Oscar Barnack (1879 – 1936) and the first 35mm camera

Leica 1
Leica 1

First effective 35mm camera

The Leica 1, the first functional 35 mm camera, was introduced in Germany in 1925, making photography much more accessible to the general public. Oscar Barnack, a precision engineer at the Leitz optical laboratories in Wetzlar, spent twelve years developing this compact and lightweight type (established 1869). He began his career as a master mechanic with the Ernst Leitz firm in 1911 after being trained as a mechanic. Barnack rejected the traditional bulky glass plate negative format favouring a 24 36 mm reel-to-reel film format thanks to his brilliant design solution. Barnack created his first experimental small format camera in 1913, which served as the foundation for the Leica A of 1918 and the Leica 1 of 1925, the first production model. (The word Leica comes from the words Leitz and camera.)

Advertisement from The International Leica Society
Advertisement from The International Leica Society

With 36 exposures per film and a high-quality lens and mechanics, the Leica 1 was a very practical camera. Its unfussy design emphasised its focus for high-quality utility and technological innovation, attributes that have continued to be represented in Leica camera design to this day, such as the Leica C1 created by Achim Heine in 1999. The prominent Bauhaus graphic designer and teacher Herbert Bayer and leading German photojournalists like Erich Salomon were among the first users of the first mass-produced Leica cameras.

Sources

Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.

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