Oskar Barnack was born on November 1st, 1879 in Lynow, Brandenburg, a hamlet south of Berlin. His native village hosts a Oskar Barnack museum to this day. From 1902 to 1910, he worked for the Carl Zeiss company, and in 1911 he was invited by Ernst Leitz to join the Leitz works in Wetzlar. He was the head of the construction department of what was then an optical factory specialized in making microscopes. Between 1913 and 1914 he developed the Ur-Leica, a prototype camera using 35mm motion picture film. From the start, the film was transported horizontally and not vertically, as was the case with movie cameras. The format 24×36mm, a format we've all been accustomed to, was obtained by doubling the normal movie-image. At the time, most cameras were equipped with glass plates or roll film. While cumbersome, their large negatives eliminated the need for enlargement. But lenses and films had reached a quality that reduced the quality drawback of getting prints through enlarging.
The first world war stopped the commercial introduction of this 35mm camera. It wasn't until 1925 that the first Leicas were made commercially available, but they were still among the first available still cameras for 35mm movie film. Despite other contemporary 35mm camera models like the Ellison Kamra, Wirgin's Edinex and Ernemann's Unette the early Leicas became the most influential 35mm cameras. Many other camera makers started their 35mm camera business by simply copying original Leica models, often disregarding any legislation against product piracy. Some renowned companies learned to make sophisticated camera mechanisms that way, and only later switched to the designing their own 35mm cameras.
Oskar Barnack died on January 16th, 1936.
|Oskar Barnack in his workshop|
image by Hans Kerensky (Image rights)