Monday, April 2, 2018


© jmse

By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Throughout XX and XXI centuries, there have been a number of groundbreaking photographic cameras like the Leica 1 (Model A) from 1925, the Leica II (Model D) from 1936, the Zeiss Ikon Contax II from 1936, the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex TLR from 1935, the Ihagee Kine Exakta from 1936, the Rolleiflex Old Standard from 1938, the Peacemaker Speed Graphic from 1947, the Exakta Varex from 1950, the Leica M3 from 1954, the Nikon SP from 1957, the Hasselblad 500 C from 1957, the Nikon F from 1959, the Zeiss Ikon Contarex from 1960, the Rolleiflex 2.8 F from 1960, the Olympus Pen F from 1963, the Nikon F2 from 1971, the Olympus OM-1 from 1972, the Rollei 35T from 1974, the Asahi Pentax K1000 from 1976, the Olympus XA from 1979, the Canon New F1 from 1981, the Minolta Maxxum 7000 from 1985, the Canon T90 from 1986, the Mamiya 7 from 1995, the Nikon D1 from 1999, the Olympus E-1 in 2003, the Canon EOS 5D from 2005, the Nikon D3 from 2007, the Go Pro Digital Hero 3 from 2007, the Leica S2 from 2008, the Panasonic Lumix G1 from 2008, the Leica M9 from 2009, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 from 2012, the Sony RX1 from 2012, the Fuji X-Pro 1 from 2012, the Nikon D800 from 2012, the Nikon D800E from 2012, the Sony Alpha 7 from 2013, the Fujifilm XT-1 from 2014, the Pentax 645Z from 2014, the Hasselblad X1D from 2016, the Leica M10 from 2017, the Fujifilm X-H1 from 2018 and many others.

All of them landmark designs and devices able to deliver great image quality in the hands of professional photographers and advanced amateurs.

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But however amazing it may seem, the Ur-Leica created by Oskar Barnack in 1914 (104 years ago) has been by far the most influential photographic camera ever made in the whole History of Photography, not only as a hugely revolutionary photographic tool boasting a slew of optomechanical solutions oozing ingenuity to spare, but also in the designing scope, where this jewel, undoubtedly the most iconic camera of all time and fetish per excellance, has had a far-reaching influence for more than a century and will keep on having it in future, already in full digital age.


Though the Ur-Leica was produced in 1914, its conceptual origin harks back to 1905, when a very young 25 years old Oskar Barnack hiked the slopes of the Thuringian Forest (central Germany), getting pictures with a bulky 5 x 7 (13 x 18 cm) wooden large format camera which was rather cumbersome to transport and needed to be used on a tripod.

It was then when he started thinking about the possibility of creating a very small and lightweight photographic camera which could be comfortably taken anywhere, used tiny negatives (compared to the very big ones featured by the large format and medium format cameras of the time, which were rather slow to use) and was able to get high quality pictures shooting handheld.

Years elapsed and after having displayed an uncommon talent for mathematics and the assembling and dissassembling of all kind of intricate mechanisms (including small clockwork-driven tellurians and planetariums with stars, moon, sun and planets remaining stationary or orbited, appearing and disappearing, used in astronomy classes with which he excelled during his two years and a half stage as apprentice to Master Lampe in Lichterfelde, borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf in Berlin, and a subsequent phase in a small village of Saxony where he worked for a man who built calculating machines, doing their overhauls as well as displaying his boundless gift to piece together the great quantity of gears, springs, wheels and levers featured by these contraptions), during the season 1899-1900 Oskar Barnack decided that he would be a Mechanik Master, a job for which he felt an unswerving and utter passion, revelling in it and devoting many daily hours to both the study of all kind of mechanical appliances and the fulfilment of his innate craving for unusual and innovative fixings of optomechanic metallic widgets made up by a lot of components.

In 1901, Oskar Barnack went to Jena (a city in which a thriving optical industry had developed from mid XIX Century with Carl Zeiss, Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott) and began working at the Carl Zeiss Optical Works Factory, in the Microscope Development Department.

Then he travelled to the Italian South Tyrol, trying to recover from his chronic colds and asthma spending some months in the surroundings of Bozen, after which he went to Vienna.

In 1908, his friend Emil Mechau, an expert in movie projectors using rotating prisms went to work at Ernst Leitz Wetzlar.

In 2010, Oskar Barnack marched to Dresden, where he worked at the IKA factory for two months.

And a few weeks later, Emil Mechau knew that a mechanik meister was needed at the Ernst Leitz Wetzlar for the experimental workshop of its Microscope Department, so he recommended his friend Oskar Barnack to the board of the firm.

Initially, on being offered the job, Barnack rejected it, writing a letter to Ernst Leitz II in which he stated that his frail health would be a problem for the brand, because he would need one or two months a year to rest, trying to cure.

But Ernst Leitz II insisted and convinced Oskar Barnack, who arrived at Wetzlar on January 1, 1911.

From then on, Barnack showed his prowess designing diamond lathes for the polishing department of Ernst Leitz Wetzlar, in addition to striving after making an aluminum movie camera being different from the wooden ones available until then, and whose aim was to shoot footage to test Emil Mechau´s cinematographic projectors.

Throughout the second half of 1911, 1912 and 1913, Oskar Barnack used the metallic movie camera he had created and coupled to a Zeiss Kino Tessar lens to make a number of motion pictures tests with a constant exposure time of 1/40 second.

He made enlargements of some specific frames shot with his movie camera and realized that the quality was far better than with the black and white photographic chemical emulsions of the time featuring a lot of grain.

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The 18 x 24 mm format cinematographic film, optimized for its projection on large screens, featured much lesser visible grain than the photographic ones of the time, and results on making enlargements up to postcard size (roughly 13 x 18 cm prints) on black & white photographic paper were much better.

It dawned on Oskar Barnack that the scarce grain of the movie film could enable the fruition of his old project of very small and light portable camera fed by tiny negatives, enabling the photographers to conveniently shoot handheld and yield very good image quality even in big enlargements.

But Barnack didn´t settle for it. He knew that to make his new camera prototype feasible it was utterly necessary to get top-notch image quality in enlargements up to 8 x 10 " (20 x 25 cm) and even more made from those original tiny black and white frames, so it was apparent that the 18 x 24 mm cinematographic format was too small for that aim.

Therefore, on realizing that it wasn´t possible to make the movie film wider because of the standardization, he opted for doubling its length up to 36 mm, giving birth to the 24 x 36 mm format with 2:3 golden proportion.

The time to build this completely new and breakthrough camera had arrived, and Oskar Barnack began to design the camera for 24 x 36 mm format film in 1913, completely free from any directions or guidelines by any department, mostly as an amusing and passionate hobby.

This way, the UR-Leica was created in 1914 without any focal plane shutter with variable slit width, but with a 4 cm wide fixed slit and some spring tensions.

And when he made 20 x 30 cm enlargements from 24 x 36 mm film exposed with this new prototype, results were really good, taking advantage of the larger negative surface in comparison to the cinematographic 18 x 24 mm format.

There weren´t any daylight loading cassettes, so the 24 x 36 mm format film had to be inserted and removed in a darkroom.

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But it already boasted a host of very important features:

- Rounded  and sleek contours of the thin sides of the camera bestowing it its impressive minimalist beauty of lines and design, a true milestone for the time.

- Unlike the 35 mm cine cameras of the time in which the 18 x 24 mm format film ran vertically, the 24 x 36 mm film ran horizontally inside the Ur-Leica.

-  A focal-plane shutter with constant slit width of 4 cm and only two speeds available by altering its tension: the 1/40 s of the cinematographic cameras of the time and a further one of 1/20 s, something which nine years later would evolve in the pilot run of Leica 0 Series from 1923 to a shutter integrated in the camera and featuring adjustable slit width allowing the selection of five different exposures times from 1/20 s to 1/500 s.

- The coupling of film and shutter advance.

- It was small, simple, reliable and able to expose 36 frames with a 35 mm film loading.

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- The retractable Mikro-Summar 42 mm f/4.5 lens, calculated for Leitz brass microscopes and designed by Ernst Arbeit, a key factor in the fulfilment of the Ur-Leica, since such a small and light camera needed also a tiny lens with good optomechanic performance getting satisfactory results on making enlargements from original 24 x 36 mm miniature format negatives.

- The large release shutter button in the middle of the knurled knob.

- The screws that fasten the film spool mechanisms on both sides.

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- The hotshoe for an external viewfinder.

- Focusing from one meter to infinity by means of an adjusting screw located in the lens and which can be rotated up to approximately 260 degrees.

- A knob placed beside the hotshoe for an external viewfinder and which must be turned to modify the spring roller tension.

- Metallic knobs protruding on both sides of the camera to attach the carrying strap.

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- Exposure counter up to 50 shots. It had to be manually set after slackening the screw placed at the center.

- A knob for changing the spring tension in the spring roller.

- A bearing for the axle of the spring roller.

- Holding screws for film spool supports.

- The bearing for the ratchet pawl.

- A framing viewfinder located on the hot shoe.

-  Removable baseplate film loading, with a bottom cover that can be coupled or drawn by means of a knurled nut featuring a similar size to the knob for adjusting the spring roller tension.

On the other hand, the black metallic cover with a big screw on it, is not for protecting the lens, but to prevent the light from entering through it every time the film advances after the shutter having been cocked.

And on the back of the camera there are four screws holding a cover (which can be removed to enable an accurate adjustment of the lens) on which the Leitz Wetzlar firm logo is engraved.

Regarding the film, it was guided between the back side of the sheet metal guide and the back wall of the housing, beyond the 24 x 36 mm picture window, from the right film spool to the left film spool.

