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M3/2 rapid load & rewind crank modifications?

The original Leica M3 and M2 came with separate film take-up spools, which you have to extract, thread film into, and then re-insert each time you want to change film. The mechanism was inherited from the earlier LTM cameras, and was superceded in the late 1960s with the release of the Leica M4.

While the earlier scheme works well enough, it is incredibly fiddly & slow. Are there any faster alternatives?…

(1) Buy a few spare film spools

The '60s photographers trick is still the easiest and cheapest option. Buy a few spare film take-up spools, thread them with film before leaving home, and when you have to reload, just drop in the prepared film+spool combo. Literally only takes a couple of seconds.

The only trick is finding spare M3/2 spools forty years after they stopped being made. Maybe USA and European readers have better luck, but they've practically disappeared from Sydney :?(

(2) M2 Quick Load Kit

(URL reference: <>)

In 1968 Leica brought out a user-installed M2 Quick Load Kit (#14260) ("QLK"). In Jan 2002 Brutus Entus noted the following:

Years ago I got a quick load kit for the M2. It consists of a replacement take-up spool, and a film guide that fastens to the base plate, and a loading diagram label. It is installed by the user, and allows inserting the leader to the take-up spool from the bottom. It is similar in to the M4/6 standard system, except that there is just a single insertion slot so the spool must be rotated to align wit the film gate (at most half a wind on the wind lever). The kit was made or at least sold by Leica, and is apparently not suitable for the M3.
I have found it to be very reliable and more convenient that standard M2/M3 loading- the spool stays in place and it is not particularly sensitive to the leader cut or threading.

The reason the QLK is claimed to be unsuitable for the M3 is that you have to remove the spool after each roll of film to trip the internal catch to reset the film counter. Of course this isn't a problem with the M2, where there is no internal catch (instead you manually reset the counter on top of the camera).

In May 2004, Alan Chin - after reading the above remarks - sent me the following note:

The Quick Load spool has a little chrome cylinder which drops down, allowing you to half pull the spool out of the M3 camera (hence you hear the click resetting the frame counter) and then you pop it back in, followed by dropping a new roll of film in. This is still much, much faster than the original spool, which must be completely removed in order to reload film. From 1988-1999 I used 2x M3s and a M2 this way, all with the Quick Load spools.

How to use the QLK

After giving up in despair at ever being able to find spare M3 film spools in Sydney, in July 2004 I bought a mint condition QLK for $US 68.

As behoves an FAQ-meister, I did a bit of research to see what others thought about it. Turns out many Leica users were deeply polarized - many love it, just as many think it's a complete waste of time. See for example this Feb 2003 discussion:

< #002nji>

After a bit (okay, a lot) of experimentation, I discovered why so many thought it was pointless. It turns out it's because many don't know how to use them properly! The trap many (and initially I) fell into, was the assumption that the QLK offers the same kind of "rapid load" functionality as built into later Leica Ms. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Part of the problem is that the kit doesn't come with written instructions. All you get is a line-diagram sticker which shows how to insert the film, but there's nothing else to tell you what to do or which steps to take.

To rectify this, here's the technique I use when loading film:

  1. Make sure the slit in the QLK take-up spool is at the "9 O'clock" position. For the M2, pull on the camera's film advance lever until the slot rotates into position. With an M3, partially extract the spool (using the drop down chrome cylinder) then push it back into place with the slit in the correct position. As noted by Mr Chin above, this step will also reset your M3 film counter.
  2. As shown on the QLK sticker, insert the film cassette and film. Initially only insert the film cassette ¾ of the way into the film chamber. For the RHS take-up spool, make sure you feed the film counter-clockwise into the LHS of the spool, so that the tip of the film leader ends at approx "7 O'clock".
  3. Now press your film cassette all the way home.
  4. Using your index finger, firmly press the film leader all the way into the RHS film take-up spool as far as you can.
  5. Slowly pull on the camera's film wind-on lever. While the film moves across the open gate, jiggle it onto the top and bottom advance sprockets using your fingers.
  6. When the film has engaged the sprockets, wind on a full frame, making sure the film advance sprockets remain engaged. Also make sure the film hasn't slipped out of the RHS take-up spool (it happens!)
  7. Now close the camera back and wind on a couple of frames, making sure the LHS film rewind knob rotates for each.

That's it - it takes far longer to read than do. I've tested the above with a number of different films and didn't get a miss-load once. This is especially remarkable in that one of the films used was Kodak Supra 200 - a notoriously difficult film to load, even in modern Leicas!

In case you missed it, the trick is to not close the camera until you're certain the film advance sprockets have engaged the film. This is a trap many (myself included) fall into. Many imagine that with the kit installed, you can just drop in your film, close the back and let the QLK worry about the rest, similar to the way the "rapid load" scheme works in later Ms.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Just like you do when using standard M3/2 film spools, you have to keep the camera back open until you're certain the film has engaged the take-up sprockets. All the kit does is remove the need to completely extract the film spool when threading film.

QLK - worth the bother?

So although it speeds up loading (a bit), is the QLK it worth it?

As I note above, since it doesn't work like the "rapid load" scheme, it isn't anywhere near as fast. Think of it this way: the slowest method is the standard M3/2 take-up spool; the fastest - the M4 "rapid load". The QLK falls somewhere in between.

While this is fast enough for me, YMMV! For me the really big advantage is that you don't have to futz around with removable film spools any more. Hoo-bloody-ray. No matter how hard I tried, I could never remember how to orientate the buggers when threading with film. Not a problem anymore :?)

