Friday, March 28, 2014


 A different look at Leicas and other cameras from past to present.

Probably the best known name connected to the research of the evolution of man is Charles Darwin.  However, many people don't realize that his research involved a great omission.  Although he successfully discovered the basics of man's evolution, nowhere did he mention the evolution that took place with today's elves.  These peaceful and industrious  creatures must not be mistaken as gnomes, elves do not wear long, pointed hats.  They play an important role in the lives of many of us.  The users of Leicas and other cameras everywhere owe a great deal to these elves.

The great cultural centers of the European elves are the Black Forest, some parts of the Alps, the less harsh regions around Salzburg, and also the Harz mountains, the Erzgebirge in eastern Germany and the Riesengebirge on the boundary of Silesia and Bohemia.  Here they played an important role with the giant Rübezahl, but that is a different story.

Over time the typical habitat of the elves became smaller and smaller, primarily because of the advances of man and the advent of larger cities.  Consequently the elves found it necessary to change their lifestyles as well, many following man into the cities.  One of the earliest achievements between man and elf was reported from the city of Cologne where many elves helped a poor shoemaker succeed in his business.  Needless to say, the business of making shoes is not the only trade of the elves.  As a credit to their very small stature, they soon developed tremendous skills in the manufacture of fine mechanical things.  Today's finest clocks and chronometers are still largely made by elves.

Therefore it is no wonder that many found their way into the manufacture of cameras.  The Erzgebirge is not too far from the former German optical center in Jena and it was here that the first elf-made cameras became famous as, for instance the Zeiss Super Ikonta, the Contax and the Ermanox.  Unfortunately, the perils of time and politics brought an end to this center of optics and cameras.  But it was not too far from the Black Forest to the city of Wetzlar which was to become an integral place for the performance of the skilled elves.  Anybody who has ever visited this quaint little town, where time seems to have stood still for centuries, will quickly realize why these little people came and settled here.  We must remember that these unselfish creatures very much shy away from contact with man.  Some might say that this is just another example of their intelligence.

Wetzlar and the surrounding hills presented a perfect habitat for the elves.  They soon decided to help with the manufacture of microscopes at the Optical Institute.  This took place in approximately the middle of the 19th century.  Another new area for the elves was the Bavarian town of Oberkochen.  A lot of the former Jena elves decided to settle there when the Zeiss company decided to make Oberkochen their new headquarters after WWII.

After working on the Ermanox for a few years, it became obvious that a small, ready to use camera had a great future.  Several attempts were made by a number of manufacturers to use motion picture cameras for still photography, but it was not until 1913, when Oskar Barnack at Leitz made the first prototype of the Leica, that such a camera became a possibility.  Oskar Barnack has always been credited for inventing the Leica and along with it, practical 35mm photography.  But equal credit must be given to the elves.  It is interesting to note that some of the elves, who formerly worked in Jena, decided to visit Wetzlar upon the recommendation of some of their relatives who lived there.  Some decided to stay, and it is they who were instrumental in the development of the Leica prototype and with it the development of 35mm photography as we know it today.

It is not known if the basic idea for the camera came from Oskar Barnack or from the elves, but we do know that they were instrumental in the development of some of the features.  For instance, the prototype or Ur-Leica had an accessory shoe which was designed by one of the former Jena elves.  It is interesting to note that the dimensions of today’s accessory shoes and hot shoes on our cameras are identical to the one originally developed by the elves in Wetzlar.  The Ur-Leica initially had to be loaded in a darkroom.  It held enough film for 40 exposures.  After finishing the roll of film, the camera had to be unloaded again in the darkroom.  This, of course, proved to be very unhandy, and soon the elves designed a small, re-loadable, light-tight cassette to hold the film.  Since this cassette took up some of the space initially reserved for the film, the total length of the roll had to be shortened to 36 exposures.  That is the very reason why to this day 35mm cameras can hold (officially) no more than 36 frames.

Things were destined not to work as nicely as they could have.  War interrupted the beautiful conditions in Wetzlar.  Since elves have never made a gun or any other weapon, it is even sadder to see how they were influenced by something they had so little influence on.  The early post-war years were very hard.  This resulted in the decision of the elves to try their fortune elsewhere.  Thus it is not surprising that when Leitz Wetzlar decided to establish a North American branch in Midland, Ontario, some of the Wetzlar elves decided to go along.

