Glossary of Leica Terms
The widespread use of abbreviations and proprietary terminology in Leica-related documentation can be puzzling, so hopefully this inventory of definitions will help to clarify the meaning of particular terms. If you are looking for information on serial numbers, these can be readily found, for example, in the Leica Wiki or in Erwin Puts' Leica Compendium. The 2011-edition of the latter sold out quickly, but can sometimes be found on eBay.
- 35mm format:
- The 35mm format is the common name for a film or image sensor size that was initially introduced by Oscar Barnack in the Ur-Leica. This format is sometimes also called the "Leica format". The 35mm-name derives from the gauge of the film strip, which (including perforations) measures 35mm. The receptor area of the film or sensor is 36x24mm.
- The designation APO-Telyt describes a line of apochromatically-corrected telephoto lenses first introduced in 1975 with the APO-Telyt-R 3.4/180mm. All optics in this series were produced for the now discontinued R-mount, with the exception of the APO-Telyt-M 3.4/135mm. The latter is currently the longest focal length available for the M-series rangefinder system. The lens family includes such highly acclaimed optics as the APO-Telyt-R 4/280 or the APO-Telyt-R Module system. It also contains two exotic lenses – the APO-Telyt-R 5/600mm and the APO-Telyt-R 5.6/1600mm – of which only one or two copies are known to exist. Despite being manual focus only lenses, the APO-Telyts have kept their value and continue to trade at premium prices on the pre-owned market.
- Auction Madness:
- Leica Auction Madness is a casual expression that captures the extraordinary success of Leica vintage equipment sales a major auction houses. Leica lots regularly beat expert estimations and sell for five, six or even seven figure US-dollar amounts. The strong interest from collectors is fuelled by Leica's long history of small batch manufacturing, the use of exquisite materials and premium craftsmanship. – More on Leica auctions.
- Barnack, Oskar (1879-1936):
- Oskar Barnack was a master mechanic, who designed the first Leica camera and developed the 35mm film standard. He worked at Carl Zeiss in Jena and in 1910 moved to Ernst Leitz in Wetzlar as head of microscope development. Barnack was fascinated by the emerging movie industry and himself an amateur photographer. However, due to suffering from asthma, he struggled to transport and handle the heavy and bulky plate-camera equipment and, thus, went about developing an imaging system that would be easier to handle. Barnack's idea was to replace the large and cumbersome photographic plates of the time with small commonly-available movie-film that would subsequently be enlarged in the darkroom. The resulting compact and portable camera (the Leitz Prototype I or Ur-Leica of 1913/14) made it possible for photographers to work in ordinary outdoor settings with available light and without necessarily attracting attention to themselves. 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, and 40 exposures could be made in a single loading. The outbreak of World War I and its aftermath prevented the Barnack-design to be marketed to the public for several years, but when the Leica I was launched in 1925, it became a commercial success and established the 35mm film format as the standard for photographic imaging.
- The Leica CL was a compact viewfinder film camera ("Compact Leica") with M-bayonet that was produced in cooperation with Minolta during 1973-76. The CL had a different rangefinder than the M-cameras that was less precise and less suitable to focusing fast or long lenses. Leica released two optics specifically designed for use with the CL: the Leitz Summicron-C 40mm f/2 and the Leitz Elmar-C 90mm f/4. Both lenses can be mounted also on a regular M-body, but Leica did not recommend to do so, because the coupling cams are different. About 65,000 CLs were produced and sold. – In November 2017, Leica introduced a new digital CL, which is a 24 megapixel L-Mount camera with an APS-C sensor, integrated electronic viewfinder and touchscreen.
- DMR (Digital-Modul-R):
- The Leica Digital-Modul-R is a clip-on camera back that makes digital photo capture possible with the R8 and R9 SLR cameras. It became available in June 2005. The DMR consists of two parts: the digital back, which replaces the camera's backdoor, and the power unit. The DMR was designed and manufactured by Leica in cooperation with Denmark-based Imacon. It uses a 10 megapixel sensor developed by Kodak that is 26.4mm wide and 17.6mm high, which gives rise to a format factor of 1.37. The sensor does not have an anti-aliasing filter, so that it can capture very sharp and detailed images. The DMR turns the Leica R8 and R9 into the only hybrid film and digital 35mm cameras available on the market. About 2,200 units of the DMR were produced and sold before the digital back was discontinued in 2007. – More on the Digital-Modul-R.
