Tuesday, December 30, 2014




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.

I think we should all be glad that Oskar Barnack did not read this.

Typical "Field Camera" ca. 1890


“Can I help you please?”

“Yes, could you please put this roll of film into my camera?”

The customer hands over the most expensive 35mm camera at that time.  A moment later everything is done.

“Excuse me, Sir, I don't mean to tell you how to take care of your camera, but I couldn't help notice that your lenses are rather dirty.  All the extra performance that you spent so much money for certainly gets lost that way.

“Oh no, that's alright.  Someone who knows told me the best way to keep a lens clean is to lick it...”

another TRUE STORY

We pass along the following article from the March, 1981 issue of LEICA POSTAL PORTFOLIO NEWS:

I should relate, albeit briefly, a little incident that happened in the shop a few days ago.  A customer (new to us) handed us a colour negative film for processing with the comment that he thought few of the pictures would 'come out', but even the bad ones required printing.  Accordingly we marked the order “print regardless' and tactfully inquired if we might help with any problems concerning his picture taking.

He told us that he had been taking pictures off the TV screen but that he did not think his flash was sufficiently powerful.  We explained that the more external light that fell on the front of the TV screen, the less the actual television picture would be visible – but we distinctly got the impression that he did not quite believe us.  Somehow he appeared to doubt our expertise.

“Anyhow,” he said, “even if I had not used the flash, they still wouldn't be any good.  I couldn't change the focus setting on my camera as fast as the TV camera crew did with theirs.  I simply couldn't keep up with them.”

We did not press the point...

Did You Know That...

...The US Air Force, for their top 35mm camera, used the Leicaflex for many years?

...and that a special production run of Leica M4s, dubbed the KE-7A, was made for the US Army?

The KE-7A was accompanied by a special instruction book which even included a special section on how to destroy the camera in case of capture by the enemy.  It was an intriguing process.  The first suggestion was simply to try to break it with a hammer, shovel, or other blunt instrument.  Apparently they realized how well built the cameras were, because the instructions continued, saying that if none of the first methods succeeded, to use explosives like dynamite.

I know Leicas are quite tough, but dynamite?

Leica KE 7A
The camera was originally supplied with an f/2 version of the Leitz Elmar called Elcan

Friday, December 19, 2014


St. Paul, Minnesota Winter Carnival 1992 Ice Castle
Plaubel Makina, Anticomar 100mm f/2.9
Agfacolor Optima 100, 10 sec, f/2.9

This terminology is self-explanatory; photography with whatever light is available.  During daylight hours, this is no problem.  Difficulties arise when light levels are quite low.  Under such circumstances faster lenses or higher ISO settings often become a necessity.  With film, higher ISO settings generally are accompanied with coarser grain and ISO 3200 is a limit that is hard to overcome.  Here digital technology offers considerable advantages with some cameras offering ISO levels many times higher.

This has created another performance evaluation besides camera resolution in megapixels.  Some individuals are definitely of the opinion that a camera isn’t worth considering unless it excels at super high ISO levels.  There is definitely an advantage to be had, but are levels of 10 thousand ISO or more really necessary or helpful for that matter?

I have been involved in several discussion about this and thus have come across examples where anything less than 10 thousand ISO just doesn’t cut it.  My enthusiasm of this is far more measured, but then I don’t photograph black cats in a coal mine very often.

"Boltergasse" Barntrup, Germany
Linhof Technica 70, Schneider Symmar 100mm f/5.6
Ilford FP-3 10 minute exposure

Lou Bellami, Penumbra Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota
Leica M6, 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M
Ilford XP-2 Super, ISO 800

The beginning of my photographic education is solidly anchored in the film days.  Over the years I have certainly done my share of available light photography, yet rarely did that necessitate ISO levels higher than 800 or 1600.  As a matter of fact, I am hard pressed to imagine a photographic situation where anything substantially higher is necessary, although I should add that the coarse grain of very fast films is often used as an artistic element.

Children's Day Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Leica Digilux 2, ISO 400

Newton Fork Ranch, Hill City, South Dakota
Leica Digilux 2, ISO 100

Lake City Marina, Lake Pepin, Minnesota
Leica M8, 15mm f.4.5 Voigtländer Super Wide Heliar
ISO 160, 1/362 sec f/8

Weilburg, Germany
Leica Digilux 2
ISO 400, 1/4 sec f/2.1

Leica M5, 50mm Noctilux f/1
Kodachrome 25, f/1, 1/30 sec

I have always tried to keep film grain as small as possible which is the very reason why I used to shoot quite regularly with film speeds of ISO 25.  Obviously, that is quite limiting.  Combining small grain with a variety of film speeds led me to chromogenic films, mainly Ilford XP-2 and its successor, the XP-2 Super.  Unlike other black and white films, these have the advantage of offering a relatively wide range of ISO settings without the need of developing adjustments.  I regularly used the XP-2 and XP-2 Super at ISO ranges from 100 to 800.  This would be of no consequence if there were no apparent difference.  However, at lower sensitivity setting these films display a noticeably finer grain.  Since no development adjustments are necessary, there is the advantage of being able to change the film sensitivity as needed and take advantage of the finer grain at the lower speeds, all on the same roll of film.

