In 1913, Oskar Barnack, an enthusiastic photographer with a love of invention, was employed at Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar, Germany, designing motion-picture camera and projector products. To this end, he sought a way to economically test film emulsions and lenses, and decided to repurpose standard 35mm celluloid motion-picture film stock for still photography. In his design, he turned the film on its side so that it would advance horizontally through the camera body and produce individual 24mm x 36mm frames. (The motion-picture industry standard at the time was a vertical film path offering a mere 18.7mm x 24.9mm negative area.)
Barnack dubbed his creation the “Lilliput Camera” and immediately recognized its own potential as a photography device. His prototype was also known as the “Ur-Leica,” and its adoption of 35mm film for still-camera use became standard for Leitz’s commercially available Leica (Leitz Camera) models that followed — and later for the still-photography industry at large as the “135” format, as coined by Kodak in 1934.
Leitz’s quality optics — the first of which for the Leica was a 50mm lens adapted by employee Max Berek from a Cooke design that would cover the novel 24mm x 36mm frame — made up for the camera’s relatively small negative area when compared to larger-format cameras. And while more expensive than other still cameras then on the market, the Leica combination of 35mm roll film, high-performance lenses and compact design set it apart.
Barnack convinced Leitz to build and beta-test 31 cameras in 1923. This model was an instant hit and rolled out commercially as the Leica A in 1925.
At there top of this page, Karl Freund, ASC frames up on star Charles Bickford during the production of the newspaper drama Scandal for Sale (1932). In his hands is a Leica I camera fitted with an Elmar 135mm f/4.5 lens — a tool he commonly employed for exposure tests.
In 2019, Leica honored this heritage and the ASC’s centennial year with a special edition of its M10 camera, oﬀering unique features and the Society’s logo.
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