Wednesday, January 9, 2013


The Leica museum in Solms has Oskar Barnack’s original prototype, the Ur-Leica on display, although it is only a replica.  The original resides in a bank vault.  This, however, is not the camera that Oskar Barnack built and used for himself.  It is an identical version which he gave to Ernst Leitz  in 1913, and it is the camera that Ernst Leitz took on a trip to the US in 1914.

The subject has been well researched by Leica historian Gianni Rogliatti, who gave the following account:

This second prototype, identical to the Ur Leica and built presumably at the same time, was the one used by Barnack and remained in the hands of his family when he died.  For some unknown reason it was given into the custody of the Deutsches Museum in Munich during World War II.  After the war the camera was returned to the son of Oscar Barnack who was living in Munich and operating a grocery store.  Barnack’s son later sold the camera and it was resold at an auction.  All of this happened several years ago and Barnack’s son subsequently died causing every trace of the camera to be lost.

Rogliatti went on to say that, far from being lost, the second prototype now seems to reside, unannounced, in an unidentified collection.

I recently discovered a picture that quite obviously showed the original prototype, the Ur-Leica.  But it was noticeably different from the one generally known and shown in pictures.  I wrote about it on this blog under the heading: “IS THIS THE OTHER UR-LEICA?”

Unfortunately the picture was a relatively poor reproduction.  But it did show some clear differences in its appearance when compared to the known Ur-Leica and I wondered if it might be Barnack’s original camera.

I have researched the subject further and have obtained an original enlargement of that very picture.  On the back it says, “Erste Konstruktion der Leica-Kleinbildkamera von Oskar Barnack”  (First construction of the Leica small negative camera of Oskar Barnack).  It further says:  Deutsches Museum, Postfach, 8000 München 20 (German Museum, PO Box, Munich 20).

Apparently the photograph was taken while the camera was in the possession of the Deutsches Museum.  That is further supported by the fact that the picture I originally published was from a 1952 publication, indicating that the original had to be taken prior to that.

Considering these facts, the most plausible conclusion is that this is indeed a picture of Oskar Barnacks personal camera, the second Ur-Leica.

Deutsches Museum Ur-Leica

Leica Museum Ur-Leica

The differences between the two cameras are clearly visible.  The chipped off paint on the Leica Museum version are obvious.  But there is more, the large screw on the right side of the top plate, next to the film winding know  has a rounded top on the Deutsches Museum version while the Leica Museum one is flat.  Similar, the left side of the top plate shows two srews which are clearly raised on the Deutsches Museum camera while the same screws are flush with the top of the camera on the Leica Museum one.  Also, the five screws on the front of the cameras clearly show to be in different positions between the two cameras.

All of this clearly indicates that we are looking at two different cameras of basically the same design and construction.  While we know about the Leica Museum version, we know very little about the other one, especially what happened to it after the death of Oskar Barnack’s son.  Maybe time will tell.

Postscript 4-07-2013

This article was written, based on the published information regarding the development of the Leica.  Further research has shown that this generally accepted and published information contains several mistakes.  These are pointed out and corrected in the following article:


For more about the Ur-Leica, go to:





  1. The counter is in the same position on both cameras.

  2. To me it looks like they are off by one frame. But note that the center screw of the counter dial is in a different position on the two cameras.

  3. All the screws are in different positions when we compare the two bodies

    1. That is true. I just pointed out the most visible ones.

  4. I wonder if it is in working condition?

  5. Virtually nothing is known about Barnack's camera other than what was reported here. The Leica Museum Ur-Leica is not working properly. You can turn the advance knob and you can fire the camera, but the shutter does not operate.

  6. How did you find out that you can wind and fire the camera but that the shutter is not working?

  7. I am among the lucky few that has had a chance to hold the Ur-Leica in his hands, twice at that. Both times were at LHSA (International Leica Society)meetings, when Rolf Fricke, co-founder of LHSA and Dr. Walter Wangorsch, former curator of the Leica museum, brought it from Germany on two separate occasions. I did take the opportunity to see if the camera worked, only to find out that you can wind and fire it, but that the shutter doesn't work. Since then the camera has been moved to a vault and only a replica is on display.

  8. The screws look like they are in the same place to me. The difference in angle makes it tricky to judge in any case. Also, the paint chips don't convince. But there is one possible chip that appears on both between the viewer attachment (flash shoe) and the right dial, and once a bit of curves is applied: they have the same form (the slight difference in position could be explained by perspective). In the meantime, using heavy perspective correction of overlayed images, I am finding that once the screws are aligned up, itself strong evidence that they are in the same place, the lens and other front dial align almost perfectly.

    Finally, if you look the front ring of the lens, the marks are basically the same, but for some polishing maybe, except that one has the marks rotated somewhat.

    I think it's the same camera.

    1. You are correct. Since I wrote this article I have come across actual proof that only one Ur-Leica was ever made by Oskar Barnack. All the accounts of a second Ur-Leica, as by rogliatti, for isntance, have proven to be false. See: THE REVISED HISTORY OF THE LEICA

    2. I forgot to add that I have seen photographs where the position of the slots in the screws are definitely in different positions. This is not surprising since the camera has been worked on several years ago by Malcolm Taylor to bring it back to working condition. This was initiated by Ernst Leitz III when he arranged for Malcolm Taylor to restore the Barnack motion picture camera.
      When I was able to inspect the camera on two occasions in the late 70s, the shutter was not working.

  9. Hello Heinz, great article! I am a fellow camera enthusiast and am working on an article covering the history of the 35mm camera for my blog and I would like your permission to use your image above of the Ur Leica (the color one). My site is non for profit, and I would give you full credit. Please let me know if thats ok.

    1. Hello Mark, I have no problem if you use the Ur-Leica picture from my article. Please keep in mind that I wrote that article before my research showed that there has only ONE prototype of the Leica. Please follow the link at the end of the article to see the explanation.