Saturday, April 30, 2022


My Leica III with 50mm f/2 Summar

By Heinz Richter

I often get asked what kind of camera or cameras I am using.  That made me think of all the cameras that helped me pave my way as a professional photographer.

As I have often mentioned, my career as a photographer started when my dad gave me a Leica for my 5th birthday.  That Leica III with 50mm f/2 Summar is still one of my prized possessions and it will remain so. Eventually I (my dad, really) added a 135mm f/4.5 Steinheil Culminar and I was happily burning film.

My Leica III with 50mm f/2 Summar,
FICUS lens hood, VACU flash synch adapeter and Braun Universal Finder

Steinheil 135mm f/4.5

In 1969 I moved to Minneapolis and immediately found work in a camera store, Jay’s Cameras.  The fact that I was using a Leica definitely didn’t hurt in my job search.  The magic of the Leica name did its job.

Not all was serious business at Jays.  Here I am with some rather strange camera/accessory combinations 
like a Leica M4 with a very non-standard motor drive and a Leica IIIc with a long Nikon lens.
Like they say in Germany, "Spaß muss sein.

Working among all the newest and the latest camera equipment made me soon realize that the good old Leica III was getting a bit old, that some replacement was in order.  That happened in form of a Zeiss Contarex, the so called Cyclops model, equipped with a 50mm f/2 Planar.  The camera was big and heavy, but it was also extremely well made.  It was one of the few cameras that were made with the same tight tolerances as the Leica.  I liked it a lot.  The only reason I sold it was due to the fact that Zeiss discontinued the Contarex.  

Probably the most elaborate use of a Zeiss Contarex, the later model Contarex Electronic, was for it to be the first camera ever used in outer space.  Not inside the spacecraft, but on the first American space walk with Ed White.

Zeiss Ikon Contarex.JPG
Zeiss Contarex

Ed White using the Zeiss Contarex Electronic 
on the first America Space Walk 

It was time to get back into Leica equipment, initially with a Leica R3 and a few lenses.  I replaced the R3  as soon as the R4 became available.

Leica R3 (left) Leica R4 (right) with motor drive and handgrip

Those two cameras served me well, but I also began to miss rangefinder focusing and the handling characteristics of the Leica III.  So I began to seriously look at the Leica M cameras.  Of course I needed not just the camera but also some lenses.

To save money I looked at used equipment and I ended up with my first Leica M camera, a Leica M3 double stroke.  It was in great condition.  I started out with a 50mm collapsible Summicron and soon was able to add a 35mm and 90mm Elmar.

Leica M3 with 50mm f/2 Summicron

The serial number of that M3 showed that I had a very early M3, as a matter of fact it was a model from the very first production run.  Later I obtained another M3 body which, to my surprise, was just the opposite, a model that was of the very last production run of the M3.  That made those two cameras a rather unique pair of cameras in my Leica collection.

Unfortunately those two cameras were stolen at a later date, right out of my office at the school where I was teaching photography, including my entire compliment of lenses.  Quite a few circumstantial pieces of evidence made it clear to me who the thief was, but I had no tangible proof.  So I let my insurance company take care of the loss.  I ended up with an M4 and a set of replacement lenses.  No financial loss at all, but I still miss that pair of Leica M3s.   

I also obtained an M5 because I wanted the built-in meter.  The extra size of the camera never bothered me and the camera served me well for several years.  My compliment of lenses had grown from a 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit, a 50mm f/2 Dual Range Summicron, a 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit  to a 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit.  After obtaining a Visoflex III, I added a 400mm and a 560mm f/6.8 Telyt which I used on both Leica M and R cameras.

My Leica M5 with Visoflex III, Leica Bellows II, 560mm f/6.8 Telyt

Leica M6 with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux

A Leica M6 was the last Leica film camera I used until the digital juggernaut took over the camera and film industry.

A Leica Digilux 2 was the first digital Leica I obtained.  Soon after it became available, I added a Leica Digilux 3 because of the interchangeable lenses.  I had lost my interest in wildlife photography and subsequently sold the 400mm and 560mm Telyt lenses.  But the Leica Digilux 3 renewed that interest and I added a 200mm f/3.8 and a 400mm f/4.5 Novoflex lens.

Leica Digilux 2 with custom grey leather covering

Leica Digilux 3


All the while I was waiting for the Leica M camera to go digital.  I had considered a Leica R8 or R9 with the digital back, but that didn’t really appeal to me, because of the bulk and the fact that I once again would have had to look at a compliment of new lenses.  I still have the Digilux 2.  As of late, it has been covered with a custom grey leather.  The camera is mostly used by my wife now.  I still enjoy using it.  It is quite handy because of its relatively small size and, as far as its performance is concerned, I consider it by far the best performing 5 MP camera to ever see the light of day.