© jmse


The simultaneous film and shutter cloth transport of the Ur-Leica are product of a highly sophisticated for the time mechanism working on turning the knurled knob, which brings about that the toothed wheels which are mounted on the same shaft transport the double perforated 24 x 36 mm film, while the shutter rubberized cloth is rolled up on the shutter cloth roller activated by the pinion gear.

On the other hand, the spring roller has a spring that generates the tension and the joined transport of film and shutter cloth keeps on until the stopping pin prevents it from advancing more.

On pressing the shutter release button, the cloth roller is liberated and a slit travels along the image frame back to its original location, with the spring position controlling its speed.

Furthermore, the shutter cocking is made through the advancement of the film transport, in such a way that the shutter cloth featuring a fixed slit can run beyond the picture window at one of the two different speeds selectable (1/40s and 1/20 s), thanks to the tension of the spring roller that can be changed turning the knob beside the shoe for the viewfinder.

And the counterforce for the shutter release is provided by a steel spring covering both the bearings of the three adjacent shafts and the end of the stop pin.

Anyway, Oskar Barnack realized that the 24 x 36 mm negative placed behind the picture window was unevenly exposed, since the fixed slit moved beyond the image window faster at the last stretch of the travel than immediately after the shutter was released, and besides, the metallic black lens cover had to be put on the lens during the shutter cocking and the movement of the slit to its original position.

Both hitches would be solved by Oscar Barnack with two shutter cloths getting a covered return of the slit in the 25 units of the Leica 0 pilot run of 1923, the Leica 1 (Model A) from 1925 and the rest of LTM39 24 x 36 mm format Leica cameras designed by him until his death in 1936.

© jmse

Therefore, from a mechanical viewpoint, the UR-Leica camera from 1914 designed by Oscar Barnack was the first technological step to establish a new reference-class engineering standard, based on the symbiosis between an exceedingly small and light photographic camera using 24 x 36 mm format film and a breakthrough technological device simultaneously advancing the film and cocking the shutter, whose release is the climax of a whole series of utterly mechanical operations in which take part a number of different components painstakingly manufactured and inserted within the very little inner space of the camera: pins, springs, gears, pinions, levers, cams, winding knobs, shafts (for cloth roller, spring roller, film transport roller and intermediate pinion gear), clutches, bearings (for the spring roller shaft and the pawl of the ratchet), rollers, etc.

As a matter of fact, already in the Leica 0 pilot run cameras made in 1923, Barnack replaced the focal plane shutter with constant slit width of the Ur-Leica (enabling only the use of 1/40 s and 1/20 s) by a focal plane shutter featuring adjustable slit width and allowing the selection of six different shutter speeds from 1/20 s to 1/500 s, a focal plane shutter and maximum top speed (increased to 1/1000 s in the Leica IIIa from 1935) which would be preserved in the Leica 1 (Model A) from 1925.

Consequently, though limited in its performance, the focal plane shutter of the Ur-Leica was in 1914 the launching pad for the increasingly improved focal plane very reliable shutters featured by the Leica screwmount rangefinder cameras manufactured from 1923 onwards (Leica 0 run pilot units, Leica 1 Model A from 1925, Leica 1 Model C Non Standard Mount from 1931, Leica Standard Model E from 1932, Leica II Model D from 1932, Leica III Model F from 1933, Leica IIIa from 1935, Leica IIIb from 1938, Leica IIIc from 1940, Leica IIc from 1948, Leica Ic from 1949, Leica IIId from 1939, Leica IIIf from 1950, Leica IIf from 1951, Leica If from 1952 and Leica IIIg from 1957) and which would be steadily bettered by Oscar Barnack until his demise in 1936, and subsequently from August 1936 by Ludwig Leitz, Willi Stein and Adam Wagner.

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Albeit being a prototype lacking any built-in rangefinder or the possibility of using interchangeable standardized lenses, the Ur-Leica was undoubtedly the beginning of a new breed of revolutionary and tremendously influential photographic camera which nineteeen years later would result in the birth of the first really efficient and reliable 35 mm system camera in history: the Leica II (Model D) from 1932, featuring a built-in rangefinder, standardized interchangeable lenses (whose pioneer had been one year before the Leica 1 Model C Standard Mount from 1931) between 35 mm and 135 mm (unlike the early screwmount Leicas made between 1925 and 1931 which had to use lenses matched to each individual camera body), traits which were very wisely complemented in 1933 with the introduction of the special dial for slow speeds between 1 second and 1/20 s located on the camera front of the Leica III (Model F), which likewise boasted an increased rangefinder magnification up to 1.5x significantly improving the viewing for photographers.

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The Ur-Leica was the beginning of the landmark entirely metallic miniature camera concept featuring outstanding constructive precision as well as sporting very small dimensions and exceedingly light weight, being coupled to also tiny and first-rate lenses delivering great image quality in big enlargements up to 20 x 30 cm and even more on photographic paper.

Besides, the choice of a horizontal-travelling shutter by Oskar Barnack for its Ur-Leica prototype camera was very important, because it fostered its durability and reduction of blur and image skewing in comparison to the vertical travelling shutters of the time, so all the Leica rangefinder cameras manufactured from 1925 onwards used this type of shutter.

On the other hand, the collapsible nature of the Summar 42 mm f/4.5 lens calculated for Leitz brass microscopes (with its aperture numbers measured in milimeters and supplied with a metal cap to be used while advancing the film and cocking the shutter, because there wasn´t a second blind to prevent the film from fogging during the operation) designed by Ernst Arbeit and coupled to the Ur-Leica was a further bonus to get unmatched levels of compactness, since it can be pushed into the camera body until it only protrudes 3 mm outside it, paving the way for future retractable Leitz lenses like the 4 elements in 3 groups Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 from 1925.

Evening of May 23, 2014. Rittal Arena Wetzlar during the Centenary of Leica Photography. A 24 x 36 mm Leica rangefinder camera user is beholding a king size enlargement of the mythical picture made in 1914, a hundred years before, by Oscar Barnack with his Ur-Leica camera at Eisenmarkt in Wetzlar. This huge 2 x 3 meters image featured a superb image quality seen from the adequate distance and was printed and installed in the first floor at the behest of

Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera A.G, main shareholder of the firm and the key man in the thriving digital Renaissance of Leica in XXI century, currently with four major highly successful lines of products (the Leica M Monochrom, the Leica M10 rangefinder, the medium format Leica S and the Leica SL), complemented by a greatly expanded assortment of reference-class highly luminous aspherical lenses designed by Peter Karbe and delivering second to none optomechanical performance, without forgetting the CW Sonderoptik range of Summilux-C cinematographic lenses (with optical formula made by Iain Neill and mechanics by André de Winter), the best ones ever made and which were bestowed the Hollywood Academy Scientific and Engineering Award on February 8th, 2015 in Los Angeles. It all in the middle of a widespread worldwide economical crisis, which makes up an unprecedented entrepreneurial feat accomplished by a man perfectly grasping the huge historical significance of Oscar Barnack´s photographic and cultural legacy, along with the traditional values inherent to Leica in terms of superior craftsmanship, excellent quality, uniqueness, ancestral heritage, gorgeous aesthetics, creativity, art and history, aura, tradition, timeless design and proportions, individuality, elegance and many others. 
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The Ur-Leica brought about a new fundamental approach to photography as a much more versatile, dynamic, free and spontaneous means to comfortably get pictures handheld with available light (in comparison with the mostly static previous photography epitomized by the very large and heavy large format and medium format cameras, very difficult to transport and needing a tripod to be used), particularly in the photojournalism, street photography and artistic photography fields, where different models of screwmount Leica rangefinder cameras excelled ( from the very introduction of the Leica 1 Model A at the Leipzig Fair in 1925) in the hands of such world-class photographers like Ilse Bing, Walter Bosshard, Otto Umbehr, Kurt Hutton, Tim Gidal, Felix H. Mann, Paul Wolff, Harald Lechenperg, Erich Salomon, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Hans Namuth, Georg Reisner, David Seymour " Chim ", George Rodgers, Friedrich Seidenstücker, Roman Vishniak, Andre Kerstész, Fritz Block, Agustí Centelles, Tom McAvoy, Alexandr Rodchenko, Max Alpert, Gisèle Freund, Arthur Rothstein, Maurice Tabard, Walther Benser, Helen Levitt, Izis Bildermanas, David Douglas Duncan, Werner Bischof, Franz Hubmann, Eugene Smith, Herbert List, Ludwig Schricker, Walter Vogel, Dennis Stock, Jürgen Schadeberg, Andreas Feininger, Milt Hinton, Toni Schneiders, Yevgeny Khaldei, Dmitri Debabov, Georgii Zelma, Simon Fridland, Lisette Model, Harold Feinstein, Peter Magubane, Robert Frank, Micha Bar-Am and many others.

All of them were captivated by the compactness and smooth operation shooting handheld of cameras like the Leica 1 (Model A) from 1925, the Leica II (Model D) from 1932, the Leica III from 1933, the Leica IIIF from 1950, the Leica IIIG from 1957 and others whose forefather had been the Ur-Leica created by Oskar Barnack in 1914.

Approximately thirty-five years bounteous in meaningful images selected by world-class picture editors like Simon Guttmann (Dephot), Roy Strickland (Farm Security Administration), Maria Eisner (Alliance Photo), Stefan Lorant (Picture Post), Edward K. Thompson (Life), John G. Morris (Life) and others.

