutter button and wind until the display by the shutter is on the number 1

How to Unload a Leica M3:

  1. Flip the rewind switch down to the “R”
  2. Pull up the rewind knob and turn it in the direction of the arrow (Note: if you don’t think the film is rewinding, try pulling the rewind knob higher (gently).
  3. When you feel the “pop” or the “jerk” or however you want to describe it, meaning the film has let go and is in the cartridge, carefully remove the bottom (might I suggest doing this in a darkroom or low light just in case?)
  4. Remove cartridge and voila!

I may not know much about the techniques of this camera–and I’m still awful at rangefinders–but I do know one very important thing about this camera…

It’s a family heirloom.

This is a picture of my great-granddad taking a picture of my dad, using the very same Leica M3 that took the pictures above. Just like the Rolleiflex, it’s a part of my history, and has seen and told many stories.

And I need to practice, practice, practice, so that I can continue its legacy.

All photos (except last one) © Lina Forrester


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