The Leica M8 was the first Leica M camera I purchased.  It served me well for several years, but I was hoping for a full frame version.  Even though the Leica M9 offered a full frame sensor, I bypassed that model and jumped to the Leica M240 in the black paint finish.  It was a great camera, but I disliked the fact that the black paint finish was not as durable as the chrome and black chrome finish of my previous cameras, especially since that M240 was in pristine condition.  So I added a chrome Leica M240.  

My Leica M8

My Leica M 240 black paint

Leica M 240 with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux

My current Leica M240 system with
15mm f/4.5 Voigtlämder Super Wide Heliar, 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit
50mm f/2 Summicron, 55mm f/3.5 Micro Nikkor, 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit, 
105mm f/4 Micro Nikkor, 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit,
200mm f/3.8 Novoflex, 400mm f/5.6 Novoflex

With the electronic Visoflex I feel I have the best of both worlds.  I can use the camera with my standard compliment of lenses with rangefinder focusing, but I can also do close-up work and use lenses longer than 135mm with the electronic finder.

Novoflex 200mm f/3.8 and Novoflex 400mm f/5.6 on Leica M240 with electronic Visoflex finder

I often get asked it I don’t miss autofocus.  There certainly have been situations where it would have been helpful, but those are few and far between.  Growing up with the Leica III, I soon learned the advantages of hyperfocal settings.  When used correctly, no autofocus can match the speed of shooting with hyperfocal settings.

My professional work consisted mainly of architectural photography, but I also photographed weddings and a fair amount of portraits and portrait related work like model photography.  Did I do all of that with just Leica equipment?  I did after I switched to digital, but during the film days, I had no choice, I had to move at times to cameras other than Leica.

Plaubel Peco Universal

For a while, I did a lot of my architectural photography with a 5x7/4x5 Plaubel Peco Universal.  It had the advantage that I could shoot both 5x7 sheet film and, with the Plaubel reducing film holders, also 4x5 without having to change anything on the camera.  A lot of my clients were looking for images for their advertising campaigns.  5x7 and even 4x5 film was quite a bit of overkill, and I began to consider shooting medium format.  Besides, during the film days, wedding photography almost demanded medium format.

Hasselblad 500 CM

For good reason, the Hasselblad 500 system was most popular during those days.  As a long time Leica user, I don’t have to explain that general conventions have never been anything appealing to me.  So instead of a Hasselblad, I began to use a Rolleiflex SL66.  It offered several advantages for roughly the same cost. Performance was no issue since both the Rolleiflex SL66 and the Hasselblad 500 cameras used the same lenses, made by Zeiss and Schneider Kreuznach.  However, the Hasselblad was tied to leaf shutter lenses. The Rollei had a built-in focal plane shutter which made many of their lenses a bit less expensive.  When higher flash synch speeds were a necessity, Rollei offered an 80mm and 150mm lens with leaf shutter as well. 

Rolleiflex SL66 with 80mm f/2.8 Zeiss Planar

In addition, the Rollei film backs could handle 120 as well as 220 film.  Switching over from one to the other changed the film counter and the pressure plate to compensate for the missing paper backing of the film during exposure. Hasselblad required the extra expense of a separate 220 back. 

Rolleiflex SL66 with bellows extended and lens reversed

The Rollei also had a built-in bellows which allowed for close-up work without the additional expense of close up equipment as was the case with the Hasselblad.  In addition, Rollei had a built-in lens reverser which allowed close-up work up to 1:1 reproduction without any additional accessories.  Hasselblad did not have any lens reversers at all. Since close up work by nature has very little depth of field, the Rollei also offered a tilting lens which allowed the application of the Scheimpflug principle to greatly extend the range of sharpness.

Rolleiflex SL66 with lens tilted down and up

The tilting lens also found application for architectural photography.  With careful adjustment of the camera back to be parallel to the subject matter, the tilting lens then allowed to adjust for converging lines not unlike on a view camera.

While not an important feature for me personally, the Rollei had the advantage of double exposure at the push of a button, unlike the Hasselblad where, after the first exposure, the darkslide had to be inserted, then the back needed to be removed, the shutter cocked and the back reinstalled.  Not exactly very practical.

There was no question that the Rollei with all those extra capabilities was the better camera for me, especially since those extra features came at no additional cost at all.

