Exclusive: A Look at the Ultra-Rare Cameras in the 2023 Leitz Photographica Auction

42nd Leitz Photographica Auction

The biannual Leitz Photographica Auction will take place on June 10 in Wetzlar, Germany. In anticipation of the auction, Leica hosted PetaPixel as part of a special one-on-one preview in New Jersey, the home of Leica’s North American operations.

PetaPixel saw a curated selection of 20 of the 500 lots that will be available to collectors and photography enthusiasts at the 42nd Leitz Photographica Auction in June.

Among the early-access lots were numerous unique Leica prototype cameras and lenses, rare cameras once owned by famed photographers, historically significant Leica cameras, and even a few special pieces of camera gear made by other manufacturers, including a couple of Hasselblad cameras built for NASA.

Leica 250 GG Reporter + Leica-Motor M00EV

Among the lots expected to sell for the highest sum is the extremely rare Leica 250 GG Reporter camera + Leica-Motor M00EV electric drive motor.

Only 92 Leica Reporter cameras have been equipped with the electric motor drive, and Leica knows of only around 16 that still survive. The German Luftwaffe’s infamous STUKA dive bombers primarily used the combination for aerial reconnaissance.

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Leica 250 GG Reporter + Leica-Motor M00EV

The motor drives were often permanently attached to their host planes, and soldiers swapped out the cameras rather than deal with the entire assembly. This means that cameras and their matching motor drive units were mixed.

This mix-and-match approach of the German military makes the camera up for auction all the more remarkable, as it was — unusually — delivered to the Dutch military, who managed to keep the matching motor together with the camera, which is exceptionally uncommon. PetaPixel was told this is the only known example of the camera and motor matching.

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Leica 250 GG Reporter + Leica-Motor M00EV | Credit: Leitz Photographica Auction

The Leica 250 GG with an electric motor is exceedingly rare in and of itself. Still, the fact that the two units have matching serial numbers elevates the lot to unprecedented territory.

The lot will start at €150,000, or around $165,000, and is expected to sell for as much as €350,000 (about $386,000).

Leica M3 Black Paint with First Batch Black Dial

Another lot starting at €150,000 is a spectacular Leica M3 black paint First Batch black dial camera. Black paint Leica M3 is among the rarest and most sought-after Leica cameras. In recent years, the value of genuine black paint Leica M3 cameras has skyrocketed in contrast to the later silver models. Leica tells PetaPixel that the market has increased 200 to 300 percent in the past few years.

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Leica M3 black paint First Batch black dial

This particular black paint M3 is especially valuable because it has a black film counter dial, which is even rarer than the body itself being black. It includes other quintessential “black paint” features, including an all-black base plate, log strap lugs, and more.

This camera, serial number 918465, was delivered to Brandt, Sweden, and comes with a black paint brass-mount Summicron 50mm f/2 lens (serial number 1587299).

PetaPixel asked if, given the popularity and value of black paint Leica cameras, the Leitz Photographica Auction ever encountered counterfeit cameras. Sure enough, the team sees fake cameras. Part of authenticating genuine examples of black paint cameras is cross-referencing Leica’s extremely detailed archives that have production information and serial numbers for everything the legendary camera company has made and performing a comprehensive inspection, which occasionally includes taking cameras and lenses apart to check the individual components.

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Leica M3 black paint First Batch black dial | Credit: Leitz Photographica Auction

Collectors can rest assured that, despite some people counterfeiting Leica cameras, the Leitz Photographica Auction takes nothing at face value and goes to extreme lengths to protect its well-earned integrity.

The Leica M3 black paint First Batch black dial could sell for as much as €350,000, although it wouldn’t be surprising for it to sell for much more than that given the surging demand for black paint Leica M3 cameras.

Leica M2 Black Paint Lots

Alongside the extraordinary Leica M3 black paint just mentioned, PetaPixel also saw several black paint Leica M2 cameras, including one with original lever rewind and a second with a button rewind. The button rewind version is the 42nd black paint M2 ever made.

Each camera will start at €20,000 and could sell for as much, or more, than €45,000 (just under $50,000). Neither lot comes with a lens, although both show incredible patina around their edges.

PetaPixel asked if a less-used camera, including less patina, would be more or less valuable than cameras with patina like these two M2 models. As it happens, it depends on the camera, but it’s rarely the case that signs of wear and use reduce an old Leica camera’s value. In some cases, depending on who used the camera, it may make it even more valuable to collectors.