Midland is a small town with surroundings very much to the liking of the elves, a perfect habitat.  The Midland elves soon felt very much at home.  They did not much care that their first working space had to be improvised in an ice skating rink.  They were finally able to do again what they did best – make cameras and lenses.  The operation grew and while Mr Kluck and his followers got most of the credit, it is no secret that without the tremendous skill and help of the elves, there would be none of those fine instruments for which the name Leitz and Leica has become known.  So even though the Midland products did not bear the insignia “Made in Germany” anymore, it was still the same elves who manufactured much of the goods.

A couple of them worked very closely with Dr. Walter Mandler and with their help, Midland soon became the center of optical design for the entire Leitz works.  The success of the Leica was assured and in the early seventies it became apparent that there was a need for expansion.  Once again, a small town with perfect living conditions for the elves was found, this time not far from the Portugese town of Porto.  Some of the older Wetzlar and Midland elves, now in their prime, decided to relocate in Porto.  After all, in one's older years, the milder climate in Portugal was something to consider.

With the help of the Wetzlar and Midland elves a marvelous new camera was developed, the Leica R3, entirely made in Portugal  Considering that most of these elves received their training in the mid-nineteenth century, it is much to their credit that they were able to make the transition to electronics.  Although Leitz has been criticized for making changes much too slowly, we must remember that with the average elf life span of 350 years, 10 years are but a moment in time.  According to human standards, elvers are definitely in no hurry, yet soon after the R3 we were presented with the R4, R5 and up to the R9.  The rangefinder cameras were further developed from the M3 to the M7 and then the digital M8 and M9 and now the incredible Leica M and Leica M Monochrom, along with a variety of other Leica digital camera and the Leica flagship, the marvelous Leica S.

For those who have doubts about the quality of the Canadian and Portuguese Leica equipment, remember that it is made by the same elves, or their descendants, who brought the name Leitz Wetzlar into such high esteem.  And let there be no doubt that the people at Leitz in Wetzlar and Solms are fully aware of the benefits they derive from those elves.  Why else would they have been so careful in the selection of new sites in Canada and Portugal?  They knew that by selecting such elf-friendly environments, the future participation of the elves in manufacturing Leica equipment would be assured and it is this that has and always will set Leicas apart from their competitors.

Legends say that the Wetzlar elves are descendants from an old Roman elf with the name Cameraus Automaticus, who is known for making some early experiments in the harnessing of light.  Unfortunately, traces to modern times are difficult to follow, since so many of his descendants went into different trades.  We do know however, that one of them, Cervesaus Delectibus, is known to have been instrumental in establishing the art of brewing beer in Germany.

But back to the manufacture of cameras.  It is no great secret that elves are a very proud people.  As soon as the Leica became a success, the elves in Jena decided to help in developing a 35mm camera for Zeiss as well.  The result is the now legendary Contax.

Unfortunately, we cannot show any photographs of the elves.  As we know from the experience of the shoemaker in Cologne, it is an unwritten rule that one must not watch or photograph them.  Heaven forbid!  This would result in their immediate departure.  So I hope that the readers of this article will understand that we can only show an artist’s conception of secret observations of what goes on at night in some of the camera manufacturing plants.

It was around the time of the introduction of the Contax that Eastman Kodak decided to buy the former Nagel Camera Works in Stuttgart.  Many elves had been working there for years, and they too helped in the development of yet another, the third ever, 35mm camera, the famous Kodak Retina.

Leica M5 Assembly

Transport of a FODIS Rangefinder in 1927

Working on the Optical Components of the Leica M Rangefinder

There are many other accounts of elves helping in the development of cameras.  Names like Exacta, Rollei, Hasselblad, Linhof, Plaubel, Sinar etc. come to mind, too numerous to mention in detail.  But one other success story must be mentioned.

In the early years after WWII, with Europe in ruins, some of the elves there got discouraged.  They thought it too difficult to rebuild and subsequently decided to try other regions, far away regions, which led many of them to Japan.  This, of course, also included some of the “camera elves.”

