Leica Little Oddfellows Capitol Hill Seattle

Leica IIIa

Some good news bad news on the Leica front. My folks sent me my grandfather’s Leica IIIa the other day. I jumped online and watched some Youtube videos on loading the film and shooting. I’m a bad blogger, I meant to make a note of the sites I found helpful and list them here. Next time.

The trick with the old Leicas is that the film take up spool worked with the longer, narrower film rolls used back in the day. My grandfather’s camera was made in the late 1930s (1937?). To load the camera with modern film you need to cut the lead, making sure to leave two sprocket holes exposed.

I picked up some Kodak TMAX 400 black and white film and headed over to Little Oddfellows to load it in their well-lit cafe (and have a biscuit). Loading the film wasn’t as difficult as I thought, and I allowed a little optimism to creep in. That may have been a mistake.

Leica Little Oddfellows Capitol Hill Seattle
Leica IIIa, Little Oddfellows Cafe, Capitol Hill, Seattle.

When I was checking out the camera (empty) during the instructional videos I fired the shutter a few times. It had that always gratifying, distinct shutter release sound. Now this is a machine. Even after 70+ years the gears were still turning. But after I loaded and advanced the film, that rewarding shutter release sound is gone. I can press the shutter and advance the film, but my instincts tell me something’s not right.

I’m hoping that I’ve just loaded the film incorrectly, but I suspect the shutter’s timing mechanism may be off. I also haven’t figured out how to read the exposure counter. I thought I had that set correctly, too, but with each advance it falls on a different number.

I’ll take the film in to Panda this week and report back.

9 thoughts on “Leica IIIa

  1. If it sounded right without film, than the film isn’t loaded correctly. Have you trimmed the film to 13 sprocket holes? It will not load properly if you haven’t. Open the back, take out the film take up spool, thread the film and drop the spool and the film in at the same time. Hope that helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ray, as always, that was helpful. I thought I did it correctly, but I must have messed up somewhere. Probably on the trimming. I can’t remember exactly but I think I cut after the 14th and left 2 exposed.


      • Everybody says 13 and that’s worked for me. I don’t that it has to be exact. The only other thing I can suggest is that you also have to cock the shutter. After that, it is a little trick to drop the film and take up spool in at the same time. If one isn’t seated properly then you have issues. It may look right to the eye, but sometimes you have to very, very gently feel the seating.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good point! Glazer’s here in Seattle is a great camera shop, and I have a POC for a Leica specialist in Oregon. I think there’s also a local Leica store. I loaded another roll, and I am cautiously optimistic. Fingers crossed. On a side note, I do not know how Capa and Bresson used these quickly. I imagine later variants were easier, and that even with the IIIA, practice makes perfect.

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      • There’s a Leica store in Bellevue. Go there first. Capa mostly used Contaxes, which weren’t much easier to load, which partially accounts of his making only 11 frames during the D-Day invasion. I don’t know what HCB used earlier in his career. He did switch as quickly as he could to M bodies. So that’s 1954. But, one thing about any early rangefinder is they aren’t noted for speed or ease of use. It was the glass that mattered most. Sort of like today.

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      • I’ve read that HCB wasn’t all that interested in the technical aspects of photography. For him it was composition and that famous decisive moment. One gets the sense that he’d be bored by the constant discussions in today’s photo circles about gear and technical comparisons.

        HCB and Papa were photojournalists/war correspondents, though, shooting photos that involved movement. Does that mean, then, that they favored narrow depths of field that would keep more in focus? This Leica IIIA is a lot of fun to use, and it’s beautiful, but I can’t imagine having to keep a moving subject in constant focus.


      • I follow him. If you poke around Storyteller, you’ll see that I never talk about gear. To me, it’s about the picture. I’m sure he would be bored with gear discussions today. After all, he worked with one body and a 50mm. Of course, this conversation is fun because it’s old gear. 😃

        As far as working in the field with Leicas or Contaxes of the day, I’m pretty sure that your Dad, Capa and HCB mostly zone focused and then adjusted focus on the fly given that ISOs were not that fast and stopping down could introduce a lot of blur because of compensating slow shutter speeds. Additionally, lenses wider than a 50 are generally in focus front to back. It’s also about practice. Just shoot that camera for about a month and you’ll get pretty quick too.

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