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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 Castle 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:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

THE LEITZ 800mm f6.3 TELYT-S


                                                                                                                         Photo by Mark Duncan

By Frank Breithaupt
Reprinted by permission
From News Photographer
December 1978

It was early morning, one hour before the vacationing President was scheduled to make his way by raft down the Salmon River.  Around a bend, half-mile downstream were several photographer on a swinging footbridge.

When the President’s raft came into view, Harry Cabluck started making exposures with his hand made 800mm Leitz f/6.3 lens at 1/125th of a second with his tripod mounted camera on a swaying bridge.

Cabluck, a 10 year veteran of the Associated Press, insists that the shot shouldn’t have worked.

Instead, he captured a classic last august – a tight photo of President Carter’s raft floating down the river with the President standing monumentally in the bow like the famous Leutze painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware.

“It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever planned something and executed it just the way I thought it would be,” Cabluck said.  “Hell, even getting married wasn’t planned out that way.”Cabluck has a history of getting pictures no one else does because of his planning and his 800mm prototype: the “agony and the ecstasy” at the 1976 Olympics, the Carter family after the Inauguration walking down Pennsylvania Avenue with the Capitol dome in the background, and key plays in baseball games where his attachment to the lens began.

With AP in Pittsburg, Cabluck borrowed the prototype from Walter Heun, technical director for E. Leitz, Inc., for use in the 1974 All-Star game in Pittsburg.

In Heun’s hands, the lens had been used to photograph the Apollo 8 launch on December 21, 1968, of Borman, Anders and Lovell on a 147 hour lunar flight.

Once in Cabluck’s hands, it was lost to Leitz.  “They figured it would be better to sell it to me than to just let me have it,” Cabluck explained.

With his 800, Cabluck said that getting the picture is not all that difficult.  “It’s not so much me as the lens,” he said.  “A lot of people think that it’s me, but anybody with that lens in their hands is going to make a good picture.”

Well, not quite.

As Hal Buell, AP’s assistant general manager for news photos put it, “Harry knows how to use that lens.  And when to use it.  It’s an excellent piece of glass and the whole thing comes out to nice pictures because Harry’s a very talented buy.”

Putting himself into a situation where he can use his lens is where Cabluck”s real talent comes in.

With a call to The Idaho Statesman, Cabluck checked lighting, distances and angles.  He talked to the White House people.  The weight of the lens – 32 pounds – was a factor.  “I figured, what the heck, I’d carry the 800 out there.  It’s a pain in the neck, but I just live with it.”

The white House said he wouldn’t have to carry his equipment – two Halliburtons, one for the camera, the other for the 800 – more than 50 yards from the helicopter landing area to the footbridge.  “I said great!  I can carry everything 50 yards.”

But then surprise.  The helicopter left and Cabluck had to lug his two cases a mile to the pickup point.  “It seemed like five in that altitude.  And I am just cussing myself all the way – you idiot, I said, the pictures won’t work, they’re soft, the film is all bad, the light was so bad… an 800 from a swinging bridge, the raft is moving right at us, the bridge is moving, my heart is beating and it shouldn’t have worked.  Who would shoot an 800 on a tripod at a moving raft even if the camera was bolted to the earth?”

But after processing it was all worthwhile.  Weeks later he was still doctoring his elbows from carrying his cases that Idaho mile.


During his decade years with AP, Cabluck has been sent as far north as the Montreal Olympics, as far east as Yankee Stadium, as far south as San Juan, P.R., and as far west as Beijing, China.

Cabluck has become known as “Dancing Bear and his Magic Lens.”

“There’s just a certain superstition I have about it – I’m not superstitious, ordinarily, except when it comes to that lens.”

Cabluck was a staff photographer at the Fort Worth TX Star-Telegram for 11 years (his brother, Jarrold, is a Fort Worth freelancer).  Harry Cabluck recalled the first shot he sent fro AP over the Star-Telegram transmitter – the aftermath of an unconfirmed tornado in 1958:

“It was just a cop standing on the side of a building.  A crummy picture.  But I got all caught up in the excitement of having my picture transmitted.  I was the guy that made the print, wrote the caption, wrapped it around the drum and watched the thing go.  It was a big thrill.”