Office Building Minneapolis, Minnesota
Leica Digilux 2, ISO 100

Brentwood Estate, Alexandria, Minnesota
Leica Digilux 2, ISO 100

Private Japanese Garden, Plymouth, Minnesota
Leica Digilux 2, ISO 100

former principal violinist St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, St. Paul, Minnesota
Leica R4. 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R
Ilford XP-2 Super, ISO 800

Of course such considerations are of not much consequence with digital cameras.  Here we can change sensitivity setting at will, although the greater noise at relatively high settings, which does look very much like film grain, is something to consider.  Thus I still follow my old habit of using relatively low ISO settings in order to get the most out of my cameras and lenses.  With my digital cameras that generally is ISO 100 or 200.

Available light photography is considered by most as photography under relatively low light levels.  This naturally can result in fairly slow shutter speeds unless higher sensitivity settings are utilized.  Of course a tripod can be of great help when slow shutter speeds are necessary, although no tripod can overcome the need for faster shutter speeds with fast moving subjects.  I also consider a tripod very restrictive in the way I can use a camera.  I much prefer to use my cameras hand held.

Cindy Hillger, Don Shelby
Live Newscast WCCO TV Minneapolis, Minnesota
Leica M6, 50mm f/2 Summicron-M
Ilford XP-2 Super, ISO 800

For that reason I still employ the old formula that I learned in the film days, to use as the slowest shutter speed a setting which is the equivalent of the focal length of the lens.  With other words, the slowest shutter speed that the average person can safely hand hold with a 50mm lens is 1/50 (1/60) sec.  Subsequently, 1/250 sec would be the slowest with a 250mm lens, 1/30 sec with a 28mm etc.  This approach has served me well over the years.

Would higher ISO settings be of an advantage?  Of course!  As long as the image quality does not substantially deteriorate, why not?  But I would not make high ISO capabilities a major factor when deciding on a camera.  As long as my camera equipment offers good performance at ISO 1600 or 3200, I feel unrestricted.

Finally, I must comment on another advantage of digital cameras.  With relatively long exposure times, they don’t display reciprocity failure.  This is a definite problem with most films and, unfortunately, it differs from film to film.  As a rule of thumb, we can safely assume that reciprocity failure is of no consequence with exposure times up to one second.  After that the exposure response is not linear anymore and films require an increase in exposure.  Unfortunately, there is little choice than to consult the reciprocity information that should accompany the film.

Don Stolz
Old Log Theater, Excelsior, Minnesota
Leica M6, 50mm f/2 Summicron
Ilford XP-2 Super, ISO 800

All in all, photography in low light is no problem, as long as we take the necessary measures to overcome the problems associated with this.  Digital photography has the added advantage of allowing to experiment without adding to the cost of film and processing.  The results can be outstanding photographs, much beyond the usual daylight snapshots.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I came across a rather interesting publication called “The Brander.”  According to their ‘About us’ information, “A steady flow of new stories about brands and their creators, generated by renowned journalists and high-end photography - that is "The Brander". The independent publication of Zurich’s branding agency Branders portrays big, small and exclusive brands from all over the world. Feedback? Yes, please.”  www.thebrander.com

The article caught my eye and I received authorization to republish it here.  The article was written by Franziska Klün with photographs by Henning Bock, translated by Tessa Pfenninger.  Even though the visit was still to the old location in Solms, it still conveys a very good picture of how leicas are made.

Mr. Bock's photographs appear at the end of the article.

 Dr. Kaufmann in the lobby of Leica AG in Solms

Once a revolutionary and a Waldorf school teacher, now an entrepreneur and a cowboy: Andreas Kaufmann saved iconic photography brand Leica from going under.Almost ten years ago, Kaufmann, having come into a significant inheritance, jumped in to save the legendary camera manufacturer from bankruptcy after the company failed to make the transition to the digital era. Today, Leica is on expansion course again.

Situated roughly in the middle of the state of Hessen, about an hour away from Frankfurt am Main, lies an unremarkable town called Solms, the seat of the company where the stuff of photographers’ dreams is still being made. One hundred years ago, Leica invented the first small-format 35mm camera, thereby revolutionizing the world of photography. Since the 1980s, the company has been manufacturing its high-tech products in these plain, flat-roofed premises with corrugated facades in Solms. Cameras that Magnum photographer René Burri once described as the most magnificent shooting equipment in the world. Despite delivery periods of up to 12 months for one of these iconic devices "Made in Germany," the waiting list boasts such names as Elizabeth II and Brad Pitt.

