Leica M: 3 or 4?
Old 12-24-2019   #1
ktmrider
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Leica M: 3 or 4?

So, I bought my first film Leica in 1974, a CL. I acquired an M3 around 1977 and kept it a few years. I have owned an M2 (four or five bodies), a couple original M4's plus the M4P and M4/2. I also owned a couple M6's and M6TTL when they first appeared. My latest film camera is an M5 from Sherry and I truly believe it may be the best shooter if you want a metered M. I recently traded it for an M2. I have never owned a M7, MP or MA.

I enjoy shooting both 35 and 50 focal lengths almost equally. The M2 is my favorite viewfinder while I like the more modern film loading and rewind of the M4. A meter is nice but I really don't like the frame lines in a modern Leica as I find it just clutters everything up. And the reason I still use Leica's is the viewfinder and rangefinder focusing. But a Nikon F with 55f3.5 Micro Nikkor would be a close second, especially if I was restricted to 50mm.

I presently own a M2 and an MP240 and several M mount lenses from Leica, Zeiss and Voightlander. If push came to shove and I could only have one film body, it would be an M2 with either a 35 or 50. I would probably have to flip a coin to determine which lens I would keep. Luckily I can own more then one camera.

So, I am looking at another film camera. I may very well sell the MP240 keeping the FujiX100F for digital needs. My question is which film body? I am wondering if I am missing something since I have not shot an M3 since 1977, especially using a 50.

I am presently in Asia and will be returning to the US in March, 2020. I may go to Hong Kong or Tokyo and spend a couple days searching for either a M4, M2 with rapid film loading (can't remember model) or a M3. I know we each have favorite film bodies but what am I not seeing about the M3?

Thanks for commenting.
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Old 12-25-2019   #2
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The M3 has probably the best build quality of any camera ever made. The rangefinder patch is huge so is the viewfinder magnification. It is also very smooth in operation and looks great
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Old 12-25-2019   #3
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I have heard the M3 was built better then the M2. Now I know the M2 had simplified features to save money but was there really a difference in quality? Honestly, I have talked to various Leica repair people and they differ in their assessment. Sherry believes the M5 was the highest quality M etc. And design and looks are in the eye of the buyer. Personally, I like the cleaner looks of later M cameras like the M2 or M4 or M6. My favorite M2 is the button wind without self timer.

I will reserve judgement on the build quality of the M3 vs later models until given evidence and not just opinion or rumor. Most of the parts are interchangeable like shutter, film advance etc
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Old 12-25-2019   #4
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Well then wait for evidence... I made my decision years ago and I don‘t regret it. But the viewfinder/rangefinder of the M3 is the largest, isn‘t it?
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Old 12-25-2019   #5
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Highest magnification but of course you lose the 35 and wider field of view. All later Leica film cameras used the .72 as standard. Additionally, I have a 1.25 viewfinder magnifier which converts .72 to .94 which is very close to an M3. I use the 1.25 magnifier for super fast 50's on my MP240.

And honestly so many parts are interchangeable saying M3 is higher quality is a hard argument to make.
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Old 12-25-2019   #6
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The M2-R is the M2 with the updated loading system. They were originally made for a military contract that was canceled. You may want to look at the M4. It has the .72 finder like the M2 plus a few changes to speed loading and rewinding.
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Old 12-25-2019   #7
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Yes, an M4 is also a possibility. As I stated earlier, I have owned the M4, M4/2 and M4P back when they were new. I like the more modern film loading /unloading of the M4 over the standard M2.

As I said, I am trying to figure out what I am missing (if anything) about the M3 since it has a legion of fans. Of course, the M2 may have just as many fans, including me.

Just for fun, I think I will throw this out. One of my old friends freelances for among other things, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. He has put together a camera kit for after the apocalypse and it consists of two M2's, rapid winders and 35/50/90 lenses and a couple hundred rolls of TriX. I think that says it all.
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Old 12-25-2019   #8
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KTM, I've used Leica M for decades and never personally bonded with the M3. My eye favours the 35mm lens. At the same time, i feel the advantage of the M2/M4 when using the 50mm lens is the context you see in the viewfinder as you can see the action outside the 50mm frameline. Although i used them, i found the multiple viewfinders of the M4-P,
M6,MP to be overly busy. My first Leica was the M2, although these days i'm using a '68 black paint M4. I'm sure DAG could retrofit the M2R loading system into an M2 for you.
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Old 12-25-2019   #9
Erik van Straten
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Theoretically the M3 has the best rangefinder and the best 50mm viewfinder, but in practice the M2 is as good and has the advantage of a built in 35mm finder.

