1970's Leica

Leica R3

Leica R3

The Leica R3; Leica’s first electronically timed shutter SLR.  First produced in 1976, the Leica R3 went on to sell close to 70,000 bodies during its four years of production. It was built in partnership with Japanese maker, Minolta.

In the mid-1970s, Leica was under financial duress. Competition from cheaper Japanese brands, coupled with the poor performance of the SL2 and previous Leicaflex cameras, forced the German camera manufacturer to look for innovative ways to stay afloat.

And this camera was the solution.

The Leica R3; Leica’s first electronically timed shutter SLR.  First produced in 1976, the Leica R3 went on to sell close to 70,000 bodies during its four years of production. 

But why was the R3 such a success?

Keep reading to learn more.

Features of the Camera

The partnership between Leica and Minolta gave rise to a camera that came with some pretty incredible features.

One of these features is the improved shutter. Unlike previous Leica SLRs, which came with a mechanically timed horizontal travel rubberized cloth shutter, the R3 came with an electronically timed vertical-travel metal shutter.

With the electronic shutter, the camera could choose the correct shutter speed based on the selected metering option. However, the new shutter was slower than its predecessors and could achieve a rate of four to 1/1000 second.

The R3 also came with a well-damped mirror, which helped to subdue the shutter sound. Unlike its predecessors, the R3 was a pretty quiet shooter.

And that’s not all!

The R3 offers automated exposure control in both shutter and aperture priority mode.

When in auto exposure mode, the R3 shutter became stepless, which resulted in more accurate exposures.

And there’s more!

The M3 came with an impeccable integrated TTL metering system that featured both spot and center-weighted light metering, which was absent in the Leicaflex SL2.

When using auto-exposure, the camera works correctly in both center-weighted and spot metering. However, when in manual mode, the R3 only works in spot metering.

The R3 also came with a big and bright viewfinder that could achieve a magnification of 0.94X.

The R3 finder came with an eye-level interchangeable micro prism and a central split-image focusing aid.

Like it’s predecessors, the view was mostly uninterrupted with the only information in the viewfinder being the metering needle, aperture, metering modes, and shutter speed.

The viewfinder also comes with a built-in blind that prevents stray light from influencing the meter.

Other features of the Leica R3 include:

  • Leica R bayonet mount
  • Hot shoe flash control (Uses CdS light meter)
  • Manual lever film transport
  • Self-timer

Design and Physical Description

What would happen if Mercedes and Toyota produced a car together?

I bet it would feature more of the Toyota electronics and a Mercedes designed body.

Same case with the Leica R3. The corporation between Minolta and Leica gave birth to a camera that featured Minolta electronics but came with a Leica designed body.

Like other Leica cameras, the R3 was built to last. The R3 body is solid and metal, which inspires confidence whenever you hold it. The body came in different colors, with the most common being black, chrome, gold, and safari green finish.

All knobs, dials, and levers are ergonomically located to ensure a smooth shooting process.

On the top plate you have:

  • The ISO dial
  • Film rewind crank
  • Hot shoe
  • Shutter speed dial
  • And the shutter release button.

On the front, you have:

  • The Depth of Field preview button
  • Self-timer

Shortcomings of the Camera

Despite all its greatness, the R3 had several shortcomings.

One of these was the lack of TTL flash metering, which made the flash system pretty useless.

The other shortcoming is that the camera doesn’t provide a mirror lock-up option.

The R3 is a pretty heavy camera, making it an unsuitable camera for you if you plan to carry it all day.

Getting R3 lenses is also a daunting task. Although you’re likely to get the body for a bargain, getting, a good lens is often a long process. This is mainly due to many professional photographers buying the lenses for their DSLRs.

Final Thoughts

Despite being a result of a partnership, the R3 was an incredible camera that managed to become Leica’s second highest-selling 35mm SLR camera.

It does everything expected in 35mm SLR, and also featured the same built quality as previous Leica cameras.

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