A New Quick-Load Spool for Barnack Leica (and Similar) Cameras

If you’ve ever taken photographs with a vintage Barnack Leica, you know that this precursor to modern cameras is considerably more difficult to load film into than pretty much everything that came after it.

Almost a century after its 1925 release, the steps to most effectively load a Barnack Leica are still debated in forums and demonstrated in videos.

Regardless if you follow the original instructions or have your own way of doing it, once you get a method down, it’s not too bad. Some would even say that the slowness of working these clockwork wonders is the entire point of using them today.

But one German start-up has set out to show us that there is still room for improvement, maybe even more enjoyment, of these ancient little cameras.

A Quick Load Spool For Barnacks

Barnack (and early M) cameras required photographers to trim the leader of their film, thread the film onto a removable take-up spool outside of the camera, insert this assembly into the camera, and then remove both the film and take-up spool again to reload. All while holding the bottom cover of the camera in your mouth or a shirt pocket!

Similar to the Leica M5 take-up spool of 1971 (Leica part number 14192) this 3D printed Quick Load Spool eliminates both the need for trimming the film leader as well as constantly removing and inserting the spool in your pre-IIIg model Barnack Leica or similar camera.

If the spool works as it was designed, early Leicas with their century-old design can be loaded more like newer M cameras.

Meet Ausgeknipst

Ausgeknipst is a small German business that produces various 3D printed accessories for vintage cameras that are sold via their eBay store. Vlad, the owner gave me some background: 

“I met Antonio (my co-founder) when we both were studying Plastics Engineering here in Würzburg, Germany. After my studies, I started studying Philosophy and worked as a bicycle mechanic. I also photograph a lot (you can check out my Instagram @vlad_o_sh) and I figured out that I often times can repair [and] sell the (film photography) gear. This is how Ausgeknipst started: as a camera and lens repair and resell business.”

“Since Antonio joined, our focus has shifted to designing and 3D-printing spare parts, caps, and accessories for film cameras. The Leica Spool is the product of our cooperative endeavor.”

Evaluating The Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spool

I watched their demonstration video and was unsure about the whole not trimming the leader thing. It’s very frowned upon in the Leica community to load a Barnack with a modern-length film leader because it can result in torn sprocket holes and bits of film fouling the shutter.

Vlad assures me that “it is not necessary to trim the film leader, however, those who prefer to do so still can. I haven’t trimmed my film with the spool and it worked fine, but as you said, I always tell the people that trimming is probably safer but it worked for me and others without. At least I haven’t heard of ripped film so far.”

I ordered one Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spool and Vlad kindly sent me two spools and a roll of Foma 35mm film to help me get started. I used Vlad’s test roll, leader intact, to dry fire start-to-finish, rewind, rinse-and-repeat several times in my 1930 I/III and 1947 Leica IIIc. Despite doing this numerous times with the same roll of film in both cameras, the film didn’t tear, appear to get scratched, or show any other cause for concern.

So I proceeded to shoot ten rolls of fresh Kodak Tri-X using the Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spools in my cameras. The spools greatly enhanced both the speed and fun of shooting a fair quantity of film in a short period of time. I was able to spend more time just taking photos.

Using the Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spools in my Barnacks was instantly intuitive because the loading procedure becomes very similar to newer Leica M models. The main difference now is the lack of the M-style hinged back door on the Barnacks. Initially, I put the cameras in Bulb and removed the lens to ensure the film was seated and taking up properly but soon this became unnecessary.

I usually like to take a break and have a seat when I’m ready to reload my Barnacks. But I became comfortable changing film while still walking because I didn’t have to set the camera down while threading film onto the old reel. The entire experience is like shooting a much newer (relatively!) camera.

But when rewinding a roll in my 1930 Leica, I found that one of the three splines of the “tulip” cracked and fell off the spool, inside my camera. 

The spline broke cleanly at its base and no bits were left inside the camera. The break did not scratch my film or damage my camera in any way but I was very disappointed because I enjoyed using the Quick Load Spool so much. It’s possible that I was rewinding too fast, but still, this was a no-go.

I notified Vlad of the problem and he responded quickly, confidently assuring me that they could correct the design flaw within a few days and send new spools to me.

Upgraded Quick Load Spools

The new, upgraded Ausgeknipst quick load spools look very similar and work identically to the first ones that I tested. But the new spools consist of thicker plastic so it would take considerably more force to crack the splines.   

