Images courtesy of James Lager
Made for internal use only, some have wound up on the open market
Like most camera manufacturers, Leica produced a limited number of cameras destined for internal use, for everything from field testing lenses, accessories, and features, to documenting factory events, to giving engineers that hands-on shooting experience so essential to evaluating and improving the breed. But unlike other companies, Leica dutifully marked these cameras “Betriebsk” and engraved them with special 3 or 4-digit serial numbers that weren’t in the regular production sequence to indicate they were not to be sold. “Betriebs” means “works” or “factory” and “Betribsk” is thus an abbreviation for “Betriebskamera” or “works camera.” Typically, these markings were engraved on the top or rear surface of the top plate, and also under the top plate for good measure. The vast majority of vintage Betriebsk cameras are late screw-mount and M-series Leicas, including the IIIc, IIIf, IIf, M3, M2, M4, and M7.
According to Leica historian James Lager, screw-mount “Barnack” Leicas bearing Betriebsk inscriptions all date from the immediate post-WWII era. “I’ve never seen a pre-war Leica with Betriebsk markings in over 40 years of research,” he notes, “though that doesn’t prove conclusively that none exist. Also, don’t be thrown off by the DRP logo on many of these cameras. During the late ‘40s up to the early ‘50s Leitz was using any existing parts on hand in order to meet the tremendous pent-up demand for new Leicas, and that included pre-war camera top plates.”