lunes, 25 de noviembre de 2013


The Leica M3 Chrome with serial number 1000000 made in 1960 and matching a Leitz Wetzlar Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 DR with Near Focusing Attachment became the highlight of the 24th Camera Auction held at Westlicht Vienna on 24 November, 2013, reaching a price of 840,000 euros, much more than the starting estimate between 400,000-500,000 euros.

Peter Coeln, Founder and Owner of Westlicht Photography and Camera Auctions, Ostlicht Gallery, Leica Shop Vienna and Westlicht Museum, holding the Millionth Leica M3 (made in 1960) and the Leica I Model C Luxus (manufactured in 1930) sold during the 24th Camera Auction held in Westlicht Vienna on November 24, 2013. A recognized authority on Leica cameras and lenses and all kind of photographic stuff of different brands and formats, this visionary man (who has had the wisdom of choosing world class experts on Leica like Paul-Henry van Hasbroeck, Lars Netopil, Ottmar Michaely, Zoltan Fejér, Dr Bahman Bawendi, James E. Cornwall, Peter Göllner, Larry Gubas, Mayumi Kobayashi, Uli Koch, Jim McKeown, Dr, Milos Mladek, Dr. Wolfgang Netolitzky, Bernd K. Otto, Dieter Scheiba and others to often counsel him) knew to understand the immense historical significance and prestige of the Leica brand and has been one of the key figures in the current remarkable worldwide renaissance of Leica, something really astounding if we bear in mind that the mythical German photographic firm was about to disappear in 2003, shortly before another visionary man, Dr. Andreas Kauffmann, had the brainstorm and decision to save the brand.

This historical camera made in 1960 and featuring a fantastic mint cosmetic condition had previously been displayed at the Leitz Museum with original sticker M 964 on its base plate and had belonged to the collection of Surat Osathanugrah, President of the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand, who died in 2008.

Back view of the Millionth Leica, the M3 Chrome Single-Stroke featuring serial number 1000000 and preserved in mint condition.

The Leica M3 is considered the best 35 mm rangefinder camera ever made along with the Nippon Kogaku Nikon SP and is a masterpiece of mechanical perfection with an exceptionally bright and brilliant viewfinder and an amazingly quiet and virtually vibration free cloth focal plane shutter boasting extraordinary accuracy, always with an almost inaudible sound and working with an exceedingly short lag of 17 milliseconds between the moment in which the shutter release button is pressed and the beginning of the exposure, a remarkable achievement in comparison to usual shutter lags in the range 80-100 milliseconds inherent to professional reflex cameras.

On the other hand, the creation of the Leica M system together with the launching of the Leica M3 camera in 1954 has been one of the greatest achievements in the History of Photography, since between 1932 and mid fifties Zeiss Ikon had managed to prevail in terms of quickness and ease of use and focusing precision with its Contax II featuring a combined viewfinder and rangefinder (instead of the independent RF and VF windows inherent to Leica screwmount cameras), an exceedingly large rangefinder base of 90 mm (with a magnification of approximately 0.75x, attaining an effective baselength of 67.5 mm) and its highly luminous lenses designed by the genius Ludwig Bertele (specially the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5, the Carl Zeiss Jena 5 cm f/2, the Carl Zeiss Jena Biogon 3,5 cm f/2.8 and the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 8,5 cm f/2) delivering extraordinary resolving power and contrast for the time and only matched by Professor Max Berek´s Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5, a true reference class standard lens with unequalled compactness but featuring much less luminosity.

The impressive beauty of lines of the Leica Millionth M3 with its matching Leitz Wetzlar Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 with near focusing attachment is a relish to watch. Twelve years have elapsed since June 11th, 2001, when Westlicht Schauplatz für Fotografie opened in the Westbahnstrasse, 40 of Vienna (Austria), founded by its creator and driving force Peter Coeln through the private initiative of camera collectors and enthusiasts of top-notch photography, with the aim of enhancing the significance of photography both from a historical viewpoint and in terms of the relationship between photographic cameras and lenses and the art of photography. In all this time, Westlicht has become a world class reference as a camera gallery, picture gallery and very high quality selling point of new and vintage cameras, lenses and all type of accessories, simultaneously managing to likewise turn into a benchmark venue of photographic equipment and images auctions with its two already worldwide famous events Westlicht Camera Auction and Westlicht Photo Auction, and until now there have been twenty-four camera auctions and nine photo auctions.

But the arrival of the Leica M System and the Leica M3 camera in 1954 meant a turning point from which the legendary Wetzlar based German photographic firm took definitely the helm in the rangefinder domain that it has kept until nowadays throughout the amazing figure of sixty years, an unprecedented feat in the history of photographic cameras and lenses, being even able to adapt it to the digital era with the fulfilling of a dream come true: the Leica M9, Leica M9 Monochrom and Leica M Type 241 35 mm digital rangefinder cameras.