My Plaubel Makina

1992 St. Paul Winter Carnival Ice Castle
Plaubel Makina 

There have been other non-Leica cameras that I have used, but I don’t want this excursion into the world outside Leica to get too extensive.  Just allow me to mention two more cameras.  One was my father’s Plaubel Makina with wide angle, normal and telephoto lenses.  It was a 6x9 (2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inch) camera which could be collapsed into a package hardly bigger than a Leica M camera.  The camera offered rangefinder focusing for all three lenses as well as ground glass focusing for times when critical focus adjustments were necessary.  Even though this camera was made in 1936, it offered a performance level that compared favorably to today’s cameras to quite an extend.

My Rollop
made by Richter and Fischer in Barntrup, Germany

Finally there is a TLR, a Rollop.  Outwardly is looks a lot like a TLR Rolleiflex, with a performance level about the same as the entry level Rolleiflex cameras.  Why did I buy it?  Because it was made by a company named Richter and Fischer.  Not only that, it was made in my hometown of Barntrup, Germany.  How many people do own a camera with their very name on it that was made in the own you grew up in?

I hope you don’t mind my excursion into my private life of a photographer on this Leica oriented blog.

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Friday, April 29, 2022



By Heinz Richter

These days, when we can take video clips even with a cell phone, and when many digital cameras allow to be used as video cameras as well, it is easy to forget what preceded this technology.  Yet in the old home movie days, a few cameras stood out from the crowd as incredibly sophisticated examples.

One such camera was the Leicina Special, arguably the most sophisticated Super 8 camera ever made.  When Leitz announced many years ago that they were discontinuing the Leicina Special, they ended one of the lesser known chapters in the history of the Leica.

As we know from photographic history, the Leica owns its existence to the research that Oskar Barnack did with an all metal motion picture camera in the early 1900s.

With the advent of 8mm amateur movies, Leitz entered this market with a camera of their own.  The basic concept of the early Leicina cameras was steadily improved upon.  The initially fixed lenses were replaced by zoom lenses, separate light metering was replaced by through the lens metering, and electronics took over more and more of the functions of the camera.  Finally there was the Leicina Special, one of the most advanced Super 8 cameras of all time.  Incorporating many of the Leicina Super RT 1 features, it was Leitz’s final try to gain sales on the home movie market.  Unfortunately success was denied.  The less elaborate and less expensive competition won.

But what a camera was lost!

The system core was an electronically controlled camera body.  It incorporated a through-the- lens metering system.  Unlike most other Super 8 cameras, the ASA film speeds were not automatically keyed in, but had to be set manually.  This offered the possibility of an exposure override, like pushing films or the creative use of over or under exposure.  The bright, flicker free viewfinder offered three interchangeable focusing screens.  At the turn of a knob, one had the choice of micro prism focusing, split image focusing, and a real image with cross hairs.  The meter readout was located above the extremely bright viewfinder image.  Two release knobs, located on top and in the folding hand grip, activated running speeds of 9, 18, and 25 frames per second.  Separate switches also offered single frame and a slow motion speed of 54 frames per second.  This could be activated by pushing the slow motion button on top of the camera, in order to switch from whatever other speed was in use.  By simply pressing and turning the knob, 54 fps were activated permanently.  All speeds were governed electronically to assure perfect frame frequencies, which was particularly important for time laps photography and sound coupling.

For lap dissolve photography, a one-button control was all that needed depressing.  Activating the switch at the end of a scene would the automatically start a complete fade-out, visible in the viewfinder, and automatic film rewind, at the end of which the camera would simply stop.  Starting a new scene at some time later would then automatically start with an automatic fade-in, even if the camera had been shut off.  This, however, required the Leicina automatic control unit.  More about that later.

The viewfinder offered a built-in diopter control from -3 to +3.  It also had a shutter blind, in order to avoid erroneous exposure during copy or similar types of work, where the eyepiece is not shaded by the head.  The extremely large exit pupil of the viewfinder made it possible even for eye glass wearers to quickly observe the entire viewfinder image.

The elongated body shape offered an extremely easy handling of the camera.  With one hand on the hand grip, the other on top of the camera, and the forehead against the rubber pad in the back of the camera, the camera offered an extremely sturdy three point support, even during hand-holding.  It didn’t make any difference if one was right or left handed, since all controls were positioned such that they could easily be reached with either hand.  The rubber pad in the back of the camera also contained the easily interchangeable battery pack, which supplied power to all functions of the camera.

A small dial on the side of the camera changed the built-in filters between outdoor and indoor lighting.