- ELCAN is the abbreviation for Ernst Leitz CANada, which from 1952 to 1990 was the North American subsidiary of Leica (now part of Raytheon) with a design and production facility in Midland/Ontario. ELCAN focused on specialty optical instruments for the military. Several high performance M-mount and R-mount lenses bearing the ELCAN designation were produced in small numbers, which nowadays makes them sought after collector's items.
- Ernst Leitz:
- Ernst Leitz (1843-1920) was an entrepreneur and founder in 1869 of Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar/Germany, which he turned into one of the world's most prominent producers of microscopes. After his death in 1920, his son, Ernst Leitz II (1870-1956), succeeded him as company head and expanded the firm's activities into photographic equipment production, based on the camera and lens designs of his chief engineers, Oskar Barnack and Max Berek. In 1925, he successfully launched the Leica I, which started a new era of compact and convenient photography based around the 35mm film format. After the death of Ernst Leitz II, his sons Ludwig, Ernst III (1906-79), and Günther assumed senior management positions in the company. The latter underwent several mergers and name changes since the 1980s, which included the formation of the Leica Group in 1990, which was split up into Leica Geosystems (precision measurement tools), Leica Microsystems (microscopes), and Leica Camera (photography equipment) in 1996/97. At the time of the de-merger, Leica Camera went public by listing on the Frankfurt stock exchange.
- Extender is Leica's term for its tele-converters. The company produced one 1.4x and two 2x converters for its R-system that extend the focal length of the lens to which the converter is attached, respectively, by 40 percent and 100 percent, while reducing the maximum aperture by one or two stops. The two newest of the Extenders carry the APO-prefix, indicating that they are optimized for combination with apochromatically corrected tele-lenses. – More on the Leica Extenders.
- Family Tree:
- The Leica "Stammbaum" or family tree was an iconic display of Leica cameras that used to greet visitors at the entrance of the company's headquarters in Solms. The tree-like arrangement retraced photographic equipment history from the Ur-Leica of 1914 to the era of digital M-cameras one hundred years later. It showcased all the rangefinder and reflex camera models that Leica produced over time. Representations of the family tree were printed in Leica product catalogs or could be purchased as laminated posters. When Leica moved to its new headquarters in Wetzlar in 2013, it was decided to display the historic camera models individually in the company museum. At that time, the tree-structure was acquired and re-populated for presentation in the Leica Store Manchester, before being sold at a Christie's auction in September 2016 for £360,000. – More on the Leica Family Tree.
- Five-letter codes ("Bestellworte"):
- Five-letter codes were pronounceable telegraphic letter combinations that used to be assigned for identification to each Leica product during 1928-60. For example, "ATOOH" referred to the Leica IIIb, "HIKOO" to the Hektor 2.5/12.5cm, and "LEICA" to the Leica I, model A. Since then, Leica has been using numerical five-digit product identification codes. The full list of the five-letter codes is available as part of the leica-wiki on the l-camera-forum.
- Geovid is the trademark of Leica's sports optics. The company produces a range of binoculars, spotting scopes, and riflescopes. Modern Geovids are weather-proof, feature high-performance optics, and offer laser-based distance measurement.
- The Hologon 15mm f/8 was an ultra wide-angle lens produced by Carl Zeiss for the Leica M-system (Leica order number 11003). It was produced from 1972 to 1976 and came with a dedicated viewfinder, as well as a neutral density filter that made it possible to stop the fixed-aperture lens down to f/16. The Hologon provided a previously unavailable angle of view of 110°, which opened up new creative experiences for Leica M-shooters. Only about 500 Hologons for Leica-M were produced, which makes the lens one of the most desirable collectible optics today.
- The Leica IFLEX is the micro version of the Visoflex I. It was introduced in 1953 and features a rotating screen holder for two interchangeable screens. The IFLEX was produced both in screw mount and bayonet versions.
- Jony Ive Leica:
- In 2013, designers Jony Ive and Mark Newson created a one-of-a-kind Leica M with Summicron 50mm f/2. The main body was made of magnesium die-cast and the outer shell of milled anodized aluminium. The unique camera was custom made for the RED charitable auction, where it was sold for no less than $1.8 million.