One of their early successes was the manufacture of lenses.  They helped the fledgling Nikon company, and it was due to the memory and the skills of some of the Wetzlar and Jena elves, that Nikon was able to make versions of lenses which were originally designed with the help of the elves for Leitz and Zeiss.  When Nikon decided to make cameras as well, it was again with the help of the elves that the original Nikon came to be.  The former Jena and Wetzlar elves decided to work together and to take the best of their previous masterpieces and combine them into a new camera.  The result was that the first Nikon essentially was a Contax camera body and lens mount but with the film transport and shutter system of the Leica.  Even the famous Nikon F was still based on that principle.

Another manufacturer, benefiting greatly from the help of the elves was Canon.  Their factory had mainly Wetzlar elves.  Therefore it should come as no surprise that the early Canon cameras were very much based on the Leica camera.

At this day and age all the various camera manufacturers of course have camera designs entirely their own. Tremendous advancements have taken place since the early days of making cameras, and unfortunately most of us give little thought and little credit where so much credit is due.  It is safe to say that even in these days of electronics and electronic controls, the top cameras in this world would hardly be possible without the help of the elves.  The developments of multi megapixel digital cameras would simply be impossible without them.  So let’s all be thankful that the experience with the shoemaker in Cologne a long time ago did not discourage the elves from working on our behalf.  Photography as we know it today would not have happened without them.


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Thursday, March 27, 2014


I have always been a great fan of Yousuf Karsh.  While some might argue about his work, his mastery of photographic techniques should be undisputed, especially when it comes to black and white.  The quality of his prints is amazing which, of course, is partially due to his use of large format camera equipment.

A while ago I decided to see how close in terms of sharpness, tonality and overall look I could come by using a Leica.  I chose my Leica M6 with a 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit.  As a film I used Agfapan APX 25 which I still consider one of the best 35mm black and white films ever to run through my camera.  While Kodak Technical Pan might have shown a bit higher resolution, I felt that the Agfapan was superior in terms of overall tonality.  The film was rated at ISO 25 and developed in Agfa Rodinal 1:100 for 16 minutes with continuous agitation.

The photograph was taken in an all white (walls, floor and ceiling) studio with Broncolor studio flash equipment.  Exposure was determined with a Gossen Lunapro F light meter in both incident and reflective mode.

The main rim light was done with an open, undiffused reflector positioned to the back of the subject, slightly to the left.  The light reading was via incident mode and the camera adjusted to render a +2 1/2 stop overexposure.  The fill light was a second light source with a large soft box positioned in the front to the left of the camera and carefully positioned to render the reflections off the skin.  Exposure was taken with a reflective spot reading directly off the skin and the output of the flash adjusted to render a -1 1/2 stop underexposure.

Even though the photograph was taken in an all white studio, the background was far enough back to have no effect on the exposure and thus turned out to be virtually black.

This photograph is a prime example why the ability to use a light meter correctly is very important, even with digital photography.  One might possibly be able to come up with a similar result just by using the instant feedback of a digital camera screen, but to do so is nothing more than photography by trial and error.  I prefer to use my camera equipment in a manner that predicts the outcome with the largest amount of certainty possible.

Did I come close to the excellence of a Karsh portrait?  You be the judge.


The following excerpt from the British Journal of Photography from 1890 shows how far reaching the introduction of the Leica was just a few years later.


“It is granted that hand cameras are indispensable for such as street views, or on the beach, or on shipboard, but they are decidedly out of place for use as picture producers.  Therefore let us oppose all attempts to popularize the use of hand cameras at our photographic outings, the high standard of pictorial excellence to which landscape photography has attained being in great danger of reduction by the use and abuse of hand cameras.”

R. P. Drage, British Journal of Photography, vol. 37, 1890; p. 565.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


I have been fascinated for many years by the history of the Leica.  Especially prototypes and test models which never reached the market are of great interest to me.  They give us some insight of what the people behind the camera have been thinking of, and what directions the further development of the camera might have taken.

Such a camera caught my eye just recently with the announcement of the special WestLicht auction in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Leica camera.  A photograph showing some of the rare Leica items that will be auctioned off showed a Leica rangefinder model unlike any I had ever seen.

