Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Macfilos and the Future: A letter from a reader

Macfilos and the Future: A letter from a reader

  Raymond Pigneron, French Leica user and collector epitomises the ethos behind the Leica brand.  © jmse
Raymond Pigneron, French Leica user and collector epitomises the ethos behind the Leica brand. © jmse

José Manuel Serrano Esparza is a passionate lover of photography and researcher on photographic history, cameras and lenses from different brands, both in the analogue and digital scopes. He is also a regular reader of Macfilos and saw my article, last week, in which I set out my thoughts on the future direction of the blog following the exciting announcement of the formation of the L-Mount Alliance. 

This article has produced the largest number of comments I can ever remember. I am exceptionally grateful for the sage advice and the tremendous warmth that has been shown by readers. Many we don’t hear from often, but I am so happy that they are out there reading every day. I am also grateful that two of our Australian contributors, John Shingleton and Wayne Gerlach, rallied round to provide excellent articles on Thursday and Friday last week while I haven’t been feeling well and trying to cope with the pressure of the Leica event. 

But back to José Manuel. He wrote the most touching letter which has boosted my confidence no end and I felt readers would like to see it. It is remarkable, not just for the sentiments which, I think, sum up the views of many other readers, but for his tremendous insight into the world of Leica. I learned a few things from this letter and it will be a point of reference for the future:

“Dear Mike Evans:

“I was delighted that you went to the LHSA Annual Meeting in Wetzlar and met the geniuses of the brand. I do believe that you are beginning to reach a kind of Leica excitement, a climax of emotions embodied by this brand throughout its history.

“What these people of Leica have done in the last twelve years, making a flawless transition from analogue to digital photography has been something truly impressive. Especially so, bearing in mind that often the Japanese don’t need to sleep and also have their geniuses!

  Peter Karbe with Macfilos editor Mike Evans at the Leitz Park
Peter Karbe with Macfilos editor Mike Evans at the Leitz Park

But in my humble opinion, the most important thing is that all those world-class Leica pundits such as Peter Karbe, Jesko von Oeynhausen, Stefan Daniel, Stefan Schultz and others, under the helm of Andreas Kaufmann (a visionary man who saved Leica from bankruptcy and had the insight and entrepreneurial talent of understanding the immense cultural and photographic legacy of Leica as a photographic brand, the value of the emotions and handcrafted items, and the necessity to turn it into a digital company), working as a team, have been able to place Leica now at the forefront of digital photography, to such an extent that there is currently a slew of different lines of top-notch different digital cameras, both in 24 x 36 mm format, APS-C format and medium format (the Leica M10, Leica M10-P with the most silent shutter ever made, the Leica SL, the Leica S3, the Leica T2, the Leica CL and the Leica Q).

“Peter Karbe is, in my humble opinion, the best optical designer in history, ranking alongside Max Berek, Erhard Glatzel, Ludwig Bertele and Walter Mandler.

“But above all, he is a very unassuming person, very kind and always adapts his talk to the level of the audience. He could speak for hours and hours, not only about different optical designs but also on photography, because he is also a good and passionate photographer.

“Stefan Daniel was already able to assemble and disassemble analogue Leica M cameras during the eighties, particularly during his period in Paris, and is probably the most knowledgeable pundit on Leica rangefinder cameras on earth, along with Günther Osterloh.

  Jesko von Oeynhausen  © jmse
Jesko von Oeynhausen © jmse

“Jesko von Oeynhausen is the mastermind behind the digital 24 x 36 mm Leica M cameras and is a world-class expert on electronic photography and images, aside from being a consummate expert on creating specific sensor architectures for digital Leica M cameras.

“He had to sweat very much until he was able to create the Leica M9, the first digital 24×36 mm format Leica M ever made, something that was a real tour de force, in the same way as the Leica Monochrom, the Leica M10 and the Leica M10-P, of which he was also the product manager.

  The history is fascinating, from Barnack’s iconic shot in the Eisenmarkt, Wetzlar, in 1913 to the latest M10-P. This Leica III was produced 1936  © jmse
The history is fascinating, from Barnack’s iconic shot in the Eisenmarkt, Wetzlar, in 1913 to the latest M10-P. This Leica III was produced 1936 © jmse

“And Stephan Schultz has been the driving force behind the Leica S2 digital medium format camera since 2008, a fascinating project that has recently resulted in the 64-megapixel Leica S3.

“There have also been two very important women in establishing the place Leica enjoys now as one of the leading firms in the digital photographic industry: Sigrun Kammans and Maike Harberts.

“Sigrun Kammans, a foremost engineer and the reference-class authority regarding mechanic areas of legendary Leica lenses along with André de Winter, was a member of the Optical Design Department of Leica Camera AG made up by Lothar Kölsch, Horst Schröder, Sigrun Kammans and Peter Karbe, who became the world spearhead in know-how about aspherical technology during nineties.

  Maike Harberts, Product Manager of APS-C System Leica cameras.  © jmse
Maike Harberts, Product Manager of APS-C System Leica cameras. © jmse

“Sigrun Kammans, creator of the famous Vario-Apo-Elmarit-R 70-180 mm f/2.8, is currently engineer at the Leica Sports Optics and has been, together with Michael Hartmann, the mastermind behind many of the stunning Leica binoculars, the  international benchmark in this scope, with landmark devices such as the Leica Noctivid, on the brink of getting utter colour neutrality.

“In addition, she was along with Dietmar Stuible (a very young and exceedingly talented optical designer) the creator of Leica SL lenses (the best ones ever made for 24 x 36 mm format), under the overall supervision of Peter Karbe.

“In her turn, Maike Harberts has been product manager of such APS-C format gorgeous cameras as the Leica T, Leica TL2, Leica CL and others. The timeless beauty of lines and design of the photographic tools created by her have been granted some major international awards. And her labour has been wisely complimented by Peter Kruchewski, product manager of the Leica Q and Leica compact cameras line.

  Lars Netopil checking a screwmount Leica camera from thirties  © jmse
Lars Netopil checking a screwmount Leica camera from thirties © jmse
  James Lager, Past President of the Leica Historical Society of America, and the greatest expert on Leica History ever, along with Theo Kisselbach and Lars Netopil. His legendary three-volume “Leica: An Illustrated History” is the work in its scope and the fruit of a lifetime devoted  t o the study of the German photographic firm. © jmse
James Lager, Past President of the Leica Historical Society of America, and the greatest expert on Leica History ever, along with Theo Kisselbach and Lars Netopil. His legendary three-volume “Leica: An Illustrated History” is the work in its scope and the fruit of a lifetime devoted t o the study of the German photographic firm. © jmse

“The hugely talented David Farkas, CEO of Leica Store Miami, has also been decisive over the years with his in-depth articles on Leica M, APS-C, medium format S2 and SL Mount cameras and lenses which have appeared both online and in top-notch magazines like LFI International, Viewfinder and so forth.

But as Beethoven said once, 99% of a genius is work and David has developed a commendable and indefatigable labour to internationally underline the second-to-none opto-mechanical quality of Leica photographic products, as well as fighting tooth and nail to make year after year from Photokina Köln articles on new Leica products in real time, with a tremendous level of effort.

