Being experimental with a Leica M3...not really!!


Having a film Leica had been a dream of mine for a very long time. It all started many years ago when I began exploring photography more seriously and discovered Henri Cartier-Bresson.

I was immediately blown away by the cleverness of his eye and his ability to find beauty even in the most "ordinary", mundane moments. He is still my favorite photographer and biggest inspiration. He will always be.

So when I came across an ad on Craigslist here in San Diego about a Leica M3 w/ a 50mm f/2 lens, both in (seemingly) perfect conditions, I didn't think twice. It was just before my birthday and I thought that would make the perfect gift for myself. The perfect camera, also, to take with us to our trip to Sequoia National Park

I immediately contacted the guy who was selling it and we agreed on a pure trade: I would give him my Fujifilm X-Pro 2 + a 35mm f/1.4 lens, and he would give me his Leica. Deal! A few text messages and a call later, we met at a gas station next to his house...and that's when my mistakes began...

I was so excited to have that camera, and it looked so new that I didn't even bother checking it with a closer and more attentive eye - mistake 1


We made deal, exchanged the cameras, and we drove back home. I found a safe spot for the camera in our room, almost like on a pedestal, and just left it there for days. I wanted to shoot with it for the very first time in Sequoia, I didn't want to "waste" film here in San Diego. I wanted my first experience with it to be at a magical place like Sequoia, so the only time I took the camera out was to put a gorgeous leather strap I had bought online and to take this picture I then posted on my Instagram mistake 2.

Then, on Thursday the 26th (April), we left for Sequoia after lunch. It was a long and tedious drive through LA traffic and on boring freeways. It took us about 7 hours to get to the foothills of the park, just before 9pm. 

Aleja doing some reading before we went to "bed" in our always-reliable Toyota Prius.

Aleja doing some reading before we went to "bed" in our always-reliable Toyota Prius.

We found a spot at the campground, had a little bit of wine and slept in our 5-stars room: the back of our Toyota Prius, perfectly set-up with a comfy mattress and our sleeping bags.

The next morning, we woke up at 6am to drive to the highest parts of the park to see the giant sequoias. On the way, at a view point that offered an incredible view of the forested mountains in the lower part of the park, I made the first picture with the Leica and a Kodak TRI-X 400 Black and White film.

We spent the day exploring hiking trails and even made it to the Tokopah Falls, a quintessential Sierra canyon trail, featuring a thundering river, immense granite canyon walls, alpine meadows, pine woods and, at the end, the gorgeous waterfall.

The next day we did an amazing, 5-hours hike through the Giant Forest and I shot 2 rolls of Velvia 50 film. I was so in love with the Leica that I almost didn't photograph with my Fuji XT-2, which was with my wife Aleja pretty much almost all the time.

The colors in the forest were so gorgeous and I just couldn't wait to be back and develop the film. We had the most amazing time there, the scenery was just fairytale-like and I was confident that the analog pictures would make it more justice than the digital ones from my Fuji.  

So the first I did when we got back to San Diego was to take the rolls to the camera shop. I was dying of curiosity and excitement. A few days later, I got the negatives and their scanned, digital files. This is how they came out.

One of the rolls of the Velvia still had its colors preserved (first 5 pictures of the slide), but all the others from the other slide looked like the pictures 6 and 7 of the slide. All the ones in Black and White gone as well (*I could only save 4 of them - the ones on which the light dot was small enough to be removed in photoshop without affecting the overall image. These are the ones I've posted on my Instagram). 

Needless to say, I was heartbroken and really devastated. I had put so much love and thought into every single frame.....

But what caused that??

A tiny hole with big, drastic consequences...

A tiny hole with big, drastic consequences...

Talking to friends who own Leicas, they all said the same thing: a hole in one of the shutter curtains of the camera (or both). It was only then when I removed the lens, opened the camera and....tcharannnnn...there it was, a big pin hole right in the middle of the first curtain.

Yes, I know, I should have checked that when I bought the camera. It's all my fault. But well, the damage has been done already, and it has taught me a lesson; the hard way, for sure.

This is what happens when you point the lens directly to the Sun for a couple of seconds. The light coming through the lens, especially if it is wide open, literally burns the rubber shutter curtains.

According to Don, from DAG Camera, who is going to fix it for me, it takes only about 1,5 seconds for he curtain to start burning if the camera/lens are kep opened facing direct sunlight. 

So now I am gonna have to spend $265 to replace the first curtain and be without the camera for a month or so. I've read somewhere that I could try to fix it myself and cover the hole with liquid electrical tape, but I am not feeling that adventurous and I already want a CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust) for the camera. 

Then, later on, I will have to go back to Sequoia NP, and hopefully make pictures that will not come out with that painful light dot right in the center of the frames.

Meanwhile, I will edit the pictures we made with the Fuji and post them here soon....

My first time with a film Leica it was not really what I was expecting (in terms of results only, because the process itself of making the pictures was a true joy - and perhaps that is the most important thing..?), but I will get over it, and I'll not give up on my Leica :) 

Hopefully I will have better pictures to share here soon...


Bernardo Salce