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Leica M2 black paint Button Rewind

Further, PetaPixel questioned if many of the cameras and lenses that are auctioned off see additional use by the new owners. Given that the previewed lots were all encased in glass and protected by a (very friendly) security guard named Dolores, it’s easy to imagine the cameras being displayed in new homes rather than taken out into the world to take photos.

However, Leica says that several items auctioned off are used again. Everything is tested and fully operational. Leica still services vintage cameras at a special repair shop in Austria. It’s incredible to think that photography enthusiasts will continue to use these cameras, despite their immense value. After all, Leica cameras are carefully designed and rigorously built to be used, not to sit in a case or on a shelf. Cameras are beautiful, of course, but they’re meant to shoot photos, not just be a conversation piece or a prized collector’s item.

Leica I Mod. A Anastigmat is Extremely Old and Rare

Among the oldest cameras available is the Leica I Mod. A Anastigmat that was built way back in 1925. The authentic Leica model A camera has a five-element Anastigmat lens in extremely rare original condition. It includes the earliest version of the matching ETRIN twin cassette container.

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Leica I Mod. A Anastigmat | Credit: Leitz Photographica Auction

Only about 155 of these cameras were produced and finding a camera like this in such excellent original condition is highly unusual. The ‘Anastigmat’ lens is historically significant and attractive to collectors.

Leitz Photographica Auction believes this lot will sell for between €80,000 and €100,000 (roughly $88,000 to $110,000).

Military Cameras: Leica M3 Olive Bundeseigentum and Leica M1 Olive Bundeseigentum

A handful of the lots PetaPixel saw appeal to more than photographers, including these two military-issue cameras that will excite any military history buff, regardless of whether they’re a shutterbug.

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Leica M1 olive Bundeseigentum

The two olive-colored cameras, an M1 and M3, were built specifically for use by the German military. The M1 is wholly original, and the rare camera comes with a matching Elmar 50mm f/3.5 lens (serial number 1336594). The M1, built in 1961, is expected to sell for around €50,000 ($55,000).

The olive M3, produced in 1958, is a scarce early version of the M3 and includes an unusual patina and even some noticeable bubbles in the green paint. This camera is also among the first 20 ever built, although only 300 of these cameras were produced for the German military overall. This model also has an upgraded shutter to improve operability in extremely cold conditions. It could sell for upwards of €70,000 ($77,000).

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Leica M3 olive Bundeseigentum

Prototype Frenzy: Leica CL Prototype 2 and Leica MC Prototype 3 are Exceedingly Rare and Very Valuable

At many Leitz Photographica Auctions, there are prototype cameras and lenses and the upcoming 42nd auction doesn’t buck the trend. Among the previewed lots, PetaPixel learned about a pair of spectacular prototype cameras.

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Leica CL prototype 2 with 50mm f/2 C241 lens

The more valuable of the two is the Leica CL prototype 2 with a 50mm f/2 C241 lens. This is a famous, one-of-a-kind prototype camera. Although it features the general shape of the production Leica CL camera, this second prototype is smaller than the eventual design and shares no parts with the production version.

Leica tells PetaPixel that while some prototypes lack any production parts, it’s pretty unusual to see a prototype camera with no overlap with the production version. This prototype has some interesting quirks, including a unique viewfinder, a unique back door with a special closing mechanism, and a distinct tripod mount screwed directly into the camera’s chassis. It’s also the only CL prototype to be finished in black paint.

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Leica CL prototype 2 with 50mm f/2 C241 lens | Credit: Leitz Photographica Auction

While the camera is rare, the accompanying prototype Summicron 50mm f/2 (number 0001076) may excite collectors even more. The camera features a truly unique, unmatched optical formula. No other lens like it has ever existed.

The camera and lens will start at €100,000, and Leitz anticipates the lot will sell for around €300,000 ($331,000).

Another prototype camera is the Leica MC prototype 3. The camera looks much like the standard CL camera, but each of the prototype’s controls features unusual shapes.

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Leica MC prototype 3

While each of the differences between this prototype and the production model belies improvements the designers and engineers made during the design process, they also tell an exciting story that appeals to diehard Leica collectors and enthusiasts.

Like the other CL prototype, this MC prototype camera comes with a unique prototype lens and a special Elmarit-C 40mm f/2.8. The lens includes aperture numbers engraved directly on the mount, which is unusual, and the lot contains original design documents for the lens.

This prototype is less valuable than the other one but is still expected to sell for between €100,000-150,000 ($110,000-166,000).

Charity Lot: Leica M11 ‘Brass’

While nowhere near as valuable as some of the other lots PetaPixel investigated, the Leica M11 ‘Brass’ may be the most beautiful item available this June. It’s a Leica M11 camera, which came out just last year, in a spectacular, unfinished brass and green grip.

