Stripping the Leica M3

Cleaning the Leica M3 was not as difficult as I had imagined in might be. For a 50 year old camera, it was really clean. The one area that was problematic, however, was the vulcanite covering. Vulcanite is the black plastic “leather” grip that covers the body of older cameras. Like all plastics from the 60s, the vulcanite on this camera was like the body of an Egyptian mummy: it fell apart as soon as I began handling the body.  Chips were first, then I heard the crack of a huge chunk pressing inwards before it fell to the ground.

Please do not fear for the safety of the camera. The vulcanite covering is the least of anyone’s concerns for a camera of this vintage.  Most of the covering crumbled off without much prompting, while the tricky parts with the most glue required an artist’s palette to pry free. What you see in these two photos is a semi-clean body free from its covering.  There remains a baked-on residue of adhesive and oxidization on the body, which I may or may not fully remove before recovering. Yes, there are a few scratches from the removal, but don’t freak out…these will all be covered up once the replacement material arrives.

I ordered a kit to exactly match the camera from Camera Leather last night, as well as a small piece to recover the Elmar lens base, which also had vulcanite covering it. Given the nature of the kit’s custom nature, I am not expecting shipment for a month from Vermont, which is fine. While I did seriously consider ordering a wildly red snakeskin covering, I decided to go with a black lizard skin for its durability and a more classic look. Perhaps this was a safe choice, but did I really need to transform the subtle refinement of the Leica into a flashy accessory that would draw attention wherever I traveled? Probably not. I already get stopped on the streets when I carry the Canon 1DmkIII, much to the detriment of my patience. I am probably not the best at avoiding flash and colour, but for once I decided to do things with style.

The idea of working on the camera was a little frightening, but, like any repairs, stripping down to the floorboards is essential to get to good wood. As to the rest of the kit, the lenses are perfect, the light meter is dead [the selenium cell is expired and there are no replacements available], the case leather is remarkably in good shape and I loaded it with a roll of 35mm Kodak Ektar 100 film to practice loading and unloading it this week. My main problem was forgetting that the camera is loaded – I must have taken four photos just holding the camera and pressing the shutter by accident.



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