The Forgotten Leica…The M1
By Konstantinos Besios
The good old, forgotten Leica M1… a camera that never draws the attention like the legendary M3, M4 and M6. A few years ago I took of a dusty drawer the Leica M1 which my father had bought back in the sixties. It came with the Elmar 50mm f2.8 collapsible lens, both in spectacular chrome.
The camera was like brand new, and it should be since no more than a couple of rolls were shot with it. My father’s interest in photography is the usual family snapshots and a few pictures of travels. The Leica M1 was cheap (for a Leica that is, it was the cheapest M) but for a reason.
It was designed to be an affordable general purpose camera or to use with microscopes and the Visoflex system. For that reason the camera had no rangefinder and no meter. The lack of the meter was no great deal (after all the M6 was the first M to introduce a meter), but a rangefinderless M ? Well, there goes precise focus !!
That kind of simplicity made it hard for anyone to shoot with this camera. You had to use zone focus and use an external meter or use the Sunny 16 rule. Now, there were many cameras in that era that had the same specifications but the M3 and M2 was naturally a better choice.
The M1’s viewfinder has permanent framelines for the 35 and 50 focal lengths (both popular for the usual Leica shooter). The rangefinder window is covered with a metal plate with the M1 logo. I’ve heard in the past that there was an option to add the rangefinder but I didn’t find any more info about it. The wind lever is just like the M3 and M2, and the film loading is done the hard way(the spool way). Its kinda slow and frustrating but after a while you get used to it.
There are really no other differences from the earlier M3 and M2 Leica models. The M1 is a genuine Leica with the same high quality as all other M’s. Now, is it worth to invest in this camera?
Well, I would say no. The prices of the M1 are around the same with the M3 and M2, the fact that the there were only 9500 M1’s made (1959-1964), it kinda makes them a collective camera (it’s more valuable to collectors who want to have the full M line than an amateur photographer). Of course for those few who own one it could be an excellent body to use with wide angle lenses like the 21mm and 15mm where the enormous depth of field makes it easy to use. I’ve shot a lot of rolls with the M1, I have to admit that for street photography is slow, but for those situations when speed is not important it gets good use. The collapsible Elmar 50 f2.8 that came with the camera is an excellent lens with that distinctive vintage look and is used often on my M6.
So, that’s the story about the Leica M1, I think despite the fact that it is the least mentioned Leica M, it deserves a place in the 50 year history of the legendary M series.
English is not my native language so please excuse any mistakes in the text. You can visit my blog HERE.