Saturday, December 4, 2021


By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Top panel of the 18 x 24 mm format Leica 72 serial number 357301, manufactured in 1954, the first one of the 150 units made at the factory of Ernst Leitz in Midland, Ontario (Canada) between that year and 1957, as was discovered by James Lager in the Volume I of his landmark work " Leica : An Illustrated History ". Previously, 33 units of the Leica 72 half-frame camera had been made in Wetzlar (Germany) after Ernst Leitz III, Ludwig Leitz, Willi Stein and Theo Kisselbach decided in 1948 to create a camera based on a Leica IIIa body but able to yield 72 frames on a standard 35 mm film roll, modifying the film gate, counter, viewfinder and wind mechanism to get two 18 x 24 mm format vertical frames inside each 24 x 36 mm space of the chemical emulsion, until the first Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Leica 72 camera with serial number 357151 was built in 1949. 
© jmse   


When during the second half of 1911, 1912 and 1913 Oskar Barnack made a number of motion pictures tests

© jmse

with a 18 x 24 mm format metallic movie camera coupled to a Zeiss Kino Tessar lens and using a constant exposure time of 1/40 sec, he realized that on making enlargements from those negatives up to a roughly print size of 13 x 18 cm on black and white photographic paper, results were acceptable.

But it also dawned on him that to make his new, very small and exceedingly light Ur-Leica camera prototype commercially 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, since the b & w photographic emulsions of the time featured a lot of grain.

That´s why he decided to double the length of the 18 x 24 mm cinematographic format, increasing it up to 36 mm, giving birth in 1914 to the Ur-Leica prototype camera using 24 x 36 mm format film, which would turn within time into the most widespread one in the history of photography.

Therefore, the rather grainy 18 x 24 mm cinematographic b & w films of the time (with a much lesser area than the 864 square millimeters of the 24 x 36 mm film format) and their very small surface made impossible to achieve great image quality in medium and big size prints.

Nevertheless, nineteen years later, in 1933, the German photographic firm Kochmann, based in Dresden, launched into market the first half-frame model boasting shape of photographic camera: the Kochmann Korelle K viewfinder camera, made in bakelite, featuring a Compur shutter with speeds up to 1/300 sec, interchangeable lenses, able to get seventy-two 18 x 24 mm format pictures on a roll of 35 mm film, very small dimensions of 90 x 32 x 56 mm and a weight of only 300 g.


Fifteen years after the introduction of the half-format Kochmann Korelle camera, something absolutely unexpected happens when Antonio Cavalieri Ducati and his three sons Adriano, Marcello and Bruno (who had founded the Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati in Bologna in 1926, building a new factory in the Borgo Panigale area of the city nine years later) decide in early 1946 the design and production of an incredibly tiny professional 18 x 24 mm format rangefinder photographic camera with also amazingly small and first-class interchangeable lenses, eight years before the creation of the 125 cc single-cylinder Trialbero Racer (first desmodromic Ducati bike) in 1954 by the genius engineer Fabio Taglioni, and forty years before ther also eminent engineer Massimo Bordi began to develop the ottovalvole Ducati V-Twin desmodromic engines featuring 4 valves per cylinder (inspired by the legendary Cosworth DFV Formula 1 highly compact and efficient powerplants from late sixties), giving birth to the breed of Ducati Superbikes with models like the Ducati 851, Ducati 888, Ducati 916, etc, which would subsequently turn the Italian firm into the most laureate one ever in WorldSBK.

© Jo Geier Mint & Rare   

The name of this 18 x 24 mm format camera, a prodigy of Italian craftsmanship and flair for miniaturized mechanics is Ducati Sogno Micro Camera.

To begin with, its specifications are stunning for the time, being much smaller than a Leica IIIc, with dimensions of 54 mm (height), 33 mm (thickness) and 100 mm (length), featuring a built-in rangefinder and a weight of only 245 g.

© Jo Geier Mint & Rare

It is a masterpiece of precision stemming from the impressive Italian ingenuity, second to none mechanical excellence, passion, gift for begetting small devices working flawlessly like a Swiss watch and elegance to spare, since the contours and shape of this camera, clearly inspired by the LTM39 mount Leica rangefinder cameras produced since 1924, are likewise a straightforward homage to the typical Italian sense of beauty strongly pervading virtually everything they make.

© Jo Geier Mint & Rare

Besides, from a mechanical viewpoint, this is a one-of-a-kind camera and a world in itself, providing very different technical solutions in comparison to the ones boasted by the LTM39 mount Leica cameras manufactured until then, something that has been thoroughly proved by the recognized photographic mechanic pundits Rick Oleson and Ryuichi Watanabe (New Old Camera), who have extolled the most significant traits and virtues of the 18 x 24 mm format Ducati Sogno :

- Though the shutter of the half-frame Ducati Sogno is a horizontally travelling cloth curtain focal plane one, as also happens in the LTM39 mount Leica rangefinders, its working is very different, because in the screwmount Leicas the shutter travels at a fixed speed, changing the exposures times by adjusting the width of the travelling slit between the two curtains, whereas the Ducati Sogno shutter´s opening is fixed at about 20 mm, and to get velocities higher than 1/20 sec, the speed of travel is increased by raising the spring tension of the shutter speed dial to a higher speed setting.

© Ducati

- That very special shutter mechanism of the Ducati Sogno micro camera is optimized for shooting handheld at the 1/20 s and 1/50 s lowest speeds very quietly and in an amazingly smooth way, so only at the highest speeds the photographer can feel the spring tension.

- Unlike the LTM39 Leica 24 x 36 mm format, whose shutter features two independently controlled curtains, the Ducati Sogno´s shutter has only one curtain with an opening in it.

- The manufacturing optomechanical quality of the Ducati Sogno camera and its lenses is on a par with the cream of the crop of Leitz and Zeiss Ikon photographic products of the time.

© Ducati                  

- The Ducati Sogno camera sports a very special bayonet mount that is unlocked pressing the small button located on the camera´s front plate, beside the lens, and then turning the lens counterclockwise, using the focusing arm or lens ring.

- The array of eight lenses for the Ducati Sogno is very comprehensive for the time : a Vitor 35 mm f/3.5, a Vitor 35 mm f/2.8, an Argon 28 mm f/4, a Dugon 19 mm f/6.3, an Eltor 40 mm f/2, a Luxtor 40 mm f/1.5, a Lator 60 mm f/2.8 and a Teletor 120 mm f/5.6.

Designed by Giuliano Toraldo di Francia (Emeritus Professor of Physics at Florence University), all of them feature an excellent optomechanical construction and deliver very good image quality, in addition to enabling a remarkable accuracy of focusing by means of the coupled rangefinder.

- The Ducati Sogno´s build quality is superb, manufactured in an utterly handcrafted way and it is entirely metallic, with brass and aluminum top panel.

- The optics of the rangefinder is also top quality.

 It is really incredible that only one year after the end of the Second World War and a devastated Italy suffering a huge economical crisis, Ducati has been able to design and produce such an extraordinary camera like this, of which 10,000 units will be made until 1952.


