Leica Information

From a flash of inspiration to the birth of the Leica Legend

Oskar Barnack’s genius idea of creating the small format 35 mm camera created a revolution in photography in 1925, paving the way for the birth of the Leica Legend. His diminutive, lightweight Leica offered a new, undreamed-of freedom in reportage and artistic photography. From that point to the present day, Leica has had a profound influence on our view of the world we live in. And remarkably, you can still savor this sheer visual enjoyment time and time again whenever you use a Leica product to provide that unique visual perspective.

With his supremely flexible prototype small-format camera, Oskar Barnack already provided impressive documentation of the events taking place in his home town. When the production Leica A actually went on sale in 1925, photographers were quick to make use of the new, portable, simple, and quick method of photography, creating masterpieces of artistic imagery and gripping reportage. Just as today, the Leica camera helped to produce a lot of the images that expand our knowledge and influence our perception of the world.

What was started in 1914 with the Ur-Leica quickly turned into a lasting success. In 1932, around 90,000 cameras were already in use. By 1961, the number had increased to a million. Milestones in the development include the rangefinder cameras such as the legendary Leica M3 in 1954 and the M6 in 1984. At the same time, the Leica lenses were beginning their success story and Leica binoculars impressed the world with their performance and comfort. The R-System commenced in 1976 with the Leica R3 – the first electronic Leica. In 1989, the first compact point-and-shoot model entered the market. 1998 also saw the launch of the first digital camera – the Leica Digilux. Without exception, all developments are focused on the requirements of the user and are characterized by the highest quality, focus on essential functions, and comfortable user-friendly controls.

Milestones in the Leica product history

1849 The optician and mathematician Carl Kellner founds an optical institution for the development of lenses and microscopes in Wetzlar.
1887 The 10,000th microscope is produced.
1907 Start of binocular production under the management of Max Berek.
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 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.
1926 The first small-format 35mm projector is launched under the name of ULEJA.
1930 The first Leica camera with interchangeable threaded mount and three vest pocket lenses is launched. The Lehr-Atelier is set up in the optical factory Ernst Leitz in Wetzlar to introduce researchers, technicians, journalists and scientists to the advantages of small-format photography in both theory and practice.
1932 The Leica II with coupled rangefinder and built-in viewfinder is made available for the first time. Additional screw-mount lenses enter the market. Leica photographers now have seven vest pocket lenses with standardized thread at their disposal. The Leica II with the serial number 100,000 is manufactured.
1934 The Leica 250, dubbed the “Reporter”, contains 10 meter film and delivers 250 exposures without reloading. Combined with a spring motor, it becomes the preferred device used in reconnaissance aircraft by the German air force.
1954 The Leica M3 with bayonet mount and high-magnification rangefinder marks the end of an era for screw thread cameras. Film transport is made significantly easier with the use of a rapid-wind lever.
1957 The Leica IIIg ,the last Leica screw thread model, is introduced.
1963 Groundbreaking new development in the form of LEICA Trinovid binoculars is presented at the Photokina exposition. It featured an elegant new slim line design, a new central focusing control, and a true internal-focus system to prevent suction when adjusting.
1965 The Leicaflex marks the first Leica single-lens reflex 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 is the 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. A new factory in Portugal starts operation.
1975 Newly developed glass types enable the construction of the extremely high-aperture objective, the famed Leica Noctilux 1:1.0/50 mm.
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.
1992 Leica introduces the first binocular with integrated laser rangefinder: Geovid 7×42 BD.
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 single-lens reflex 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.
1999 With the Leica C1, the new design series in Leica compact cameras, is launched
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.
2004 The Geovid is redesigned – more compact and improved construction: Geovid 8×42 BRF.
2005 The Digital-Modul-R is introduced and the analog R8/R9 becomes a digital SLR-camera.
2006 Leica introduces the digital rangefinder camera Leica M8.

His Genius Revolutionized Photography

In the venerable optical factory, which had been successfully developing world-class microscopes at Leitz, Wetzlar since 1849, a new idea caused a real stir:
Oskar Barnack wanted to move away from the traditional, heavy plate cameras then used for most photography and search for a completely new form of photographic technology. As early as 1905, he had the idea of reducing the negative format and enlarging the photographs at a later stage. He succeeded in turning this momentous idea into reality 10 years later in his capacity as development manager. From a device to test exposures for cinema film, he developed the Ur-Leica, arguably the first truly successful small-format camera in the world. The small picture format of 24x36mm was achieved at that time by doubling the 18 x 24 mm cinema format. The photographs created in 1914 were of outstanding quality for the time. Delayed due to WW1, the first Leica (a contraction of Leitz Camera) did not enter series production until 1924 and was introduced to the public in 1925.

Perfect tools

With Oskar Barnack’s sensational new small-format camera, photojournalism was brought closer to actual events and began telling stories in a more dynamic and truthful manner. The reaction among photo artists to the possibility of achieving a “new form of vision” was extremely enthusiastic. The Leica became an indispensable companion for all situations, an “integral part of the eye” or an “extension of the hand”. Since this momentous development, users have been able to focus their full concentration on the subject and the picture. Building on this first invention and on the innovative spirit demonstrated by Oskar Barnack, Leica is constantly working to create the perfect tools to extend that unique vision and the unlimited possibilities it represents.