Thursday, April 12, 2018



These days, when we can take video clips even with a cell phone, and when many digital cameras allow to be used as video cameras as well, it is easy to forget what preceded this technology.  Yet in the old home movie days, a few cameras stood out from the crowd as incredibly sophisticated examples.

One such camera was the Leicina Special, arguably the most sophisticated Super 8 camera ever made.  When Leitz announced many years ago that they were discontinuing the Leicina Special, they ended one of the lesser known chapters in the history of the Leica.

As we know from photographic history, the Leica owns its existence to the research that Oskar Barnack did with an all metal motion picture camera in the early 1900s.

With the advent of 8mm amateur movies, Leitz entered this market with a camera of their own.  The basic concept of the early Leicina cameras was steadily improved upon.  The initially fixed lenses were replaced by zoom lenses, separate light metering was replaced by through the lens metering, and electronics took over more and more of the functions of the camera.  Finally there was the Leicina Special, one of the most advanced Super 8 cameras of all time.  Incorporating many of the Leicina Super RT 1 features, it was Leitz’s final try to gain sales on the home movie market.  Unfortunately success was denied.  The less elaborate and less expensive competition won.

But what a camera was lost!

The system core was an electronically controlled camera body.  It incorporated a through-the- lens metering system.  Unlike most other Super 8 cameras, the ASA film speeds were not automatically keyed in, but had to be set manually.  This offered the possibility of an exposure override, like pushing films or the creative use of over or under exposure.  The bright, flicker free viewfinder offered three interchangeable focusing screens.  At the turn of a knob, one had the choice of micro prism focusing, split image focusing, and a real image with cross hairs.  The meter readout was located above the extremely bright viewfinder image.  Two release knobs, located on top and in the folding hand grip, activated running speeds of 9, 18, and 25 frames per second.  Separate switches also offered single frame and a slow motion speed of 54 frames per second.  This could be activated by pushing the slow motion button on top of the camera, in order to switch from whatever other speed was in use.  By simply pressing and turning the knob, 54 fps were activated permanently.  All speeds were governed electronically to assure perfect frame frequencies, which was particularly important for time laps photography and sound coupling.

For lap dissolve photography, a one-button control was all that needed depressing.  Activating the switch at the end of a scene would the automatically start a complete fade-out, visible in the viewfinder, and automatic film rewind, at the end of which the camera would simply stop.  Starting a new scene at some time later would then automatically start with an automatic fade-in, even if the camera had been shut off.  This, however, required the Leicina automatic control unit.  More about that later.

The viewfinder offered a built-in diopter control from -3 to +3.  It also had a shutter blind, in order to avoid erroneous exposure during copy or similar types of work, where the eyepiece is not shaded by the head.  The extremely large exit pupil of the viewfinder made it possible even for eye glass wearers to quickly observe the entire viewfinder image.

The elongated body shape offered an extremely easy handling of the camera.  With one hand on the hand grip, the other on top of the camera, and the forehead against the rubber pad in the back of the camera, the camera offered an extremely sturdy three point support, even during hand-holding.  It didn’t make any difference if one was right or left handed, since all controls were positioned such that they could easily be reached with either hand.  The rubber pad in the back of the camera also contained the easily interchangeable battery pack, which supplied power to all functions of the camera.

A small dial on the side of the camera changed the built-in filters between outdoor and indoor lighting.

Unlike most other cameras before, the Leicina Special offered interchangeable lenses.  It was the only Super 8 camera on the market that did not utilize the relatively small C-mount.  Instead it made use of the much sturdier Leica M mount.  The lens to film plane distance was the same as in the Leica M cameras, meaning that all the Leica M lenses could be used on the camera as well.  In addition, there were adapters for Leica reflex lenses, Pentax/Praktica type screw mount lenses, Minolta bayonet lenses and the Ariflex type motion picture lenses.  All lenses offered through-the-lens exposure control via match needle operation.  The possibility of the accessory lenses offered astounding possibilities in the telephoto range.  Considering that the normal focal length of a Super 8 camera is approximately ¼ of that of a 35mm camera, this means that even a 50mm lens is already the equivalent of a 200mm lens on a 35mm camera.  Coupling the 800mm Telyt with the 2x extender would mean the equivalent of a 6,400mm f/12.6 lens in 35mm.  The possibilities are mind boggling.

