Leica 0 Series Reproduction

Leica O seriesLeica Camera AG presented a new edition of the Leica 0 series at the photokina 2000 in Cologne. Originally produced in only small quantities in 1923/24, this series can be regarded as the basis of modern 35mm photography and the precursor of the first commercially marketed photographic camera, the Leica I, launched in 1925 by the Optical Works of Ernst Leitz, Wetzlar. The replica of the camera is being produced to commemorate the 75th birthday of the Leica in the year 2000.

The fully functional camera is intended for people who like classic products, particularly photographers who like to experiment. With its extremely reduced technical features and absolutely manual operating routines, some of which are quite unusual, it is a new challenge for today's photographer. To be able to use the camera, he will need to consider all photographic parameters in detail and think about every single operation. “The deliberate deceleration of the photographic process as opposed to the fully automatic camera computers that are customary today leads to distinctly puristic photography with an extremely personal slant“ explains Stefan Daniel, Head of Product Management at Leica Camera AG. “Nothing is done for the photographer, he has to consider and perform each step himself. This is photography in its purest form - without any influence by the manufacturer. The result bears only the signature of its creator, without any traces of preconceived photographic ideas and automatic functions.“

drawingAll the cameras in the new edition are being more or less hand made according to updated original constructional drawings and the measurements of a model from the Leica 0 series which is kept in the Leica Museum. This method of manufacture also contrasts strongly with the mass production in the camera industry. The first cameras will be on sale in a few selected Leica shops from November 2000. The recommended retail price in Germany is DM 5000.

detailShutter speed selection and manual film transport The shutter speed is controlled by selecting the slit width of a shutter curtain moving at constant speed. The engravings on the shutter speed button only indicate the slit width in millimetres, just like on the original historic camera. A slit width of 1 millimetre is equivalent to an exposure time of 1/1000 second. The fastest shutter speed of 1/500 second is obtained at the smallest slit width of 2 mm. The 5, 10, 20 and 50 mm slit width steps lead to exposure times of 1/200, 1/100, 1/50 and 1/20 seconds, respectively. The speed cannot be selected when the curtain is tight, but only while it is being tightened at a specially marked position of the rotating setting button.

As the focal-plane shutter, unlike later Leica models, does not overlap when wound, a leather cap is put on the lens to stop light getting onto the film. “The moment the shutter is released is the climax of a whole chain of operations. The photographer is forced to capture the right moment, because he knows he will not be able to take the next exposure as soon as he likes. Concentrated photography leads to fewer, but very deliberate results“, as Daniel explains initial experience of working with the camera.

The film is loaded into the 35mm film cartridges customary today with the aid of a separate spool. The film transport is indicated on a nickel-plated dial with black numbers in intervals of five. The exposure dial enables various types of function to be set. M for 'Momentaufnahme' (instantaneous exposure) allows the various fixed exposure times to be used. Z for 'Zeitbelichtung' stands for the 'B‘ or 'bulb‘ setting usual today with the shutter kept open for any length of time with the shutter release pressed down. R (short for Rewind) allows the film to be rewound into the cartridge when the rewind button is pressed.

Hinged sighting device for choosing the picture area To define the picture area, there is a sighting device consisting of a hinged viewfinder lens with engraved crosshair and swing-in sight. When the small circle of the sight and the crosshair are in the same optical axis as the eye of the photographer, the field of the viewfinder lens shows the image that will appear in the photograph. The photographer therefore tends to hold the camera away from his face with his arm half outstretched. Compared with an SLR, this makes him feel much more at the centre of the action, even more so than with a rangefinder camera. There is no “hiding“ behind the camera, which is unusual for the photographed person, too. In this way, the Leica 0 series often results in out-of-the-ordinary portraits and unusual perspectives.

Classic lens design The non-interchangeable Leitz Anastigmat f/3.5 /50 mm lens is based on the classic computation of the lens devised by Leitz's chief designer Prof. Max Bereck in 1920. However, his lens design with four elements in three component groups has been optimised with the aid of modern computer techniques. Another improvement on the historic original is the modern multiple coating to reduce reflections. The black lens tube can be fully retracted into the camera body for transport. For photography it is fixed in position with a bayonet lock. The continuous aperture setting control and the focus control are located on the lens head. The aperture engravings 3.5; 4.5; 6.3 and 12 and distance engravings ?; 10; 5; 2; 1.5; 1.25 and 1m are inherited from the old camera.

The optical performance of the new Leitz Anastigmat f/3.5 /50 mm is superior to the later Elmar f/3.5 / 50 mm in various aspects. Despite all the limitations imposed by the minimalistic concept of the camera, the high-quality lens together with the mechanical precision of all the camera components offers the potential for creating technically outstanding results.

