(Pocket-lint) - Think you know Leica? Think again. The German camera maker has always been synonymous with quality and craftsmanship. Its cameras have adorned the necks of famous photographers such as Elliot Erwitt and Henri Cartier Bresson. Even Her Majesty the Queen has been pictured many times over the years with her Leica M6.
But since its inception the world has changed. More images are taken now than ever before. Phone cameras are the go-to snappers for many. It's adapt or die, with Leica opting for the former. The company even has a partnership with Huawei in the latest P9 and Mate 9 smartphones.
Leica also remains true to its core photographic roots. Its M-series rangefinder camera continues to be praised with celebrity fanfare. In 2015 the company introduced a brand new full-frame mirrorless camera, the Leica SL, which was a world first. And in 2016 it is chasing down the compact system camera market with the brand new TL system. That's all the bases covered.
From the early days through to the present day, Leica has a rich history. You might know the cameras, but probably not the bigger picture. Here are 20 fascinating facts about the company.
1. What's in a name?
Leitz, an optics company, was founded in 1849. The first use of Leica - the joining of "Leitz" and "Camera" - wasn't until 1925.
In 2014 the company completed its new headquarters where it all began: in Wetzlar, Germany.
2. Created the 35mm format
A Leitz worker, Oskar Barnack, started working on portable camera prototypes from 1913. The so-called "full-frame" 35mm format - which was far more portable than large film and plates - was the result of his endeavours.
3. Inadvertently created photojournalism
With 35mm under its belt, photographers were free to shoot with ease using kit more portable than ever before. That's how street photography and, ultimately, photojournalism began life. It's all because of Leica.
4. The first Leica camera
The first Leica camera, the Leica I, had a fixed 50mm f/1.8 lens. Only 1,000 of these were ever produced, back in 1925.
5. Most expensive camera sale at auction
Before the first Leica camera, 25 O-Series prototypes were made.
One of these sold in 2012, at auction, for €2.3-million - the most money ever paid for a camera.
6. Digital offerings from 2006
Although well known for its film cameras, Leica has always been at the forefront of digital - offering its first digital M-series camera back in 2006. All M-series, whether digital or film, are compatible with M-series lenses from 1954 onwards.
7. Beyond rugged
Where digital can't roam, however, Leica's mechanical cameras can achieve the otherwise impossible. The battery-free Leica M-A was used on an expedition to the North Pole, operating in temperatures below -50C at the hands of photographer Martin Hartley. The results are beautiful.
8. Out of this world (literally)
If the edges of the Earth aren't enough then, well, why not leave the planet altogether? Astronaut John Glenn used a Leica 1G to take the first human-operated photo of the Earth from space.
9. Even makes a screenless digital camera
Your read that correctly: Leica makes a digital M-series camera without a screen, the M-D (Typ 262).
The camera takes its design inspiration from the film era, with the rear dial - which would usually be to unlock the rear film container - acting to control ISO sensitivity.
10. An optics compact first
Long touted as the best lens manufacturer in the world, which is how the business began in 1849, Leica currently has around 60 lenses across its various ranges, including SL, TL, M and S. Older R series lenses can still be used on M and SL, too, via an adapter, taking that count even higher and providing a huge choice.
11. Top dog lenses
The Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH lens might be its most famous. Perhaps the most heartfelt is series of Leica lenses, Hektor, which were named after Max Berek's dog. He was the man who created the very first Leica lenses, so it was a fitting tribute.
12. Oscar winning
Perhaps the company's most extraordinary lenses are its cine optics. Leica Summilux C-Lenses have been used in Hollywood for years due to their unbeatable clarity. Four time Oscar-winning film Birdman was shot with these very lenses.
13. Best binoculars going
During World War One Leica binoculars - which have been made since 1907 - were so sought after that donations to the US Navy were met with a letter from the President and $1. Many pairs were returned to their owners after the war was over.
14. The Freedom Train
During World War Two, Leica helped thousands of Jewish workers, families and friends to escape Nazi rule in Germany under the guise as employees.
Each of them arrived as refugees in either France, Britain, Hong Kong or New York, wearing a symbol of freedom around their necks: a brand new Leica camera.
15. Everything is hand finished
It's no secret that Leica cameras - and everything else the company makes, from binoculars and beyond - costs a pretty penny. Because everything is meticulously hand finished. We've even been to the headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany, to see the well-oiled machine at work. It's an incredible spectacle.
16. That Che Guevara image
Of course it's all about images. You know the one we're talking about: the iconic frame of the Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara.
It's been on t-shirts, posters, reappropriated for street art and, quite simply, is one of the world's most iconic images. It was shot on a Leica M2 by Alberto Korda in 1960.
17. Celebrity endorsement
It's not just about famous images, though, in this modern world it's about famous faces too. And there are heaps of celebrities with lots of Leica love. Current users include Brad Pitt, Bryan Adams, Seal, and many more. Not forgetting Her Majesty, of course.
18. Monochrome for the modern world
In a world full of colour, Leica recently reverted to its black and white film heritage by releasing a true monochrome sensor in its M Monochrom camera. Without the colour array the sensor's "pixels" receive a pure signal for the perfect, low-noise B&W images.
19. In an instant
Always expanding, it was only in 2016 that Leica released its first instant film camera: the Leica Sofort. There's something for everyone.
20. Tailored to fit, unique for you
Not only a camera but also a collectible: Leica cameras come in special edition forms, or can even be tailored to suit - just take a look at the Leica M A La Carte configurator. If you've got the cash you can get a custom-made model, with control over colours, materials and engraving. No other camera maker offers a service this in-depth.