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Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Being the first viable 35mm camera ever, the Leica has been copied more than any other camera.  Thus the Leica is also responsible for putting some of its competition on the market.  The Leica is the cornerstone of 35mm photography and there should be no doubt that photography as we know it today would be much different without Oskar Barnack, Max Berek, Ernst Leitz II and the original prototype, the Ur-Leica from 1913.

As soon as the Leica had proven that 35mm photography was to be taken seriously, other companies followed with their own cameras in this new field of photography.  The second 35mm camera to reach the market was the Zeiss Contax, soon followed by the Kodak Retina, made by the old Nagel company in Germany.  It wasn't until later that Nikon and Canon joined the ever growing field of 35mm photography.

Nikkor Q.C 5cm f3.5 Coll. Leica SM  #7052697  Nikkor-QC 50mm f/3.5

  Leitz 50mm Elmar f/3.5

W-Nikkor.C 1:3.5 f=3.5cm in Leica M39 thread screw mount  W-Nikkor C 35mm f/3.5

  Leitz Summaron 35mm f/3.5

Optical design for W-Nikkor.C 1:3.5 f=3.5cm (35mm f/3.5) wideangle lens  W-Nikkor C 35mm f/3.5    Leitz Elmar 35mm f/3.5

Both Nikon and Canon got their start by copying lenses and cameras made by Leitz and Zeiss.  There are quite a number of lenses made by Nikon which are clearly copys of some of the Leica lenses of the time, complete with the Leica screw mount.  While the early Canon cameras were quite obviously based on Leica cameras.  Nikon, on the other hand, chose to copy the Zeiss Contax.  But there was more to the camera than what met the eye.  The camera body was clearly a copy of the Zeiss Contax, including the rangefinder and the lens mount.  But the shutter was definitely not a Zeiss design.  Upon closer inspection it was obvious that it was taken entirely from the Leica.  That decision apparently had been made because it was of a much less complicated design (thanks Oskar Barnack) and thus much more reliable than the vertically traveling, roller desk top type shutter of the Contax.  The Leica shutter was copied in virtually all details resulting in the Nikon being one of the very few cameras that utilized a collar type cable release.

Nikon Optical Finders - LINK  Viewfinder copy -  The resemblance to the Leitz VIDOM is obvious.

Several years later, when it became apparent that rangefinder cameras would be replaced by single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, Nikon simply converted the Nikon rangefinder camera to an SLR by eliminating the rangefinder from the camera and adding a mirror housing.  Thus the original Nikon F was born.  It too featured the Leica shutter, virtually unchanged.  The Nikon F soon became one of the most successful, professional SLRs on the market and Leica technology was a definite part of that.

Using the Leica shutter offered another, little known feature, mostly unknown to even Leica users. The Leica shutter used by Nikon was that of the Leica screw mount cameras and it made those Leicas, the Nikon rangefinder and Nikon F SLRs the only cameras to ever incorporate that feature.

It was the ability to allow double exposure with perfect registration, but not just simple double exposures on the last frame but with any frame that had been exposed on the roll of film.

Users of these cameras might have noticed that the shutter release button turns when rewinding the film.  To make a double exposure on the last exposed frame all that is necessary is to activate the rewind release and winding the film back for one full revolution of the shutter release button and then go beyond that for not quite another half revolution.  After that the camera has to be switched back to the film advance mode and the film transport knob or advance lever moved to cock the shutter.  This will also advance the film which will automatically stop with perfect registration on the last exposed frame.  At this point the second exposure can be taken on that frame.  Repeating the above steps will allow unlimited exposures on the same frame.

  Leica III

  Nikon F

Please notice the identical position of the shutter speed dial, the shutter release and the film advance.  This is due to both cameras using virtually identical shutters.

To take additional exposures on any previous frame one needs to do the same procedure as above.  Except rather than winding the film back just one revolution of the shutter release knob, one needs to make it do as many revolutions as the number of frames the one is back that is to receive the additional exposure.  Don’t forget to go about one half revolution beyond, activate the advance until it stops and take the exposure.

To go back to taking a new picture, block any light from entering the lens and take as many ‘blind’ exposures as the number of frames you wound back.

This might require some practice.  To do that with any accuracy, take an old, unexposed or undeveloped roll of film and load it into the camera.  With the camera set on ‘B’ and with the lens removed, take several frames and mark the outline with a pen and number the frames consecutively.  This will allow you to practice the above procedure with any number of frames.

