Leica is a well-known brand in the world of optics. It is a German optics manufacturer that produces a series of optical equipment, such as binoculars, cameras, microscopes, lenses, rifle scopes and ophthalmic lenses. The company was originally founded as a workshop in 1849 by the name of Optisches Institut (Optics Institute) by a German mechanic called Carl Kellner in Wetzlar, Germany. The company initially aimed for the designing and production of microscopes and by the year 1851, Optics Institute became known for the quality and precision of their devices.
Earnest Leitz started working at Optisches Institut
Unfortunately in 1855, Carl Kellner, the founder of the company, suffered a premature death and the fate of the company was left hanging in the hands of her widow and an apprentice, Friedrich Belthle, who was previously employed by the owner to assist in the business. The duo diligently managed the microscope manufacturing business until the year 1864, when Earnest Leitz started working for the company. The company began to thrive under his direction and after the death of Frederic Belthle, Leitz assumed full leadership of Optics Institute. Not long after, he modified and included his name in the title of the company in 1869, and this is when the Earnest Leitz – Optische Institut – Wetzlar Company came into being, but the end product remained the same.
Success of microscope business and transition to other products
Thanks to the success of the microscope business, Leitz expanded the company to North America when Leitz opened up a branch in New York in 1892. Over the years, the company continued the production of microscopes and by 1900, their annual manufacturing capacity rose to 4,000 microscopes and the number of employees at the factory grew to over 400. The success inspired Leitz to turn to other optical solutions and in 1907, the Ernest Leitz – Wetzlar factory began the production operations for binoculars and it was not until 1913 that the factory began working on prototypes of portable cameras under Oskar Barnack. An optical engineer, Barnack was actually appointed in 1911 for working on other products but he dedicated his free time to developing a portable camera, his lifelong dream.
His first working camera prototype was given the name Leica (from Leitz Camera) and it became the first practical camera to use the 35mm standard size film. The camera instantly gained popularity after it was unveiled at Leipzig Spring Fair as Leica-I in 1927. The company developed Leica-II and Leica-III in 1932 and 1933 under the subsequent leadership of Earnest Leitz-II and Earnest Leitz-III. In 1986, the company Earnest Leitz Optische Institut – Wetzlar was official renamed to Leica after the massive success of the Leica camera brand.
A number of optics manufacturers, such as Taylor-Hobson’s and Canon, tried to copy the design of Leica cameras in the post-World War II era to some degree of success. Some of these devices have been put on display at the Ernest Leitz Museum at the Leica’s current location in Leitz-Park.
The era of binoculars
It has been more than 110 years since Leica started working on binoculars in 1907. The first Leica binocular model was introduced as the Binocle 6×18. Although it was small by today’s standards, the Binocle laid the foundation for the success of all future Leica binoculars. The popularity of Leica binoculars at the time can be gauged by the fact that NASA chose to send the Leica Trinovid binoculars on the Apollo mission to the moon in 1969. This event further cemented the authority of Leica in the optics market and propelled the designers to design and develop binoculars for all kinds of uses and weather conditions.
First brand with civil rangefinders
Leica was also the first optics brand to introduce the range-finding mechanism into their binoculars. In 1992, the engineers at Leica came up with the idea of combining a laser system into a set of high-performance binoculars that could measure the distance of objects that were under 1000m away. They were successful in their approach and the idea gave birth to a newer line of products, called the Leica Geovid binoculars. Initially, optical devices with a range-finding option were used by armed forces, but Leica became the first optics manufacturer to introduce these devices to the civilian population. The continued success in several line of products termed Leica as the pride of Germany.
Not much later in 2002, Leica started mass producing standalone laser rangefinders in its Portugal location and the era of sport optics started. This was soon followed by spotting scopes (telescopic viewers) and rifle scopes for hunting purposes.
Following the events of the Second World War and the resurrection of the global economic powers, officials from Ernest Leitz GmbH began looking for a suitable site for the manufacturing of Leica analog cameras, lenses and microscopes in North America to meet the growing demands from American customers. They settled on a location in Midland, Ontario in Canada for building a new production factory that would share workload from European factories and provide quick delivery of products into the American markets. The factory was inaugurated in 1952 by the name Ernest Leitz Canada and produced optical devices with the same level of accuracy and precision standards as of German-made products.
The factory also employed rigorous quality control methods to ensure that all products maintained an equal performance as their German counterparts, however, they were marketed at a lesser price than the models made in Germany. The factory in Canada did not last for much longer and it was closed in favour of a factory in Portugal. There have been claims that the relatively colder weather and different pressure in Canada somehow impacted the quality of manufactured products, while others cite financial reasons, such as high production costs and expensive labour.