There are only two copies of this special M11, one of which is in the possession of the famed actor who commissioned it, and the other was built specifically to raise money for charity. PetaPixel asked after the “famous actor,” but Leica proved tight-lipped on their identity.

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Leica M11 ‘Brass’ (Charity Lot)

The beautiful camera will age by design, showing wear and patina relatively quickly. Even though it was built just last year and has been protected, the camera’s metal is already darker than when it was made. If not kept clean after use, the camera will oxidize, turning green.

The camera could sell for around €14,000 ($15,500), only around $6,500 more than a brand-new regular Leica M11 camera.

Hasselblad Cameras Built for NASA

Two more auction lots appeal to more than just photographers and Leica enthusiasts — a pair of Hasselblad cameras built for NASA in 1968 will interest NASA and space history collectors.

The Hasselblad Electric Camera (HEC) NASA is a rare, early Hasselblad 500 EL/M camera modified for NASA’s Apollo Lunar missions. While neither of the Hasselblad cameras available at auction has been to space, they were used by NASA in preparation for its lunar missions.

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Hasselblad Electric Camera (HEC) NASA

The modified camera includes operability improvements for astronauts wearing space suits, including a sizeable locking mechanism to change the film magazine. Further, the camera consists of a studier shutter release plate than usual. The camera has a special NASA Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens with a matching black anodized finish and large control tabs, also designed for use with spacesuit gloves.

The camera is estimated to sell for around €45,000 (just under $47,000).

The other Hasselblad NASA camera is a modified Lunar Surface SWC. Hasselblad and NASA partnered to build a camera specifically to capture photographs on the moon, like this very Lunar Surface SWC.

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Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC

It has a large frame finder on top, a more robust shutter, and a larger release button, a lightweight magazine altered to capture 200 frames on 70mm perforated film.

NASA and Hasselblad ultimately settled on a different design, but this is a remarkable piece of history. The camera is in good working order and has a Biogon 38mm f/4.5 lens. It could sell for around €26,000 ($29,000).

Trio of Special Leica Primes

Leica cameras are special to collectors, but so too are Leica’s renowned and legendary lenses.

A 50mm f/1.2 Noctilux lens, the world’s first 50mm lens to include an aspheric element, is expected to sell for more up as much as €36,000 ($40,000). Only 2,500 of these lenses were made, and this near-mint version was built in 1968.

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Leica Summarit 50mm f/1.4 Summilux prototype

An extremely rare M-mount Summarit 50mm f/1.4 Summilux prototype lens could sell for as much as €70,000 ($77,000). It’s special because it has unique engravings, and is one of 20 lenses built for testing.

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Leica Elcan 1 3/8 Inch 1:2 35mm f/2 prototype

An even rarer prototype is an Elcan 1 3/8-inch 1:2 35mm f/2 lens. It’s one of just two lenses produced by Ernst Leitz Canada for the U.S. Navy. It is entirely different from the production Leica lenses that followed. Leica expects it to sell for €100,000 ($110,000) or more.

Rare Non-Leica Lenses

PetaPixel saw three non-Leica lenses on display, including the Nikon 13mm f/5.6 AI-S Nikkor, Canon f. Leica M39 35mm f/1.4 prototype, and Nikon f. Leica M39 Nikkor N.C 50mm f/1.1 black front.

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Nikon 13mm f/5.6 AI-S Nikkor

The Nikon 13mm ultra-wide angle lens is in near-mint condition and is one of around 350 made to order from 1976 to 1998. This particular lens was built in 1980. It is the world’s widest non-distorting professional SLR lens, even today. The lens could sell for as much as €70,000 ($77,000) at auction.

The Canon f. Leica M39 35mm f/1.4 lens is a prototype lens built in 1957, was released to the public in 1958, and was the fastest 35mm lens of the time. The lens has different styling than the eventual production lens and is in beautiful condition. It’s the only known example of the 35mm f/1.4, as the final retail version featured a slightly slower f/1.5 aperture. This prototype should sell for around €36,000 ($40,000).

Nikon was among the first manufacturers to make an ultra-fast 50mm prime lens. This 50mm f/1.1 lens includes a black paint front rim, which is exceedingly rare. The standard version includes a silver front. The lens has its original leather case, matching rare hood (including a case), and viewfinder attachment. The lens starts at €15,000 and may sell for €36,000 ($40,000).

