Monday, August 15, 2022


By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The Leica M3D-2 Black Paint number series M3D-2 was manufactured at the Leitz Wetzlar (Germany) factory in 1955 for the famous war photojournalist David Douglas Duncan, who asked the camera to feature a Leicavit and a 50 mm lens with special focusing lever.

It´s essentially a preproduction Leica MP optimized for its use for photojournalists and in which the self-timer has been eliminated, as well as adding a frame counter identical to the one sported by the Leica M2.

After having started his photographic career in early thirties as a freelance photojournalist for the Kansas City Star and National Geographic (using a 4 x 5 - 10 x 12 cm - Graflex large format camera ) , from 1941 he became a war photographer for the U.S Marines War Department (using a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 - 6 x 6 cm medium format camera for most of his reportages, in addition to a Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta B/532/16 with identical film format, with which he often got pictures from inside fuel tanks of Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft refurbished for aerial photography providing them with Plexiglas on their forward area).

Subsequently, during the Korean War (1950-1953) David Douglas Duncan used a Leica IIIC with Nippon Kogaku lenses delivering remarkable sharpness and particularly optimized for contrast, beating in global image quality the best Leica lenses of the time (with the exception of the Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 and the sixty-five prototypes of the retractable chrome 7 elements in 6 groups and ten blade diaphragm Leitz Summicron-M 5 cm f/2 — with two small fluted knobs on its middle area and concentric ones on the upper one — designed by Professor Helmut Marx with highly refractive lanthanum optical glass lacking radioactive thorium and created by Dr. Weissenberg and Heinz Brömer, manufactured in Wetzlar in 1952 and 1953) in addition to being more luminous.

The Leica M3D-2 was used by DDD with 28, 35 and 50 mm Leitz M series lenses, all of them photojournalistic par excellence primes, and was sold at Westlicht Vienna (Austria) on November 22, 2013 coupled to a 7 elements in 5 groups and 12 diaphragm blade serial number 2028874 Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4, black anodized aluminium version, designed by Walter Mandler at the Leitz factory in Midland, Ontario (Canada), made in 1964 and used by David Douglas Duncan above all in Vietnam.

On top right area of the Leica M3D-2 is the shutter release button, with a shutter lag time of only 12 ms, a side in which this mirrorless with rangefinder camera built 59 years ago clearly outperforms superb professional digital full frame present dslr cameras like the Nikon D800, Nikon D800E, Nikon D4, Nikon D4s, Nikon D850, Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EOS 5D Mark III, mirrorless full frame digital cameras without rangefinder like the Sony A7III, Sony Alpha 7R III, Sony Alpha 7S, Sony Alpha 9 and others, Fujifilm mirrorless X series cameras like the Fuji XT-2, X-Pro 2, XH-1 featuring excellent APS-C X-Trans sensors and mirrorless Micro Four Thirds top of the line cameras like the Olympus EM-1 Mark II, E-M5 Mark II, Pen-F, Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5K, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4K, Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 and many others.

This incredibly short shutter lag (time elapsed between the instant in which the photographer presses the shutter release button and the exact moment when the exposure is made ) has been one of the historical hallmarks of the Leica M mirrorless with rangefinder System and a trait (among many others) of invaluable help which has enabled a high percentage of the best photographers in history to get with them many iconic images having defined the evolution of XX and XXI centuries, with a commendable transition from 24 x 36 mm format analogue models to digital ones with identical philosophy, handling, very small dimensions and weight for their full frame sensors and beautiful timeless classicism of lines like the Leica M9, Leica M9 Titanium, M9-P, Monochrom, Leica M Type 241, Leica M10 and so forth.

