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Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Volumes have been written about this topic and probably without exception, it is always mentioned that there are really no rules that are carved in stone.  What we do have is a number of guidelines, all designed to help us create better pictures.  However, these should not be looked upon as a replacement for visually evaluating whatever we try to photograph.  What we see in the viewfinder of our cameras remains as important as ever.  One piece of advice that I always give is “if it looks good, shoot it.”

Some individuals intuitively use good composition and end up with good pictures.  For them the guidelines of composition will turn into an explanation of why their pictures look good.  For the majority, however, these guidelines will help to create better pictures by simply evaluating what is seen in the viewfinder, applying some of these guidelines and thus end up with better pictures than what otherwise might have been the case.

It is not the purpose of this article to touch on each and every one of these rules.  Instead I will concentrate on just the most important ones in order to keep this from getting too tedious.

Of all these guidelines, without question the most useful one is the rule of thirds.  Here we divide the image seen in the viewfinder by two evenly spaced vertical and horizontal lines.  This will help composition in a variety of ways.  Not only does it  lead to better placement of the main object of the picture, it also suggests better placement of the horizon as well as placement of other important aspects of the picture.


In these four examples I used the rule of thirds by placing the main subject onto one of the four areas where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.  Especial with cameras where the autofocus sensor is in the center of the viewfinder, it is almost intuitive to place the main subject in the center.  That usually has the result of the picture looking somewhat static.  Applying the rule of thirds usually will lead to a noticeable improvement of the picture.

Of course, this brings up the question which of the four intersection point to place the subject on.  In the first example, the upper left intersection point is most advantageous in order to emphasize the height of the flying bird.  In addition, it is usually better to place a moving subject such that it appears to be moving into the picture, with space in front to move towards.

For the second example there is no clear advantage of one over the other.  Here it is simply a matter of what one feels looks best.

The third example is similar to the first one, again leaving room in front of the bird to move towards.  I chose the lower right intersection point since the bird just took off, flying low across the surface of the water.

The fourth example was taken from a low vantage point, leading to an upward camera angle.  Therefore the picture looks better with the bird up high in the picture with space in front of the bird.  The upper right intersecting point is the best choice in this case.


Another aspect of good composition is lines and diagonals.  They help to lead the eye toward the subject and into the picture.  The path in this photograph shows strong lines.  The main subject was best placed on the lower left intersection point because this way the lines lead to the impression of the bikers moving forward and into the picture.


Even though placing the subject into the center of the picture usually will lead to a static looking image, there are times when this is actually advantageous, as in this case.  This picture contains some very strong lines which all lead the eye toward the main subject.  Utilizing these lines actually made for a better picture by placing the subject into the center. 

Another aspect of the composition of this picture is the cropping.  Some photographs simply look better when cropped from the typical format of the camera.  The horizontal emphasis  of this picture by cropping the top and the bottom further enhance the subject position within the picture.


The horizontal and vertical lines of the rule of thirds also give an indication of proper placement of strong verticals or horizontals within the picture, like the horizon in this case.  The lower horizontal is advantageous because it not only eliminated empty grass space in front of the buffaloes it also allowed to take advantage of the marvelous clouds and blue sky.

This example combines several aspects of good composition.  The strong diagonal lines of the background lead to the main subject, the statue, in the center.  In addition, the columns create a strong pattern which is another element of composition.  Finally, the lady viewing the statue creates a second important viewpoint of the picture.  The placement on the lower left intersecting point very much adds to the composition, as do the strong colors in the otherwise subdued colors of the picture, especially the bright, red hair.


This is another example of strong subject placement, in this case on the right vertical line.  The picture would have had a lot less impact had the subject been placed in the center.  In addition the picture is further enhanced by the pattern of the seats in both the foreground and especially the background.  Finally, the cropping of the original eliminated distracting dark areas both in the foreground and background.


Placing the subject on the lower left intersecting point emphasized the upward camera angle without allowing it to appear distant as it would have been the case had it been placed on the upper left intersection point.  In addition, the mostly black background creates a lot of so called dead space.  This is often preferable over background detail which would be distracting.  Finally, the violin bow is a strong line, leading to the main subject of the picture.


In portraits it is generally preferable to have more space in front of the face than in back.  Choosing to place the subject in the left vertical of the rule of thirds assured proper subject placement in this case.


There are, however, times when the rule of thirds does not apply, as in this case.  The strong face of the person in this picture was emphasized by the close up of it.  Since it fills the entire frame, there was no other choice than to center it.  Anything else would have been distracting.


Another element of good composition are curves or s-lines.  As in this example, they are an interesting element of the picture that helps to lead the eye into the picture.


Of course, these elements of good composition don’t apply just to photography.  They have been applied by the great masters for years, just as in this case of the painting “The Bridge At Argenteuil” by Claude Monet.  It contains numerous elements of good composition.   The bridge shows several strong lines, including a pattern created by the upright pillars and it also leads the eye toward the background.    The sailboat in the foreground is placed in the lower left intersection point of the rule of thirds.  The mast the boom and the bow sprit of the boat also form very strong lines.  The combination of all of these elements of good composition ultimately make for a very interesting picture.