“Without forgetting of course the seminal work made by Peter Coeln with Leica Shop Vienna and Westlicht Photographica Auctions and Sean Cranor (CEO of Leica Store San Francisco and Camera West).

“And last but not least, there have been two great parallel editorial efforts, embodied by Leica Fotografie International (with world-class experts like Holgen Sparr, Michael J. Hubmann and many others) and Viewfinder (the photographic magazine of the Leica Historical Society of America), with editor Bill Rosauer at the helm.

“All of them and many others, including Georg Mann, Don Goldberg, Sherry Krauter, Malcolm Taylor, Gerard Wiener, Ottmar Michaely, Walter Baumgartner, Gus Lazzari, Dieter Paepke and Claus-Werner Reinhardt, have been the keepers of the Leica flame, particularly in the hard times.

“But with all respect, Mike, you must know that there is no antidote against the Leica passion, its history, its legend. A high percentage of the best pictures ever made were created with Leica cameras.

  Nick Ut posing with a photograph of Oskar Barnack’s children, Conrad and Joanna, taken with the Ur Leica in 1914 in Wetzlar.  © jmse
Nick Ut posing with a photograph of Oskar Barnack’s children, Conrad and Joanna, taken with the Ur Leica in 1914 in Wetzlar. © jmse

“They were taken by photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour Chim, Elliott Erwitt, Nick Ut, Marc Riboud, Thomas Hoepker, René Burri, Inge Morath. The list would be immense.

“I am delighted that by dint of strenuous effort and passion throughout the past ten years you have managed to consolidate Macfilos into an excellent photographic site with a very comprehensive and interesting assortment of readers, a high percentage of whom exhibit great knowledge and experience.

“They do appreciate you, admire your humbleness and your steady, hard work. And, besides, they have the insight to grasp how difficult it was, in the beginning, to create a photographic site like this for a man working alone, unlike many photography sites that have a more extensive staff.

  Leica M3 coupled with the f/1.4 50mm Summilux-M ASPH designed by Peter Karbe.  © jmse
Leica M3 coupled with the f/1.4 50mm Summilux-M ASPH designed by Peter Karbe. © jmse

“You know that I am not flattering. I have read your blog for years and know some of the people who comment. What you have done is very praiseworthy, because I do believe that there had to be moments of great loneliness, but your toil has paid off.

“I do believe that now you have Leica inside your heart, and I am sure that your recent stay at the Leitz Parkin Wetzlar has meant a turning point in your life, the full-fledged conviction that your efforts since 2008 have been worthwhile. Have no doubt; it has indeed paid off.

  A typical Leitzianer with his new silver Leica CL  © jmse
A typical Leitzianer with his new silver Leica CL © jmse

“I could feel this when I saw your picture with Peter Karbe. Your emotion is very apparent. And I also deem as a good bonus the fact that your photographic blog also covers excellent cameras and lenses in different formats made by other brands like Panasonic (with extraordinary cameras like the Panasonic G9 Micro FourThirds mirrorless EVF, designed for wildlife and sports photography and able to shoot up to 20 fps in raw mode), the superb Sony A7RIII mirrorless full frame EVF 24 x 36 mm format, the Fuji X-Pro 2 APS-C format, the Fuji XT-2 and XT-3 APS-C format, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds, the Ricoh G2 and others.

“Well, Mike, I beg your pardon for this long email. It was only to give you my support as a humble lover of photography, in your adventure that you began ten years ago and that I do wish lasts many more years.

“Thank you, Mike, for the great memories.”

Yours sincerely,

José Manuel Serrano Esparza


Here are some articles on photographic history, cameras and lenses written by José Manuel Serrano Esparza:

The Olympus Standard prototype

On Nikon and Grays of Westminster

On the Zenit-M

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  1. Thanks Jose Manuel. My own Wetzlar article is ‘in the oven’, having been held up by a subsequent trip to Heidelberg, an Atlantic storm, a 9 hour power blackout etc, etc. Your email captures very well the enthusiasm for Leica (which is more than just a brand) shown at the LHSA event. This extends not only to Leica enthusiasts, but to all Leica staff from the top down. Also outside experts such as Jim Lager and Lars Netopil have been instrumental in spreading the ‘Leica gospel’. Both of them have been extremely helpful to me in my collecting activities. Leica will always be associated with its history and it is good to see that Dr Kaufmann is now investing in expanding the Archives and Museum in Wetzlar.

    You are right too about Macfilos, which has a unique style among modern photo blogs with its great sense of humour and proportion, which are often missing on techno blogs. Mike, I hope you have found time to recover from your recent activities.


  2. Thank you, William Fagan, for your kind words towards my humble letter. I do believe that Michael Evans overestimates me, but anyway, I´m sure that you will make a great article on the recent Wetzlar Anual Meeting.

    Yes, the work done by all the Leica people that you mention has been tremendous, against all odds, because Leica is a relatively small firm still doing things mainly through handcrafted parameters, with very exacting quality controls unit by unit, and with a unique firm philosohphy in which every member of the company from the top brass to eacjh individual workers are considered to be part of a family, something that has greatly been preserved since the beginning of the firm, with unforgettable episodes like Dr. Elsie Kühn-Leitz, who during fifties and sixties sent hundreds of letters to Leitz employees at Christmas, with presents inside, to express them the Leitz family gratitude for their work.

    That´s why when I read your superb article A Tale of Two Leicas one year ago, I felt very happy, to such an extent that the appearance of that Leica I Model A from 1926 with its Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 became a riveting sight that enraptured me, almost on a par with the vision last August of John Singleton´s silver 911T from 1971, an authentic driving experienced in itself, in the same way as listening to the 469 hp engine of an Alois Ruf Twin-Turbo Porsche from late eighties.

    I also liked very much the pictures of your trip to Greece in 2014, made with a Leica M240 and three lenses, and your extensive article on the analogue Leica CL in macfilos last March.

    I would have gladly offered a bribery to open that plastic bag unopened for forty years and with the brand new Leica CL inside.

    jose manuel serrano esparza

  3. What a superb encyclopaedic letter to receive, Mike! Thank you for passing it on to the rest of us and enabling us to enter a world which we otherwise only know through the enjoyment of its products. Thanks, too, for your sharing your vision for the future of macfilos (which my computer insists on correcting to "mayflies"!) and for the almost daily pleasure of opening the page.
    John Nicholson.

  4. Dear John Nicholson :

    I do sincerely appreciate your words, but my letter can´t be encyclopedic, because to all intents and purposes I´m a passionate lover of photography, cameras and lenses, and obviously not an authority in anything

    Encyclopedic are the people mentioned in the letter that made the amazing and historical feat of fulfilling a flawless analog to digital transition with Leica until placing him in the position it is now, among the cream of the crop of leading firms of the digital industry, with an impressive lineup of top-notch cameras with three different formats (24 x 36 mm, APS-C and medium format) and the best lenses in the world.

    This is particularly praiseworthy and truly a historical landmark, bearing in mind that the wherewithal of Leica as a relatively small brand is far from the huge available cash-flow of great multinational firms like Sony, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, etc.

    All of it was made by Leica with typical German thoroughness, love for the brand and a comradeship spirit also epitomized by other encyclopedias in their respective fields like Steffan Skopp (Product Manager of Leica SL System), Heiko Schnaubelt (electronic development of the SL camera), Simon Jennemann (industrial designer of the SL camera) and others.

