Leica Camera is produced by, or under license of Leica Camera
AG of Germany. Leica Microsystems AG is the owner of the Leica brand, and grants
licenses to Leica Camera AG and Leica Geosystems. Panasonic produces Leica
lenses and compact cameras under license from Leica.
Before World War II
The first prototypes were built by Oskar Barnack, in 1913. Originally the
was going to be a compact camera for landscape photography, particularly during mountain trips, the Leica was the first practical 35 mm camera, using standard cinema 35 mm film. The Leica extends the frame size to 24Χ36 mm, instead of the 18Χ24 mm used by cinema cameras, with a 2:3 aspect ratio.
The Leica went through several versions, and in 1923 Barnack convinced his boss, Ernst Leitz II, to make a prototype series of 31. The camera was an immediate success when introduced at the 1925 Leipzig Spring Fair as the Leica I (for Leitz camera). The Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens (a 4-element design influenced by the Zeiss Tessar) was designed by Dr. Max Berek at Leitz. The focal plane shutter had a range from 1/20 to 1/500 second, in addition to a Z for Zeit (time) position.
The Leica I Schraubgewinde was introduced in 1930. It had an exchangeable lens system based on a 39mm thread. In addition to the 50mm normal lens, a 35mm wide angle and a 135 mm telephoto lens were initially available.
The Leica II was announced in 1932, with a built in rangefinder coupled to the lens focusing mechanism. This model had a separate viewfinder (showing a reduced image) and rangefinder.
The Leica III added slow shutter speeds down to 1 second, and the model IIIa added the 1/1000 second shutter speed. The IIIa was the last model made before Barnacks death, and therefore the last model for which he was wholly responsible. Leitz continued to refine the original design through to 1957. The final version, the IIIg, included a large viewfinder with several framelines. These models all had a functional combination of circular dials and square windows.
After World War II
After the war, Leitz continued to produce the late versions of the Leica II and the Leica III through the 1950s.
In 1954, Leitz introduced the Leica M3, a bayonet lens model combining the
rangefinder and viewfinder into one large, bright viewfinder with a brighter double image in the center, and introduced a system of parallax compensation. In addition, it had a new rubberized, reliable focal-plane shutter. This model has continued to be refined (the latest versions being the
M7 and MP, both of which have frames for 28, 35, 50, 75, 90, and 135 mm lenses which show automatically upon mounting the different lenses).
A number of camera companies built models based on the Leica rangefinder design. These include the Leotax, Nicca and early Canon models in Japan, the Kardon in USA, the Reid in England and the FED and Zorki in the USSR.
Single-lens reflex cameras
From 1964, Leica produced a series of
single-lens reflex cameras, beginning with the
Leicaflex, followed by the Leicaflex SL, the Leicaflex SL2, and then the
R series from R3 to R7, made in collaboration with the Minolta Corporation. The
Leica R8 was entirely designed and manufactured by Leica. The current model is the
Leica R9, which can be fitted with the Digital Module back. Leica was slow to produce an auto-exposure model, and never made a Leica R model that supported auto-focusing. Leica's U.S. official website announced (25 March 2009) that the R-series has been discontinued. The reason given was that "new camera developments have significantly affected the sales of Leica R cameras and lenses resulting in a dramatic decrease in the number sold. Sadly therefore there is no longer an economic basis on which to keep the Leica R-System in the Leica production program."
Conceptually bridging the Rangefinder Leicas and the SLR Leicas was the Leica Visoflex System, a mirror reflex box which attached to the lens mount of Leica rangefinders (separate versions were made for the screwmount and M series bodies) and accepted lenses made especially for the Visoflex System. Rather than using the cameras rangefinder, focusing was accomplished via a groundglass screen. A coupling released both mirror and shutter to make the exposure. Camera rangefinders are inherently limited in their ability to accurately focus long focal-length lenses and the mirror reflex box permitted much longer length lenses.