The M3 was more expensive than the M2, so most people back in the 1960's bought an M2. Therefore Leitz stopped the production of the M3 and went on with the M2 under the name M4.

It is impossible to say which camera was the best, the mechanical and optical quality of these cameras is the same.

Erik.
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Old 12-25-2019   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ktmrider View Post
My latest film camera is an M5 from Sherry and I truly believe it may be the best shooter if you want a metered M.

I am wondering if I am missing something since I have not shot an M3 since 1977, especially using a 50.

I know we each have favorite film bodies but what am I not seeing about the M3?
I'm inclined to agree about the M5 being the best, at least for excellent 35, 50, and 90mm framelines plus metering.

What are you missing about the M3? Metering, and a 35mm frameline.
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Old 12-25-2019   #11
David Hughes
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Erik van Straten View Post
...It is impossible to say wich camera was the best, the mechanical and optical quality of these cameras is the same.

Erik.

Exactly. Build quality can only affect how long the camera will last and so, if you get a good one (not badly worn), and look after it then it will probably outlast you. Whether or not film will still be made then is another question that might be more important than build quality worries.


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Old 12-25-2019   #12
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FWIW, DAG can fit the M4/M6 quick loading to an M3. He can also update the sync connectors, if that matters to you.

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Old 12-25-2019   #13
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With such list of owned M you are still asking? .

Now, after using of F2 and Nikkormat for couple of weeks on big city streets, I'm emotionally ready and physically fit for M5. Oh, wait, it has VF ocular just as Bessa, too far from the edge. At least for my facial features.

M3 is strictly 50mm camera just like my FED-2, but with additional 90mm frames somewhat usable. The whole goggle thing didn't fascinated me, while I owned goggled Summaron. Dis-balancing camera bulk.

I have sold very unique to me M3 ELC DS due to lack of use. For some young Nikon SLR user who wanted M3.

I had FG-20 with 50E, it was just the same as M3 in use. Just less prestigious and more convenient.

All is needed for 50mm is close or 1:1 view. My 90 CAD SBOOI has it.
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Old 12-25-2019   #14
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That the M3 works better for longer lens, 50mm and longer, is obvious due to the viewfinder. However, keep in mind the M3 rangefinder operates to 1m like the screw mount Leicas. So the M3 works better with older lenses that focus to 1m or greater. E.g. older 50mm lenses (newer 50s focus to 0.7m).
If one has one of the RF lenses (so called goggled lenses that were built for the M3), then the M3 is also a good camera to have.
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Old 12-25-2019   #15
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Maybe try an M4 with the framelines that you don't want, removed. It can be done during a CLA.
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Old 12-25-2019   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil_F_NM View Post
Maybe try an M4 with the framelines that you don't want, removed. It can be done during a CLA.
Phil Forrest
According to DAG.... the 135 can't be removed....
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Old 12-25-2019   #17
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Youxin removed mine in my M4-P which has a nearly identical viewfinder.
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Old 12-25-2019   #18
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Phil... Don had my M4 in for an overhaul & to adapt the Leicavit.... that's what he told me. would have loved to revert to the M-2 (35/50/90) style view.
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Old 12-25-2019   #19
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I get the impression that there is No love for the M3 here .... but thats ok, it keeps the price low
It is not a camera for wide angle lenses but I am able to use 135mm lenses without bigger issues (the 135 frames are as big as the M6’s 90 framelibes with standard magnification).