    Encyclopedic is the Mechanikermeister Ottmar Michaelly, with his incredible knowledge and workshop following Oscar Barnack´s keynotes and hundreds of different screwdrivers and a myriad of specific tools to repair all kind of analogue Leica cameras, both screwmount and M ones, bringing them back to life, as well as being the pundit often doing the expertise of Westlicht Photographica Auction Vienna regarding very valuable and historical Leica analogue cameras sold there twice a year, as happened on November 24, 2012 with a gorgeous Leica 1 Model A number 195 coupled to a Leitz Anastigmat 50 mm f/3.5 and a Leica M3 700 001 few years ago.

    And many more.

    Therefore, I don´t belong and will never be part of the club of experts or encyclopedic pundits, neither regarding Leica nor other brands or subjects.

    My only intention has been to help as much as I can, according to my humble possibilities, to Mike and this very special photographic blog oozing good taste, independence, love for photography, and made by only one man with a huge and unswerving daily effort throughout ten years, since he began in 2008, along with the daily effort of many people often taking part in macfilos and that unlike me have been decisive hitherto in the remarkable growing development and interest of macfilos.

  5. When I was reviewing cameras for the UK’s “Practical Photography” magazine at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, a Minolta CLE arrived for review.

    I’d never bothered much with Leicas – whether rangefinder or SLR – as they generally didn’t seem really relevant to photography in that era of – overwhelmingly – Japanese SLRs, newly capable zooms, and long-lens pictures.

    The daft thing about the CLE – even though it was an improvement on the noisy-though-small, manual-only CL which Minolta had made for Leitz – was that when you put a 40mm lens on it, you saw in the finder the view seen by a 28mm lens. And when you put a 90mm lens on it ..you saw, again, in the finder the view seen by a 28mm lens.

    Leica apologists would say “Ah, that gives you a view outside and beyond the framelines of those lenses, so that you can see what’s about to enter the picture!” ..except that it, obviously, wasn’t true for the 28mm lens. And, in any case, if you want to see what’s outside the frame – and with any camera – just open the other eye.

    I was invited to Wetzlar, and to Luton, where the UK Leica distributors then operated, to learn all about the upcoming Leica R4 ..though my review described it, I think, as a cumbersome dinosaur (..or words to that effect..) as it was just so heavy, so slow to use, and so un-innovative, compared with, say, the small, fast, svelte Olympus OM-2 and its huge range of small, lightweight lenses.

    I’ve felt so often that Leicas just wear the Emperor’s New Clothes ..there’s nothing special about them, and they’re usually way behind the times; they’re just living on old reputations from back in the thirties, forties and fifties. (Just think: the automatic-shutter M7 didn’t appear until 22 years after the auto-shutter compact CLE – and until 26 years – over a quarter of a century – after the auto-shutter OM-2.)

    “But so many of the world’s most famous photographs were taken with a Leica!” the story goes.

    Sports photographs? ..Er, no; as the ancient back-to-front focusing system of Leica rangefinders gets increasingly inaccurate the longer the lens, although increasingly more accurate with wide-angle lenses which don’t need such accuracy, as they have inherently more depth-of-field!

    Fashion photos? ..Er, no; as chaps like Norman Parkinson used larger-format 6x6cm cameras for real sharpness in glossy magazines, and many others – like Erwin Blumenfeld – used 10×8” monsters.

    Well, what then? Snaps, is the answer. Quickly grabbed photos outdoors in the street, or in war, or where photos were taken clandestinely, like Bert Hardy’s collaged picture of our own dear Queen at the Paris Opera (..though his Wikipedia page shows him holding a Contax!)

    So who made Leicas famous? Part-time hobby photographers with lots of spare money, like Paul Wolff (outdoor snapshots), then David Douglas Duncan ..though with Nikkor lenses (war), Garry Winogrand (street grabs), Henri Cartier-Bresson (street and outdoor), Monsieur Lartigue (everyday life outdoors), Jim Marshall (quick grabs of rock stars), Alfred Eisenstadt (outdoor news photos), Nick Ut (war), Alberto Korda (that Guevara photo, war).

    Portraits? Well, Mr Punch-The-Flash-In-Your-Face! Bruce Gilden ..but would you really want your portrait taken by Bruce Gilden? ..Who else? Er, self-portrait? Ilse Bing (but she’s more of the “Part-time hobby photographers with plenty of spare money” clique).

    So what kind of photos are in Leica’s own “100 years of Leica photography” travelling exhibition? Mainly grab shots. I’ve got the book somewhere her, and the only ‘portrait’ I really remember is the one of Muhammad Ai with his fist about to punch the lens.

    I do like Leicas for their engineering – the camera bodies and the lenses – but I also like Olympus cameras and lenses, and Nikon cameras and lenses, Ricoh and Sony cameras and lenses.

    Is there anything really special, then, about Leicas? No. They’re made in a small factory, primarily in Portugal ..just as ‘essential German’ Porsche Cayennes are made in Hungary, and many Leicas, over the years, were designed and made not in the magical fairy-tale town of Wetzlar, but in plain old ordinary Ontario, Canada.

    I honestly don’t understand the fixation with Leicas. I think it must be the price. People often need to justify paying a high price for, say, a particular pair of socks, or a shirt, or a dress (“It’s a Dior!” or “It’s a McQueen!”) and so imbue the purchase with some kind of mystical, mysterious, out-of-the-ordinary quality. (“It was worn by Audrey Hepburn!”)

    But does anyone give half a bowl of soup about which lenses – or which cameras – were used to shoot “Casablanca”, or “Midnight Express”, or “On the Waterfront”? ..No; it’s the CONTENT of the picture that’s important, whether it’s “Casablanca”, or “Midnight Express”, or “On the Waterfront”, or a sailor and a nurse kissing in Times Square, or Stravinsky sitting at a piano, or a Migrant Mother, or Muhammad Ali, or a plump man jumping a puddle.

    The (old) CL, and the electronics in the M5, were made by Minolta. The small pocket ‘Leicas’ are made by Panasonic. The earliest Leica digital camera was made by Fujifilm. The electronics in the R4 were made by Ferranti. The electronics in the M8 and M9 were designed by Jenoptik. The glass in the lenses is made by Hoya, and once upon a time by Chance Brothers in England. A ‘Leica’ is just an assemblage of bits designed and made by a variety of different companies, with one badge or name on the front, or the top.

    People are in love with the label. But find me a small, quiet, auto-focus, auto-exposure, palm-sized, great lens, long-battery-life camera with a built-in zoom, and I’ll take that any day – every day – over a large, unnecessarily heavy, one-focal-length-at-a-time, clumsily interchangeable, over-priced, over-hyped, lusted-after, luxury brand with a wide-angle finder which won’t show what the lens sees.

    I find it incredible that anyone, in 2018, buys a ’new’ camera which was designed 66 years ago. Though I did ..I couldn’t resist.

    • Ah, David, them’s fighting words! But it’s a well-reasoned and compelling response. There is room for all views and I’m certainly not blind to other marques as you know. Stand by for blasting…..

