Sunday, March 31, 2019


© jmse

By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Leica Master Technician Ernst Hartmann of Leica Camera Inc. New Jersey has been one of the most distinguished experts in checking, repairing, cleaning and overhaul of Leica cameras and lenses, as well as tester, for many decades, particularly throughout the decisive years between roughly 1970 and 2000, when 35 mm format Japanese firms (Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Pentax) did consolidate their dominance of the photographic world industry, and great professionals like him were specially instrumental in the survival of the Leica M camera breed

After years of apprenticeship, Ernst Hartmann managed to become a Leica Master Technician, working firstly in E. Leitz Inc. 468 Park Avenue South, New York during sixties, and subsequently in E.Leitz Inc. Rockleigh New Jersey, Leica Camera Inc. 156 Ludlow Avenue Northvale New Jersey and Leica Camera Inc. Allendale New Jersey.

Ernst Hartmann holding a black Leica M6, one of the best 24 x 36 mm format mirrorless rangefinder mechanical cameras ever made by the German photographic firm. This masterpiece of precision and wonderfully crafted photographic tool, designed by Peter Loseries and produced between 1984 and 1998, oozes class everywhere, boasts an exceedingly silent horizontally travelling focal-plane shutter, very small size and low weight for its format, is optimized for handheld shots even in subdued light conditions taking advantage of the tiny and highly luminous Leica M lenses and begets a reference-class incredibly short shutter lag of 12 ms. 
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He belongs to the legendary group of Leica experts boasting a tremendous knowledge of the complex mechanics featured by a comprehensive range of analogue Leica cameras, lenses and accessories,

Top area of a Leica M6 camera cutaway showing the minimalist concept harking back to the times of Oscar Barnack, with only the essential things to be handled by a photographer, that´s to say, Das Wesentliche. From left to right : the automatic frame counter, the quick wind lever for film transport and shutter wind, the shutter release button with threaded socket for cable release, the shutter speed dial with exposure times between 1 s and 1/1000 s + B, the accessory shoe (invented by the genius) and the angled rewind crank. On front top area of the camera can be seen the small window of the rangefinder (on the left of the Leica logo), part of the inner area of the rangefinder (a masterpiece of optomechanical precision with more than 150 components), the space of insertion for the bright-line frame illumination window, the large window of the 0.72x viewfinder and just beneath it the frame preselector. And in the lower middle area of the image is the most long lasting and efficient lens mount in the History of Photography : the four-part Leica M bayonet designed by Hugo Wehrenfenning in 1953, featuring large dimensions (with an external diameter of 44 mm and a flange distance of 27.8 mm) and enabling that the maximum quantity of light coming from the optical system of the lens can reach the outermost corners of the image. 
© jmse. Product kindly lent for the picture by Jo Geier Mint & Rare

whose most intimate secrets need a whole lifetime of love and devotion to be able to grasp them, a very long learning curve of many years of hard toil and infatuation with the masterpieces of precision embodied by the analogue LTM39 and M Leica rangefinder cameras.

© jmse

It´s an exceedingly difficult working environment, with a host of miniaturized metallic components (screws, gears, drums, pinions, levers, bolts, flywheels, springs, hoops, curtain latches, ribbon rollers, drive shafts, sprockets, drum bearing plates, coupling discs, cams, slow speed escapements, etc) filling every cubic millimeter of space inside 24 x 36 mm format Leica cameras, in addition to the ones inherent to every lens (diaphragm, focusing helicoid, lubricants, optical elements and groups), without forgetting the viewfinders and rangefinders often made up by more than 150 hundred pieces.

Besides, it is necessary to acquire very deep knowledge on every specific model of camera, variations within each model and a myriad of aspects related to the precision mechanic parts.

Ernst Hartmann holding a Leica M3 mirrorless with rangefinder camera between his hands. This is the best rangefinder camera ever made, both in analogue and digital eras, along with the Nikon SP rangefinder, and became a sensation since its very presentation during the Photokina Köln 1954. It is a masterpiece of optomechanical perfection with an exceptionally bright and brilliant viewfinder that is the bee´s knees and an amazingly quiet and virtually vibration free cloth focal plane shutter boasting extraordinary accuracy, always with an almost inaudible sound and working with an exceedingly short lag of 17 milliseconds between the moment in which the shutter release button is pressed and the beginning of the exposure, a remarkable technical achievement in comparison to usual shutter lags in the range of 80-199 milliseconds inherent to professional reflex cameras that will become widespread from early sixties. Its extraordinary symbiosis with 50 mm standard lenses won´t probably ever be improved, thanks to its coincidence rangefinder system integrated within the state-of-the-art 0.92x viewfinder and featuring a great complexity, outstanding precision and parallax corrected bright-line frames for three focal lengths : 50 mm, 90 mm and 135 mm. 
© jmse

Needless to say that this is a craftsmanship work of the highest level, stemming from tons of knowledge, experience and passion for what you do.

Leica M3 with Summicron-M 5 cm f/2 Dual Range, a lens delivering astounding resolving power with more than 100 lp/mm and featuring an exceptional mechanic construction. Manufactured between 1956 and 1968, its cosmetic beauty is a riveting sight for any observer and it is still nowadays a phenomenal standard lens.
© jmse

And of course, products of this top-notch standard of quality lack any kind of programmed obsolescence and are manufactured to flawlessly work for a lifetime, since they are mechanical and can almost always be fixed or significantly improved through a CLA.

Throughout his professional career, Ernst Hartmann became famous in United States because of his amazing skill with Leica analogue cameras in his hands, which instantly turned into extensions of his fingers and bowled everybody over.

Also well-known was his ability to discern by ear if shutters were working accurately, in the best tradition of historical pundits in this regard like Peter Loseries, Norman Goldberg and others.

And Ernst Hartmann made up along with James Lager (greatest expert of all time in the history of Leica cameras, lenses and accessories together with Theo Kisselbach and Lars Netopil), Sherry Krauter (since early seventies along with Don Goldberg the reference-class Leica Master Technician in United States, working firstly for E.Leitz Inc. Rockleigh New Jersey until she founded her own firm Golden Touch in 1978), Don Goldberg (who worked in the beginning at Leica in Wetzlar and for years at the Leica Service Department in Rockleigh before opening DAG in Wisconsin) the Leica figures who started at Leica New Jersey and whose activity was seminal for the knowledge and consolidation of the German photographic brand in United States.

Ernst Hartmann was a master of his trade living an unswerving and unabated romance with Leica products featuring second to none optomechanical level and a first-class build quality with noble metals and alloys, taking care of them to the utmost through painstaking attention to detail as well as an exceptional customer service.

Advertisement of Jim Kuehl & CO Leica dealer in Iowa on page 98 of August 1989 Shutterbug magazine.
© jmse
Not in vain, Ernst Hartmann´s blossoming as a Leica Master Technician from early seventies coincided with a golden time of Leica dealers, salesmen and mechanic experts in United States epitomized by firms and people like James A. Kuehl & Co in Iowa, Stan Tamarkin & Co in New Haven (Connecticut), Samy´s Camera Los Angeles (with Eberhard " Ebi " Kuehne, Tibor Szilagyi and Fernando del Vaglio), Photo Visuals Inc. in Minneapolis (first store ever to sell exclusively Leica photographic gear, with street photographer Ernesto de Quesada and photographer and recognized Leica expert Heinz Richter as owners), Mac Camera Inc. near Los Angeles Airport, Reimers Photo Materials Co. in Milwaukee, Wall Street Camera, Inc. in New York, Precision Camera & Video in Guadalupe (Austin), 47st. Photo in New York, Sanders Court Photo in Northbrook (Illinois), Central Camera Co. in Chicago (Illinois), Del´s Camera in Santa Barbara (California), Bergen County Camera in Westwood (New Jersey), Camera One of Sarasota (Florida), Alvin´s Photo Supply in Pasadena (California), Eddie Tillis Woodmere Camera in Lynbrook New York, Kurland Photo New York (Eli Kurland), Don Chatterton in Seattle (Washington), without forgetting truly remarkable Leica personalities like Ken Hansen (personifying the old school Leica dealer being utterly trustworthy regarding the items he sells and the after sale counselling, aside from having become a legend from early sixties when this unique man arrived in New York and worked in a photographic store until 1973, when he set up his own business with different photographic shops based on great expertise, impressive product knowledge, good payment to employees and second to none customer service, until amazingly he changed all of its business dynamics to email contact with his worldwide customers), Eric Bohmann (a living legend in the history of Leica brand in United States, mentor of Dan Tamarkin, current CEO of Tamarkin Camera in Chicago Illinois, and right hand man of Stan Tamarkin during the halcyon days of Stan Tamarkin & Co in New Haven Connecticut, when Eric Bohman fulfilled a praiseworthy and indefatigable labor with his stunning knowledge of Leica gear, praiseworthy personalized attention to customers and great market insight, turning its famous counter into a Leica shrine and meeting venue for Leica enthusiasts arrived from the whole globe), John van Stelten and his firm Focal Point Inc. (a world-class master repairing Leica lenses, making superb recoating, fixing any kind of scratching on front element surface, hazings, cleaning fungus, replacing lens elements, etc) and others.

These were the times in which more often than not the given word was much more valuable than any document, dealers made an immediate refund if the customer was unsatisfied, there was a previous in-depth giving of advice before the purchase, and steady first-class counselling after the purchase was likewise commonplace.

Therefore, a personal relationship between customers, dealers or salesmen who lasted for a whole lifetime was born, to such an extent that even sometimes CEOs and trustworthy employees made long road trips by car to reach customers homes hundreds of miles away and solve any specific problem.

It brought about a real friendship built on mutual confidence,

enhanced by highly efficient services of Leica cameras and lenses loaning before buying them or sent to renowned impartial testers like Peter K. Burian, Bob Shell, Jason Schneider, Tom R. Halfhill, Roger W. Hicks and others, to put them to their paces.

The previously mentioned dealers and sellers were the people who greatly managed to foster the Leica brand in United States particularly throughout the thirty years elapsed between early seventies and 2000, courageously enduring the onslaught of great Japanese 24 x 36 mm format reflex cameras from brands like Nikon (Nikon F, Nikon F Photomic, Nikon F2, Nikon F3, Nikon F4), Canon (Canon F1, Canon F1n, Canon F1 New, Canon AE-1, Canon T-90), Olympus (Olympus OM-1, Olympus OM-2, Olympus OM-3, Olympus OM-4) and Pentax (Pentax SL, Pentax ES, Pentax Spotmatic, Pentax LX), etc, featuring great performance/price ratio and a slew of excellent lenses to be coupled to them, so they mostly ruled the roost in terms of worldwide sales.

Besides, the 35 mm format Japanese reflex cameras had been greatly fostered in United States since early sixties by Joe Ehrenreich (President of EPOI, great dealer of Nikon, helped by his perfectionist expert in quality control of photographic gear Herbert Sax and his experienced finance and marketing man Joseph K. Abbot) and the legendary living encyclopedia of photography Herbert Keppler ( who in 1979, forty years after having used his first slr camera, a medium format 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 Reflex Korelle with Ludwig Dresden Victar 75 mm f/3.5 at f/8 and Dufaycolor film to get a portrait of his mother, had published his highly influential milestone book " Asahi Pentax Way " unraveling the advantages of the gorgeous 24 x 36 mm format Asahi Pentax System of Cameras and excellent lenses like Takumars and Super Takumars with different focal lengths and luminosities and boasting amazing quality / price ratio ).

© Leica Camera AG

Photo Visuals Minneapolis in 1980. Founded in 1979   by street photographer Ernesto de Quesada and photographer and Leica specialist Heinz Richter, it was the first store in the world to sell exclusively Leica photographic gear, both new and used, a pioneering concept of shop that enabled to purvey top quality stuff of the German photographic brand not only within the United States but also in other countries, to such an extent that roughly 80% of the sales were made through mail or by phone. Along with Leica cameras, lenses and accessories, they also sold the fabulous range of Leitz Pradovit projectors that when coupled to lenses like the Colorplan 90 mm f/2.5 yielded gorgeous king size images of Kodachrome 25 and 64 slides revealing the optical prowess of Leica lenses designers of the time, particularly those ones created by Walter Mandler.
But against all odds, the aforementioned persons and firms dealing with Leica cameras, lenses and accessories in United States during the last three decades of XX Century were decisive in the preservation of a very interesting and economically profitable market niche for Leica photographic gear and the survival of the Leica M camera concept from 1977 onwards, after the great gamble accomplished by Walter Kluck (President of Ernst Leitz Canada at Midland, Ontario, Canada and a wizard of cost estimation) when he was able to convince Ernst Leitz Wetzlar to transfer the production of the Leica M4-2 to Midland, saving the Leica M lineage of 24 x 36 mm format rangefinder cameras.

© jmse
Now, already well within XXI Century and in full digital era, Leica is enjoying a very sweet period of its history, thanks to the tremendous entrepreneurial skills, market insight, very good taste, charisma and investment of wherewithal of his own displayed by a visionary man: Andreas Kaufmann, CEO and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG, who has turned the legendary German photographic firm into a digital one firmly grounded on the classic values of the brand and a stratospheric optical and mechanical expertise, in addition to currently having in the market many of the best cameras and lenses in their respective segments and formats (24 x 36 mm format Leica M10, Leica M10-P and Leica M Monochrom rangefinder cameras, 24 x 36 mm format Leica SL mirrorless EVF camera, 30 x 45 mm format Leica S camera and APS-format Leica CL and others).

And if it were not enough, however incredible it may seem (Leica Camera A.G is a relatively small firm whose economical resources and available cash-flow to implement R & D is far from the giant Japanese photographic corporations like Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc), the Wetzlar based German photographic brand is presently by far the healthiest one on earth in terms of revenue growth, with an increase in sales for the fifth year in a row and the 24 x 36 mm format mirrorless with rangefinder digital cameras like the M10, M10-P and Monochrom as its most defining products, having achieved a seamless analog/digital transition.

© jmse

But undoubtedly, Ernst Hartmann and the previously mentioned highly professional persons and firms mostly dealing with Leica cameras, lenses and accessories in United States during the last thirty years of the 20th Century, working their way through slog, under frequent difficult economical conditions but with unbridled enthusiasm, were instrumental in the burgeoning development of the brand and particularly in the survival of the Leica M camera concept, in whose virtues they did always believe. 



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