Dr. Knut Kühn-Leitz (grandson of Ernst Leitz II and son of the legendary Dr. Elsie Kühn-Leitz, one of the most important figures in the history of Leica firm, who devoted her life to get the maximum feasible welfare for Leitz employees, providing top-notch medical assistance and physicians, as well as giving them valuable Christmas presents that she personally wrapped inside Haus Friedwart) holding a 10 x 15 cm print of the picture made by Oscar Barnack in 1914 with his Ur-Leica prototype in Eselstreppchen street in Wetzlar. This is an exceedingly meaningful image clearly indicating that the genius was getting pictures in many different places and photographic contexts, some of them with very difficult light conditions, trying to attain the best possible detail in shadows, something which was extremely difficult between 1914 and 1920, because the 24 x 36 mm black and white films he used featured a very low sensibility and very limited tonal range, something which would be greatly solved from mid twenties onwards thanks to new chemical b & w emulsions and the introduction of the extraordinary for the time Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens designed by professor Max Berek, which clearly outperformed the Leitz Summar 42 mm f/4.5 microscope lens designed by Ernst Arbeit and attached to the Ur-Leica.
© jmse

The Leica camera was a very small and light photographic tool enabling to get pictures with unmatched levels of discretion thanks to its exceedingly little dimensions and the whispering noise of its shutter release button on being pressed, aimed to create lasting images that stood the test of time, eliciting emotional responses from observers.

A philosophy which would be also enhanced and developed by the Leica School throughout XX Century by Heinrich Stöckler (Director of it between 1931 and 1947 as well as being a great scientist creator of two-bath developers optimizing clever contrast control and low tones for 24 x 36 mm films, avoiding the overdevelopment of high tones), Theo Kisselbach (Manager of the Leica School, Head of the Leica Technology Department between 1947 and 1971 and a seminal figure in the history of Leica, in addition to being the driving force who created a unique global competence center for applied 35 mm photography), Walter Heun (former director of the Leica School and Technical Director of E. Leitz, Inc. New York), Günter Osterloh (Director of the Leica School between 1980 and late nineties, the greatest expert in the world on Leica M System along with Stefan Daniel, product manager and member of the German Society for Photography DGPh) and others who used their experience in darkroom technology and photographic gift to foster Leica Photography worldwide.

Rolf Fricke, a living legend of Leica History (Past President and co-founder of the Leica Historical Society of America in 1968, Leica Historical Society of U.K in 1969 and Leica Historica Deutschland in 1975, as well as former Regional Director of Marketing Communications at the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York, (personal friend of Rudolph Kingslake, Julius Huisgen, Dr. Günther Wangorsch, Theo Kisselbach and James Lager) holding a page of a Leica brochure with the image of the Ur-Leica created by Oskar Barnack in 1914 and the famous picture he made with it in Wetzlar during the floodings in 1920.  The painstaking research of many years carried out by Rolf Fricke enabled to discover that there wasn´t any second Ur-Leica, and the prototype used by Oscar Barnack in Wetzlar and Ernst Leitz II in New York and Niagara Falls was the only one Ur-Leica in existence.
© jmse

It had meant the genesis of a completely new kind of photography, a departure from the bulky and slow large format and medium format cameras to enter a new era of fast and efficient picture taking, which was particularly boosted by the golden era of photojournalism between mid twenties and late fifties, a historical period in which the Leica rangefinder cameras greatly reigned supreme until the arrival of the also formidable reflex Nikon F System in 1959.

Oscar Barnack´s mirrorless Leica cameras enabled to portray with revealing insight the subtleties of human condition ranging from quiet interludes to violent episodes, and photographed the full assortment of human events, behaviours and emotions, taking advantage of their immediate readiness which opened new fields for photography.

In 1914, a few months before the beginning of the First World War, Ernst Leitz II travelled to United States with the Ur-Leica prototype camera created by Oscar Barnack, who on seeing after some weeks the negatives exposed in New York and Niagara Falls and the 24 x 36 mm contact sheets made with them, realized that there were sometimes lack of homogeneity of illumination on specific areas of the frames, along with sporadic veilings and vertical white strips. Id est, though being a masterpiece for the time and a revolutionary technological breakthrough, the horizontally travelling focal plane shutter of the Ur-Leica miniature camera simultaneously working with the film advance mechanism had a lot of margin for improvement, a task to which Barnack would devote the following 22 years of his life, steadily bettering it until turning it into a real mechanic tour de force in the Leica II (Model D) from 1932, Leica III from 1933 and Leica IIIA from 1935, frequently explaining to Julius Huisgen (the man who developed Barnack´s negatives, as well as making the contacts and enlargements for him) that his Leitz shutter was better and more reliable than the one featured by the Zeiss Ikon Contax I, which was true, and it seems apparent that if this genius would have lived more years (he died on January 16, 1936) he would have fought to equal or even increase the 1/1250 s top shutter speed of the Zeiss Ikon Contax II rangefinder camera launched into market in 1936 and designed by Hubert Nerwin.
© Leica Camera A.G

An unobtrusive type of camera that allowed the photographer to become a part of the environment, with people not being aware that pictures were being taken, in addition to highlighting the great deal of significance provided to images by small details, resulting in the development of a certain sense of design, order and composition, with a top priority goal: to create meaninful photographs.

The Leica screw mount and M rangefinder cameras as evolution of the Ur-Leica created by Oskar Barnack, are not universal all-around performing photographic devices to fulfill all kind of assignments, because the range of focal lengths that can be accurately focused with the rangefinder is limited (roughly between 21 mm and 135 mm).

But they are stellar performing devices for pictures in which human interactions take place, id est, they are highly engineered precision instruments enabling the photographers to share both space and feelings with their subjects and create picture essays teeming with life, as well as fostering the creative and artistic photographic potential, always understanding that a worthy photograph results primarily from the photographic skills and talent of the photographer.

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Therefore, the offspring of the Ur-Leica (embodied by the aforementioned Leica screwmount rangefinder cameras) had spawn since mid twenties a worldwide spreading of legendary top quality illustrated magazines like Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Münchner Illustrierte Presse, Life, Vu, L´Illustration, Regards, Ce Soir, The Illustrated London News, Picture Post, Weekly Illustrated, Time, National Geographic, Collier´s Weekly, etc, selling millions of copies and including articles featuring excellent black and white pictures mostly made with these tiny and very light mirrorless Leica rangefinder cameras (without forgetting a smaller percentage of them made with 24 x 36 mm format Contax II rangefinder cameras and above all with the 4 x 5 large format Graflex Speed Graphics).

Those were times in which there weren´t televisions whatsoever inside homes, so these lavishly illustrated magazines were for big audiences all over the world the visual reference of what was happening on earth, and Oscar Barnack´s genial invention of Ur-Leica in 1914 was greatly the conceptual origin of it all, in diachronic synergy with the decision of Ullstein Editorial Group (specially two of the six brothers: Rudolf, who had a great experience in image visualization and controlled the printing and technical division, and Hermann, manager of the editorial business) in Germany from mid twenties of promoting above all the use of good pictures inside the pages of its illustrated publications, which gave rise to the birth of modern and agile photojournalism, whose gist was to be at the adequate place at the adequate moment, to approach as much as possible to the center of the action going unnoticed and as accurate as possible timing on pressing the shutter realease button of the camera to photograph the most meaningful instants, getting pictures conveying one or more messages and making the observer think.

Axel Rosswog, President of the Leica Historica Deutschland, holding a 10 x 15 cm print of the picture made by Oscar Barnack in 1914 of the Köln Bridge with the cathedral visible in the background. It is likewise apparent that Barnack made a lot of experiments using different depths of field, trying to attain a very good image quality, specially in the sphere of sharpness, something epitomized by this image probably made at f/8 to assure good depth of field. One decade later, albeit Leica had in 1923-1924 more than enough optical prowess and expertise to make a 50 mm f/2 lens, a maximum aperture of f/3.5 was chosen by Max Berek for his Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens, to guarantee enough depth of field enabling the photographers to get excellent for the time optical performance.
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On the other hand, Barnack´s visionary photographic keynote "small negatives, great pictures" made photography less expensive, because unlike large format cameras which needed very big glass plates or medium format cameras using big negatives on 120 rolls, the miniature 24 x 36 mm format film enables to make many photographs of the same situation to subsequently make a selection of the best images on seeing the contact sheets.

Image created by Oscar Barnack with his Ur-Leica prototype in May 1914, probably shooting at f/8 very near the Wetzlar cathedral, visible in the background.

This picture proves once more that Barnack was a good photographer who had an excellent sense of timing on pressing the shutter release button of the camera, having managed to capture the two men in the lowest middle area of the photograph in full motion: the one on the left (clad in dark jacket and hat) just at the moment in which he is forwarding his right leg while strolling ), and the second one on the right (wearing white a white shirt with its sleeves rolled up, dark trousers and a grey beret) stretching his left leg while walking towards the camera, though the genius has been successful going unnoticed and becoming invisible, giving birth to a decisive ingredient of the golden era of photojournalism which will start ten years later thanks to him. Two little girls leaned on a large street lamp are standing beside both men, while behind them, a carriage drawn by two horses and a group of children can be seen.

Oscar Barnack knows that the picture he has created is simply acceptable, with barely detail in shadows and highlights, counterbalanced by the good acutance and visual perception of sharpness of the roughly Weston 16 (equivalent to approximately ISO 20) sensitivity of the black and white bulk loaded film he is using, enhanced on being developed in Agfa Rodinal at 1:50 dilutions. But he doesn´t surrender. Barnack is a living computer who constantly analyses all data in his prodigious mind. He grasps that the ultimate aim in photography is the making of good prints, a goal for which a wise selection ot the film to use along with a correct exposure and an accurate development are fundamental. The genius also strives after obtaining not dense negatives (particularly in the highlight areas) with shadow zones not utterly transparent but preserving enough detail to be transferred to prints, since long exposure times are needed when making them.