    • David , I don’t want to sound like a pedant but after that outpouring I thought that I should put the record straight and be one-the Porsche Cayenne is made in Bratislava, Slovakia. Not Hungary.

  6. And yes, I have often thought of selling my entire Leica inventory, some inherited from my ethnographer father-in-law who took (not snapped) pictures all over the world recoding lives and states of being in post-colonial and war-torn countries (with an M3, an R4 and later an R7), and some accumulated over years. And in the digital era I often trade up or down depending on the fluctuating value of things. But I have never been able to relinquish – not the "look", nor the red dot – but the sheer simplicity of handling their well-made bodies which don’t fall apart, and their menus that don’t require re-setting after six pages of finger dithering in the rain, and their ease of handling. I have tried Sony, Ricoh, Olympus (indeed for some years the Pen-F was my favorite walk-around for snapping at night; but I have always come back to my sense of calmness and security with Leica’s – no matter where they are made. So be it – but I do indeed appreciate your sentiments – and have many times felt them myself. Even last week. But then I pardoned my gear and put it on probation yet again.

  7. What a beautiful letter and wonderful comments, that is why Mike, your MACFILOS is such a heartfelt labor of love that we all get to enjoy! Damn now I got to figure out which Leica to add Tl2 , Q or another X1!

  8. Dear David Babsky :

    With all respect, I don´t see what you call " Leica fixation anywhere " . As a matter of fact, macfilos is a photographic blog devoted not only to Leica gear, but also to cameras and lenses from other brands like Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Fuji, etc.
    Regading me, I´m interested not only in Leica cameras and lenses, but also in some extraordinary digital cameras like the 20.3 megapixel Panasonic G9 ( a great camera optimized for wildlife photography shooting handheld), the 42.4 megapixel Sony A7RIII (which delivers a superb image quality and features a top-notch sensor), the Fuji X.Pro 2, Fuji XT-2 and XT-3, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, or in the analogue domain such flagships like the Canon T-90, Mamiya 7 I and II, 4 x 5 " large format Ebonies, Nikon F2, Olympus OM-1, Pentax 645, etc.

    On the other hand, with all respect, I do believe that a significant percentage of your points don´t make any sense.

    Though I don´t agree 100% with your statement that Leicas generally didn´t seem really relevant to photography during late seventies and early eighties, I do believe you´re greatly right specifically regarding those years, because evidently Japanese SLR cameras of that time were overwhelmingly dominating the photographic market with masterpieces like the Olympus OM-1, Olympus OM-2, Canon F-1 and F1n, Canon New F-1, Nikon F2, Pentax LX which were clearly superior to the Leica R4, to name only an example.

    Anyway, to my humble understanding, some of the comparisons that you have made are not fair, for reasons that I will explain later.

    It is important to remember that while enduring, the German photographic industry had previously reigned supreme even until approximately mid sixties in terms of absolute quality and optomechanical performance of its cameras, with such masterpieces like the Contarex Bullseye, a camera built according to the highest technical standards available in the world and a second to none mechanical construction, in addition to its formidable lineup of lenses like the Carl Zeiss Biogon 21 mm f/4, Carl Zeiss Planar 50 mm f/2, the Carl Zeiss Distagon 35 mm f/4, the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 85 mm f/2, the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 135 mm f/4, the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 250 mm f/4, Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 40-120 mm f/2.8 and others.

    These wonderful lenses for the Contarex Bullseye featured impressive focusing helicoids with an accuracy and smoothness that were unsurpassed on earth until the appearance of some mechanical designs fulfilled by Andre de Winter for Leica M and R lenses during nineties.

    And besides, those Carl Zeiss lenses for the Contarex Bullseye had an impressive finish in satin chrome on their barrels.
    It was something virtually unbeatable for the time.

    But the Nikon F was too good and for a much cheaper price than the best German cameras of the time and became the turning point which definitely marked the tremendous Japanese dominance in the field of reflex cameras.

    The Nikon F was fruit of painstaking planning, anticipation and getting everything right from scratch, which resulted in a reference-class photographic system in terms of ruggedness, reliability of impeccable operation, durability, versatility and sheer optical and mechanical quality of a huge and steadily expanding range of lenses and accessories.

    Already from mid sixties, the main German photographic brands manufacturing extraordinary reflex cameras and lenses like the different Contarex models and others, but with a very high production cost, suffered from serious financial difficulties, because it was exceedingly difficult to compete against the formidable price/quality ratio offered by the Japanese manufacturers of 24 x 36 mm reflex cameras and lenses.

    The Nikon F managed to win the battle against the German Contarex Bullseye, which was the best engineered and highest quality 24 x 36 mm slr camera in early sixties, though extremely complex, very large and heavy and with an exceedingly high production cost.

    The Japanese firm prevailed with the Nikon F giving news and magazine photographers using 24 x 36 mm format what they wanted : speed, style, simplicity, versatility, reliability, ruggedness, a slew of top-notch lenses, much smaller size and weight and a lower price than the extraordinary camera made in Stuttgart, with the added bonus (unlike the Contarex Bullseye ) of many interchangeable viewfinders and focusing screens, so a photographer could set up one Nikon F camera for wideangle focusing and a second one for a telephoto lens, working with both of them.

    Regarding Leica, in my humble opinion, the Leicaflex SL was a great camera, but it was born with a lot of delay with respect to the Japanese brands manufacturing reflex cameras, which had planned their slr onslaught over the world photographic industry from late fifties, particularly Nikon, which had made extensive research on some models of its superb Nikon SP rangefinder camera from 1957 (the best rangefinder camera ever made along with the Leica M3, thanks to its from 1957 with its two finders, one with 1x magnification for 50, 85, 105 and 135 mm lenses and a further one featuring 0.4 x magnification for 28 mm and 35 mm lenses, as well as sporting and effective rangefinder base length of 58 mm) to which he added a number of pentaprisms until creating the definitive Nikon F, strongly based on the body of the mythical Nikon SP rangefinder made by Nippon Kogaku.

    To overcome that delay of approximately seven years was an almost impossible task to tackle, because until 1964, five years after the launching into market of the Nikon F, Leitz kept on making only 24 x 36 mm rangefinder cameras, so though Leitz and specially the great Georg Mann made a commendable engineering effort, it was impossible for the German photoraphic industry to compete agiants the Japanese one in the sphere of reflex cameras, not only during sixties, seventies and eighties, but even more in nineties when the Japanese lenses featured autofocus and the German Leica R lenses (though a high percentage of them were the best in the world) were manual focusing ones.

    That´s why the strenuous efforts made by Walter Mandler with such extraordinary lenses like the Apo-Telyt R 180 mm f/3.4 (1975-1998), Summicron-R 90 mm f/2 (1970-2000), the fabulous Elmarit-R 19 mm f/2.8 second version (1990-2009), the Summilux-R 80 mm f/1.4 (1980-2009) along with a lot of other wonderful reference-class Leica R manual focusing lenses created by Leica from mid eighties onwards like the Apo-Macro-Elmarit-R 100 mm f/2.8 (1987-2009), Apo-Summicron-M 180 mm f/2 (1994-2009), the diffraction limited Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4 (1993-2009) which even today beats the Canon EF 300 mm f/2.8L II and the Zeiss Tele-Apotessar 300 mm f/2.8, the extraordinary Leica Vario-Elmarit-R 28-90 mm f/2.8-4.5 ASPH zoom lens (2004-2009) and others, albeit being the best lenses in the world for reflex cameras (as a matter of fact they´re still coveted for both coupling them to photographic camras and as videography lenses), weren´t enough to compete against the better and cheaper Japanese reflex camera and the autofocus featured by the lenses coupled to them.

