Leica fact 16: The Leica 1A part 1: the first 1000 cameras

The Leica 1A was the first camera that came out of the Leitz factory in 1925. In June 21924 Ernst Leitz II decided to actually produce the Leica 1. As of that moment the production of parts started and the marketing departments prepared for the market introduction of the Leica 1.

The original name of the camera was LECA (illustration 1). However the existence of a French camera brand name L’eca prevented this. Also the name Barnack has been considered, but the name was skipped, as this was to German a name. Leaflets have been designed with these names. In the end Leitz decided to use the name Leica 1. Thing is that the name Leica cannot be found anywhere on the camera.

The Leica 1A came in several improved variants. Sometimes the changes where major (e.g. a different lens design) but mostly the changes where small improvements for the production or the use of the camera.

The first approx. 1000 Leica production cameras

The first Leica 1a had a lens with the name Anastigmat. Actually this was more a type of lens rather than a name for a specific lens. Anastigmat lenses were made as of 1890. The designer was Paul Rudolph who worked for the Zeiss Company. Properties of an Anastigmat lens prevent lens faults such as spherical aberration, coma and astigmatism. The Leica Anastigmat is consists of 4 lenses in three groups.

Leica literature says that serial numbers 101 – 279 are equipped with this Anastigmat lens. So in total 179 cameras with this lens. These very early Leica 1 cameras are extremely rare and valuable.

As of serial number 280 Leitz equipped the Leica 1 with the so-called ELMAX lenses. The name is made of “E.L. (Ernst Leitz)” and “Max” the first name of the lens designer Max Berek

The ELMAX lens consists of 5 lenses in three groups. However the big German Ernemann manufacturer of Kino equipment filed a complaint as they sold a lens with the name ERMAX that was very close to ELMAX. 7 October 1925 Leitz decided to change the name in Elmar. This name is still in use with Leica e.g. in the name Elmarit.

The name changeover from ELMAX to ELMAR almost coincides with a different design of the lens. The ELMAR has 4 lenses in three groups. 

No exact serial number is known after which the lenses got the name ELMAR. Until the beginning of 2000 it was assumed that the production of the Leica 1 with the ELMAR started from serial number 1300. In the book ‘The 10 different variants of the classic Leica 1A with Elmar 1:3.5 F=50mm van Angela en Prof. Dr. Henning v. Einem’ (2008 page 8) the authors assume that the changeover of name and lens design is between serial number 1170 and 1284. Nr. 1182 and 1189 for instance are clearly ELMAR design lenses. 

However cameras with an ELMAR lens design are known to exist with an ELMAX name engraved in it. (Serial number 1162). 

In an upcoming ‘Leica facts’ I will elaborate more on the different Leica 1A models with the ELMAR lens.