WestLicht auction in Vienna showed another example of Leica tech used by Nikon.

Nikon Stereo Nikkor 35mm f/3.5

The Nikon Stereo-Nikkor 35mm f/3.5 outfit consisted of a stereo lens and stereo prism for the Nikon rangefinder cameras.  Introduced in 1956, it bears more than a close resemblance to the Leitz Stereoly, first introduced in 1931 and later replaced by an improved model in 1954.

Patent drawing of the Leitz Stereoly attachment

Image of Leica 11
Leitz Stereoly on early Leica II

Leitz 33mm f/3.5 Stemar

In either case, this stereo equipment produced two half frame stereo images in place of the standard 35mm frame.  Stereo viewers and projector accessories allowed for stereo viewing of the images taken.

Thus we have another example of the influence Leica has had on other manufacturers over the years.  Leica cameras and accessories remain the most copied photographic equipment in history.

All of this cannot be taken as proof that Nikon would never have existed without the help of Leica, but by taking the established technology of Leica (and Zeiss), Nikon was definitely able to get a head start

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


By F. W. R├╝ttinger

Of this very little known variant of the Leica Ig perhaps only 100 were built.

It differs from the standard Leica Ig by the missing flash synch and the slow speeds, since these were not needed in the specialized use of the Repro.

The Ig Repro was meant to be used on the Reprovit II with a magnetic triggering device AMTOO (cat. 16777).  The flash synch was accomplished with the camera set at “B” and a special cable release connected to a special, magnetic trigger would set the shutter speed automatically via a timer.

For easier film and shutter winding, the special winding knob AQOOT (cat. 14014) was installed (see photo).

This version of the Leica Ig was sold in 1958-59 only to the industrial market.

It is unknown to the author if any Leica Ig Repro cameras were offered on the collectors market in recent years, so it is impossible to establish a current market value.  It is safe to assume that the price would be very high indeed if a Leica Ig Repro should be offered for sale.

Leica Ig Repro (front) with the special winding knob attached.
As with the Leica IIf, there is no slow speed adjustment dial

Leica Ig Repro (back).  Note the absence of the flash synch outlet.


To test if your camera synchs properly with a flash is no problem as long as you can open the camera back.  Looking at the frame opening of the camera while firing the flash at a bright surface, will quickly reveal if the entire frame is exposed correctly.  But what to do with cameras that don’t have an opening back like all of the Leica screw mount cameras?

There is a very simple, non-invasive way to do so.  All one needs is a piece of so-called glow-in-the-dark-tape.  This should be noticeably larger than the frame opening of the camera.  Inserting it into the camera in place of the film is all that’s necessary.  With the lens removed, if possible, connect the flash to the camera, set the required synch speed and set off the flash, preferably firing right into the camera and then remove the tape.  In a not too bright area, the tape will glow with the outline of the exposed area.  This will quickly reveal if the entire frame is illuminated or if the shutter is covering part of the negative area while the flash is firing.

This test will work with all types of flash equipment.  Especially with cameras like the Leica IIIf, which have a built-in flash synch adjustment, this test can quickly determine the proper synch settings without the need to hunt down an instruction book.


As small as Leica is as a company when compared to the Canons and Nikons of the industry, they remain as a major player in the manufacture of 35mm film cameras.  Many loyal customers remain that have not totally succumbed to the siren song of digital photography and many of them still enjoy making their own prints in a good old fashioned darkroom instead of a digital printer. 

A very important part of analog photography is to properly fix out prints and enlargements.  Old photographic wisdom tells us that we have to use a two bath fixer to make black & white photographs last.  This is accompanied by lengthy washing to allow all traces of fixer to be removed.  While any of this does not present any nominal problems with resin coated papers, sufficient fixing and washing does become more problematic with fiber base papers.  Washing times of one or more hours are not unusual.  A lot of darkroom enthusiasts shy away from fiber base papers because of the lengthy developing process.  This brings up the request of viable alternatives.

In an article by Ralph Steiner, published by the Graphic Arts Research Center at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), he offered such an alternative.  This method was further researched, and verified by Ilford.