1948 means a very good year for the German photographic industry, particularly embodied by Ernst Leitz Wetzlar and Zeiss Ikon, since it is the last production season of the Leica IIIA (manufactured between 1935 and 1948, with a total of 92,687 units sold) and the ninth production year of the Leica IIIC (manufactured between 1940 and 1951) that will reach the figure of 133,626 units sold, and it is besides the twelfth production year of the superb Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta 531/2 6 x 9 format folding camera (1936-1953) featuring a coupled rangefinder and yielding extraordinary image quality, thanks to the huge 6 x 9 cm size of its negatives (five times bigger than a 24 x 36 mm format one) and the optical quality of the Novar, Tessar and Schneider Xenar lenses used by it in synergy with Compur, Compur-Rapid and Synchro-Compur shutters.

But though Leica is being highly successful with the sales of its 24 x 36 mm format  LTM39 rangefinder cameras,

the top brass of Ernst Leitz Wetzlar feel that there is perhaps the chance of creating a new market niche of Leica cameras using 18 x 24 mm half-frame format, returning to Oskar Barnack´s original idea of 1911-1913 until finally choosing the 24 x 36 mm format for the Ur-Leica prototype in 1914, doubling the length of the 18 x 24 mm cinematographic format and increasing it up to 36 mm.

Therefore, some meetings are held between Ernst Leitz III, Ludwig Leitz, Willi Stein, Adam Wagner and Theo Kisselbach (founder and director of the Leica School in 1946) in Wetzlar (Germany) in 1948 to analyze the entrepreneurial and commercial chances of creating a new 18 x 24 mm half-frame Leica camera.

Right off the bat, they realize that from a technological viewpoint, there are two main possibilities of fulfilling that project :

A) To follow the fundamental keynotes pioneered by the half-format Ducati Sogno rangefinder camera, id est, begetting a completely new RF micro camera (much smaller than the Leica IIIA and Leica IIIC) with also utterly new interchangeable lenses designed and manufactured from scratch for 18 x 24 mm format.

They painstakingly analyze and test a Ducati Sogno unit coupled to some lenses and using the special casettes of 18 x 24 mm format film, verifying the excellent image quality it yields in prints up to roughly 24 x 32 cm and subsequently studying the amazing innards of the camera.

Ludwig Leitz, Willi Stein and Adam Wagner perceive that it is a masterpiece of mechanical engineering, incredibly small and with first-class lenses coupled to the camera through its state-of-the-art bayonet.

But they also realize that the Ducati Sogno has got a significant drawback : because of its amazing miniaturization and the very little inner space available, it uses special casettes with 47 cm of 35 mm film, so only fifteen 18 x 24 mm pictures can be obtained.

And to get seventy-two 18 x 24 mm pictures with each 35 mm film roll is one of the top priorities to strive after making a profitable half-format Leica camera, saving a lot of emulsion costs to potential customers and beguiling them into purchasing it.

However good the Ducati Sogno may be, fifteen shots are very few ones in comparison to the thirty-six exposures possible with a 24 x 36 mm format camera of the time or the seventy-two ones Leica wish to offer with the new 18 x 24 mm format rangefinder they try to create.

Moreover, the Ducati Sogno (whose range of shutter speeds goes from 1/20 s to 1/500 s + B) features a further major downside : its slowest shutter speed is 1/20 s, unlike the LTM39 Leica rangefinder cameras

© jmse

that have had a special dial for slow speeds (1/20 s, 1/8 s, 1/4 s, 1/2 s and 1 s) working through a train gear built for it inside the shutter mechanism since 1933, when Oskar Barnack provided the Leica III (Model F, 1933- 1939) with it for the first time.

And the possibility of using the 1/8 second shutter speed with 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras like the Leica IIIa or the Leica IIIc enables the photographers to often get sharp images shooting handheld, because of the absence of a swivelling mirror present in the slr cameras, whereas having available the 1/4 s and 1/2 s shutter speeds is often very helpful to save pictures also shooting hand and wrist if the photographer has got where to lean his/her back.

On the other hand, Ernest Leitz III knows that the Ducati Sogno (which has been manufactured since 1946 and will go on in production until late 1951, with a total figure of 10,000 units made) has not been selling well hitherto because of its inevitable very high price and the dificulty that the Italian firm is having to generate good revenue with it and create a worthwhile market niche.

It is a too good camera whose production cost is very steep because both the camera body and lenses are made in an entirely handcrafted way, unit by unit, and its breakthrough miniaturized mechanics needs the efforts of highly experienced technicians during many hours of labor consuming toil.

Furthermore, trying to emulate that path creating a a half-frame camera concept of its own, much smaller than a Leica IIIa or a Leica IIIc and with interchangeable lenses, according to the rationale set forth by the Ducati Sogno, would be a very risky gamble and mean for Ernst Leitz Wetzlar having to set a specific department for it and make a huge investment in completely new interferometric instruments, new tools, new state-of-the-art coating facilities to provide the tiny lenses and prisms for 18 x 24 mm format with antireflection layers, a specific lathe unit to manufacture the new rings, tubes, mounts and helical focusing mounts for lenses, new Edwards vacuum vapour deposition machines, different gear-cutting machines, etc.

B) To modify the film gate, counter, viewfinder and wind mechanisms of Leica IIIa units, creating new half-frame Leica rangefinder cameras getting two vertical 18 x 24 mm frames inside each negative of standard 24 x 36 mm format film roll, yielding a total of 72 shots.

From both an entrepreneurial and technological viewpoint, it is the safest route, in addition to saving the massive design and production costs inherent to have a go at creating a smaller camera than a Leica IIIa or IIIc.

It is also a very good choice, based on the proved reliability and flawless operation of the Leica IIIa and the great image quality it delivers coupled to the 4 elements in 3 groups Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5, designed in 1925 by Professor Max Berek and the best standard lens in the world at the moment along with the 7 elements in 3 groups Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50 mm f/1.5 designed by Ludwig Bertele in 1932.

The Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 is the lens chosen to be attached to vast majority of the thirty-three Leica 72 cameras created by Ernst Leitz Wetzlar,

© Westlicht Photographica Auction

the first of which is made in 1949 and bears the serial number 357151.

A further half-format Leica 72 camera prototype was presented at the Photokina Köln in 1950,

18 x 24 mm format Leica 72 serial number 357180 made at the Ernst Leitz factory in Wetzlar (Germany) in 1961 and coupled to a Summitar 5 cm f/2 lens. This camera was delivered to Theo Kisselbach on September 21, 1961. 
© Westlicht Photographica Auction.

and the rest of 18 x 24 mm format cameras manufactured in Wetzlar were made at a very slow pace until 1963.