As of 2020, Leica has two manufacturing facilities in Europe, one in Wetzlar, Germany and another factory in the town of Famalicão at a half-hour drive from Porto, Portugal.
Leitz Park in Wetzlar
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first photo-film operated Leica Camera, the company inaugurated a new factory location in the industrial sector of Wetzlar in May 2014. Wetzlar is the same city where it all started in 1864, with subsequent inventions of the first Leitz microscope, binoculars and the Leitz camera. The Leica Camera AG site is located at Leitz Park and incorporates several attractions along with the factory, such as The Leica Akademie, Ernest Leitz Museum, a Museum shop and a Leica store. Another attraction on the location is The World of Leica Experience, which contains a gallery of photography work of notable Leica photographers and an exhibition of Leica products.
When seen from above, the buildings at the location appear to be a camera lens and a set of binoculars. The site also includes a customer care center for after-sales services and a nature trail nearby the factory complex where visitors to Leitz Park can explore the diverse flora and fauna. Guests are also welcome to jog or walk around while enjoying the precision of Leica products to observe a multitude of wildlife. Overnight accommodation is also available at the Ernest Leitz Hotel on the premises for guests and anyone who chooses to study at the academy of photography.
The Wetzlar factory houses the production facility for Leica cameras, lenses and sport optics only. Camera models that are produced in the German factory include the famed Leica M-system camera series along with Leica S, Leica SL and Leica Q line of digital cameras. The German technology at Leica has made possible to produce ultra-compact cameras that are lightweight compared to digital cameras offered in the same range by other brands.
The Leica complex at Wetzlar employs over 1800 employees at the manufacturing facility and other departments. The Leica technology is known for its high quality premium line of camera and sport optics products. 5-axis Computer-numeric controlled (CNC) machines are used for the precise cutting and manufacturing of mechanical and glass components. The optics manufacturing is not less than art in itself and this is exactly the motto of Leica Camera. The plant also features the production of in-house lens coating by the name of AquaDura, which is famous for water-repellence.
All the workers are highly qualified and proficient to work at their respective workstations. The quality processes for all components are carried out by trained eyes along with laser measurement equipment, so that no faulty piece becomes part of a finished product.
Portugal Leica plant
The manufacturing facility in Vila Nova de Famalicão near Porto, Portugal was originally established in 1973 as a small factory. The workshop was intended to serve as an extension to the Ernst Leitz – Wetzlar GmbH in the assembly of microscopes. The factory was relocated to another location in 1974, where it remained for 40 years until 2014. The first camera to be built at the Portugal factory was the R-series camera ‘Leica R3‘. This camera was initially developed in the Wetzlar factory but the assembly process was transferred to Portugal in 1976 when the factory started production operations with a workforce of 180 employees. The production of the camera was abandoned in 1980 just after the factory was fully commissioned for its production.
The factory saw an extension in 1981 when a second facility was built on the premises to divide the manufacturing workload of microscopes. With the addition of BN binoculars manufacturing at Portugal, another extension was carried out the location in 1988. To accelerate the manufacturing and supply chain processes in Portugal, a department of Industrial Engineering and Logistics was developed at the facility for continuous monitoring and systematic improvement of operations. Efficient factory operations made it possible to start the production of additional products at the location, including the M7 and R9 cameras and Laser Rangefinder LRF 800.
After 40 years of continuous production, Leica inaugurated the new factory at Famalicão by thoroughly renovating the previous facilities and adding a substantial area to it. The new 52,000 sq. meters facility houses a 13,600 sq. dedicated production area and employs a workforce of more than 720 employees. The modern factory contains state-of-the-art computer-controlled machines for cutting, grinding and polishing, and coating operations.
The Portugal factory currently deals in the manufacturing of analog and digital cameras and sport optics, such as telescopic viewers, binoculars and objectives. Leica claims the workforce and machinery employed at the Famalicão location are at par with the manufacturing plant in Wetzlar, Germany and the manufactured parts are of the same quality as the “Made in Germany” certified products. The annual production of the plant is rated at 40,000 binoculars, 20,000 cameras, 15,000 telescopic viewers and 4000 objectives. The popular uni-body Leica T series is also manufactured at the Famalicão factory. Leica also develops printed circuit boards for digital cameras at this factory, which is commendable.
Below, we have divided the models of binoculars produced at the two Leica factories.
Binoculars made in Portugal
The following categories of binoculars are manufactured at the Famalicao factory and feature “Made in Portugal” branding.