The camera is shown on the right side of the picture below the microscope

A bit of research revealed that it is a prototype M6 with electronic shutter which ultimately was replaced by the M6 we know.  It was designed by Peter Loseries and produced in 1981.  The camera was based on the Leica R4 body.  The pentaprism and the mirror box were removed and replaced by the Leica M rangefinder.  It also included the angled rewind knob of the Leica M4.  The camera maintained the shutter of the R4 as well as most of the electronics.  This resulted in an M Leica with TTL metering and automatic exposure control.  This was achieved by placing the sensor of the light meter on an arm which would swing out of the way prior to making any exposure, reminiscent of the Leica M5.  The camera would also accept the data back and the motor drives of the R4.  The so-called “M6 electronic” was finished in late 1981 and only four complete prototypes were ever produced.

LEICA M6 with an electronic shutter, 1981 prototype

None of these remained at Leica and only two of them are known to exist. The M6 which finally went to production in 1984 was completely different from this first concept.

Along with the camera, Leica also made a prototype Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 with a built-in square lens hood, designed by Rolf Crema.  Only two of these lenses were ever assembled and it never went into production.

Overall, this hybrid LEICA camera has a mix of features of M6 and the R4 with an exterior that is more reminiscent of the M5.  Would it have been a sales success?  We will never know, but considering the resistance to the M5, we should not be surprised that Leica took a more conservative approach with the actual, marketed version of the M6.

Front view of LEICA M6 electronic with ELMARIT-M 1:2.8/28mm lens incoporrated with an electronic shutter, 1981 prototype model

LEICA M4-style design in a LEICA M6 Prototype camera, 1981

Emarit-M 1:2.8/28mm mounted on a LEICA M6 prototype camera in 1981

Base plate, LEICA M6 prototype body with electronic shutter, 1981

Special thanks to Peter Coeln of WestLicht for giving permission to use his photographs of the “M6 electronic” on these pages.


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Monday, March 24, 2014



The year 1914 saw the birth of 35 mm Leica photography as we know it today. Oskar Barnack made the Leitz Camera, the very first Leica, 100 years ago. And now, in 2014, Leica Camera AG is celebrating the centenary year of this occasion with numerous events, exhibitions and exciting new products. The theme for this centennial celebration is 100 years of Leica photography'. Celebrate with us and look forward to many surprises that we will present to you regularly on our website.


On the occasion of this very special anniversary, 2014 will see not only numerous events, but also a series of centennial editions. Here are the first two editions. Keep a look out for more surprises.



The first of these special centennial editions is the Leica S 'Edition 100'. which comprises a Leica S medium-format system camera and two of the most popular S lenses, both with a central shutter, offering exceptional versatility in a wide range of situations - the Leica Summarit-S 70 mm f/2.5 ASPH. CS and the Leica Elmarit-S 30 mm f/2.8 ASPH. CS. The Leica S and both lenses are specially engraved with our centennial logo and presented in a bright aluminum protective case.




The second special edition of this centennial year, 2014, is the Leica D-Lux 6 Edition 100'. This centennial edition set includes a Leica D-Lux 6 compact camera in a two-colour finish with a silver lens and a high-gloss black camera body, featuring special engraving - the centennial logo - which appears on the front of the camera body. The camera is complemented by an elegant camera case in matching genuine black leather also bearing the centennial logo and a carrying strap and wrist strap to match.


Sunday, March 23, 2014


Two Weeks ago Leica donated a Leica M Monochrome to a Japanese teenager whose family was displaced by the Fukushima disaster.  She had just graduated from high school where she was a member of the photography club.  She had planned to go to university, but her family’s problems prevented her from doing so.  Instead she took a manufacturing job to save up enough money to enable her to attend university after all and to continue with her chosen profession.

Leica chairman Andreas Kaufmann heard of her problems and decided to present her with a Leica M Monochrome camera to enable her to continue with photography.  At a press conference they presented the camera to the happy new owner. 