    With all respect, coming back to your statement in the second paragraph of your post where you say that

    " whether rangefinder or SLR Leica cameras didn´t seem really relevant to photography in that era of overwhelmingly japanese SLR, newly capable zooms and long lens pictures ",

    I do believe that though being true in terms of sheer massive presence, the comparison is not fair, because precisely at the end of seventies and beginning of eighties, Leica was fighting to survive after the M rangefinder camera line was about to disappear in mid seventies, being saved by the entrepreneurial insight and confidence in the virtues of the M rangefinder photographic system of Walter Kluck, who convinced Leica top brass to transfer the production of the Leica M4-2 to the Leitz factory in Midland, Ontario, Canada.

    It was a question of survival, because it was impossible to compete against the Japanese brands in the reflex sphere, not only because of Nikon, but as you have said because of small, fast and svelte cameras from other brands like the Olympus OM-2.

    But the Olympus OM-2, in the same way as the Olympus OM-1, was fruit of the ingenuity and immense talent of Yoshihisa Maitani (who had a formidable mechanical team made up by Kazuyuki Nemoto and Kunio Simoyama), the greatest genius in the history of photographic mechanics along with Oscar Barnack, and featuring an extraordinary viewfinder with brightness and sharpness unsurpassed hitherto.

    Needless to say that the Japanese also made great lenses, not only Nikon with its famous Ai and AI-s manual focusing lenses.

    Asahi Pentax made in early seventies its wonderful Takumar Super-Multi-Coated in M42 mount delivering great resolving power and bokeh like the Takumar 50 mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated, the Takumar 55 mm f/1.8 Super-Multi-Coated, the Takumar 85 mm 1.8 Super-Multi-Coated, etc.

    And Olympus made some really world-class designed by the optical pundit Yoshihida Hayamizu, who following Maitani´s orders, created extraordinary objectives, being able to attain the most difficult task for an optical designer: to create lenses boasting an incredibly short length, tiny front diameter of the first optical element, very small overall dimensions and reduced weight (roughly a 35% less size and weight than the equivalent primes with identical f stops of other brands) like the Zuiko 21 mm f/2, the Zuiko 100 mm f/2 and extraordinary teleobjectives like the Zuiko 180 mm f/2 ED IF, the Zuiko 250 mm f/2 ED IF, the Zuiko 350 mm f/2.8 ED IF and others.

    Besides, the exceedingly sturdy oversized bayonet lens mount of the Olympus OM-1 approaching the whole height of the camera enabled the use of long telephoto and large diameter lenses, for the body flange is manufactured with 18,8 nickel chromium alloy making possible a long lasting durability.

    To compete against Japanese reflex cameras and lenses like these was virtually impossible not only for Germany at the time, but for any other country trying it. They were and go on being indefatigable and second to none in terms of tenaciousness and price/quality ratio.

    But I do believe that any photographic camera can be relevant at any time, irrespective of the quantities of it produced and the epoch, whether at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties or any other period.

    As a matter of fact, highly probably, the Exakta Varex camera used by Josef Koudelka in May 1968 to get his pictures of the Prague uprising against the Soviet invasion wouldn´t have been for you really relevant to photography in that era already with an overwhelming Japanese dominance in terms of massive presence of cameras.

    But that Exakta Varex German camera with Karl Nüchterlein DNA coupled to a Flektogon 25 mm f/4 lens became a very relevant photographic tool to make the world know what was happening.

    " I´ve felt so often that Leicas just wear the Emperor´s New Clothes … there´s nothing special about them " .

    " Is there anything really special, then about Leicas? No ".

    With all respect, sir, Really?, Are you sure ?

    Isn´t there anything special about the rangefinder and viewfinder of a Leica M3 whose brightness and sharpness of viewing are still to nbeat and whose synergy with a 50 mm lens hasn´t beaten hitherto 64 years after the presentation of that camera in the Photokina of 1954?

    Isn´t there anything special about the bokeh of the Summilux-M 75 mm f/1.4 ?

    Isn´t there anything special about the large format lenses designed by Peter Karbe for the Leica S?

    Isn´t there anything special about the whispering noise of the Leica cameras improved throughout many decades of the XX century by Oscar Barnack, Ludwig Leitz, Willi Stein and Peter Loseries?

    Isn´t there anything special about the even much more whispering shutter of the digital Leica M10-P which even in burst mode is barely audible?

    Isn´t there any special about the amazing design of the Leica R8 and R9 cameras by Manfred Meinzer and their highly sophisticated metering system?

    Isn´t there anything special about the performance of the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Versions 4 and 5 created by Walter Mandler applying common radii throughout the six element formula, reducing cost production and slightly increasing the previous stellar performance for the time, as well as managing to manufacture the lens with only four new sets of grinding and polishing tools?

    " The glass in the lenses is made by Hoya "

    That´s simply not true.

    The glass in the Leica lenses is not only made by Hoya. It is also made by Schott.

    Isn´t there any special about the formidable almost telecentric SL lenses, by far the best ones ever made for 24 x 36 mm format ?

    Isn´t there any special about the impressive quickness and accuracy of the Leica SL autofocus?

    Isn´t there any special about the extraordinary electronic viewfinder of the Leica SL, whose sharpness, brightness and viewing quality for photographers is the reference-class in its scope and only second to the 0.92x viewfinder of the Leica M3 ?

    Isn´t there any special about the Summilux-SL 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH outperforming the superb Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH?

    Isn´t there anything special about the Leica Apo-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280 mm f/2.8-4 zoom whose optical performance approaches very much to the one delivered by the Apo-Telyt-R 280 mm f/4?

    Isn´t there any special about the Vario-Elmar-SL 24-90 mm f/2.8-4 ASPH in which Leica has managed to offer at its different focal lengths (24, 28, 35, 40, 50, 75 and 90 mm) image quality of the cream of the crop of primes, as well as having accomplished the optical feat of stretching the wideangle coverage up to 24 mm?

    Isn´t there any special about the huge technological tour de force solved by Leica with the sensor architecture of a Leica M10 or Leica M10-P featuring a very compact and light design in which the rays of incoming light at the edges of the image reach the sensor surface in an oblique way, so it was virtually impossible to capture them with a sensor using conventional micro lenses, so a new sensor architecture has to be created with specially designed microlenses boasting a low refractive index in symbiosis with a lateral displacement of the microlenses located at the edges of the sensor to accurately match the features of Leica M lenses, which results in a praiseworthy image brightness across the whole image field, as well as avoiding any vignetting at the borders and corners of the image?

    With all respect, it sometimes seems that you speak about Leica users like a kind of fan boys only liking Leica cameras and lenses in the world to justify what they have paid for them and as if cameras and lenses from other brands don´t exist for them.

    What is simply not true.

