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Old Leicas never die...

It's tough for us Leica nuts but sometimes a Leica comes in that is just not economical to repair. But when two come along something greater than the sum of the parts can be created.

Take an M3 with a badly damaged viewfinder and a Leica M4 with a ruined shutter. Splice the best of the two together and you get a - well... I guess you could call it a Leica M3.5.

The aim was to remove the excellent fully operational rangefinder from the M4 and fit it on the M3 (in place of the M3's damaged unit.) Making conversions like this can be a little nail-biting even for an experienced repairer/restorer like Will...

11 years separate the 1957 Leica M3 and the 1968 Leica M4. Leica made subtle modifications to the M camera throughout this period. But in theory, grafting the two cameras together was possible - just maybe very fiddly!

We all love the rugged looks of the M3 with its embossed framing around the rangefinder windows - and this early camera's 'Buddha ear' strap lugs have always been a nice detail. The M4 looks rather 'dainty' and perhaps not so rugged... But I guess this is down to personal taste.

The great appeal of this conversion was to offer up an M3 with the viewfinder of an M4; TLI's very own M3.5. We love the chunky 50mm bright line viewfinder bars that dominate the standard M3's viewfinder but, given our love of shooting on 35mm Summicrons, this conversion felt pretty irresistible. Here was the chance to have an M3 with a viewfinder that would cover the area of a 35mm wide angle - just like an M4 (or M2)

The work progressed pretty smoothly until it came to the final adjustment of the M4 rangefinder - now mounted in the M3 body. The church tower across the square from the office window has always been a good target to set up the M rangefinder.

Will had to exercise a great deal of patience. Both cameras had been subjected to some pretty brutal treatment over the years - mainly in the hands of inept repairers. Will's stock of spare screws and eagle eye for a very slightly distorted cam arm - which was promptly set right - paid off.

Checking and re-checking the rangefinder throughout its range took time. But then the camera had been a laboriously hand built masterpiece in the first place.

...And, after a last ditch fiddle with the bright lines - success at last!

Here is an M3 that had originally been equipped with the usual 50/90/135mm frame lines. Now it has a unique 'secret' set-up... The viewfinder now offers 35/50/90/135 frame lines. Perfect for the modern street shooter!

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Nov 04, 2023


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