A small Northern Virginia firm that became a giant in its field with an invention for improving mapmaking with aerial photographs now hopes to become a giant in the field of newspaper production with a new laser invention.

That company, LogEtronics, of Springfield, celebrated its 25th anniversary at its annual meeting Tuesday. The manufacturer of graphic arts and photographic equipment nearly hidden in a wooded area is unknown to most people but is a giant in its field.

It started with one invention and a staff of 25 people in Washington and suburban Virginia. It now employs 380 persons in 70 countries.

"LogEtronics is not an ordinary kind of company doing ordinary kinds of things," company chairman Gordon O. F. Johnson told the firm's annual meeting. "We're a $25 million company competing with all those companies with $200 million in sales."

The company started out in 1955 manufacturing an electronic photographic printing device that improved mapmaking from aerial photographs. Its most recent product is a laser platemaking system called LogEscan used in the production of newspaper printing plates.

However, the new system "has been substantially more complex and time consuming than originally anticipated," the company officers wrote in the annual report.

"Continued higher LogEscan laser engineering and development expenditures than budgeted, coupled with normal processor and printer development programs, resulted in a 19 percent increase in engineering and development expense for 1978 over 1977," the annual report continued.

This year the company will "concentrate on stablilizing the (LogEscan) program," President William K. Marrinan said, "and make entry with some major newspapers here and possibly in Europe."

The New York Time has already bought the system, Marrinan said.

One stockholder suggested that with the LogEscan system, the little company may have "bitten off more than it could chew," but Marrinan said he expected the demand for the system to increase as more newspapers move away from hot metal type.

In addition to the LogEscan, LogEtronics produces aerial photography products which can also be used intechnical and scientific photographic department in industry and medicine. When the company started its main consumer of this product was the government, which used it for mapping and reconnaissance.

The company also manufactures photographic film and paper processing machines and cameras which account for more than 80 percent of the company's film processors make up more than 70 percent of the processors used by daily newspapers in the United States. Its competitors in this field are DuPont and Eastman Kodak, Johnson said.

Last year the company had sales of $21.9 million compared to $16.6 million the previous year. Earnings for 1978 were $1.3 million ($1.26 a share) compared to $716,000 in 1977 (72 cents a share) in 1977.

The firm also reported yesterday first quarter earnings of $415,000 (41 cents a share) compared to $306,000 (29 cent a share) for the same quarter last year.

"The first quarter speaks for itself," Marrinan said. The increases in revenues and sales match the company's business plan of being "aggressive, but cautions in anticipation of a third or fourth quarter downturn in the economy," Marrinan said.