A love of detail is shown in the black paint finish of the brass camera top, base plate, knurled control and lens mount. The camera comes with a classic leather every-ready case that has also been produced after the historical drawings.

The camera's history From 1913 onwards, designer Oskar Barnack, who had joined the Ernst Leitz Optical Works in Wetzlar two years previously, was busy developing a 35mm cine camera. The varying speeds of the different film materials at the time made it necessary to make test exposures with a camera. So as not to have to sacrifice unnecessary long portions of his cine films, Oskar Barnack designed a small metal camera in which he could insert relatively short pieces of the 35mm cine film.

The tests were then performed with single exposures. For this purpose, the camera had a focal-plane shutter, whose wind was mechanically coupled to the film transport to eliminate the risk of double exposures. As Oskar Barnack wanted to use this camera for lens testing, too, and as he had already tried taking photographs on smaller film formats than the 13 x 18 cm plates customary at the time, he started using the cine film format of 18x24mm for photographs as well. However, he was not satisfied with the imaging quality and decided to double the cine film format to 24x36 mm.

The first pictures taken by Barnack in Wetzlar in 1913 were of a surprisingly high quality. He therefore did not only use this camera as a testing device for cine films and lenses, but for taking photographs, too. The small camera, with which he and the head of the company at that time, Ernst Leitz II, often took photographs, is known today as the “Ur-Leica“ and is exhibited in the Leica Museum. Another camera of the time, which may have had the same technical features or may have been modified, has been lost. Oskar Barnack called these cameras prototype no. 1 and prototype no. 2.

There were probably already considerations at the Leitz factory to produce the camera in series, as a patent for one of the key mechanical components of these cameras was applied for in May 1914. However, the application was rejected and Leitz had to make do with a copyright on the registered design.

Of course, designer and hobby photographer Oskar Barnack was also aware of the imperfections of his design, but the outbreak of the First World War probably prevented its immediate further development. An optimised model evolved in the years from 1918 to 1920. Oskar Barnack called it Prototype no. 3. This camera is also to be found in the Leica Museum, but without a lens.

Apart from many modifications and improved details as compared with the Ur-Leica (prototype no. 1), prototype no. 3 had an extra-special design feature. While the Ur-Leica had a focal-plane shutter with constant slit width, the shutter integrated in this camera featured adjustable slit width, allowing the selection of six different exposure times from about 1/20s to 1/500s. Only two exposure times could be set (by altering the spring tension of the shutter) on the Ur-Leica: the exposure time of the cine camera, i.e. 1/40s and also 1/20 s.

At the beginning of the Twenties the idea of producing Barnack's camera on an industrial scale was rekindled, partly due to the generally poor economic situation and the worries of Ernst Leitz II about the security of his employees' jobs. There was an urgent need for new products that could be successfully marketed. To test the market, a pilot production model was designed and produced as 0 series in 1923/24. There is no absolutely reliable documentation on how many of these 0-series cameras were actually produced. It has often been said to be 31. As far as we know today, it is probable that only 25 cameras with the serial numbers 101 to 125 were made. In many points, the 0 series was similar to the later Leica I production series. However, the viewfinder was even more simple than on the later model and the 0 series cameras had a hinged frame-type optical viewfinder with a sighting device. However, some well-known 0 series cameras were later retrofitted with a direct-vision optical viewfinder (like the Leica I).

The 0 series cameras were given confidentially to executive managers, agents and customers to obtain their assessment of the future potential of such a camera. The experts' opinions on this totally new type of camera were by no means all positive. In fact, the majority rejected the planned project. As legend has it, Ernst Leitz II ended a long and controversial discussion on whether a camera should be series-produced with the words: “Enough now! I have decided: Barnack's camera shall be built!“. Apparently, it was nearly half past twelve and Ernst Leitz was used to going to lunch on the stroke of twelve.

TIPA Centennial Award for the Leica 35 mm system The first series-produced model, the Leica I, was presented to the public at the Leipzig Spring Fair in 1925. As an alternative to the heavy and rigid plate cameras, it had a key influence on both the technological and the aesthetic aspects of photography, making fast and mobile photography possible for the first time. The work of pioneering photographers with the Leica culminated in modern photojournalism, which has captured the historical events of the 20th century. In acknowledgement of this fact, Leica Camera AG was conferred the TIPA Centennial Award by the Association of European Photographic Magazines in the year 2000.

Above text material from a Leica Camera AG press release.

Gero Furchheim / Tel. + 49 (0) 6442 208-409 / Fax + 49 (0) 6442 208-410 / gero.furchheim@leica-camera.com

Note: The image of camera s/n 116 is from James L. Lager's excellent book "Leica - an illustrated history" Vol 1. We have a copy in the PHSC library. The other two images are from the brochure "Leica 0-Serie" English 910761/08/00 which is an insert in Photographic Canadiana 27-1.

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