In the course of its history, Leitz was responsible for numerous optical innovations, such as aspherical production lenses, multicoated lenses, and rare earth lenses. Leica optics are advertised as offering superior performance at maximum aperture, making them well-suited for natural-light photography.
The earliest Leica reflex housing was the PLOOT, announced in 1935, along with the 200mm f/4.5 Telyt Lens. This date is significant because that it places Leica among the 35mm SLR pioneers. Moreover, until the 1964 introduction of the Leicaflex, the PLOOT and Visoflex were Leicas only SLR offerings. A redesigned PLOOT was introduced by Leica in 1951 as the Visoflex I. This was followed by a much more compact Visoflex II in 1960 (which was the only Visoflex version available in both LTM (screwmount) and M-bayonet) and the Visoflex III with instant-return mirror in 1964. Leica lenses for the Visoflex system included focal lengths of 65, 180 (rare), 200, 280, 400, 560, and 800mm. In addition, the optical groups of many rangefinder lenses could be removed, and attached to the Visoflex via a system of adapters. The Visoflex system was discontinued in 1984.
Leica offered a wide range of accessories: for instance, LTM (screwmount) lenses were easily usable on M cameras via an adapter. Similarly Visoflex lenses could be used on the Leicaflex and R cameras with an adapter. Furthermore, certain LTM and M rangefinder lenses featured removable optical groups which could be mounted via adapters on the Visoflex system, thus making them usable as rangefinder or SLR lenses for Visoflex-equipped Screwmount and M rangefinder cameras, as well as being usable on Leicaflex and R cameras. Leica also carried in their catalogues focusing systems such as the Focorapid and Televit which could replace certain lenses helicoid mounts for sports and natural-life telephotography.
Leica cameras, lenses, accessories and sales literature are collectibles. There are dozens of Leica books and collectors guides, notably the 3-volume Leica, an Illustrated History by James L. Lager. Early or rare cameras and accessories can reach very high prices on the market. Notably, Leica cameras sporting military markings carry very high premiums; this started a market for refurbished Soviet copies with fake markings.
In 1986, the Leitz company changed its name to Leica (LeItz Camera), due to the strength of the Leica brand. At this time, Leica moved its factory from Wetzlar to the nearby town of Solms. In 1996 Leica Camera separated from the Leica Group and became a publicly held company. In 1998 the Leica group split into 2 independent units: Leica Microsystems and Leica Geosystems.
Leica and Panasonic
Leica-branded lenses are used on many Panasonic digital cameras (Lumix) and video recorders. These lenses are manufactured by Panasonic to Leitz quality standards. Collaboration between the two firms extends at all levels, with engineering teams contributing in areas of respective expertise. Panasonic/Leica models were the first ones to incorporate optical image stabilization in their digital cameras.
List of Leica cameras and lenses
Below is a list of cameras and lenses produced under the Leica name.
Leica I was introduced first time to the market at the 1925 spring fair in Leipzig, based on the Ur-Leica prototype developed by Oscar in 1913 and the Prototyp 1 developed in 1923. Followed by Leica Luxur and Leica Compur (a total of 60,586 was made of the Leica I, Luxur and Compur). From 1930 with interchangeable lenses.
Leica 35mm series with interchangeable lens screw mount style Leica bodies:
Leica II 1932. Leica introduces the rangefinder in the camera with this model.
Leica III 1933. Leica incorporates slow speeds to the shutter design in this model.
M3 195466 (Total 200,000 units manufactured) The M3 was introduced at the german Photokina exhibition in 1954. It was the first of the M series Leicas that are still manufactured today the first interchangeable lens bayonet style Leica body. In an advertisement from 1956, it was regarded as a "lifetime investment in perfect photography"; a statement that has proven to be true after more than fifty years since its release. The M3 has a .92 magnification finder, the highest of any M camera made. The price of this high magnification was that a 35mm lens required "goggles" which fit in front of the view/rangefinder windows to facilitate a wider view. The M3 advanced film via a lever rather than knob, the first M3s required two strokes to advance the film, after 1958 M3's were single-stroke. Early M3s lacked a frame preview selector lever to switch between framelines.