 Leicina Special, shown here with 90mm f/2 Summicron M and 50mm f/1.4 Summilux M

Specifically for the Leicina Special, Leitz offered two lenses, the 10mm f/1.8 Macro Cinegon, and the 6-66 f/1.8 Optivaron, manufactured by Schneider in Kreuznach, Germany.  Both the Macro Cinegon and the Optivaron had to be used with the same match needle exposure control.  But the Optivaron could either be converted or bought with the Leicinamatic control unit.  This had various functions.  From a number of electronic contacts on the front of the camera the Leicinamatic was coupled to the power supply of the camera.  It contained two motors, one of which was for the power zoom.  It could be infinitely varied from a 1.5 to 6 second full 6-66 zoom range.  Manual zooming was fully maintained without the necessity to switch over from one to the other.  The second motor effectuated the automatic exposure control.  Unlike conventional movie cameras, where usually two v-shaped diaphragm blades are attached directly to the meter movement, the servo motor in the Leicinamatic would receive information directly from the meter, in turn varying the lens opening by actually turning the diaphragm ring.  Thus the lens could utilize a standard, multi bladed diaphragm, which has proven to render better image quality.  A small switch could easily change between automatic and manual exposure control.

The Optivaron also offered macro focusing features, making it possible to focus as close as the surface of the front element of the lens.  Since the focal length used influenced the macro focusing, the zoom lever could be used for focusing, allowing the possibility of power focusing in the macro range.

Due to the acceptability of all the various lens mounts listed before, this also included a large number of accessories like bellows, microscope adapters, even an endoscope.

One of the most useful accessories was the Leicina electronic control unit.  It could be used for the current supply and connection to external energy sources like a car battery, house currant etc.  But it also functioned as a superb timer offering the possibility of automatic time lapse photography.  Single frame exposures could be taken at rates from one frame per 0.15 sec. to one frame per 6 minutes.  Furthermore, the length of a scene could be automatically governed within a range of 0.2 to 10 seconds.  This feature could also be combined with the interval timer.  The electronic control unit had an electronic flash outlet, which offered the possibility of connecting any electronic flash to the camera.

Leicina Special with 6-66mm Optivaron and Leicinamatic

Leicina Special with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux M

Via the electronic control unit, the camera could also place timing impulses of alternately one frame or one every four frames to a tape recorder.  This offered professional quality sound synch, otherwise found only in professional type motion picture camera of 16 or 35mm.

The extremely large base of the elongated camera bottom offered an oversized platform to attach to a tripod, making the Leicina substantially sturdier on a tripod than any other 8mm camera.

In the interest of time and space, I could only give a description of the main features of the camera.  Hopefully, it helped to make the reader aware of what an incredible instrument this camera really was.  The convenience of use is unmatched by any other 8mm camera ever made.  The only improvement that I would have liked to see was a mirror type shutter, similar to the one used in Beaulieu cameras, in order to offer full light transmission to the film as well as the viewfinder.  The beam splitter in the Leicina, while mechanically more reliable, did present a light loss of  approximately 20% to the film, by splitting 10% of the light off to the light metering system and 10% to the viewfinder.  Other than that, the camera presented a truly professional approach to the Super 8 camera system.

The camera may have been certain overkill.  The resulting relatively high price limited the market substantially, and even the closest competitor to the Leicina, the French Beaulieu, had to revert to less expensive, Japanese made compromise cameras, in order to keep the entire line profitable.  Since this is a practice that Leitz refused to follow, it surely had a lot to do with the decision to discontinue any further participation in the field of motion picture cameras.  Meanwhile, anyone owning a Leicina Special at the time was indeed a lucky fellow.

However, as much as yesterday’s technology this is compared to modern digital motion picture cameras, the Leicina might not be quite ready for existence in museums only.  I recently came across an article describing the development of a digital super 8 cartridge.  The Nolab Digital Super 8 Cartridge will allow any Super 8 camera to be converted to allow digital recording, thus allowing for the Leicina Special to become a very viable digital motion picture camera.

Nolab 2
Nolab digital Super 8 cartridge

Nolab 4
Nolab cartridge inserted in Nizo Super 8 camera

Designer Hayes Urban had the following to say about the device:

At the heart of the Nolab Digital Super 8 Cartridge is a tiny but powerful 5 megapixel image sensor similar to the one in your smartphone. Combined with a custom glass objective lens, the sensor focuses on a ground glass image plane pressed against the camera’s film gate. By using a 5 megapixel sensor we can capture 720p HD footage at the native Super 8 aspect ratio of 4:3.