Both research papers suggest to replace standard fixers with fast working fixers like Kodak Rapid Fix.  Further more, it is suggested to use these fixers at film strength.  Mr. Steiner states that sufficient fixing is achieved within only thirty seconds.  This is then accompanied by a wash of only 5 to 10 minutes with fiber base papers.

After a five minute wash, a FASTFIX leaves one tenth as much hypo as does the standard Kodak fixing advise.  And a FASTFIX print which is washed five minutes has in it one fourth as much hypo as a LONGFIXED print which was washed thirty minutes.

Since film strength rapid fix achieves sufficient fixing in only 30 seconds, the paper is submerged only very briefly, leaving the fixer little time to soak into the fibers of the paper.  Subsequently, only a short wash time is necessary to remove these fixer traces from the paper.  Mr. Steiner writes:

Should you think to compensate for your LONGFIXING by LONGWASHING, just give up on that idea.  I tried washing a LONGFIXED print for two days!  In two days of washing I finally got a LONGFIXED print down to around the residual hypo of a FASTFIXED print which had twelve minutes washing.  Both washings were uncrowded and thorough.

The old order changeth, giving place to new.  Great and venerable Ansel’s advise to fix three times contains the virtue of thorough fixing, but we now know that the earth is not flat, and that a print is healthier and longer lived if fixed in pristine-fresh hypo – of double strength – the ammonia kind – for a breathless twenty or thirty seconds.

Sounds too good to be true?  Nearly everyone I know is skeptical of this method, especially for archival permanence of our papers, including myself.  Besides, do we really want to go against the advice of Ansel Adams?  Not that I doubt the methods described by Mr. Steiner and by Ilford.  But I do like to give myself a little bit more assurance.  I have modified the above method by fixing for 1 to 1½  minutes with film strength rapid fix.  After a short rinse in running water, the prints are soaked for at least three minutes in a hypo clearing solution and then washed for 30 minutes.  This has worked flawlessly for many years.

Recent research has also shown that small trace amounts of hypo will actually help to prevent the break down of the photographic image in the emulsion due to environmental influences.  This leads us to rethink methods of archival processing.  Total elimination of any traces of hypo has always seemed to be necessary for the archival permanence of our black & white photographs.  If indeed small trace amounts of residual hypo are beneficial, both of the above fixing and washing methods are perfectly viable.  However, considering the substantial reduction of time needed to arrive at a well fixed and well washed print, makes Mr. Steiner’s method a very valid alternative.

Friday, April 18, 2014



The credit for the invention of the Leica is always given to Oskar Barnack, and rightfully so.  But it is doubtful that the camera would have been successful, had it not been for the incredibly well performing lens designed by Dr. Max Berek.  Thus he deserves equal credit for the success of the early Leica cameras and lenses, which is exactly the reason why this blog gives credit not only to the Leica and Oskar Barnack but to Max Berek as well.

The following interview is historic in nature.  I translated it from LEICA BREVIER, published in Wetzlar in 1949.

I have not been able to learn who the interviewer was, but Max Berek's answers are always interesting and often intriguing in light of technical developments of the intervening decades.

Q:  Herr Professor, you designed the first Leitz lens. The Elmar 50/3.5 and later the Summitar 50/2.0.  Both are referred to as “universal lenses.”  Does that mean the Elmar has been surpassed by the Summitar?

MAX BEREK:  I am glad you asked this question first.  Even beginners in photography believe they can't get by anymore with a lens opening of less than f/2, to be prepared for all occasions.

But I want to get more detailed.  When Leitz, after almost ten years of development, introduced the Leica in spring of 1924 (ed. Note: 1925), it didn't start with a lot of advertising, like most inventions, but it was humbling and exploring; it was to speak for itself when it came to prove its right for existence.  It was perfectly clear to us that something so principally new and tradition-defying as this camera would only be accepted with the greatest reservations by most photographers; the manufacturer, though known worldwide in scientific circles for its microscopes, was totally unknown as a camera maker.  Therefore we had to try to prevent the possibility of being discredited right at the beginning.  And that meant especially the creation of a high quality lens.

Of course, we would have been in the position at the time to design a lens with an aperture of f/2, but the amateur possessed as much as no experience for the useful application of such a fast lens; they didn't know the pitfalls and the difficulties.  So we gave the Leica, for well-considered reasons, a normal lens with a speed of f/3.5.  For the time this was already unusually fast and still today it does justice to all tasks the amateur might ask of it for his pictures.  Even he who has only little experience will agree with this and should know especially that the times when it is absolutely necessary to have a speed of f/2 are rare for the amateur.

