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Oskar Barnack

01 November 1879 ~ 16 January 1936

Martyred Saint of Photography.

Creator of the LEICA.

Inventor of the 35mm camera.

Inventor of the full-frame 24x36mm format.

— and therefore —

Creator of photography as we know it today.

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July 2011      Leica Camera Reviews    Leica Lens Reviews



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Oskar Barnack was a German engineer who started working in the motion picture camera department of Leitz in 1911.

He invented many improvements to motion picture camera film transport design.

Oskar Barnack invented a small camera that used short clips of 35mm movie film that mounted alongside a regular motion picture camera.

This allowed cinematographers to shoot a short clip of film and process it separately from the full magazine shot in the motion picture camera.

This allowed determination of exposure and development for the regular film magazine, without having to guess, or cut a clip from it, to confirm exposure.

Oskar Barnack was disabled by his asthma. He loved the outdoors and photography as a hobby, but his asthma prevented him from carrying the full-sized cameras used by others.

Clever guy that he was, he modified his piggyback camera design to shoot larger, double-cine-frame images, and used a fixed lens that could cover the larger image area. He did this in 1913.

The standard cine frame was 18 x 24mm, thus double-frame is what still photographers call full-frame: 36 x 24mm.

He created a little camera that used little rolls of film that he could carry more easily while out hiking.

Since it didn't use full-sized film (typically 8x10" in those days), his film had to be enlarged to make any sort of useful print. Often the film of the day was contact-printed.

Thus he needed to get taking lenses that were sharp enough to withstand enlargement.

This is what begat today's 35mm and digital cameras. World War One intervened, and after the war, Leitz introduced the Leica (LEItz CAmera) in 1925.

Oskar Barnack's vision is a small camera making small, sharp negatives that can make decent big prints. The key here is small camera.

The vision of the Leica is the smallest possible camera that can eke out passable results.

It is contrary to Oskar Barnack's vision to use big, heavy lenses or large motorized camera bodies to shoot 35mm film. The whole point is to keep the hardware small, and of decent quality.

Small is the vision. Big is contrary to the Leica.


While you're here, original lens designer Max Berek died an untimely death on 15 October 1949.


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