There are certainly additional rules of composition.  As mentioned above, to keep this article from becoming too long and possibly too confusing, I tried to concentrate on the most useful ones here.  Applying these when possible or warranted will lead to better pictures and over time, photographers will get used to it to the extent that these rules and their application will become second nature.  At that point, we will bridge the difference between just taking pictures and creating photographs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


An interesting, but relatively unknown fact is that NASA initially had chosen the Leica MDa as the camera to be used on their lunar missions.  The reason was weight.  Of all the systems for the Apollo missions, one could never be tested because of the low gravity of the moon.  That was the take-off module.  To gain as much of a weight advantage as possible, NASA did everything they could to save weight.  That included the camera equipment.  The Leica MDa with 35mm f/1.4 Summilux was definitely lighter than anything Hasselblad, their regular camera of choice, had to offer.  Leitz modified several cameras and lenses to feature large levers to allow camera operation with the bulky gloves of the space suits.  The astronauts chosen for the lunar missions all received extensive training in the use of the camera.

NASA Leica MDa.  Modifications appear to be a soft shutter release, a larger shutter speed dial, an enlarged film wind lever a large rewind knob and an enlarged lever to open the camera.  The top of the camera also has a beefed up plate with an accessory show attached.  There is also an electronic connection of an unknown purpose in place of the PC connection.
Modifications of the lens are large levers for the aperture and focus settings, all designed for easy operation with the gloves of the space suits.

Yet, as is common knowledge, the Leica never made it to the moon.  The credit goes to one engineer who figured out that the interchangeable film backs for the Hasselblad were lighter than the Leica MDa with its Summilux lens.  Subsequently NASA decided to use the Hasselblad after all.  The Saturn 5 rockets had no problem delivering the payload to the moon.  For the return trip it was subsequently decided to remove the film backs from the cameras and to leave the cameras and lenses on the moon where they still reside today.  A total of 12 Hasselblad cameras and lenses are sitting in the lunar dust, ready to be picked up.

An intriguing question is if they might be still able to operate properly after all these years in the extremely harsh environment of the lunar surface.

Since then a few more details about the NASA – Leica connection have emerged.  One virtually unknown fact is that NASA also used the Leicafelx SL.  For what purpose is unknown at this point.  I have also found that in 1966, NASA ordered 150 Leica cameras.  Unfortunately it was not stated which cameras they were.

The camera appears to be without visible modifications other than the deeply knurled shutter speed dial to accommodate the heavy gloves of the space suits.

Already in the earliest stages of the NASA space program, Leica cameras were part of the equation.  One such camera was the Leica Ig.  With this camera astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., took the first human-shot, color still photographs of the Earth during his three-orbit mission on February 20, 1962. Glenn's pictures paved the way for future Earth photography experiments on American human spaceflight missions.

Because Glenn was wearing a spacesuit, complete with helmet during his February 20, 1962 mission, he could not get his eye close to a built-in viewfinder.  Therefore NASA selected the high-quality Leica Ig camera that allowed them to attach a customized viewfinder on top. This special attachment featured a suction cup on the back side to allow Glenn to easily place the device against the visor when he was required to keep it down. The viewfinder was removable when Glenn did not need his visor down, and a velcro strip on the rounded top let him manage its location inside the spacecraft.  Glenn found the camera easy to use, in part because he could exploit the advantages of zero-gravity.

"When I needed both hands, I just let go of the camera and it floated there in front of me," he said in his later memoir.

The 1957 Leica Ig was the last Leica screwmount model made, with production ending in 1963.  It was the successor to the If and is the only screwmount camera with the word 'Leica' engraved on the front of the camera. This camera had the same profile as the IIIg but without the viewfinder/rangefinder incorporated into the top.  As with both the Ic and If there were two accessory shoes mounted for attaching a separate viewfinder and rangefinder. The rewind knob was partially recessed into the top plate.  As with the Ic and the If, the Ig was intended for scientific or Visoflex use.

A little known fact is that a Leica M3 accompanied the astronauts on a September 1995 Endeavour space shuttle mission.  As reported by the Houston Chronicle…


NASA Photographer Makes History With Trusty Camera


Odds are that Andrew Patnesky, ""Pat" to his colleagues, has used the vintage Leica camera that swings from his leathery neck like an old dog tag to photograph every American astronaut since Alan Shepard.

It was only fitting that the trademark photo gear with the thick rubber band binding its aging components together accompanied a shuttle crew into orbit recently, something the 75-year-old NASA photographer couldn't do.

""I think the world of that camera," said Patnesky, who shuns more modern gear with the automated features that focus and advance film in favor of the all-manual Leica M3.