But at the same time, he does understand that the very small size of the 24 x 36 mm format negatives say that they will have to be greatly enlarged (much more than with medium format and large format cameras ) so any physical defect, dirt, scratches, fingerprints, etc, will also be very enlarged. He knows that he is working at the limit, with a not very good and grainy cinematographic film lacking adequate exposure latitude and whose horizontal length he has increased to 36 mm. But his amazing technological insight makes him foresee that the thriving cinematographic industry using the same 35 mm perforated film will invest great sums of money in their improvement, resulting in better b & w emulsions that will be subsequently available for the Leica miniature camera. Barnack is fully aware that getting a good and correctly exposed negative is the cornerstone of everything, in symbiosis with top-notch Leitz enlargers (built with the same precision and sturdiness of the Leica camera) inside darkrooms, boasting a diffused source of illumination with a single-element condenser of special design, accurately ground and polished, an approach that will be substantiated by future excellent Leitz enlargers like the Filoy (1928),  Valoy (1932-1958), Focomat Ia (1937-1949), Focomat Ic (the standard of the industry for decades, featuring a very sturdy construction, made between 1950-1977 and used by great photographers like Jane Evelynn Atwood, the Leica pundit Tom Abrahamsson and others), Valoy II (1958), etc.

Therefore, while getting this picture in the proximity of Wetzlar Cathedral in 1914, Oscar Barnack is laying the foundations of modern, agile and dynamic photojournalism (which will have its halcyon days between mid twenties and early sixties with such 35 mm b & w films like the Eastman Kodak Nitrate Panchromatic, Kodak Super-XX, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak Tri-X 400 and others) and street photography of moving subjects with a handheld camera.  

Furthermore, Barnack´s Ur-Leica prototype original idea became a major mainstay of the photographic industry, notably reinforcing it from mid twenties onwards, to such an extent that apart from Ernst Leitz Wetzlar manufacturing a lot of different models of Leica rangefinder cameras, other firms started making 24 x 36 mm format cameras during thirties, like Zeiss Ikon with its Contax I from 1932, Contax II and III from 1936, Ihagee with its Kine Exakta in 1936, the Hansa Canon Satndard Model (a 35 mm format Leica rangefinder imitation made in Japan and whose RF optics and focusing mount were made by Nippon Kogaku) in 1936, the Fed 1 "Fedka" from 1934 (a copy of the Leica II Model D with Industar-10 50 mm f/3.5 lens virtually identical to the uncoated Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5) of which more than 700,000 units were produced, Kodak with its Kodak Retina I Type 117 from 1934, Kodak Retina II Type 122 from 1936, Kodak Retina II Type 142 from 1937, the Argus C3 from 1939, etc.

Picture made by Oskar Barnack with his Ur-Leica in Wetzlar during the floods of 1920. In comparison to the images created by Ernst Leitz in New York and Niagara Falls in 1914 and the ones made by Barnack that same year, there has been an increase in image quality, enhanced by the remarkable acutance of a better and a bit more sensitive black and white film (attaining an improved differentiation of shadows) developed with Agfa Rodinal which makes up for its visible grain, to such an extent that even the face profiles and contours of the two women in the background, watching what is happening from the windows of their homes in a first floor, can be distinguished. The picture has got great depth of field, was probably made at f/11 looking for maximum sharpness and the level of attained detail is very good for the time, something particularly discernible in the small vessel and three oars beside the carriage drawn by horses, the textures of the background building walls on right half of the image, the two very small and thin ornate balconies surrounding the woman wearing a hat and the large metallic lamp in the upper mid area of the photograph.

On the other hand, the evenness of illumination on the whole image area is better than six years before. There are hints clearly suggesting that Oscar Barnack assembled and disassembled the Ur-Leica prototype different times between 1914 and 1921, in a constant effort to improve the accuracy of the horizontally travelling focal plane shutter as well as staving off any light leak.

And the trend conceived by Oskar Barnack with its Ur-Leica and the 24 x 36 mm format as a core, would be even more strengthened when ( after a initial stage of four years in which it made the 24 x 32 mm format Nikon One from 1947 and the 24 x 34 mm format Nikon M and Nikon S rangefinder cameras) Nippon Kogaku, then the flagship firm of the Japanese photographic industry also adopted the 24 x 36 mm format from 1954 onwards with its S2, SP, S3 and S4 rangefinder cameras, subsequently keeping it in the milestone Nikon F from 1959 and rest of future reflex cameras of the firm until the introduction of the Nikon F6 in 2004.

On their turn, the other great Japanese photographic firms had done the same thing since early fifties, like Asahi Pentax with its 24 x 36 mm format Asahiflex (first Japanese SLR camera) from 1952, and Olympus had already manufactured the Ace and Ace-E 35 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras in 1958 and would keep the Barnack format in its extraordinary OM-1, OM-2, OM-3 and OM-4 slr cameras during seventies and eighties.

Regarding the German photographic industry, it had already also massively embraced the Barnack 24 x 36 mm format since the late forties with cameras like the Contax S from 1949, the Voigtländer Prominent from 1952, the Voigtländer Vito B from 1954, the Praktica FX from 1952, the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex from 1953, the Leica M3 from 1954, the Agfa Silette Ansco Memar from 1953, the Zeiss Ikon Contarex from 1958 and many others, something that also happened to cameras manufactured in United States like the Univex Mercury II from 1945, the Argus C-4 from 1951, the Bolsey Model C twin lens reflex camera from 1950 and others.

The Ur-Leica was exhibited at Vienna Leica Shop in 1994, and scads of people from all over the world attended to the venue to watch live Barnack´s first model, which pioneered a new kind of photography, departed radically from conventional camera design and embodied many of the essentials of the 24 x 36 mm format Leica rangefinder cameras of today, both in the analogue and digital scopes. Here we can see the cover of number 2 of Leica Shop Wien magazine from 1994 with Peter Coeln holding the Ur-Leica between his hands. 
Image courtesy of Zoltan Fejér.

And from early sixties of the XX Century until the first five years of the XXI century, the analogue 24 x 36 mm format cameras dominated the photographic industry, something that is continuing to a great extent already in full digital era after the highly influential moves carried out by Sony (with its Alpha 7 and Alpha 9 series of full frame profesional cameras), Leica (with its Leica SL mirrorless full frame professional camera) and Pentax (with its Pentax K-1 and Pentax K-1 II dslr full frames cameras), though there has also been the eclosion of also extraordinary APS-C format mirrorless professional cameras from Fuji (Fujifilm XT-1, Fujifilm XT-2, Fujifilm XH-1, Fujifilm X-Pro 2) and Micro Four Thirds format cameras from Panasonic and Olympus (Panasonic DC-GH5GA, Panasonic DC-GH5S, Panasonic DC-GH5LGA, Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, Olympus OM-D E-M5 MARK II, Olympus Pen F), which in spite of their very small sensor are also able to deliver superb image quality up to 50 x 70 cm enlargements on photographic paper and even more, as well as boasting outstanding compactness, the best electronics by far in the photographic market and a host of impressive technological advances significantly helping to get the pictures in virtually every photographic environment, so the arrival of these highly sophisticated very small and light APS-C and Micro Four Thirds format digital cameras has been very good, in such a way that photographers have available a wide assortment of top-notch models and formats to choose according to their specific needs, tastes and idoneous image aspect ratios for their pictures.


35 mm cameras have become ubiquitous in our culture, both in the XX Century with very famous analogue film models from a myriad of firms and in full digital era with likewise well-known profesional dslr and mirrorless cameras like the current Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EOS 1DX MKII, Canon EOS 5DS, Canon EOS 5DS R, Nikon D800, Nikon D800E, Pentax K-1, Pentax K-1 II, Sony A7RII, Sony A7RIII, Sony A7SII, Sony A7 III, Sony A9, Leica SL, etc.

Does it mean that the 24 x 36 mm format is " the best " ?

Certainly not.

Each photographic format has got its strong and weak points, its advantages and disadvantages.

And the image legacy of pictures that were created with photographic cameras featuring formats different to 35 mm is also huge.

To name only a few examples:

- The wonderful images of landscapes made by Ansel Adams with 4 x 5 (10 x 12 cm ) and 8 x 10 (20 x 25 cm) large format wooden cameras on tripod. Many of his pictures of Yosemite National Park like the sublime El Capitán Winter Runsise and Monolith, The Face of Half Dome are among the best ever made, oozing an uncommon gift for composition and sensitivity for tonal balance, in addition to the fact that his prints reveal mastery of darkroom craftsmanship with a penchant for begetting a realistic approach through exceedingly accurate exposure, enhanced contrasts and sharp focus.

- The images of people suffering The Great Depression in United States made by Dorothea Lange with a Graflex RB D Series 4 x 5 (10 x 12 cm) large format camera, like the iconic picture of the thirty-two years old Migrant Mother and two of her seven children at a camp for seasonal agricultural workers in Nipomo (California) in March 1936.

- The extensive series of pictures on Flea Markets made by Edna Bullock (personal friend of Ruth Bernhard, Morley Baer and Ansel Adams) with a 18 x 24 mm format Olympus Pen F with Zuiko Auto-S 38 mm f/1.8 lens, which she often used in overcrowded contexts where discretion and going unnoticed was a key factor, along with the acutance featured by the black and white 35 mm films she used (getting seventy-two 18 x 24 mm half-frame format shots with each one), making up for the apparent grain delivered by the very small negative surface.

- Robert Doisneau´s mythical images taken in the streets and cafés of Paris with his 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) medium format Rolleiflex Old Standard 622 during thirties, forties and fifties, like Café Noir et Blanc (1948), Mademoiselle Anita (1951), La Derniere Valse du 14 Juillet (1949), Picasso and the Breads of Vallauris (1952) and others.

- The images created by Brad Weston with his Rolleiflex SL 66 medium format camera coupled to a Carl Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 lens and a prism finder, developing a remarkable sense of form and fascination with abstraction, in addition to a great talent to reduce his subjects to pure form, like his black and white nudes with model Claudette Dibert in 1982.