Get the M2/M4 - no need to „justify“ the purchase of an M3.
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Old 12-25-2019   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by waterlenz View Post
That the M3 works better for longer lens, 50mm and longer, is obvious due to the viewfinder. However, keep in mind the M3 rangefinder operates to 1m like the screw mount Leicas. So the M3 works better with older lenses that focus to 1m or greater. E.g. older 50mm lenses (newer 50s focus to 0.7m).
If one has one of the RF lenses (so called goggled lenses that were built for the M3), then the M3 is also a good camera to have.
The M3 can be adjusted to track all the way to 0.7 meter by bending the limit stop. It's an easy adjustment, if you are comfortable with doing it.
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Old 12-25-2019   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Deardorff38 View Post
KTM, I've used Leica M for decades and never personally bonded with the M3. My eye favours the 35mm lens. At the same time, i feel the advantage of the M2/M4 when using the 50mm lens is the context you see in the viewfinder as you can see the action outside the 50mm frameline. Although i used them, i found the multiple viewfinders of the M4-P,
M6,MP to be overly busy. My first Leica was the M2, although these days i'm using a '68 black paint M4. I'm sure DAG could retrofit the M2R loading system into an M2 for you.
I agree with all of this. And don’t forget (as you used one before) the M3 frame liens for the 50 have curved corners. I was shocked when I first looked at those and have never given an M3 a moment’s serious thought as an acquisition since.
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Old 12-25-2019   #22
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I agree with all of this. And don’t forget (as you used one before) the M3 frame liens for the 50 have curved corners. I was shocked when I first looked at those and have never given an M3 a moment’s serious thought as an acquisition since.
The rounded corners were to echo the same shape as some slide mounts of the time. Not a deal breaker for me; I just don't bother with the M3 owning to its lack of 35mm frame line.
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Old 12-25-2019   #23
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Maybe try an M4 with the framelines that you don't want, removed. It can be done during a CLA.
Phil Forrest
Yeah I had the 75mm frame lines removed from my M7, M-A and M5. I'd never use a 75mm lens as I have 50s and 90, and the 75 - well I just don'r get it. Then again the last time I used a 90 on an M camera was a long time ago.
Anyway, remove the 75mm frames and the view is much nicer.

The M2 and M3 are not built to the same level. The M2 has a cheapened RF mechanism compared to the M3 and has been susceptible to light leaks through it. Wonder why there have been quite a few threads about M2s and light leaks on RFF? That's why.

Apparently the rf parts r not the same - stuff is cheaper on the M2 (obvious example is the film counter). Obviously light leaks only affects a few so perhaps a fit issue with those in conjunction w the diff parts.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leica_M2

“The rangefinder system was also simplified from that of the M3 and this made it potentially more prone to rangefinder flare. The M2 has a rangefinder with a 0.72 magnification and framelines for 35, 50 and 90mm lenses instead of the 0.91 magnification and 50, 90 and 135mm framelines of the M3. This made it better suited for photojournalists who favour shorter lenses or for spectacle-wearers using a 50mm lens who sometimes find it difficult to see the framelines on the M3. The ground glass frameline illumination window of the M3 was replaced with a fresnel-type plastic lens. Finally, the ornate beveling around the various windows on the front of the M3 were flattened on the body of the M2. Unlike the M3, the widest framelines were not always visible so only one set of framelines were ever displayed at one time. “
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Old 12-25-2019   #24
Erik van Straten
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Huss View Post
Y The ground glass frameline illumination window of the M3 was replaced with a fresnel-type plastic lens.
Not so on the early M2, it is frosted glass with a fine linear structure on it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Huss View Post
Y Finally, the ornate beveling around the various windows on the front of the M3 were flattened on the body of the M2. Unlike the M3, the widest framelines were not always visible so only one set of framelines were ever displayed at one time. “
The M2 top plate as we know it, was the original design for the new M Leica in the early 1950's, made by Heinrich JANKE, the chief of the design department at Leitz in those years. However, the bosses at Leitz did not like it, it wasn't looking "technical" enough. So Janke made another design, the one that we know now as the M3 top plate.

Only later, in 1958, the original design was used for the then new M2. In the end it became the standard design for the top plate of many M-cameras, in fact all but the M5.

True story.

Erik.


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Old 12-25-2019   #25
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Why is the M3 better than the IIIG? Except for the mount the load system, rewind, VF, etc are basically same. Lots of great screw mount lenses available.
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Old 12-25-2019   #26
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You might ask DAG if he still offers the tulip-style takeup spool for M2. It’s a removable piece, and basically is M4-style loading. It will also work in the M3 but the frame counter won’t reset unless it’s pulled out and then replaced, which kinda defeats the purpose.

All this talk about M2 vs M4 vs M3 build quality makes me laugh. Just buy a well-cared for camera with the features you want, make sure it’s recently serviced by a quality tech, or if not, get the service done. This makes more of a difference than any quality differences that happened during manufacturing at Wetzlar 50+ years ago...

Can also modernize with a Ti shutter, multi coated viewfinder windows, new frameline mask, and other customizations.
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Old 12-25-2019   #27
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Why is the M3 better than the IIIG? Except for the mount the load system, rewind, VF, etc are basically same. Lots of great screw mount lenses available.
IIIG - slow speeds separate from the faster speeds.
Adjusting speeds is more awkward and slower as have to lift and rotate shutter speed dial.
Film advance knob instead of lever
Separate vf to focus from the framing vf
Need to adjust the diopter on the focus vf depending on subject distance
Shorter RF baselegth
Harder to load as only the base comes off and so need to trim film leader
Can only use LTM lenses.

M3 - none of the quirks from the above, and can use LTM lenses as well as modern state of the art M mount lenses. Also has a light meter which syncs with the shutter speed dial to make for semi AE readings.

Yeah, big difference as to why the M3 replaced and is much better than the IIIG
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Old 12-25-2019   #28
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IIIG - slow speeds separate from the faster speeds.
Adjusting speeds is more awkward and slower as have to lift and rotate shutter speed dial.
Film advance knob instead of lever
Separate vf to focus from the framing vf
Need to adjust the diopter on the focus vf depending on subject distance
Shorter RF baselegth
Harder to load as only the base comes off and so need to trim film leader
Can only use LTM lenses.

M3 - none of the quirks from the above, and can use LTM lenses as well as modern state of the art M mount lenses. Also has a light meter which syncs with the shutter speed dial to make for semi AE readings.

Yeah, big difference as to why the M3 replaced and is much better than the IIIG
Interestingly, the IIIg (and other models of II and III) has a shorter RF baselength but greater magnification, so the rangefinder is actually more accurate than an M3, by roughly 10%. It's a bigger gap of course to the 0.72x viewfinders.
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Old 12-25-2019   #29
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Is magnification really a subsitution for baselength ? I mean the wider the baselength the more accurate is the rangefinder, the greater the magnification the easier it is to focus.
In FSU world I don‘t beliebe that a Zorki 1 rf is more accurate than a Kiev II‘s rf - but the Kiev‘s magnification is clearly inferior to the Zorki‘s.
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Old 12-25-2019   #30
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The mathematical equation for accuracy uses both the mag and the baselength...
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Old 12-25-2019   #31
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Interestingly, the IIIg (and other models of II and III) has a shorter RF baselength but greater magnification, so the rangefinder is actually more accurate than an M3, by roughly 10%. It's a bigger gap of course to the 0.72x viewfinders.
That simplifies it. The effect on accuracy is determined more by the rf base length than by the magnification. Otherwise you can take a low magnification vf like a .58, stick a 1.4 X magnifier on the VF and then claim it is a more accurate vf than a .72 vf.
It isn't. You just made the image in the VF larger.
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Old 12-25-2019   #32
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So, I bought my first film Leica in 1974, a CL. I acquired an M3 around 1977 and kept it a few years. I have owned an M2 (four or five bodies), a couple original M4's plus the M4P and M4/2. I also owned a couple M6's and M6TTL when they first appeared. My latest film camera is an M5 from Sherry and I truly believe it may be the best shooter if you want a metered M. I recently traded it for an M2.

.... The M2 is my favorite viewfinder while I like the more modern film loading and rewind of the M4. A meter is nice but I really don't like the frame lines in a modern Leica as I find it just clutters everything up. And the reason I still use Leica's is the viewfinder and rangefinder focusing. ...

I presently own a M2 and an MP240 and several M mount lenses from Leica, Zeiss and Voightlander. ... Luckily I can own more then one camera.

... My question is which film body?

... what am I not seeing about the M3? ...
With your wealth of experience, why would you need to ask such a question?

Seriously!
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Old 12-25-2019   #33
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I ask the question since the last time I owned an M3 was in 1977. I was simply wondering if there is something I missed that my memory (now 43 years later and not quite as good at 67 as it used to be) did not remember.

Nothing is perfect out in the world, even Leica. Each model is incredibly familiar to one another but with subtle differences which causes endless debate. As I stated early on, my favorite is the M2 primarily for its viewfinder. Guess I will explore having a rapid loading system installed or finding one in Hong Kong or Tokyo in a few months.
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Old 12-25-2019   #34
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That simplifies it. The effect on accuracy is determined more by the rf base length than by the magnification. Otherwise you can take a low magnification vf like a .58, stick a 1.4 X magnifier on the VF and then claim it is a more accurate vf than a .72 vf.
It isn't. You just made the image in the VF larger.
That’s exactly right, except the claim is correct; RFs are more accurate with higher magnification, even by simply adding an accessory magnifier.

The formula is:

b' = (e * f^2) / (k * z) where b' is the effective base length of the rangefinder, e the visual acuity (0.0003 at approx. 1 arcmin), f the focal length, k the aperture and z the circle of confusion (0.020mm for APS-C, 0.030mm for 35mm film)

The effective baselength is the actual baselength times the vf magnification.