Leica proudly developed and unveiled the Geovid series of binoculars in 1992. The series is renowned for its laser range-finding tehnology and unparalleled optics that provide the perfect solution for demanding shooters and hunting enthusiasts. Use of high-quality coated lenses and prism components ensure that the Geovid series binoculars provide the highest light transmission, so that even in low-light conditions the binoculars provide images with optimum brightness. The rangefinders not only provide an estimated distance of objects but also the angle along with a real-time ballistic trajectory of objects, which is the reason behind the popularity of the series. All binoculars include a built-in inclinometer for angle measurement.
The characteristic features of this series include an ergonomic design, an efficient range-finding system for reliable measurements, high optical quality and superior mechanics, all packed inside a rugged construction to perform in mountainous terrain and difficult weather conditions. These features provide a new level of confidence to hunters for all kinds of situations.
Leica offers the following variants in this category:
- Leica Geovid 3200.COM – 8×42, 10×42 and 8×56 binoculars
These binoculars provide reliable measurements of up to 3200 yards (approx. 3km) in all kinds of terrains and various weather conditions. Users can create ballistic profiles with the “Equivalent Horizontal Range (EHR)” rangefinder system and store them to the Leica Geovid smartphone app in a click.
- Leica Geovid HD-R 2700 – 8×42, 10×42 and 8×56 binoculars
The HD-R series binoculars feature an easy and intuitive operation. Like the 3200 series, the included “Equivalent Horizontal Range (EHR)” rangefinder provides an excellent ballistic trajectory along with distance and angle of up to 1200 yards (approx. 1100m).
- Leica Geovid R – 8×42, 10×42, 8×56 and 15×56 binoculars
The R series Leica binoculars feature combine the same high-quality optics and EHR range-finder system of the other series along with a compact housing and ergonomic grip for comfortable and fatigue-free viewing for longer periods. These binoculars also measure distance, inclination and ballistic trajectory profiles up to 1200 yards.
Trinovid are one of the oldest series of binoculars produced by Leica. They became so popular that NASA selected them to be sent to the Moon with the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Main features of Trinovid series binoculars are durability, unparalleled image performance, rugged construction and a compact size. Most binoculars of this size are usually not suitable for extremely low-light viewing, but the Leica Trinovid series binoculars make dependable companions from dawn to dusk.
For added comfort, these binoculars feature a rubber covering on the outer shell that guarantee an ergonomic grip and enables users to handle the device in a steady fashion. This results in focused and ultra-sharp imagery. Leica optical equipment are made to last for a lifetime and their binoculars are no different. Beneath the rubber casing, the metal design ensures that the binoculars provide the same high definition performance even after rough use, which is why they are excellent for hunters and hikers.
Trinovid series includes the following binocular models:
- Leica Trinovid 32 HD – 8×32, 10×32
- Leica Trinovid 42 HD – 8×42, 10×42
All pocket binoculars
All pocket-sized Leica binoculars are manufactured and assembled at the Famalicao factory in Portugal. They are designed to be compact and easy to carry, so that they can accompany users and can comfortably be carried in jacket pockets. Even though these binoculars are small in size, they still feature the signature Leica optics and provide ultra-sharp images with optimum brightness which is suitable for most circumstances.
These include binoculars from the following categories:
- Leica Ultravid BR series – 8×20 and 10×25 binoculars
- Ultravid Black leathered series – 8×20 and 10×25 binoculars
- Ultravid Silver leathered series – 8×20 and 10×25 binoculars
Binoculars made in Germany
Following categories of binoculars are manufactured at the Wetzlar factory and feature the iconic “Made in Germany” branding.
Built on the premise of Leica’s Ultravid HD, the HD-Plus series of binoculars are known for producing images with improved contrast and high colour fidelity. Like the Noctivid series, this series also features the SCHOTT HT glass which are notable for excellent low-light performance. Similarly, the AquaDura coating is diligently applied to the lens surfaces for protection against abrasion and water contamination.
The lightweight and robust housings of these series are made of magnesium alloys that are known for unmatched strength. Like other Leica series, the housings are covered in a rubber armour, which provides a comfortable grip that defies accidental slips. The hinge mechanism is usually a critical component of a binoculars and to ensure the hinge remains functional indefinitely, these binoculars use a Titanium alloy to ensure ruggedness.
The series is available in the following variants:
- Leica Ultravid HD-Plus 50 – 8×50, 10×50 and 12×50 binoculars
- Leica Ultravid HD-Plus 42 – 7×42, 8×42 and 10×42 binoculars
The Noctivid series of Leica binoculars is a fairly new line of products. Released in 2016, Noctivid binoculars have become a demonstration of Leica’s pioneering technology and more than a century of experience in the optics field. The light-absorbing capability of these binoculars guarantees ultra-sharped images with superb brightness that even the naked eye can witness, a feature that is hard to find in binoculars these days. These binoculars are designed to perform in even the dimmest of dawns and dusks with fleeting light.