If, however, as an experienced Leica photographer one often takes pictures under very unfavorable lighting conditions, like sports and vaudeville photographs, of course he wouldn't want to be without a fast lens.

One knows from his own experience the limits of large apertures, if for no other reason than the rather shallow depth of field and you shouldn't have the ambition to photograph everything under all circumstances wide open, just to save on exposure time.  One also knows that most pictures by far are made at apertures of f/5.6 or f/8 and that therefore an aperture of f/3.5 presents a fine reserve for adverse lighting conditions.  But even at full aperture the Elamr still has such a great depth of field that with halfway correct focusing one will always obtain good pictures and that is exactly what we wanted to achieve in the first years of Leica photography.  Not until later did we change over to increasing apertures to f/2.5 and f/2 and lately f/1.5.  This is still the path everybody should take and nothing would be more wrong than to start with wide apertures.

But the Elmar has another advantage: it is very robust, space saving and lightweight.  Just think of a mountain climber – I don't mean the one going on walks in the mountains, but the real climber taking pictures in dangerous situations – he can't risk fighting the difficulties that the use of a fast lens will bring with it.  For him the Elmar is invincible  In my Alpine photography at the Matterhorn, at the Monte Rosa, etc. - these must be the first ones taken with a Leica – I only used the Elmar f/3.5 and still today these pictures will withstand any critique.  The Elmar 50/3.5 will always be the recommended lens for the amateur.

Q:  Yes, and how is it with color pictures?  How do lenses behave there?

MAX BEREK:  Well, as you know, color film is pretty much equally sensitive to all types of light of the visible spectrum.  The condition, of course, is that the lens in use has favorable color correction over the entire visible spectrum.  The old anastigmats, 30 to 50 years ago for instance, wouldn't be of much use because they were corrected for film materials that were mainly sensitive to green, blue and even purple.  The correction in the red end of the spectrum was totally neglected at the time.  The first Leica lens, however, already possessed a color correction over the entire visible spectrum.

One could say that the lens that fulfills the needs of panchromatic film will do so with color film.  It is like this: black and white film will always show its density as a shade of black, whether or not it is caused by red, yellow or blue light.  If the light will cause unsharpness, this will be registered by the film, regardless which light might have caused it.

With color film this is different.  Then the red and the blue part of the spectrum will only be registered  in proportion to the sensitivity of the eyes which are most sensitive to yellow.  Therefore the spherical correction of a lens has to be especially good for the center part of the spectrum and that is something that was taken care of in Leica lenses in the very first examples.

In practical applications another point is even more important: the freedom from vignetting in a lens.  Normally vignetting shouldn't influence the color correction since the combination of the light does not change.  In practice, however, it will affect it anyway since color film has a comparatively narrow exposure latitude.  If the lens shows rather strong vignetting, the corners of the picture will slip very soon into the region of underexposure and will show wrong color values.  Therefore the fast Leica lenses also have rather large front elements.

Q:  That is especially noticeable with the Summitar.  But doesn't the general speed of the lens become higher due to the larger front element?

MAX BEREK:  No, only the evenness of illumination is improved.  The important thing is the pupil diameter of the diaphragm in its apparent size as seen from the front of the lens through the front elements.  With modern, fast lenses this is usually smaller than the free diameter of the front element fro the following reasons: take a lens in your hand, hold it in front of a piece of white paper and look straight down into the lens.  You will see a white circle of light.  That is the opening that is influencing the center of the image area.  Now tilt the lens a little bit.  You will notice immediately that the speed of the lens has to become less toward the margins of the picture.  To avoid this vignetting as much as possible, it is necessary to make the front element larger than the relative opening at the center of the lens would necessitate.

Q:  Herr Professor, I heard that Leitz has already designed lenses with an opening of f/0.85.  Why are these lenses not generally available?

MAX BEREK:  That was a special edition for X-ray photography.  For general photography such speeds of course aren't of value.  The depth of field alone is so narrow with such openings that three dimensional objects could not be shot.  And even with X-ray photography it became apparent that the lens should be stopped down to at least f/1.2 to obtain a greater resolution.