""I have other cameras, but they don't measure up," he said. ""Anyone can just go shoot. Anyone can be a photographer, but not everyone can be a photojournalist."

Patnesky fretted over the Leica's absence during its orbital journey aboard the shuttle Endeavour last September. The separation was prolonged for several weeks after the shuttle's return so that the Leica could be unpacked and its journey officially documented.

""I feel kind of naked without it," he joked recently, clearly relieved that the old camera was available once again for his patrols of the space center's astronaut training facilities.

Patnesky staked his claim to the government-owned gear when he spotted it in an equipment closet soon after he joined NASA in 1961. The Johnson Space Center, then known as the Manned Spacecraft Center, was just beginning to take shape in Houston.

""None of the other dingbats would use it. So I said, `Hey, give it to me,' " recalled Patnesky, who spares no one, least of all himself, from his playful verbal digs.

Relying on his 21 years of experience as a photographer with the old U.S. Army Air Corps and then its successor, the Air Force, Patnesky began to chronicle, with the trusty Leica, the personalities who led America to the moon.

In those days, he said, the news media was thirsty for a steady stream of photographs of astronauts as they trained for their Apollo flights in exotic locales, from the Gulf of Mexico where they rehearsed post-splashdown procedures in rough seas to the deserts of Mexico.

During one of the Mexican excursions - it was a training jaunt by Shepard and astronaut Edgar Mitchell to prepare for their Apollo 14 flight - an instructor-geologist challenged Patnesky to descend into a rocky crater for photographs.

As he made his way to the crater floor, Patnesky slipped between the boulders. The Leica's fragile view finder broke away, disappearing between the rocks. Rather than replace the camera, though, he obtained a new view finder and lashed it in place with the first of a succession of wide rubber bands, lending the camera its rag tag character.

To this day Patnesky finds the Leica perfect for his needs, rubber bands and all.

With its precise mechanics and acute optics, the old camera makes little shutter noise and requires no flash when its operator is photographing in the Mission Control Center, the space shuttle simulator or the administrative offices.

""I like to shoot on a noninterference basis," he said. ""That is how you get the best shots."

The strategy has permitted Patnesky to photograph all of the American presidents with astronauts from John Kennedy to Bill Clinton. It allowed him to capture the drama of the Challenger accident as it was reflected in the faces of the personnel in Mission Control, as well as the majesty of Anwar Sadat, the late president of Egypt, during a state visit.

His favorite subjects, though, are the astronauts, from the original Mercury explorers to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first lunar explorers, and now the shuttle astronauts and their recent Russian cosmonaut guests.

""My friendship with the astronauts means a helluva lot to me. I admire those guys for all the hours they put in," said Patnesky. ""One way or another I've photographed every one of them."

One of 10 children born to a Pennsylvania coal mining family, he commutes 110 miles to work each day from a home north of Houston and shares time with his wife in a second home near San Antonio.

Wiry and healthy, Patnesky will log his 56th complete year of government service on Oct. 1. He is coy about his retirement plans.

But he feels so strongly about his association with the astronauts that he is willing to part with his Leica when he leaves NASA. He wants it to go on display at the Astronaut Hall of Fame, just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Fla.

My continued research into Leica cameras that were used by NASA has yielded another interesting result.  This Leica camera was used in conjunction with a spectrograph and was used on the Gemini V and VIII missions. Longer missions during the Gemini program gave astronauts more time for scientific experiments, often created and monitored by other government agencies or academic institutions. Scientists at the U.S. Weather Bureau (now NOAA) created this camera attachment so it could simultaneously record a spectrum and an infrared image to determine cloud heights.

The camera appears to be a model M3.  It is unknown if any special modification were necessary for this specialized use.

It is not known if any current Leica equipment is being used by NASA.  The delay by Leica to introduce top level digital cameras leads me to believe that other manufacturers might have been chosen.  However, this is an ongoing research project and should new information become available, you will read about here.


I just came across an amazing example of neglect of Leica equipment or camera equipment in general for that matter.  I purchased a number of used Leica accessory items, most of which were in rather good shape.  But one item really stuck out.

It is a Leica Winder M4-2.  I immediately noticed a strange, white discoloring of the bottom of the winder, especially the battery compartment.  Upon closer inspection, the discoloring was actually a layer of gritty deposits.  I loosened the locking screw for the battery compartment, only to find out that it was not coming off.  I had to use considerable force to separate it from the motor.  The inside revealed the culprit for the bad shape everything was in.  The batteries had been left in the compartment for what must be a very long time.  While alkaline batteries are substantially more leak-proof than conventional batteries (which should never be used anyway), they do leak.  And leak they did.  As you can see from the pictures, the entire inside of the battery compartment was covered with the dried out leaked inside of the batteries.  I did not attempt to remove the batteries.  It would have been a waste of time because the unit, including the actual winder, is beyond any possible further service life.

