The LEICA name is a contraction of LEITZ CAMERA. The Leica factory, which is headquartered in Wetzlar in Germany, was established in 1849. Oskar Barnack, camera creator, had the idea to use the 35mm film to design a small camera as accurate as a scientific equipment. This prototype called UR-Leica was robust, compact and lightweight. It has truly revolutionized the history of photography.
The 21th century is resolutely a digital one. The image is present everywhere now in our daily environment, and we are all photographers! But are we fully aware of everything we owe to Wetzlar firm?
Oskar BARNACK & Max BEREK, inventors of genius
The Leica factory, which is headquartered in Wetzlar (Germany), was established in1849. Originally, the optical institute von Ernst Leitz was dedicated to the design of microscopes. Photographic equipment of the Leitz firm sector grew up for 1885 to produce cameras and film projectors. The photographic revolution, conducted by the brand Leica (LEItz CAmera), was born by the union of the talents of Oskar Barnack (camera creator) and Max Berek (optical designer).
- Oskar Barnack, camera creator, has chosen to use 35mm film to design a small and robust camera body, as accurate as scientific equipment. This prototype has been designated UR-Leica (UR Bild meaning in German prototype).
- Max Berek, optical designer, has optimized the qualities of the cinematographic film, creating a designed an anastigmatic lens without reflection or deformation. This lens, able to restore a similar perspective to that seen by the human eye, is the lens Elmar 50mm f 1:3,5.
All those major innovations have far extended beyond the Leica brand: all cameras 24 X 36mm of all brands have been equipped with a standard 50mm focal length lens.
Leica, the perpetual search of perfection
Successive developments of Leica devices can be classified into three major categories: cameras, lenses and accessories. Research and Developments have far surpassed all that the photographers of the early 20th century could expect or imagine.
- Cameras: The Leitz firm has taken a special concern for the ergonomic of their cameras, their quality, their aesthetics and their reliability.
- Lenses: The quality of lenses was fundamental. The challenge was” to make large photographs contained on a small 24x36mm support”. The aim was to obtain the optimum accuracy and the best possible brightness, while taking into account the weight and volume of the entire equipment. Moreover, it was also necessary to be able to offer a wide range of different focal lengths to meet the expectations of photographers, according to their respective specializations: portrait, reportage, landscape, scientific or medical applications (adapters for microscopes or endoscopes…).
- Accessories: Unrightly designated as “accessories”, they have nevertheless proved to be constantly essential by allowing, for example, light input thanks to flash, greater precision in framing thanks to additional viewfinders, or allowing the addition of an armament motor for sports photos, a pose meter cell…etc…
A century of history with the legendary M camera
- 1923 – Leica 0 Prototype 1
The Great War has forced the Leitz firm to delay the production of his small camera. Oskar Barnack directed in 1923 a designated pre-production Leica 0 (30 units) to test this new model to the public. The year two-thousand was celebrated by production to two-thousand copies of a functional replica of the famous Leica 0 with folding iconometric viewfinder, consistent with the original drawings of the instrument n°104 kept at the Leica Camera Museum.
- 1925 – Leica I (model A)
The Leica 1 (model A), which was first presented at the Leipzig fair, added several improvements over the 1923 prototype; the most important one was the two-curtains shutter which prevented any risk of light infiltration during armament. A dedicated Leitz “FODIS” rangefinder could be adapted to the accessories hot shoe to help the photographer in his focus setting.
- 1933 – Leica Standard
With the Leica I, photographic film 24x36mm became the most widespread standard format in film photography. The performance achieved by this unit was contained in this simple expression: « small negatives, large pictures! ». The retractable Elmar lens reduced the dimensions of the camera. The focus was performed by modulation on the screw thread. It was also possible to adapt a rangefinder on the accessory hot shoe. This Leica was declined to multiple versions incorporating new improvements.
- 1933 – Leica II
The Leica II incorporated a rangefinder coupled with the focus setting on the lens. A direct sight and a rotating prism formed two pictures. It was then enough to activate setting focus on the lens until the two pictures overlap to obtain the sharpness of the subject. A pose meter cell fixed to the accessory hot shoe indicated the coupled diaphragm / trigger speed setting to allow an exact measurement of light exposure.