Not in vain, the Leica M System of cameras and lenses has been and goes on being one of the most perfect optical and mechanical breakthroughs ever made and whose fundamental principles were set forth by Willi Stein (manager of the photographic design department at Leitz during fifties and father of the Leica M camera concept), Hugo Wehrenfenning (designer of the first Leica M lenses and inventor of the four part M bayonet lens mount making possible a much faster change of objectives than with the screwmount Leica cameras, by means of a short 30º turn that locked each lens in position, and enabling that the farthest areas of the corners of the image received the maximum amount of light coming from the optical system) and Dr Ludwig Leitz who financed the project and was also decisive to its fulfilment with its astounding patents during the eighteeen previous years: patent August 3, 1935 (Photographic Camera with Parallax Correcting Finder), patent August 8, 1936 (Camera Shutter Mechanism with Willi Stein), patent September 2,1936 (Combined Rangefinder and Viewfinder), patent August 23, 1938 (Combined Rangefinder and Viewfinder) and patent May 9, 1939 (Photographic Viewfinder). 

The Leica M3 serial number 1000000 was presented by Willi Stein to Dr Ludwig Leitz in 1960 and is one of the most important cameras in the history of the brand, to such an extent that it has been painstakingly preserved throughout more than fifty years and is presently in mint condition. 

It´s also the fruit of twenty years of intensive research and tests dating back to1934 and which gave rise to the building of the Leica IV Prototype in 1936, a full-fledged experimental forebear of the Leica M3 camera.

On the other hand, the rangefinder of the Leica M3, the cream of the crop of the RFs ever made by Leica and entirely manufactured from top-notch glass, though not featuring such a huge rangefinder base and effective baselength as the Contax II, sports a still very big 69.25 mm RF base with an effective baselength of 63 mm and a 0.91x magnification finder  begetting fairly sharp images, and above all, the viewfinder of the Leica M3 is the best ever made for a photographic camera and specially optimized for its flawless synergy with 50 mm lenses, a sphere in which it hasn´t been beaten hitherto, because albeit the viewfinders of both Contax II and Nikon SP are very good, they´re colored and their RF spots are much less brilliant than the exceedingly large, clear and accurate flare-free rangefinder spot featured by the extraordinary viewfinder (designed by Erich Mandler, Heinrich Schneider and Robert Eckhardt) of the Leica M3 in perfect symbiosis with the likewise amazing rangefinder (created by Willi Stein and Dr Ludwig Leitz) of the camera, a work of art including more than 150 high precision components.

The bright-line frame for 50 mm lenses is permanently visible in the viewfinder, while the ones for 90 and 35 mm objectives are activated on being attached (the 0.92x VF magnification of the M3 makes necessary to add an optical viewfinder attachment for the use of 35 mm lenses).

Needless to say that this M3 rangefinder (whose frame lines are parallel to the body of the camera - unlike the ones belonging to the rest of M cameras which are in angle- and featuring a ground glass diffuser that makes possible the even illumination of the mask, reducing flare to negligible levels), the best ever made by Leica and integrated into the viewfinder, attains unmatched fast and accurate focusing even under the worst light conditions, with the measuring base of the rangefinder remaining the same irrespective of the lens being used, which means a remarkable advantage over the dslr cameras, particularly when using the widest apertures.

Thanks to its near focusing attachment the Leitz Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 DR matching the Leica M3 serial number 1000000 is able to focus up to 48 cm. This astounding lens was the first standard 50 mm objective delivering a resolving power of more than 100 pairs of lines/mm, also featuring a mechanical construction and gorgeous cosmetic appearance second to none.

Besides, the 7 elements in 5 groups Leitz Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 DR (the one with Near Focusing Attachment matching the millionth Leica M3 sold at Westlicht features the serial number 1834555) was a milestone within the scope of photographic lenses created for 24 x 36 mm format cameras from its very launching into market in 1956, because along with the Rigid Mount model (introduced the same year sporting identical reformulated design with respect to the collapsible Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Version 1 from 1953) it managed to beat the Ludwig Bertele´s legendary designs CZJ 5 cm f/1.5 and CZJ 5 cm f/2 (which had reigned supreme during twenty-two years, between 1932 and 1954) thanks to the immense knowledge of Professor Helmut Marx, the use of four elements made with LaK9 top-notch optical glass and the help of the Zuse 5, the first computer optimized for lens designing, which had been installed in Wetzlar in 1952.

And another key factor of this sensational 24th Camera Auction at Westlicht - in the same way as happened with the previous ones- is the thoroughness and reliability of the information on the auctioned articles provided in advance along with very stringent and accurate criteria as to the real condition of the items, which means full guarantee for the bidders from a number of different countries all over the globe. As an evidence of it, suffice it to say to name only an example that the Leica I Model C Luxus from 1930 which got a final hammer price of 504,000 euros was thoroughly inspected and authorized by James Lager, Ottmar Michaelly and Lars Netopil.

© Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza