Is there a twelve-step program for camera-buying addiction? If not, I think I’d better start one.
I thought I had it under control. I’d hit a nice plateau. I had good examples of cameras I liked and was happy using. My needs were met long ago, but excess seemed to be tapering off. I felt like I’d reached critical mass and was starting to cool off to a steady, even temperature. And I was. Really. I’m not just rationalizing. Well, mostly.
What I did not count on was the unexpected availability of one of my Holy Grail cameras at a price that didn’t require me to find a buyer for a kidney on short notice. Behold my downfall, the Leica IIIg.
This, for those not as far gone as me, is the pinnacle of Leica’s screw-mount cameras, the last of the direct line from Barnack’s original before the M-mount bodies took over for good. It still has all the quirks of the early cameras – bottom-loading, knob-wind – save for one, for you see the IIIg sports a viewfinder dramatically improved from all those that came before. Bigger, yes, but also with brightlines for both 50mm and 90mm fields-of-view, and parallax correction to boot. For the first and only time, one could have these conveniences neatly packaged in a tidy little LTM body.
I have wanted one of these pretty much from the moment I knew they existed. When I got my IIIcs last year, they only confirmed my perception that the small Barnack body would be a good fit for me, and in turn heightened my lust for a IIIg that much more. The problem, quite simply, was cost. The IIIg was sold for only three years, from 1957-60, and only around 41,000 were made (contrast that with some 133,000 IIIcs or 184,000 IIIfs). Add to that the “last-of-the-line” mystique and improved features and you can hear the prices rising. Sure, it was an anachronism. The early M-cameras were already out in 1957, so the IIIg was always going to come off second-best to most buyers. It’s an oddball, but in the collecting world, today’s unloved oddball is tomorrow’s lucrative investment. A quick glance at completed ebay auctions or the Collectiblend sale price tracker showed just how eye-popping those prices would be: they’ve held steady for years at right around $800 for a body in very good condition.
So I’d written it off. Barring a lucky antique store find (my $30 Rolleiflex gave me the undying hope that every junk shop I go into might hold some similarly-underpriced treasure), the IIIg would remain in the realm of fantasy. Besides, what do I need another camera for?
The fickle universe had other plans, realized via the number one enabler of the camera-addicted (at least in the States), KEH. They had some pretty significant sales recently, and of course I had to poke around. You never know what you might come across, right? So I browsed, somewhat aimlessly, until I was halted in my tracks by a very well-priced Leica IIIg. When I say the price was low, I mean it was half the price of the last one I saw advertised there, and that one haunted me for a while with non-buyer’s remorse after someone scooped it up inside of 24 hours. On top of that already low price, it was eligible for a further significant discount as a result of the ongoing sale. Oh, KEH, you evil, tempting bastards.
I bought it almost before I knew what I was doing. It was reflex. Hell, if I hadn’t grabbed it, someone else would have, and quick too, I’m sure. I figured once I had it in hand I could decide if it really was all it was cracked up to be, in which case I would keep it (which in turn would hopefully motivate me to sell off a few less-used cameras), or that the advances over the earlier Barnacks was more hype than substance, meaning I could sell it and make a few bucks in the process. It’s win-win!
When it arrived it became clear fairly quickly that it was not going anywhere. Condition was really quite good, with the exception of a single ding in the top plate, a few bright marks here and there, and a couple small bits of vulcanite missing around the lower corners of the body. The shutter sounded nice and smooth, and the speeds seemed fine (KEH is pretty good about noting when the speeds are off, so I expected them to be OK). The new viewfinder is worlds apart from the old one. It’s a pleasure to use, familiar yet different.
So here we are. The camera stable has grown again, in spite of my best intentions. I really should thin the herd a bit – I’m already creating a list of cameras that either need to be used more regularly or sold. It’s easier said than done, of course. But at least I know I have a problem, and admitting that is the first step. I have no idea what the second step is.