- Kaufmann, Andreas:
- Andreas Kaufmann is an Austrian entrepreneur, who has been playing a substantial role in Leica's evolution since the mid-2000s. In 2004, Kaufmann acquired a 27.2 percent of the stock of Leica Camera AG and deepened his investment further in 2006 to hold a majority of 96.5 percent. Kaufmann subsequently served as, respectively, chief executive officer and chairman of the Board. Under his leadership the company was restructured and returned to profit, and the headquarters moved (back) to Wetzlar.
- Leica is a brand name derived from the founder's company name "Leitz(sche) Camera". It was initially only used for cameras, while lenses and accessories bore the Leitz/Wetzlar label. In 1986, the founding family changed the legal form of the enterprise from a privately held firm to a limited liability company, Leica GmbH, and sold its controlling stake to outside investors. The headquarters and camera production was subsequently moved from Wetzlar to a new facility in nearby Solms. Since then, all the company's products have been branded as "Leica".
- The Leicaflex was Leica's first single lens reflex camera, released in 1964. It was a very solid, fully manual SLR with an exceptionally bright viewfinder. However, technologically it was lagging behind the competition of the time. Its successors, the Leicaflex SL and Leicaflex SL2, addressed some of the shortcomings by adding a fully-focusing viewscreen, TTL-metering, and a hotshoe. Yet, Leica ultimately replaced the Leicaflexes in favor of the R3 that it had developed in cooperation with Minolta. – More on Leicaflex and R-system cameras.
- LeicaRumors.com is a website specialized in reporting news and information on upcoming product releases from Leica ("Leica news, before it happens"). Its focus is on new cameras, lenses, and special editions, but the site frequently also features information that is of interest to collectors, such as auction outcomes. LeicaRumors.com was launched in August 2008 and has grown to regularly receive more than 200,000 visits per month. The site claims to have no formal affiliation with Leica.
- Lens names:
- All Leica lenses are labelled with trademarked names alongside their description by maximum aperture and focal length. While originally these designations were related to the origin or optical design of the particular lens, they nowadays only refer to groups of optics that share the same maximum aperture opening: A Noctilux has a maximum aperture opening of f/0.95-1.2, a Nocticron f/1.2, a Summilux f/1.4, a Summicron f/2, a Summarit f/2.5, an Elmarit f/2.8, and an Elmar f/2.8-4.5. The lens names are sometimes qualified with prefixes, such as "APO-", indicating apo-chromatic correction, "Tele-", to describe long focal length, or "Vario-", to identify a zoom lens. Some deprecated lens names of older lenses did not follow this aperture-centered categorization, though. For example, "Telyt" lenses are characterized by their long focal length rather than a particular lens speed. Since only a few other camera makers (e.g. Voigtländer, Zeiss) have a similar lens-designation scheme, the lens names have contributed to the differentiation of the Leica brand as a special and perhaps more "personal" photographic tool.
- LTM (Leica Thread Mount):
- LTM is a screw mount to attach 35mm lenses to camera bodies with a width of 39mm and a thread of 0.977mm per turn. Leica introduced the LTM with its Leica II rangefinder camera in 1932. LTM lenses have a flange-focal-distance of 28.8 mm. Adapters make it possible to use LTM-lenses on M-mount cameras while maintaining infinity focus and rangefinder coupling.
- The M-mount is a bayonet-style camera-lens coupling mechanism that was introduced with the Leica M3 rangefinder camera in 1954 and has been used on all subsequent Leica M series cameras, as well as the Epson R-D1, Konica Hexar RF, Minolta CLE, Ricoh GXR, Rollei 35RF, Voigtländer Bessa, and (the most recent) Zeiss Ikon cameras. The patent for the M-bayonet ("Bajonettvorrichtung für die lösbare Verbindung zweier Kamerateile") was registered by Ernst Leitz GmbH at the German patent office on 10 February 1950 and published on 23 October 1952 (patent number DE853384). Hugo Wehrenfennig was credited with the invention. The bayonet has a diameter of 44mm and a relatively short flange-focal distance of 27.8mm, so that many other lenses, such as Leica R or LTM, can be mounted on an M-mount camera via corresponding adapters. The M-mount features four tabs and a connector that transmits the focusing distance of the lens to the optical rangefinder in the camera. The newer version of the M-mount that was introduced with the Leica M8 also has six-bit markings on the flange that provide the camera with information on the lens that is being attached, so as to enable digital corrections of lens-specific imaging flaws. – More on Leica M lenses.