Q:  I recently read about a “rubber lens” (ed. Note: from the German Gummilinse, a common expression for zoom lens) which enables you to dial in various focal length at will.  Why don't you make something like this instead of manufacturing eight different lenses in focal lengths from 28mm to 400mm, which I can't afford altogether and for which I would have to lug around a whole suitcase?

MAX BEREK:  You would need a suitcase made especially for your zoom lens and I think every Leica amateur would object to lugging around such a monster.

The lens would really be very large, unhandy and heavy since it would have to consist of more than 20 elements and we shouldn't even talk about the cost; it would be higher than the combined cost of all the Leitz specialty lenses it had replaced.  For large, professional cine cameras such a lens might have its place, but the Leica will do better to stay with its interchangeable lenses.  Besides, you will never need all the Leica lenses at the same time.  Rather, you will usually get by with three, a normal, a wide angle and a long lens like the 90mm Elmar.  Even an amateur can afford such an outfit if he buys it little by little.

And the term “rubber lens” is not exactly appropriate; it is rather a lens with continuously adjustable focal length.

      Max Berek

Q:  To what degree are there fault free lenses?

MAX BEREK:  Scientifically, there is only one faultless optical system as G├Âttingen mathematician Felix Klein demonstrated, a combination of plane mirrors.  Such a system creates unrecordable images.

We do not have the ability to create images totally without faults.  In this sense there are no perfect lenses.  The problem is to correct the mistakes so that, in view of the practical application of the lens, it can be considered perfect.

Q:  What certainly does the buyer have of obtaining a perfect lens?  Is one as good as the next?

MAX BEREK:  Everything depends on tolerances; they must be so close that the remaining errors will have no influence.  That is assured by a production system thought out to the smallest detail, one that covers the entire creation of a lens.  It starts right at the cutting of raw pieces of glass by controlling impurities, stress lines, etc.  This control increases during the manufacture of each single element, while shaping it by grinding, while polishing and mounting it and combining it with the rest of the optical system.  When the lens to be finally passes all tests prescribed during the individual working steps, it still won't be delivered, but will be tried for critical test exposures.  Thus the buyer in each case will have the assurance of getting a perfect lens.

Bit I want to mention something else which now and then has led to questions.  All Leica lenses are manufactured of high quality glass types which have to be specially melted.  With some of these glasses, for which very characteristic optical properties are prescribed, it is impossible to totally eliminate little air bubbles within the glass.  In the first days of the Anastigmats such bubbles were even seen as a mark of a good lens.  To some degree this is also true today.  These bubbles do not have any influence on correction and can be accepted without reservation.

Q:  Can you tell us what innovations we amateurs might expect in reference to Leica lenses?

MAX BEREK:  Substantial innovation cannot be expected in the near future.  It is little known though that besides the 50/1.5 Summarit we also offer an 85/1.5, the Summarex.  The long focal length makes it especially suited for portraits, photojournalism, stage and vaudeville photography and similar purposes.  You might also be interested to know that the line of Telyt lenses with focal lengths of 200mm and 400mm has been widened with an additional lens in the extreme focal length of 800mm.  Of course, this lens is only of interest to the professional.

Now I would like to say something to finalize.  With the state of the art of our optics, a well done picture is not so much an optical problem as it is a problem of the technical precision of the camera, the properties of the taking material and especially the training of the user.  The feeling for a good picture can best be developed by enlarging or projecting one's pictures large scale.  Only then will the amateur have the full enjoyment of his work.     

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Most Leica enthusiasts are familiar with the iconic photograph Oskar Barnack took of the Eisenmarkt in Wetzlar with the Ur-Leica in 1913.  Anyone who has ever been in Wetzlar will agree that the city has maintained its old character quite well and that nothing much has changed.  Yet if we compare pictures taken over the years, we will notice subtle changes that have indeed been made.

Here are three photographs of the same scene, taken from the same camera position.  The original by Oskar Barnack from 1913, one taken by W. Pringle Rodman in 1980 and one taken by me in 2007.  Mr. Rodman took along a copy of Barnack’s photograph in order to be able to duplicate it as close as possible.  My photograph was taken somply by memory.  It was originally taken in color, but I converted it to black and white to maintain the character of the other two pictures.

