Today Leica Camera is 100 years old



Allendale, NJ (January 21, 2014) – The year 1914 marked the birth of 35 mm photography as we know it today. 100 years ago, Oskar Barnack created the very first Leica, the Leitz Camera. Now, in 2014, Leica Camera celebrates their centennial year with spectacular events, exhibitions and ground breaking products.

Oskar Barnack, an employee of the Leitz Werke Wetzlar and a photography pioneer, invented and constructed the first camera for the 35 mm film format (24 × 36 mm) in 1914. The construction of this so-called “Ur-Leica”—according to Barnack’s philosophy of ‘small negative – big picture’—revolutionised photography by giving photographers greater ease in creative vision and scope, as they previously had to rely primarily on cumbersome plate cameras for their work. Company archives dating from March 1914 show that Barnack originally gave his compact and highly portable prototype camera the name ‘Lilliput’. The original is still in the possession of Leica Camera AG, together with the negatives and prints of the first exposures captured with the Ur-Leica – which include pictures from a 1914 summer trip Ernst Leitz I took to the United States.

1925 brought another landmark year for Leica as the end of World War I’s chaos enabled the brand to establish itself as the beginning of a living photographic legend.  Leica began to conquer and dominate the world of photography with a multitude of iconic pictures that have profoundly influenced our understanding of the world. Examples of these include Robert Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’ from the Spanish Civil War, the famous portrait of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara by Alberto Korda, the naked and burning young girl Kim Phúc, photographed by Pulitzer Prize winner Nick Út during the Vietnam War, and the photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt which captured the celebrations on VJ day in New York’s Times Square in 1945.

Dr Andreas Kaufmann, chairman of the Supervisory Board and majority shareholder at Leica Camera AG, summarised the history of the company as follows: ‘No other brand has so crucially shaped and influenced the past 100 years of photography like Leica has – by continuing to provide photographers with the best tools and superb lenses to match them. For this reason, it is only logical that we will be celebrating our centennial with numerous renowned photographers from around the globe and shining a spotlight on their work.’

Alfred Schopf, chairman of the Executive Board at Leica Camera AG, also announced a range of product highlights that will accompany the celebrations of Leica in the centennial year. ‘That Leica today, as in the past, is still synonymous with high-end, handmade products, iconic design, technical innovation and better pictures will be confirmed by the selected products we will be presenting in the course of our centennial year.’ This campaign will be accompanied by a series of cultural projects, photography exhibitions and competitions, book presentations and a special issue of LFI with the title ‘100 years of Leica photography’.

Another exciting highlight of the centennial year is the relocation of Leica Camera AG to the new, ultra-modern factory in the Leitz Park in Wetzlar, Germany. The official opening will be May 2014.

See also this brief Leica history in pictures.

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  • Happy birthday, Leica!

  • Frank

    I will always remember the first time I used a Leica. I borrowed a friends M6 and it was like a religious experience. I had been using a Canon EOS-1 at the time, and I just didn’t realize how all of the bells, whistles and gizmos on the then top-of-the-line camera can produce a buffer between the user and the experience of making a photograph.
    When I held that M6 it was so simple, so pure – No autofocus; No auto exposure; No auto anything. It was as if a veil had been lifted and I was once again part of the process of making a photograph. The M6 was pure photo nirvana and I’ve never, ever, had that feeling again. Maybe I would with the current Type 240…who knows.

    • Simon

      Great story Frank. The digital Ms can be set to 100% manual, so I think you would. That’s how my brother likes to use his and I think most people too.

      I disliked using the D-Lux point-n-shoot for precisely the reasons you describe but I love using his M. It keeps things simple and puts you in control and that’s how it should be.

      Leica have done a good job creating a modern camera that stays true to their roots. Features stay out of the way when you don’t need or want them (in fact you need to buy the optional EVF to get advanced DSLR-like features) and even the buttons and menu system are surprisingly minimal, simple and easy.

  • EJPB

    …But I’m not so sure there is another 100 years ahead. Leica has become a very static company, not able to innovate and truly compete in a technical manner with all the others on the market. They can be surpassed in the technical area so easily by many others. Look at the M.240 versus the top DSLR systems equipped with f.i. Zeiss glass. Versus the A7 and A7r. Versus Fujifilm X. Versus the Olympus OM-D’s. Versus Ricoh. To compensate this, they decided to pull the ‘style and hype’ card and in a world where looks prevail over content and competence, this works for a part now. But one day it will go wrong if they don’t partner up with a true competent electronics company and deliver an M-system with a credible firmware. I cannot understand why they left Panasonic out of the equation for the M-system, I just don’t believe in the CMosis & Jenoptik stories, they are no solid choice for a bright future. What remains is the famous optical knowledge, but in a world where software is able to design everything in an almost perfect sense, I’m not so sure this will stay a rock-solid differentiator as well. Look what Zeiss & Fuji are able to do, which kind of highly advanced factories they have…? Even a company like Sigma is causing in the Canonikon world a lot of fuzz with their highly advanced Art-series that surprised many professionals. Beyond the Leica success-testimonials I read on sites like this every day, I also know quite a few very serious colleagues selling all their DSLR stuff plus an arm, a leg and one kidney to go ‘the full Leica way’, but I feel none of them is truly happy with what they’ve done… driving an oldtimer with a modern fuel injection system doesn’t seem to be that easy, at least it is very confusing if you want to use it as a GT. Going this path, Leica is getting more and more the system for stylish yuppies and a few retired photographers still in love with their old M4. And yes, I wish Leica another 100 years, hope a lot we can still consolidate this type of high-end industry in Europe, but a real revamp of the Leica realm towards true innovation and credible, more affordable systems is urgently required.

