Leica Camera

Coordinates: 50°32′35″N 008°23′25″E / 50.54306°N 8.39028°E / 50.54306; 8.39028

Leica Camera AG
Industry Photography, Digital Imaging, Still cameras, SLR cameras, DSLR cameras, binoculars / monoculars, binocular telescope, laser rangefinder
Founded Germany (1914)
Headquarters Wetzlar, Germany
Key people

Dr. Andreas Kaufmann (Chairman, Board of Directors),

Oliver Kaltner (CEO)
Products cameras, photographic lenses, binoculars and other optical equipment.
Revenue Increase 365 million[1]
Number of employees
Website www.leica-camera.com

Leica Camera AG (pronounced [ˈlaɪka]),[2] is a German optics enterprise and manufacturer of Leica cameras. The company is known for rangefinder cameras used for street photography. The predecessor of the company, formerly known as Ernst Leitz GmbH, is now three companies: Leica Camera AG, Leica Geosystems AG, and Leica Microsystems GmbH, which manufacture cameras, geosurvey equipment, and microscopes, respectively. Leica Microsystems AG owns the Leica brand and licenses the sister companies to use it.


Before WWII

Leica I, 1927 (Video)

The name Leica is a combination of the first three letters of Ernst Leitz's surname and the first two from the word camera; lei-ca. The first 35mm film Leica prototypes were built by Oskar Barnack at Ernst Leitz Optische Werke, Wetzlar, in 1913. Intended as a compact camera for landscape photography, particularly during mountain trips, the Leica was the first practical 35 mm camera that used standard cinema 35 mm film. The Leica transports the film horizontally, extending the frame size to 24×36mm with a 2:3 aspect ratio, instead of the 18×24 mm of cinema cameras which transport the film vertically.

The Leica went through several iterations, and in 1923 Barnack convinced his boss, Ernst Leitz II, to make a pre-production series of 31 cameras for the factory and outside photographers to test. Though the prototypes received a mixed reception, Ernst Leitz decided in 1924 to produce the camera. It was an immediate success when introduced at the 1925 Leipzig Spring Fair as the Leica I (for Leitz camera). The focal plane shutter has a range from 1/20 to 1/500 second, in addition to a Z for Zeit (time) position.

Barnack conceived the Leica as a small camera that produced a small negative. To make big photos by enlargement, (the "small negative, large picture" concept) requires that the camera have high quality lenses that could create sharp negatives. Barnack tried a Zeiss Tessar on his early prototype camera, but because the Tessar was designed for the 18×24 mm cine format, it inadequately covered the Leica's 24×36mm negative. Barnack resorted to a Leitz Summar lens for the prototype, but to achieve resolution necessary for satisfactory enlargement, the 24x36 mm format needed a lens designed specially for it. The first Leica lens was a 50 mm f/3.5 design based on the Cooke triplet of 1893, adapted by Max Berek at Leitz. The lens has five elements in three groups—the third group being three cemented elements—and was initially called the Leitz Anastigmat. Unlike other triplets, the Leitz Anastigmat has the diaphragm between the first and second elements. When the Leica launched, this lens was renamed the ELMAX, for E Leitz and MAX Berek. By 1925, the Leitz laboratories had produced glasses with improved optical properties, and Professor Berek designed an improved version of the ELMAX called the ELMAR that had four elements in three groups. The third group was simplified to two cemented elements, which was easier and cheaper to make.[3] Professor Berek had two dogs, Hektor and Rex. The first of these, Hektor, gave his name to a series of Leica lenses, and the name of the second appeared in the SummaREX.[4]

In 1930 came the Leica I Schraubgewinde with an exchangeable lens system based on a 39mm diameter screw thread, often referred to as " Leica Thread Mount" or LTM. In addition to the 50 mm normal lens, a 35 mm wide angle and a 135 mm telephoto lens were initially available. In the mid-1930s, a legendary soft-focus lens, the Thambar 90 mm f/2.2 was designed, and made in small numbers between 1935 and 1949, no more than 3000 units. It is a rare collector's item today.[5][6]

The Leica II came in 1932, with a built in rangefinder coupled to the lens focusing mechanism. This model has a separate viewfinder (showing a reduced image) and rangefinder. In 1932 the flange to filmplane was standarised to 28.8mm, first implemented on Leica model C, and the Leica Standard the following year.[7]

The Leica III added slow shutter speeds down to 1 second, and the model IIIa added the 1/1000 second shutter speed. The IIIa is the last model made before Barnack’s 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, includes a large viewfinder with several framelines. These models all have a functional combination of circular dials and square windows.

