You don’t see many references to the Leica M1 but it is perhaps the purest photographic tool. It has a good viewfinder but no rangefinder and no other automation. It has the same body as the M2 but as you can see from the first photograph below, there is no rangefinder window (it’s blanked out with an “M1” mark). Unlike the M2 and M3 the M1 does not have it’s model type engraved on the top plate.
All that aside, it is superbly easy to use. I normally have a 35mm lens attached and occasionally use a 50mm f/2.8 Elmar.
I was introduced to the M1 many years ago when it was standard issue for photographers at Butlins holiday camps. Using FP4 film, daylight exposure at 1/125th sec at f/8 and focus set at 10ft with a 35mm lens pretty much guaranteed good results. Today I tend to use HP5 PLUS and generally leave the camera set to 1/250th sec and the lens at f/8 or f/11 and 10ft. The results still work pretty well.
As with all Leica photography, the camera pretty well disappears and you think only of what you are seeing and people hardly notice you.
The M1 itself fulfils all the requirements of a photographers camera and is perhaps ideally suited to the 35mm lens with plenty of space around the frame in the large viewfinder. Using a 50mm lens immediately feels like using a long-focus lens again making the photographer concentrate on composition. I have found that it is a useful camera to use with a 21mm lens using either an auxiliary finder or the whole of the viewfinder frame as a composition guide.
The M1 may now be the “forgotten Leica” but it remains a true photographers camera: no frills and nothing to get between you and your vision, the beauty of absolute simplicity but complete control.
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John: I applaud your use of the Leica M1 with 35mm lens. Although I have an M3 outfit with 35mm F3.5-50mm f2.8- 90mm f2.8 and the 135mm f4.5 Hektor, I also have the model after the M1, the MD. This 1965 body has no viewfinder at all and I use it with a CV 25mm f4 Snapshot Skopar with a 25mm viewfinder plugged in the shoe. Focus is just moved to the first detent and this gives great depth of field. In fact it’s far quicker than autofocus as it’s no focus at all. I like Ilford XP2 Super and rely on a Gossen Sixtomat Digital meter that hangs around my neck on a cord and pops in my shirt pocket. The camera is used on a paracord wrist strap. This lens takes the same 39mm filters as my other lenses which is a boon. The absence of a rangefinder, not necessarily relevant with a wide angle lens, removes the most delicate component of the camera. A knock and it might break, possibly blacking out the viewfinder or giving errors in focus. The photographer might be oblivious to this. As Roger Hicks says: “what’s not there cannot go wrong.” Keep shooting and good light. Best wishes from Great Britain. Toby.
Thanks for ‘exposing’ a new twist with a Leica. I recall a M1 w/the visoflex finder in the library of the college I attended in the 1970’s. It was set-up on a copy stand and the researchers shot macro photos of printed material. I was an assistant in the graphics dept. and it was our job to process the film for the library. I never though of it as a ‘field’ camera, but you wield it with finesse. I like the ‘new pictures in stock’ photo.