MP 195657 (Total 402 sets were manufactured). The original MP was based on the M3 and could be fitted with a Leicavit trigger winding device. MP originally stood for "M Professional"; the camera was intended to be a photojournalist's camera.
M2 195867 (88,000 sets were manufactured). A scaled-down and lower-cost version of the M3, the M2 had a simplified rangefinder of 0.72 magnification, allowing easier use of 35mm lenses. The 0.72 magnification became the standard viewfinder magnification for future M cameras. The M2 lacked the self-resetting film frame counter of its predecessor.
M1 195964 (9,392 sets were manufactured). A stripped version of the M2 for scientific/technical use, the M1 was a viewfinder camera with no built-in rangefinder. In 1965 replaced by the MD (with no viewfinder at all), and the MDa (based on the M4) (1967), and finally the MD-2 (based on the M4-2) (1980).
M4 196775 (50,000 sets were manufactured); 197475 (6,500 sets were manufactured). With added rangefinder framelines for 35mm and 135mm lenses. Introduced the canted rewind crank (the previous Ms had rewind knobs). With the M5, last M camera to have a self-timer.
M5 197175 (31,400 sets were manufactured). With added integral TTL lightmeter. First Leica with a light meter, a mechanical swinging-arm CDS cell positioned behind the lens. The added functionality required a redesigned, larger body compared with the traditional M3 dimensions. Certain wide angle lenses (early 21mm f4.0 and f3.4) could not be used in the camera without modification because of the possibility of damage to the rear element of the lens or the meter arm. For similar reasons, collapsible lenses could not be collapsed on the M5. These restrictions also held true for the Leica CL (below). With the M4, last M camera to have a self-timer.
CL 197376 (the compact Leica). Leitz-Minolta CL, introduced with 2 lenses special to that model: the 40mm Summicron-C f2 and 90mm Elmar-C f4. Internal metering similar to the M5 CDS cell on a swinging stalk. The CL is also notable for being the only M-bayonet camera to have a vertically-travelling shutter. Minolta later manufactured and sold an improved electronic version, the Minolta CLE with Auto Exposure, Off-The-Film TTL metering and TTL Flash metering, together with three M-Rokkor lenses, the 40mm/f2, 28mm/f2.8 and 90mm/f4.
M4-2 197780 (17,000 sets were manufactured). First M to be manufactured since 1975. With stronger gears for the adaptation of a motor drive. First M with hotshoe for electronic flash. No self-timer. Made in Canada.
M4-P 198086. Added rangefinder framelines for the 28mm and 75mm lenses.
M6 198498. A breakthrough camera, finally combining the M3 form factor with a modern, off-the-shutter light meter with no moving parts and LED arrows in the viewfinder. Informally referred to as the M6 "Classic" to distinguish it from the "M6 TTL" models, and to indicate its "Classic" M3 dimensions.
M6J 1994. A collector's edition of 1,640 cameras to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Leica M System. Notable for its introduction of the 0.85 magnification finder, the first high-magnification finder since 1966, and the basis for the 0.85 cameras to follow starting in 1998.
M6 0.85 1998. The M6 could be optionally ordered with a .85 magnification viewfinder for easier focusing with long lenses and more accurate focusing with fast lenses, such as the 50mm/f1.0 Noctilux and 75mm/f1.4 Summilux. The 28mm framelines are dropped in this model. 3,130 of these cameras were made (all black chrome), so they are among the rarer non-commemorative M6's.
M6 TTL 19982002. With .72 and .85 viewfinder versions. From 2000 the .58 viewfinder camera for eyeglass wearers are added to the line. Supported TTL flash. The added electronics added 2mm of height to the top plate, and the shutter dial was reversed from previous models (traditionally, turning clockwise increased shutter speed).