All the cameras built were almost identical, with the only exception of a few units that

Detail of the most widespread fixed metallic mask to generate a vertical 18 x 24 mm frame in the viewfinder of the Leica 72 Ernst Leitz Wetzlar camera serial number 357151 from 1949. 
© Westlicht Photographica Auction. 

instead of the most widespread built-in fixed metallic small window mask that partially covered the standard viewfinder to frame the 18 x 24 mm vertical one,

Leica 72 Ernst Leitz Wetzlar serial number 357173 made in 1950. This unit features the less frequent movable metallic mask in the viewfinder to delimit the 18 x 24 mm vertical frame. 
© Westlicht Photographica Auction.

Detail of the swing-out metallic mask turned on the VF to get the vertical 18 x 24 mm format frame. 
© Westlicht Photographica Auction.

Detail of the wing-out metallic mask for getting vertical 18 x 24 mm frame, now unturned, so the horizontal original VF of the camera for horizontal 24 x 36 mm format is uncovered. 
© Westlicht Photographic Auction.

featured a movable add-on little window with identical aim.

Inner area of a half-frame Leica 72 camera in which can be seen the vertical frame for each one of the two 18 x 24 mm negatives that can be exposed within the space of a standard 24 x 36 mm format film. © Westlicht Photographica Auction.

In addition, Ernst Leitz Wetzlar managed to build a specific half-frame brightline in the viewfinder of the Leica 72 cameras, working good enough in synergy with the aforementioned metallic masks for 18 x 24 mm format.

Whatever it may be, the tests made above all by Theo Kisselbach (then the greatest darkroom expert at Ernst Leitz Wetzlar), developing black and white negatives exposed with Leica 72 cameras coupled to Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 and Summitar 50 mm f/2 lenses and making prints with a Leitz Focomat Ic enlarger, only give professional results with very low sensitivity b & w films like Kodak Panatomic-X ISO 32 and Agfa ISOPAN IF 17 ISO 40 up to roughly 30 x 40 cm size, whereas on loading Kodak Plus-X 125 it is only possible to get good image quality up to roughly 20 x 28 cm enlargements.

But results obtained using Kodak Super-XX ISO 100 (then considered a high speed film, along with the Kodak Plus-X 125, and whose sensitivity would subsequently be increased to ISO 200) yield excessive grain in prints beyond approximately 13 x 18 cm.

Needless to say that unlike standard 24 x 36 mm format negatives, the very small surface of the half-frame ones doesn´t allow to make any kind of selective reframings of the pictures with every black and white emulsion of the time, since grain skyrockets and there is a significant overall drop in image quality.


During the three first years elapsed between 1949 and 1951 manufacturing very few units of the 18 x 24 mm format Leica 72 camera, Ernst Leitz Wetzlar upper echelons realize that it will be very difficult to make this half-frame camera commercially viable and profitable, because most of the films available at the time are grainy and prints beyond 20 x 28 cm made from the tiny 18 x 24 mm format negatives on using ISO 100 or higher sensitivity films don´t yield good image quality, so the camera isn´t versatile for genres like travel and street photography shooting handheld.

But Ernst Leitz Wetzlar know that the steady evolution in film technology will increasingly churn out new chemical emulsions featuring less grain, more resolving power and contrast, enabling perhaps in few years better chances of getting good quality prints up to approximatel 30 x 40 cm size departing from the very small 18 x 24 mm negatives exposed with the Leica 72.

Therefore, in 1954 they decide to boost the Leica 72 production with 150 units more (from serial number 357301 to 357450, made until 1957) that will be manufactured at the new Ernst Leitz factory in Midland, Ontario (Canada), built only two years before, in 1952.

Broadly speaking, 1954 is being a great and pivotal time for Leica, with the introduction of the Leica M system of rangefinder cameras and lenses, pioneered by the fabulous Leica M3, presented in the Photokina Köln of that year and which will become a remarkable success with 226,178 units sold all over the world between 1954 and 1968.

In addition, a new golden age for the German photographic firm has started with the healthy competition between two eminent optical designers : Professor Helmut Marx (in Wetzlar) and Dr. Walter Mandler (in Midland, Ontario, Canada), whose huge gift for generating top-notch highly luminous lenses will mean a turning point in the history of photographic objectives.

© jmse  

Therefore, Ernst Leitz Midland Canada manufactures its first 18 x 24 mm half-frame Leica 72 camera (serial number 357301) in 1954.

Walter Kluck (Marketing Director of Ernst Leitz Midland Canada), Walter Mandler (who has just arrived at Ernst Leitz Canada) and Otto Geier (Supervisor of the Optics Department) painstakingly study the possibilities of the Leica 72 to beget a market niche with it.

A number of tests are made with 18 x 24 mm format Leica 72 cameras coupled not only to Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lenses, but also to the new Summicron 50 mm f/2 collapsible Type 1 (1953-1960), obtaining a bit better results stopping down than with the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5.

© jmse                                    

But in comparison to the very small and light Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 featuring a weight of 111 g, 31.64 mm length extended and 36 mm front outer mount diameter making the combo with the Leica IIIa camera body (as base of the Leica 72 with the aforementioned modifications to be able to use 18 x 24 mm format very small negatives) pretty compact, the little for its high luminosity but weighty for its size Summicron 50 mm f/2 collapsible Type 1, whose front elements are contained in a lens head that is approximately 14 mm in depth, is too heavy (216 g).

Some further tests are made coupling the Leica 72 to the Summarit 50 mm f/1.5 (manufactured between 1949 and 1960), but it is also too heavy (320 g), and though yielding a stellar performance in portraits as well as boasting a distinct vintage look and an amazingly beautiful melting bokeh, it is far from the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 and the Summicron 50 mm f/2 Collapsible Type 1 in terms of sharpness and contrast, and is less forgiving than both of them as an all-round lens, since it is very prone to flare and begets distracting light sources.

Therefore, in the same way as had happened with vast majority of the first units of the Leica 72 manufactured by Ernst Leitz Wetzlar since 1949 (only very few ones were coupled to Summitar 5 cm f/2 lenses), Ernst Leitz Canada also decided from 1954 onwards that the Leica 72 cameras had to be coupled to Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lenses to get maximum feasible compactness, comfortable use and the best possible image quality shooting handheld.

And the relatively small widest f/3.5 aperture of this very tiny and light lens didn´t mean any hindrance, since from the get-go in 1948, when the decision to build a few units of the camera was made in Wetzlar, the Leica 72 had been conceived as a point and shoot camera.

On the other hand, a new breakthrough black and white high speed film has just been introduced in 1954 in 24 x 36 mm format : the Kodak Tri-x 400, which at the time has got a real sensitivity of ISO 200 and from the very instant of its presentation becomes the photojournalistic emulsion par excellence, thanks to its amazingly wide exposure latitude making possible to push it up to three stops and fend itself well with over exposure, its rich tone gradation, high sharpness and contrast, its very special feel based on its visually appealing grain and an incredible versatility of use in portraiture, travel photography, street photography, sports, etc.

Ernst Leitz Midland Canada grasps that to achieve good image quality with the Leica 72 cameras loaded with Kodak Tri-X film will be a key factor if they want to have any chance to spawn a new market niche for this product.

