Lecia has a rich history that dates back over a century, with the company originally being founded in 1869. Later on, the company would go on and make a forever mark in the camera industry, starting with their earliest camera model and continuing on the legacy with later models.
Leica cameras are known for the unparalleled quality of their Lens and more for the hefty price tag of any Leica model. With a rich history of over a hundred years, Leica had some legendary models and many historical pictures taken using a Leica. In this article, we are going to take a look at the history of Leica, starting from its earliest day to the present. With that being said, let’s get started.
Establishment and Early Development
When Leica initially started, the company was not even called Leica; its name was Ernst Leitz Optische company, which Ernst Leitz founded in 1869. Before that, Leitz worked as a mechanic for mathematician Carl Kellner in his Optical Institut, which made microscopes. By 1900, Leitz company had as many as 400 employees and were making thousands of microscopes each year.
In the early 1900s, cameras were still bulky and out of reach for most people who weren’t professionals, both the weight and size of them made it something to only be used mostly in studios. Working on his microscopes and their lenses, Leitz believed he could make Cameras more compact. In 1914, while working as an engineer for Leitz company, Oskar Barnack made the world’s first 35mm compact camera and called it UR-Leica (which translates to “Original Leica” from German). This can be marked as a significant moment in the history of cameras as a camera was finally small enough to be carried in hand. However, it was still a prototype, and further research and development of Ur-Leica took a hit for World War I. In 1920 after the death of Ernst Leitz, his second son Ernst Leitz second became the chief of Leitz company and continued to work alongside Barnack.
Public Launching and Early Years
By 1924, Barnack believed development was complete, and later that year, Ernst Leitz II decided to mass-produce them. In 1925, Leica I was finally unveiled for the public at the Leipzig Spring Fair.
Leica one was the first 35mm publicly available camera of the company, but it was still a fixed lens 35mm camera with a shutter speed ranging from 1 by 25 to 1 by 500 with an F-stop of f/3.5, which Barnack wanted to develop more. After working on it for a few years, in 1932, the improved model or Leica 2 was launched. This model was an improvement over the original Leica I as it had detachable and interchangeable lenses. This model allowed users to use lenses ranging from 35mm to 135mm. Both shutter speed and f-stop value remained the same as Leica I.
1930’s to Post World War II era
In the later years of the 1930s, Barnack continued to make improvements on Leica II and launched more models of them with improvements (Early Black/Nickel model, Later Black/Nickel model and Chrome model), as well unveiled a new model called Leica III.
Leica III could shoot at slower shutter speeds compared to the earlier Leica II and was made from 1933 to 1939 under various model names.
When World War 2 broke out, further development, as well as production of Leica cameras, saw a pause, however, Leica cameras were widely used by journalists to take pictures of the second World War. Post World War, the demand for the Leica cameras became so high from professionals, enthusiasts or amateurs alike that the company had a hard time keeping up with it. In fact, used Leica cameras were one of the top traded items in the post-war German market. 1951 marked another milestone for the Leitz company, as the factory made its 1 millionth camera.
A new model called Leica M3 was launched in 1954, and it was a phenomenal model for the company, with over 220,000 cameras being made between 1954 – 1966. The M models of Leica cameras are still made today. The M3 used a different mount as opposed to screw-mounts in all previous models, called the Leica-M mount. Leica cameras for the next half-century would continue using this mount, and other brands adapted it into their own as well.
1960’s to Later Years
In the 1960s, besides making regular models of cameras, Leica made cameras to be used in special situations as well, like making custom Leica 3G cameras for the Swedish army and cameras for NASA astronauts to be used in their space missions.
The competition post World War was really from the Japanese camera brands like Canon and Nikon. Leica launched its first Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera in 1965, which was called Leicaflex. Leicaflex was succeeded by more SLR cameras called Leicaflex SL, Leicaflex SL2 and Leica R series.
In 1986, Leitz company’s name was changed to Leica Camera AG because of the popularity of the trade name and its factory was also moved to a different town in Germany.
The Modern Era
Leica’s first digital camera, called the Digilux, was released in 2002; however, the M series rangefinder model was first launched in 2006, called the Leica M8. Leica M8 had a 10.8-megapixel sensor and was followed by M9 in 2009, the first full-frame digital model of Leica. The Leica M10 was launched in 2017 and is still being updated, with the latest one being Leica M10R which was launched in 2020. Leica M10 has a 40-megapixel sensor and is the thinnest digital M series of Leica.
If you talk about quality, Leica remains on the top tier of the camera market. But if you look at the price, it is way beyond a large portion of the camera market. And this is kind of ironic as Leica was established with a vision to make cameras available to mass people. But now, they are branding themselves as an aristocrat camera brand.
Leica camera has its history, which dates back to the late 1860s and is still going on strong. Leica has always held strong to its core principle, impeccable quality of product and innovation. From making the world’s first publicly available handheld 35mm camera to the latest Leica M10, the company has made improvements and new developments to incorporate the needs of every new era. That is why professional photographers can swear on the unparalleled quality of Leica lens compared to any other brand’s Lens, and we believe Leica would continue being the prestigious brand they always have been.