Welcome to the sixth in my series of quick compact 35mm camera reviews. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a total of 12 of these articles as part of an upcoming 35mm compact camera mega test spanning cameras made from 1990 to 2003 – arguably the golden age of these pocketable beasts. You can find the full list of cameras being tested here.

I’ll be comparing image quality, durability, speed and overall performance for cameras ranging from the very high end of the 35mm compact camera world to the very low – or close to it. The final articles will cover my criteria and scoring in full. At over 12,000 words in total, it seems a sensible approach to break these mini-reviews out, rather than trying to cram everything onto a single page.

You can check out the reviews that have already been published over on this tag page.

The Leica C1
The Leica C1

The Leica C1 was not on my list of ‘must-haves,’ but one came up cheap, so I thought I would try it. It is quite good in some ways, quite bad in others. It’s a Leica, which is obviously a big plus point for many people. It is even styled slightly like a ‘real’ Leica, which is nice. It has metal cladding on a plastic body. It is fairly heavy, so it feels authentic, although it does not manage to look as premium as a Contax. It has a very good zoom lens that has a fairly long reach: 38 to 105mm.

One feature I absolutely hate about the Leica C1 is that the lens zooms in and out every time you take a photo. What I mean is, the viewfinder quickly zooms in-out when you press the shutter button, as a gimmicky way of indicating that you have taken a photo. It makes me feel as though I have imbibed a few too many beers. Who on earth thought that was a good idea?

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I found the C1 annoyingly slow to use. It feels as though it is sulking. I press the shutter button, and the camera seems to say ‘Will I take the shot? Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.’ Eventually, I became more tolerant of this, because it turned out the quality of the zoom lens is higher than the cheap zooms. It is not a match for the Contax TVS III, but the Contax only has a short zoom. For a zoom that reaches to 105m, I’m very impressed with the Leica C1’s sharpness. Well, at least sometimes. The Leica C1 does not seem to be able to focus reliably at the long end of the zoom range. This means the camera does not always capture the quality which the optics are capable of. However, when the focus nails it, the results are impressive.

Overall, I would say the Leica C1 is a rather annoying camera with a rather impressive zoom lens. If one comes up cheap, you should consider it. But don’t mistake it for a premium camera like a Contax. Just accept it as a mid-range camera with an iconic red dot, and you will enjoy it.

There are various other Leica compact cameras, such as the Leica Minilux. To be honest, I have never been tempted to pay the high price of the Minilux. One day I will try a Minilux … if I can find one that works.

~ Ray

Leica C1 technical specifications

ManufacturerLeica Camera AG

(manufactured under license by Panasonic Japan)
Release date1999
Camera nameLeica C1 (black or silver aluminium)
Camera typePoint and shoot
Image size24 x 36mm
LensLeica VARIO-ELMAR APSH 38-105mm (f/4-10.5) zoom

7 elements in 7 groups (includes 2 aspherical surfaces)
Viewfinder"Real-image type zoom viewfinder". Flash, autofocus and exposure metering display, appx 85% field of view

0.38x magnification at 38mm to 1.05x at 105mm
ShutterBetween-the-lens shutter, electromagnetically controlled

99 sec -1/800 sec
Focusing0.8 to infinity (with manual infinity focus mode)
MeteringAperture priority, center weighted (EV 2 - 17)

DX-coded films, auto ISO (50 - 3200)

Non-DX defaults to ISO 50
FlashBuilt-in flash (auto set as default)

Wide angle: 3.25m flash distance at ISO 100
Telephoto: 1.24m flash distance at ISO 100
LoadingAuto advance to first frame, auto rewind at film end, manual mid-roll rewind.
Date/time stampBuilt-in (date or time)
Power1 x 3V CR123 or equivalent
Weight260g (without battery)
129.5 x 46 x 67mm (WxDxH)
AccessoriesLeather case (with belt loop), strap

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About the author

Ray Rapkerg

I photograph people, including fashion photography, quirky portraits and art nudes. I feel photography is mainly about the images and the people in them, but secretly I am a bit of a gear-head as well! I like using a variety of medium format film cameras (current...

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  1. Looking at your list, I can see you do skew towards the high-end lol, having both the Samsung Vega 700 and the Vega 77i, I’d just suggest you swap out your 700 to test for a 77i – the latter I’ve found just outputs a more interesting, contrasty and warm image.. I’ve also found the first mju’s output to be exceptional enough without requiring that splurge of paying 5 or 6 times it’s asking price for the mju II – it’s just Not 5 – 6 times as good, or even twice as good. One I’d recommend you try for yourself is the Minolta Riva 135ex – crispy and contrasty images that leap off the paper/screen – there’s no way you can get better for the money it’s going for right now, and pretty much beats cams selling for 2 or 3x it’s price.

  2. I have one i for in an estate sale lot. Still haven’t run a roll of film through it but, it dies seem solid enough. The slowness of it really doesn’t bother me.