    As a matter of fact, many users of Leica cameras are also users of cameras from other brands like the Sony A7RIII, to name only an example, and many of them, in the same way as you, also like Olympus cameras and lenses, Nikon cameras and lenses, Ricoh and Sony cameras and lenses, etc.

    But with all respect to the rest of brands, something that Leica has always had, if Leica users choose Leica lenses, first of all is because they are free to do it and secondly because regarding reference-class optomechanical performance and uniformity of amazing image quality at every distance and diaphragm (including at maximum apertures) Leica lenses are most times the benchmark, specially the most modern aspherical ones, as well as delivering the highest levels of resolving power, sharpness and contrast.

    And that level of performance, when usually you only gain depth of field on stopping down, can´t come cheap, in the same way that a Noct Nikkor 58 mm f/1.2 ASPH can´t come cheap, a Canon EF 200 mm f/1.8L can´t come cheap, a Zeiss Otus 55 mm f/1.4 can´t come cheap, a Canon 65 mm f/1.2L can´t come cheap, a 18 elements in 12 groups Olympus Zuiko Digital 7-14 mm f/4 (two of them aspheric, the second one featuring a great diameter and a very bold curvature and thoroughness in the grinding of its borders), the Canon 11-24 mm f/4 can´t come cheap, etc.

    • Dear José,

      Thank you for all that information, and for a great history lesson.

      I think, in fact, that you’ve made my point for me: you describe the magnificent work of Mr Maitani, who designed the superbly light and compact Olympus OM-1 so that its body would be no deeper from front to back (apart from the lens mount) – and no wider from left to right – than the Barnack Leica which he used as a young man ..and even with the OM-1’s pentaprism it’s only 12 or 13 millimetres taller!

      You’ve explained that so many different camera and lens manufacturers – Zeiss for example, as well as all the smaller companies which merged into Zeiss – had wonderful designers and engineers.

      That was exactly my point: that Leitz, or Leica, is just really one company among many which have created wonderful cameras and lenses. That’s why I said “Is there anything really special, then, about Leicas? No.” I’m sure the Leica personnel have always been supremely dedicated, and that Peter Karbe puts his all into designing a lens like the 50mm f1.4 or the 50mm Apo ..but I’m sure also that Mr Tsunashima and Mssrs Mori and Shimizu of Nikon put their all into their Nikon lens designs.

      I’m sure that the same is true at Canon, where Mr Okada would have put all his expertise into his lenses, and, of course, at Zeiss where so much pioneering work was done back in the late 1800s and early 1900s to create lenses whose designs are, with some modern variation, still in use today.

      You mention many Leica lenses, asking if there isn’t something “special” about them. Yes, they’re terrific. But so, I think, are the Canon 85mm f1.2, and the Nikon 2.8 17-35mm, and the Sony 2.8 16-35mm, and the Sony 1.8 55mm. (I even have a terrific Russian FED 2.8 52mm!)

      So I think you’ve proved the point, José: there are many different excellent camera companies and lens makers. Some people think that the Leica brand is especially outstanding. My own opinion is that it’s simply one brand among many.

      I did buy an M10-P, as – at last – there is a whisper quiet M camera I can use with my pile of M and M-fit lenses (..I thought the M8 an abomination, and the noisy M9 not much better).

      Finally there’s an M (with a decent magnification finder) which is – at last, after all this waiting – a digital M3.

  9. Greetings,
    I do not want to stir up too much dust but I disagree with David more than I agree on his points. I have owned various cameras since the 1970s and the pleasure of owning an Mamiya RZ67 system in the 80s. However, the camera that had the most pleasure in haptics and image rendering was my Leica M4P. My wife was irritated when I sold the Leica system as even she saw a magic in the images that was not there in my premium Nikon glass. When I repurchased digital Leica M cameras the optical magic was back but the electronic/firmware aspects of the cameras were certainly not competitive with even consumer grade cameras (by the way, I used to be a highly respected engineer and development executive competent in electronic and software in a multi billion dollar business unit). I felt Leica was a great mechanical engineering and optical tour de force but on electronic and firmware stability give me a break so I cannot agree with the letter comment on brilliant engineering in electronics. However, in spite of that, I loved the Leica M 240 for its photographic purity of execution and the various magical lenses. Very few people are competent enough to realize the challenges in tolerances and assembly to achieve what Leica does with their tiny jewels. It is a far lesser challenge to build bigger DSLR glass to achieve assembly accuracy and consistency. And then there is the Leica rendering that only those with an appreciative eye and competent usage will see. Forget about resolution charts which the incompetent love to compare because it is easy but often not useful in the global picture (pun intended!). I am delighted that Leica makes various special editions such as green cameras as the rich can buy those to keep Leica afloat for us that appreciate the craftsmanship, the purity of tool to deliver images, and the amazing compactness possible if wanted, and the unequaled artistic rendering options for appreciative artists. When I carry a Leica I feel like I am loaded for
    Bear and it motivates me to get out and create and enjoy my bush sacking journeys more than anything other than my Hasselblad X1D which is a similar experience but a lot bigger than ideal and a lot less glass options. I used to puzzle over people bashing Leica and finally came to the realization that unlike expensive luxury cars like Maserratti, the Leica is within reach of many people because it is in an achievable price range so they like to take their Chevy Nikon’s and Canons ( I really cannot get on with Canon, but there is choice for everyone!) and bash Leica with them. Ironically, most of these people prance around camera clubs with their huge DSLR in program mode and do not know the basics of photography technically or artistically. However, luckily Leica has new leadership that has adapted to aging 👀, and is delivering a broader set of options and keeping the magical M (niche camera, and will always be a niche camera but what is wrong with that if it fills a need and it does!) As a further observation, the SL is the first camera that Leica made that has electronic and firmware excellence but I have to sell mine because it is just too heavy considering my needs but if I was 20 years younger it would be having a suite of SL and M glass to keep it busy. Leica has found a forward success path and the L mount announcement means exciting times and options for sophisticated photographers!

  10. Dear David Babsky :

    Thank you very much for your words, but I think that you overestimate me. As a matter of fact, I´m not in a position to give lessons about History of Photography, since evidently my knowledge is very limited.

    I only tried to explain things according to my opinion.

    Of course, Yoshihisa Maitani was not only a great genius, but a remarkable unassuming human being and a towering figure in the history of industrial design of photographic cameras and a true drving force in himself in terms of innovation.

    But it is important to bear in mind that Maitani was a full-fledge Leicaphile that tried to transfer to its outstanding reflex cameras like the Olympus OM-1 and OM-2 the values inherent to 24 x 36 mm format Leica screwmount rangefinder cameras created by Oscar Barnack, id est exceedingly small dimensions, very low weight and a host of tiny interchangeable top-notch lenses which could be copled to them.

    While being a young teenager, Maitani had been using his father´s Rolleiflex 6 x 6 cm medium format camera for some time, until one day of 1950 the turning point moment in his life arrived when he could get one of the 15,000 LTM39 Leica IIIf rangefinder cameras produced that year by Ernst Leitz Wetzlar.