Processors integrated into the image sensor are able to  process and encode the footage in real time to a removable SD card. Optionally the same processors can apply one of two predefined Film Look color correction filters to the footage. That sounds simple enough, To allow the Nolab cartridge’s image sensor to synchronize with the camera’s shutter, a unique sensor had to be developed. It’s this design that allows the cartridge to work properly in any camera at any frame rate up to 60 fps.

Obviously, there have been some improvements in sensor technology since Nolab announced their digital cartridge. Let’s hope it enters the market soon in an updated version.  It would definitely allow many good Super 8 cameras to be saved form oblivion.  The Leicina Special definitely very much deserves it.

Here are the basic specs of the original version:


720p HD video capture in 4:3 format
Frame rate automatically adjusts to camera settings (up to 60 fps)
Integrated Film Look options
Unlimited storage via removable SD card
Battery and recording status light


Image Sensor: 5 megapixel Omni Vision OV5600 series
Video Encoding: 720p HD H.264 (4:3)
Memory: Removable high capacity SD card
Connections: One mini USB port (primarily for charging)
Battery: Rechargeable LiPo battery providing up to 3 hours of continuous recording
Housing: Machined aluminum, color anodized and laser etched
Height: 70mm
Width: 75mm
Depth: 24mm
Weight: 160 g

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  1. D'une part, Beaulieu n'a confié la fabrication aux japonais que d'un seul modèle bas de gamme. Par ailleurs travailler avec les japonais n'a rien de scandaleux, ce fut le cas de Leitz avec Minolta et de Zeiss avec Kyocera. Parler de petits veinards à propos de propriétaires de Leicina spécial, c'est un peu excessif car il n'existe aucun service après vente depuis longtemps alors même que Leitz répare ses appareils photos très anciens. Moi, je n'ai jamais eu de problème pour faire réparer mes excellentes camérss Beaulieu (4008, 5008, 7008).
    Philippe Maillot
    E.mail :
    Site internet ;

    1. Translation:
      On the one hand, Beaulieu has entrusted the manufacture of Japanese only one low-end model. In addition, working with the Japanese is nothing scandalous, such as Leitz with Minolta and Zeiss with Kyocera. Talking about lucky Leicina owners is a little excessive because there is no after-sales service for a long time even as Leitz repairs its very old cameras. Me, I never had a problem to repair my excellent Beaulieu cameras (4008, 5008, 7008).
      Philippe Maillot

  2. It was never my intention to claim that any Japanese equipment is inferior, I did mention the Japanese Beaulieu made camera to differentiate it from the excellent French made ones, nothing more. However, to criticize Leica for no longer servicing their motion picture cameras after so many years is definitely unwarranted. The fact that Beaulieu still does so with their previous cameras simply lies in the fact that this is basically all that is left of the company. Without the service aspect, Beaulieu would be no longer in existence.

  3. Je trouve complètement anormal que Leitz répare ses appareils photos anciens mais ne répare pas ses caméras. A l'heure actuelle, à ma connaissance, aucun atelier dans le monde ne répare les caméras Leicina, alors qq'il est possible de faire réparer une Beaulieu chez Pro8mm à Burbank en Californie, Chez Wittner à Hambourg, chez Ritter à Mannheim, voir même chez Bolex à Sainte-Croix pour certains modèles. Philippe Maillot

    1. Translation:
      I find it completely abnormal that Leitz repairs its old cameras but does not repair its cameras. At present, to my knowledge, no workshop in the world repairs the Leicina cameras, while it is possible to repair a Beaulieu at Pro8mm in Burbank, California, At Wittner in Hamburg, at Ritter in Mannheim, see even at Bolex in St. Croix for some models. Philippe Maillot

    2. Actually Leica does not repair all of their older model cameras. That is simply a business decision. One might not agree with that, but how many companies continue to service items that have been discontinued many years ago. Leica is a striving company, competing at the highest level of camera and lens design. Beaulieu on the other hand is not manufacturing anything to my knowledge. The same hold true for most any independent camera service facility, they have to rely on older models which cannot be serviced by the original manufacturer any longer. The problem with servicing Leicina motion picture cameras as well as older model Leicas stems from the fact that there are
      no parts available any longer.

