There are lots of books covering the famous red dot from Germany, and most Leica fans are dedicated enough that their shelves hold more than a few of these, but there’s just one set that every real Leicaphile (and any true photo geek) needs to own. It’s James Lager’s three-volume Leica An Illustrated History, and the collected volumes are without a doubt the prettiest, most exhaustive, and best-researched books on Leica you can buy today.
Before you dismiss the praise as needless hyperbole and assume these books are just your run-of-the-mill camera book, give us a chance to explain.
James Lager isn’t your average photo geek. As a Past President of the Leica Historical Society of America, and with a career at Leitz New York and an incomparable passion for the brand (he mortgaged his house to fund the production of these books), he’s spent the better part of his adult life working with, on, or around Leica cameras, and is now considered the foremost expert on all things Leica. Which makes sense. The three volumes he produced examine every product the brand had made up to the time of their publication, including lenses and accessories, which populate Volumes 2 and 3 respectively. And there’s no dearth of coverage here. Consider this – the M3 section shows no fewer than 73 photos. Pretty amazing.
Volume 1 concerns itself with the cameras, and it covers everything from the legendary Ur-Leica (the Oskar Barnack-designed prototype from 1913) through the screw-mount models, the M series, as well as the Leicaflex and R series SLRs. We’re also treated to in-depth examinations of the rarest Leicas, including military models and experimental designs, which are just about the most interesting machines you may ever see (some only in this book). In 318 pages, we’re taken on an unmatched journey through the legacy of one of the most historically important and relevant companies in photographic history in a way that’s accessible, thorough, and somehow not boring (let’s face it, some of these camera texts can get a little bit lost in the weeds). Gorgeous photos, the bulk of which were taken by Lager with (of course) a Leica, wonderful writing, and incredible production value has really culminated in what is essentially the best book on Leica cameras ever made.
Volume 2 concerns itself with the lenses, and is similarly stunning. The same quality, attention to detail, and fantastic photography found in Volume 1 populate its pages. Every lens up to the time of publication (1994) is covered. Volume 3 concerns itself with accessories, and this talks about everything from motor drives to display stands. If you can guess from Volumes 1 and 2, yes, it’s stunningly presented and incredibly exhaustive.
The books sport leather bindings and slip cases, gold embossing, and thick, luxurious pages. They’re an enormous 9 1/2″ x 11″, hardcover, and made to last. The only downside? They were limited editions, and not in the “limited to as many as we can sell” kind of limited editions so many brands put out these days. These are truly rare, and prices are naturally higher than the average photo book.
For me, they’re worth the price. The three-volume set is a must-own for anyone concerned with classic cameras and Leica in particular. They’re an invaluable resource for collectors, buyers, and sellers, as well as simply a wonderful tome to browse if, like me, you can’t quite justify the price of owning some of the more exotic Leicas found in these pages.
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I have just tracked down an uncirculated version of James Lager’s Leica 1925-75 book. It is winging its way to me from Canada.