The Leica M3 was manufactured between 1954 and 1967.
Many collectors favour M3s with high serial numbers (1 000 0000 and up), or — at the other end of the spectrum — the first 1 000 ones made (with serial numbers 700 XXX). The first group (with serial numbers over a million) are valued because they are thought to represent “perfected” late production examples, but as you will see below, that is a matter of perspective. The second group (early production ones) are coveted because, well, they were the first ones produced!
As a photographer however, my favourite M3s are the ones from the year 1957 (specifically the subset with serial numbers between 854 00 – 858 000) because they combine the very best attributes of both early and late M3 bodies.
Specifically, 1957 M3s have:
- Double stroke (DS) film advance levers with shorter arms (vs. single stroke arms); the shorter DS arms allow you to advance the film and simultaneously hold the camera with one hand.
- Modern shutter speeds (earlier models have the older speeds: 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200…).
- Silent return on the film advance lever (later models produce a ratcheting sound when returning).
- Buddha (aka “Rabbit Ear”)-style lugs riveted (not screwed) to camera — no loosening or spinning of lugs.
- Film back door ball-bearing locking pins to prevent door from flapping open when changing film (only available in cameras with serial numbers between 854 000 – 858 000).
- Double glass eyepieces with inner seal (later models have single glass with no seal).