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Nikon f. Leica M39 Nikkor N.C 50mm f/1.1 black front

Leica Look-Alikes Also Attract Attention

Leica collectors also have a soft spot for Leica copycats, the auction house tells PetaPixel. The upcoming auction will include Geodeziya Moscow FAG 2nd version and GOMZ Gelveta Luxus prototype cameras.

The Geodeziya was built in 1935 and could fetch as much as €70,000 ($77,000) at auction. The camera has an interchangeable M40 screw mount and is in beautiful condition. It includes a prototype GOI Jupiter 50mm f/1.5 lens coupled for rangefinder use. The only other known second version of this camera is part of a collection at the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow.

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Geodeziya Moscow FAG 2nd Version

The unusual-looking GOMZ Gelveta Luxus prototype camera is an experimental “luxury” version of the standard Gelveta camera. It has a distinct green crinkle covering and a wide array of different parts than serial production versions. The lens includes a 50mm f/3.5 prime. It’s expected to sell for over €20,000 ($22,000).

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GOMZ Gelveta Luxus prototype

Walker Evans Leica Cameras

Leica cameras are precious when used by famous photographers, such as the late great American photographer Walker Evans. The photographer is perhaps best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and his images of the Great Depression. Although much of that work was shot on large-format cameras, Evans later used Leica cameras for much of his work.

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Leica IIIc outfit ‘Walker Evans’ | Credit: Leitz Photographica Auction

The Leica III outfit “Walker Evans” available for sale is a 1950 Leica IIIc camera, paired with a Leicavit and two Nikon lenses with a Leica adapter. The lot also comes with a first print of Evans’ book Message from the Interior. The lot is expected to have a hammer price of around €14,000 ($15,000).

Another Leica camera owned by Evans is expected to sell for much more, perhaps as much as €70,000 ($77,300). The camera is an original black paint M2 and screw-mount eight-element Summicron 35mm f/2. Evans purchased the camera in 1962 and used it until he stopped shooting 35mm format in 1973. Evans died two years later at age 71. A book by Jerry L. Thompson, The Last Years of Walker Evans, features images from the later period of Evans’ life and career and is included in the lot.

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Leica M2 black paint ‘Walker Evans’

The equipment included in both lots was passed on from Evans to his assistant following Evans’ death and has been in his assistant’s possession since.

John Bulmer’s Leica M3 Black Paint Outfit

Photographer John Bulmer sold his black paint Leica M3 a while back, and it has passed through a few sets of hands since, finally ending up in the upcoming Leitz Photographica Auction. This rare camera was built in 1960 and has an attractive patina. It comes with a matching 50mm f/2 Summicron lens. Because it’s a rare camera used by an accomplished photographer, it could sell for upwards of €100,000 ($110,000).

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Leica M3 black paint outfit ‘John Bulmer’

PetaPixel asked if cameras such as this sold long ago are ever repurchased by their original owners. Leica couldn’t think of any examples of that happening, but it would be pretty serendipitous if photographers were reunited with their cameras through the Leitz Photographica Auction someday.

Leica MP ‘Terry O’Neill’

A much newer camera is a special Leica MP made in collaboration with photographer Terry O’Neill in 2018. This special edition set includes a matching 50mm lens and a limited-edition print that has never been seen before. The lot is anticipated to sell for around €36,000 ($40,000). It’s a beautiful camera and proves incredibly striking in person.

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Leica MP ‘Terry O’Neill’

Leica M2 Black Paint ‘Sarkis’

French conceptual Sarkis Zabunyan owned this special Leica M2 black paint camera. It features the word ‘KRIEGSSCHATZ’ engraved on the top, a term used frequently by Sarkis in his exhibitions and artwork. The lot includes a brass-mounted Summicron 50mm f/2 lens and a signed copy of the rare artbook Blackout Leica Museum. The lot starts at €30,000 and could sell for more than €60,000 ($66,000).

Looking Ahead to the 42nd Leitz Photographica Auction

The items PetaPixel saw are only a small portion of the roughly 500 lots that will be available at the Leitz Photographica Auction in June.

Returning to the auction after a hiatus are photographic prints. While none were available to preview, rare prints from photographers including John Bulmer, Arnold Newman, Helmut Newton, Marc Riboud, Ernst Haas, Robert Capa, Massimo Vitali, Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans, and Ansel Adams will be available, among many more significant photographers.

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It will be fascinating to see what happens at the auction, where Leitz expects around 80 percent or more of the lots to sell. Will there be any significant surprises, lots that sell for much more than anticipated?

Last year, a Leica 0-series camera owned by Leica inventor Oskar Barnack was expected to sell for $3.2 million before selling for a record-setting sum just shy of $15 million, making it the world’s priciest camera.