Far be it from me to judge how anyone should use their Leica equipment.  But this is a level of neglect that is hard to excuse.  Simply removing the batteries prior to prolonged storage of the equipment would have easily prevented this disaster…

Monday, July 28, 2014


In comemoration of the 100th anniversary of Leica, WestLicht in Vienna has been offering a number of rare Leica items for sale on a regular basis.  Today a special item appeared on one of their mailings which definitely has added significance.  The promotion is for the last 25 Leica M models made in Solms of which only 3 cameras are left available.

Here is a translation of their announcement:

LEICA M (model 240) silver
with Summilux M 1.4/50mm Asph. chrome

PRICE € 9600 incl 20% VAT.


Leica Camera AG is celebrating "100 Years of Leica Photography". Leica commemorated the anniversary with numerous events, exhibitions and exceptional products and services. Among the highlights is also the move to the ultra-modern new plant in the Leitz Park in Wetzlar. Back to the city where the company was first established, from which the Leica started its triumphal march throughout the world and revolutionized photography. With the last 25 Leica M cameras made ​​in Solms the former company headquarters is receiving this special recognition.

Along with this very special Leica camera we promote the Summilux M 1.4/50mm Asph. chrome - an excellent Standardobjektiv (normal lens):  It offers high-contrast images with high-resolution and detail even at maximum aperture and at its minimum focusing distance. This is made ​​possible through the use of  "floating elements", special glass types with unique refraction properties, and elements with aspherical surfaces. Its properties qualify this lens for available light photography and shooting with selective sharpness.

Simply Irresistible!

The information continues with a report of the sale of a 75 percent stake in their operation to Laica Camera AG.

Ronald Marcel Peters (CFO Leica Camera AG), Peter Coeln (CEO Peter Coeln GesmbH), Alfred Schopf (CEO Leica Camera AG) in the Leica Shop Vienna

Dear Friends of Leica Store and Western light Auctions,

23 years ago we founded the first Leica store in the world, 13 years ago, the Museum of Photography WestLicht, 12 years ago, the auction house WestLicht, two years ago the Leica Store and the Leica Gallery in Vienna next to the opera and in the same year the photo gallery OstLicht. This is a beautiful and successful way in the service of photography.

In the future we will work together with Leica Camera AG, which bought a 74.9% stake in Peter Coeln GesmbH.

The partnership with Leica includes the Leica Shop at Westbahnstrasse, the Leica Store at Walfischgasse and West Photographica Auctions.

The Fotomuseum WestLicht and the photo gallery OstLicht with its important collections will continue to operate independently and are not part of the transaction.

Apart from the fact that the fundamental orientation of our company will not change, this increased cooperation holds many new opportunities for both companies.

I will continue to lead and manage the operations with our wonderful team, even in the long term.

I am pleased that our approach can be continued with the partnership with Leica Camera AG and that we are able to create synergies and strengthen the quality and durability of old and new Leica products. As in the past, we will continue to place great emphasis on customer service and flexibility at the retail level, online trading and the auction operation.

For questions we are at your disposal,

Peter Coeln and team

Leica Shop
Westbahnstraße 40
A-1070 Wien
Tel +43 (0) 1 523 56 59
Fax +43 (0) 1 523 51 77

Opening times
Mon-Fri 10-18 h
Brand New Store
Sat 10-13 h

For reasons of accuracy, we must correct  the statement that their Leica store from 25 years ago was the very first of its kind.  That honor goes to Photo Visuals of Minneapolis, which opened in 1979.  Soon after two additional stores to sell Leica equipment exclusively were Alvin's Photo supply of Pasadena, the first exclusively Leica dealer in California and The Darkroom, the first exclusively Leica store in San Francisco.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


The compact a very light Cambo Actus view camera works on the optical bench principle.  It was especially designed for mirrorless digital cameras but also offers the possibility to use DSLR cameras as well as Micro Fourthirds models.

With this view camera solution the Dutch manufacturer offers tilt, shift as well as swing possibilities especially for mirrorless cameras, making it possible to apply the Scheimpflug principle, the deliberate displacement of the plane of focus and to create selective areas of unsharpness.  The attached cameras function as a digital back for the Cambo Actus.

The displacement of the shift function offers 27 millimeter vertically and 40 millimeters while tilt movements are available up to 22 degrees.  In addition, swing movements are available up to 360 degrees.

The choice of lenses is quite numerous. Besides view camera lenses from various manufacturers with Copal shutters, lenses from Hasselblad C, Leica M39, Mamiya RZ/RB and Mamiya 645 can also be used.  In addition lenses for mirrorless cameras as well as Leica R and Nikon F lenses can be used.  Other lens adapters are currently being designed.

Another significant feature of the camera is its size.  With a length of 15 centimeters (6 inch) and a weight of 2 kilogramm (4 pounds 6 oz) this is one of the most compact cameras of this type in the market.

The Cambo Actus is available for 1,499 euros, including the focusing rail, both front and rear standards, the bellows and the camera adapter.