M7 2002 current model (as of 2008). Has TTL exposure, aperture priority and manual exposure, electronic shutter and two mechanical speeds of 1/60 and 1/125. Comes in .58, .72, and .85 viewfinder formats, each with different brightline framelines. Same taller top plate and counter-clockwise shutter dial as the M6 TTL.
MP 2003 current model (as of 2008). A homage to the original MP, the new MP (this time standing for "Mechanical Perfection") cosmetically resembles the original (even down to changing the rewind crank back to a knob) but is functionally closer to the M6 Classic. A notable improvement over the M6 was the modification of the rangefinder to eliminate flare. The Leicavit M is an exciting accessory introduced with the new MP, allowing trigger wind with the right hand at speeds up to 22.5 FPS. The new MP is available in chrome and black paint and with viewfinders of .58, .72 and .85 magnification.
A La Carte Program 2004 present. Program to facilitate custom-built combinations of metal finish, leather type, viewfinder magnification, and custom engraving.
Leicaflex 1964/5 sometimes called the Standard built-in external light meter, clear focusing screen with centre ground-glass spot. There was a great deal of pressure to introduce a Leica SLR because of the phenomenal success of the Nikon F (1959).
Leicaflex SL and SL MOT 1968 TTL selective-area metering, slightly taller body than its predecessor, long-lived and lovely to use. MOT model took a large and heavy motor drive. Only about 1,000 SL MOTs were made.
Leicaflex SL2/SL2 MOT 1974 refinement of the SL with more sensitive light meter and improved body shape. Thought by some to be the toughest 35mm SLR ever built. The Leica Solms museum has on display an SL2 MOT with Motor and 35mm Summicron which survived a 25,000 foot fall from a Phantom II fighter jet: battered but in one piece, and deemed repairable by Leica. Only about 1,000 SL2 MOTs were made. The SL2 was the swan-song of the Leicaflexes; the SL2 reportedly cost Leitz more to manufacture than it recouped in sales, and motivated the company to collaborate with Minolta for their next series of electronic cameras. The SL2 would also be the last mechanical Leica SLR for 14 years.
Leica R3 the first electronic Leitz SLR 1976 to 1980, based upon the Minolta XE1/7. The first few were built in Germany and then production was transferred to the Leitz Portugal factory.
R4MOT/R4/R4S/R4S Mod2 198087 a new compact model based upon the Minolta XD11. The R4 set the design for all cameras up to and including the R7. The R4 offered Program mode, Aperture and Shutter Priority, and Manual, with Spot and Centerweighted metering. The R4MOT differed in designation only; all R4s and up accepted motors and winders. The R4 offered The R4S and R4S Mod2 were simplified models at slightly lower prices.
Leica R4 Leica R5 and R-E 1987 revised electronics (R5 had TTL flash capability), the RE was a simplified model.
Leica R6 198892 mechanical shutter, relied on battery power only for the built-in light meter.
R6.2 1992 as R6 but with refinements, including a 1/2000th shutter speed.
Leica R7 1992 yet more advanced electronics.
Leica R8 complete redesign, this time in-house with production moved back to Germany.
All traces of Minolta gone.
Leica R9 refinement of the R8 with 100g less weight and a new anthracite body finish.
R8/R9 DMR Digital Module-R 10 megapixel digital back for the R8/R9, making them the first 35mm SLR cameras able to capture to film or digitally.
Leica R10 - Leica have announced in 2009 that the R10 is being developed, but no details were given.
Leica S1 The Leica S1 Pro is a scanner camera with a very high resolution (26 megapixels) for stationary use introduced in 1996. On a 36Χ36 mm2 sensor 5140Χ5140 pixels get scanned and optically transferred to a connected computer. The object lens adapter system was exchangeable, thus object lenses of the systems Leica R, Leica M, Hasselblad, Mamiya 4, 5Χ6, and all mechanic object lenses from Canon (FD), Nikon, etc. can be used with the S1. The software for the S1 is a special SilverFast version, originally developed by LaserSoft Imaging for high-end scanners. Approximately 160 cameras were built and mostly sold to museums, archives and research institutes. Later on Leica introduced the S1 Highspeed with very quick scanning and the S1 Alpha with half the resolution to the market.