- 1933- Leica III
The Leica III had a rangefinder including a magnifying glass, allowing more precise focus. It had two shutter speed selectors: the first one for fast speeds on the hood, and the second one for slow speeds on the camera face. Leitz workshops could add a plug for flash synchronization to the request. The assembly below was intended to duplicate documents, drawings or photographs, using a dedicated camera stand.
- 1938 – Leica IIIb
The Leica IIIb logically follows the Leica III and IIIa. Camera strapping eyelet have been added on the sides of the camera. The reflex chamber “PLOOT” (produced from 1935 to 1951 for Leica with M39 screws) allowed the view through the lens and adaptation of telephoto lenses.
- 1940 – Leica IIIc
The Leica IIIc included a flash contact plug. The model presented below has been modified to install a self-timer trigger that will be integrated into the models that will succeed him (leica IIIf and Leica IIIg). In reporting situation, the “ROSOL” viewfinder allowed a quick sighting but lacked telemetry assistance. The control of the tool depended on the photographer’s maestria…
- 1949 – Leica Ic
Designed without viewfinder or rangefinder, this camera was originally intended to be assembled on a microscope or a reflex chamber. With the multitude of accessories offered by Leica, this model could also receive a screw M39 lens, a viewfinder and a rangefinder on its two accessory hot shoes.
- 1954 – Leica IIIf
The portable copy camera stand “BOOWU” allowed the reproduction of documents up to A4 format, depending on the base chosen and the deployment of the four feet. The angle viewfinder “WINTU” provided working comfort.
- 1954 – Leica M3
With the M3, Leica stopped the screw mounts and proposed a more secure mounting for its objectives: the bayonet. This model had a more precise rangefinder viewfinder with automatic parallax correction. The rapid cocking lever facilitates the progress of the film. A very precise additional multifocal viewfinder “VIDOM”, fixed in the axis of the lens, allowed a greater brightness. The framing was adjusted according to the lens adapted on the camera.
- 1957 – Leica IIIg
For the Leica IIIg, the armament Leicavit system added under the plate of the camera allowed a quick arm and the progress of the film. The pose meter cell fixed on the accessory hot shoe has been optimized but requires the addition of a small booster screen.
- 1957 – Leica Ig
The Leica I is part of a line of specific cameras designed without an integrated viewfinder, requiring an additional viewfinder or a SLR chamber for scientific photographs. From 1951, the term Visoflex referred to Leica’s entire reflex chambers that could be interposed between the camera and the M39 screw lenses on the one hand, or between the camera and the macro-photographic bellows on the other hand. It was possible to adapt the camera to a microscope or a telephoto lens.
- 1958 – Leica M2
Produced from 1958 to 1968, the Leica M2 has often been considered as « little brother » to the Leica M3. The aesthetics of this camera extended the stylistic evolution of the M-cameras. The viewfinder was switched from 0,91 to 0,72 and three frames indicated the field covered by the lenses of 35, 50 et 90mm (innovation very appreciated by reporters). The pose meter cell Leicameter was optimized by a small screen booster.
- 1959 – Leica M1
Leica M1 is a cheaper version of the M2, lacked of Rangefinder. This camera was intended to be used by adapting a Visoflex. It could also be used with a wide-angular lens with dedicated viewfinder involving hyperfocal shots, or with a 135mm lens with dedicated viewfinder. The rangefinder could, however, be added to the request by the Leitz workshops.
- 1967 – Leica MDa
Several cameras without viewfinder or rangefinder models have been designed specifically for Visoflex. It was possible to adapt telephoto Telyt lenses to a focal length of 560mm. The Visoflex 3 is a SLR chamber designed for bayonet lenses, allowing to transform all M rangefinder cameras into true SLR cameras. The Leica Winder M allowed continuous shooting at 2 frames per second. The M macro-Leica bellows is specifically intended for working with tripod and studio lighting.
- 1983 – Leica M4-P
Part of the production of the Leica M4 has been entrusted to the Canadian subsidiary of Leitz. The rewind crank was inclined with a more convenient folding lever. The angled cocking lever was articulated at its end. The viewfinder included four frames for the focal lengths 35mm, 50mm, 90mm et 135mm. A pose meter cell Leicameter optimized by a small screen booster allowed direct coupling with the trigger speed, depending on the sensitivity of the loaded film and the opening of the chosen diaphragm.