For more information go to:

Friday, July 25, 2014


It is easy to forget that there is a lot more to Leica than just cameras.  One of the absolute leaders in microscope technology is Leica Microsystems.  Just like Leica Camera AG, Leica Microsystems has its headquarters also in Wetzlar.

The University of Marburg is expanding its cooperation with Leica Microsystems: The Institute of Cytobiology is currently one of four institutes in the world to test a microscope with a resolution well below the diffraction limit (nanoscope). “With this new optical nanoscopy called GSDIM (ground state depletion microscopy followed by individual molecule return), resolutions down to 25 nanometers can be achieved. This makes it possible to image sub-cellular structures or protein complexes far beyond the resolving powers of a light microscope,” says cell biologist Prof. Dr. Ralf Jacob. The new technology is being tested in the Imaging Core Facility of the special Cell Biology Research Department 593 (SFB 593) in Marburg.

Leica SR GSD 3D Microscope

Comparison of conventional widefield fluorescence
microsope image with GSDIM image

True-to-detail imaging of the spatial arrangement of proteins and other biomolecules in cells and observing molecular processes – GSDIM makes this possible for researchers due to resolutions beyond the diffraction limit. The more insight science gains into these basic processes of life, the better it can find the causes of previously incurable diseases and develop suitable therapies.

One of the strengths of GSDIM is that it uses conventional fluorescence markers to image proteins or other biomolecules within the cells with sharpness down to a few nanometers. This includes fluorophores which are routinely used in biomedicine.

With GSDIM, the fluorescent molecules in the specimen are almost completely switched off using laser light. However, individual molecules spontaneously return to the fluorescent state, while their neighbors remain non-illuminating. In this way, the signals of individual molecules can be acquired sequentially using a highly sensitive camera system and their spatial position in the specimen can be measured and stored. An extremely high-resolution image can then be created from the position of many thousands of molecules. This enables cell components that are situated very close to one another and cannot be resolved using conventional widefield fluorescence microscopy to be spatially separated and sharply reproduced in an image.

With GSDIM technology, Leica Microsystems is extending its lead as an innovative provider of super-resolution light microscopes and nanoscopes. “With this new widefield microscope system we are extending our super-resolution portfolio and allow even more scientists to benefit from our innovative technology and advance their research,” comments Anja Schué from Leica Microsystems. The current test phase of the microscope is important in this context, as optimal testing can only be done by active scientists like the members of the SFB 593, which is sponsored by the German Research Society. “Our research naturally derives great benefit from being able to work with a microscope like this one,” adds Professor Jacob.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Even today, 25 years after the reunification of Germany, relatively little is known about photographers who worked in the former East Germany.  One of those photographers is Klaus Ender.

Klaus Ender was born in Berlin in 1939.  In 1962 he moved to the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea and fell in love with it.  He was a passionate amateur photographer and was the only East German amateur who managed to publish in major journals such as Das Magazin (The Magazine) and Eulenspiegel and then turn his hobby into a profession. On 10 May 1966 he began his work as a freelance nude and landscape photographer. After only a few years he became one of the top East German photographers and published with more than 50 publishers. In 1972 he left Rügen, because of political pressures and moved to Potsdam.  



He became a commercial photographer and used his free time to pursue his artistic photography.  In 1981 he left the GDR and moved to Austria, where he started over again, penniless and at ground zero.  After only a few years, in 1989, he finally became known internationally.

Companies like Leica, Minox, Zeiss, Hama, B + W, Metz, among others used his photographs for their advertising.

It wasn’t until 1996 that he was able to return to the island of Rügen where he started his career and where he celebrated his 45th anniversary as a professional photographer.

Klaus Ender is one of the few East German photographers who also had an impressive international career.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014



Newer and more advanced production methods have resulted in a relatively large number of lenses with aspherical elements.  This has led to considerable advances in lens performance. The 50mm F/2 Apo Summicron ASPH is such a lens.  It approaches the limits of what is physically possible.  Performance wise, this lens is unsurpassed.

However, that isn’t to say that some of the older Leica lenses are suddenly outdated and undesirable.  As a matter of fact, we can go back almost 40 years and still find a lens that is possibly equal in performance to the current 50mm Summicron.

This lens is the 180mm f/3.4 Apo-Telyt-R.  It reached the market in 1975.  At that time it was no longer a secret that Leica had developed the lens for the US Navy as part of a high resolution 35mm camera system.

The system used Leicaflex SL2 cameras, the standard 35mm Summicron-R, a 75mm f/2 Elcan-R, a 180mm f/3.4 Elcan-R (later reincarnated as the Apo-Telyt-R), and a 450mm f/5.6 Elcan-R.  This system was used by the US Navy starting in the early 1970s.

Leica 180mm f/3.4 Apo-Telyt-R

One of the problems of lens design is accurate color correction and the Navy presented Leica with the problems of developing lenses that could focus more than just the visible spectrum accurately.