But once more, the very small size of the 18 x 24 mm format negatives turns into an unsurmountable obstacle, because results with Kodak Tri-X film rated at ISO 400 are simply acceptable up to roughly 15 x 20 cm enlargements, and beyond it, grain skyrockets, so when the film is rated up to ISO 800 and ISO 1600 (one of the most significant virtues of this emulsion) excessive grain is apparent even with 13 x 18 cm prints, and image quality is really bad.

This way, Walter Kluck (Marketing Director of Ernst Leitz Midland Canada and the first person that had arrived there in 1952 along with Georg Matthias and Karl Kraiker) explains clearly to Walter Mandler and Otto Geier that it is virtually impossible to make the 18 x 24 mm format half-frame Leica 72 camera commercially viable and profitable, since it can only obtain good results beyond 20 x 28 cm size on photographic paper with very slow ISO 32 and ISO 40 film, something confirmed by further exhaustive tests carried out by Rudolf Seck (Manager of the Photographic Applications Laboratory), getting prints from half-frame negatives exposed with some Leica 72 cameras. 


© jmse                                               

An unexpected movement takes place in March of 1960 when Nikon releases its first half-frame camera : the 18 x 24 mm format Nikon S3M rangefinder.

Nippon Kogaku uses an already existing 24 x 36 mm format Nikon S3 rangefinder camera as base, and adapts it to 18 x 24 mm format, creating a new film gate for the half-frame format and a new vertical viewfinder, replacing the original horizontal 35, 50 and 105 brightlines for vertical 35, 50 and 105 framelines adequate to the smaller half-frame, reducing costs using fixed brightlines instead of more expensive parallax framelines.

© jmse

It is a masterpiece camera, also taking seventy-two pictures on a standard 36 exposure roll, but it is more complex and technologically advanced in design than the Leica 72, in addition to offering correction marks for close-up focusing with the 35 mm, 50 mm and 105 mm framelines,

© jmse

and comes with a state-of-the-art for the time S72 motordrive enabling shooting up to 4.5 fps.

The Japanese photographic firm gamble is daring and particularly interesting, since it is launched into market at a tipping point instant in which they have just begun to make the transition from rangefinder cameras to reflex ones embodied by the Nikon F, introduced one year before, in 1959, and which will mean the beginning of Japanese dominance in the international photographic industry regarding sales.

In the same way as had happened with Leica, Nikon has dismissed the idea pioneered in 1946 by the Ducati Sogno of an exceedingly small utterly new camera built from the ground up and featuring interchangeable lenses specifically built for the 18 x 24 mm format, because it would have drawn a significant percentage of the firm´s economical resources on tackling its mass production and fighting for creating a market niche.

© jmse                                          

That´s why Nikon tries to leverage a 24 x 36 mm format Nikon S rangefinder camera as a technological platform, implementing the necessary modifications to adapt it to the half-frame format and coupling it to the 7 elements in 3 groups Nikkor-S·C 50 mm f/1.4, with dimensions of  42 mm length x 47 mm diameter and a weight of 152 g.

This small standard lens is excellent from a mechanical viewpoint, feels very solid, is made from chrome brass and its focusing ring boasts smoothness and long focus throw on turning.

It delivers good contrast and sharpness in the center between f/4 and f/8, but suffers from focus shift when stopping down, as well as being prone to flare.

© Nikon Corporation

It is a lens oozing character and vintage glow, with oustanding creative potential (particularly at f/1.4 and f/2) for photographers knowing its traits, and delivers a very nice kind of image, but the sharpness and contrast it yields on stopping down, though good, is far from the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 (nearly all of them) and a few Summicron 50 mm f/2 collapsible Type 1 used by Ernst Leitz Canada in its Leica 72 cameras, whereas its uniformity of optical performance between center, borders and corners at different diaphragms is also clearly below both of them.

Apart from putting the Nikon S3M through its paces with b & w films like Kodak Plus-X 125, Kodak Tri-x 400 and others, Nippon Kogaku makes tests with the new Kodak Ektachrome colour slides (ISO 160) just appeared one year before, in 1959.

But on making prints from the tiny 18 x 24 mm format negatives and slides, grain skyrockets in larger than 15 x 20 cm prints, and the superb but very slow Kodachrome colour film of the time, featuring a sensitivity of ISO 10, is not an option to shoot handheld.

Nippon Kogaku realizes that great resolving power and sharpness of lenses and films in symbiosis with little grain will be a key factor to turn a 18 x 24 mm format point and shoot camera (whose tiny half-frame emulsion surface was very little tolerant to grain) into a commercial profitable venture.

However, in the same way as had happened with the tests carried out by Theo Kisselbach and Rudolf Seck with 18 x 24 mm negatives exposed with Leica 72 cameras, Nippon Kogaku darkroom experts perceive that the choice of striving upon enhancing the Mackie lines between high and low density areas created during the development of black and white films like Kodak Tri-x 400 with Agfa Rodinal, optimized to strengthen the acutance in contours, is not possible, because the exceedingly small surface of the half-frame negatives makes it much more difficult to attain than with 35 mm films.  

But unlike the Leica 72 camera featuring very small dimensions (133 mm length / 39 mm width / 65 mm height) and a weight of 410 g making up a total of 521 g with the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens (111 g) attached,

© jmse

the Nikon S3M camera is not light (590 g), its dimensions are 136 mm wide / 43 mm thickness / 81 mm height and the combo with the Nikkor-S·C 50 mm f/1.4 (152 g) gives a total weight of  742 g, perhaps too much for a half-frame camera concept whose main raison d´être must be compactness and use convenience shooting handheld.

Therefore, though the 18 x 24 mm format Nikon S3M is gorgeous, in the same way as its electric motordrive (a sphere in which Nikon clearly beats Leica) and a total of 195 units are made between March 1960 and October of 1961, Nikon stops the production of its half-frame camera because of three main reasons :

a) They are utterly devoted to the development and spreading of the 24 x 36 mm format Nikon F reflex camera, launched into market in 1959 and meaning a pivotal moment in the history of photography, to such an extent that it will be adopted by a high percentage of professional photographers all over the world, who appreciate its ruggedness, reliability, impressive resistance to mechanical failures, its exposure meter fully coupled to the aperture, its motordrive, its sturdy stainless-steel F-Mount bayonet with 44 mm of internal diameter, its very comprehensive array of lenses between 21 mm and 1000 mm, and its unmatched modularity as a system with a lot of interchangeable viewfinders, pentaprisms, focusing screens, etc.

And that is the wisest entrepreneurial way with which Nikon starts reigning supreme during sixties in the field of professional photography from the viewpoint of sales, thanks to its commendable and unmatched price / quality ratio, a trend that will be highly reinforced in 1972 with the introduction of the Nikon F2, a true horsework boasting superb mechanics and able to flawlessly work without batteries.

b) Nikon realizes that the best route to create a 18 x 24 mm format niche market is building a new smaller and lighter half-frame rangefinder camera, whose dimensions and weight should be significantly more compact than the Nikon S3M and with better lenses.