Immediately afterwards the internet was full of criticism about Leica’s donation of the camera to her.  Complaints went from criticism of the price of the camera, the fact that it is a black and white only camera and that Leica instead should have made a general donation to charity.  Leica made a philanthropic effort, besides all of the other donations they have made, to help a student to continue with her chosen profession, not Nikon, not Canon, not Fuji, not Sony, nobody but Leica.  Instead of heaping criticism onto Leica, criticism should have been directed to the other major camera manufacturers who chose to remain silent.

Had this been the only philanthropic donation that Leica made recently, the criticism would have been justified.  But the fact is that Leica has made substantial donations to a variety of causes.  So once again we have Leica being criticized for the sake of criticism, but ultimately without any justifiable cause.

What do you think?

Friday, March 21, 2014


From INFO in IMAGING and BUSINESS we received the following article:

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014



Oene of the first German companies to establish a manufacturing branch overseas was Ernst Leitz, the makers of Leica cameras.  In 1952, they started making some of their equipment in Midland, Ontario, Canada.  They operated as Ernst Leitz, just like in Germany, but used ELCAN to identify some of their equipment.

Besides the manufacture of cameras and lenses, ELCAN was also very much involved in the manufacture of military equipment.  One of the most unusual military developments was an underwater camera system which ELCAN developed for the US Navy.  It primarily consisted of a complete set of lenses for underwater work, not only for 35mm cameras but also for medium format, 16mm motion picture and TV cameras.  These were rather unique lenses because they were not part of a camera that was simply put into a water tight housing.  Instead the lenses were designed to be exposed to the water with their front element.  The common way of using under water housings for conventional cameras usually incorporate standard lenses that are designed to work in air.  Even with their standard lenses, Leica goes beyond standard practices by taking the refractive index of air into consideration when designing their lenses.

   35mm System, front view

35mm system Back view

35mm system, with inside front and back view with Leica M4 camera installed

 Motion Picture or Video system

  Three Lenses with the common Water contact Front Element

The ELCAN under water system instead was designed according to the refractive index of water.  As a matter of fact, since this system was to be used primarily in salt water, it was the refractive index of salt water that was used in the design of these lenses.  However, not all oceans have the same salinity.  So ELCAN went one step further and took the refractive index of the salinity of the various oceans into consideration.  This was possible with an interchangeable front element of their water contact lenses.  This overall design actually considered the water as an integral lens element of the entire system.   To avoid the need to test these lenses in the various oceans all over the world, ELCAN built a large water tank that could be flooded with water of the appropriate salinity.

Water test tank

The correction of these lenses was so good that, when water is clear enough, there is no way of telling that the pictures were taken under water.  ELCAN was the first company to suggest such a design.

What is even more amazing is the fact that the thick water contact front element is reported to be so strong that the lenses can be used in the greatest ocean depths without any problems at all, including the deepest part on earth, the 36,200 feet deep Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench.

In November 1990, the Hughes Aircraft Company, California, purchased Ernst Leitz (Canada) Ltd.  In December, 1997 Hughes sold their operation to Raytheon Company, Lexington, Massachusetts.

Today  Raytheon ELCAN Optical Technologies is the largest and most fully integrated North American company with complete opto-electro-mechanical capabilities. 

Friday, March 14, 2014


Special Auction 100 Years of LEICA on the occasion of the Grand Opening of the new LEITZ PARK in Wetzlar on 
May 23rd, 2014 

An exclusive portfolio of exactly 100 rare treasures of Leitz hardware development as well as 100 highlights of Leica photography will be presented and auctioned in cooperation with Leitz Camera AG on the occasion of the Grand Opening of the new Leitz Park in Wetzlar on May 23rd, 2014.

The auction will be accompanied by a very exclusive 450 page catalogue, which you can preorder here:

Celebrating 100 Years of LEICA and the Grand Opening of the Leitz Park on May 23rd, 2014 in Wetzlar, Germany.

With more than 450 pages, the “100 Years of LEICA“ catalogue displays all these contemporary witnesses of LEICA history and therefore can be considered a very complete picture book of LEICA brand development and photography, full of exciting surprises, historical details and insider information. Curated by experts like Lars Netopil and Hans-Michael Koetzle.

