There’s something about a classic camera that attracts like-minded people together like moths to a flame. This holds especially true for classic Leica cameras in pristine condition. The Leica M3 pictured above is one such camera. It is a single stroke model made in the early 60s and is practically flawless. The viewfinder is clear and bright, the black vulcanite is complete, and the mechanics feel smooth as silk. Upon this camera I prefer to mount an equally classic Leica Elmar 50mm f2.0 collapsable lens, which keeps the camera compact and unobtrusive. To sling it around my neck I use a Luigi strap, available from Leica Time. Luigi straps, like Leica cameras, seem only to improve with age. I purchased the one shown with this camera used off EBay. It is well worn, yet soft and supple. To help meter exposure in tricky lighting situations I carry along the Gossen Digisix. It’s the Swiss Army knife of exposure meters, complete with clock, alarm, and temperature features. It’s small and compact and literally fits in the palm of your hand. I always pack the Digisix when I go on a walkabout with a film camera.
On a mid-autumn day last November I was walking with my Leica in a park near my home when an elderly man, who I’d seen several times during the day, slowly approached me and pointed to my camera. Thus began a wonderful friendship with Luke, an 84 year old Vietnamese man who worked as a photographer in Vietnam in the 50s & 60s. I took the camera from around my neck and placed it around his. He took the camera gently in his hands and raised the viewfinder to his eye. His wide smile beamed from behind the camera. For the next hour or so we walked slowly around the park and talked cameras. Cameras were the connection between two men from different backgrounds, different countries, and different generations. The connection was the camera and any differences were inconsequential.
Since that first meeting I’ve enjoyed many long walks and talks with Luke. A practicing Buddhist, he has shared with me his tips on meditation and life in general. I always come away from our conversations with a renewed feeling of expansiveness. But cameras are the connection. His passion for photography continues unabated. He confided in me just the other day that he was thinking of buying a new camera, a Nikon. “…but my wife thinks I’m crazy!” he said. “That’s what wives do!” I replied. “I hope that when I’m in my 80s my passion for photography burns so strongly within me that I consider buying another camera.”
Inevitably, our conversations about cameras comes ’round to price. Modern high-end digital DSLRs are expensive, that’s for sure. And we both reluctantly agree that the engineering and technology that goes into one warrants the cost. And yet we continue to marvel at the engineering and precision embodied by the Leica M3. We hold it on our hands and we can feel its solid construction, its buttery smooth mechanical operation, and see its crystal clear optics. We revere the past, and marvel at the present. Cameras are the connection, but we connect on so many levels.