    • guest

      Your colleagues are unhappy and it’s Leica’s fault? Oh wait, I didn’t quite get the car analogy…

    • Simon

      I have to disagree. Leica are doing the right thing by not trying to compete with the likes of Sony, Canon and Nikon.

      If they did their survival is at far greater risk because that market is saturated, they’d need huge volumes and low margins just to be profitable and they’d have to dilute and pollute their brand and quality to achieve the price points necessary to compete. This would spell almost certain doom in my opinion.

      • Read the FAQ

        I agree. And anyway Leica has already stated before that they are fine with only a very small percentage of the market (they’ve always had a small share even during the height of the film era.) Fuji, Olympus, and Sony are not profitable with their current cameras despite what the camera using public might perceive as ‘big sellers’ (and don’t forget that overall the camera market is a very small one in general.) Whether or not Leica doesn’t make the ‘proper’ camera in respect to current technologies (and to certain user’s desires) doesn’t matter that much to them. They need to stay profitable to remain in business, and not just cater to shifting consumer whims. And that’s what they seem to be doing correctly so far (and it’s what they’ve been doing for 100 years.)

        Only time will tell if their business plan will be the longest lived one and whether or not Fuji, Olympus, and Sony remain in the camera business at all (I’m leaving out Nikon and Canon since their profitability comes from DSLRs.)

        It’s a small and volatile market and Leica is a conservative company overall. I think they know what they are good at doing and are being careful not to deviate too far from that.

    • Read the FAQ

      I don’t personally don’t know anyone who is “selling all their DSLR stuff” to “go the full Leica way.” A rangefinder and a DSLR are two different animals. I think this sort of mentality is only for hobbyists. During the ‘film era’ (and I’m still a user of film) photographers had rangefinders, SLRs, TLRs, and view cameras all at the same time. And it’s the same in the ‘digital era’ (I’m also a user of digital, too.) I would never give up useable tools just to jump on some bandwagon that happens to be the latest thing. All those Fuji, Sony, and Olympus products you mentioned change overnight; I want/need to make images and not just be going back and forth with the ‘latest’ gear. Anything on the market today is absolutely 100% capable of making extraordinary images (given they are the proper tool for each circumstance; i.e., rangefinder versus DSLR; MF versus AF, etc., etc..)

      • James Donahue

        Well.. I just sold all my Nikon stuff and am waiting delivery of my New……..System.

        • Read the FAQ

          Well, if your work allows you to survive only with Leica’s rangefinder (limited) “system” then more power to you. I can’t. I use my Leicas for specific purposes as they have their limitations. But I also need a DSLR system (which in turn has its own limitations.) I even still have a full 4×5 “system” for specific needs. But a DSLR allows for certain things that I can’t do with other types of cameras (although I also own mirrorless APS-C cameras, too; they also have their own place.)

          Anyway as I said, I personally don’t know anyone who has sold all their “DSLR stuff” to solely use a rangefinder camera and lenses. And I don’t know you :-). All the Leica owners I’ve known have both. Just like we did in the past. And that’s part of why Leica itself entered into the SLR market in 1964.

      • Simon

        That’s interesting what you say about those brands changing overnight.

        Someone told me recently that he spent $7,000 on Nikon DSLR equipment and a couple of years later it was worth only a fraction of that… $1,000 to $2,000 at most. I don’t know what that says about those other brands and why they depreciate so quickly compared to Leica.

        What I do know is that my brother said he owned a Nikon DSLR but sold it within six months because he hated it but he loves his Leica M and Zeiss Ikon and doesn’t want to give those up (except the Ikon for a Leica film one day). There’s something special about holding and using such well made and beautiful object.

        • Read the FAQ

          fwiw, I like my Nikons, my Leicas, my Sigma DP Merrill (APS-C Foveon), and my Wista metal folder 4×5 all equally well. They each do the job they were designed to do.

          There are plenty of excellent and fully capable digital tools to choose from these days. And excellent film cameras are even cheaper to pick up now (e.g., Hasselblads, Plaubels, Rolleis, etc..)

      • EJPB

        A camera has become a consumable, nothing more than a tool to create pictures, a technical object like a computer or a printer that indeed won’t live forever. It is no magic, no myth, no religion, I can’t even imagine a camera can still last forever. I don’t want to picture myself thinking that I’m still a serious photographer with nothing else than a poor old M8 10MP camera in the middle of a world where even the smallest sub-par compact has a better sensor than I have, making at the end far better pictures than I can ever take. Precisely that is what I mean, if Leica wants to survive another 100 years, a new magic is urgently required. One that takes the technological progress of the digital landscape seriously in account to develop new models. Only then the very excessive prices can be justified. Otherwise, Leica will become nothing else than a very expensive hobby project for a few nostalgic people, dreaming of a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Just like you can stil buy tube-amplifiers and hand made belt-driven turntables.

  • James Donahue

    Good. as soon as this celebration is over will you please finish refurb ing my Digilux 2 and send it back to me.

  • Ahmad Al-Joboori

    and never dies…

  • Becko

    Thank you LEICA !!!

    I love my R4s … the best camera I have.
    It is one of the greatest things build by humans.


    Pure photography … a thrill to make a single shot and not even reshoot it.
    Real physical film is something you can hold in your hand, feel, scratch, burn and even love or be proud of. Not perfect like us and 100% unique.
    It can not be copied or adjusted. Scanned images that I have are just a preview of the REAL photographs.


    I have 5 digital cameras and I take light data into files with them all the time. Then I process it on a computer and save it on a hard drive.
    It is fast and convenient way to store data, but I don’t have any thrill or emotional attachment to these shots and files.

  • David

    I sense a 100 Year Anniversary special edition M . . . maybe a Titanium M?

  • Thanks Becko and Frank – and Happy Birthday Leica

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