Even today, most of the photographic lenses have what is referred to as “primary color correction,” where only part of the visible spectrum is focused at any time.

The solution to the problem lay in the development of glasses with what are considered “anomalous” properties; the combination of high refracting indexes with low dispersion.

Such properties are found in artificially grown crystals; an example is the calcium fluoride elements made famous in the Canon FL series telephoto lenses.

But such crystals have a very large temperature coefficient, and elements made from them are both brittle and extremely soft.  The temperature related expansion of calcium fluoride elements is so great that most lenses made with them are subject to changes in focal length with temperature changes, and therefore have no proper infinity stop or distance markings.

The softness of the material also leads to design constraints.  For instance, the Canon 300mm FL lens has a thin, conventional glass element in front of the “front” calcium fluoride element, primarily for protective purposes.

Not an ideal situation.  Lenses made of these crystal elements demand extreme care to assure proper performance, and the military considered them incompatible with the kind of treatment they were likely to receive.

The glass research lab in Wetzlar set out to develop a glass that had the optical properties of crystals like calcium fluoride, but without the negative side effects.  They did indeed develop such a glass, today commonly referred to as “apo glass.”  It was/is used in a variety of Leica lenses, including the Apo-Telyt, the 800mm Telyt-R, and the Noctilux 50mm f/1.  Their designer, Dr. Walter Mandler, was the man whose genius brought us those lenses, but also the 35mm Summilux, and close to fifty other lenses for Leica cameras, in addition to lenses for RCA television cameras, IMAX projectors, and Picker X-ray equipment.


How good are the Elcan lenses, specifically the Apo Telyt 180mm f/3.4?  While most photographic lenses have a color correction from 400 to a maximum of 700 nanometers, the Leitz apo glass allows correction up to 900 nanometers.  In simple terms, this means that all colors of the visible spectrum and infrared are focused in a single plane.

The Apo-Telyt proved to be the best lens of the set, making it one of the very few lenses for 35mm cameras that do not require refocusing when used with infrared films or sensors.  For instance, when used with an adapter on the Leica M8, M9. M-E and M Monochrom and with an infrared filter, the lens can be focused normally and does not require any refocusing to compenmsate for the infrared focus shift

The US Navy conducted comparison tests with the 180mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R.  These demonstrate the effects of the apochromatic correction of the Apo-Telyt.  Both lenses were tested at f/3.4 with blue, yellow-green, red and infrared light.  The maximum focus shift of the Apo-Telyt was +/- 0.045mm.  The shift of the 180mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R (at f/3.40 was +/- 0.25mm.

In practical applications, such correction translated into fantastic sharpness.  Increased resolution is readily apparent, made possible by greatly increased contrast capabilities.

The Navy test showed that the Kodak 5069 film, developed in H&W 4.5 developer consistently achieved resolution figures of 600 lines per millimeter.  To make enlargements with this kind of detail required a specially modified Leitz Focomat II enlarger and lenses.

It is safe to say that regardless of manufacturer, the Leitz Apo-Telyt-R 180mm f/3.4 is still one of the very best lenses ever made for 35mm and digital photography.

For more information go to:


This article has a lot more information on the Apo-Telyt and the tests conducted by the US Navy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014



By Daniel Grotta-Kurska

Reprinted by permission from
Philadelphia Magazine
February 1974

Please Note:
Even though this article was published years ago, its basic message is as true today as it was then, and I thought it to be interesting reading even today.

 “You keep telling yourself that it’s only metal, glass and fabric, that the damn thing’s nothing more than a machine; a collection of gears, springs and ball bearings.  Your mind says that it’s only a camera, just like an Instamatic or Polaroid or a Brownie.  But then you take it into your hands, heft it up and down a few times to feel the balance, try out its flawless focusing, fire off a couple shots to hear its ultra-quiet shutter and it becomes an unmistakable instrument of perfection, a thing of beauty.  Then you know for a certainty that in this entire world there’s only one thing like a Leica, and that’s another Leica.”

A Leica is a Leica is a Leica, just like a Rolls-Royce is a Rolls-Royce and a Rolex is a Rolex and a Bang and Olufsen is a Bang and Olufsen.  The Leica is, without a doubt, the very finest 35mm camera in the world.  Leica is the ultimate of ultimates, the most coveted, sought after, and proudly possessed piece of photographic equipment anywhere.  Whether they admit it or not, inside every Minolta or Pentax or Nikon owner there’s a Leicaphile trying to get out.  Unfortunately the Leica system, being the best, also happens to be the most expensive.  This means that it is priced out of the reach of most serious and professional photographers, who have to make do with their Nikons and spin all sorts of rationalizations and justifications to explain to themselves and others why they didn’t really want a Leica in the first place.  This makes for a rather odd situation; whenever photographers get together, they usually talk about photography, but whenever Leica owners assemble, they inevitably talk about……Leicas.