To date, however, visitors are still greeted at Leica with the words: "Please don't be alarmed." Conditions inside the building are a lot more primitive than might be expected. The reception area with its over-dimensional silver-colored Leica and shiny showcases lives up to its representative task, but once you pass through, it is like traveling back at least two decades in a time warp. Empty vending machines from a previous era stand about in harshly lit corridors. Through glass sectioning, employees can be seen working in crowded conditions. Wearing white lab coats, they sit bent over lenses and cameras. This is where the famous devices are made, with a single camera potentially costing as much a brand new VW Golf.

Back to the roots

Soon, however, the workforce will be leaving Solm with its cramped conditions and depressing corridors. A new production site is being built in Wetzlar, only ten kilometers away. Next year, one department after the other, a total of 1,500 employees, will be relocated to the large production complex in Wetzlar, back to where it all began. Wetzlar is where, in 1913, Oskar Barnack, the head of development, invented the small-format 35mm camera and helped the company, named Leitz in those days, achieve global fame.

Leading the way back to this hallowed location is 60-year-old Andreas Kaufmann, who is so busy he doesn't even have an office in Solms. He lives in Salzburg, Austria, and is always on the go, which is why arranging a meeting with him here in Solms can easily take up to six months. Kaufmann is Chairman of the Board of Directors at Leica and currently owns 55% of the company. In 2004, when he bought into the company, it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Asked about this period, Kaufmann says: "I reached a point in life where I asked myself: Do I want to remain a teacher forever, or should I start doing something with the legacy I was entrusted with?"

First revolutionize the world, then save Leica

In his previous life, before Kaufmann rescued this important protagonist of photographic history from ruin, he says his main objective in life was to revolutionize the world. In his student days, Kaufmann studied political science, economics and literature, and wore his hair long. He continued dabbling in politics and was present at the founding of the Grüne Partei (The Greens), a green political party founded in the early 1980s in West Germany. He also taught at a Waldorf school for 15 years.
Kaufmann and his two brothers were left a large inheritance by their aunt. While nobody knows the exact figures, the inheritance was large enough for the brothers to form a holding called ACM with the purpose of becoming stakeholders in undercapitalized German companies, prioritizing those that manufactured in Germany. Leica numbered among those companies.

To be sure, Leica’s problems were entirely self-inflicted. Right until the Kaufmann brothers became stakeholders in 2004, the company managers in Hessen believed that the digitalization of the camera industry was a passing phase they could ride out. Despite having some revolutionary ideas in their portfolio that might have saved them, Leica completely failed to make the transition to digitalization until the year 2006. Under Andreas Kaufmann's aegis, and at a time when cell phones featuring integrated cameras were already quite common, Leica introduced its first digital camera. It took three long years before the turnaround could be declared successful: Since 2009 Leica has been operating in the black. At present, their turnover has achieved almost 300 million euros and some 140,000 cameras leave the manufacturing location in Solms annually. A long and winding road: Apparently Kaufmann’s brothers soon found the road too rocky, and in 2005 they sold their shares. Something Kaufmann doesn't comment on. In retrospect, some say the first phase was sheer madness or a kamikaze mission. Kaufmann himself says: "It was an act of faith."

He believed in Leica, because he believed in the people behind Leica. He says: “What the skeptics didn't see at the time was that we were dealing with highly qualified, extremely committed people who would really be able to achieve something if they were given the opportunity to do so." Kaufmann provided another massive cash injection. At one point he owned 96.5% of the company. Wasn't he ever worried he would end up losing everything?

I'm not afraid to live. Our destiny is in God's hands, so you might as well have a little faith and stop worrying.

And he certainly appears to be very laid-back: Wearing a loosely fitting suit and dark glasses, he exudes high spirits. People who know Kaufmann well say he gives himself no airs and that he is an extremely genuine person. Even under pressure, like on this autumn afternoon, after having traveled long and far by car and plane, with lots of delays, nothing is too much trouble for him. Would you mind answering our questions while you're being photographed, is that okay with you, Mr. Kaufmann? – Sure, no problem, he says, and smiles. He replies in lucid, well-turned phrases and follows the photographer's instructions cheerfully. And despite being pressed for time, he asks some questions about the lenses in use. After all, Kaufmann is a passionate amateur photographer.

When asked about the inheritance his aunt left to him and his brothers, he tells us how they were prepared for it from an early age. "We were raised very frugally. That had a strong impact on how we view money." They received 5 euros pocket money that was all. "People who don't maintain an especially costly standard of living take risks more easily. After all, if things go wrong, you're still alive. So really, money is only a means to an end, a facilitating instrument for my interests." Kaufmann also feels that getting up every morning in order to fight another round to keep Leica on the successful path of the past few years is in part for his aunt.

The capital I inherited was never intended to be spent on consumer goods. It was always clear that it should be invested in business, should be handled in a responsible manner.

Can Kaufmann imagine a life today without Leica, without working? "In our family we say: Cowboys die in their boots." To him, Leica is a long-term project that he will never tire of. In any case, lazing at the Côte d'Azur is not his idea of fun; working makes him much happier. "Retirement is not for me." And then it's time for him to leave again, back to Frankfurt where he has a pressing dinner engagement. With a final cheery smile, he gets into his car and drives off.

I have mentioned on several occasions that one reason for the superior quality of Leica equipment is the fact that it is mostly hand made.  The Leica bench made process is totally without any assembly line work.  This allows for the various assembly steps to be accompanied by immediate checks and rechecks, something that is impossible to do with assembly line work.  The pictures in the Branders article clearly show the total absence of any assembly line, that the equipment is totally hand assembled on individual desks in clean rooms throughout the factory.

From my own visits to the factory I can attest that quality and quality control during each step in the manufacture and assembly of Leica cameras and lenses is paramount at Leica.  No part, assembly or sub assembly will ever go to the next step in the production unless they met the rather high quality standards set by Leica.  That, combined with tolerances much tighter than those applied by other camera and lens manufacturers assure the superior quality of anything with the Leica name.

For the original article go to: http://www.thebrander.com/article.php?o=683


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014



Several years ago (more than I like to remember), I worked in one of the largest camera stores in Minneapolis.  We were the main Leica dealer in town which, of course, meant, we also sold the Leica Binoculars.

One day, a gentleman indicated that he was interested in a pair of binoculars for his 10 year old daughter.  Thinking that he probably was thinking of something in a more modest price range, I proceeded to take a medium priced pair of binoculars out of the showcase.  He immediately rejected it and said that he wanted to give her a pair of Leica binoculars.

“After all,” he said, “her eyes are the only ones she will ever have.” 

Of course I didn’t argue.  According to Leica, accuracy, attention and the passion for detail are in the nature of observation.  For that reason Leica engineers maintain close contact to discerning users throughout the world.  Inspired by their experience and enthusiasm, they develop innovative products that truly meet the user’s needs. Leica binoculars know only the finest components. Their outstanding resolving power and precise and durable mechanical construction let users embark on a voyage of discovery.


Leica binoculars are ready for any kind of adventure, whether for birding or wildlife observation, for travel or leisure activities, a piece from Leica’s binocular range is sure to be your ideal companion.  Leica combines state-of-the-art optics and mechanisms with first-class design in the construction of all products.

Maybe those are some of the arguments that my dad used when he gave me my first Leica for my 5th birthday.

For complete information on the Leica sport optics go to:


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Monday, December 15, 2014


Most of us are familiar with Henry Cartier Bresson who ranks among the greatest Leica photographers ever.  In 1952, Cartier-Bresson published his book "Images à la sauvette", whose English edition was titled "The Decisive Moment", which became a phrase now synonymous with Cartier-Bresson:

"There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment." 

 He further explained:

“The simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression... . In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little human detail can become a leitmotif.”

Starting with this post, we hope to be able to publish photographs from other photographers who too were able to catch a decisive moment with their cameras.  This is an open invitation to submit photographs of your own for publication on the LEICA Barnack Berek Blog.

The first two examples were taken by my father of yours truly just a bit more than a short while ago.  As always, your comments are welcome.

Barntrup, Germany, 1948

Barntrup, Germany, 1949

View other Leica Galleries here:


LEICA Barnack Berek Blog GALLERY  7-11-2012



LEICA GALLERY  6-09-2012

LEICA Barnack Berek Blog GALLERY  5-14-2012


LEICA Barnack Berek Blog Gallery  3-28-12


LEICA Barnack Berek Blog GALLERY


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Photo: Martin Kollar, Leica Oskar Barnack Preis 2014

Leica Camera AG is changing the rules for the international photography competition of the “Leica Oscar Barnack Preis” by increasing the prize money in the main category.  The winner will receive 25,000 euros and Leica M system camera equipment (camera and lens) worth another € 10,000.

Online applications run from January 15 to March 1, 2015.  In addition to the main category, a prize for aspiring photographers aged up to 25 years is awarded. The winner receives a cash prize of 5,000 euros and a Leica rangefinder camera with lens.

The award ceremony will take place during the photo festival Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie from July 6 to 12 2015 in Arles in the south of France.

As part of the photo competition there will also be an audience award in which the winner will be chosen via online voting on the website for online photo contests www.i-shot-it.com Voting starts in April 2015. The winner in this category will receive a cash prize of 2,500 euros.  Among participating voters Leica compact cameras will be raffled as prizes.


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