Eisenmarkt 1913 by Oskar Barnack

Eisenmarkt 1980 by W. Pringle Rodman

Eisenmarkt 2007 by Heinz Richter

For more pictures of and by Oskar Barnack go to:



Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Schloss von Kerssenbrock
Photo: Heinz Richter

When traveling to Germany, most people think of going to Bavaria and the Alps.  However, there are other, very interesting areas in Germany worth visiting.  About 150 miles north of Frankfurt is the county of Lippe in the state of North Rhine Westphalia.  This area has a very rich history which, like so many other areas in Germany, includes castles, of course. 

At the eastern side of Lippe, and extending into Lower Saxony, a distinctive style of castles can be found, those of the Weserrenaissance.  This is named after the Weser river just a few miles east of Lippe.

One of these castles is the Schloss von Kerssenbrock (von Kerssenbrock Castle) in the small town of Barntrup.  It was built in 1577 by Anna von Canstein, a few years after her husband Franz von Kerssenbrock had died shortly after their marriage.

Photo: Marlies Amling

Photo: Marlies Amling

The castle is still occupied by Anna von Canstein’s descendants.  The current lady of the house is Lady von Kerssenbrock-Krosigk.  Her husband inherited the castle from Lucie von Kerssenbrock several years ago.  The castle is not open to the public, but some of the facilities are occasionally opened to the public for concerts and other events.

I have been fortunate to be able tour the inside of the castle on a couple of occasions, once when Lucie von Kerssenbrock was still alive in 1974 and last year during a visit in Germany.  Barntrup is my hometown and, whenever possible, I do visit there when traveling in Germany.

A friend of mine knew that we were in Barntrup for a few days and she arranged a tour of the castle, guided by Lady von Kerssenbrock –Krosigk.  She greeted us at the front of the castle at the left tower entrance.  Since the castle is still a private residence, we were only shown a limited part of the entire building, but it was very interesting none the less.

After the tour, Lady von Kerssenbrock-Krosigk insisted to sit on a small, outside patio for tea and strawberry shortcakes with cream.  It was a wonderful afternoon, one that will not be forgotten any time soon.

Small patio in front of the castle
Photo: Marlies Amling

Main entrance and separate entrance to the wine cellar. 
A relief of a servant pouring wine can clearly be seen.
Photo: Heinz Richter

Detail of the main entrance door
Photo: Marlies Amling

Hall of Knights, set up for a concert performance
The hall of knights did have a large collection of antique weapons and arms, suits of armor and other artifacts.  Only very few are left.  The rest was looted by British troops at the end of WWII
Photos: Heinz Richter

Photo: Heinz Richter

Photo: Heinz Richter

Photo: Heinz Richter

Lady von Kerssenbrock Krosigk and my wife Monika
Photo: Heinz Richter

Tea on the small patio
Photo: Heinz Richter

The castle park at the north side
Photo: Marlies Amling

Lady von Kerssenbrock-Krosigk showing the castle park
Photo: Heinz Richter

North gate to the castle park
Photo: Marlies Amling

West Side with the castle gardens

Small south gate.
Please notice the one step, worn after over 400 years of people walking through the gate
Photo: Heinz Richter

Please note:  All pictures were taken with a variety of Leica camera equipment by myself and my sister Marlies Amling

Monday, April 14, 2014



Over the course of a year, we have numerous opportunities to enter our photographs into a huge variety of photography competitions.  This includes Leica with the OSKAR BARNACK AWARD, for instance.  Many of the published pictures do have titles and some competitions make titles mandatory.  However, are titles really necessary?

In my opinion, this should be left to the photographer/artist.  Just as it is our choice to take our photographs the way we see the world around us, it should be up to us if we want to give our photographs a title or not, and we certainly should not be penalized for not having a title when entering a photograph into a competition.

Demanding a title can on occasion lead to some rather curious results.  I used to teach two professional photography courses at a private college here in Minneapolis.  To give my students a broader evaluation of their work, I routinely invited various photography associations and photography clubs to hold their competition judgments at the school.  In turn the students were allowed to enter the competitions even if they were not members of the association or club.

One photography association that regularly came to the school was the local chapter of the PPA (Professional Photographers of America).  They demanded that every photograph entered had to have a title, otherwise it would be rejected.

Most of my students as well as myself were never too fond of the local PPA.  It seemed that most of the photographs entered by their members were following the general ideas and tastes of the membership.  The similarities were often such that the pictures could have all been taken by the same photographer.