    He became instantly enthralled on beholding it, a feeling that skyrocketed when he listened to the whispering sound of the shutter rubberized curtains and even more on listening to the Wetzlarer Philharmoniker sound of the 1/20 s, 1/8 s, 1/4 s, 1/2 s and 1 s slow speeds he chose once and again thanks to the very little dial in the front area of the camera, a wonderful horology escape mechanism devised by Oscar Barnack and introduced for the first time in 1933 with the Leica III.

    Very soon, he realized that the Leica IIIF was an exceptional camera and a prodigy of beuty, but on being a rangefinder camera, it was a photographic system optimized for short distances, with 28 mm, 35 mm and 50 mm focal lengths as a core for maximum accuracy, though it was also possible to couple 75 and 90 mm lenses and get with them good precision on focusing (the Elmar 135 mm f/4.5 and the Hektor 135 mm f/4.5 were the limit).

    In addition, rangefinder cameras weren´t adequate for micro and macro photography, a scope where reflex cameras were far superior.

    Therefore, medium and long telephoto lenses between 150 mm and 400 mm couldn´t be directly coupled to Leica screwmount cameras, and it was feasible only through cumbersome and heavy Visoflex reflex housing devices.

    And approximately twenty years later, Maitani would create the formidable Olympus OM System of cameras, lenses and accesories, one of the most comprehensive ones ever made, and obviously much more versatile than any rangefinder system.

    And wonderful cameras like the Olympus OM-1 (1972), Olympus OM-2 (1973) arrived being the core of the Olympus OM lineage of cameras and excellent very small and light manual focusing lenses like the Olympus Zuiko 50 mm f/1.2, the Olympus Zuiko 40 mm f/2, the Olympus Zuiko 85 mm f/2, etc, whose petite volume and lightness was conceptually based on the tiny Leitz lenses for the screwmount Leica cameras, though their construction and optical formula was different.

    He also created the very elegant half format Olympus Pen, Pen F during late fifties and early sixties and the exceedingly small Olympus XA rangefinder 35 mm camera in 1979.

    Yoshiyuki Shimizu was a great optical designer, as proved by his 9 elements in 7 groups Nikkor Auto 35 mm f/1.4 from 1971. Nikon used all of its optical and mechanical expertise in this photojournalistic par excellence lens, the first one in the world boasting f/1.4 large aperture, introducing a lot of new technologies during its manufacturing, which were even more enhanced when Teruyoshi Tsunajima modified both the composition of the glasses of its optical formula elements and the curvature of the lens, bettering its performance at full aperture.

    This lens was a real optical and mechanical tour de force at the time, since it is very small (front diameter of 52 mm) and light for an f/1.4 wideangle lens for slr cameras, as well as having been the first Nikkor lens featuring the famous NIC (Nikon Integrated Multilayer Coating), a seminal factor to achieve high contrast and color accuracy.

    Without forgetting his 6 elements in 5 groups Nikkor-H 300 mm f/2.8, designed by him one year later. It was an extraordinary for the time supertelephoto lens, featuring a very wise optical balance optimized for high resolving power, colour accuracy and very beautiful bokeh, thanks to its very good correction of chromatic aberration, an almost negligible spherical aberration, highly reduced astigmatism and Petzval curvature, avoiding any out of focus zones even on the most off-centered areas, truly an achievement for the time to such an extent that it proves that Nikon optical designers fully understood the major degrading effect of field curvature on image quality and the huge importance of controlling it during the lens design (since it won´t change during any subsequent optimization stage), striving upon finding a lot of methods to correct the Petzval sum in the optical system and glimpsing significant aspects in this regard that would be tackled forty-four years later by Yuhao Wang in his Advanced Theory of Field Curvature set forth at the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences.

    Ikuo Mori was another optical japanese pundit, as proved by his 16 elements in 12 groups Nikkor 13 mm f/5.6, designed by him in 1971 and launched into market in 1976. It is the best rectilinear extreme wideangle prime under 14 mm ever made for 35 mm format cameras, with a superlative correction of distortion.

    There is one in A/B condition at Greys of Westminster, London, even with its L1Bc Skylight bayonet filter, which is part of the optical formula and must be permanently attached.

    Its fixed petal hood is wonderful.

    In my opinion, it is worth for any lover of photographic lenses going to London to see this masterpiece and the rest of the unique Nikon shop.

    Previously, Nikon had already been able to create a number of milestone optical designs, something particularly praiseworthy between mid forties and sixties, when the legendary Saburo Murakami, Hideo Azuma and Zenji Wakimoto managed to spawn excellent lenses with very few means, making intensive calculation of ray tracing with abacus and table of logarithms along with thousands and thousands of trial and error hours, as well as using classical optical bench testing techniques with collimators and T-Bar nodal slides, in a time when Nippon Kogaku lacked any IBM 650, Z5, Elliot 402F computers used by Leica optical wizards Walter Mandler and Helmut Marx from mid fifties onwards or any computer programs for optimizing optical systems like the adapted automatic correction method incepted and used by Zeiss genius optical designer Erhard Glatzel during sixties.

    Regarding Teruyoshi Tsunashima, in my opinion he wasn´t so pivotal for Nikon as the other designers you mention (Shimizu and Mori) but is very interesting because of his commendable work of decades stedily striving upon improving 500 mm f/8, 1000 mm f/11, 2000 mm f/11 and 1000 mm f/6.3 catadioptric lenses in terms of compactness and incredible nearest focusing distance of 1,5 meters.

    It all meant a significant improvement over the Maksutov MTO 500 mm f/8 and Maksutov 1000 mm f/10 (featuring a good price/performance ratio but being bulky and with longer minimum focusing distances), particularly during the first half of eighties.

    The mentioning by you of Masato Okada has also been important, since he is a great mechanical engineer, a tremendous expert on photographic and cinemtaographic lenses and manager of the entire optics section in Canon.

    Mr Okada has indeed been instrumental in the development of such extraordinary lenses like the Canon EF 300 mm f/2.8L II, the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L II, the Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, the Canon EF 11-24 mm f/4, the new and significantly lighter Canon EF 400 mm f/2.8L IS III (the reference-class optics in its focal length and luminosity regarding low weight and dimensions).

    If it were not enough, Canon has recently made an optical quantum leap with its new Canon RF 50 mm f/1.2 and Canon 28-70 mm f/2 zoom, thanks to a greatly optimized new large mount featuring a diameter of 54 mm and a very short flange distance of 20 mm, which has fostered even more the Utsunomiya plant significance in this realm, wisely complemented by their own optival design softwares and mechanical 3D CAD ones in which Canon is one of the leading brands.

    Anyway, David, with all respect, I don´t see where I have proved your points.

    Perhaps it is " politically correct " to say that the Canon 85mm f1.2, and the Nikon 2.8 17-35mm, and the Sony 2.8 16-35mm, and the Sony 1.8 55mm or even a Russian FED 52 mm f/2.8 are as terrific like Leica SL lenses, Leica M lenses, Leica S2 lenses and Leica R lenses.

    But with all respect, that´s simply not true.

    All those lenses you mention from Canon, Nikon, Sony and KMZ are very good in terms of quality/price ratio, but are light years far from the Leica SL, M, S2 and R lenses in terms of optomechanical performance, production cost, difficulties of design, quality controls, percentage of optical elements rejected during the manufacturing stage, quality of the aspherical elements used, and many more things.

