Some brands become synonymous with their industries. Think of things like soft drinks and you'll probably instantly think of the Coca Cola brand. Think of candy, and you'll think Mars or Cadbury. Think of camera lenses, and the name Leica is likely to pop into your thoughts. This is because "Leica lenses" have been a staple in the world of photography for well over 100 years.
It began before WWI when a German optician and photographic enthusiast named Ernst Leitz opened his optical works (Ernst Leitz Optische Werke) in the late 1800s.
His success enabled him to grow his business making lenses and optical equipment, but in 1913 one of his staff built a prototype for a 35mm camera. This turned out to be the very first of its kind because it was a compact camera meant to be used by hikers who could not possibly lug around the larger models of the era. This camera used 35mm cinema film, and yet it moved the film horizontally rather than vertically. Changing the aspect ratio, it made landscape photography possible.
The name for this new portion of the company was derived by taking the first three letters of the founder's name "Lei" and partnering them with the first two letters of the word camera - "Ca". Thus "Leica" was created.
It would be almost ten years before that initial prototype was ready for production, and in 1923 the designer of the prototype, a man named Oskar Barnack, convinced the company's owners to craft more than two dozen test models for professional photographers to use.
The feedback gave the company the details it needed to improve the camera for consumer use, and by 1925 they released their first camera - the Leica I. They did this during the Leipzig Spring Fair, and it was an immediate success. However, it was not strictly the innovative camera that was such a success story, but it was also the lens.
This was their ELMAX lens that had to be designed to work with the horizontal orientation of the film, and it contained a tremendous amount of technology and innovation in order to work properly and effectively. The success of this lens created immediate and subsequent generations of the lens, and by 1930, Leica was creating some of the most flexible and effective lenses imaginable.
For example, they were able to create:
The Leica Thread Mount lens
A Wide Angle lens
A 135mm Telephoto lens
A Soft-focus lens
This was all within ten years of releasing their first camera and their first lens designed to function with the horizontal orientation.
By 1932, Leica was producing a second camera - the Leica II - and incorporating such dynamic functions as a rangefinder and separate viewfinder. After this period, the technicians at Leica just kept innovating. There would be changes in the film plane, more lens updates, shutter speed adjustments, and changes to controls.
By the 1950s the firm had a strong hold on camera technology and was seen as one of the top producers of the era. In fact, many of the other top camera makers modeled their cameras on Leica's rangefinder design. These firms included Cannon and Reid among others.
In the 1960s, Leica introduced SLR technology and began modifying and updating technology based on this new approach to photography. They also demonstrated their forward thinking by offering upgrades to rangefinders that had become out of date over the years. They also began integrating automatic features into newer models, including the use of focusing systems.
By the 1980s Leica had cemented its reputation as a leading maker of cameras and lenses. In the late 1990s, the camera division separated from the other optics divisions to become Leica Camera.
Still producing some of the finest cameras and lenses available, Leica has a current product range that includes:
S-System Camera Bodies and Lenses
M-System Camera Bodies and Lenses
T-System Camera Bodies and Lenses
Still viewed as a bit of a prestige brand, Leica is a brand considered good enough to be the professional's preferred brand, and yet it is accessible to consumers. The range of cameras offer top quality options to those just beginning in photography, but also makes some of the most advanced optics and features available for those in search of a premium DSLR and lenses.
US.Leica. Photography. US.Leica-camera.com. 2014. http://us.leica- camera.com/