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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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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