- The wonderful colour images of birds made by Eliot Porter with his 9 x 12 cm large format Linhof Technika camera and gorgeous Kodachrome 4 x 5 sheets between 1939 and mid fifties. Unique images featuring impeccable technical quality, fruit of many hours of patient wait and with which he made extraordinary dye transfer prints boasting a richness, depth and fidelity unmatched by any other kind of photographic prints, showing peerless subtlety of tone and hue, combined with a brightness range of more than 500:1 from blackest black to whitest white and an almost boundless potential regarding the many ways to control the exact nuances and contrast of each final print.

- The black and white pictures of a high school prom in a Mahattan hotel taken by Mary Ellen Mark with her 6 x 7 cm format Mamiya rangefinder camera coupled to a Mamiya 50 mm L 4.5 wideangle lens, Kodak Tri-X film and two flash units for the New Yorker magazine in 2014.

- The great essays made by David Burnett during the John Kerry´s Presidential Campaign in 2004, the Aftermath of Katrina Hurricane in 2004 and the London Olympic Games in 2012 with a 4 x 5 (10 x 12 cm) Graflex Speed Graphic large format camera coupled to a Kodak Aero Ektar 175 mm f/2.5 lens, taking advantage of its very limited depth of field to draw the viewer´s eye to the subject and its exceptional bokeh.

- The black and white iconic pictures made by Werner Bischof with a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm ) Rolleiflex Automat medium format camera, particularly his iconic images Shintoist Monks Walking Under a Snowfall by the Meiji Temple in Tokyo in 1951 and Going to Cuzco in 1954 depicting a Peruvian boy wearing a straw hat on his head and walking on a mountainous area while plays the flute.

 Bischof, a master with both 6 x 6 cm Rolleiflex and 35 mm Leica rangefinders, had a huge gift for photography, superb technique and once and again accomplished sublime compositions, in adition to imbueing his images with an outstanding photojournalistic compromise. 

- The colour pictures made in England in 2015 by the landscape master photographer Charlie Waite, displaying his painterly approach of lights and shades with a medium format Hasselblad 503 CW with PME90 prism finder on it and coupled to a CFV-50c digital back with a Sony 43.8 × 32.9 mm size 50 megapixel CMOS sensor, using a Carl Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 CFE T* standard lens and a chrome Carl Zeiss Distagon 60 mm f/4 C wideangle lens from sixties with a Lee Filter, and shooting with a shutter release cable and the camera on a tripod.

- The fashion pictures and portraits made by Irving Penn (a perfectionist magician of black and white photography and lighting, exhibiting a mixture of classic elegance and modern minimalism) for Vogue magazine with his 4 x 5 " and 8 x 10 " large format Deardorff view cameras in his studio, taking advantage of the movements to control the effect of light on the films and adequate image sharpness and depth of field depending on the lenses used, creating true masterpieces in which he was successful revealing the personality of his subjects, drawing their souls.

From 1979 onwards, he also used a big 12 x 20 inch (30.5 x 51 cm) format banquet camera to do still life photographs, with whose huge contacts he made gorgeous platinum prints.

- The landscapes and details of vintage rusted metallic objects across a Nevada State road made by Jim Gally with an Eastman Kodak 2D 5 x 7 " (13 x 18 cm) large format camera in December 2004.

- The colour photography of travels and weddings made by Jonas Peterson with 6 x 4.5 format Contax 645 camera and Kodak Portra 800, Fuji 400H and Kodak Portra 400.

- The great pictures of birds made by Scott Bourne with a 20.3 megapixel digital Lumix DMC-GX8 mirrorless camera attached to an Olympus M Zuiko Digital 300 mm f/4 IS Pro ED (equivalent to a 600 mm lens in 35 mm format, but much smaller and lighter) super telephoto lens featuring 17 elements in 10 groups and delivering astonishing sharpness and contrast.

It is a very good example of the mileage an experienced photographer can obtain with the adequate gear for his specific assignment when it comes to getting good pictures with a lightweight and packable size.

- The images of travel photography made by Jay Dickman with Micro Four Thirds format Olympus E-M1 Mk II cameras coupled to Olympus 12-40 mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 24-80 mm in 35 mm format) and Olympus 40-150 mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 80-300 mm in 35 mm format) pro zoom lenses.

- The spectacular panoramic images of different areas of New York, Oscar Niemeyer´s Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro made by Andrew Prokos with a Fuji GX 6 x 17 cm large format camera loaded with Fuji Velvia colour slide film and coupled to a Nikkor SW 90 mm f/4.5 lens (equivalent to a 22 mm superwideangle lens in 35 mm format), masterfully incorporating architectural elements and the use of long exposure times.

- The black and white contrasty pictures made by Tatsuo Suzuki in the streets of Tokyo using Fujifilm X-100F, Fujifilm X-100T and Fujifilm XPro-2 APS-C format mirrorless digital cameras with Fujinon Super EBC 23 mm f/2 Aspherical Lens (equivalent to a 35 mm lens in 24 x 36 mm format), approaching very much to his eclectic subjects (frequently using a small flash and slow shutter speeds), displaying an innate gift for photographing them unaware in defining moments, as well as  a very good sense of composition and a remarkable ability to capture frantic environments and places of the chaotic city of Tokyo and its masive urban context, together with the way in which it affects to its inhabitants, with a getting pictures style reminiscent of the great Bruce Gilden´s one.

© jmse
But the 24 x 36 mm format has been by far the most popular and widespread in the whole history of photography, boasting a remarkable versatility to deliver second to none stellar performance in photographic genres like photojournalism, street photography, travel photography, documentary photography, wildlife photography and sports photography, in addition to having proved its potential to get very good results in other photographic scopes like portraits, landscapes, architecture, microphotography, macrophotography, product photography, fashion photography, aerial photography, food photography and others in which it was always and goes on being clearly beaten by larger formats.

On the other hand, a very high percentage of the most iconic photographs ever made were taken with 24 x 36 mm format cameras during the XX Century, in which Oscar Barnack´s " small negatives, great pictures " fundamental keynote dating back to 1914 with his Ur-Leica prototype, greatly prevailed all over the world, being by far the most influential one.

© Leica Camera A.G


But however incredible it may seem, the arrival of digital photography in XXI Century has brought with it a similar influence of Barnack´s revolutionary concept, not only in the 24 x 36 mm dslr and mirrorless full frame professional digital cameras but very specially in the Micro Four Thirds and APS-C format professional ones.

It is really amazing the image quality that these very little and light mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders and featuring so small sensors can deliver in big enlargements up to 50 x 70 cm on photographic paper, as proved by flagship models like the Olympus EM-1 Mark II, E-M5 Mark II, Pen-F, Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5K, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4K, Fujifilm XT-2, X-Pro 2, XH-1 and others, many of them featuring a slew of breakthrough technological advancements like exceedingly fast continuous AF up to 18 shots, more than one hundred focusing points, highly sophisticated electronic viewfinders, Full HD and 4K Video, dust reduction systems, AF through phase detection and contrast detection, OLED Live View Finders, wi-fi, efficient image stabilizers enabling to shoot handheld at really low shutter speeds, great image quality at very high ISOS, ultra fast motion detection and focus, splash and dust proof rugged designs, film simulation modes, etc.

But in spite of their state-of-the-art technology of XXI Century, these extraordinary very small and light professional mirrorless digital cameras featuring so tiny APS-C and Micro Four Thirds digital sensors are conceptually highly related to Oscar Barnack´s Ur-Leica, because the most important raison d´etre of their design, manufacture and launching into market is absolutely linked (though now with awesome digital sensors as a core instead of chemical film) to the fundamental principle " small negative, big pictures " historically defined above all by five also very small and light analogue cameras: the 24 x 36 mm format Ur-Leica prototype created by Oscar Barnack in 1914, the different models of 24 x 36 mm format screwmount Leicas made between 1925 and 1960, the 18 x 24 mm Leica 72 from 1955 - 1963 (of which 150 were made in Midland, Ontario and 33 in Wetzlar), the 18 x 24 mm format Olympus Pen designed by Yoshihisa Maitani in 1959, the 18 x 24 mm Nikon S3-M from 1960 and the 18 x 24 mm Leica-H incepted by some engineers and designers of Adam Wagner's department in 1965. 

It mustn´t be forgotten that already in 1914, Oscar Barnack´s starting goal was to have created an Ur-Leica photographic camera using 18 x 24 mm format cinematographic film, but it wasn´t technologically possible at that moment, because results on making enlargements were only barely acceptable up to a size of 13 x 18 cm, so he had to increase the horizontal area of the movie format up to 36 mm, generating the 24 x 36 mm format which enabled enlargements with good image quality up to 30 x 40 cm until mid twenties and up to even 60 x 80 cm from early thirties onwards,

© Westlicht Photographica Auction

as proved by the famous picture of two lions at the Frankfurt zoo made by Wilhelm Schack with a Leica 1 (Model A) coupled to a Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens.

It could be achieved thanks to the symbiosis between:

a) The increasingly better 24 x 36 mm format black and white Agfa panchromatic films which went on exhibiting abundant grain but whose high content in silver halides and superb acutance enabled to preserve excellent definition in the border effects and sharpness of contours enhanced by the use of the Agfa Rodinal developer 1 + 50 at 24º during eight minutes, making possible to discern details and the significance of Mackie lines.

b) The superb lenses created by Professor Max Berek, the best optical designer in the world at the moment together with the Zeiss genius Ludwig Bertele.

Berek´s previous great know-how and experience in the field of microscopes was instrumental for the designing of top-drawer lenses to be coupled to the LTM39 24 x 36 mm format Leica 0 pilot run from 1923 (Leitz Anastigmat 50 mm f/3.5) and the Leica 1 Model A from 1925 (144 Leitz Anastigmat 50 mm f/3.5 and 714 Leitz Elmax 50 mm f/3.5 during the first year, and from 1926 onwards they were replaced by the Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 of which 56548 units were made until 1936, and two small batches of the Leitz Hektor 50 mm f/2.5 lens, making up a total of 1330 units).