Although these high-end binoculars are compact and light-weight, they feature an unbelievably sturdy construction that is made to last forever. The body also features an ergonomic open-bridge design that enables users to hold them comfortably. A total of 12 glass components make up the internal optical mechanism of Noctivid binos, a number that sets them apart from other series and brands. They also feature the iconic SCHOTT HTTM glass that ensures unmatched colours in images. In addition, the AquaDura coating, which is a trademark of Leica Optics, protects the binoculars against accidental scratching of objectives and eyepiece lenses and keeps them dry in wet weather conditions.
Noctivid binoculars come in two variants.
- Leica Noctivid – 8×42 and 10×42 binoculars
The Leica Duovid series of binoculars are a retreat from any binocular available anywhere. They feature two magnifications in one device, which is a never-seen-before feature in binoculars, making Leica the first company in the market to achieve it. The switchable magnification feature can come handy for hunting enthusiasts and bird watchers who often deal with uncertain situations in the woods.
The dual magnification feature requires a precise mechanical system that ensures simultaneous movements of lenses inside the barrels without jeopardizing the nitrogen-purging. Leica uses mechanical and optical components with extremely accurate tolerances so that the switching mechanism remains problem-free and does not introduce a new source of pre-mature gas leakage. Other features of the series include a rugged rubber body, high-quality optics and low-light viewing capability, however, the magnifications cannot be set other than the two pre-set magnifications.
The Duovid series are available in two variants:
- Leica Duovid – 8+10×42 and 10+15×50 binoculars
All Leica products including the world-class digital cameras and sport optics, like binoculars, range finders, spotting scopes, monoculars, objectives and lenses are solely designed, manufactured and assembled at two locations in Europe, the Leitz Park complex in Wetzlar, Germany and the factory in Vila Nova de Famalicão near Porto, Portugal. Although Leica had a factory in Ontario, Canada for a brief period to serve the overwhelming demand from American customers, the factory was replaced by the production facility in Portugal.
Leica claims that the manufacturing and quality control processes at the two locations have the same level of precision, and that the products from both factories feature equal performance and build quality. Our experience with products from both locations has found this to be correct.
There is no denying that Leica products are of supreme quality and they have strived to keep this image from the very beginning. Photographers and other professionals have recommended their Leica devices since the first camera was unveiled in 1927. Leica produces cameras and sport optics for all sorts of occasions whether you are a skilled hunter, bird watching enthusiast, traveller, or a professional photographer.
Transcription of the Video
Hello and welcome to another episode of Optics Trade debates. Today, we are going to answer one of the most commonly asked questions we receive, that is: Where are Leica binoculars made?
Let us begin with some history behind Leica binoculars. Leica has been producing binoculars since 1907, which is for more than 113 years. Before, they were producing microscopes and other optics. During the whole century of their production, they have become one of the leaders in the premium class of sport optics. They are one of the big three: Leica, Swarovski, and Zeiss. What makes them famous is that they were chosen by NASA on their mission to the moon. The astronauts at that time used the Trinovid binoculars. The second big milestone among many was the introduction of the first laser range finder on the civil market. In 1992 they introduced the first Geovid, which ordinary people (not military employees) were able to buy.
Their main production facility is in Wetzlar, Germany, and it is called Leitz-Park. They also have a factory in Portugal since the early 70s. It is about an hour’s drive from Porto in Portugal and they have quite a big factory there – about 700 employees. Leitz-Park was opened recently – 5, 6 years ago. We wrote an article about this factor, so do check it out. They also have a museum there, as well as a hotel and a restaurant. They invested more than 20 million euros in the factory in Portugal. They also do a lot of research and development in Portugal, not only in Germany. They say that the quality of products that came from Portugal is on the same level as those that come from Germany.
So, all binoculars are made either in Portugal or in Germany. This is also the reason why their binoculars are not the cheapest (they start at 500 €). Which binoculars are made in Germany? The Noctivid, Ultravid, Dovid, and some other special series. Every other series, like the Geovid, Trinovid, and all the Compact serries, are produced in Portugal. The Ultravid Compact is also made in Portugal. All in all, it is safe to say that they produce much more binoculars in Portugal than they do in Germany. Those made in Portugal are not that different than the ones made in Germany, they are astonishing as well.
Thank you very much. I hope you enjoyed the video – if you did, like, and subscribe, and see you in the next debate. Goodbye.
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is an experienced author from the field of sports optics. He writes articles and reviews about binoculars, spotting scopes, rifle scopes, long range shooting and other topics for magazines like Lovec and Optics-Info.com blog. Currently, he is a member of Optics Trade team.