Early Leica cameras bear the initials D.R.P., which stands for Deutsches Reichspatent, the name for German patents before May 1945. This is probably a reference to German patent No. 384071 "Rollfilmkamera" granted to Ernst Leitz, Optische Werke in Wetzlar, on 3 November 1923.

The company had always had progressive labor policies which encouraged the retention of skilled workers, many of whom were Jewish. Ernst Leitz II, who took over the company in 1920, responded to the election of Hitler in 1933 by helping Jews to leave Germany, by "assigning" hundreds (even if they were not actually employees) to overseas sales offices where they were helped to find jobs. The effort intensified after Kristallnacht in 1938, until the borders were closed in September 1939. The extent of what came to be called the "Leica Freedom Train" only became public after his death well after the war.

After WWII

After the war, Leitz continued to produce the late versions of the Leica II and the Leica III through the 1950s. However, in 1954, Leitz unveiled the Leica M3 introducing the new Leica M mount, a bayonet type lens mount. The new camera also combined the rangefinder and viewfinder into one large, bright viewfinder with a brighter double image in the center. This system also introduced a system of parallax compensation and a new rubberized, reliable, focal-plane shutter. Leica continues to refine this model (the latest versions being the MP and MA, both of which have frames for 28, 35, 50, 75, 90, and 135 mm lenses, which show automatically upon mounting).

Post-war models bear the initials DBP, standing for Deutsches Bundespatent (Federal German Patent), instead of the DRP found on pre-war models. 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.

Factory upgrade

Until at least the mid-1950s, Leitz offered factory upgrades of earlier Leica cameras to bring them to the current model's specifications. The upgraded cameras retained their original serial number.[8][9]

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 final model was the Leica R9, which could 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 programme."[10]

Conceptually bridging the Rangefinder Leicas and the SLR Leicas was the Leica Visoflex System, a mirror reflex box that 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 camera’s 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. Throughout its history, Leitz has been responsible for numerous optical innovations, such as aspherical production lenses, multicoated lenses, and rare earth lenses.

The earliest Leica reflex housing was the PLOOT (Leitz's five letter code for its products), announced in 1935, along with the 200 mm f/4.5 Telyt Lens. This date is significant because that it places Leica among the 35 mm SLR pioneers. Moreover, until the 1964 introduction of the Leicaflex, the PLOOT and Visoflex were Leica’s 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 that could mount 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 offered focusing systems, such as the Focorapid and Televit, that could replace certain lenses’ helicoid mounts for sports and natural-life telephotography.

Company changes

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 two independent units: Leica Microsystems and Leica Geosystems.

In May 2014 Leica Camera AG finished building a new factory at Am Leitz Park 1 in the new industrial part of Wetzlar and moved back to the city where it started.[11]

On November 26, 2013, Leica Camera AG announced the conclusion of a takeover process of the Swiss Sinar Photography AG. Both companies agreed not to disclose the details of the merger. Sinar Photography AG possesses product portfolio of large format 4" x 5" to 8" x 10" etc. cameras, lenses and shutter systems. Leica Camera AG announced the take over on their Facebook page.

The Blackstone Group purchased a 44% stake in 2011.[12]


The Leica is particularly associated with street photography, especially in the mid-to-late 20th century, being used by such noted photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Bruce Gilden, Bruce Davidson, Inge Morath, Martine Franck, Sebastião Salgado, Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand, Mark Cohen and Ralph Gibson.

It was also used by wartime photojournalists such as Larry Burrows.

Leica also makes a line of cine lenses used on cinematic projects.[13] In February 2015 their design team was awarded an Academy Scientific and Engineering Award for the optical and mechanical design of the Leica Summilux-C lenses.[14]

Role in antique trade

Leica cameras, lenses, accessories and sales literature are collectibles. There are dozens of Leica books and collector’s guides, notably the three-volume Leica, an Illustrated History by James L. Lager. Early or rare cameras and accessories can reach very high prices on the market. For instance, an anonymous buyer won a bidding battle for a rare 1923 Leica camera that sold for 2.6 million euros ($2.8 million) at an auction in Vienna.[15] Notably, Leica cameras sporting military markings carry very high premiums;[16] this started a market for refurbished Soviet copies with fake markings.

Leica and Panasonic

Leica-branded lenses, such as some Nocticron or Elmarit lenses, are used on many Panasonic (Matsushita) digital cameras (Lumix) and video recorders since 1995. Panasonic/Leica models were the first to incorporate optical image stabilization in their digital cameras.[17]

Leica and Valbray

Valbray EL1 limited edition in black for 100th anniversary of Leica camera panorama

In 2014, to commemorate Leica camera's 100th anniversary, they partnered with Swiss watch manufacture Valbray to develop a limited edition chronograph wristwatch with Valbray's signature Leica aperture inspired dial.[18]

List of Leica cameras

Leica I, 1927
Leica II, 1931

Early models

Leica 35 mm series with interchangeable lens screw mount style Leica bodies:

C (point and shoot) series

The first Leica compact camera, made by Minolta (1989-1991)

Mini series

Minilux Series

Cx Series

M (rangefinder) film series

The "M" within the nomenclature of this series of cameras comes from the first initial of "Meßsucher" (or "Messsucher"), which is the German word for "Rangefinder".

Leica M6 Black Chrome
Leica M9 with a Summicron-M 28/2 ASPH Lens

Digital M (rangefinder) series

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leica M9 and Taken with Leica M9.

R (35 mm film SLR and DSLR) series

Leica R8
Leica S2

S (medium format DSLR) series

The Leica S1 Pro is a scanner camera with a very high resolution (26 megapixels) for stationary use introduced in 1996. On a 36×36 mm2 sensor 5140×5140 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, 5×6, 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.

For more details on this topic, see Leica S2.

In 2008, Leica announced[29] plans to offer an S-System DSLR with a Kodak-made custom CCD image sensor measuring 30×45 mm and containing 37 million pixels.[30] This sensor has a 26% longer diagonal and 56% larger area than a "full-frame″ 24×36 mm DSLR sensor and outputs an approximately 5000x7500 pixel image.

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leica S2 and Taken with Leica S2.

The Leica S2 is thus essentially a medium format camera in a "35 mm SLR"-sized body. The new "Maestro" image processor used in the S2 was developed by Fujitsu based on the Milbeaut[31] and the autofocus system (Leica's first to see production) was developed in house. The S2 series body, lenses and accessories were available in 2009.[32] A series of new Leica lenses is manufactured specifically for the S2 and Leica claims they offer unsurpassed resolution and contrast at all apertures and focusing distances, even exceeding the sensor's capabilities. Lenses offered for the S2 include Summarit-S in normal (70 mm), wideangle (35 mm), and macro (120 mm) varieties, and Tele-Elmar (180 mm) portrait-length telephotos; these are available in versions that feature 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.[28]

Leica announced the Leica S (Typ 006) in September 2012. It replaces the Leica S2, having a new sensor board with improved noise characteristics.

Leica announced the Leica S (Typ 007) in September 2014. It replaces the Typ 006's CCD with a new CMOS image sensor. It offers improved noise characteristics, stills at 3.5 frames/second, and 4K video.

L mount (autofocus MILC) series

For more details on this topic, see Leica T (Typ 701).

In 2014, Leica announced Leica T (Typ 701), the first camera with a body made completely of aluminum. Initially there were two available lenses for the camera, the Leica Summicron-T 23 mm f/2 ASPH and the Leica Vario-Elmar-T 18–56 mm f/3.5–5.6 ASPH. More lenses have been announced to arrive in 2015.[33]

For more details on this topic, see Leica SL (Typ 601).

The Leica SL has the same mount as the earlier released Leica T (Typ 701), leading to the mount being rebranded from T-mount to L-mount. Crop lenses intended for use with the Leica T are now designated 'TL'.[34]

Digilux (digital) series

The original Digilux model

Digital compact camera series

C-LUX 1 (2006)
C-LUX 2 (2007)
C-LUX 3 (2008)

Leica D-LUX 6 (2012)

D-LUX (2003)
D-LUX 2 (2005)
D-LUX 3 (2006)
D-LUX 4 (2008)
D-LUX 5 (2010)
D-LUX 6 (2012)
D-LUX (Typ 109) (2014)

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leica digital compact cameras and Photos taken with Leica.

V-LUX 1 (2006)
V-LUX 20 (2010)
V-LUX 2 (2010)
V-LUX 30 (2011)
V-LUX 3 (2011)
V-LUX 40 (2012)[37]
V-LUX 4 (2012)
V-LUX (Typ 114) (2014)

Introduced with the Leica X1 on September 9, 2009. APS-C size sensor in a compact body. No viewfinder (hotshoe finder optional), fixed prime lens. In May 2012, the company introduced its successor, the Leica X2.[38] In 2013 the Leica X Vario (Typ 107) was announced: a compact body with a 16.2 MP APS-C size sensor, a fixed variable-aperture zoom (F3.5 - F6.4, 28–70 mm equivalent) and no viewfinder (plug-in electronic viewfinder optional).[39] In 2014, Leica announced two updates on the series: the Leica X-E (Typ 102) featuring a 24 mm f/2.8 lens and the Leica X (Typ 113) which has a 23mm f/1.7 lens.

On 8 September 2013 Leica announced the Leica C (Typ 112), a compact camera with an electronic viewfinder based on the Panasonic DMC-LF1.[40]

Leica Q (Type 116) compact full frame camera with a Summilux 28 mm f/1.7 ASPH lens was officially announced in June 2015.


Leica Sofort

The Sofort is an instant film camera that uses Instax Mini film or Leica's branded variant. It is set to retail at $300. It has a handful of different modes, including self-portrait, and allows adjustment of focus and brightness.[41]

List of Leica lenses

Leica Lenses

Leica screwmount (M39) lenses

Leica M lenses

Summary of Leica M lenses
Speed Name 21mm 24mm 28mm 35mm 50mm 75mm 90mm 135mm
Super-Angulon Green tick
Macro Elmar Green tick
Elmar Green tick
Tele-Elmar Green tick
Tri-Elmar ASPH 16-18-21mm
f/3.8 Elmar ASPH. Green tick
f/3.5 Summaron Green tick
f/3.4 Super-Elmar ASPH. Green tick
Apo-Telyt Green tick
f/2.8 Elmar Green tick
Elmarit Green tick Green tick Green tick Green tick
Elmarit ASPH. Green tick Green tick Green tick
Tele-Elmarit Green tick
f/2.5 Summarit Green tick Green tick Green tick Green tick
f/2 Summicron Green tick Green tick Green tick
Summicron ASPH. Green tick Green tick
APO Summicron Green tick Green tick Green tick
f/1.4 Summilux Green tick Green tick Green tick
Summilux ASPH. Green tick Green tick Green tick Green tick Green tick
f/1.2 Noctilux Green tick
f/1 Noctilux Green tick
f/0.95 Noctilux ASPH. Green tick
Elmar 135mm f/4.0

Note: 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 (f/1.5 in one of the 50 mm), 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 50 mm f/2 construction, although the exact version is not specified. Many Leica M lenses went through several revisions through the years.

Leica R lenses

Lens APO TELYT R 4/180

Leica S lenses

Leica Summilux-C Lenses (PL mount cinema lenses)

Leica Summicron-C Lenses (PL mount cinema lenses)

Leica / Leitz enlargers

Focomat IIc.


Leica was traded as LCA1 on the Frankfurt stock exchange until October 2012.

See also


  1. 1 2
  2. Duden Aussprachewörterbuch (6 ed.). Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut & F.A. Brockhaus AG. 2006.
  3. Die Leica. 1933 No. 6. "Was ist eigentlich "Elmar"?
  4. Leica - The First Sixty Years. Gianni Rogliatti. Hove Collectors Books, 1985. ISBN No. 1-874707-02-2
  5. The Leitz Thambar 90 mm f/2.2 Why Is It Considered A Legendary Portrait Lens? By Roger W. Hicks, Shutterbug Posted: Apr 1, 2005
  6. "Technical data on the Leitz Thambar f/2.2", Thorsten Overgaard.
  7. Leica Collectors Guide, Dennis Delaney, Hove Collectors Books, Hove 1992, ISBN 1-874707-00-6
  8. Leica Screw Mount Serial #'s Sorted by Number
  9. "Upgrading your Leica", Thorsten Overgaard.
  10. Leica cease production of R9 and R lenses 03/25/2009
  11. ""Visiting The New Leica Campus in Wetzlar"", Thorsten Overgaard.
  12. Camera Maker Leica Survives the Digital Shift - WSJ
  13. "Leica Summilux-C and Summicron-C Cine Primes", Thorsten Overgaard.
  14. Leica Summilux-C Sci-Tech Oscar | Film and Digital Times
  15. Thompson, Robyn. "Leica camera auctioned in Austria for record $2.8 mln". Reuters. REUTERS. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  16. Auction results for Luftwaffe Leica cameras
  17. "1995: Matsushita (Panasonic) started making all their cameras with Leica lenses", Thorsten Overgaard.
  18. Very Special Limited Edition EL 1 Chrono With Valbray on Quill & Pad
  19. camera-wiki
  20. "The 18 Page User Report on the Leica M9 Digital Rangefinder Camera", Thorsten Overgaard.
  21. Live Webcast on 9/9/2009 – The next Generation of Leica Cameras
  22. Grunin, Lori (May 10, 2012). "New Leica shoots the world in black and white". CNET. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
  23. ""Henri" User Report on the Leica M Monochrom Digital Rangefinder Camera", Thorsten Overgaard.
  24. "Leica M – M as in milestone". Leica Camera. September 2012. Archived from the original on September 18, 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  25. ""The M Experience" User Report on the Leica M Typ 240 Digital Rangefinder Camera", Thorsten Overgaard.
  26. Leica4
  27. "Leica DMR digital back for the Leica R8/R9 film cameras", Thorsten Overgaard.
  28. 1 2 Leica S2 Review Mark Goldstein, PhotographyBLOG updated September 25, 2008
  29. Leica S system specifications: Digital Photography Review Published Aug 16, 2009
  30. Leica S2 with 56% larger sensor than full frame DPReview, published Sep 23, 2008
  31. Fujitsu Microelectronics-Leica's Image Processing System Solution For High-End DSLR
  32. Leica reveal S-system pricing and launch date: Digital Photography Review
  33. Lenses for Leica T // Leica T // Photography - Leica Camera AG
  34. Published Oct 29, 2015 in dpreview.com
  35. "Leica Digilux 2 for professional photojournalistic use", Thorsten Overgaard.
  36. Leica Digital Modul R for the R8 & R9 Published Jun 25, 2003 | dpreview staff archive
  37. "The Leica V-Lux 40 Digital Camera: Classic Journeys Deserve a Classic Name in Photography". PhotographyTalk. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  38. "The Leica X2 Digital Camera: For the Pure Joy of the Essential Photography Experience". Photographytalk. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  39. "Leica X Vario". Digital Photography Review. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
  40. "Leica C (Typ 112)". Digital Photography Review. 8 September 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  41. Brian Heater, TechCrunch. “Leica's new instant camera has a selfie mode.” Sept. 15, 2016. Sept. 16, 2016.
  42. "Super-Elmar-M 18 mm f/3.8 ASPH. // M-Lenses // Leica M // Photography", Leica Camera AG.
  43. "Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95 "King of the Night" Model 11602", Thorsten Overgaard.
  44. "Leica Noctilux f/1.0 Model 11821 and 11822 Year 1976-2008", Thorsten Overgaard.
  45. "Leica Noctilux f/1.2 Model 11820 Year 1966-1975", Thorsten Overgaard.
  46. "Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0 and interview with lens designer Peter Karbe", Thorsten Overgaard.
  47. "Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4", Thorsten Overgaard.
  48. "Leica 90 mm lenses", Thorsten Overgaard.
  49. "The Summarit", Thorsten Overgaard.
  50. "Leica 35-70 mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8 ASPH - MACRO", Thorsten Overgaard.

External links

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