 Leica owners belong to a select fraternity who share their status, style and elegance with each other and it doesn’t matter a twit whether they have the latest model or a 45-year-old Model A.  A Leica is a Leica is a Leica.  Well, not quite.  There are super select Leica purists who, for example refuse to acknowledge the existence of the CL model because it was assembled in – horrors! – Japan.  Still other Leicaphiles refuse to use the reflex models because they believe Leica should only make rangefinders, the M series cameras.

Leica Model A

Owning a Leica can be an infectious, incurable disease.  Since Leica owners are already at the top, the only upward mobility left to them is to own more Leicas.  Occasionally you’ll meet an elderly doctor or a distinguished lawyer who is perfectly content with his one camera and lens, but they are very much the exception.  Once you have the basic camera, the next step is to possess the entire current camera system.  At current (1974) market prices, a system can easily cost $10,000 and up.

After the current system, the really hard-core Leicaphiles inevitably start collecting systems.  Over the years, Ernst Leitz, the firm that makes Leicas, has produced so many different models, lenses and accessories that even it isn’t sure where it all ends.  But according to its records, in the 50 years that it has been marketing 35mm cameras, it has produced a grand total of 1.3 million Leicas (1974), or an average of 27,000 cameras per year.  That means that, in addition to being very expensive, used Leicas also happen to be relatively rare these days.

Leica owners might seem to be a trifle eccentric, but Leica collectors come across as out-and-out high class cranks.  They’re an ultra-secretive, paranoid lot who are afraid of fire, theft, and Acts of God.  One center city lawyer prizes his Leica collection so much that he keeps it all in two bank vaults, in two different buildings.  Another Main Line collector declines to reveal where his collection is squirreled away, but admits that he wouldn’t dare keep it in anything as unsafe and uncertain as his……home.

This type of behavior isn’t at all unusual; most Leica collections, in fact, rarely see the light of day.  Since the only person who could possibly appreciate the mystique and beauty of a bunch of cameras is another collector.  Leica collections are almost never displayed at home or publicly exhibited.  In a way, the Leica collector is like the millionaire art enthusiast who recruits brigands to loot the world’s finest museums of their masterpieces and then build a secret room in his mansion just to privately gloat over the paintings from time to time.

Every collector whom I encountered while writing this article made me promise that I wouldn’t reveal his name, address, or anything else that could remotely identify him.  Two of them were so uptight that they actually had me sign legally binding documents prepared by their respective attorneys swearing me to anonymity.  And still another collector refused to give me his name and would only speak over the telephone.  Incidentally there are ten serious and 250 occasional collectors in Philadelphia, but within a few days time, most of them knew that I was writing an article for the Philadelphia Magazine.  They have a very efficient grapevine.

No Leica collector starts with the idea of becoming a collector; it just sort of happens that way.  “You get hold of your first Leica and start using the thing and then you want accessories.  Then you happen to see an old Leica somewhere and buy it because it looks so good.  Somehow you never seem to get rid of equipment and it just keeps accumulating.  Then one day, you take out everything, look at it and ask yourself, “Good grief! Where did it all come from?”  From that day you are a Leica collector.”

Through the years, Ernst Leitz has produced (manufactured is a misnomer, since almost everything is virtually handmade) an incredible variety of lenses and accessories for its many camera models.  Some collectors want to own at least one of everything Leitz has ever made, while others concentrate and specialize.  The center city lawyer, for example, has a relatively small collection (30 camera bodies and approximately 60 lenses), but has four ultra-rare Model B cameras.  A teenage collector with little money to spend concentrates his efforts in finding small accessories, such as optional finders, lens hoods and filters.  Other collectors pass up the cameras in favor of lenses or instruction booklets, or Leica technical manuals, or old advertisements.  And if that isn’t enough, still other collectors haunt camera stores to track down the original red boxes which once held Leica cameras and accessories.  Nothing Leitz ever produced or printed is without value.

Some Leica items have stories to go with them.  Many Leitz lenses, for example were designed by Professor Dr. Max Berek.  Like a comet discoverer, he who designs new lens formulas gets to name them.  Berek decided to immortalize his two favorite dogs, Hector and Rex, with the Hector and Summarex series lenses.  Incidentally, one of Berek’s classics is a lens that was designed back in 1926 and was so outstanding that it is still produced by Leitz.

Leitz Summarex 85mm f/1.5 on Leica IIIg

A recent classic is the M4 camera which was only produced between 1967 and 1971.  It is perhaps the most rugged and reliable piece of machinery ever built on God’s green earth.  One (true) story is that the Leitz people once put the M4 through an endurance test to see how long the shutter would continue to work before breaking down.  To do this, they rigged the camera to a machine that did nothing but mechanically cock and shoot the shutter, once a second, day and night.  The machine broke down long before the M4 did.  Another true tale concerns the M4 that was accidentally dropped 2,000 feet from an airplane.  The photographer eventually retrieved it, dusted it off and continued to use it as if nothing had happened.

