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The Sweetest Taboo – The Unlikely Story of Leitz Minolta

The Sweetest Taboo – The Unlikely Story of Leitz Minolta

The 1970s have been a good time for digital camera geeks. The last decade introduced us the apex of professional mechanical 35mm SLRs within the Nikon F2, and the start of the newbie 35mm SLR phase as we all know it at the moment, spearheaded by the Canon AE-1 and Pentax Okay1000. These cameras have been nicely made (nicely, most of them have been) they usually bought in unimaginable portions. One might argue that a lot of the world’s largest digital camera producers reached their peak of gross sales success and cultural relevance within the ‘70s. 

Nicely, until we’re speaking about Leica.

Whereas Nikon, Canon, and Pentax have been flying excessive within the decade of disco, Leica would quite overlook the 1970s ever occurred. That is the last decade, in any case, by which Leitz invented the auto-focus lens after which bought the patent to Minolta (Leitz stated that their clients knew the best way to focus).

Leica of the 1970s (or extra precisely, Leitz as the corporate was then recognized) was free falling in the direction of the exhausting floor of chapter. An unwillingness to maintain up with knowledgeable market that was shifting to the SLR format value them dearly. Leitz tried to carry onto the rangefinder dream with the redesigned Leica M5 in 1971 however solely succeeded in alienating their remaining followers and almost operating the corporate into the bottom. Leitz additionally tried to hitch the SLR gold rush by additional creating the Leicaflex collection of SLRs, however it was too little, too late. Astronomical manufacturing prices in addition to a relatively disappointing function set prevented Leica from competing within the cutthroat skilled SLR market.

It’s unusual to assume that an organization as storied as Leitz might fall so removed from grace, and stranger nonetheless to assume that they might ask for assist. However Leitz did each of these issues. In 1972 Leitz entered right into a cooperation settlement with Japanese digital camera and optics firm Minolta, hoping that the 2 producers might mix their strengths and enhance their fortunes within the ultra-ultra-competitive world of digital camera making.



No Abnormal Love – The Delivery of Leitz Minolta, the Leica CL, and the R-Collection

The Leitz Minolta partnership was shaped partially to unravel Leitz’s SLR drawback. The Leicaflexes of the 1960s have been by all accounts stellar cameras, but in addition lagged considerably behind their rivals when it got here to function units and lens selection. They have been additionally extremely costly for each the buyer to purchase and the producer to supply, with Leitz dropping cash on every unit of the Leicaflex SL2 produced.

Enter the Minolta Digital camera Firm. Minolta had already constructed a status for being a progressive digital camera firm with a profitable SLR line (the SRT collection) and had a knack for introducing new applied sciences years forward of anyone else (CLC metering – the predecessor to matrix metering). Partnering with such a progressive firm made sense for the historically conservative Leitz, and seemed like the reply to their SLR woes.

It might then appear unusual that the primary baby of the partnership was not an SLR, however a rangefinder – the collectively designed however Minolta manufactured Leica CL. Launched in 1973, the Leica CL was the antidote to the M5. Whereas the M5 was massive and chunky, the CL was small and glossy. And whereas the M5 was meant for skilled use, the CL was meant as an economical shopper various to the Leica M-series.

The CL was launched with two new M-mount lenses bought beneath Minolta’s Rokkor badging – the M-Rokkor 40mm f/2 and 90mm f/four. The M-Rokkor 40mm f/2 was a Minolta lens manufactured by Minolta in Japan whereas the M-Rokkor 90mm f/four was a Leitz designed 90mm f/four Elmar made in Wetzlar. Each provided efficiency equal to the perfect from both model, and helped the Leica CL promote properly, at the least compared to the M5.

For all of its success, the Leica CL was a foreshadowing of the doom that might ultimately befall the Leitz Minolta partnership. Although the CL was by no means meant to compete instantly with the flagship Leica M digital camera (some extent we confused in our CL assessment), it was perceived by Leica shooters as an inferior product. The CL’s liberal use of plastic and electronics was antithetical to Leitz’s philosophy of stripped down mechanical excellence. This contributed to the CL’s unfair status as a sub-par Leica M-camera (a fame that might hang-out each digital camera made by way of the partnership).

After a quick leisure of Leitz’s rangefinder fantasies, the SLR drawback can be addressed within the cameras that adopted instantly after the CL. For this spherical it might be Leitz that might assist Minolta in creating their new electromechanical SLR, 1974s Minolta XE. Leitz contributed a lot to this digital camera, the best contribution being the uncommonly clean electromechanical Leitz-Copal shutter. The XE turned a a lot smoother, greater high quality digital camera than the earlier choices from Minolta, thanks largely to Leitz’s signature refinements.