- 1971 – Leica M5
The seventies witnessed the rise of SLR-cameras, to the detriment of the telemetric one. With the Leica M5, Wetzlar firm reacted by upsetting both the technical and aesthetic criteria of its M cameras. This model was distinguished by innovative design, hiding the rewind crank under the base. For the first time, the posemeter cell was integrated in the camera.
- 1973 – Leica CL
The Leica CL was the first camera designed in partnership with Japanese firm Minolta, in a context of democratization of photography. This small rangefinder camera had the advantage of being lightweight and to include a built-in cell. Proposed with two dedicated lenses (Summicron C40 and Elmar C90) the Leica CL was also able to receive all optical M-series.
- 1998 – Leica M6 TTL
Reconnecting with his mythical design, the Leica M6 included a light meter to selective measurement and a display to LEDs in the viewfinder. It could additionally be equipped with a charging motor to perform three frames per second. The Leica M6 became the favourited camera of reporters.
- 2002 – Leica M7
The Leica M7 proposed an automatic mode on the barrel of gear selection. The trigger was electromagnetic. The power of the pose meter and the trigger was performed with two 6volt batteries. To not disappoint purists, the Leica M7 allowed a use without battery for exposure time of 1/60th and 1/125th, which the command was mechanical.
- 2006 – Leica M8
The Leica M8 has resolutely marked the entry of the Leica brand in the digital era. The sensor of this first digital M-camera was in the APS format with a resolution of 10,5 megapixels. The Leica M8 received a great success because it succeeded in being both a rangefinder and a digital camera!
- 2009 – Leica M9
With advances in digital, the increase of the definition of the pictures required memory cards still more efficient, both for the storage as the speeds of writing and reading capabilities. The Leica M9 was the first model with a CCD sensor full format (24x36mm) 18-megapixel resolution.
- 2012 – Leica M typ 240
Leica M typ 240 was equipped with a CMOS sensor full format with a resolution of 24 megapixels, integrating for the first time the video function. It included a built-in microphone and a Live-view screen. A Visoflex (EVF2 Electronic View Finder) allowed mirrorless SLR-sight inaugurating a new generation of cameras. Thus, the new digital Leica M were no longer exclusively rangefinder cameras but became so-called hybrid cameras, offering mirrorless SLR-sight by returning the image perceived on the sensor directly on the EVF mini-screen.
- 2017 – Leica M10
The new Leica M10 has the original dimensions of all film M-cameras, becoming the thinnest digital M-camera. So, 24 Megapixel CMOS sensor focuses on fundamentals of photography. The video function is therefore absent from this camera. The M10 allows shooting up to 5 frames per second. Field in viewfinder has been enlarged by 30% in order to optimize the vision of the subject. An integrated WLAN module allows to connect the camera to an IPhone or an iPad. The new EVF offers optimal viewing comfort, enhanced by improving focus assistance with the “peaking view” button located on the face of the camera, below the trigger.
- 2020 – Leica M10R
Equipped with 40-megapixel resolution sensors, the Leica M10M (for Monochrome) and the Leica M10R (for Resolution) are completing the M10 family. How far will the pursuit of perfection initiated by the inaugural M-Camera, the Leica M3, go?
- 2022 – Leica M11
The M11 provides maximum flexibility, the highest image quality and timeless design, extending the legend of its predecessors. An exclusively designed full-frame BSI CMOS Sensor with triple resolution technology grants you the choice to produce RAW image files in DNG format with 18, 36 or 60 megapixels, always using the full sensor area and varying the size of each pixel. The 60-megapixel option delivers unprecedented image quality with maximum print potential, whereas lower resolutions enable small files. In addition to the SD card slot, the camera is equipped with an internal storage capacity of 64 gigabytes, allowing to save your image files simultaneously onto two different storage media and benefit of high level of data security. The amazing new sensor, backlit, is based on the sensitivity and colorimetry of the Kodachrome 64 film.
The whole models created by Leica are visible at the Leitz-Park, in Germany. The Leitz-Park is a place where all the photography lovers could visit the museum dedicated to the brand, the factory, the exhibitions…etc…