Ostentatious, iconic, or both, the legendary Leica logo is loved, loathed, and often covered up.
It’s safe to say that no other graphic design element in the Leica’s long history has generated as much controversy as the iconic Leica/Leitz red dot. The eye-catching red circle was originally emblazoned with the word Leitz in script when it first appeared on the Leica R3 in 1976 and the first production run of 100 Leica M4-2s in 1977. A strikingly similar black circle Leitz logo can also be found on the Leitz Televit rapid-focus device dating as far back as the late ‘60s. The red Leitz version was dropped on subsequent M cameras and then reappeared on the front covering of the M4-P in 1981.
The Leica M6 (essentially an M4-P with built-in TTL metering) of 1984-2003 marked the transition from the Leitz red dot to the current Leica red dot. Early examples had the Leitz insignia, and post-1986 models had the now familiar Leica red dot with the venerable “swoopy-L Leica in script” logo (that first appeared on the Leica II (model D) of 1932) in contrasting white. With minor cosmetic variations it’s the same Leica red dot now used on current Leica cameras including the Leica M10, SL2, CL, and Q2. In 1986, E. Leitz Wetzlar changed its name to Leica (now Leica Camera AG) in recognition of the worldwide fame of Leica cameras, and ever since 1999 the bold, assertive Leica red dot has been the official company logo. Whether or not you want it emblazoned prominently on your camera is really a matter of personal taste, but it’s a timeless, instantly recognizable graphic design that effectively conveys the power, prestige, and uniqueness of the Leica brand.
Red dot rage, red dot follies and the red dot cover-up.
Back in 2011, Leica Store Brasil in São Paulo ran a clever ad purporting to show that the iconic Leica red dot logo has remained the same since 1913, or what would then have been a 98-year run. While it’s a cool looking ad that definitely gets your attention, regrettably it’s 100% false and misleading. The glorious “sweeping L” Leica script logo first appeared in 1932, engraved on the top of the landmark Leica II (model D), the first Leica with a built-in coupled rangefinder. And as mentioned, the red dot with white Leica in script that’s shown 25 times on the one-page ad first appeared on the M6 starting around 1986. Finally, the unspecified black Leica M displayed prominently in the ad has no red dot at all—what were they thinking?
One infuriated gent responded to the ad with a post mocking Leica fans for “falling for it,” noting that the ad is factually incorrect, and conjecturing that the 1913 logo probably featured Leitz more prominently. In fact, the only “Leica” that could have dated from 1913 was one of Oskar Barnack’s Ur-Leica prototypes which bore no logos at all. And all Leicas made prior to 1932 were indeed engraved with the distinctive E. Leitz Wetzlar logo that dates back to the 19th century. The post continues with a vicious attack on what he perceives as pretentiousness: “What this logo represents for me these days is smugness, elitism, and nostalgia…rich hipsters and (expletive deleted) celebrities who think that buying a certain brand of camera makes them better photographers.” Hyperbolic red dot rage.
As you may know there are many ardent Leica fans who adore or abhor the red dot (sometimes both) and engage in passionate pro and con debates about it in various Leicaphile chat rooms. And there’s a coterie of discreet street shooters and travelers who don’t want to advertise that they’re carrying an expensive Leica and tape over the red dot (or the entire camera) with black electrician’s or gaffer’s tape to foil thieves and gushing admirers. Of course, if you’re buying a new or pre-owned Leica, you can avoid both the debate and the cover-up entirely by simply opting for one of the many Leica models without a red dot, such as the digital Leica M10-P and M10 Monochrom or the analog Leica MP. Finally, if you manage to lose your precious red dot, Leica Store Miami will be happy to sell you a replacement for your M6, M7, M8, or M9 for a mere 20 bucks. As for me, I think it’s an attractive logo, but I don’t consider it either an asset or a liability because, at the end of the day, it’s the Leica, not the logo, that really counts.