(3) M4 "Rapid Load" modification

When the M4 came out in 1968, M3/2 users clamoured for the same rapid load functionality. As noted above, Leica brought out the Quick Load Kit, but let's face it, it was a compromise and not as fast as the new mechanism.

So, can you have surgery done to your M3/2 to make it have the "fair-dinkum, no mucking around, accept no substitutes" rapid-load scheme? The good news is that - yes - you can. Jeff Wheeler reported the following in July 2000:

Don Goldberg (DAG) did the conversion for me. I think it ran about $500. In addition, he also installed the M3 eyepiece lens into an M6 rubberized eyepiece at the same time. I really can't say enough good about the work he does. He's fast and he's reasonably priced.

The price for just the rapid-load modification should be closer to $US 200 (contact DAG to confirm this!). Another thing Mr Wheeler forgot to mention is that the mod. does not include the plastic basket or "rose" on the baseplate. As this item pushes film into place when you close the camera, without a rose, you'll have to push in the film with your fingers. No big deal, but it still isn't the true "rapid load" experience. For that you'll have to get a replacement (chrome) M4/M6 baseplate with rose. Add another $US 150++.

Also keep in mind the modification only makes sense for "user" cameras. If you have an M3 with some collector value (pristine finder & vulcanite, serial # over 1.1 million), then doing the mod. will knock $100s off its value, as collectors hate cameras which have been modernised!

M3/2/4 motordrive coupling modifications

Prior to the release of the Leica M4-2 in 1974, Leica Ms lacked any kind of motor-coupling for use with Rapidwinders or motordives. Is it possible for have this coupling added later?

Yes. It requires major surgery, but in the hands of a skilled technician it can be done. See these Sept 1999 notes at <LUG - v10/msg05886.html> by Tom Abrahamsson.

Steve Patriquen has also had this modification done. In Jan 2002 he added the following:

I just happen to have just had this done by DAG. Price was less than US$300 for M4-6 loading and motor coupling [on my M3]. I wanted this to be able to use my Rapidwinder, but it also allows the use of the M Motor. One tiny concern is that the M3 has a brass gear train, which was switched to steel with the M4-2 and the original M winder.

Ahem, this is more than just a "tiny" concern! Be very careful with as the brass gears in the M3, M2 & M4 were designed with gentler, low-torque forces in mind. When the motor became available in the mid 70s, Leica had to use toughened steel gears to cope with higher internal stresses and torque during motor-driven winding. So by mounting a Rapidwinder or motor onto your M2/3/4, you can - if you are not careful - end up stripping your brass-gear camera and turning the innards to junk!

In April 2002, Mr Patriquen (after reading the above paragraph) responded:

I did check with DAG at the time of having [the motor drive coupling] done, and he reports no problems. I suppose it's possible that the winders put less torque on the drive than a ham-fisted user might, and in a more even way.
He also pointed out that the brass gears would probably fail first, meaning you would have a relatively simple repiar compared to if you had steel gears, which transmit the forces deeper into the drive train.
Finally, he offered to switch to steel during the conversion if that was what I wanted.

M4/6/7 Advance lever modifications

Hate the plastic-tip film advance lever on the M4…7 and hanker for the good ol' days when the M3 and M2 had a solid, single piece wind-on advance?…

Good news! You can still order the M3/2 advance lever from your local distributor as a spare part and have a technician install it for you - expect to pay approx. $US 40 for the part and then factor in an hour of the technician's time.

In Nov 2001, John Collier noted the following for those who want to DIY:

It is very easy to do if you buy the special tool(s). Here is a link where you can buy the tools: <>
It is then a simple matter of unscrewing the bezel around the shutter release button and lifting off the old lever. When you go to put the bezel back on, first turn it lightly counter-clockwise until it "clicks" (the threads engage) and then screw it home by hand. Finally use the tool to snug it up.
I did the same modification and I like it a great deal. It is now easy to flick the lever out even if there is a finder or flash mounted. The M3/2 style wind lever is only available in silver chrome from Leica. It should be a fairly simple matter to have the chrome finish stripped off and to get it powder coated black if that is what you need.
[Alternatively…] I simply took a new silver chrome one and painted it black. Tremclad flat black with a coat of satin varnish matches the murky finish of a well used black chrome body.

According to Mr Collier, the exact ID of the part to look for is "LS 042-253.001-371". For the contact address Leica spare parts sellers, see elsewhere in this FAQ.

Mind you, with the March 2003 release of the retro Leica MP, the all-metal wind-on lever is now a currently-in-production part, so it should be much easier to buy.

M3/2/MP Rewind cranks

You can speed up rewinding by use of a separate rewind crank accessory. Although 2nd hand examples abound (if you look hard enough), you basically have three choices if you want to buy a brand new one:

Wasserman rewind crank:

The cheapest option at $US 35, from Richard Wasserman in Wilmette IL USA, who manufactures them in either chrome or black.

Cameraquest rewind crank:

In June 2017 Stephen Gandy started selling his updated version of the crank for $US 199 and available in black or silver chrome, see <…m2-film-rewind-lever/>. While you are at it, check out his interesting page on different rewind crank types and versions at <>.

Leica MP rewind crank:

Since the release of the Leica MP in March 2003, brand-name conscious users can now also buy a Leica-made version of the crank. The most expensive option of course ($US 170), but it comes in a very fancy presentation box and is available in both black-paint or chrome versions.

A note about possible broken links

This FAQ has over 900 external links. Over time it is inevitable some of them will break. If you are bothered by this, see this detailed topic elsewhere in the FAQ.

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