One-hundred years since the birth of Leica. Sixty years since the M3. Yesterday, the launch of the Leica T. No doubt about it – 2014 is shaping up to be a huge year for Leica.

But while the Leica T looks to the future, we felt it was also worth looking to the past, specifically at one of Leica’s greatest success stories – the Leica M3.

What was it about this classic camera that made it so popular on release, and continues to give it such a legacy even today? We reckon we’ve got an idea…

1. Its exceptional, beautiful viewfinder

The Leica M3’s viewfinder is still legendary, and rightly so. It was, after all, the first to combine viewfinder and rangefinder into one.

Exceptionally bright and with a high magnification factor of 0.92x, many would argue (and have argued) that it’s been unequalled by any Leica since. Holding one up to the eye is an experience every photographer should have on his or her bucket list.

2. Silky smooth shutter release

Image: Wikimedia Commons

You have to love that shutter action. It’s just beautifully smooth, wonderfully metallic, and nice and sensitive to boot. Perfection.

3. It brought the film advance lever to Leica

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Advancing the film with a knob on the Leica IIIf and predecessors didn’t have the same feel as the double-stroke lever of the M3, later upgraded to a single-stroke once the engineers were happy the film could take it.

4. It’s the camera of choice for secret agents

Really, what other camera would you expect 007 to use?

The following is taken from Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger:

‘Bond took the elevator up to his suite. He went to his suitcase and extracted an M3 Leica, an MC exposure meter, a K2 filter and a flash-holder. He put a bulb in the holder and checked the camera. He went to his balcony, glanced at the sun to estimate where it would be at about three-thirty and went back to the sitting room, leaving the door to the balcony open. He stood at the balcony door and aimed the exposure meter.

‘The exposure was one-hundredth of a second. He set this on the Leica, put the shutter at f11, and the distance at twelve feet. He clipped on a lens hood and took one picture to see that all was working. Then he wound on the film, slipped in the flash-holder and put the camera aside.’

We’re not saying that using a Leica M3 will literally turn you into James Bond, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t.

5. It introduced the Leica M-mount

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The bayonet M-mount, which allowed for fast changes and set framelines automatically, was introduced on the M3, and no-one saw any need to change it for the next half-century. Fair enough.

6. It’s the camera of choice of royalty

Did you know that our monarch Queen Elizabeth II is quite the keen photographer? No? Well do you know what camera she uses?

To be fair, if you’ve gotten this far in this article and can’t have a guess there’s probably something wrong with you but, yeah, it’s a Leica M3.

The Leitz company actually gave HRH her own personalised engraved M3 in 1958. Turns out there are some perks to being Queen. Who’d have known?

7. It still holds up today

Imagine trying to keep up with Game of Thrones on a television made in 1954. Imagine driving a car from the 1950s in rush-hour traffic. To a child of today, a computer from the 1950s would be utterly unfathomable, and could quite possibly fall over and kill them.

The Leica M3 debuted in 1954. In 2014, sixty years thereafter, people are still shooting with it, producing great images with it, and loving it.

This is just a selection of the huge range of photos on Flickr tagged with ‘Leica M3′, still looking great today:

Image by David Mello, licensed under Creative Commons

Image by Vishal Sonji

, licensed under Creative Commons

Image by nggalai, licensed under Creative Commons

Image by M.Franke, licensed under Creative Commons

Image by Harrison Webster, licensed under Creative Commons

Image by talat., licensed under Creative Commons

Now that’s design.