Leitz Ur-Leica versus Olympus E-420
Roughly a century of technological development separate the Ur-Leica and the Olympus E-420. The former was finished in March 1914, while the latter was presented to the public in March 2008. The Ur-Leica was the first camera to use 24x36mm film, whereas the E-420 is build around a 10MP Four Thirds digital imaging sensor.
Oskar Barnack, a master technician at Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar/Germany, had the groundbreaking idea of doubling the width of then common 18x24mm cinema film and have it run horizontally in the Ur-Leica, rather than vertically as in cinema cameras of the time. He initially used the prototype camera to test the exposure for film projectors, but soon realized that the new design had potential as a self-standing stills camera. He completed his Ur-Leica in March 1914 as a small camera around a small negative that after enlargement, however, generated prints that showed less grain than the images from photographic plates. Also, the camera utilized the relatively inexpensive motion picture film, such that twelve pictures now could be taken for the costs of a single 5 x 7 plate. Better quality at lower costs from a more compact imaging tool was a sure recipe for commercial success. The latter came after the end of World War I, when Leitz started to sell the Leica I, which was based on the Ur-Leica.
Body comparison: Ur-Leica vs Olympus E-420
An illustration of the physical dimensions and weight of the Leitz Ur-Leica and the Olympus E-420 is provided in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Olympus E-420 is notably larger (37 percent) than the Leitz Ur-Leica. Moreover, the E-420 is slightly heavier (2 percent) than the Ur-Leica. In addition, while the Ur-Leica has an integrated lens (the retractable Mikro-Summar 42mm f/4.5), the E-420 requires an additional lens, which will add further to its weight.
Evidently, the E-420 is the more powerful imaging tool, providing an image quality and picture-processing capability that Oskar Barnack, the creator of the Ur-Leica, probably could not have envisioned. However, there are two aspects (apart from size and weight) where the Ur-Leica has an edge over the E-420. The first one is power supply. The Ur-Leica is a fully mechanical camera, so that there is no risk of running out of juice during a shooting session...
The second advantage of the Ur-Leica is, well, its resale value. The camera is a museum piece, resting safely at Leica’s headquarters in Wetzlar/Germany. Collectors would probably be willing to pay several million US dollars if it were put up for sale. In contrast, the Olympus E-420, while surely being the better, more modern camera, just lacks the scarcity and historical importance that foster "auction madness" and drive vintage camera prices into six or seven-figure territory.
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