Leica M4

More important than classics to collectors are the rarities, or those models which had very limited production runs.  One such camera was the Luxus Leica, a blatantly ultra-luxurious model for people rich enough and silly enough to buy it.  The Luxus was available in red, green blue or brown leather.  Even snakeskin.  And believe it or not, even gold plated.  Less than 100 were made in 1929 and it rates as one of the rarest Leicas.  Another model is the Leica 72, a half frame prototype.  Then there is the Leica Gun telephoto camera, of which only a few were made.  Other desirable models include the 250-exposure Leica FF, a special gray model IIIc used by the Luftwaffe, a 90mm screw mount Summicron lens manufactured in Germany (all other Summicrons, heaven forbid, are made in Canada), and a IIIc with a self-timer.  Every collector is also aware of persistent, unsubstantiated rumors that Leitz secretly produced cameras in South America during World War II, but so far, nothing has turned up to confirm that.

Leica Luxus

Leica 72

Leica Gun

Leica 250 with electric motor

Leica collectors are the first to cheerfully admit that they are probably crazy.  “Being unmarried is almost a prerequisite for serious collecting,” says one bachelor collector who has spent over $35,000 in the past 20 years on Leicas.  “I don’t know of any wife in her right mind who would put up with this kind of insanity.  A Leica collector needs two essential things: an understanding family and a big bank account.”

Their insanity is manifested in many different ways.  One collector with 30 cameras, for example, shoots less than 20 rolls of film each year.  Another visits the bank vault three or four times a year, unwraps his collection, fires each shutter off a few times and then wraps them back up in Wonder Bread plastic bags.

There is a strong competitive streak among Leica collectors that has to be seen to be believed.  It is perhaps the ultimate in one-upmanship.  One might have a rim-set Model B, but the other would gloat over his slightly rarer dial-set Model B.  Or one might have three Model A cameras, but the other might have one with a lower serial number.  And then there is the variation of “I paid $2,000 for mine,” only to be topped by another who proudly announces “I got it for only $35.”

Leica collectors constantly haunt camera shops, watch newspaper ads, attend estate auctions and ask their friends if the know anybody that might have Leica hardware.  The serious collectors eventually join the American Leica Historical Society which is only one of many Leica clubs around the world.  The society exists primarily for collectors who want to buy or trade equipment.  They have even managed to coin a word for their mania – Leicacunabula.  Incidentally, most of the ads in the LHSA publication Leicalog have box numbers instead of names and addresses.

A two day Leica factory technical seminar at the Bellevue Stratford in Philadelphia drew about 150 people, but as usually happens at these affairs; practically all those present were less interested in the technical lectures than comparing their Leicas.  The overwhelming majority of students were successful, conservatively dressed, middle aged men, although there were a few wives and one or two teenagers.  It seemed that most of the men suffered through lectures and slide shows, waiting for the coffee breaks in order to really come alive.  I learned some very interesting things through those breaks.

-The largest private Leica collection in the world is, ironically enough, owned by a Japanese rubber tycoon named Kenijiro Nakamura.  But the third largest collection is right here in America, in Miami, owned by – sorry, no names please.

-The 2 M4 bodies I had to sell for $150 each in 1971 in order to pay the rent now go for $600 each.

-Leica equipment has no depreciation.  Virtually every model and lens made is worth as much or more than it cost originally.

-Old Leicas make damn fine investments.  For example, in 1963 a 105mm Alpine lens could be had for $35, but you can’t touch one today for less than $600.  Five years ago a Leica IIIc with lens cost $49, but now the body alone goes for $125.  And a model B which originally sold for less than $100 was bought by a Montgomery County collector for $2,900 in December and one went for a reported $4,000 in Japan a week earlier.

-Some insurance companies, such as Liberty Mutual, now offer low cost fine art insurance for old Leicas, just as if they were oil paintings by old masters.

-In the past three years, old Leicas have appreciated in value by an average of 300%.

-Leica has, through the years, spawned a lot of imitators such as Canon, Nicca, Tower, Zorki, Ixa, Yashica and others.  Some of them have been identical carbon copies.  Enterprising but dishonest mechanics now have a brisk trade modifying them and selling the counterfeit Leicas as ostensible rare models.

“The market took off like a rocket about three years ago,” says one serious collector.  “Why, I’m not certain, but it could be nostalgia for all things old, or that indefinable mystique about Leica’s legendary quality.”

“My wife hates cameras,” says one local dentist, “but she likes Leicas as investments.  She thinks they are a hell of a lot better than the stock market.”

But why do people collect Leicas and why are they now considered to be valuable works of art?  “They have the feeling of perfection,” surmises the lawyer.  “In an age where everything is breaking down, it is reassuring to take a 50 year old camera and have everything work as perfectly as the day it was built.”

If Leica collectors are crazy, then maybe they are crazy like foxes.