You know, when Oscar Barnack, the all-maker, gave the first Leica to us, he had a very specific idea of what he wanted to achieve: he wanted to give us a camera that was small enough to fit in your pocket and light enough to carry it on a sunday hike. That is, of course, the official story by Leitz, first owner of the Leica brand, and as storytelling goes, it is probably bullshit. More or less. Because you can’t trust someone who’s trying to sell you something. Except for me, the most honorable of merchants. You can trust me head-on because I love you more than I love my business. I like this creation myth though; just in the sense that it is so stereotypically German that it is almost hilarious. I see the eyes of Doktor B wide open in a closeup, the plane slowly travelling out and showing a demented grin: “Eureka! I vill kreate a kamera für zee hikers!”; all this in b&w 1930’s cinema film. Just sublime.
Why do I distrust the hiking camera myth? My two cents: too politically correct in its context to be true. Because, let’s admit it: if you build cameras, or cars, or battleships, your primary goal is selling them and everything else you’re going to add to this is just marketing.Baron I, is an exception to that, of course.
Besides, the Leica I, II, and III are too much great cameras just to be aimed at a niche market. I simply do not believe that those marvels were intended to just be ‘portable’ cameras; they weren’t just gizmoes that compromised quality just for the sake of portability. Simply because they didn’t compromise quality at all, having superb mechanics and great lenses from the very beginning. Just look at the first massively-produced interchangeable lens for 35mm, the Leitz 50mm 3.5 Elmar, which was sold as the simplest kit lens with the first wave of Leicas. It was rocket tech compared to its competitors in the portable camera world, at 6×9 format, which were much slower and simpler designs. So sorry, I can’t believe that the Leica was intended as a camera just for those not willing to carry a 6×9 folder to a climbing excursion in the Alps. Its superior design, choice of materials, and finish were too ambitious; the Leica aimed to much at the stars for me to believe that the Leitz family didn’t intend from the beginning to take over a significant part of the market. Not to mention the immense possibilities that a so small quality camera enabled.
Those who said that the cinefilm format was too small to take quality pictures with tended to obviate the fact that the 6×9 format was more intended to make copies by contact than to be enlarged. 35mm pictures enlarged to, say, 50x70cm are quite difficult to tell from 6×9 ones, and if you’re using a shitty doublet, as many 120 and 127 cameras happened to mount, they’re for sure going to be much better. The Leica was perfect for what it was meant to do. Which was almost everything, at least in real world situations. Yes, I have been picking at Leica so much that I felt like I needed to tell everyone how great I think the first Leicas really were in their context. I’m like the kid at your first grade class that picks on the girl he likes to draw her attention, just because he is so idiot to try any other form of interaction. That’s for you guys at Solms. If you would send a Leica MP to me, I would accept it. Reluctantly. Shiny black paint. And vulkanite cover. And normal framelines. Oh, well.
And the subliminal message in this article is that you want to buy a screwmount Leica from me. Now that’s it.