Cabluck’s superstition may be a gag with AP staffers.  Nevertheless the say, “This looks like a job for Harry and his magic lens.”

And Harry does the job.


We just received information from Novoflex about their new LEM/VIS II extension tube set for the Leica M.  It greatly enhances the versatility of the camera.  The entire set has the same length as the Leitz Visoflex II and III.  Subsequently, it can eliminate the use of the Visoflex units when using any of the so-called Visoflex lenses on the Leica M.  Instead either live view or the auxiliary electronic Visoflex finder can be used for viewing and focusing.  In addition, the extension tubes in various combinations can be used to achieve close focusing with any Leica lens.  The set consists of five separate sections, the lens mount, the camera mount and three extension rings that can be used in various combinations to achieve a variety of close-up ranges with Leica and other M mount lenses.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014


April 1-2014

Leica M-AF with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M

This morning we received the sensational message that Leica will be introducing an autofocus version of the venerable Leica M, the Leica M-AF, and the amazing fact is that the camera will offer autofocus with any lens that can mounted on the camera.  No special autofocus lenses are necessary.  This was achieved by having the autofocus mechanism being part of the camera body rather than the lenses.  In simple terms, to focus, the lens mount moves back and forth within the camera body.  All that is necessary is to set the lenses to infinity.  This allows any lens to be focused from infinity to a certain minimum focusing distance, depending on the focal length.  This offers the additional advantage of achieving an autofocus close-up range by setting the lens to a closer than infinity focusing distance.  Here the camera will maintain autofocus, but at a closer range.

Leica M-AF without lens

Leica M-AF with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M at closest focusing distance

In order to assure proper alignment even with longer and heavier lenses, Leica decided to build the focusing movement in the same manner as the focusing helix in most manual focus lenses.  The threads of this mount assure proper alignment much better than any other method, like a sliding mount, for instance.  The internal ring section that moves the lens mount back and forth is geared and turned by a small but powerful motor.  This means that the actual speed of the focus movement is a bit slower than conventional autofocus systems, but that is a small price to pay for having the advantage that all lenses that can be attached to the camera, even those from other manufacturers, offer autofocus.

This approach does no longer allow for the rangefinder mechanism to work and it was necessary to remove the rangefinder. This allowed some of the electronics to be housed in top of the camera in the space taken up by the rangefinder in the other Leica M cameras.  For this reason, the viewfinder has remained basically unchanged, but the second rangefinder window in front of the camera has been removed. 

Close up of the focusing movement at closest focusing distance
The indent in the camera body for the lens release is clearly visible

This brings up the issue of the M-AF designation of the camera.  The M has always been short for Messucher, the German word for rangefinder.  But just like Leica doing away with the alpha numerical labeling of their cameras, no M10, just M, I guess we have to get used to the fact that Leica M now is the designation for all of their cameras of this particular body style.  This has been achieved in an almost perfect manner.  The new Leica M-AF is outwardly almost indistinguishable from the standard Leica M, Leica M Monochrom and Leica M-E as well as most of their predecessors.

Besides the missing small rangefinder window, the standard lens release knob had to be moved to be part of the focusing mount.  To accommodate it throughout the entire focusing range, a small indent in the camera housing will allow the lens mount to recede into the camera body when focused at infinity.

Leica M-AF with lens adapter R and 70-180mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R at closest focusding distance

Probably the most obvious difference in the appearance of the camera are two small buttons in front of the camera.  Pressing either one of them will disengage the autofocus system and allow motorized manual focusing by pressing the top button to have the focus mount move toward infinity and the bottom one for focusing closer.  This is done best with the auxiliary electronic viewfinder, the Visoflex Electronic.  Of course it is also possible to use the standard, manual focusing with the standard focusing mount of the lenses.  While this might sound as a duplication of manual focusing, we now have the possibility to focus manually with lenses that have no manual focusing possibility.

No estimates as to actual deliveries of the camera have been released at this time.

Friday, March 28, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leica M5 Assembly

Transport of a FODIS Rangefinder in 1927

Working on the Optical Components of the Leica M Rangefinder

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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