Here is an RF accuracy chart with various models of RF, some with accessory magnifiers, listing focal length and max aperture:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets...eaSkLP_kiZVQgY

I put together this spreadsheet back in 2008 and have updated it periodically with more bodies and lenses; the original thread is here.
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Old 12-25-2019   #35
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One point that I haven’t seen anyone raise: to my understanding older Leica Ms can sometimes eventually suffer from viewfinder separation, which is an expensive repair. I have read this has something to do with an organic resin used in the viewfinder assembly, which was replaced with a different cement in the M4 onwards. This is something that has always made me a little wary of buying an M3 or M2, as appealing as they are. I have a few M4s. Obviously many people don’t worry about this and enjoy their older Ms.

Also, Tokyo and Hong Kong are very nice places to buy cameras in person and find unusual things, but these days the prices there are normally higher than in the US and Europe. Not to discourage you from enjoying the shopping!
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Old 12-25-2019   #36
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Prism separation can happen but there are now several techs who can repair the prism for reasonable prices.
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Old 12-25-2019   #37
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Isn't the potential limitation of the M3, the availability of parts - especially those for the rangefinder. I don't believe that this is the case for the M2/4/6 etc.
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Old 12-25-2019   #38
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That simplifies it. The effect on accuracy is determined more by the rf base length than by the magnification. Otherwise you can take a low magnification vf like a .58, stick a 1.4 X magnifier on the VF and then claim it is a more accurate vf than a .72 vf.
It isn't. You just made the image in the VF larger.
But magnification still counts enough so that a magnifier on a .58 Leica can improve focusing accuracy. Here's why:

The focusing optical system consists of the Base length, the magnification, and the eye and nervous system doing the focusing. A fresh, rested eye and nervous system can focus the camera better than a tired one. The fresh and rested eye might even be able to focus a .58 finder as well as a tired eye can do with a .72 finder. The tired eye will probably do better with a .72 finder; or if using a .58, then augmenting it with the magnifier can make up for the eye's limitations. And, if the eye in question is not the equal of the perfect young eye with 20/20 vision, then the higher magnification assumes a greater role.

So the magnification becomes an integral part of an optical system that includes the user's vision. Having adequate magnification then becomes as important as base length.
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Old 12-25-2019   #39
Sarcophilus Harrisii
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The theory is important, obviously—but the reality of manufacturing a rangefinder camera system can't be overlooked, either. In an ideal world, if production tolerances were perfect magnification versus physical base length probably wouldn't matter. But as it stands, when two rangefinder systems have identical EBLs, but differing quantities of optical magnification—assuming both are built to identical standards of mechanical precision—the one with the longest actual base length will be the most accurate. If it was as simple as magnifying the patch image up to a usable size, camera makers could have designed a half inch base length and simply amped the system up optically. The best did the exact opposite and implemented the longest possible physical base length, knowing that it was a superior approach which would not unduly exaggerate the effects of inaccuracy in the beam deflection, inherent in any mechanical and optical system almost regardless of cost. If you greatly magnify your patch to improve usability you are greatly magnifying whatever tolerances you've decided you have to live with in the mirror or lens deflector, it's pivot, plane alignment, etc, etc.

It seems nobody (well perhaps other than myself) ever mentions the ratio of deflection, either. Put simply the further the patch image travels across its usable arc from infinity to minimum distance, the more finely graduated the adjustment will be. In simpler terms you could think of it as being akin to gear ratio of the system. Less arc = quicker to use and more responsive—more arc = slower to respond but, potentially, far more precise.

According to no less a source than Lipinski. the swinging wedge system used by another first quality maker of rangefinder cameras *in itself* yields an increase in RF precision of an astonishing 4 X greater than the screw mount Leica. That is even before the gigantic physical base length involved, and the EBL, is factored in. As superlative as it undoubtedly is—by comparison—even the M3 is merely the best of a bad lot. But it's a wonderful viewfinder with integrated frame lines and lots of good features, so that's OK...

EBL is helpful for broad brush comparisons between different cameras. But it does not tell the whole story behind what makes a RF accurate. Not by a darned sight.
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Old 12-25-2019   #40
splitimageview
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Ultimately the practical focus accuracy of these cameras is more dependent on the individual photographer and the calibration of the RF and the cam in the specific camera body.

Assuming infallibility of the shooter and perfect calibration, the formula above is useful especially when considering fast, longer lenses. Those cameras with short EBLs also generally aren’t good with such lenses anyway as the viewfinder and/or RF window itself can be partially blocked...
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