But the construction of a 18 x 24 mm camera like that along with the design and manufacture of specific lenses for half-frame from the ground up (a very difficult and hugely expensive venture that had already been studied by Ersnt Leitz Wetzlar and Ernst Leitz Canada during the first half of fifties) would mean giving birth to a specific department and a tremendous investment in new machinery and facilities, so it would draw a great deal of the firm wherewithal.

Masao Nagaoka, President of Nikon and a man featuring tremendous market insight along with a very deep knowledge on photographic devices and optical glasses, feels that manufacturing such a miniaturized half-format RF camera with a wide range of interchangeable tiny lenses and make it profitable is virtually impossible at the moment, since chances are that it won´t go beyond a stage of very risky startup with meager commercial possibilities.

c) After fulfilling the rangefinder/slr transition, turning the Nikon SP rangefinder camera into the slr Nikon F by adding a mirror box, pentaprism and a larger lens mount, Masao Nagaoka decided that Nikon would focus its production of photographic objectives on highly luminous 35 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm and 105 mm lenses for its Nikon F system of 24 x 36 mm reflex cameras.

In 1960 Nikon had also a roadmap for the design and manufacture of relatively luminous but smaller and lighter top-class primes delivering exceptional image quality like the Micro-Nikkor-P 55 mm f/3.5 Preset (1961), the Micro-Nikkor-P Auto 55 mm f/3.5 (1963) and others, also for 35 mm Nikon F cameras.

And  for a short time it was considered the chance of creating miniaturized Micro-Nikkors specifically designed for 18 x 24 mm format, but the idea was soon rejected, because it would have increased even more the design and manufacture cost, so after October of 1961, Nippon Kogaku didn´t make any half-format Nikon S3M camera more, and the idea of mass produce it and trying to create a half-frame market niche was definitely brushed aside.


One year after the creation of the 18 x 24 mm format Nikon S3M, Olympus presents in 1959 a brand new and completely revolutionary half-frame camera :

© Olympus Ltd

the Olympus Pen, which becomes an instant sensation.

It is an exceedingly small 18 x 24 mm format viewfinder camera, with dimensions of 68.5 mm (height) / 106 mm (width) / 40.7 mm (thickness), a weight of only 350 g and is coupled to an amazingly sharp 28 mm f/3.5 wideangle fixed lens.

The camera becomes a sales hit and Eiichi Sakurai (Director and Head of the Camera Development Division at Olympus) decides to support with all of his strength the highly proficient engineer who has created this groundbreaking miniaturized half-frame system : Yoshihisa Maitani, who within a short time will become the most influential designer of photographic cameras ever along with Oskar Barnack.

From his childhood years, Maitani has proved to be a genius of both mechanics and the design of photographic devices, to such an extent that in 1943, being only ten years old, he invented his first camera, handcraftedly made.

Born in 1933, Maitani has been a dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast of the 24 x 36 LTM39 Leica rangefinder cameras like the Leica II (Model D), Leica III, Leica IIIa, etc, admiring their amazingly small size and very light weight, together with their ability to yield top quality images with its tiny first-class lenses like the Elmar 50 mm f/3.5.

© Olympus Ltd

But the very brilliant Japanese designer, a technological and mechanical driving force in himself, perfectly knows the many limitations of Leica rangefinder cameras in scopes like microphotography, macrophotography, sports and the use of medium and long teleobjectives, so he is striving after creating a new 18 x 24 mm format camera much smaller and lighter than the Leica screwmount ones.

And what´s more important and incredible : it must be a reflex camera, core of a very comprehensive photographic system including a huge lineup of lenses specifically created from scratch for the 18 x 24 mm format and different accessories.

The cream of the crop of Olympus firm engineers and technicians have told him for years that it is impossible to create such a miniaturized reflex photographic system, since technical difficulties are virtually undefeatable.

But the Japanese genius perseveres, has the whole support of Eiichi Sakurai, and above all, has stepped up a great friendship with another genius : Yoshihada Hayamizu (Head of Lenses Design at the Olympus CO, Ltd Optical Department).

During a lot of meetings during 1960 and 1961, Maitani bluntly explains Yoshihada Hayamizu that it is absolutely indispensable to create top-notch lenses specifically designed for 18 x 24 mm format in order that the very small half-frame format reflex camera he wants to create delivers very good image quality, because the tiny surface area of the negatives is very critical with the optical performance of objectives.

Therefore, Yoshihada Hayamizu builds up a great optical team with prominent optical designers like Toshihiro Imai, Nobuo Yamashita, Toru Fujii, Hiroshi Takase, Yoshiaki Horikawa, Tadashi Kimura, Fumitaka Watanabe and others.

© Olympus Ltd                                                            

And in 1963, the Olympus Pen F camera, jewel of the crown of the half-frame 18 x 24 mm format Pen System, is launched into market.

It is a design and mechanical masterpiece, an absolutely revolutionary, very small and highly innovative interchangeable lens camera, the world´s first single-lens reflex one in this tiny format, featuring a porro prism viewfinder and a rotary titanium shutter, as well as being able to get seventy-two frames on each 35 mm film roll.

A quantum leap in comparison to everything made before in the realm of 18 x 24 mm half-frame cameras and lenses.

© Olympus Ltd

Because the Japanese genius Maitani has been able to beget a 18 x 24 mm format single reflex camera almost as pocketable size as a 35 mm format Leica IIIa rangefinder and with a weight of only 441 g, as is confirmed by the great photographic guru Herbet Keppler in an article in Modern Photography magazine number of May 1964 (he had seen and touched a prototype of the Olympus Pen F two years before, in March of 1962, during the Photokina in Cologne), where he raves about Maitani´s incredible ingenuitity and talent creating the side mounting and swinging mirror, the solid titanium metal semicircular rotating focal-plane shutter allowing full flash sync with bulb and electronic flash up to 1/500 s, the Olympus F bayonet, the praiseworthy synergy of the side swinging mirror with the fully enclosed prisms and the building of the whole finder system to the side of the picture area, getting rid of the traditional, delicate and exposed top prism housing.

In addition, Keppler had the chance of using two lenses : the Olympus Zuiko Auto-T 100 mm f/3.5 and the Olympus Auto Zoom 50-90 mm f/3.5, stating that both of them were exceedingly sharp : the first one excellent for portraits (equivalent to a 150 mm lens in 35 mm format) and the second one the best zoom he had ever tested until that moment.

And he was right : the Olympus Pen series of 18 x 24 mm format cameras reached the astonishing figure of 8 million units sold of the different models between 1960 and mid eighties.