On the other hand, as well as being used by David Douglas Duncan for his coverage of Vietnam War throughout sixties along with the other three ones made by Wetzlar for him (M3D-1, M3D-3 and M3D-4),

The eyes of a genius. This picture created in 1957 was one of the many made by David Douglas Duncan of Pablo Picasso at La Californie, the studio residence in the south of France in which the American photojournalist met the universal man from Málaga in 1956, setting up a deep friendship and empathy both with him and his wife Jacqueline that would last many years.

the Leica M3D-2 was the camera used by the well-known photographer to get plenty of images of Pablo Picasso´s life with exceedingly high levels of discretion, a sphere in which the Leica rangefinder cameras are the ideal choice, thanks to their lack of swiveling mirror, the extremely low and barely perceptible noise generated by their horizontally travelling focal-plane shutters driven by springs (whose unutterable operating smoothness and vibrationless mechanism based on the very light weight of the curtains made with special cloth and relatively moderate acceleration — linked to a very efficient damping system — while they cross the film gate, make up a miniaturized expansion of the gear theory set forth by Filippo Bruneleschi and Leonardo da Vinci four centuries behind, together with the use of drawing as a tool to resolve problems, in synergy with the invention of specific components, and it makes possible to shoot handheld at 1/8 s without trepidation or need of any image stabilizer), their masterpiece rangefinders featuring more than 150 high precision parts and with a 0.92x magnification in the Leica M3D-2, a true optomechanical jewel able to accurately focus even under the lowest light conditions, and their lenses of great luminosity, boasting extremely small and compact size, in spite of being objectives for 24 x 36 mm format and having proved to be the benchmark in image quality.

It should be added that inside this entirely mechanic horizontally travelling focal-plane featuring a speed dial lacking any turn (whose basic tenets appareaded already in the patent 645856 K1. 57a Gr. 28 of 1934), with the aforementioned amazingly short shutter lag of 12 ms, Dr. Ludwig Leitz (research and development director of Ernst Leitz Wetzlar since 1939 and one of the greatest experts in the world regarding the invention and manufacture of high precision optical and mechanical devices) and Willi Stein, their main creators, also applied ( in combination with a far-reaching mathematical groundwork carried out by Professor Riede), relying on the relatively scarce volume and utter control of moving masses, revolutionary dynamic principles enabling the independent path of each curtain, without limiting the slit width, using highly accurate measures of the dynamic working cycles making possible that the two successive borders of the shutter curtains keep the same time interval among each other in every point during their trajectory across the 35 mm film gate.

It meant an outstanding technological achievement, because to be able to preserve the concept of Leica M camera featuring very small size, they had to overcome the bias to non uniform exposure of negatives (the left side of the image received less light than the right one) on using the fastest shutter speeds, avoiding lengthening the initial stretch of the slit travel (since it would have resulted in a bigger camera body) through the insertion of specially designed transmission springs, it all complemented by fast shutter speeds generated by means of a control cam and slow shutter speeds (1/60 s and below it) brought about by a small gear train which for all intents and purposes is a delaying mechanism.

The Leica M3D-2 was auctioned at Westlicht for an astronomical price, due to the great fame of the photographer, the fact that only four types of this camera were made for David Douglas Duncan (MD3-1, MD3-2, MD3-3 and M3D-4, whose manufacture was personally supervised by Willi Stein, Head of the Photographic Design at Leitz Wetzlar during fifties and sixties and main creator of the Leica M camera along with Hugo Wehrenfenning, who invented the Leica M bayonet and designed the first Leica M lenses) and the huge resale value of the analogue historical models of the mythical German photographic firm, nowadays a very safe economical investment with first-rate future projection.

But in my opinion, the most important thing is that it is a very meaningful example of 35 mm photographic camera oozing a very high optomechanical constructive standard of quality,

David Douglas Duncan, one of the most important and influential war photographers in history, on the brink of exhaustion in February 1968, during his coverage of the fight in Khe Sanh (Vietnam). Beside his left hand you can see the Leica MD3-2 Black Paint coupled to a 6 elements in 4 groups Leitz Summaron-M 35 mm f/3.5, while next to his right hand appears a Nikon F attached to a 4 elements in 4 groups Nikkor-Q Auto Non-Ai 20 cm f/4 with a focusing ring sporting a festooned design, a built-in collapsible shade and blue tonality simple coating, last evolutive link of the anti reflective one layer optical coating invented in 1935 by the Ukrainian genius Alexandr Smakula from Zeiss (which made possible to fight against the luminic and contrast loss because of stray reflections and light ), that was painstakingly studied by Japanese lens designers and used by Nikon until 1971, year in which it began using its NIC (Nikon Integrated Coating) multicoating featuring a number of layers, indicated with the " C " letter

conceived for its professional use under the most extreme conditions and

Detail of the 7 elements in 5 groups and 12 blade diaphragm Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 serial number 2028874, black anodized aluminium version, designed by Walter Mandler at the Leitz factory in Midland, Ontario (Canada), made in 1964 and used by David Douglas Duncan above all in Vietnam. The famous photojournalist asked the Leitz Wetzlar (Germany ) factory to provide it with a special focusing lever made in stainless steel and visible in the image. This lens was the opto-mechanical reference-class standard 50 mm f/1.4 prime during nothing less than 43 years, between 1961 and 2004, year of introduction of the 8 elements in 5 groups Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH designed by Peter Karbe, who made use of every technological breakthrough in the scope of aspherical lenses manufacture and keeps on being a stellar performer, only beaten by the 12 elements in 10 groups Zeiss Otus 55 mm f/1.4 Apo-Distagon T* from 2013 and the 11 elements in 9 groups Summilux-SL 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH from 2017, though both stratospheric performance lenses were built with no compromises as to weight (very heavy, roughly a kg) and size (rather big), so the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH is a more praiseworthy design with its much lower weight of 335 g, and its much smaller dimensions of 54 x 53 mm turn it into a more convenient, efficient and consistent lens in handheld shootings, particularly in dim light environments, where its rate of pictures with accurate focus and without trepidation will be clearly superior. But Mandler´s design  was one of the greatest optical feats in history, since he approached a great deal to the limits of the scientifically feasible without using aspherical elements, and besides, he significantly reduced the production cost without lowering image quality, through the insertion of some simple coatings with different colors in the forward and back elements of the optical cell that he could design because he was a tremendous pundit on the chemical and optical properties of the different materials and optical glasses available, which he combined with astounding prowess and efficiency, to such an extent that even the most modern version with 46 mm filter and telescopic built-in hood of his Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 without aspherical elements (featuring the same optical formula as the two previous ones) and made between 1992 and 2004 went on without needing any multicoating whatsoever, an accomplishment resulting in a reduction of costs while preserving an excellent image quality that he also developed with its fourth version of the 6 elements in 4 groups Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 from 1979 in which he applied common radii with preestablished curvature along the whole lens barrel, managing to get the uniform obliteration of Newton rings and any possible deviation and introduced SF10 dense flint in the first large size element, obtaining identical resistance to vignetting than lanthanum, and in addition, he replaced the expensive optical glasses of some internal elements (wisely chosen, with varieties of SF2, BASF6 and SF11 flints), in such a way that only the two last ones are lanthanum.

tailor made according to the specifications and guidelines of a highly experienced photojournalist who has used all kind of cameras and lenses in different formats, and who would have likewise created great images with a 100 dollars camera, because in the scope of photojournalism the intrinsic quality of a picture and the relevance of the moment captured together with the information stemming from it, are more important than the technical aspects of the obtained image, so being at the adequate place at the timely instant, the photographer´s experience and intuition, his skill and accuracy when it comes to pressing the shutter release button at the precise moment and being as near as possible from the action to depict the defining moments, along with the ability to previously make a rapport with the subjects, are the key factors, a realm in which David Douglas Duncan has been one of the greatest ever.

An impressive image of an American soldier engrossed in his thoughts in Con Thien (Quang Tri Province (South Vietnam, in the nearest area to North Vietnam). This is an iconic image in which David Douglas Duncan shows his mastery, wisely pressing the shutter release button of his Leica M3D-2 rangefinder exactly at the most defining instant, with a commedable timing, photographing the G.I. from a very near distance, though in spite of it, he has managed to captured him being unaware of his presence. As a matter of fact, however incredible it may seem (it is an utterly perpendicular vertical shot almost from point-blank range), the soldier with helmet is not looking at the camera and David Douglas Duncan has been able to go unnoticed, in a wonderful example of every photojournalist´dream come true : to become invisible at the moment of the photographic act, here in seamless symbiosis with the very small size and virtually imperceptible exceedingly low noise produced by the shutter release of the Leica rangefinder camera to preserve discretion.

Though the image can be dimmed as a portrait in which the acclaimed American photojournalist has made a sensational use of the true short tele lens nature of the non aspherical Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 coupled to his Leica camera, it is very dramatic, since the soldier´s eyes reveal an eerie war context : he has been here for nine months of fierce fightings, with average temperatures of 30º C but thermal feeling of 45-50º and sweating buckets because of the tremendous levels of humidity, constant attacks by Vietcong Units trying to assault the position and frequent accurate mortar, rocket and artillery fire whose shells flew over the demilitarized zone and the Ben Hai river with north south trajectory, exploding in Con Thien area and bringing about very high levels of stress in the American defenders of the location (which was a key enclave to prevent the Vietcong forces from making incursions across the demilitarized zone), something very apparent on the shocked G.I. ´s countenance, whose hands fingers are fidgety rubbing each other.

And undoubtedly, the symbiosis between David Douglas Duncan´s talent and a first-class photographic tool like this, boasting an utterly mechanical operation, maximum reliability in extreme conditions, lacking any programmed obsolescence, featuring a Leicavit

The Leicavit MP is a completely mechanical device, designed and manufactured by Leica to attain the fastest possible speed in the film advance and shutter cocking without having to use any energy coming from batteries, so its reliability even in the most extreme photographic contexts, is huge, being able to endure an uninterrupted professional use for decades. It is attached to the lower area of the camera in the place of the standard cover and it benefits from the fact that the reception axle of the metallic spool with 35 mm film roll is longer in the Leica MP than in the M3 — not being possible to use it with the latter — and has a coupling for the Leicavit. Made up by 51 metallic components and four springs, its superb constructive quality and mechanical precision result in a very smooth and silent working, making possible that the photographer being in the middle of the action hasn´t to separate the camera from his eye and can make up to two shots per second, strongly and quickly moving towards the left — with the middle and annular fingers of his left hand — the Leicavit Lever, which will make advance a frame per every half a second the 24 x 36 mm format film roll in perfect synergy with the shutter release button of the camera, which will simultaneously be activated and will keep on being the one enabling a exposure every half a second. In the image can be seen the black lacquered Leicavit MP black paint Type 1 of David Douglas Duncan´s Leica M3D-2 with its lever in folded position and which has to be totally drawn until remaining in vertical position on far right of the grooved space holding it, to be able to start using this laudable contrivance having its heir in the modern Leicavit M.

Leicavit M (for Leica M6, M7, MP, M6 TTL, M4-P and M4-2), a compact, manual quick-wind gadget designed for its integration into the camera body, increasing its height only to 9.1 mm and its weight to 150 g. It fulfills its labor connected to the reception axle of the metallic 35 mm film roll spool inside it, producing a very whispering sound intensity, thanks to its film advance driving system based on five high performance straight cylindrical metallic gears (cut with special milling machines and subsequently enduring a mechanic treatment solving any geometrical error in the manufacture of the gears and minimizing noise), located behind the letters Leica, three of them connected among each other (two crowns and a pinion) and two being activated by a small toothed drive belt made with special plastic boasting very high antifriction properties, working as a rack and being mounted on a stainless-steel spring.

and coupled to 28, 35 and 50 mm lenses, yielded impressive images like the extraordinary ones made by David Douglas Duncan in

This breathtaking picture created in Khe Sanh (Vietnam) in February 1968 by David Douglas Duncan faithfully sums up the horror of a war that cost the lives of 58,000 American soldiers and 2,000.000 Vietnamese (between combatants and civilians).

Khe Sanh and Con Tien (Vietnam) in 1968 (where he also used a reflex 35 mm format Nikon camera with medium and long focal lengths) for Life magazine, in addition to the aforementioned photographs of Pablo Picasso, with a top-notch optomechanical level camera, built with noble metals (brass, aluminium and stainless-steel), designed for professional photojournalists and which 63 years after its manufacture, goes on working flawlessly at all shutter speeds and diaphragms, without needing any batteries and with an admirable reliability.

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