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  • Writer's pictureIan Miller

The History of Leica

The history of Leica cameras. When were they first made and introduced?


Leica cameras are among the most iconic and influential devices in the history of photography. They have been used by some of the most renowned photographers of the 20th century, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and Annie Leibovitz. But how did Leica cameras come to be? And what makes them so special?


The story of Leica cameras begins in 1913 when a German engineer named Oskar Barnack designed a prototype of a small and lightweight camera that used 35mm film. At the time, most cameras used large-format film that required bulky and heavy equipment. Barnack wanted to create a camera that was easy to carry and operate, and that could capture more spontaneous and candid moments.


Barnack worked for a company called Leitz, which was mainly known for producing microscopes and other optical instruments. He called his invention the Ur-Leica, which means "original Leica". The Ur-Leica was not intended for mass production, but rather as a personal project and a test device for Leitz lenses.


However, the Ur-Leica proved to be a revolutionary concept that sparked the interest of many photographers and enthusiasts. In 1924, Leitz decided to launch the first commercial model of the Leica camera, which was named the Leica I. The Leica I was a success, and it established the standard for 35mm photography. It also introduced several features that are still common in modern cameras, such as interchangeable lenses, a rangefinder, and a focal-plane shutter.

The Leica I was followed by several other models that improved and expanded the capabilities of the camera. For example, the Leica II (1932) added a built-in viewfinder and a coupled rangefinder, which made focusing easier and more accurate. The Leica III (1933) added slow shutter speeds and a self-timer. The Leica M3 (1954) introduced the bayonet mount system for lenses, which allowed for faster and more secure attachment. The Leica M6 (1984) incorporated an exposure meter and LED indicators in the viewfinder.


Leica cameras have also been pioneers in introducing new technologies and formats to photography. For instance, the Leica CL (1973) was one of the first compact cameras with interchangeable lenses. The Leica R3 (1976) was the first electronic SLR camera from Leica. The Leica S1 (1996) was the first digital scanning camera with a resolution of 26 megapixels. The Leica M8 (2006) was the first digital rangefinder camera from Leica.

Leica cameras are known for their high quality, durability, and craftsmanship. They are also admired for their elegant and minimalist design, which has remained largely unchanged over the decades. Leica cameras have a loyal fan base among professional and amateur photographers alike, who appreciate their performance, reliability, and aesthetic appeal.


Leica cameras have captured some of the most iconic images in history, such as the portrait of Che Guevara by Alberto Korda, the falling Soldier by Robert Capa, and the Kiss by the Hotel de Ville by Robert Doisneau. They have also documented some of the most important events and movements of the 20th century, such as World War II, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Leica started producing digital cameras in the late 20th century, after decades of making film cameras. The first digital Leica camera was the Leica S1, a high-performance scanner camera that was unveiled in 1996. The S1 had a resolution of 5140 x 5140 pixels and could scan film negatives or slides. The S1 was not a consumer product, but rather a professional tool for photographers and archivists.


The first digital Leica camera for the mass market was the Leica Digilux 1, which was launched in 2002. The Digilux 1 had a 4-megapixel sensor and a 3x optical zoom lens. It was designed to resemble a classic Leica rangefinder camera, with a metal body and manual controls. The Digilux 1 was followed by several other models in the Digilux series, such as the Digilux 2, Digilux 3, and Digilux 4.

The most significant digital Leica camera was the Leica M8, which was introduced in 2006. The M8 was the first digital camera to use the Leica M-mount, which is compatible with many Leica lenses from the past and present. The M8 had a 10-megapixel sensor with a crop factor of 1.33x, meaning that it did not capture the full image circle of the M-mount lenses. The M8 also had some issues with infrared light and colour accuracy, which were later addressed by firmware updates and filters.


The M8 was succeeded by the M8.2 in 2008, which had some improvements such as a quieter shutter and a scratch-resistant LCD screen. The M9, which was launched in 2009, was the first full-frame digital Leica camera, with an 18-megapixel sensor that matched the size of 35mm film. The M9 also had a more accurate colour rendition and a higher ISO range than the M8. The M9 was followed by the M9-P in 2011, which had a more discreet design without the red Leica logo on the front.

In 2012, Leica introduced the M Monochrome, which was the first digital camera to only capture black-and-white images. The M Monochrome had an 18-megapixel sensor without a color filter array, which increased its sharpness and dynamic range. The M Monochrome also had a higher ISO range than the M9, up to 10000.