For the registration of your personal attendance to the auction in Wetzlar on May 23, 2pm CEST, please send an email with your name, adress and telephone number to: 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014



Leica Camera AG is offering a new milestone in the history of lens construction: the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH. With the goal of creating a lens that fully achieves the opportunities offered by high-resolution camera systems, Leica engineers have successfully redefined the limits of what is technically possible. The result is an extremely high-performance lens that sets entirely new standards and currently stands as an exceptional talent amongst the standard lenses of the Leica M portfolio.



This new reference lens achieves the best test results ever seen in the Leica M-Lens program. The MTF curves of the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH that describe the contrast of fine details and, in turn, the image sharpness, confirm its outstanding performance. Even the finest details are resolved with more than 50% contrast across the entire image field. This previously unattained value confirms the exceptional positioning of this lens. All images captured with the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH in any photographic situation show extreme sharpness and resolution of details from corner to corner of the image. Additionally, the apochromatic correction of the lens minimizes chromatic aberration on sharp edges to ensure natural rendition of every detail. As a result, photographers benefit from the best possible reproduction results at any print size.

The outstanding performance of the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH is founded on the perfect interaction of all its design and construction parameters, from optical calculation and choice of materials to the sophisticated and elaborate manufacturing and finishing of the lens. Together with more than 150 years of experience in the design and construction of optical instruments, Leica’s reputation as the manufacturer of the world’s best lenses is once again emphasized.

The new design of the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH is based on the optical design of its predecessor that has been on the market since 1979 and is the oldest lens represented in the Leica M portfolio. The classical specifications, 50 mm focal length and a maximum aperture of f2, offered an ideal starting point for further development. As such, Leica’s expert lens designers were able to concentrate exclusively on the improvement of imaging quality within these standard specifications.

In its optical design, the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH is oriented on particular features of the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH and the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH lenses. For instance, the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH also incorporates a floating element. The lens group behind the diaphragm is designed as a floating element that changes its position relative to the front group during focusing, ensuring that the lens achieves outstanding imaging quality throughout its focusing range, including at closer focusing distances.

The realization of the apochromatic correction of the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH involved the use of specially formulated glasses based on original developments from the former Leitz glass laboratory. The use of such glasses requires great effort and many years of experience. As a result of the consistent advancement of optical processes, working with these high-quality glasses has been refined to such a fine art that they are integrated in the best possible quality into Leica lenses as evidenced today in the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH.

As a particularly reliable product with enduring value and made in Germany, the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 ASPH is manufactured from only the best materials and is assembled in an elaborate process completely by hand at Leica’s factory in Solms. The combination of cutting-edge technologies and painstaking manufacturing procedures guarantees the consistently excellent quality of every single Leica lens.

For a test report on the APO-SUMMICRON-M 50 MM F/2 ASPH go to:

For more on the Leitz glass laboratory go to:

Monday, March 10, 2014


As part of its centennial celebrations, “100 Years of Leica Photography,” Leica Camera is offering the S-System Trade Up Program.  Starting April 1, 2014, customers can trade in any SLR camera or medium format camera (film or digital) towards the purchase of a new Leica S digital medium format camera and receive a $5,000 instant credit. Please note that only one instant credit can be applied to each new Leica S purchase.  The program will be effective through June 30, 2014.  This program is available through any authorized Leica dealer, boutique or store in the USA.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


The Leica rangefinder cameras are primarily known as fast acting cameras with lenses up to 135mm.  Close up photography with few exceptions is limited to the focusing range of the lens.  This field of photography is generally reserved for single lens reflex (SLR) cameras or mirrorless digital cameras.

However, that does not at all mean that close up and long telephoto photography cannot be done with a Leica Rangefinder camera.  This has been the case almost since the the Leica was first marketed in 1925.

We used to have a cabin in central Wisconsin.  One day we discovered a rather large hornet nest in a big pine tree next to the building.  The hornets appeared unusually large and seemed to be overly aggressive.  So we gave them a lot of space.  But I wanted to take the opportunity to take some pictures of them.  Conventional close-up equipment was out of the question.  So I decided to use my trusty 560mm f/6.8 Telyt.  I was using a Leica M5 that day with a Visoflex 3.  I wasn’t surprised to see that the Telyt couldn’t focus close enough to obtain any useable pictures.  Luckily I had a Leica Bellows 2 along.  Adding that to the set-up allowed safe close-up photographs from a safe distance.