Whereas the XE was nice in its personal proper, it may also be seen as a guinea pig for Leitz’s new soon-to-be flagship SLR line – the R-series. The Leica R-series was to be the successor to Leitz’s well-built however ill-fated Leicaflex collection, and the reply to Leica’s prayers. Not solely was the rebrand a renewal of Leitz’s efforts at making an SLR, however a press release of intent. By collaborating with SLR-savvy Minolta, Leitz meant to take over the SLR market that had virtually killed off the corporate years earlier.

1976’s Leica R3 was about as definitive a comeback assertion as a producer might make. It mixed the smoothness of the XE with a good sturdier construct and some additional options, specifically an up to date Leitz-Copal shutter mechanism, a spot/center-weighted meter to enrich the traditional averaging meter, and the all-important R-mount which might mount these well-known Leitz lenses.

The brand new Leica R-mount performed host to a slew of brand name new Leitz-Minolta collaborations designed to enrich the legendary Leica lenses developed for the Leicaflex. The Leica Elmarit-R 24mm f/2.eight, 16mm f/2.eight, and Vario-Elmar 70-210 f/four can be based mostly on Minolta’s personal 24mm, 16mm, and 70-210mm MD mount lenses respectively. Just like the M-Rokkors, these lenses carried out as much as Leitz’s signature commonplace of optical high quality, no compromise or enchancment wanted.



Giving You The Greatest That I Received – Leitz Minolta’s Best Cameras

Following the XE and R3, Leitz Minolta shortly went to work to replace each manufacturers’ SLR lineups – the Minolta X-series and Leica R-series. This got here within the type of 1977’s Minolta XD. The XD signaled that the partnership had really hit its stride. Not solely was it compact and stylish, and constructed to a regular worthy of Leitz, nevertheless it additionally set the industry-wide technological commonplace in signature Minolta style. The XD holds the excellence of being the very first multimode 35mm SLR with each aperture-priority and shutter-priority auto-exposure modes, in addition to a full guide override. It was a landmark achievement for the 2 producers, and proved to be a well-liked and well-regarded digital camera in its day.

Like its predecessor the XE, the XD shaped the idea for an additional Leica R-mount digital camera, 1980’s Leica R4. The R4 improved upon the unique XD design by including an AE-lock, an explicitly labeled program mode (it technically exists on the XD, however isn’t labeled), a spot metering mode, and the standard Leitz accoutrements of an up to date shutter mechanism, mirror field, and tighter construct. The R4 would go on to turn into the perfect promoting digital camera of all the R-series with 125,000 copies being bought worldwide. Issues seemed promising for Leitz, and it seemed like they have been going to lastly get their piece of the SLR pie.


Leitz Minolta appeared to be on a scorching streak within the early 1980s as a result of the period additionally produced one of many best M-mount rangefinders ever made – the Minolta CLE. The CLE launched a bevy of latest applied sciences to the getting older rangefinder format, together with TTL OTF (by means of the lens, off the movie aircraft) metering, aperture precedence autoexposure, and an LED metering show within the viewfinder. The discharge of the CLE additionally introduced a brand new roster of M-Rokkor lenses with up to date multicoated variations of the earlier M-Rokkor 40mm f/2 and 90mm f/four lenses, in addition to a model new 28mm f/2.eight. These lenses shaped the 28/40/90 Rokkor triumvirate that also types top-of-the-line and most versatile M-mount kits up to now.

This digital camera, the CLE, is arguably the perfect digital camera to return out of the time period during which the Leitz Minolta settlement existed. Nevertheless, Leitz wasn’t concerned in its improvement in any respect. The CLE is a purely Minolta creation, and its function set wouldn’t be equaled by a Leitz-made digital camera for twenty-two years by the Leica M7 of 2002.

However as nice because the R4 and the CLE have been, they might finally be the perfect that Leitz-Minolta might do. The connection started to endure within the 1980s because of a sudden divergence in digital camera philosophy. This distinction confirmed itself in Minolta’s X-700 in 1981, a digital camera which competed not with the all-metal skilled to superior novice SLRs of the day, just like the earlier XE and XD had, however with consumer-oriented SLRs just like the Canon AE-1, presumably to spice up general gross sales. In contrast to its predecessors, the plastic implausible X-700 wouldn’t obtain the Leitz remedy, and neither would any subsequent Minolta SLR.

