Monday, May 10, 2021

Leica: The Patek Phillipe of cameras


A few weeks ago we put a poll in the newsletter. Usually this is just for a bit of fun, but this time there was a touch of seriousness to our question - “What brand is the Patek Philippe of cameras?” A question with intentions I’m sure have been made obvious in these past few days; we wanted to find out what you, our valued subscribers, consider to be the apex of camera manufacturers. With an overwhelming majority of 46%, Leica took the crown and it’s not hard to see why.

If you’re unfamiliar with Leica as a brand - they pride themselves on their hand finishing and assembly, their limited batches, and their overall extreme meticulousness and attention to detail that goes into each of their camera models. It has been this way since their inception to the camera world in 1925, and has remained the core part of their business model, since. There are few brands still around today who have been making things of such a high quality for so long, and so consistently, most of whom reside in the watchmaking world. Despite being world famous for their cameras, the company now known as Leica did not produce their first camera until 65 years after their founding.

In 1849, Carl Kellner founded the optical institute which produced precision microscopes; it was taken over in 1869 by Ernst Leitz, with the company’s name being changed to ‘The Ernst Leitz – Optische Werke’. The company continued being famous for the production of microscopes until 1914 when Oskar Barnack, the head of research and development at ‘Leitz’, decided to solve a problem he had. Barnack suffered from asthma, but he also had a passion for taking photos whilst travelling. He found it difficult to lug around the large format cameras and their equipment that were available at the time, so in his free time he started to develop a small format camera that would solve this issue. Barnack had the ingenious idea of using perforated 35mm ‘movie film’, readily available at the time, to shoot with in a landscape format, as opposed to movie cameras shooting with it in a portrait format. This allowed twice as much data to be stored. This would become the basis of what is now known as the 35mm film format, or ‘full frame’ for digital users. 
Despite making this development in 1914, it wasn’t until 1920 when he was able to develop a set of 31 cameras as a pre-production prototype. These cameras are now the most expensive cameras that are offered at auctions. On March 10 in 2018, the museum of cameras in Vienna, Austria, known as Westlicht, sold one of these pre-production cameras for 2 million Euro, excluding auction fees.
Finally in 1925, the Leica 1 (Leica being a combination of Leitz and Camera) was released to a roaring success, selling around 60,000 models, until selling their last Leica 1 in 1936. Leica has been famous for their iconic cameras ever since. 

Leica has made a 7 minute video on Oskar Barnack which I highly recommend watching.

To celebrate this achievement, and the company’s rich history, in 1979 on the 100th anniversary of Oskar Barnack’s birthday, Leica released a special edition M4-2 plated in 24 karat gold with snake skin details. Only 1000 of these cameras were made and it is one of only a few Leica cameras ever released with a gold finish, making it a highly desirable and sort after model for collectors. The camera comes in a beautiful wooden box with a - unique to this model - 50mm f1.4 Summilux lens with gold detailing. The back of the camera comes engraved with Barnack’s signature as well as the 100 year anniversary.
If you’re a Leica collector, then this is a ‘must have’ in your collection, or if you’re interested in getting started with collecting cameras, then this is an extremely fine example and a perfect way to start - at the top.
Leica M4-2 Gold Complete set with wooden box and papers, unused condition.

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