|Oskar Barnack (1879-1936)|
Actually, very little is only known about the private life of Oskar Barnack. Most known information about his life concerns his creation. Born in Lynow, Brandenburg, a hamlet south of Berlin, Barnack was a master mechanic and inventor working for the Carl Zeiss company, when he received the offer to join the Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar in 1911. There, he was in charge of microscope research for Ernst Leitz at Wetzlar, Hessen, Germany, as head of the construction department. He was an enthusiastic photographer, but the heavy equipment of the day was difficult for him to handle due to his poor health. Thus, he sought to reduce the size and weight of cameras and supporting equipment used for outdoor photography. As early as 1905, he had the idea of reducing the format of negatives and then enlarging the photographs after they had been exposed, involving a small camera and an enlarger.In 1912, he constructed already a 35 mm movie camera.
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 level that reduced the quality of getting prints through enlarging. Instead of the exposure plates used in past Leitz cameras, the Leica used a standardized film strip, adapted from 35 mm Eastman Kodak roll-film. Barnack decided that the 18 x 24 mm (3:4 aspect ratio) standard movie frame was not large enough for good still photo quality with the films of the day and doubled the frame size to 24 x 36 mm (2:3 aspect ratio), with the image horizontal instead of vertical. Another Leitz employee, Max Berek, was instrumental in developing a lens for this camera, as he developed the first 50mm f/3.5 lens as the optimum focal length for the 24 x 36mm format.
|the 'original' Leica from 1914|
Barnack's invention has changed photography significantly. The Leica was extremely compact and could be fitted with a very high quality lens that enabled photographers to work in ordinary outdoor settings with available light. It was always instantly ready to capture life and action effortlessly from any angle with the photographer often able to remain unnoticed. Without the usual heavy equipment, photographs of people no longer had to be confined to stiff conventionally artistic poses. Eleven years after its introduction in 1935, the camera and enlarger section was the most profitable for the Leitz company that still produced microscopes and huntingscopes.
At yovisto you can learn more about the history of photography in the presentation of Nancy Crandall about the origins and beginnings of photography.
References and Further Reading:
-  Oskar Barnack in the International Photography Hall of Fame
-  Oskar Barnack at Camerapedia
-  Thorsten Overgaard's Leica History
- You Press the Button and We Do the Rest - George Eastman revolutionized Photography
- Nicéphore Niépce and the World's First Photograph
- Nadar and the Art of Photography
- Ansel Adams and the Beauty of Black and White Photography
- Photographic Pioneer Henry Fox Talbot
- The Lumière Brothers invented the Cinema
- Edwin Land - Father of the Polaroid Instant Camera
If you like the daily blog posts of yovisto about the history of science, please support us by clicking on the amazon links and making your next amazon purchase via our offered links. Nevertheless, please do also support your local (real world) bookstore at the corner of the street.