- Max Berek:
- Max Berek (1886-1949) was a mineralogist and mathematician, who joined Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in 1912 and became the head of microscope development. He also designed the first lenses for the company's new 35mm cameras. In particular, he calculated the Elmax 50mm f/3.5 lens for the Ur-Leica, with "Elmax" being an abbreviation of "Ernst Leitz and MAX (Berek)".
- Noctilux is Leica's designation for its fastest M-lenses. The first optic in this family – the Noctilux 50mm f/1.2 of 1966 – was the world's first mass produced aspherical camera lens. It was replaced in 1976 by the Noctilux-M 50mm f/1, which in turn gave way to the Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 Asph in 2008. The primary purpose of these ultra-fast primes is low-light photography and portraiture, where the razor-thin depth-of-field makes it possible to easily isolate the main subject. All Noctilux lenses are relatively big and heavy, and the use of an external viewfinder is often desirable, as the lens will otherwise partially obstruct the view through the finder. – More on Leica M lenses.
- Ocular To-R:
- The Leica Ocular To-R is an adapter that makes it possible to use R-system lenses as telescopes. It attaches to Leica R-lenses via the bayonet mount. The Ocular contains a Schmidt-Pechan-prism that rotates the image by 180°, so that the latter appears upright and correctly sided. The Ocular has an eyepiece with a focal length of 12.5mm. Focus is achieved via the focusing mechanism of the lens. – More on the Leica Ocular To-R.
- PC Super-Angulon:
- PC Super-Angulon was the designation for a 2.8/28mm shift lens ("Perspective Control") produced by Schneider-Kreuznach for the Leica R-system. The lens has a large image circle diameter that makes it possible to displace the optical axis by 11mm horizontally and vertically. The PC Super-Angulon has a preset iris with an iris closing lever, so that image composition can be done at full aperture. The lens is then stopped down via the lever immediately before pressing the shutter release. – More on Leica R lenses.
- The Q (Typ 116) was Leica's first compact digital camera with a full frame sensor. It was released in June 2015 and featured a 24MP sensor, a 3.68 million dot electronic viewfinder, and a Summilux 1.7/28mm lens. The body of the camera was machined from a solid block of aluminum.
- Red Dot:
- The term "Red Dot" denotes the small, red, circular branding logo on (many) Leica cameras. The adhesive sticker has a diameter of 12mm (for the Leica M) and is placed into a dedicated pit. It will usually be destroyed upon removal. In case you damage or lose your camera's red dot, Leica will be happy to sell you a replacement sticker (SKU: 710 271 000 000). Alternatively, one can also procure black logo stickers from specialized vendors, such as dagcamera.com, that make the camera more discrete. In casual terms, the expression "red dot" denotes the branding power that Leica has developed over time. For example, the D-Lux and V-Lux series are technically largely identical to corresponding cameras from Panasonic, but the Leica-branding of these cameras results in a substantial price premium – both in the new and in the pre-owned market.
- ROM-lenses are lenses for Leica's R-system of SLR that are fitted with Read Only Memory chips. The latter store the characteristics of the lens for transmission to and use by the R8 or R9 cameras. In particular, these cameras can use the lens-specific information to correct for lens vignetting (in connection with the Digital Modul-R), to adjust the zoom reflector on flash guns according to the focal length, or to correctly display aperture information if accessories, like tele-extenders, are attached to the lens. The ROM chip came with all newly sold lenses from 1996, but could also be retrofitted by Leica technicians to older lenses. – More on different Leica R-lens versions.
- Six-bit code:
- The Six-Bit Code is a colored engraving on the flange of M-lenses that makes it possible for digital M-cameras to recognize the lens that has been mounted. Thanks to reading this code through mount-based sensors, the camera can include information on the attached lens and its focal length in EXIF data and make digital corrections for lens-specific flaws, such as color-cast or vignetting, in line with lens profiles stored in the camera's firmware. Six-bit coding was introduced for all M-lenses sold since 2006 (when the Leica M8 was launched), but many older lenses can be retrofitted with the code. The coding is realized through physical pits on the lens mount flange, which are filled with either white or black paint. The six digit binary code makes it theoretically possible to distinguish up to 64 different lenses.