Therefore, for the first time in history, Maitani had achieved to design and manufacture a highly successful and profitable half-format photographic camera with interchangeable lenses, on an industrially efficient basis, creating a market niche for it, unlike many half-frame snapshot compact cameras coupled to very good fixed non interchangeable lenses and made by other firms during sixties like the Canon Demi with a 28 mm f/2.8 (1963-1964), the different versions of Konica Eye with Hexanon 30 mm f/1.9  and 32 mm f/1.8 (1964-1967), the Ricoh Auto-Half from 1960 with a 25 mm f/2.8, the Yashica 72-E  from 1960 with a Yashinon 28 mm f/2.8, the Fujica Half from 1963 with a Fujinon 28 mm f/2.8 lens and many others.

And a further seminal factor for that accomplishment, as was also proved by Herbert Keppler, was the excellent optomechanical performance of the Zuiko Auto-T lenses specifically designed for the 18 x 24 mm format, delivering great sharpness, to such an extent that enlargements made from the tiny half-format negatives exposed with the Olympus Pen F camera up to a size of roughly 11 x 14 inches (28 x 35 cm) yielded very good image quality and were virtually impossible to tell from prints made from 24 x 36 mm format negatives, both with slow, medium and fast films if they were correctly exposed and properly developed. 

Moreover, the formidable Olympus Optical Team directed by Yoshihada Hayamizu has designed and manufactured nothing less than twenty different top-notch tiny lenses, from a 20 mm f/3.5 wideangle to a 800 mm f/8, for 18 x 24 mm format, all of them featuring approximately half the size and one third the weight of conventional lenses for 35 mm format.

Some of them are truly oustanding, like the Zuiko Auto W 25 mm f/2.8, the Zuiko Auto S 38 mm f/1.8, the 38 mm f/2.8 with pancake design (rendering the camera even more sleek), the Zuiko Auto S 42 mm f/1.2, the Zuiko Auto T 60 mm f/1.5, the Zuiko Auto T 100 mm f/3.5 and the Zuiko Auto Zoom 50-90 mm f/3.5.

It is by far the best and most comprehensive half-format photographic system ever made, resulting in a significant upturn of Olympus as a firm.

And the landmark, exceedingly futuristic and cutting-edge design of the 18 x 24 mm format Olympus Pen F cameras anticipated in more than fifty years the contours and shapes of some mirrorless digital cameras of XXI Century, utterly confirming Yoshihisa Maitani´s visionary mind and huge talent.

© Westlicht Photographica Auction     


Throughout the seven first years of upheaval within the half-frame domain of photographic cameras brought about by the Olympus Pen System series of 18 x 24 mm format cameras and its raft of first rate lenses and accessories, Leica has kept on manufacturing its highly successful line of M-System cameras, particularly the Leica M3 and Leica M2 (flagships of the brand), while 1959 and 1960 are the two last years of very good sales of the Leica IIIG (last of the screwmount models, designed by Adam Wagner, Willi Stein and Friedrich Gath, launched into market in 1957 and featuring many improvements in comparison to its LTM39 mount predecessors).

Therefore, though particularly Nikon is beginning to dominate the international photographic scene in terms of firm revenues and use by professional photographers, both Ernst Leitz Wetzlar and Ernst Leitz Canada are economically very healthy during late fifties and mid sixties, a stage in which Leica M cameras and lenses, the core of the firm, go on being the qualitative pinnacle regarding optomechanical precision and image quality yielded, so sales blossom.

Anyway, from early sixties, Ernst Leitz starts realizing that photographers are increasingly moving towards SLR cameras offered by Japanese competitors with an unbeatable price/quality ratio, so rangefinder cameras market share could be threated in few years.

That´s why in 1964 the German photographic firm decides to move into the 24 x 36 mm format slr scope and introduces the Leicaflex, its first pure single lens reflex camera sporting uncluttered minimalist design and extraordinary mechanics.

It is brilliantly engineered and with a great viewfinder, but a bit obsolete from a technological viewpoint, far from the Nikon F series cameras in versatility (since it lacks any exposure automation, interchangeable screens or a hotshoe) and inevitably more expensive, because of the uncompromising quality of metals used in its construction.

It will be manufactured until 1968, but won´t be able to withstand the onslaught of the Japanese photographic industry in the reflex sphere, in spite of its superb array of Leica-R lenses (many of which were then and keep on being nowadays the best in the world in the reflex arena), being subsequently followed by the Leicaflex SL (1968-1974), a far better camera than the original Leicaflex, boasting a step ahead extraordinary engineering, a very special industrial minimalist aesthetics and a unique smoothly sloping back area, as well as offering a philosophy focused on the essentials, remarkable sturdiness, a superb very big and crisp viewfinder and center weighted through the lens light metering.

But incredibly, Leica has meanwhile been striving upon implementing the development of two almost parallel and secret 18 x 24 mm half-format camera projects :

© Westlicht Photographica Auction

a) The Leicaflex 18 x 24 mm half-format camera whose main features were unveiled during the Westlicht Photographica auction held on November 20, 2006, in which the only completely finished camera, manufactured in 1965, was sold, explaining that it was designed and built by Willi Franke in 5 years of development and coupled to a special Summicron 35 mm f/2 lens specifically designed for half-format by Helmut Müller.

But the most defining feature of this half-format Leicaflex prototype was that it featured a rotary shutter and a mechanics related to the Olympus Pen F cameras.

Its order of development was given in April of 1962, but the huge difficulties to grapple with the technological challenge of finding the best possible shutter for such a special camera in terms of reliability and preservation of a wide range of shutter speeds up to 1/1000 s,

© Westlicht Photographica Auction

made them adopt in early 1964 for its 18 x 24 mm format Leicaflex prototype

Shutter release button of the Leicaflex 18 x 24 camera. It seems that Ernst Leitz Wetzlar managed to create during 1964-1965 a metallic rotary focal-plane shutter inspired by the one invented by Yoshihisa Maitani for his half-format Olympus Pen F camera in 1961 (with a highest shutter speed of 1/500 s), but increasing its top shutter speed up to 1/1000 s, a commendable mechanical feat, since Maitani had needed some years building prototypes of extremely thin titanium rotary shutters and special steel until getting a maximum speed of 1/500 s. 
© Westlicht Photographica Auction

a rotary metallic focal-plane shutter similar to the one featured by the half-frame reflex Olympus Pen F of 1963, combining speed, durability and outstanding ability to avoid camera shake on shooting handheld at 1/15, 1/8, 1/4 and 1/2 slow shutter speeds.

As a matter of fact, three Leitz engineers had examined an Olympus Pen F 18 x 24 mm format camera for approximately two hours during the Phototina Köln 1963 held between March 16 and 24 of that year, being bowled over by the myriad of amazingly innovative technical solutions that Yoshihisa Maitani had implemented in this half-format photographic tool, particularly the metal rotary focal plane shutter to make use of the space behind the prism (instead of a bulky two-curtain focal-plane shutter like the ones typically featured by 24 x 36 mm format slr cameras of the time) and the great quality of its lenses.

But the Leicaflex 18 x 24 camera project was abandoned in January of 1967.

b) The Leica-H 18 x 24 mm half-format rangefinder camera. One of the most amazing and fascinating photographic projects ever made, with which Ernst Leitz Wetzlar returned to the way trailblazed by the Ducati Sogno in 1946, id est, the creation of a tiny 18 x 24 mm format rangefinder camera much smaller and lighter than a Leica IIIa or Leica IIIc.