Leica S2 In 2008, Leica announced plans to offer an "S-System" DSLR with a Kodak-made bespoke CCD sensor measuring 30Χ45 mm2 and containing 37 million pixels. This sensor has a 26% longer diagonal and 56% larger area than a "full-frame″ 24Χ36 mm2 DSLR sensor and will output an approximately 5000x100%0 pixel image. The S2 will thus essentially be a medium format camera in a "35 mm SLR"-sized body. The new "Maestro" imaging processor used in the S2 was developed by Fujitsu and the autofocus system (Leica's first ever) was developed in house. The S2 series body, lenses and accessories will be available as of October 2009, and retail prices have been announced. A series of new Leica lenses is manufactured specifically for the S2 and Leica claims they will offer unsurpassed resolution and contrast at all apertures and focusing distances, even exceeding the sensor's capabilities. Lenses offered for the S2 will include Summarit-S's in normal (70 mm), wideangle (35 mm), and macro (120 mm) varieties, and Tele-Elmar (180 mm) portrait-length telephotos; these will also be available in versions featuring integrated multi-leaf blade shutters ("Central Shutter", or CS), in addition to the focal-plane shutter in the camera body, to enable higher flash sync speeds.
Noctilux means f/0.95-f/1.2,
Summilux means f/1.4,
Summicron means f/2,
Summarit means f/2.5 in the current lineup,
Elmarit means f/2.8, and
Elmar means f/3.5-f/4.
Noct, Lux and Cron are commonly used as short forms for Noctilux, Summilux and Summicron, respectively. For example, 50 Cron uniquely identifies the Summicron-M 50mm f/2 construction, although the exact version is not specified. Many Leica M lenses went through several revisions through the years.
Leitz Valoy and Valoy II manual focus, later versions of the Valoy II were grey in color.
Leitz Focomat Ia Same as Focomat 1C, that is with autofocus, but the head does not tilt back to allow for easy insertion of negative.
Leitz Focomat Ib
Leitz Focomat Ic sometimes fitted with Kienzle color head. Produced first with varob 5 cm f1:3.5 lenses, later with elmar 5 cm f1:3.5, focotar 5 cm f1:4.5, focotar 50mm f1:4.5, focotar 50mm 2nd version f1:4.5, focotar-2 f1:4.5. Changes in focotar name or focal length designation do not necessarily coincide with the optical formula. The focotar-2 is always the same formula, and so is the 5 cm version. The 50mm exists in two versions. The 1C helical will accommodate lenses of various makes. Available in "color" version with filter drawer and lighted enlargement factor scale. Many small design variations exist.
Leitz Focomat IIa 35mm6Χ9 format, dual lens turret on later versions that fitted a 5 cm elmar f1:3.5 or focotar 1:4.5, and a 9.5 cm f1:4.5 focotar, autofocus. The early version has a single helical that will accommodate lenses of any make. Available in "color" version with filter drawer and lighted enlargement factor scale.
Leitz Focomat IIc 35mm6Χ9 formats, dual lens stage rather than turret, autofocus. First produced with focotar 6 cm f1:4.5 and focotar 9.5 cm f1:4.5, later with focotar 60mm and V-Elmar 100mm f1:4.5, still later with focotar 60mm and focotar II 100mm f1:5.6. All the 6 cm and 60mm focotars appear to be the same optical design. Kienzle or other color heads sometime fitted. Only very slender enlarging lenses will fit the IIc helicals. Available in "color" version with filter drawer and lighted enlargement factor scale.
Leitz Focomat II (modified for American military), code EN-121A Extremely rare
Vincent electrical shutter (for enlarger) Extremely rare