Germany’s Leica is a big name in sport optics. Famed worldwide for its cameras for over a century, it has put the same commitment into producing great sport optics for hunters and birdwatchers.
The Leica story begins with Dr Ernst Leitz, a German entrepreneur as passionate about nature as he was about optics.
In May 1907, after three years of research and development, he started the production of his company’s first binoculars model, the Binocle 6x18.
Over the following years, many more models were launched with zooms from 6x up to 18x and diameters of objective lenses ranging from 18mm to 60mm.
Not surprisingly, many of his binoculars ended up in the trenches of the First World War, not so long after Leitz launched his first model.
In the meantime, in 1914, exactly 100 years ago, the company unleashed its very first photo camera onto the market, which was the start of an extraordinary success story.
The Leica Camera business developed to such an extent that it currently still eclipses the Leica Sport Optics business (Leica Sport Optics currently being part of the Leica Camera company).
In the company’s 2010/2011 fiscal year, Sport Optics accounted for approximately 1/10th of the total company turnover.
All very nice but, to put things into perspective, let’s head back to the story of Leica Sport Optics.
In the 1950s, the first binoculars to bear the name Trinovid were made. Trinovid stands for ‘Tri Novi’ – or three innovations – namely slim construction, true internal focusing and superior optical performance. The Trinovid name is still adorning Leica models to this very day, alongside the Ultravid and Duovid ranges.
Also in the 1950s, for the very first time, Leica added three riflescopes to the product range. These models were characterised by a particular Leitz feature: reticle focusing was performed by a group of lenses inside the tube instead of the usual adjustment of the entire eyepiece.
Here, the principle of true internal focusing was combined with the well-known advantages of ruggedness and resistance to dust and moisture.
However, Leica’s focus continued to be on binoculars and spotting scopes. As a result, the riflescopes launched in the 1950s only remained in production for a few years.
In 1992, Leica brought onto market a game-changing product. The Geovid were the first binoculars with an integrated laser rangefinder.
Nowadays, laser rangefinding is all the rage with most optics brands; Leica pioneered it all. Leica’s current rangefinder model, the Geovid HD-B 42, still proudly bears witness to this great innovation.
Return of the riflescopes
In 2010, Leica again took on the production of riflescopes, with the launch of its non-illuminated ER series. Later, the ER series got illuminated reticles, was baptised the ER-i and is currently available in 2.5-10x42 and 3-12x50. Leica’s new riflescope story didn’t stop here, though.
One year after the company introduced its ER riflescopes, it took the competition head on by launching the Magnus series of premium riflescopes.
Next to their premium optics and field of view, the most essential feature of these riflescopes is their zoom capability. The models range from 1-6.3x24 to 1.5-10x42 and 2.4-16x56.
At that point, until Zeiss introduced its Victory V8 riflescopes this year with an even bigger zoom capability, only Swarovski had comparable zoom levels with its Z6i riflescopes.
One brand, many companies
It’s quite interesting to see how Ernst Leitz’s company evolved during the last century.
In 1986, Leitz changed its name to Leica (LEItz CAmera), due to the strength of the Leica brand.
At this time, Leica moved its factory from the German town of Wetzlar to the nearby town of Solms.
In 1996, Leica Camera separated from the Leica Group and became a publicly held company until 2012, when the majority shareholder, the Lisa Germany Holding, took over the remaining shares in Leica Camera and delisted the company from the Frankfurt stock exchange. As stated earlier, it’s Leica Camera that also manages the Leica Sport Optics business.
In 1998 the Leica Group itself split into two independent units: Leica Microsystems, producing microscopes, and Leica Geosystems, producing geosurvey cameras and equipment. Leica Microsystems AG owns the Leica brand and licences the sister companies to use it.
Last May, Leica Camera inaugurated a brand-new corporate headquarters in Wetzlar, the birthplace of the Leica camera and the home of Ernst Leitz (and coincidentally also home to another premium brand, Zeiss Sport Optics).
Tradition and modernity, the past and the future, quality and perfection, not to mention a focus on the essence – all these values are reflected in the new company complex with a ground-plan area of around 27,000 square metres.
This new complex is home to the production, administration and customer-care divisions of Leica Camera AG and the Leica Akademie.
Built to state-of-the-art energy-efficiency standards, the new complex accommodates Leica’s 700 employees in Wetzlar.
Openly visible production areas, a Leica experience zone, Leica Galerie, store, photo studio, restaurant and coffee house offer a wide range of attractions. The overall investment for the new Leitz-Park complex ran up to €60 million.
Alfred Schopf, chairman of the executive board at Leica, explained: “It was our intention to create not only a place where our cameras, lenses and sport optics products are made, but also a place that visibly expresses the values of our brand.
“The Leitz-Park celebrates the Leica legend in many ways – be it in exhibitions of photography, the Leica experience, or a look behind the scenes of the production process.
“We expect to see tens of thousands of visitors every year, many of them from abroad – after all, Frankfurt Airport is only 60km from here.”
Leica Camera AG
T: +49 6441 2080-0