One of the three built 18 x 24 mm format Leica-H prototypes. The beauty of contours of this very elegant autoexposure camera is conspicuous, in the same way as its exceedingly small size and its tiny retractable lens. Its design is minimalist, focused on the essentials, with shapes greatly inspired by the Bauhaus movement and some Art Deco tenets. In addition, a strenuous effort has apparently been made to reduce the upper area of the camera to the minimum feasible, so both the shutter speed dial (amazingly thin, located on the lower right front area of the camera, featuring speeds between 1/30 s and 1/1000 s + B, a selectable A position for autoexposure and flash sync at 1/60 s) and a further smaller knurled dial (just under the RF window) are in the forward zone of the camera, on the right of the lens. This is a very luxurious camera in whose design and construction there was a praiseworthy effort to avoid anyhting protruding from the camera body, whose incredible compactness for the time is enhanced for transport when the lens is retracted backwards and covered by the small metallic silver swivelling lid. 
© Leica Camera AG

But unlike the Italian half-frame camera with interchangeable objectives, the Leica-H is an autoexposure camera and permanently attached to a fixed and top-notch quality 35 mm f/2.8 lens.

An uncomplete third prototype from 1960 of the Leica-H half-frame camera sold at Westlicht Photographica Auction on May 29, 2010. The endeavour for keeping the very sleek lines of this 18 x 24 mm format was such that a very small and thin black colour dial to select diaphragms between f/2.8 and f/16 (with the numbers in white colours) was integrated within the back top right area of the camera, with an icing on the cake : such was the attention to detail, that a rectangular horizontal elongated aluminium lid was lifted to choose the desired f stop and then was pushed covering the dial to prevent any accidental change of the selected diaphragm on touching it with one finger. 
© Westlicht Photographica Auction                            

That´s to say, the Leica-H is conceived to all intents and purposes as a very posh and compact 18 x 24 mm format point and shoot camera coupled to a tiny and excellent collapsible lens delivering great image quality.

One unit of the only three Leica-H camera prototypes completed is lavishly illustrated in the gorgeous 488 page book " Prototype Leica ", written by Lars Netopil (who rescued this half-format camera from oblivion, devoting many years to glean as much information as possible on its birth and evolution) in both English and German.

It seems that the first drawings of this amazingly compact and lightweight camera hark back to 1959, when the first sketches were made within the Adam Wagner Development Group.

Top panel mechanical innards of the 18 x 24 mm format Leica-H uncomplete third prototype sold at Westlicht Photographica Auction on May 29, 2010. 
© Westlicht Photographica Auction

But the most important persons in the design, construction and development of the three prototypes of the Leica-H were two young and very brilliant Leitz engineers :

Georg Mann, legendary engineer at Ernst Leitz Wetzlar during late fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. Imbued with an unflinching Leitzianer spirit, as well as designing and developing all the cameras of the 24 x 36 mm format Leicaflex saga, he was the key man in the original blueprint and construction of both the Leicaflex 18 x 24 and the Leica-H. 
© jmse

- Georg Mann, a genius of design, main creator of the Leicaflex (1964-1968), Leicaflex SL (1968-1974) and Leicaflex SL2 (1974-1976).

In the same way as had already happened with the extraordinary (though complex) Zeiss Ikon Contarex Super from 1967, the Leicaflex SL and Leicaflex SL2 were masterpieces of optomechanical precision, built with the best possible materials and oozing superb engineering, in addition to being coupled to the second to none in the reflex field Leica R lenses.

What this man (Honorary President of the Leica Historica e.V) made was an unprecedented feat, since he had to fight with the different models of Leicaflex cameras that he designed against the whole Japanese photographic industry, embodied at the time by such great slr cameras like the Nikon F, Pentax Spotmatic, Canon F1, Nikon F2, Olympus OM-1 and others, as well as being much larger companies having available boundless economical resources, much more cash-flow to invest on R & D and a higher capacity for introducing technological innovations and new models of cameras within shorter times.

In addition, Georg Mann´s astonishing mechanical prowess turned him into the mastermind of the optimized Leica M4-P Winder and the motorized drives for 24 x 36 mm format Leica single-lens reflex cameras.

Between early sixties and 1965, Georg Mann made the design and drawings of many assemblies of the three 18 x 24 mm format Leica-H prototypes.

- Erwin Neurath, another prestigious Leitz engineer, who had invented in 1953 the Summicron 5 cm f/2 Compur (with built-in between-the-lens central shutter for screwmount Leica rangefinder cameras, enabling electronic flash sync at 1/100 and 1/200 s) and was also an important person in the construction of the Leica-H.


In late 1965, Dr. Ludwig Leitz (Head of Research and Development Department since 1939) is visited in Wetzlar by Heinz Waaske, another genius camera designer.

He is a 41 year old self-made man featuring a tremendous talent for photographic mechanics and has made the first prototypes of a new 24 x 36 mm format miniature camera smaller than vast majority of the 18 x 24 mm half-frame cameras and whose first sketches he drew three years before while he was chief engineer at the German photographic company Wirgin in Wiesbaden.

Heinz Waaske shows Ludwig Leitz one of the first completely functional units of this breakthrough viewfinder camera without rangefinder coupled to a collapsible and exceedingly small fixed 3 elements in 3 groups Steinhel München Cassar 40 mm f/3.5 lens, offering it to Ernst Leitz for its mass production.

24 x 36 mm format  Rollei 35 from 1966. Its tiny measures of 97 x 32 x 60 mm and amazingly light weight of 370 g meant a revolution in the sphere of very small cameras, featured a Compur leaf shutter with speeds from 1/2 s to 1/500 s + B and entered into direct competition with the half-frame 18 x 24 mm format models, becoming a remarkable commercial success, with two million units of its different versions being sold throughout thirty years.                                            

Ludwig Leitz (a mechanical authority, creator of nothing less than twenty-six photographic patents between 1935 and this meeting, in addition to having played a leading role in the development of the Leica M3) thoroughly examines this incredibly tiny camera for its 24 x 36 mm format and realizes that it is a further game changer, only four years after the launching into market of the Olympus Pen F.

The Rollei 35 stems from a myriad of technological solutions, including a new type of shutter divided into two functional parts to tackle the short radius of available space around the wholly insertable lens and the separate components being mechanically coupled by shafts.

It is a prodigy of miniaturization and space saving all over its surface, using a new five-sprocket film guiding wheel instead of the eight-sprocket usual one.

Ludwig Leitz´s huge market insight makes him grasp that this camera means the beginning of a new trend that will coexist throughout the second half of sixties and seventies with the 18 x 24 mm format cameras from different Japanese brands, and will probably prevail during eighties with some other tiny 24 x 36 mm format cameras designed by those companies.

