A day with a Leica Master

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It’s not often that you get to spend time with a true master.  I heard about Youxin Ye online from pretty much everyone on the planet that is somehow connected to Leica cameras.  Just ask anyone who the best person to repair such a fine instrument is and you will probably hear Mr. Ye’s name.  He has a reputation for doing such amazing work.  So, when I had the opportunity to sit at his workbench for 4 hours this week, I was pretty excited.  I am a Leica nut and always wanted to know how a Leica M3 worked.  Well, I got to learn from a master.

A Leica M3 is quite possibly the greatest camera in history.  Like a fine Rolex watch, it is beautifully functional.  It is completely mechanical and born of brass and alloy.  There are no batteries.  There is nothing but gears, glass and metal…engineered by the finest craftsmen beginning in 1954.  It would only make sense that it be restored by another fine craftsman today.

My Leica M3 was built in 1958 and was originally purchased from an estate sale before I acquired it.  According to Mr. Ye, it was rarely used.  But, it sadly sat in a basement for years.  The leather was brittle and the inside was dry and rusted.  The viewfinder had fungus on the glass and it was overall in need of a good C.L.A. (clean, lubricate, and adjust)  Thankfully, Mr .Ye was able to bring her back to life.  He even showed me how this camera worked with every screw he removed and replaced.

…He also put me to work having me remove all the old adhesive from the body once the leather was taken off! (very cool)

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When I arrived at his workshop earlier in the day, I was met by his wife.  She is an expert in glass and does all the optical cleaning.  She invited me in and we talked about everything from my job, my kids, to Leica lenses.  Mr. Ye joined us briefly thereafter and quickly got to work.  First up was an old 50mm Leica Summicron lens I purchased from eBay.  It was a risky purchase because I was told it was damaged by fungus.  However, I got it for 1/3 of the market price and felt it was worth the risk.  When I received it, I was a little worried.  The inside was full of haze and the fungus was certainly obvious.  When I took photos, the images were pretty bad.  No contrast and the colors were muted.  Well, after an hour in the hands of Mr. Ye and his wife, the lens is 95% back to new.  The fungus etched the glass coating in some places, but the overall image quality is largely unaffected.

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After fixing my lens, Mr. Ye spent about 2 hours working on my Leica M3.  I learned so much.  He obviously loves what he does and it shows.  What amazed me the most was that he can remove about 30 screws and random parts and place them on the table un-labled.  He just knows where it all goes and joked that he could probably identify a Leica screw.  LOL

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The above photo shows the shell of my Leica M3 completely disassembled.  From this point forward, he carefully cleaned all the gears.  Applied lubrication.  Made sure the shutter worked well.  He tested each speed for accuracy and every time he replaced a screw he made sure the area was free of dirt or dust.  He is very meticulous.  I’m sure he would have been faster, but I asked about 100 questions.  Being such a nice man, he answered every one of them.

When he was done, my camera looked like it just left the factory in 1958.  The new leather added to the factory fresh feeling.  He made sure the rangefinder focusing system was perfect and then handed it to me for final approval.  I was more than impressed.  The old Leica cloth shutter is nothing short of music to the ears.  Add the sound of freshly oiled mechanical gears to the mix and it gets even better.

In the end he was able to do everything I asked and more.  I love photography.  I love cameras.  Today I felt like a violinist that got to hang out with Antonio Stradivarius for the day.

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If you need any work done, you can find Mr. Ye and his wife at the link below.

http://www.yyecamera.com

Thank you! -Chris

 

10 thoughts on “A day with a Leica Master

  1. As a kid I was always, always, taking things apart, but there is no way on earth I’ll do that to my M3 especially after reading this. The whole experience from my first email to Youxin, to receiving my camera back (sent from Australia & back again) was first class . What a gem & how lucky are you to spend a day there! Great article!

  2. This was a great read! Do you have more ‘before and after’ pics? I’d love to see more.

    (I originally posted this on Ryan Neilan’s post, sharing your blog post, thinking he wrote this, but he pointed out that it wasn’t him. My bad.)

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