The naming convention for early Leica camera models was different in Europe than in the US. I will stay with the European naming convention for this article; the list below provides the equivalent USmodels.
TWO VERY DIFFERENT UPGRADES FOR EARLIER LEICAS TO III OR IIIA
Whenever new features in existing models or new models were released to the market, Leitz offered the possibility of applying the improvements to existing cameras and/or to convert them to the newest model. This was also the case when the Leica III, known as Model F in the US, was introduced. Conversions for screwmount Leicas were available until the late 50’s. Image A shows various conversion possibilities and their prices as of 1954 .
In this second article about Leica conversions, I will show two very different
conversions to Leica III or IIIa. I will show which parts in each camera have been replaced during conversion (and why) and explain why these parts allow us to determine the time when conversion was done. As a reference camera I am taking a very early chrome plated Leica II, S/N 108312. This camera is in original condition with all parts from the time of production. Based on parts found in both of the converted cameras I assume that each of them was converted only once. (image 1)
Let me translate part of the text below the table on image A. The table is valid for cameras with serial numbers above 160 000 and below 360 000. As a reminder, this represents what was available as of 1954.
“Repair and conversions of the oldest Model I’s with fixed and interchangeable lenses may not be possible any more due to the lack of spare parts, please ask for a quote. Upgrade to Standard as an exception only. Cameras with SN below 360 000 cannot be converted into IIIc, or IIIf. Chrome plating of black painted cameras on exception, please ask for quote. Cameras with SN below 160 000 require separate price quotation for adding synchronization.”
Both converted cameras were originally Leica II (model D): the 106 664 from 1933 and 87 538 from 1932 , they are now III, or IIIa. Both are black painted with nickel plated knobs. Comparing the top covers we may notice that they look different. However more significant differences are hidden inside. (image 2)
Let us start with details which may be seen from the outside and under the top cover. Both cameras received a new shell during conversion. The reference camera has an inspection cover screw on the rear side and thin pin (3mm) for the bottom cover. Converted cameras do not have this screw cover anymore and the pin is thicker (4.9mm). Camera S/N 87538 has as well the second pin for the flash mounting bracket (although the camera itself is not synced for flash). The pattern of the Vulcanite covering on 87538 is like that on the production cameras from the fifties, while the Vulcanite of 106664 is like that on the cameras from the early 30’s. (images 3 & 3a)
New shells required new film pressure plates as well. On the left is the pressure plate from the reference camera; on the right are the film pressure plates from both converted cameras (image 4)
Similarly, because of the new body shells the bottom covers have been replaced. On the photo below we see the bottom covers from inside. Let me call your attention to the film loading instruction plate which is in German only and the square notch on the stiffening bar on the bottom cover of the reference camera. Both converted cameras have instructions in four languages. Engravings “zu“ and “auf “ on camera 106 664 are filled with bismuth, while the bi-lingual engravings on 87538 are filled with white paint. These details are similar to production cameras from the 30’s and 50’s respectively. (images 5 & 6)