© jmse

Max Berek´s 4 elements in 3 groups Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens was throughout almost thirty years the reference-class standard lens in the world (along with the 6 elements in 3 groups Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5 designed by Ludwig Bertele in 1932) until the introduction of the Leitz Summicron 50 mm f/2 in 1953.

The mid fifties became a new turning point in the history of Leica, when the German photographic firm had to choose between the path started by Oskar Barnack with his Ur-Leica, Leica 1 (Model A), Leica II (Model D) and Leica III and followed by the Leica IIIG created by Adam Wagner in 1957 (id est, exceedingly small and light cameras) or a new breed of Leica rangefinder camera: the formidable Leica M3, which finally prevailed and whose conceptual birth took place in 1936 with the creation of the Leica IV prototype by Leitz engineer Willi Stein, using a focal plane shutter with non rotating shutter speed dial harking back to 1934 which would become the hallmark of the all the Leica M RF cameras.

Besides, from mid fifties onwards, both in Midland (Ontario Canada) and Wetzlar, Leica had also been making tests with 18 x 24 mm format black and white films to analyze the possibility of making enlargements up to roughly 30 x 40 cm.

Even, they built the aforementioned 18 x 24 mm Leica 72 mirrorless cameras (IIIa units modified with a special film gate and viwfinder masking to take 72 half-frame images in a 35 mm film roll) betwen 1957 and 1963, trying to get as much image quality as feasible.

But it wasn´t technically viable at that time, because only with b & w films with ISOS between 8 and 25 (films from ISO 50 onwards gave too much grain on making prints from 18 x 24 mm frames beyond 13 x 18 cm) was possible to get decent enlargements up to approximately 8 x 12 " (20 x 30 cm), so very slow speeds had to be used to get pictures, with a high rate of trepidated images, so it wasn´t operative to shoot handheld in most real photographic situations.

Yoshihisa Maitani (the greatest photographic mechanical engineer ever along with Oscar Barnack) also strived after getting the full potential of 18 x 24 mm format, creating a very small and light camera able to yield 72 shots: the milestone Olympus Pen from 1959, also featuring 18 x 24 mm format and coupled to a very good F. Zuiko 32 mm f/1.7 lens. It was another revolutionary camera featuring a rotary shutter synchronizing with flash at all speeds, a vertical reflex mirror moving out of its way to expose the very small film and porro prisms which created the image in the viewfinder, in addition to being a prodigy of design oozing elegance and innovation, so it was a remarkable sales success being massively produced.

Between 1959 and 1967, created by some members of the Department of Adam Wagner (a Leitz engineer, designer of the Leica IIIG launched into market in 1957), who built three prototypes of the Leica-H, a 18 x 24 mm half format camera featuring automatic exposure, rounded contours similar to the Ur-Leica, a 5 elements in 3 groups lens and extraordinary miniaturized mechanics.

And in 1960, Nikon created its 18 x 24 mm format Nikon S3-M rangefinder camera.

But the superiority of the 24 x 36 mm format cameras over the 18 x 24 mm format analogue cameras on making enlargements from the original negatives beyond approximately 15 x 20 cm kept on being apparent, since the grain of the smaller surface frames skyrocketed quickly, something that had been happening since the introduction in 1933 of the Kochmann Korelle K half-frame photographic camera with interchangeable lenses.

And differences in image quality between 18 x 24 mm format cameras and 24 x 36 mm format ones increased even more in favour of the latter during sixties, because of:

a) The spreading  of very improved 24 x 36 mm chemical emulsions like the Kodachrome-X colour slide film featuring ASA 64 (2 1/2 times faster than Kodachrome II and with a slightly higher contrast) from 1962, Kodak Ektacolor ASA 100 Type S, Kodacolor-X ISO 80, Agfa Color Chrome CT18, Agfa Color CN 17 and great b & w films like the Agfa Isopan F ISO 40, Agfa Isopan SS ISO 100, Ilford FP3 125 ISO, Ilford HP3 400 ISO, Kodak Panatomic X ISO 40, Kodak Plus-X Pan ISO 125, Kodak Super-XX ISO 200 and others resulted in a clear superiority of the Barnack 24 x 36 mm format cameras over the 18 x 24 mm ones in terms of resolving power, contrast, sharpness, tonal range attained, faithful colours, etc, particularly in 30 x 40 cm and bigger enlargements.

b) The introduction of new top-notch lenses like the Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 (1958-1979), Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 (1959-2004), Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Type 2 (1956-1968) and Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 (1959-1980) for 24 x 36 mm format Leica M cameras; the Nikkor-S Auto 50 mm f/1.4 (1966-1974), Nikkor 50 mm Auto-Nikkor f/2 (1959-1963), Nikkor-H Auto 50 mm f/2 (1964-1979), Nikkor-P Auto 105 mm f/2.5 (1959-1971), Nikkor-N Auto 24 mm f/2.8 (1967-1972) for 24 x 36 mm format Nikon F camera from 1959; the M42 mount Super-Takumar 35 mm f/2, Super-Takumar 50 mm f/1.4, Super-Takumar 55 mm f/1.8, Auto-Takumar 85 mm f/1.8, Super-Takumar 105 mm f/2.8 and Super-Takumar 135 mm f/3.5 for the 24 x 36 mm format Asahi Pentax Spotmatic camera from 1964; the Carl Zeiss Biogon 21 mm f/4.5, Carl Zeiss Planar 50 mm f/2, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85 mm f/2, Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135 mm f/4 and Carl Zeiss Sonnar 250 mm f/4 for 24 x 36 mm format Zeiss Ikon Contarex camera from 1960; the Carl Zeiss Jena T Flektogon 50 mm f/2.8 (1961), Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 20 mm f/4 (1961) and Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 120 mm f/2.8 (1956-1988) for Exakta Varex IIb and VX 1000 cameras from sixties.

© jmse


The Ur-Leica 24 x 36 mm camera created by Oskar Barnack in 1914 keeps on exerting a remarkable influence in the mirrorless digital cameras (both professional and amateur ones) designed and built in XXI century.

As a matter of fact, the first mirrorless system compact camera featuring very small dimensions, exceedingly low weight and coupled to tiny lenses (embodied by the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5) was the Leica II (Model D) from 1932, designed and built by Oskar Barnack, and which meant a giant step with its built-in rangefinder.

Already 86 years ago, the Leica II Model D (whose forefather was the Ur-Leica prototype) compact mirrorless camera with its dimensions of 133 x 67 x 33 mm was smaller and lighter than digital superb mirrorless cameras of XXI Century like the 24 x 36 mm format Sony A7 (127 x 94 x 48 mm), the Micro Four Thirds format Panasonic GH5 (139 x 98 x 87 mm), the APS-C format Fujifilm X-Pro 2 (141 x 83 x 46 mm), the APS-C format Fujifilm X-T2 (133 x 92 x 49 mm), the Fuji XT-20 (118 x 83 x 41), the Micro Four Thirds Format Olympus Pen F (125 x 72 x 37 mm) and others.

But the really most important thing is that the amazing and fascinating digital technology, in constant evolution, has enabled to get something which was not possible throughout XX Century with the wide assortment of analogue half-frame cameras built: state-of-the-art tiny digital APS-C (23.6 mm x 15.6 mm, with 3:2 aspect ratio) and Micro Four Thirds (17.3 x 13 mm, with a 4:3 image aspect ratio corresponding to the classic 6 x 4.5 analogue medium format aspect ratio) sensors which are a technological wonder, and in spite of their exceedingly small surface are able to deliver impressive image quality.

To name only two examples, the 24 megapixel Fujifilm X-T2 is able to get superb 20 " x 30 " (50 x 76 cm) and very good 24 " x 36 " (61 x 90.5 cm) prints with amazing detail, contrast and colours, always understanding that there must be a reasonable viewing distance for the size and that previous to it, a great print will originally depend on the photographer´s ability and technique getting a good RAW archive from the camera, along with the image editing, without forgetting the subject matter which can often be significant to be able to enlarge more or less.

And the same happens with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II with which prints up to roughly 29 x 39 " (73,5 x 99,5 cm ) from ISO 100 and 200 archives can be obtained.

Obviously, full frame digital cameras like the cream of the crop dslrs from Canon, Nikon and Pentax and the best mirrorless ones from Sony and Leica will be able to make excellent prints at even bigger sizes, but every system camera and format has got its advantages and disadvantages, so the 24 x 36 mm format digital cameras offer very big sensors, probably more image quality advantages from a global viewpoint (in addition to the fact that any technological improvement you can make to a smaller sensor can also be applied to a larger sensor, and larger sensors have inherent virtues) and truly more easiness when it comes to make selective focus at the widest apertures, but they and their lenses are inevitably bulky (particularly the zooms), while the APS-C and Micro Four Thirds format cameras are much smaller, lighter and far more convenient to use handheld and transport.

Anyway, all of them give nowadays more than enough image quality for any photographic assignment.

It´s also important to bear in mind that unlike the analogue era in which the binomium film/lens delivered the image quality, the final image quality obtained by digital cameras depends on a number of factors: the lens (which keeps on being the most decisive one), the quality of the sensors, the dsp, the algorithms and others.

© Leica Camera A.G


The mythical Leica Ur from 1914 anticipated in nothing less than between 16 and 24 years to breakthrough shapes, concepts and historically iconic objects and buildings that would mark the decade of thirties like:

- The Cartier Paris Art Deco Lighter With Watch 1930 made in lacquer on silver and movement manufactured by Watch & Clock Co.Inc.

- The Clock Streamline Art Deco designed by Gilbert Rohde for the Herman Miller Clock Company in 1933 and exhibited during the Chicago World Fair held that year.

- The Manchester Express Building incepted by Sir Owen Williams in 1936.

- The Beolit 39 Bang & Olufsen valve radio from 1938, first one made in bakelite by the firm.