    Another different thing would be if the comparison would have been made with such stellar performers like the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 300 mm f/4 IS Pro, the Nikon AF FX Nikkor 200 mm f/2G ED VR II, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8G ED, and others, in which differences would be not so huge, but still very significant, in the same way as if comparisons of those lenses you mention from Canon, Nikon, Sony and KMZ had been made with respect to the stratospheric Zeiss Otus 55 mm f/1.4, whose image quality and bokeh are exceptional and corresponding more to a medium format lens than to an objective designed for 24 x 36 mm format, because it is a brilliant adaptation Carl Zeiss Distagon for 6 x 6 cm ADN, differences in optomechanical performance would have also been very big, or the likewise stratospheric Fujinon GF 110 mm f/2 R LM WR for Fuji GFX 50S and 50R medium format cameras, differences would have also been huge.

    The Canon 85 mm f/1.2 is a very good lens, but not a terrific lens, not even the Canon EF 85 mm f/1.2 L II USM, such as was proved by Geoffrey Crawley (the greatest British expert on photographic lenses ever along with Rudolph Kingslake) in 2006, who reached the conclusion that though improved in different sides, particularly in its mechanic construction, anti reflection coatings and faster automatic and manual focusing, it was essentially a 17 year old design in its optical formula, optimized for getting excellent portraits, it should have been better at its widest f/1.2 aperture in regard to delivering of detail rendering and outline sharpness, as well as suffering from certain doses of colour fringing.

    The Industar-61 52 mm f/2.8, designed by F.S.Tsekehman and Z.I.Zaitseva and featuring 4 elements (one of them with lanthanum to enhance contrast) in 3 groups, is a great lens from the viewpoint of quality/price performance, and even boasting remarkable macro capabilities for a standard lens. It is a very interesting objectives and one of the best ones ever made by the Russian photographic industry, but very far from the optomechanical performance of the current best standard lenses manufactured by the Japanese brands, and at a huge distance if comparisons are made with the best nowadays Leica and Zeiss standard lenses.

    Of course, it couldn´t be other way, because its optical formula dates back to 1970 and is strongly inspired by the Industar 61 50 mm f/2 from early sixties, sporting a Tessar scheme that doesn´t allow huge f/1.4 or f/1.2 widest apertures.

    But it is gorgeous and yields a very beautiful bokeh at f/2.8 and f/4.

    But coming back to the main topic, though Leica as a brand has had a legendary history with its analogue screwmount and M rangefinder cameras, and now has superb digital M rangefinder cameras like the Leica M10 and M10-P which are real masterpieces of precision and crafstmanship, it isn´t less true that the scope in which both in the past and nowadays Leica has excelled most is in its extraordinary optical prowess and experience designing and making a high percentage of the best lenses in the world, not only for 24 x 36 mm format like with its digital rangefinder cameras and its SL mirrorless EVF camera, but also for other formats like the 30 x 45 mm of its Leica S MF cameras and the Micro Four Thirds.

    In this regard, the synergy between two masterpieces like the Panasonic G9 Micro Four Thirds camera and the Leica DG Elmarit 200 mm f/2.8 (equivalent to a 400 mm f/2 lens in 35 mm format) power OIS lens has already proved to be superb in wildlife and sports photography, getting splendid image quality.

    And there are many more lenses sepecifically designed and created by Leica for Micro Four Third sensors.

    Do all the aforementioned things mean that Leica digital cameras like the Leica M10, M10-P and Leica SL deliver the best image quality in the world ?

    The answer is clear : Certainly not.

    They yield impressive image quality proper of the classical analogue medium format and are clearly within the cream of the crop in image quality, but it also happens with such flagships like the Nikon D850 and the Sony A7RIII whose sensor is truly state-of-the-art.

    And obviously, firms like Olympus and Panasonic are nowadays much more advanced than Leica in terms of innovation, electronic advancements, 4K UHD 60 fps video, etc.

    And of course, Sony is by far the reference-class firm manufacturing state-of-the-art digital sensors.

    With digital cameras, things are very different in comparison with analogue ones, and there are more factors taking part in the creation of the image, namely the digital sensor, the speed and accuracy of the microchip, the firmware and of course the quality of the lenes, which goes on being the most important one of them all, even more than in the analogue era.
    It´s true that the Leica M10, M10-P and Leica SL deliver exceptional image quality in terms of resolving power, contrast, sharpness and dynamic range, with a significant improvement in overall image quality with respect to previous models like the M9, M9-P, M 240, etc.

    But the dynamic range in RAW attained by the Nikon D850 is in my opinion the world reference-class along with the one delivered by the Sony A7RIII.

    Needless to say that the image quality produced by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is also exceptional.

    What happens is that the best 24 x 36 mm format cameras, whether reflex with optical viewfinders or mirrorless EVF ones, have reached such an extraordinary level of image quality that each of them is much more than enough for any professional photographer or advanced connoisseur.

    " So who made Leicas famous? Part-time hobby photographers with lots of spare money, like Paul Wolff (outdoor snapshots) "
    Well, David Babsky, with all respect, I don´t think that to define Paul Wolff as " a part-time hobby photographer with lots of spare money " is proper.

    In my opinion, Paul Wolff was a towering figure in the History of Photography, a great photographer who was instrumental in setting up the foundations of Leica photography and decisive to spread the special techniques needed to draw the full potential of those tiny 24 x 36 mm negatives, then called miniature format, through the synergy between the chemical black and white emulsions, top-notch lenses and excellent Leitz enlargers like the Leitz Valoy from 1932 and Focomat VIWOO Varob Model 1934, Leitz Valoy II, which resulted in the milestone exhibition The Camera at the Rockefeller Center of New York in 1935, witrh gorgeous 40 x 60 cm enlargements on photographic paper.

    He was also a great teacher of photography. Not in vain, his landmark book My Experiences with Leica was a great success with fifty thousand copies sold worldwide.

    And also in mid thirties, he made great pictures of cars for Audi and Opel, in addition to steadily showing a remarkable mastery in the selection of lenses depending on the assignment, in the selective focusing and the reading of the best qualities and trajectories of light and how to tackle backlit images.

    As a top-notch photographer, Paul Wolff was a master of technique, with exposure for highlights as the cornerstone of his tuition, along with a steady search for lightly developed negatives as key ingredient to get the best possible image quality.
    And he was also a pioneer of colour photography, making amazing pictures with the Agfacolor Neu colour slide already in 1936, subsequently publishing his landmark book My Experiences in Colour Photography, in which vast majority of the 54 pictures included were made with a Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 non coated lens.

    Furthermore, from 1923, Leitz trusted utterly on him and gave him a lot of prototype Leica cameras and lenses between that year and early fifties to be tested in real photographic conditions and have as much feedback as possible before producing them in series.

    Suffice it to say that in 1923 he was given one of the 31 Leica 0 pilot cameras to make pictures. Another of the selected photographers to whom Leitz delivered a Leica 0 to get pictures was Henri Cartier-Bresson.
    There´s also a very interesting book about the figure of Paul Wolff, written by the Leica and Nikon expert Dr Edward Schwartzreich : The Photobooks of Dr. Paul Wolff.

    Well, David Babsky, with all respect, it isn´t bad for " a part-time hobby photographer with lots of spare money " .


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