Still Relevant In An Evolving Environment: Leica Protype Sets Record of $15 Million

Leica is announcing its fourth annual Leica Women Foto Project Award, in partnership with Photoville, Aman New York and Women Photograph, calling for photo entries until November 7. This year the contest will include participants from the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Canada, in addition to the United States. The prize? One winner from each region will receive a cash award of $10,000, in addition to a Leica SL2-S camera and a Leica Vario Elmarit-SL 24-70mm lens.

But this noteworthy project is just one of the many ways that Leica has remained pertinent in an ever-changing landscape—a course familiar to this German company, founded by Ernst Leitz in Wetzlar in 1869. For over 150 years—through world wars, emerging competition, transformative technologies, and fruitful collaborations—the company has rolled with the times. And it continues to explore the depths of design and good business while maintaining its position as the company that produces cameras for those with a passion for photography.

Camera Sets World Record

Leica’s essential place in the history of the camera adds to its coveted status in the industry, further fortified by the capacity to singularly capture the public’s imagination by virtue of its name. Just this year a rare Leica prototype—the 0-series no. 105—sold for $15 million at the 40th Leitz Photographica Auction in Wetzlar, setting a new world record. It is one of the notable cameras made by Ernst Leitz (as the company was then known): about 23 models of this prototype 0 series were made in 1923 and 1924, before the first serial 35mm cameras were available. Adding to its historical appeal, the camera belonged to Oskar Barnack, an engineer at the Leitz company who built what would become the first commercially successful 35mm still camera.

Director of Global Marketing and Communication Andrea Pacella, says Leica remains “anchored to photography.” As such, it is one of the few companies that still offers film cameras within its range, while promoting the art form throughout the world via a variety of initiatives such as its Leica galleries and the Akademie. But this loyalty to its picture-taking roots does not preclude strategic decisions that will insure its successful future in an evolving environment. “We are heavily involved in our future, looking to expand our markets,” he says, sharing the company’s stance as a brand- and customer-driven company.

In May of this year, as an example, Leica Camera AG and Panasonic signed an agreement to further meld their respective core competencies and develop distinguished camera and lens products under the name of L² Technology. The cooperation between Leica Camera AG and the Panasonic Corporation dates much earlier—to 2000—when the first prescient agreements to work together on various projects were conceived.

All About Pictures

But for the vast majority of the public—record-breaking auctions and well-placed alliances aside—the name Leica simply means great photography, and it continues to be a holy grail for casual photographers and the undisputed camera of choice for many acclaimed artists. And Leica’s influence on street photography, thanks to its role in producing a portable camera, exploded a genre that undoubtedly altered our perceptions of the world. Famed 20th-century photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson, for example, used Leica’s M-3 and famously called it “the extension of my eye.”

World-renowned photographer, author and Leica Hall of Famer Ralph Gibson bought his first Leica at the age of 21 and has never looked back. “It only cost $300, and I paid it off $25 per week,” he says of this seminal purchase. “I have used the 35mm range finder Leica M model exclusively since 1961,” he shares in his book “Refractions 2.”

Gibson credits Barnack with introducing ergonomics into photography, opining that the German inventor probably designed the camera with his eyes closed, relying on how his hands felt while holding it. He likens his Leica to a musical instrument in its responsiveness to nuance. The challenge? “Herr Barnack did not realize, however, that the most difficult thing to do with a Leica is to set it down.”

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