I loaded these new spools in my 1947 Leica IIIc and 1930 I/III and shot another twelve rolls of Tri-X between them. There were no issues this time and I’m working on my next roll in the 1930, which has also been trouble-free.

I was worried that because the upgraded spools are thicker, the film would rub against the interior of the cameras and cause scratching, but nothing like this happened.

While I am admittedly biased in wanting this product to work, I do believe that Vlad and Antonio’s improvements are exactly what was needed to make their quick-load spools dependable.


Visually, there’s no doubt that the Ausgeknipst spools are small-batch, 3D-printed products as opposed to mass-produced injection-molded parts. They exhibit tell-tale stringing and print lines are obvious. It would be great if these artifacts could be cleaned up prior to sale, but for the function they bring to the basic Barnack, I can ignore their inelegant form.

I’m a little disappointed that the Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spools have a fixed pull knob that is difficult to grasp. Embarrassingly, I rely on pliers to remove the Ausgeknipst spools, which of course is not ideal. However, the entire point of these spools is that they needn’t be removed frequently, or, at all. So I don’t see this as a problem unless spools need to be swapped during a shoot. A more refined pull knob would be a great improvement. 

What Other Cameras Do They Work With?

Ausgeknipst states that their spools are designed to work with “Leica I – IIIf” model cameras. But there are a lot of copies made by other manufacturers. I was curious if the spools would fit similar cameras that I don’t own but readers might be interested in.

I forwarded a couple of Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spools to camera historian Mike Eckman of MikeEckman.com and the Camerosity Podcast for further testing. Below are his findings.

“Leica I Model C and Leica IIIf fit perfectly. For the non-Leica brand copies, the Leotax K and Leotax IV B, Shanghai 58-II, and Premier Instrument Kardon all fit properly too.”

I hadn’t clarified to Mike that the spool is not designed for the IIIg so he happened to try it in one and verified that it does not fit tight enough to the shaft inside the IIIg body to wind on.

Close but no cigar: “Soviet FED and Zorkis do look like the spool would fit, however, while trying to put it in both my cameras, it felt very tight. I do believe it would go in all the way, but I worry it would become extremely difficult to remove. It’s plausible with a tiny bit of sanding on the inner part of the spool, these could be made to fit better, but I would describe these as ‘at your own risk’.”

“Finally, I could not get it to work in the Canon IVSb or any Nicca I tried. I tried the Nicca 33, Tower 45 (rebranded Nicca made for Sears), or the Yashica YF, which is also a rebranded Nicca. The entire shaft that the spool attaches to is very different and doesn’t work.”

For the above tests, Mike simply inserted the spool to check for fit. But he shot a complete roll in his Leica I Model C using the Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spool.

“It worked great. I did have to practice attaching the leader to the spool with it out of the camera, but once I put the spool in the camera, I was able to attach the leader on the first try. I did not have to trim the leader to the standard ~10cm length, and the film transported forward and rewound correctly with no issues.”

Do I Recommend Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spools?

Look, I know film photographers love to say that they shoot old cameras because they force them to slow down. But how many photo-ops did you use your cell phone for just because you didn’t think you could prepare your film camera fast enough?

Things like getting the right focus and exposure quickly and reflexively are skills that need to be practiced and improved upon. But just getting the film in and out of the camera shouldn’t distract you from mastering those skills or cause you to choose the automated digital option instead of what you really want to take the photo with.

I know the Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spools are unrefined, being 3D printed and only available on eBay. Honestly, they’re a little bit sketchy, right? Nobody wants to risk a chuck of plastic breaking off inside their vintage Leica. I completely get that. But personally, I don’t consider myself a camera collector. I consider myself a photographer. And for me, over just a couple of months, Ausgeknipst Quick Load Spools are helping me be a better photographer when using my beloved Barnacks. So for me, yeah, they’re totally worth it. What do you think?

About the author: Johnny Martyr is an East Coast film photographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. After an adventurous 20-year photographic journey, he now shoots exclusively on B&W 35mm film that he painstakingly hand-processes and digitizes. Choosing to work with only a select few clients per annum, Martyr’s uncommonly personalized process ensures unsurpassed quality as well as stylish, natural & timeless imagery that will endure for decades. You can find more of his work on his website, Flickr, Facebook, and Instagram.