One day, I was seen by a colleague holding a Leica I camera, and he exclaimed, “Wow, this is a great camera. It’s obvious that it belongs to a man with a story.” The Leica I was the first mass-produced model by Leica. Its prototype was called the “O” model, which is now a highly sought-after collectible item. Leica later released two replicas of the “O” model. However, the “O” model was never truly sold on the market, and the “I” model was the first Leica camera that was available for purchase. From 1925 to the present day, most of these cameras can still be used with just a little adjustment to the cloth shutter, which is truly miraculous.

The Evolution of the Leica I The Leica I camera had many versions, which can be broadly classified into three types: Type A, Type B, and Type C. The “I” (Type A) model was first released in 1925, and its main feature was a fixed metal strip on the front of the body that was used to lock the lens focusing lever. This model was further divided into versions equipped with an Anastigmat lens, an Elmax lens, a Hektor lens, or an Elmar lens. The “I” (Type B) model was released in 1926, and it was Leica’s only camera with an in-lens shutter. It has a distinct mushroom-like shape, which is highly coveted by collectors, but personally, I find it quite ugly. The “I” (Type C) model was released in 1930 and was the first Leica camera with a detachable lens. Early versions of this camera were sold as a set with three lenses, and the body and lenses were individually calibrated and could not be used with other bodies or lenses. Therefore, the body and lens in a set were engraved with the same serial number, or the lens had the last three digits of the body’s serial number. Later, Leica standardized its production and made all bodies and lenses interchangeable. They also offered to calibrate early lenses to the standard type, which were marked with a “0” and the body mount had a “0” engraved at the 12 o’clock position.


Leica I cameras all come with a small black-painted viewfinder slung over the shoulder, which is very beautiful. This viewfinder only provides an approximate framing range and does not assist with focusing, which still requires estimation.

Black paint

The black paint on the Leica I cameras was all hand-mixed, and the recipe has been lost over time. The finish is very nuanced and has a high gloss, making it truly captivating. With such an inexpensive black paint camera, maybe it can balance my desire for a black paint M3?

Nickel-plated brass

Leica I cameras are all equipped with nickel-plated brass lenses, and the counter and film advance knob on the body are also nickel-plated because chrome plating technology was not yet available at that time. Nickel plating, like black paint, is not very durable, making the pairing perfect for collectors who prefer to match black paint with nickel-plated brass lenses. Therefore, the nickel-plated brass lens versions are generally slightly more expensive than later chrome-plated lenses, because collectors prefer to pair black paint with nickel-plated brass for a more beautiful appearance.

External Extendable Rangefinder

Leica I cameras can be equipped with an external rangefinder, which is very interesting. Those who are interested can give it a try.

Playing with Leica

Those who frequently buy new cameras have become “fallen” into just taking pictures, haha! Those who play with old cameras are the ones who truly appreciate them. This camera is so small, exquisite, simple, and clean that it’s hard to put down once you hold it. I like to pair it with the Elmar 35 3.5 lens in black, it looks absolutely beautiful. Blind shooting with a 3.5 aperture is no problem at all, with no pressure.

To Buy or Not to Buy

I think this camera is not suitable for beginners. It’s recommended for those who already have an M camera, want to play with screw mounts, and like black paint. Of course, it can also be used for serious photography, as this is the camera that H.C.B used most in creating many of his masterpieces.

Leica i model A B C

The Leica I (C) was made by Leitz in 1930 after the initial Leica I (A), to which it added lens interchangeability.

more info

Leica I (model A)

SN StartSN EndProductYearBatch
1311000Leica I (Anastigmat & Elmax 1st version)1924870
10012445Leica I (Elmax, Elmar + Elmar Close-Focus)19261445
24465433Leica I (Elmar 2nd version + Elmar Close-Focus)1926-19272988
54345700Leica I (4 digit)1928267
630113100Leica I (Elmar 4th version + Elmar Close-Focus)19286800
1330121478Leica I (Elmar 6th version + Elmar Close-Focus)19298178
2181134550Leica I (Elmar) 7th version from 31600192812740
3480334817Leica I (Elmar + Luxus)192915
34818^60000Leica I (Elmar 8-10th versions + Elmar Close-Focus + Hektor)193025183

Compur Leica (model B)

SN StartSN EndProductYearBatch
57016300Compur Camera (dial-set)1926-1929600
1310113300Compur Camera1929200
1310113300Compur Camera (dial-set + rim-set)1929200
2147921810Compur Camera (rim-set)1930332
3445134802Compur Camera (rim-set)1930352
unknown50572-Compur Camera1931-1941*157*

Leica I (model C)

SN StartSN EndProductYearBatch
34818^ 60000Leica I (nonstandard-mount)1930[25183]
^ 6000160500Leica I (nonstandard-mount)1930500
6050071199Leica I (standard-mount)193110700
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
LEICA I model C + ELMAR 50 F/3.5 FOMAPAN100
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LEICA I Model C With Elmar 50mm 3.5