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The History of Leica Binoculars 100 years
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Leica binoculars – A century of path breaking inventions
More detailed viewing, more discoveries – for the last hundred years, Leica has played a key role in developing the culture of long-distance viewing. Leica Product Manager Tilman Taube presents six path breaking chapters of this success story.
On 14th May, 1907, after three years of research and testing, the first binoculars of the Ernst Leitz Company in Wetzlar, a 6 x18 Binocle, went into series production. A hundred years and countless ideas and innovations later, Leica binoculars are still providing hunters and nature watchers in particular with exciting new developments for viewing distant objects with superlative optics. Resolution, contrast, color rendering and image brightness have reached such a high standard that long-distance outdoor viewing has now become a fascinating experience rather than a necessity.
Leica sets standards in long-distance optics. Time and again. Leica’s leading position in long distance optics is the result of many years of experience, unique competence and consistent further development. Besides innumerable continuous improvements to Leica’s range of binoculars over the years, innovations of the Leitz/Leica company have made a key contribution to the general progress in long-distance optics. Until the Second World War, binoculars were primarily used for military applications. Soon after the introduction of the first Leitz prism binoculars in the year 1907, however, extra small and compact binocular models were also sold for visits to the theater and traveling. Their suitability for nature watching was not specifically mentioned in catalogs at the beginning of the 20th century, but fell under the generic term “travel”. Due to Dr. Ernst Leitz II’s passion for hunting, the Leitz company also developed special binoculars for hunting right from the beginning. More and more of a differentiation was made between lightweight, compact models for stalking and more powerful models for raised hide hunting.
Milestones in Leica binocular history. The hundred year road to Leica’s worldwide lead in long distance optics was paved with many small steps and outstanding milestones. The developments that culminated in the Ultravid and Geovid had modest beginnings.
An independent project right from the start : Binocle 6 x18 (1907 to approx. 1910) After three years of development, the first series-produced Leitz binoculars were shipped on 14th May, 1907. For the mechanical design, the engineers did not plow the conventional furrows of other binocular manufacturers, but took an independent approach based on patents from the year 1906. In those days, the casting technique was not sophisticated enough to allow the manufacture of perfect binocular bodies. After extensive tests, the Wetzlar company decided to use drawn tubing or hard rolled magnalium (alloy of magnesium and aluminum), a material with exceptionally good strength, density and weather resistance properties. Leitz patent no. 191758 was more effective for keeping dust and moisture out of the interior of the binoculars. Patent no. 192762 protected an innovative method of securing the prisms. Patent no. 2085506 used the base of the prism holder for adjustment. The adjustment screws were concealed by the leather covering and therefore protected from external intervention.
Early successes : Binodal/Militaris 6 x 21 (1908 to approx. 1919) The Binodal 6 x 21 is remarkable for its original design : The front and back caps of the prism housing are at the same time the bridges that connect the two halves. The expressive, wavy shape of the bridge on the side of the objectives makes these binoculars look strikingly different. The Binodal was also sold in an almost identical version under the name Militaris. Whereas earlier models do not feature a center rod, the revised version from 1913 onwards was produced with a center rod all the way through. The Binodal is also evidence that Leitz adopted the design for “prism binoculars with increased objective spacing” for some models after the Zeiss-Jena patent of 1893 expired in 1908. Independently of this, however, Leitz continued its models without increased objective spacing, such as the Binominia 4 x16, which was launched in September 1908.
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