 - The Marlin Hotel Art Deco in Collins Avenue (Miami) built by the architect Lawrence Murray Dixon, and many others in 1939.

A conceptual design of shapes that also foresaw with more than eighty years of anticipation future profiles and contours of the audiophile and home theatre spheres from nineties like:

- The media center receiver (featuring CD player and AM/FM tuner) of the Bose Lifestyle 12 Home Theatre from 1994 — the first one of the firm — and other subsequent CD System and DVD System Music Center models.

- The multiband FM/MW/SW analog transistor radio Sony ICF-F12S from 2009.

- The small personal mobile stereo speaker Orbitsound T3 from 2010 featuring airSound technology and linkable to iPods, iPhones, portable computers, desktop computers and handheld videoconsoles.

- The audio docking system base speaker + alarm clock ipod/iPhone Sony ICF-DS11iP from 2011 with digital AM/FM tuner and stereo Megabass sound.

- The front area of the Unison Research Simply Italy stereo integrated valve amplifier from 2011 created by Giovanni Maria Sachetti and made in black colour cherry wood with circular inserts surrounding the dials.

- The Bose SoundLink Bluetooth III portable speaker from 2014, and many others.

And it also foresaw with a hundred years of anticipation contours and shapes of a number of compact digital cameras of XXI Century like:

- The Sony DSC-RX100.

- The Sony Cyber-Shot WX300.

- The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX15.

- The Panasonic Lumix T100.

- The Nikon 1 J1.

- The Canon PowerShot SX620.

- The Canon Powershot A31000 IS.

- The Canon Powershot G9X.

- Leica D-Lux 3

- The Leica T and T2.

- The Canon EOS M10.

- The Olympus Pen E-PL3.

- The Olympus VG-110

- The Olympus VG-180

- The Samsung MV900F.

- The Samsung ST77.

- The Samsung TL320.

- The Pentax QS-1.

   and others.


If all that were not enough, when in June 2010 Steve Jobs said during the world presentation of the iPhone 4:

" You gotta see this in person. This is beyond the doubt, the most precise thing, and one of the most beautiful we've ever made. Glass on the front and back, and steel around the sides. It's like a beautiful old Leica camera ", he was recognizing the timeless design and beauty of lines of screwmount and Leica M rangefinder cameras of XX Century, and hence the huge influence in XXI century in the sphere of smartphones shapes of their common progenitor: the Ur-Leica prototype designed by Oskar Barnack in 1914.

The CEO of Apple Inc (a great lover of vintage objects oozing good design and elegance) displayed his tremendous insight, conceptually relating in design a very advanced techinological product of the digital era with a breed of photographic cameras which was born in 1914.

And he was right, to such an extent that after Steve Job´s death in 2011, his highly revealing statement has proved to be even more accurate, with the progressive coming into being of a new segment of product likewise intimately linked to Oscar Barnack´s Ur-Leica and its " small negatives, great pictures " cornerstone: the little and light high-end smartphones featuring very tiny digital sensors able to deliver very good image quality, and whose current flagships are:

- The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus (featuring oversized 6.2 inch curved screen and a 12 megapixel dual lens camera featuring an exceedingly small 1/2.55 sensor with a variable f/1.5-f/2.4 aperture optimized for low light performance and paired with a 12 megapixel telephoto module with a 1/3.6 image sensor and a fixed f/2.4 aperture)

- The Apple iPhone X featuring a 1/2.0 " digital sensor and a dual camera setup with a 12 megapixel 28 mm f/1.8 lens and a 12 megapixel 52 mm f/2.4 lens, both of them with optical image stabilizers, AF through phase detection, 2x optical zoom, 4K video at 60 fps, and many other functions.

- The very recently launched into market Huawei P20 Pro, coengineered with Leica Camera AG, a 1/1.7 " sensor class-leading smartphone boasting a camera module with a Vario-Summilux H1 27-80 mm f/1.6-2.4 including three different lenses, each one with its own sensor: a 27 mm f/1.6 wideangle lens with a 20 megapixel monochrome sensor, a f/1.4 wideangle lens with a 40 megapixel digital sensor and a 80 mm telephoto f/2.4 lens with 8 megapixel sensor.

Smartphone technology to get pictures is another example of going small.

© Leica Camera A.G


The personality of Oscar Barnack, one of the most important figures in the History of Photography, is truly fascinating, and his 24 x 36 mm Ur-Leica ( called Liliput camera by him) changed the entire world of photography, giving birth to a new kind of very small and light camera featuring robust construction, outstanding reliability and amazing optimization for shooting handheld without trepidation, even at very slow shutter speeds with available light, and whose first mass produced model would be the Leica 1 (Model A) from 1925, which would be followed by the comprehensive range of screwmount and M Leica rangefinder models.

How is it possible that more than 104 years ago this great man was able to design and build a small and discreet prototype camera always ready to take the next picture that has had such far-reaching influence in the photography of XX and XXI Centuries and whose fundamental keynote of a very little first-class camera coupled to top of the line tiny lenses delivering great optomechanical performance has reached even the scope of the current most advanced digital devices generating computational photography?

Evidently, Oscar Barnack was a genius of industrial design, mechanics and miniaturization of components, as well as being a good photographer.

 Another picture made by Julius Huisgen to Oscar Barnack inside his office at Ernst Leitz Wetzlar in 1934. Here we can see the genius holding with his left hand a cardboard with two 13 x 18 cm prints, each one with its corresponding 24 x 36 mm contact, while he keeps a third print of the same size in his right hand. From the very creation of his Ur-Leica in 1914, Barnack realized that real photography on paper started at 13 x 18 cm or better even at 18 x 24 cm, in addition to realizing that in photography the standard for image quality review is done with 8 x 10 " (20 x 25 cm) prints observed from a distance of roughly 30 cm, so between 1914 and 1936 he made constant tests searching for the best possible black and white negatives delivering the densities and complete tonal values he did pine for and as lavish detail in low key areas as he could obtain to increase image quality in enlargements on photographic paper, which resulted in very good 30 x 40 cm prints from early thirties. In addition, he had a remarkable photographic eye along with great experience in the visualization of images and the messages they convey, so he used 13 x 18 cm prints (using a working method similar to Sebastiao Salgado´s one in XXI Century with his Genesis Project, where the Brazilian photographer controlled from beginning to end all the stages leading to the final prints, with haptic photography on paper as a fundamental keynote, and creating thousands of 13 x 18 cm baryta paper reading copies chosen from contact sheets, even currently a far better and more reliable method than watching pictures on a computer screen) to thoroughly analyse the qualitative standard of the images made with his screwmount Leica rangefinder cameras coupled to the lenses designed by Professor Max Berek.

He was a tremendously accomplished mechanik meister and designer on whose shoulders Ernst Leitz II had the entrepreneurial talent of putting the whole future of the Wetzlar firm, a confidence in Barnack which paid off from 1925 onwards, with the definitive launching into market of a revolutionary lineage of photographiuc cameras which ushered in a paradigm change in world photography and whose common progenitor had been the Ur-Leica prototype from 1914.

The legendary maestro Norman Goldberg (demised in 2006 and father of the Leica master camera technician and pundit Don Goldberg of DAG Camera Repair in Oregon, Wisconsin, the foremost expert within this scope in the world along with Sherry Krauter, Ottmar Michaely, Gerard Wiener and Claus-Werner Reinhardt) holding the Ur-Leica in his hands inside the Wetzlar Museum in 1980. He was technical director of Popular Photography magazine from 1972 to 1987 and creator of the amazing Camcraft N-5 electric motor drive for the Leica M2 and MP unveiled in 1961, as well as having incepted a number of equipment for the testing of cameras and lenses and being the author of Camera Technology, a reference-class lavishly illustrated book in which he displays his impressive knowledge of mechanics and physics in synergy with uncommon practical skills, ingenuity and proficiency in all kind of intricate technical aspects, and some of the mechanical solutions devised by him in the sphere of micro-switches were conceptually used by NASA in some of its space programs.  He was also a friend of  the Carl Zeiss world-class optical designers Hans Sauer and Erhardt Gladzel, as well as having tested some of the first MTF oprtical benches.
Image courtesy of Don Goldberg

From a technical viewpoint, the Ur-Leica was already a masterpiece, though not working 100% flawlessly as Barnack could detect on watching the negatives and contact sheets of the pictures made by Ernst Leitz II during his trip to New York and Niagara Falls in 2014 and his own ones made in Eisenmarkt and Eselstreppchen in Wetzlar in 2014 and during the floodings in Wetzlar of 1920.

Another picture made during the summer of 1914 in New York City with the Ur-Leica by Ernst Leitz II, using a big depth of field. The great German entrepreneur (who ten years later pronounced his famous statement " Barnack´s camera will be produced " resulting in the manufacture of the Leica 1 Model A presented at the Leipzig Fair of 1925 ) has been given clear instructions by Oskar Barnack to use above all if possible f/8 and f/11 diaphragms to get maximum sharpness on the whole surface of the black and white 24 x 36 mm format negatives. The boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island have consolidated  into a single large metropolis since 1895, and New York has already turned into an international cosmopolitan, financial and trade hub in a wide range of scopes, something which will be enhanced in subsequent years with the creation of the Chrysler Bullding in 1930 and the Empire State Building in 1931, in the midst of an amazing population surge with a figure of almost seven million inhabitants.  Ernst Leitz II captures faithfully a city in which vast majority of vehicles and means of transport are still horse drawn (as depicted by the two carriages appearing in the middle area of the photograph), a very high percentage of men are wearing hats and their best attires while walking across the street and the atmosphere of the scene clearly indicates a thriving area teeming with shops and all kind of businesses.

