A Leica is for many photographers a rarefied item; the quality of lens, smoothness of mechanics and the near-silent shutter click, it is ideal for street documentary, catching people in their most vulnerable moment. Joel Meyerowitz and René Burri always have theirs with them when they visit us in London. But the Leica wasn't made as a luxury object to revere. It was designed as a compact camera to shoot landscape photography and durable enough that the photographer wouldn't fear taking it up a mountain or two.
Only after the Second World War did the cameras emerge as the street photographer's tool of choice, with most notable owners being Henri Cartier-Bresson and the afore-mentioned René Burri, who took many of their world famous photographs on it. "I had just discovered the Leica. It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it," Cartier-Bresson said after finding the camera that would stay with him for many years.
Since the first Leica was introduced in 1925, the German company has gone on to produce some of the most beautifully designed cameras in the world with many original lines still in production today. Their place in photographic history undoubtedly means that they are widely collected. Next month two of the biggest collections of Leica cameras from the last century are to go on sale November 23 in Hong Kong.; one set was owned by the British master watchmaker George Daniels, the other by the Dubai-based photography enthusiast Imran Ahmed. Chinese photography fans should prepare to snap up an M1 or two. And if HK is too far away for you, then perhaps take in the auction's earlier display. The lots will be on show at Bonhams Knightsbridge October 21-24.
Sign up to receive Phaidon stories via email