I always challenged my students to use their own ideas and to come up with something different because it would make their photographs stand out from the crowd.  I was often proven right with that approach because my students quite regularly walked away with the majority of winners, even though they competed against individuals that worked as experienced, professional photographers.

The absurdity of demanding titles was shown especially with one photograph.  It showed a variety of different size artist paint brushes, one of which had the tip of the brush coated with red paint.  Out of necessity, the student called it “A Dab of Red.”  The judges were quite impressed.  They gave it all kinds of accolades.  In fact, they saw nothing that required critiquing or suggestions for corrections.  A flawless photograph.  Yet at the end, the photograph was denied a first place finish.  The argument was that the title was incorrect.  We were told that “A Dab of Red” was misleading since the metal sleeve of one brush next to it showed a reflection of the brush and the red dab of paint.  Thus, they argued, there was more than one dab of red.


Frankly, to downgrade a photograph because the title is not quite right is about as myopic and pedantic as it can get.  Such thinking relegates the photograph to second place status behind the title.  It makes absolutely no sense.  Nobody at the school agreed with that decision.

Subsequently, when the time came again for the PPA to visit us, we decided on a little payback.  One of the students created a photograph of a campfire, showing a frying pan with a freshly caught fish in it.  As a title we chose “Der Fisch in der Bratpfanne auf dem Lagerfeuer” (The fish in the frying pan on the campfire).  When the photograph was shown it created quite a problem for the announcer to read the title.  But there couldn’t possibly be any argument about the accuracy of it.

Friday, April 11, 2014


It appears that full frame cameras have reached a level of maximum pixel counts, or at least have considerably slowed in being offered with ever increasing resolution.  It used to be that the industry was doing a great job in convincing the general public that the higher the number of pixels, the better the camera.  This was definitely the case when we had to deal with 1 or 2 megapixel cameras.  But those days have definitely gone, and manufacturers have put more effort into improving sensors other than just increasing the number of pixels offered.  We now have cameras with incredible ISO sensitivities, low noise, great color accuracy, high res video capability etc.

So the question is, how big an enlargement one could one possibly make with a high quality, full frame sensor.  I researched the topic and wasn’t able to come up with anything definite.

Being that today’s full frame sensors use the same image dimension as 35mm film, I included 35mm in the equation. That doesn’t mean that we can simply equate a 35mm negative with files obtained from a full frame sensor, as a mater of fact, there are several factors that lead to a slight image degradation with film that do not exist with digital sensors.  Based on that, one can reasonable expect that a high quality full frame sensor can deliver a sharper image than a 35mm negative.

Ernst Haas image chosen for the Kodak Colorama

The biggest enlargement ever made of a 35mm photograph was the one for the Kodak Colorama at Grand Central Station in New York in 1977.  The original picture was taken by Ernst Haas with a Leicaflex SL and a 50mm Summicron-R lens on Kodachrome 25.  The finished Colorama consisted of 20 vertical panels of 3 feet width and 18 feet height for a total size of 18 x 60 feet This was the first time a 35mm picture had been used for this project.  It presents a 508 times enlargement to achieve the width of the image.  It was a definite testament of the quality of the film and that of the Leica camera and lens.

Based on modern sensor technology, we can reasonably expect enlargements of the Kodak Colorama size to be as good or better than what was done back in 1977.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Over the years Leica has received some rather funny mail.  We are glad that some of these letters were saved because they definitely make for an interesting read and should bring some fun into your day.
Please Note: We checked very carefully; the typos are definitely not ours.

In no particular order…

“Please allow me to ask if it is possible fro you to send a 'Leica' for my disposal in trade for business.  I am offering the following: Insurance of all kind, private hospitalization insurance and Laundry Detergent.  In case you are interested in one or the other...”

“I have three magnifying glasses in average of 10cm diameter, and a close-up set of 5.5.5 and 5.5 cm diameter.  Are you able to make a binocular out of this?  I think it is best to reduce the size of the glass to that of a binocular or photo.  I assume you have binocular housings?”

“Both my Leica cameras were stolen, both cameras black in a briefcase with 1 pound of sausage, ¼ pound butter half a loaf of bread and Leica films (a lady in half figure pose with and without fur.  Lady appr. 50 years).”