Unlike most other cameras before, the Leicina Special offered interchangeable lenses.  It was the only Super 8 camera on the market that did not utilize the relatively small C-mount.  Instead it made use of the much sturdier Leica M mount.  The lens to film plane distance was the same as in the Leica M cameras, meaning that all the Leica M lenses could be used on the camera as well.  In addition, there were adapters for Leica reflex lenses, Pentax/Praktica type screw mount lenses, Minolta bayonet lenses and the Ariflex type motion picture lenses.  All lenses offered through-the-lens exposure control via match needle operation.  The possibility of the accessory lenses offered astounding possibilities in the telephoto range.  Considering that the normal focal length of a Super 8 camera is approximately ¼ of that of a 35mm camera, this means that even a 50mm lens is already the equivalent of a 200mm lens on a 35mm camera.  Coupling the 800mm Telyt with the 2x extender would mean the equivalent of a 6,400mm f/12.6 lens in 35mm.  The possibilities are mind boggling.

 Leicina Special, shown here with 90mm f/2 Summicron M and 50mm f/1.4 Summilux M

Specifically for the Leicina Special, Leitz offered two lenses, the 10mm f/1.8 Macro Cinegon, and the 6-66 f/1.8 Optivaron, manufactured by Schneider in Kreuznach, Germany.  Both the Macro Cinegon and the Optivaron had to be used with the same match needle exposure control.  But the Optivaron could either be converted or bought with the Leicinamatic control unit.  This had various functions.  From a number of electronic contacts on the front of the camera the Leicinamatic was coupled to the power supply of the camera.  It contained two motors, one of which was for the power zoom.  It could be infinitely varied from a 1.5 to 6 second full 6-66 zoom range.  Manual zooming was fully maintained without the necessity to switch over from one to the other.  The second motor effectuated the automatic exposure control.  Unlike conventional movie cameras, where usually two v-shaped diaphragm blades are attached directly to the meter movement, the servo motor in the Leicinamatic would receive information directly from the meter, in turn varying the lens opening by actually turning the diaphragm ring.  Thus the lens could utilize a standard, multi bladed diaphragm, which has proven to render better image quality.  A small switch could easily change between automatic and manual exposure control.

The Optivaron also offered macro focusing features, making it possible to focus as close as the surface of the front element of the lens.  Since the focal length used influenced the macro focusing, the zoom lever could be used for focusing, allowing the possibility of power focusing in the macro range.

Due to the acceptability of all the various lens mounts listed before, this also included a large number of accessories like bellows, microscope adapters, even an endoscope.

One of the most useful accessories was the Leicina electronic control unit.  It could be used for the current supply and connection to external energy sources like a car battery, house currant etc.  But it also functioned as a superb timer offering the possibility of automatic time lapse photography.  Single frame exposures could be taken at rates from one frame per 0.15 sec. to one frame per 6 minutes.  Furthermore, the length of a scene could be automatically governed within a range of 0.2 to 10 seconds.  This feature could also be combined with the interval timer.  The electronic control unit had an electronic flash outlet, which offered the possibility of connecting any electronic flash to the camera.

Leicina Special with 6-66mm Optivaron and Leicinamatic

Leicina Special with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux M

Via the electronic control unit, the camera could also place timing impulses of alternately one frame or one every four frames to a tape recorder.  This offered professional quality sound synch, otherwise found only in professional type motion picture camera of 16 or 35mm.

The extremely large base of the elongated camera bottom offered an oversized platform to attach to a tripod, making the Leicina substantially sturdier on a tripod than any other 8mm camera.

In the interest of time and space, I could only give a description of the main features of the camera.  Hopefully, it helped to make the reader aware of what an incredible instrument this camera really was.  The convenience of use is unmatched by any other 8mm camera ever made.  The only improvement that I would have liked to see was a mirror type shutter, similar to the one used in Beaulieu cameras, in order to offer full light transmission to the film as well as the viewfinder.  The beam splitter in the Leicina, while mechanically more reliable, did present a light loss of  approximately 20% to the film, by splitting 10% of the light off to the light metering system and 10% to the viewfinder.  Other than that, the camera presented a truly professional approach to the Super 8 camera system.

The camera may have been certain overkill.  The resulting relatively high price limited the market substantially, and even the closest competitor to the Leicina, the French Beaulieu, had to revert to less expensive, Japanese made compromise cameras, in order to keep the entire line profitable.  Since this is a practice that Leitz refused to follow, it surely had a lot to do with the decision to discontinue any further participation in the field of motion picture cameras.  Meanwhile, anyone owning a Leicina Special at the time was indeed a lucky fellow.

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