Definitely, that path is far from being the best and most profitable for Leica from a technological and entrepreneurial viewpoint, because of a number of reasons :

a) Though the introduction of the Olympus Pen F and its wide range of excellent lenses has meant a significant improvement in image quality within the domain of half-format cameras, the very small surface of negative goes on being a major drawback on making enlargements from 30 x 40 cm size upwards, and the 24 x 36 mm format Leica M and Leicaflex cameras, thanks to their bigger film surface and the reference-class Leitz lenses coupled to them, deliver far better image quality in terms of resolving power, sharpness, contrast, tonal range and so forth.

b) Though the Rollei 35 is presented at the Photokina Köln 1966 connected to a new and excellent Zeiss Tessar 40 mm f/3.5 lens that increases the standard of image quality (thanks to its larger film area) in these so tiny photographic cameras, Leica has been involved in a completely different optical approach since the introduction of the first Summicron 50 mm f/2 lenses in 1953, giving top priority to the design and manufacture of highly luminous 50 mm lenses ( Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Collapsible Type 1 from 1953-1960, Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Rigid Type 2 1956-1968, Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Dual Range Type 2 1956-1968 and Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 1959-2004), 35 mm lenses (Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 Version 1 1958-1968 and Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 1961-1968) and 90 mm lenses (Elmarit-M 90 mm f/2.8 1959-1974) lenses for its M line of 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras.

A lens philosophy that has just also been applied to the new Summicron-R 50 mm f/2 (1964-1976) and Elmarit-R 35 mm f/2.8 (1964-1979) designed and built for the likewise 24 x 36 mm format Leicaflex camera (1964-1975).

But it is not only a question of getting unmatched levels of resolving power, sharpness and contrast.

A further highly significant goal for Leica, particularly with the fastest 50 mm standard lenses and the 35 mm wideangle ones, is to get maximum possible uniformity of performance between center, borders and corners, at every diaphragm and shooting distance, since the Leica users are very exacting as to image quality.

c)  The steadfast advances in film technology have resulted in the appearance of new extraordinary 24 x 36 mm format films like the Kodachrome-X ISO 64 colour slide in 1962, which is often used by Leica photographers and connoisseurs from its very introduction.  and some of them subsequently project the transparencies on big screens with Leitz projectors, getting mind-blowing image quality in king sizes, something utterly out of the reach of half format.

And the then very widespread Kodak Plus X Pan ISO 125 black and white film, in existence from 1954 and featuring almost non existent grain, superb sharpness, rich gradation and wide exposure latitude keeps on being a great choice for professional photographers.

But such extremely high quality emulsions need to be in synergy with the cream of the crop lenses to draw their full potential.

Therefore, however good they may be, lenses specifically designed and built for the tiny 18 x 24 mm format will be a far cry from getting the image quality obtained with the best Leitz lenses created for 24 x 36 mm format in sizes aproximately from 30 x 40 cm upwards.

d) The half-format cameras need to be coupled to small or relatively small widest aperture lenses to preserve the camera / objective compactness in size and weight, so these 18 x 24 mm photographic devices feature much lesser ability to highlight subjects with out of focus background in genres like portraiture, fashion, sports, etc, something that is reinforced by the more extensive depth of field inherent to the half-frame format in comparison to the 24 x 36 mm one.

e) Since the half-frame format came from the motion picture cameras, when the camera is held in horizontal position, the frame is positioned in vertical portrait standing, that´s to say, contrary to vast majority of cameras with other formats, so photographers have to hold the camera in vertical position to get landscape shots.

And though this native vertical portrait configuration would be adopted in future by some 6 x 4.5 cm medium format rangefinder cameras like the Fujica GS645 (1983), Fujica GS645W (1983), GS645S (1984) and the amazing Fuji GA 645 AF (1995), it was always a bit uncomfortable to a significant percentage of traditional users of 35 mm cameras accustomed to getting pictures of sceneries with their cameras in horizontal position.

f) In mid sixties, 24 x 36 mm format Leica M rangefinder cameras (particularly the M3 and M2 models) were still selling very well, being the business epicenter of the firm, something that would be followed by the Leica M4, of which 59,441 units were sold between 1967 and 1975.

In addition, Leica has just started the production of its also 24 x 36 mm format Leicaflex reflex cameras.

Therefore, Ernst Leitz decided not to go on researching and producing half-frame cameras, because the Olympus Pen-F with interchangeable lenses was too good and the arrival of the likewise tiny 24 x 36 mm format Rollei 35 camera definitely meant that Leica would have to devote huge economical and engineering resources to be able to design and manufacture a 18 x 24 mm format camera that could compete in the market with those two excellent products and new ones that would arrive.

As a matter of fact, Ludwig Leitz expressed his convition that within time, Yoshihisa Maitani would create a 24 x 36 mm incredibly small rangefinder camera able to compete with the Rollei 35.

And he wasn´t wrong, since Maitani would present the Olympus XA in 1979, featuring dimensions of 102 x 64.5 x 40 mm, a very light weight of 225 g, aperture priority automatic mode and a great F.Zuiko 35 mm f/2.8 lens. 

This way, after making the last drawings of the 18 x 24 mm format Leica-H and its fixed 35 mm f/2.8 lens in 1967, Ernst Leitz definitely abandoned the design and production of analog half-frame cameras, fully aware that instead of branching out the firm trying to open a new line of half-frame camera product, the soundest and most efficient path was to mostly concentrate on the 24 x 36 mm format Leica M and R Systems of Cameras and Lenses, because seventies would be hard years, with a full-scale onslaught of Japanese 35 mm reflex cameras that highly probably would result in a significant drop in sales of the German photographic brand and a threat to the very existence of the Leica M rangefinder breed, as would be verified in 1977, when Walter Kluck convinced Ernst Leitz Wetzlar to transfer the production of the Leica M4-2 to Midland (Canada), saving the Leica M lineage of 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras, 29 years after the great Leica photographer Walther Benser sent in December of 1957 a discerning letter to Gunther Leitz (owner of Ernst Leitz together with Ernst Leitz III and Ludwig Leitz) explaining to him his conviction that the 24 x 36 mm format Japanese slr cameras would rule the roost very soon regarding the photographic market.

© Leica Camera AG                        

Thirty-six years later, Leica would resume the path of high quality very compact cameras with the extraordinary 24 x 36 mm format and autofocus Leica CM, probably the best 35 mm compact camera ever made (without forgetting the also superb Contax T2 from 1990 with an amazingly sharp Carl Zeiss Sonnar 38 mm f/2.8 lens, the Nikon 35 Ti 1993-1999 and Minolta TC-1 1996-2005), designed by Profesor Achim Heine in Berlin, the upper class segment of Leica´s compact analogue cameras, with dimensions of 117 x 65 x 36 mm a weight of 300 g (smaller and lighter than a Leica IIIa or IIIc), a viewfinder display built using the Leica M7 as a reference, manufactured in titanium and coupled to a state-of-the-art six elements in four groups Summarit 40 mm f/2.4 lens, optimized to get splendid results with slides and getting impressive sharpness from corner to corner.

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