Needless to say that we removed the nest after the photographs had been taken, but that’s another story.

The picture was taken from a distance of about 20 feet on Agfachrome 64

Leica M5, Visoflex 3, Leica Bellows 2, 560mm f/6.8 Telyt

This picture, I feel, is not so much of interest because of its pictorial excellence but rather because the somewhat unusual circumstances under which it was taken and because of the unusual Leica equipment combination it was taken with.

Since I was using both Leica M and R equipment at the time, I bought all long lenses and close-up equipment in Leica M configuration.  That allowed me to use it both with the Visoflex as well as with the Leica R cameras with the 14167 adapter.

The Visoflex has long been discontinued, but it will still fit even the latest Leica rangefinder cameras, including the Leica M.  The release lever is slightly offset because of the slight difference in size of the Leica M compared to older models, but it still functions properly.  But the advanced features and accessories of the Leica M makes a Visoflex unnecessary for this type of photography.  Instead the new Electronic Visoflex is a better choice.  It allows direct viewing and focusing with all attached lenses, including a large number of lenses from other manufacturers via an adapter.

The new Leica M is truly a system camera that does not need to fear comparison to anything else on the market.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


When the Leica was first marketed in 1925 it was without competition.  It was an entirely new concept, not seen before.  Thus it was no surprising that the camera immediately became a huge success with competing companies struggling to offer something similar.  Soon Zeiss entered the market with the Contax, as did others, including Kodak with the German made Retina, but none ever had the success of the Leica.

This success continued after the interruption of WWII, with the first post war model, the Leica IIIf and then the incredible M3 which lives on in its basic concept even today with the Leica M.  Of course there were cameras from competing companies as well, the continuation of the Zeiss Contax as the main competitor.  Kodak too tried to get a hold on the 35mm rangefinder market with their incredible Ektra, but Leica remained on top.

This success continued even far into the new 35mm single lens reflex camera market which rapidly gained popularity.  This brings us to an interesting concept rom Switzerland, the Alpa Reflex.

Alpa was an offshoot of the Pignons S.A. company, which made specialty parts (pinions) for Swiss watches.  In the late 1930s, Pignons invited engineer Jacques Bolsky to design a camera for them. This resulted in the Alpa-Reflex in the 1940s.  As did most everyone else, he took a close look at the Leica, but also at the emerging single lens reflex cameras (SLR).  As a company involved in the watchmaking industry, the Alpa camera turned out to be an incredibly well made piece of equipment, mostly hand made with extremely tight tolerances.

What set the camera apart form virtually all cameras at the time is the fact that the camera was a hybrid, offering rangefinder focusing as well as single lens reflex viewing. A closer look, especially at the lens, definitely reveals the influence of the Leica.  Because of the very high quality of the camera, production was low, but quality and prices were high. Even these days, collectible Alpa cameras can fetch quite high auction prices.

The original Alpa Reflex

Alpa was quite innovative with other features too.  There is an ongoing question concerning which camera company was first with such innovations as the quick-return mirror, through-the-lens metering, cells in prism housings and the bayonet lens mount. Alpa was a contender for being first with each of these innovations and several others.

Soon after the introduction of the Alpa Reflex, a new model was introduced.  While the Alpa reflex sported a waist level viewfinder, the new Alpa Prism Reflex was one of the first SLR cameras with a prism viewfinder, but it also maintained rangefinder focusing.

Not only did the Apla cameras stand out because of their very high quality, this continued with their lenses as well.  They did not make their own lenses, instead they had them made by some of the best lens makers, Angenieux, Kern, Kinoptik, Schneider, and others.  They were the only company to guarantee optical quality of the lenses they sold.  The Kern Macro Switar lens was a 50 mm lens at F1.8 or F1.9.  It was an apochromat, and is still highly regarded as one of the best standard lenses ever offered. Other apochromats offered by Alpa included the 100 mm F2 and 150 mm F2.8 Kinoptik lenses.  The company retained the same lens mount on the Swiss made cameras from 1942 until they ended production. The back focus of the body was the thinnest of any 35 mm camera, and as a result, it was possible to make adapters to use lenses designed for almost any other 35 mm SLR on an Alpa. Adapters offered included Exakta, M42 (automatic diaphragm and manual), Nikon (auto and manual), Leica R, T-mount, and Contax.

