History of Leica (Part 1)
Lets’ go back in time and discover what shaped photography as it stands today. Moresha Benjamin traces the history of world-famous Leica…
This story was originally published in May 2012.
Oscar Barnack: The Founder
Oskar Barnack was born on November 1, 1879. He was a German mechanic. Barnack is better known as the creator of Leica. In 1913 and 1914 he was in charge of development of the camera company Leitz in Wetzlar, Hesse, Germany. Barnack was responsible in the making of the first mass-marketed 35mm camera. Lynow in Germany, which is Oskar Barnack’s birthplace, has a museum to Oskar Barnack. Leica originates from ‘Leitz Camera’. Leica stands for the several cameras produced by a German company of the same name which came about in 1913.
Famous Leica Cameras
Leica I was introduced for the first time at the 1925 spring fair in Leipzig. Oscar Barnack based it on the Ur-Leica hi story archetype formulates in 1913 and the Prototyp 1 developed in 1923. Leica Luxur and Leica then followed it from 1930 with interchangeable lenses. The first production bunch of 174 Leica cameras had Anastigmat lens. These cameras are coveted items for any collector. Second batch of 1000 cameras had Elmax lens and they are a rare find in this day and age.
The Leica II wass produced in 1932. It came with a built in rangefinder and a lens focusing device. This model had a separate viewfinder which showed a reduced image and rangefinder which depicted a double image which was accurately focused when it became one single image.
The Leica III was a rangefinder camera that was brought into the market in 1933. Various models were created over time, with significant improvisations and an obscure numbering scheme. The Leica III used a fixed rangefinder, which was different from the viewfinder. The Leica III added slow shutter speeds down to 1 second and also increased rangefinder magnification to 1.5× for more precise focusing.
The model IIIa was produced in 1935 and it came with a 1/1000 second shutter speed. Incidentally the IIIa is the last model made before Barnack’s death. The final variation the IIIg came with a large viewfinder with framelines with an isolated view and rangefinder.
Leica cameras, lenses, accessories and even sales literature are almost collector items. There are numerous books written on Leica.
In 1986, the Leitz company became Leica LEItz CAmera. Also Leica Camera AG became an independent enterprise in the Leica Group and shifted its industrial unit from Wetzlar to the town of Solms. In 1996 Leica Camera separated from the Leica Group and became a publicly held company. In 1998 the remaining Leica Group split into independent units of Leica Microsystems and Leica Geosystems.
Famous Photographers who have used Leica:
Some of the most legendary photographers have shot their pictures through Leica cameras. Diane Arbus, Harry Belafonte, Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa, Charles Clark, Anton Corbijn, Robert Del Tredici, David Douglas Duncan, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Elliot Erwitt, Christopher Forbes, Jean Gaumy, Ralph Gibson, Ara Güler, David Alan Harvey, Ernst Haas, Spike Jonze, André Kertész, Alberto Korda, Karl Lagerfeld and Timmy Lau
Milestones in Leica’s History
1914 Oskar Barnack creates the Ur-Leica. 1923 Production of the first 25 prototypes of a small-format 35mm camera named the “Null-Serie” for test purposes.
1925 The LEICA A with built-in collapsible lens is presented at the Spring Trade Fair in Leipzig. 1,000 cameras were produced in the first year alone. The first small-format enlarger is introduced under the name of FILAR.
1930s The first Leica camera with interchangeable threaded mount and three vest pocket lenses is launched.
1934 The LEICA 250, aka the “Reporter”, contains 10 meter film and delivers 250 exposures without reloading. Combined with a spring motor, it was mainly used in reconnaissance aircraft by the German air force.
1954 The LEICA M3 with bayonet mount and high-magnification rangefinder ended the era of screw thread cameras.
1965 The LEICAFLEX is the first Leica SLR camera to enter series production.
1966 The LEICA NOCTILUX 1:1.2/50 mm is the first 35mm camera with an aspherical element.
1967 The LEICA M4 is launched with a simplified film loading system and new rewind crank.
1968 The LEICAFLEX SL – first camera in the world with selective-area metering.
1971 The LEICA M5 is the first rangefinder camera in the world with selective light measurement through the taking lens.
1973 The LEICA CL is launched as a compact rangefinder camera.
1975 The famed LEICA NOCTILUX 1:1.0/50 mm is introduced with newly developed glass types and an extremely high-aperture objective.
1976 The LEICA R3 is the first electronic Leica with selective / integral light measurement. 1980 The LEICA R4 is the first Leica with multi-program automatic exposure.
1984 The LEICA M6 with selective light measurement and LED display in the finder is launched.
1988 The LEICA R6 with mechanically controlled shutter is announced.
1989 The first Leica compact camera LEICA AF-C1 is launched.
1990 The binocular series LEICA TRINOVID BA is launched with newly developed lenses and a totally redesigned mechanism.
1994 The first digitally controlled Leica is presented, the LEICA R7.First Leica lens with molded asperical lens is introduced. Leica introduces the first Leica spotting scope: Leica Televid.
1996 The microprocessor-controlled SLR camera, LEICA R8, is launched.
1998 The LEICA M6 TTL with TTL flash exposure measurement is introduced The LEICA DIGILUX is launched – the first digital Leica compact camera.
2002 LEICA M7 with automatic timer providing digital countdown digital display of long exposures.The LEICA R9 with low weight and extended flash control options is launched.Leica Duovid is worldwide the first high performance binocular with dual magnification.
2003 The new binocular range LEICA ULTRAVID in a new design and improved optical system is launched. A digital rear panel for the LEICA R9 is announced.
2006 Leica introduces the digital rangefinder camera LEICA M8.
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Tags: history, January 2008, Leica, Leica I, Leica II, Leica III, Moresha Benjamin, Oskar Barnack