Back in 2015, I was picking up some prints from chemical and digital lab guru Bruce Starrenburg at his Light Box lab, when I noticed a couple of old Leica IIIfs on his desk. He said they were given to him recently and that there was some history attached to them. They previously belonged to artist/photographer/journalist Florence Arquin. I picked one up and was impressed by the solidity of the camera and the smoothness of the controls. I asked if I could borrow one for a bit. Sure his said, take your time with it.
When I got back to the studio, I Googled Florence and was able to find quite a bit of information on her. Several old black and white and color photographs of her travels through South America and even a few shots of her taking pictures with a Leica IIIf. It had to be one of the cameras that I borrowed I thought to myself.
The Leica IIIf came mounted with a series one Leitz Summicron 50mm f2 lens. Some of the most famous images in history were made with this combination. I was eager to try out the lens and wondered if it had the same character as my vintage Carl Zeiss 50mm f2 Sonnar? I had owned and used a Leitz Summicron 50mm f2 with my Leica M6 and liked it very much. I imagined however that the early version of this lens would give a softer image, with more character and color in the bokeh. This was my experience with my Carl Zeiss 50mm f2 Sonnar, and the main reason that I still own it.
Sadly, the Leitz lens was stiff and nearly frozen. No doubt years of neglect and lack of use had caused the grease to hardened making the lens inoperable. Nothing a skilled camera technician couldn’t take care of.
I did take a couple of weeks using the Leica IIIf with my Carl Zeiss Sonnar and realized that using this camera made me think about my compositions. Framing and focusing are done using two separate finders. Setting lens speed and aperture requires taking incident readings with a hand held light meter, or relying on your knowledge of light and the Sunny 16 rule. I imagined as I walked around using the camera how different and deliberate photography was back in the 30s, 40s and 50s. How one had to not only have framing skills, but also complete knowledge of how shutter speed and aperture will affect the final exposure. Patience was also needed as no one was going to use this for grab shots. All of the controls worked smoothly, precisely and effortlessly. An experience I have never forgotten.
When I returned to camera to Bruce I let me know what a gem it was. He smiled and said that he would likely never use them, as they do have quite a bit of historical significance. Here are a few iPhone shots of the camera taken back in 2015.