History of Leica (Part 2)


Continuing with the History of Leica, Better Photography explores the ‘M Series’, one of the famous camera series till date and the much talked about ‘R Series’.

This story was originally published in June 2012.

M3 was manufactured around 1954–66. There were approximately two hundred thousand units manufactured. The M3 was introduced at the German Foto Kina exhibition in 1954. It was the first of the M series Leicas that are still manufactured today. The M3 has a .92 magnification finder, the highest of any M camera made.

Leica M3

Leica M3

M2 was manufactured in 1958. A resized and lower-price version of the M3, the M2 had a basic rangefinder of 0.72 magnification, allowing easier use of 35 mm lenses. The 0.72 magnification became the model viewfinder magnification for future M cameras. The M2 lacked the self-resetting film frame offset of its predecessor.

M1 was introduced in 1959. A stripped version of the M2, it was used for scientific and technical purposes. The M1 was a viewfinder camera with no built-in rangefinder. In 1965 the MD that did not have a viewfinder and the MDa that was based on the M4 in 1967, and finally the MD-2, which was based on the M4-2 in 1980, replaced the M1.

M4 came about in 1967 with added rangefinder framelines for 35 mm and 135 mm lenses. The M4 also introduced the canted rewind crank .

M6 was manufactured from 1984 to1998. M6 was termed as a breakthrough camera that combined the M3 form factor with a contemporary, off-the-shutter light meter with absolutely no moving parts and LED arrows in the viewfinder. It was also known as the M6 “Classic” to differentiate it from the “M6 TTL” models.

Leica M6

Leica M6

M8, is the first ever digital in the Leica M series of cameras. It comprises a 10.3 Megapixel Kodak sensor designed especially for the M8, with an groundbreaking microlens pattern that allows the use of wideangle non-retrofocus lenses. The crop factor is 1.33 multiplier, compared with 35 mm film. The digital M8 is 3 mm thicker than the film M7.

The camera also supports Leica’s original 6-bit coding for lenses, allowing the camera to identify which lens is attached and execute lensspecific image corrections. This camera suffered criticism at the launch because of excessive infrared (IR) sensitivity, green ghosting, point source light smearing, and poor auto-white-balance. Leica recognized these issues within months of the M8’s launch.

Leica M8

Leica M8

Excessive IR sensitivity is inherent in the design of the camera, but Leica offered free filters to rectify the problem. Affected cameras were returned to Leica to have the non-IR problems fixed, and the newer M8s only had the high IR sensitivity. The M8’s high IR sensitivity makes it a superb and one of the very well known black-and-white cameras.

R Series
Leica in collaboration with the Japanese company Minolta designed a new series of single-lens reflex cameras to replace the Leicaflex series. Leica rented the electronics and some of the skeleton technology from the Minolta XD and XE hi story cameras to produce the Leica R3 and R4 cameras. It should be accentuated that the Leica R3 to R6 series were designed with some Minolta technology (the XD series), but were manufactured by Leitz in Portugal or Germany. Leica R3 was the first electronic Leitz SLR, which was available from 1976 to 1980. The R3 was designed keeping in mind the Minolta XE1/7.

Leica R3

Leica R3

The first few of theses models were built in Germany and then production was shifted to the Leitz Portugal factory. R4, which was produced around 1980–87 was a new compact model based upon the Minolta XD11. The R4 set the design for all cameras including the R7. The R4 offered Program mode, Aperture and Shutter Priority, and Manual, with Spot and Centre weighted metering.
The other famous model from the R series is the Leica R8. It is a manual focus 35 mm single-lens reflex camera produced by the German branch of Leica as part of their R series of cameras. The development and designing process began in 1990. Manfred Meinzer an industrial designer was behind the R8 design.

The camera made it’s first ever appearance at the 1996 Photokina trade show. The latest in the R series is the R9 was introduced in 2002. It was the first R series camera independent of Minolta, and was entirely a Leica design. The R9 can be fitted with the Digital Modul R and used as a digital camera.

M6J was placed in markets in 1994. It was known as a collector’s edition that had a total of 1,640 cameras to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Leica M System. M6J was highly noticed for its introduction of the 0.85 magnification finder, the first highmagnification finder since 1996.

M6 0.85 was made available in 1998. The M6 could be electively ordered with a .85 magnification viewfinder for easier focusing with long lenses and more precise focusing with fast lenses, such as the 50 mm f/1.0 Noctilux and 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux. The 28 mm frame lines were not included in this model. Only 3,130 of these cameras were made which were all made of black chrome. Thus making them rare M6’s.

M6 TTL did the rounds of markets from 1998 to 2002 with .72 and .85 viewfinder versions.
The .58 version of M6 TTL has been added to the line, which has a lower magnification viewfinder for easier framing with wide-angle lenses. One of the main differences from the M6 “Classic” is the TTL flash capability with dedicated flash units, such as the SF-20. The added electronics increased the height of the top plate by 2 mm. The shutter dial of the M6 TTL is reversed from previous models, turning in the same direction as the light meter arrows in the viewfinder. The same feature can be found in the M7 and M8.

 To read the first part of this story, click here.

Tags: better photography, history, Leica, leica m1, leica m2, leica m3, leica m4, leica m6, M Series, Part 2, R Series