- Thambar was the designation of a legendary 90mm f/2.2 soft-focus portrait lens produced by Leitz during 1935-49. The thread-mount lens is known for yielding dreamy soft skin similar to the Hollywood portraits that were popular in the 1930s. Only about 3,000 Thambars were produced, and good copies/sets continue to fetch premium prices at photography auctions (See here for current offers on eBay). – In October 2017, Leica re-issued a Thambar-M 90mm f/2.2 for the M-bayonet mount, which is optically identical to the original and features only minor modifications to the exterior design of the lens.
- The Ur-Leica was the prototype of the first Leica 35mm camera. It was built in 1914 by Oscar Barnack as a compact camera that made it possible for the photographer to capture ordinary outdoor life without carrying the heavy and cumbersome equipment typical for the time. The Ur-Leica was also the first camera that used the 24x36mm film format, which was derived from 18x24mm film then common for large theater projections. After World War I, developments of the compact camera continued, leading in 1924 to 31 copies of the pre-production Leica O-Series camera, before the Leica I was introduced to the public at the Leipzig Spring Fair in 1925 and subsequently became a commercial success. – More on the Ur-Leica.
- UVa is part of the inscription on Leica-branded ultraviolet filters. The latter are intended for use in high altitude areas, where UV exposure is high. UVa filters block the non-visible ultraviolet A-spectrum (wavelength of 400-315nm), and thereby help to reduce haziness and a blue color cast in images recorded on film. Since digital sensors are not sensitive to UV light, UVa filters have lost their color correction function in digital photography, but continue to be used as a means of lens protection. – More on Leica UVa filters.
- The Visoflex is a mirror reflex box, first released in 1951, that attaches to the lens mount of Leica rangefinders and makes it possible to work with macro or telephoto lenses. Its prism housing contains a viewscreen to judge and adjust focus, so that a rangefinder camera turns into a single lens reflex. More recently, Leica has also been using the Visoflex designation for its electronic viewfinder accessory for digital cameras.
- Vulcanite is black, rubberized material that used to be applied to Leica camera bodies prior to the 1980s in order to give the surface texture and provide the photographer with a solid grip. However, over time natural oxidation and exposure to ultraviolet light can result in the deterioration of the Vulcanite cover, such that the material becomes brittle and peels off. More recent Leicas have therefore been using "leatherette" vinyl covers, which are chemically more stable, easier to replace when damaged, and less expensive to apply.
- Walter Mandler:
- Walter Mandler (1922-2005) was one of Leica's most famous lens designers. For most of his career, Mandler worked at ELCAN, Leica's subsidiary in Canada. There he undertook pioneering work in using computer aided design, retrofocus configurations, and apo-chromatic corrections for the development of new screw mount, rangefinder, and reflex lenses. Walter Mandler is credited with the design of more than 45 Leica lenses, including such ground-breaking optics as the first Noctilux and the first APO-Telyt.
- The X-series is a line of compact digital cameras with a large APS-C sensor. The first camera in the family, the Leica X1, was launched with a 35mm equivalent Elmarit prime lens in September 2009. It was in later years joined by models with a zoom lens, a fast Summilux wide-angle, and a rugged, shock and waterproof version. All X-series cameras share a design that is reminiscent of Leica's M rangefinder cameras.
- YQU was a marketing term used by Leica to promote the Leica Q (Typ 116). It suggests the possibility of pure and unadulterated image capture and, hence, personal expression with Leica's first compact camera based on a full-frame sensor and fixed focal length. – "It's up to YQU".
- The Leica Z-2X was a compact film camera with a two-times Vario-Elmar 35-70mm f/4-7 zoom lens. It was produced from 1997 to 2002 in black or silver finish, and was available with or without a databack. In 2000, a Jaguar limited edition of 1000 units was produced in black and racing green with the Jaguar logo on the lower front.
The past fifty years of Leica photography have been dominated by the M and R-systems. The evolution of these lines of cameras (and the ancestors) is graphically illustrated in the Leica family tree. Descriptions of the advances made with each new camera model are contained, respectively, in the Leica M compendium and the Leica R compendium. Last, but not least, much of the attraction of Leica for photographers is due to the excellent quality of the company's lenses, and you can get an overview of all the options and specs by checking out the M lens catalog or the R lens catalog on this site.