Just as the combination of rangefinder and reflex focusing was a definite deviation from the norm, Alpa continued to be different with follow up models as well.  For instance, the initial film winding knob was replaced with a lever wind, as was the case on other cameras.  But instead of using the common counter clockwise, thumb activated winding lever, Alpa decided to do the opposite.  Their winding lever stuck out from the front of the camera and it was activated by pulling it with the right index finger.  Alpa also continued to use the camera release via a knob on their lenses which also activated the auto stop down of the diaphragm, a system apparently taken over from Exacta.

Alpa 9d with 50mm f/1.8 Macro Switar
The reverse wind lever and shutter release on the lens areclearly visible

One of the strangest accessories for the Alpa was without a doubt the motor drive.  While everyone would attach the motor to the bottom of the camera, Alpa decided to put it on the top.  The motor attached by being fastened to the screw fittings normally used to attach a neck strap.  Right above the advance lever a pin stuck out from the motor which, when activated, actually moved the advance lever as it would normally be done by the index finger.  The shutter release was in the back of the motor which necessitated a short cable release in front of the motor to be connected to the normal shutter release on the lenses.

Unfortunately, Alpa did not have the resources to keep up with the technological advances that the mainstream camera companies were introducing in the 1970s and sales began to decline. It is not clear whether the lack of technological "innovation" was due to lack of money, or actually a choice made by the company against the automation brought about by other companies.

In 1990 the company could no longer compete with other manufacturers, especially from outside Europe. The fatal blow however was delivered by problems within the company. Pignons SA declares bankruptcy. The last ALPA model produced by Pignons SA was the ALPA 11.

In 1996 Capaul & Weber from Zurich acquired the world-wide rights to the brand-name ALPA. The new owners aimed to continue the tradition of quality established with the classic 35-mm ALPA reflex cameras and to enter into the field of medium-format cameras which resulted in the Alpa 12 camera currently on the market.

As Leica enthusiast we should be able to understand a certain resistance to market trends.  The insistence on doing things their way brought considerable financial hardships for Leica, especially their less than lukewarm embrace of digital photography.  Fortunately, with the help of Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, the direction of the company changed and today Leica is once again one of the major players in the high end camera market.

Monday, March 3, 2014


Leica Camera AG just announced the next special edition camera celebrating Leica Camera's centennial year the Leica D-Lux 6 ‘Edition 100.’

In honor of Leica Camera's 100 year anniversary, a series of special, centennial editions will be released. The second special edition of the centennial year, 2014, is the Leica D-Lux 6 ‘Edition 100.’ The centennial edition includes a Leica D-Lux 6 compact camera in a two-color finish with a silver lens and a high-gloss black camera body.  The centennial logo is specially engraved on the front of the camera body. It is the number 100 showing a stylized version of the lens on the original Leica prototype, the Ur-Leica and the lens cover plate which needed to be swung over the lens to prevent exposure during film winding. 

  Ur Leica showing the lens and cover plate

The special-edition set includes an elegant camera case in matching genuine black leather, with the centennial logo and a carrying strap and wrist strap to match. In technical details, the centennial edition is identical to the standard model of the Leica D-Lux 6

In its technical specification, the centennial edition is identical to the standard model of the Leica D-Lux 6 and is therefore characterized by combination of a high-performance lens and a 1.7" CMOS sensor that is particularly large for this compact camera class. The camera also offers a comprehensive range of features, including automatic mode, manual setting options and full-HD video recording capability. A range of optional camera accessories, for instance an electronic viewfinder, can also provide even greater creative freedom. Together with its intuitive handling concept, this all makes this elegantly eye-catching silver-and-black version of the Leica D-Lux 6 an ideal companion for capturing those special moments in pictures of outstanding quality.

This Leica D-Lux 6 ‘Edition 100’ is strictly limited to 5,000 sets. The centennial sets will be available from March 2014.