“I wish for you to send me a Leisa camera.  If you don't have one in stock then don't send one.”

“I would like to throw a drop of water for hours onto a wall such that it will get a diameter of at least 1 meter...”

“I would like to check if I could buy a photograpfy apparatus.  I would really like to buy a photograpfy apparatus, I will send the money right away, then write to me how much the apparatus is.  One like on the picture that I enclosed.  But sometimes write to me if such an apparatus I can get, and how expensive it is, then I will send the money right away.  Now I must close with the hope that you will send me such a photogrpfy apparatus, I would really like that.  But please, write back to me at once, and send me such an apparatus I will send the money right away.”

A company wrote:
“We need a microscope, three or five barrel...”

A microscope delivered in East Africa proved to have something missing.  The letter requested the following:
“1.  Three lenses that you screw on...”
“2.  The lens through which you look on the top...”
“3.  The lens that is under the table.”

“Other than that the microscope is complete.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


By Tom Grill

For me, the M4 is the camera that reached the pinnacle of analog design. It was the natural sequel to the M2 and M3 designs into one body with a few more bells and whistles added. The one time Leica attempted to diverge from this basic M design with the M5 model in 1971 led to such an uproar that the M4 was reinstated only a few years later and has continued to be the basis for flagship camera design of the company even up to the newest M 240 digital model.

My 1968 black painted M4. I sent it back to Leica for a factory replacement of the viewfinder so it now has six lens frame lines of the M6 instead of the original four. I did this because I use a 28mm lens a lot and usually have the Leica meter on top of the camera taking up the slot where I would normally put an auxiliary optical finder. And look at the beautiful engraving on top. Don't see that much anymore.

There were several iterations of the M4. The M4-2 was introduced in 1977, followed by the M4-P in 1981. Each new version added a couple of new features -- a hot shoe, motor-drive capability, extra finder frames -- but modernized the production line and replaced the black enamel with a more durable black chrome.  I always had a penchant for cameras with black paint over brass. After a little use some of the paint wears through to the brass and the camera takes on an individual patina that identifies it as yours. Excessive brassing becomes a battle-worn badge of honor, something to be worn proudly, as if to say, "I served".

The Leica M4 with MR-4 meter mounted on top.

The M4 was introduced in 1967 and produced until 1975 with a little break while the M5 ran its short-lived, orphened course. The M4 had framelines for 35mm, 50mm, 90mm and 135mm lenses in a 0.72 magnification viewfinder. Mine was made in 1968, and had a later, standard factory addition of the M6 viewfinder adding 28mm and 75mm frame lines.

I always liked the look of the Leica meter. Not that it worked all that well -- I still carried around a hand held auxiliary meter for more accurate readings -- but it slipped conveniently into the accessory shoe, had a high/low range, and synchronized with the shutter speed dial, all pretty advanced stuff for 1968.

The handle-crank rewind knob was one of the late-to-the-party innovations Leitz added to the M. The one on the M4 was angled so it could be operated quickly without constantly scraping your fingers on the side of the camera -- something of an anachronism in today's digital world, but much appreciated at the time by photographers needing to get the spent roll out of the camera quickly and reload it for the next breaking shot.

Adding the angled rapid rewind crank was considered a big deal at the time. I can still recall discussions with veteran photographers who were convinced that Leitz maintained the slow turning rewind knob on the M2 and M3 to avoid rewinding the film too fast and causing static light discharge that might damage a film frame.

 The M4 did away with the removable film take up spool, and introduced a faster film loading system that gripped the end of the film automatically to load it onto the spool.

The self-timer lever was an M4 luxury -- some say frivolous addition -- eliminated from later versions of the M series. After all, pros don't need self-timers.

The M4 was the last of a breed. It reminds me of souped-up, propeller-driven fighter aircraft at the end of WWII. Each had reached the apex of analog, hand-crafted design on the cusp of fading into oblivion in the face of a newer technology. The planes were replaced by jets, the rangefinder by the SLR. Fortunately, the M-series camera hit a very responsive chord in the human psyche that has made it last even into the digital era. For many, Leica M is the icon of professional camera, and retro styling based on the Leica M design is undergoing a renaissance in cameras like the popular Fuji X-Pro1.  And let's not forget that in keeping with the M analog tradition Leica continues to make the M7 and MP film cameras today.

For more of Tom Grill’s work go to: