Brief history of Leica Camera AG

A brief history of the major Leica milestones:

  • 1849 The optician Carl Kellner founds an Optics Institute in Wetzlar.

Ernst Leitz I

  • 1869 Ernst Leitz becomes managing director.


  • 1914 Oskar Barnack constructs the Ur-Leica.

Ernst Leitz II

  • 1924 Ernst Leitz II decides to put the 35 mm Leica (Leitz Camera) into mass production.
  • 1925 The LEICA I with inbuilt lens is launched.
  • 1930 The first LEICA camera with interchangeable threaded mount and interchangeable lenses is released.

Leica II

  • 1932 The 100,000th LEICA II rolls off the conveyor belt.
  • 1934 The LEICA 250 ‘Reporter’ contains a ten-metre film and delivers 250 exposures without the need for reloading.

Oskar Barnack

  • 1936 Oskar Barnack dies.

Leica M3

  • 1954 The LEICA M3 with bayonet mount and bright-line rangefinder is launched.
  • 1956 Ernst Leitz III takes over management of the company after the death of his father. German Chancellor Dr. Konrad Adenauer receives a Leica with the serial number 800,000.

Leica M2

  • 1961 The number of mass-produced items exceeds 1,000,000.
  • 1965 The first Leica SLR camera, LEICAFLEX, goes into mass production. It is followed a year later by NOCTILUX 1:1.2/50 mm, the first lens with an aspherical element.

Leica M4

  • 1967 The LEICA M4 is launched on the market.

Leica M5

  • 1971 The LEICA M5 with selective exposure metering through the lens is unveiled.
  • 1973 Leica opens a factory in Vila Nova de Famalicão in Portugal. The LEICA CL compact rangefinder camera is launched.
  • 1976 The LEICA R3 is the first electronic Leica with selective/integral metering.
  • 1980 The LEICA R4 is launched on the market.

Leica M6

  • 1984 Leica presents the LEICA M6 with selective exposure metering and LED display on the viewfinder.
  • 1986 Foundation of Leica GmbH in order to combine all Leica activities on the photographic market.
  • 1987 Ernst Leitz Wetzlar GmbH and Wild Heerbrugg AG merge to become the Wild Leitz Konzern. The new company employs 9,000 people. The LEICA R5 enters the market.

Leica R6

  • 1988 Move to new factory in Solms near Wetzlar. The LEICA R6 with mechanically controlled shutter is launched.
  • 1989 The first Leica compact camera, the LEICA AF-C1, is unveiled.
  • 1990 Wild Leitz Holding AG merges with The Cambridge Instrument Company plc to form Leica Holding B.V. The LEICA TRINOVID BA binocular range is unveiled with a completely new look and mechanisms.
  • 1994 The first digitally controlled Leica, the LEICA R7, is introduced on the market.
  • 1996 The first digital high-performance scanner camera, the LEICA S1, is unveiled. On 25 July, Leica Camera GmbH becomes a limited company and is known from this point on as Leica Camera AG. The company launches the microprocessor-controlled LEICA R8 SLR camera.
  • 1998 The first digital Leica compact camera, The LEICA DIGILUX, is unveiled.
  • 1999 The LEICA C1 heralds the start of a new design line at Leica.

Leica M7

  • 2002 The LEICA M7, with its automatic timer and digital countdown of automatic shutter speed, is launched on the market.

Leica MP

  • 2003 Leica MP launched.
  • 2003 The new LEICA ULTRAVID binocular range is launched, as well as a digital rear panel for the LEICA R9.

Dr. Andreas Kaufmann

  • 2005 The Salzburg-based ACM Projektentwicklung GmbH, under the leadership of Dr Andreas Kaufmann, joins the company. The company successively acquires a majority stake of over 97 per cent by 2006.

Leica M8

Leica M8.2

  • 2006 Market launch of the M8 digital Leica rangefinder camera.

Leica S2

  • 2008 The medium-format LEICA S2 SLR camera for professionals is launched.

Leica X1

  • 2009 With the LEICA M9, the brand unveils its first digital full-frame rangefinder camera (24 × 36 mm). Along with the S2, it quickly becomes a bestseller. The LEICA X1 is launched on the market at the same time.

Leica M9

Leica M9-P

  • 2011 Leica Camera AG completes a turnaround and announces a record turnover of EUR 248.8 million for the difficult financial year 2010/11. The operating result (EBIT) increases sixfold to EUR 41.6 million. The Leica M9-P is launched on the market.

Leica M9 Titanium

Leica M7 Hermès

To be continued...

Source and images credit : Leica Camera AG

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  • J Shin

    Why no photos of R cameras? Are we ashamed of the orphans?

    • Uploading them now – published the post too early by mistake.

    • I also cannot find official press photos for most of the R cameras.

  • Why no photos of Leica MP cameras?

    • I added few more cameras – this post will be work in progress

  • MJr

    Super great history, thanks.

    Leica M5 – What were they thinking ?

    • Pat

      They were thinking TTL metering with the technology available at the time.

      • MJr

        Yeah but the design, man o man. And with such a huge gap between M5 and M6, it must have been agony all those years for fans of Leica aesthetics. I mean the M9T looks bad, but that’s nothing compared to the M5. Imagine just not knowing if they will even come to their senses again. The M6 could have been even worse for all you know. But apparently they did indeed come to their senses after all.

    • Nobody Special

      Having used the M6ttl and the M5, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that for ease of use the M5 wins hands down. The bigger size IS NOT a factor in use and in fact, the control cluster design in use is stellar, as is the metering field indicated in the finder. Which, by the way, has to be estimated in later models.

      Leica turned away from changing the M forever more when the ‘traditionalists’ then cried ‘mommy’. Try using it for a while before making any firm judgements and yes, while the size was bigger, the control layout was a HUGE improvement in making the M easier to use and should not have been left behind in future models.

      It would have been good to show the SL2, a perfect example of flawless design, ergonomics, and ease of use. A great camera replaced by the R series which were cheaper to produce and based off a Minolta design. The SL2 could be made today in electronic form with all the imporvements in manufacturing and technology – and, it would make a GREAT digital body.

  • Daryl G.

    Really enjoyed your presentation, the pictures appear better than printed books on Leica History. More please…….and Thank you!!!

  • Great History post of the M’s. You left out the Leicaflex and all but the R6.2, which I use exclusively. Hope you do there history as well.

  • Patrick

    I have a Leica M4 (SN 1382 300) which was made in Canada in the 70’s – this is a full M4 , with a self timer, not an M42 or M4P.
    It is my understanding that a small batch of M4s were assembled in Canada to test the feasibility of manufacturing them there.
    Do you have any further information or links ?

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