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Nick's Classic Corner - No. 19 - Leica IIIf BD and Canon IIF

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by Benchista, Nov 3, 2013.

  1. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    In the early 50s, the rangefinder was still king of the miniatures (35mm cameras to you and me), and king of them all was the recently-introduced Leica IIIf Black Dial. The major new introduction was pretty much universal flash sync - a pointer around the base of the shutter dial could be set to a number between 0 and 20 to get the correct sync for the bulb or electronic flash in use, with sync socket on the back of the camera. The camera is small and light, but very solid. It still had the M39 Leica screw thread, it still had separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows, and it still had two shutter speed dials - a converntionally-placed one, and one on the front for the slow speeds. It still had knob wind, no opening back so a removable base plate and drop-in loading that required extra trimming of the film leader. It still had rounded ends to the body. And it still had a non-geometrical shutter speed range (whch changed with the Red Dial version).
    So, let's take a closer look. On the left of the topplate is a rewind knob, with a lever underneath to adjust the dioptric setting of the rangefinder window. In the middle is the accesory/flash she, with to the right, a reasonably large shutter speed dial (speeds of 1/30, 1/40, 1/60, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500 and 1/1000 plus B), surrounded by the flash sync selector. Next is the shutter button inside a collar, which would take an adaptor for a cable release. In front of the shutter button is a rewind release lever. On the extreme right is the windon knob, surrounded by a manually-set frame counter, and with a film speed and type reminder inset. This knob is very smooth, and can be advanced with one finger, making the camera surprisingly easy to use at eye level. On the front are three windows - the two rangefinder windows and theviewfinder - and the slow speed knob (speeds of 1s, 1/2, 1/4, 1/10, 1/15, 1/20, 1/30 and T - for this dial to be operative, the main dial has to be set to 1/20).
    The base has a tripod socket on one side, and an unlocking key on the other. Once removed, the take-up spool is pulled out, the (specially cut, remember) leader is put under the clip, just enough film pulled out, and the spool, leader and casette put in place. A slight wind is given to ensure the sprockets have been engaged, the base plate replaced, and the camera wound on and framecounter reset. As long as you trim the leader correctly, it works OK.
    On the back of the camera is the flash sync socket, and two tiny windows next to each other - the rangedinder and viewfinder windows. The rangefinder window is magnified and works really rather well. The viewfinder window is for 50mm lenses, is bright but does tend to be easily obscured by larger lenses.

    By modern standards, it's a bit slow and awkward to use, what with knob wind, separate windows, no meter and two shutter speed dials, but load up with HP5, use your experience to guess the exposure (something that you get good at pretty quickly when using old rangefinders), don't change the shutter speed too often and prefocus where possible, and suddenly you've got a fabulous photographic tool that's compact, high quality, and pretty unobtrusive. It's quiet and smooth in operation - a very nice camera.

    Meanwhile, in Japan, manufacturers were playing the copy game. Nikon were providing fairly close copies of the Contax rangefinders, whilst Canon were copying the Leica. Pick up a IIF and the similarities to the Lecia are striking - it's easier to discuss the few differences. The main one is that the viewfinder is an all-in-one with the rangefinder, so it's offset from the lens mount a little. It's not quite as bright as the Leica, but only one window does make it easier to use. The lever under the rewind knob in this case alters magnification of the finder to make focus easier - there are 3 settings, F for full frame view, 1x and 1.5x to make focusing easier and more accurate. The other main difference is flash sync - the Canon has bulb sync only, no fancy sync setting switch, and a special rail with flash contact on the LHS of the body. The shutter speed dial is smaller, with speeds of 1/25, 1/40, 1/60, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500 and B. The front slow-speed dial has 1s, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/25 and T. There is an ASA speed reminder only in the windon knob, the ends of the camera are more angular, and the film spool is spring-loaded and locks in place.
    In use, it's also a really nice camera - it's slightly quicker to use because of the combined viewfinder/rangefinder, the knob wind if anything is even more smooth, but the shutter is slightly noisier. All in all, it's every bit as well-made as the Leica, and every bit as good a photographic tool. Personally, I prefer the Leica for the look of the rangefinder windows, the sound of the shutter and the cachet of the name, but both are wonderful cameras that can still produce great results with a little care, and certainly give the true thrill of vintage camera photography.
  2. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Re: Nick's Classic Corner - No. 19 - Leica IIIf BD and Canon II

    A nice little piece, Nick.

    A couple of years ago I took a flightline tour at a Shuttleworth Collection airshow, and one of the group I was in had a IIIF. He let me fondle it, and take a photo, and compared to any of the rest of my vintage cameras - even the Kodak Retinas - it was much, much more refined, and really did feel like a piece of precision engineering in my hands. That's when I finally admitted that maybe Leica really meant something more than just expensive cameras!

  3. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    Re: Nick's Classic Corner - No. 19 - Leica IIIf BD and Canon II

    When I was in the British Army ( RAMC) 1955-58 I was sent to ISERLOHN in Germany to finish up -- there we had the Canadian Army and they had a 'maple leaf store' where they sold Brand -NEW LEICA IIIf with 50mm f3.5 Elmar for £ 45-00 each !!

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