Leica I (A)


  • Códigos - Primero LEICA, luego LEOMU = LENEU + ELMAR, LEDRL = LENEU + EKURZ, LEVIR = LENEU + HEKTOR, LEANEKALB = LENEU + ELMAR con cubierta de piel de becerro (según el catálogo Leitz 1931)
  • Producción - 1925-1936; 58,735 cameras
  • Evolution - First production Leica camera with one of four fixed, collapsible lenses - 10 versions, von Einem.
  • Variants - Furnished with Anastigmat (144 cameras), Elmax (713 cameras), Elmar (56,548 cameras), or Hektor (1,330 cameras) 5 cm fixed lenses; feathered or featherless arrows; mushroom, dimpled or threaded releases; thick or thin engraving; round or horizontal base plate locking key; coarse or fine vulcanite; snakeskin, calfskin cover; gold Luxus version with lizard skin cover -g- code name LELUX with ELMAR Anastigmatic lens
  • Type; film-cartridge loading 24x36
  • Finder; fixed Galilean telescope
  • Finder magnification; 0.5
  • Rangefinder: separate
  • Exposure meter; none
  • Shutter speeds; 20-30-40-60-100-200-500-Z (early models had a six-speed range: 25-40-60-100-200-500-Z)
  • Shutter control and type; mechanical, horizontal cloth
  • Film transport; manual by lever, rewind knob, mechanical
  • Body - aluminum with black lacquered brass top plate and base plate with nickel plated knobs and a black vulcanite covering.
  • Size L x W x H - 133 x 39 x 65 mm / 5.24 x 1.54 x 2.60 in
  • Shutter speed range - 1 /500s to 1 /25s + Z (time exposure)
  • Designer - Oskar Barnack

Leica Ia Elmax - 1925, negra, #360, con Leitz Elmax 50mm f:3,5



The really novel ideas of the Leica I are (1) the image size of 24 x 36 mm (originally 24 x 38mm) that allowed for decent enlargements (2) the film in a cassette with a length of about 2 meter and (3) the possibility of photographing the subject at eye-level-view and the fast pace with which pictures could be made. This ‘workflow’ as we would say today, allowed for a new style of photography with more dynamic and natural perspective, but also a mechanistic type of recording. This approach attracted the attention of surrealist artists who in that age of cinematography and admiration for modernism (technique and mechanisms) and they quickly adopted the Leica as their recording instrument par excellence. And very often neglected in the literature is the fact that the small and lightweight camera could be used by women photographers who indeed used the Leica in amazing numbers. The camera had dimensions of (L x H x W) 133 x 55 x 30.5 mm and a weight of 420 grams and was very easy to use: the shutter speed and aperture could be selected in a fraction of a second; transporting the film and tensioning the shutter was accomplished with a quick half turn of the winding button.

The size of the body should be compared to a modern camera like the Olympus Pen E-P3 which has dimensions 122 x 69.1 x 34.3 mm or the even smaller Nikon 1 with a size of 106 x 61 x 29.8 mm.

There was at first no identification on the camera body. The LEICA name on the body was introduced later and it is a bit strange that the original production camera had no identification as was customary, but the name of Ernst Leitz was engraved around the shutter dial.

The cameras of the day for professionals were large and heavy (often with a wooden chassis) and the amateur photographers used roll-film cameras that could not be called ‘compact’. The idea of an easy-to-use snapshot camera was not new and already en vogue with the Folding Pocket Kodak camera, an instrument often used by painters.

The shutter of the Leica I had a limited range of speeds: 20-30-40-60-100-200-500-Z(eit) and one may question the usefulness of some speeds that are really close together, like the 20 and 30. Emulsions in those days had some speed latitude and the camera itself had also some tolerance, so in practical use one had a choice of four or at most five speeds.

The first film for the Leica was the Perutz-LEICA-Spezialfilm, an orthochromatic emulsion with a speed of ASA 4 (DIN 7) to be developed in the Tetenal Emofin developer for fine grain. On a sunny day with an average subject this film could be exposed at 1/100 at 1:4 and when using the Hektor with 1:2.5 the fast speeds could be employed. In 1926 the Perutz film offered increased speed of ASA 7 (DIN 9) and now the higher speeds could be used with the 1:3.5 lens. It is interesting to note that the Leica I was sold including three rolls of film.

Emulsions were anyhow of low speed and ASA 10 - 12 would be common around 1930. This speed translates into a sunny day exposure (open scene and very bright sun) of 1:18 at 1/20 (1:3.5 at 1/400; 1:4.5 at 200; 1:6.3 at 1/100; 1:9 at 1/60; 1:12.5 at 1/30 and 1:18 at 1/20).

Around 1926 Agfa offered Plenachrome and Superpan with 21 degrees Scheiner, Perutz had Neo-Persenso and Peromnia, Eastman the SS Pan and DuPont the Micropan and Superior. At the time of the introduction of the Leica I a wide range of films was already available. In 1933 emulsion speed reached DIN 16, or ISO 32.

The specifications of the Leica I are, in modern eyes, very basic: a fixed collapsible four-element Elmar lens 1:3.5/50mm, a focal-plane shutter with speeds of 1/20 to 1/500, a full metal body with film loading from the bottom and a simple Galilean telescope finder and on top the shutter release, a transport knob and a rewind knob.

The first 1000 camera were fitted with either an Anastigmat or an Elmax lens with identical specifications (1:3.5/50mm), but with a five-element-three-group or a four-element-three group design. There is a much controversy among historians about the exact details of these lenses, but as all of these cameras are safely in the hands of collectors, it is now a true footnote in the Leica history. Some of the Anastigmat lenses are 5-element 3-group constructions and the Elmax is basically a 4-element 3-group design. But the switch from 5-element to 4-element design does not necessarily coincide with the change of the name. The original Leitz brochure from 1927 refers to the Leitz ‘Elmar” Anastigmat which is rather confusing.

About 60000 cameras were allocated for production in the period 1925 to 1932, but this relatively small amount of cameras has had an enormous impact on the evolution in photography because of the artistic qualities of the users of the Leica and its propensity to stimulate new styles of photography.

Guessing the distance with long-focus and high-speed lenses was not easy and so Leitz introduced additional rangefinders and frame finders to assist the photographer in focusing and framing.

A special type is the black-paint Leica I calfskin version (LEANEKALB) with colored (green, blue, red, brown, black) calfskin leather and available with matching case: about 180 were made (serial # between 36333 − 69009).

Leica aficionados and historians may rave about the significance of the Leica I (which is deserved), but from a pure photographic standpoint the operation of the camera asked for considerable skills that are often not available today. Loading the camera with film demanded and demands an advanced skill-set and estimating the distance and guessing the exposure is not easy. On the other hand we have to acknowledge that exposure tables offer an excellent support and when you know the trick for easy film loading even that exercise is not that difficult. One should note that the Leica I (A) definitely established the Leica way of photography and made the user aware of the true basics of the photographic craft.

We have to admire the early adopters who used the camera to create all these beautiful pictures, but a Leica I is nowadays only a collectible piece if you can find a good one. It might be a sobering thought to reflect on the fact that many masterpiece-pictures were made with the standard Elmar 1:3.5/50mm lens.

Leica Ia negra/niquel, #35610, con Leitz Elmar 50mm f:3,5, niquel, completa con telémetro de base corta Leitz FOKOS.

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