Congrats go to Tillerman, though I think he was getting fed up with me toward the end of the quiz and was convinced I’d gone off my rocker.
What you see before you is a Leica M2 camera body (serial #: 952221), with a whole bunch of customization added on by the old US Weather Bureau in the form of a spectrograph. The camera looks like it’s an M3, but closer examination reveals that it’s an M2 (the circular plate beneath the film advance lever gives it away). This specific camera appears to have been built by Leica in April 1959, and later flew on the Gemini V and Gemini VIII manned space missions. If you want to see it for yourself, it’s on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia.
The Leica itself was likely customized as well, as I can’t find it listed in any of the Leica serial number databases that are available online. The database that I used for this quiz can be found here. The fact that it isn’t listed in the database doesn’t mean that it wasn’t built by Leica; there are many other Leica camera bodies and lenses all over the world with similar stories that turned out to be one-offs or unrecorded short runs by the company.
And how is all of this known? Well, Leica owners and users have a reputation for being a bit OCD. There are many Leica forums all over the globe, they all have members that are fascinated with their Leica gear, and they all want to know more about them, including the year of production and ownership history.
And what is my connection with Leica?
In early 1999 — as a token of his appreciation for all of my efforts at supporting their home computer — my father-in-law gave me a paper grocery sack filled with old Leica gear. In the sack, there was a 1954 IIIf camera with a 50mm lens, a 1955 M3 camera body with three different lenses, and a pile of other odds and ends related to them.
That was what got me back into photography. I’d always wanted a Leica and this tremendous gift was exactly what I needed to get my creative juices going again. However, it was almost a year before I could actually begin to use the Leicas, as they had been stored in the attic for most of 20 years and were basically useless paperweights when I received them. They needed to go out for extensive repair, overhaul, and maintenance… but when they came back they were as good as new, and I used them extensively until digital cameras came on the scene. Even now I continue to use those lenses with my digital camera, as I did with the top photo — which was taken with a Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 lens.