  4. Certes Beaulieu a cessé de fabriquer des caméras en 2002, il s'agissait les dernières années de 4008 remanufacturées mais l'entreprise a été rachetée en 2003 par un industriel allemand, Daniel Wittner. Il est donc toujours possible de se procurer des pièces pour les caméras et projecteurs Beaulieu. Mais, cerise sur le gâteau, il est possible également de se procurer une 4008 entièrement remanufacturée, donc quasiment neuve, avec une fenêtre de prise de vues au rapport 16/9ème cher Pro8mm à Burbank.

    1. Translation:
      Certainly Beaulieu stopped making cameras in 2002, it was the last years of 4008 remanufactured but the company was bought in 2003 by a German industrialist, Daniel Wittner. It is always possible to obtain parts for Beaulieu cameras and projectors. But, icing on the cake, it is also possible to get a 4008 fully remanufactured, so almost new, with a window to shoot at the ratio 16 / 9th expensive Pro8mm in Burbank.

    2. I was not aware that Beaulieu was bought out in 2003. They must have had a large quantity of parts left to allow continued service of their cameras and even the manufacture of of the model 4008. But Super 8 as well as still film will remain a niche market in view of the success of digital photography and videography.

  5. Daniel Wittner ne s'est pas contenté de récupérer le stock de pièces de Beaulieu, il a aussi fabriqué de nouvelles pièces. C'était indispensable pour répondre à la demande des nombreux utilisateurs de caméras et de projecteurs Beaulieu, il y a en circulation des dizaines de milliers de caméras super 8 Beaulieu. Entre 2000 et 2002, Beaulieu ne refabrique pas la 4008, il la récupère sur le marché de l'occasion et la remet en état avec les pièces en stock pour pouvoir la revendre comme si elle était neuve. Wittner a proposé pendant plusieurs années la 6008, rachetée sur le marché de l'occasion et ensuite revendue en parfait état après révision complète. Pro8mm fabrique des pièces pour les 4008 qu'il récupère sur le marché de l'occasion mais il fait la même chose avec les Canon qu'il propose à la vente car Canon comme Leitz n'a plus de service après-vente pour ses caméras depuis longtemps. J'ai écrit un article pour une revue française sur Beaulieu et le super 8, si cela vous intéresse et si vous me communiquez une adresse e-mail, je vous le ferez parvenir. Savez-vous que Kodak a ressorti récemment une nouvelle caméra super 8 ainsi que l'excellent Ektachrome 100 ?

    1. Translation:
      Daniel Wittner did not just pick up Beaulieu's stock of coins, he also made new pieces. It was essential to meet the demand of many users of Beaulieu cameras and projectors, there are in circulation tens of thousands of super 8 Beaulieu cameras. Between 2000 and 2002, Beaulieu does not rebuild the 4008, it recovers it on the second hand market and restores it with the parts in stock to be able to resell it as if it were new. Wittner proposed for several years the 6008, bought on the second-hand market and then resold in perfect condition after complete overhaul. Pro8mm manufactures parts for the 4008 it recovers on the second-hand market but it does the same thing with the Canon that it offers for sale because Canon as Leitz no longer has after-sales service for its cameras since a long time. I wrote an article for a French magazine about Beaulieu and Super 8, if you're interested and if you give me an e-mail address, I'll send it to you. Do you know that Kodak has recently released a new super 8 camera and the excellent Ektachrome 100?

    2. Thank you very much for bringing myself as well as the readers of my blog up tp date on the Beaulieu cameras. In spite of what I wrote in my article, I always liked the Beaulieu, as a matter of fact, I sold quite a few of them when I was still involved with retail.
      Yes, I would be interested in your article. Please send it to:
      LEICA Barnack Berek Blog
      307 7th Avenue North
      Hopkins, MN 55343
      I am aware of the new Kodak super 8 camera and the new Ektachrome 100 Super 8 film.

  6. It looks like the Nolab Digital Super 8 Cartridge never came to fruition. Do you have any news on that - or any similar device? It seems like a brilliant idea, and would certainly make me more interested in investing in one of these excellent Leicinas.

    1. I haven't received any information about the Nolab Super 8 cartridge at all lately. They seem to have been overrun by standard digital cameras that also offer video recording and, of course, mobile phones. The remaining market appears to be too small to make it a viable venue any longer.

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