Leica Camera AG, a German optics company, produces Leica cameras. Now the brand is split in three companies: Leica Camera AG, Leica Geosystems AG, and Leica Microsystems AG, producing cameras, geosurvey equipment, and microscopes. Leica Microsystems AG is the owner of the Leica brand, and grants licences to Leica Camera AG and Leica Geosystems.
In the venerable optical factory, which had been successfully developing world-class microscopes at Leitz, Wetzlar since 1849, a new idea caused a real stir: Oskar Barnack wanted to move away from the traditional, heavy plate cameras then used for most photography and search for a completely new form of photographic technology. As early as 1905, he had the idea of reducing the negative format and enlarging the photographs at a later stage. He succeeded in turning this momentous idea into reality 10 years later in his capacity as development manager. From a device to test exposures for cinema film, he developed the Ur-Leica, arguably the first truly successful small-format camera in the world. The small picture format of 24x36mm was achieved at that time by doubling the 18 x 24 mm cinema format. The photographs created in 1914 were of outstanding quality for the time. Delayed due to WW1, the first Leica (a contraction of Leitz Camera) did not enter series production until 1924 and was introduced to the public in 1925.
With Oskar Barnack’s sensational new small-format camera, photojournalism was brought closer to actual events and began telling stories in a more dynamic and truthful manner. The reaction among photo artists to the possibility of achieving a “new form of vision” was extremely enthusiastic. The Leica became an indispensable companion for all situations, an “integral part of the eye” or an “extension of the hand”. Since this momentous development, users have been able to focus their full concentration on the subject and the picture. Building on this first invention and on the innovative spirit demonstrated by Oskar Barnack, Leica is constantly working to create the perfect tools to extend that unique vision and the unlimited possibilities it represents.
With his supremely flexible prototype small-format camera, Oskar Barnack already provided impressive documentation of the events taking place in his home town. When the production Leica A actually went on sale in 1925, photographers were quick to make use of the new, portable, simple, and quick method of photography, creating masterpieces of artistic imagery and gripping reportage. Just as today, the Leica camera helped to produce a lot of the images that expand our knowledge and influence our perception of the world.
What was started in 1914 with the Ur-Leica quickly turned into a lasting success. In 1932, around 90,000 cameras were already in use. By 1961, the number had increased to a million.
Milestones in the development include the rangefinder cameras such as the legendary Leica M3 in 1954 and the M6 in 1984.
At the same time, the Leica lenses were beginning their success story and Leica binoculars impressed the world with their performance and comfort. The R-System commenced in 1976 with the Leica R3 – the first electronic Leica. In 1989, the first compact point-and-shoot model entered the market. 1998 also saw the launch of the first digital camera – the Leica Digilux. Without exception, all developments are focused on the requirements of the user and are characterized by the highest quality, focus on essential functions, and comfortable user-friendly controls.