Leica digital M10 and onwards


If you are a fan of Leica cameras, you might be interested in the latest models of the digital M series. The M10 and onwards are the successors of the M9, which was the first full-frame digital rangefinder camera. The M10 and onwards have improved features such as a thinner body, a larger sensor, a higher resolution screen, and a faster processor. They also have a more classic design that resembles the film M cameras. In this blog post, I will review some of the main differences between the M10 and onwards and the M9, and share my personal experience with using them.


The first thing that I noticed when I held the M10 was how much lighter and thinner it felt compared to the M9. The M10 is 33.75 mm thick, while the M9 is 37 mm thick. That might not seem like a big difference, but it makes a huge impact on the handling and comfort of the camera. The M10 also weighs 660 g with a battery, while the M9 weighs 585 g without a battery. The M10 feels more balanced and less bulky in my hands.


The second thing that I noticed was the sensor. The M10 has a 24-megapixel CMOS sensor that is slightly larger than the one in the M9. The M10's sensor has a native ISO range of 100 to 6400, which can be expanded to 50 to 50000. The M9's sensor has a native ISO range of 160 to 2500, which can be expanded to 80 to 2500. The M10's sensor performs much better in low-light situations and produces less noise and more detail. The M10 also has a new Maestro II image processor that allows faster continuous shooting and data transfer.


The third thing that I noticed was the screen. The M10 has a 3-inch LCD screen with 1.04 million dots of resolution, while the M9 has a 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230000 dots of resolution. The M10's screen is much brighter, sharper, and more responsive than the M9's screen. It also has a touch function that allows you to zoom in and out of images, swipe through menus, and change settings. The M10 also has a new menu system that is more intuitive and user-friendly than the M9's menu system.


The fourth thing that I noticed was the design. The M10 and onwards have a more retro look that resembles the film M cameras from the past. They have a simpler layout with fewer buttons and dials and a more ergonomic grip. They also have a dedicated ISO dial on the top plate that allows you to change the ISO setting without going into the menu. The M10 and onwards also have a quieter shutter sound than the M9, which makes them more discreet and less intrusive.

The fifth thing that I noticed was the experience. The M10 and onwards are a joy to use for anyone who loves photography. They have a superb image quality that captures every nuance of light and colour. They have a manual focus system that requires skill and patience but rewards you with precise control and satisfaction. They have a minimalist approach that forces you to think about your composition and exposure before pressing the shutter button. They have a timeless appeal that transcends trends and fads.


The M10 and onwards are not perfect cameras. They are expensive, they have no autofocus, they have no video mode, they have limited battery life, they have no weather sealing, they have no built-in flash, they have no image stabilization, they have no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity, they have no GPS or electronic viewfinder.


But they are not meant to be perfect cameras. They are meant to be Leica cameras.

If you are a fan of Leica cameras, you might be interested in their latest model: the Leica M11. This is a digital rangefinder camera that boasts a 60.3-megapixel image sensor, a new filter technology, and a touch display with a status screen. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at some of the features and specifications of the Leica M11.


The Leica M11 is the successor of the Leica M10-R, which had a 40-megapixel sensor. The new sensor in the M11 is not only higher resolution but also has a back-side illuminated (BSI) design, which improves the light sensitivity and reduces noise. The sensor also offers three resolution options: 60MP, 36MP, and 18MP, depending on your needs and preferences.

Another improvement in the M11 is the new filter technology, which consists of a thin, bonded two-layer filter in front of the sensor. This filter reduces reflections and ensures accurate color reproduction, especially for light rays that hit the sensor at shallow angles. This is important for Leica M lenses, which have a short flange-back distance and mount very close to the sensor.


The Leica M11 also features a new 2.3 MP touch display, which allows you to review your images and adjust settings with ease. The display also shows a status screen that gives you quick access to important information such as battery level, exposure settings, and memory capacity. The M11 also has three customizable function buttons that let you assign your favourite functions.


The M11 has a sleek and classic design that stays true to the Leica M heritage. It comes in two versions: a silver one with a brass top plate and a black leatherette band, and a black one with an aluminium top plate that is lighter by 100 grams. The M11 also has a USB-C port that lets you charge the battery on the go and an internal memory of 64 GB that can be supplemented by an SD card.


The Leica M11 is compatible with almost all Leica M mount lenses, as well as an accessory EVF that can be tilted for different angles. The camera also supports firmware updates over the air and can be connected to an iPhone or iPad via a cable or Wi-Fi.


The Leica M11 is a premium digital rangefinder camera that offers high image quality, flexibility, and elegance. It is available for $8995 and can be ordered from the Leica website or from authorized dealers.


Leica cameras are more than just tools for photography. They are also symbols of artistry, innovation, and culture. They are part of the history of photography itself.

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