This image is the prelude to a new kind of photography that will have its market launch in 1925 with the Leica 1 (Model A), first mass produced and commercially available 24 x 36 mm format camera, a new breed of miniature photographic tool which will enable to comfortably shoot handheld without trepidation, getting high quality and well focused pictures thanks to its stunning compactness and low weight in synergy with likewise tiny first-class lenses, with the added advantage that though coupled to manual focusing objectives, both screwmount and M Leica rangefinder cameras can often be used getting advantage of a zone of very acceptable sharpness based on the hyperfocal distance (id est, the calculated focusing point depending on the focal length of the lens, the aperture used and the needed depth of field ), as many of the foremost Leica photographers frequently made all over the world during XX century and go on doing in XXI century with the full frame Leica M9, M9-P, M240, M Monochrom and M10 digital rangefinder cameras following the fundamental kernel of the analogue lineage of L/M39 and M mount Leica cameras regarding getting pictures with maximum discretion, thanks to their very small dimensions and the whispering sound of the shutter release button, which have proved their efficiency on photographing fleeting instants and make them everlasting.

And this zone focusing method is by far the fastest " autofocus " in existence, much quicker than the quickest electronic autofocus of the best DSLR and mirrorless digital professional photographic cameras, something which is even more enhanced by the exceedingly short shutter lag (time of delay between the moment in which the shutter release button is pressed and the beginning of the exposure) of the screwmount and M Leica rangefinder cameras. Suffice it to say that the shutter lag of a Leica M3 from 1954 is of only 12 ms, far superior in this regard to superb professional digital photographic cameras of XXI Century like the Nikon D800, Nikon D800E, Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sony A7 RIII, Sony A9, Olympus EM-1 Mark II, E-M5 Mark II, Pen-F, Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5K, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4K, Fujifilm XT-2, X-Pro 2, XH-1 and others.

But throughout the twenty-two years elapsed since his creation of the Ur-Leica in 1914 and January 16, 1936, date in which he died from pneumonia, the Leitz Wetzlar Chief Engineer fought tooth and nail to steadily improve the accuracy and reliability of the screwmount Leica cameras (particularly the movement precision in all the range of speeds of the cloth curtains of the horizontally travelling focal plane shutter) as well as expanding their photographic potential, which reached their apex with models like the Leica 1 (Model A) from 1925, the Leica II model D from 1932 (first one to have a built-in rangefinder), 

In 1933, after intensive toil of some years, Oscar Barnack could create a further key technological trait: a special dial for slow speeds (1/20 s, 1/8 s, 1/4 s, 1/2 s and 1 second that would be decisive to increase chances of getting pictures handheld at very low speeds with available light up to 1/4 s and between 1/2 s and 1 s if the photographer had where to support his/her back) working through a train gear built for it inside the shutter mechanism.

the Leica III from 1933 (first one to feature the slow speed dial on its front) 

Michael Auer, great historian of photography, holding an advertisement of the Leica IIIA from 1935. Oscar Barnack, feeling the proximity of his death, made a last strenuous effort to improve the horizontally travelling focal plane shutter of the Leica III, managing to provide it with a new shutter speed of 1/1000 s, faster than the previous top one of 1/500. This would mean a great advantage for sports photographers of the time like Friedrich Seidenstücker, Lothar Rübelt and others.

Detail of the shutter speed dial of a Leica IIIA from 1935, where the added speed of 1/1000 s can be seen. The level of mechanic accuracy reached by Oscar Barnack with the horizontally travelling focal plane shutters of the screwmount Leicas he created (all of them having the Ur-Leica as origin) was really amazing for the time, since he was a consummate engineer and mechanik meister, in the same way as Ludwig Leitz, Willi Stein, Peter Loseries and others, a tradition which goes on having world-class figures in the sphere of analogue classical Leica cameras mechanics like Don Goldberg, Sherry Krauter, Malcolm Taylor, Gerard Wiener, Ottmar Michaely, Walter Baumgartner, Gus Lazzari, Dieter Paepke, Claus-Werner Reinhardt, Youxin Ye, Steve Yo and others.

and the Leica IIIA from 1935 (first one to feature 1/1000 s).

Picture of Oscar Barnack made by Julius Huisgen in 1934. It is a very interesting image depicting Barnack at work inside his office at Ernst Leitz Wetzlar, with a Leica III body next to his right hand, as well as some metallic spools, some Filca 1B reloadable 35 mm brass cassettes, an Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens, specific tools and a Leica IIIA removable baseplate on far lower area of the image. This great man was a prodigy of craftsmanship and the very embodiment of a lifetime devoted to the creation of top-notch mechanical and optical  photographic devices which were masterpieces of precision. Some decades later, this image would frequently be in the heads of internationally recognized writers and scholars who greatly devoted their lives to the research of both the history of Leica and its rangefinder cameras and lenses like Dr. Paul Wolff, Heinrich Stockler, Theo Kisselbach, Walter Benser, Dr. Günther Wangorsch (curator of the Leitz Wetzlar museum for many years, a key figure in the preservation of Leica legacy and chief editor of the Leitz Mitteillungen fur Wissenschaft und Technik scientific publication), Rolf Fricke, James Lager, Paul-Henry Van Hasbroeck, Günter Osterloh, Lars Netopil, Ulf Richter, Will Wright, Tom Abrahamsson, Brian Bower, Hans-Michael Koetzle, Georg Mann, Gianni Rogliatti, Dennis Laney, Shinichi Nakamura, Jonathan Eastland, Dick Gilcreast, Edward Schwartzreich, Bertram Solcher, Erwin Putss, Marco Cavina, Mike Evans, David Taylor, Bill Rosauer, William Fagan, Kristian Dowling, Claus Sassenberg and others, without forgetting the highly prestigious group of Leitzianer (old employees of Ernst Leitz Wetzlar and Ernst Leitz Canada) who have been decisive to keep Oscar Barnack´s memory alive.

Enrico Domhardt (then Chief of Leica Camera in the Asia Pacific Region and currently CEO of Artisan & Artist craftsmanship firm) holding the Ur-Leica in his hands at the beginning of 2000, during a two week travel across Japan and China he made with Peter Coeln showing the camera to Leica users from these two countries, which have had a seminal significance in the history of the brand with such figures like Hiroji Kubota, Jun Miki, Hiroshi Hamaya, Nobuyoshi Araki, Satoki Nagata, Junku Nishimura, Kosuke Okahara, Lu Nan, Chien-Chi Chang, Jin Huang, Vincent Yu, Ben Huang and others, without forgetting the recent labour made by Jane Cui (President of Leica Camera Asia), Karin Rehn-Kaufmann (Art Director and Chief representative of Leica Galleries International) and Siegmund Dudek (Manager Director of Leica Camera in Greater China ).
Image courtesy of Enrico Domhardt

The upshot of it is that Oscar Barnack was a great human being in constant introspection and fight with himself and his fragile health to build the best possible products for Leica, the firm that became his home since 1911 and where he would be during the rest of his life.

Another of the pictures made by Oscar Barnack with his Ur-Leica during the floodings of Lahn river in Wetzlar in 1920. Once more, he proves to be a very good photographer, shooting at 1/20 s and f/8 and masterfully capturing a small cart drawn by two horses through a street of the exceedingly beautiful German village, capital of the Lahn-Dill-Kreis District. The movement of both the two horses and the left front wheel of the vehicle advancing through the tiding water has been truthfully depicted, so an amazing feeling of motion (enhanced by the driver of the cart, standing on it and whose left rein is a bit loose, indicating that the horse linked to it and receiving the main impact of the waves is arduously moving forward, while the right strap is utterly tightened and the horse bonded to it is making his way less cumbersomely ) is apparent for any observer of the picture.

On the other hand, the hallmark lack of 100% perfect focus of this photograph and its extensive depth of field (enabling to perfectly discern all the elements in the background: the shapes of windows, lace curtains, wooden door, large plaque and metallic closures of the shop) makes a visible contrast between the moving animals, cart and driver and pioneers a typical Leica image of the halcyon days of photojournalism from mid twenty onwards, in which many great photographers will use slow speeds and extensive depth of field with moving subjects to get as much as possible vivid sensation of movement, like Henri Cartier-Bresson in his  famous " Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare " 1932 in Paris (with the railowsky letters in the left background and a man on the right of the image jumping on a pond with his silhouette reflected on the water ). A technique which goes on being used sometimes by many 24 x 36 mm format analogue and digital Leica M photographers in the scopes of photojournalism, reportage and street photography to convey dynamism to the images, helped by the lack of swivelling mirror of their cameras, which makes possible to shoot handheld at very slow shutter speeds with this aim.

Nick Ut Leica Hall of Famer (one of the best photojournalist ever), working for Associated Press Agency, winner of the Pulitzer Prize of Photography and the World Press Photo of The Year in 1973 for his iconic picture of the nine years old girl Phan Thi Kim Phuc running burnt with napalm and fleeing her village after an attack by Douglas A-1 Skyrider aircraft of South Vietnamese aviation) holds a 30 x 40 enlargement of the photograph made by Oscar Barnack to his children Conrad and Hanna in 1914 in Wetzlar.
© jmse

José Manuel Serrano Esparza is a member of the Leica Historical Society of America and the Leica Historica Deutschland e.V. His articles on photography history and master photographers have been published in different international magazines like Viewfinder, Chinese Photography, Digitalis Foto Magazine, FV Foto-Video Actualidad, Film und Foto and others, as well as essays on vintage aircraft in illustrated magazines like Flugzeug Classic, Aviación General y Deportiva, etc, being also a researcher on photographic cameras and lenses both in the analogue and digital domains, B & W films and photographic techniques. He´s likewise photographed a wide range of works of art, archaeology, nature and landscapes, MotoGP World Championships, tourist resorts, classic piston radial engine planes, modern planes, a number of cultural events and high-end technology, along with the coverage of a number of sports competitions within the scope of FIBA, NBA, FIFA, UEFA, ATP, FAI Aerobatics Championships and others.

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