Overlook Me Nots – The Last Leitz Minolta Cameras

The next Leica R5 of 1986 would solely enhance upon the earlier R4 by including a 1/2000th of a second prime shutter velocity, a TTL flash mode, and improved climate sealing. Welcome enhancements, however the R5 was now a noticeable step behind modern SLRs such because the Nikon FA and Olympus OM4-Ti, each of which launched applied sciences like matrix metering, and multi-spot metering. Including insult to damage, the R5 was considerably costlier than both of these SLRs, which put it at a big drawback within the market.

Leitz responded in typical Leitz style, with discount as an alternative of enlargement; simplification as an alternative of complication. The Leica R6 of 1988 represented a return to the all-mechanical, minimalist sensibilities the model was recognized for. The R6 was primarily a mechanical model of the R5, with naught however an all-mechanical shutter that topped out at 1/1000th of a second and a light-weight meter. 

Leitz was again on model, however abruptly discovered itself in a clumsy place. Just like the R5, the R6 was outclassed by its contemporaries; skilled mechanical cameras just like the Pentax LX and the superior newbie mechanical cameras of the day just like the Nikon FM2 and Olympus OM-Three have been far more succesful, to not point out cheaper, options. Leitz tried to play catch-up by bumping the shutter velocity as much as 1/2000th of a second shutter velocity with the R6.2, however identical to the Leicaflex SL2 a decade prior, it was too little, too late.

The ultimate R-series digital camera with Minolta DNA can be the Leica R7, launched in 1992. The R7 noticed the return of electronics to the R-series and launched a digital show within the viewfinder, absolutely automated TTL flash metering, mirror lock-up, and a slightly distinctive selective/integral metering system. It appeared that Leitz had lastly caught as much as the pack with the R7, however once more they have been caught flat-footed. The 1990s unleashed autofocus upon the world, and Leitz acquired caught with their pants down messing about with guide focus. The R7 pale out of existence, and although Minolta continued to fabricate lenses and equipment for Leica nicely into the 1990s, the later years of the last decade introduced an finish to the Leitz Minolta collaboration.

Within the years and many years following the breakup, Leitz would proceed making an attempt to develop upon their SLR system with the radically divergent R8 and R9. However they ultimately gave up on the R-series altogether. They launched a digital digital camera in 1996, however it value $30,000 and the corporate solely made 146 models. By 2004 and 2005, the model was virtually completely ruined.

Minolta in the meantime transitioned into the newbie and professional autofocus SLR market all through the 1990s, produced some incredible point-and-shoots and consumer-grade cameras, and did fairly rattling nicely for themselves for an additional couple of many years. However, in one of many nice tragedies of digital camera historical past, they did not efficiently transition to the ultra-competitive digital SLR market. Their mum or dad firm bought the buyer images model Minolta (then Konica-Minolta) to Sony within the early years of the brand new millennium.

Stronger Than Satisfaction – The Legacy of Leitz Minolta

The legacy of Leitz Minolta is a sophisticated one to parse. On one hand, almost each digital camera and lens made beneath the settlement nonetheless carries the undeserved stigma of being “not fairly a Leica.” Point out the R-Collection and the CL or CLE rangefinders in informal dialog with an older photograph geek and you may anticipate the phrases “principally a Minolta” to be stated with a touch of scorn. It doesn’t assist that Leitz’s makes an attempt at modernization, notably the utilization of extra automation and plastic, have been then and are nonetheless now appeared down upon by the Leica trustworthy. It’s this catch-22 that appears to outline Leica’s transitional previous – modernize and danger upsetting the fan base (as occurred with the Leica M5), or cling to custom and be left within the mud (Leicaflex SL2, Leica R6). Leitz couldn’t win, and the one reply was to give up enjoying the SLR recreation totally.

Then again, we at the moment are left with a set of really nice, however missed cameras. The Minolta XE and XD are two of the perfect Minolta SLRs ever made, and make nice consumer our bodies in the present day. The professional-grade Leica R-series now sells for comparatively low cost in comparison with typical Leica fare they usually supply entry to Leitz’s unimaginable and storied R-lenses. And the oft-maligned Leica CL and Minolta CLE stay a number of the greatest M-cameras ever made, with a number of the greatest glass ever made for the M-mount.

Was the Leitz Minolta collaboration a failure? We might argue, sure, since one firm not exists and the opposite can’t maintain a candle in gross sales quantity to the dominant digital camera makers on the earth (Sony, Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon). However we might additionally argue that it was a hit. It lasted greater than twenty years, even when Leitz by no means acquired the share of the SLR market they needed and Minolta by no means received the popularity they deserved. Historical past would argue that it’s a win for photograph geeks – collectively these two nice digital camera makers left behind a set of unimaginable cameras and lenses for us to take pleasure in and keep in mind, many years later.

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