viernes, 20 de junio de 2008

LEICA: A MAGICAL WORD WITH GREAT FUTURE (1st Part)

By José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA
June 20th 2008


Leica. The mere pronunciation of this word is full of meaning for any good lover or professional of photography generally speaking, and evokes the history of a German flagship brand of photographic cameras and lenses for 35 mm format and digital sensors, which for approximately one century has always excelled from its beginnings to nowadays by a constant life epicenter: the searching for the maximum optical and mechanical quality possible in all of its products, both belonging to M and R lines, specially at the greatest apertures (a quality in which Leica has always reigned supreme and one of the most important reasons for the high price of its objectives) together with a huge durability and very high reselling value, it all most times superbly enhanced by a wonderful cosmetic appearance with the extra value of small size, lightweight and global compactness (which hugely increases the difficulty of design and therefore the merit of the German firm when making things), wisely complemented by a very silent shutter and very pure world class quality non retrofocus lenses in the case of the legendary Leica rangefinder cameras, wonderful photographic jewels featuring only the essential things to greatly enable the photographer to take the decisions, apart from allowing to make handheld shots at very low shutter speeds, because of the lack of a tilting mirror inside these gorgeous photographic tools.

Leica, a legendary symbol of maximum posible quality of image both in analog and digital rangefinder and reflex cameras and lenses.

Ur-Leica, the first prototype of 35 mm Leica camera made in the world by Oskar Barnack in 1913. © Leica Archives

The extraordinary rangefinder Leica M8 digital, presented in Photokina in 2006. A masterpiece of engineering, technological breakthroughs and brutal optical quality by means of the synergy between its formidable 10 megapixels digital sensor KAF-10500 and the superb range of Leica M lenses.

The formidable digital Leica M8 was the great star of the 2007 LHSA Annual Meeting held at Rochester (New York). Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Oskar Barnack, Max Berek, Gustav Kleinberg, Otto Zimmermann, Walter Mandler (always ahead of his time, an out of this world designer of objectives and scientist, great mathematician and very deep expert on the chemistry and properties of the different optical glasses), Ernst Pausch, Horst Haseneier, Walter Kluck, Erich Wagner, Helmut Hildebrandt, Henry Weimer, Andre de Winter (a great expert on design of lens mounts and bodies in the golden period of Leitz Midlands, Ontario between 1960 and 1980), Ludwig Schauss, Helmut Marx, Paul Sindel, Lothar Köelsch, Peter Karbe, Walter Watz, Michael Heiden, Jan Schroeder ……. Names associated to many of the best lenses ever designed and produced in the history of photography, together with the frequent improvement of already existing optical formulae to its uttermost limits of scientific possibilities and image quality.

The 2007 LHSA 39th Annual Meeting in Rochester was a great success proving the very good health of Leica firm.

Oskar Barnack, inventor of the 24 x 36 mm photographic format, working at Leitz Factory in Wetzlar (Germany). © Leica Archives

Ernst Leitz II, the visionary German entrepreneur who gave the go ahead to Oskar Barnack´s 35 mm photographic camera project. © Leica Archives

Elmar 5 cm f/3.5, a classic par excellence in the History of Leica. One of the great optical designs by Professor Max Berek. It was in production during thirty seven years, between 1924 and 1961. A lens able to render a very beautiful vintage image, specially with black and white films.

Elmar, Hektor, Summar, Anastigmat, Summaron, Elmax, Xenon, Summitar, Summarex, Summicron, Super Angulon, Summilux, Elmarit, Tele-Elmarit, Macro-Elmarit, Macro-Elmar, Telyt, Apo-Telyt, Fisheye-Elmarit, Super Elmar, Vario-Elmar, Apo-Macro-Elmarit, Apo-Summicron, Vario-Elmarit, Vario-Apo-Elmarit ……. Terms almost metaphysically linked for ever in many cases to the best of the best made by human beings regarding top-notch 35 mm lenses. Definitely, the cream (with all respect to the rest of brands of the photographic market, and always bearing in mind that each lens is a world apart).

Professor Max Berek, one of the most legendary optical designers in Leica history and brainstorm driving force of many of the screw mount Leitz lenses produced during twenties, thirties and forties, until his death in 1949. © Leica Archives

Leica cameras advertisements in all kinds of magazines and books have always been a prodigy of good taste, elegance and beauty.

Screw mount Leica III (MODEL F) with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 and MOOLY motor

Leitz Hektor 28 mm f/6.3 screw mount with its leather case. This was the first 28 mm for standard 35 mm format made in the world and was designed by Max Berek in 1935.

It can be stated that anybody having the chance of using a Leica camera with one or more lenses at some moment of his existence, will keep indelible remembrances of wonderful pictures, sublime bokehs (with smoothness in transition of tones when using wide apertures and not merely shallow DOF) and unforgettable experiences, without overlooking a very difficult to avoid risk: the possibility of becoming a full-fledged Leicaphile. And from then on, life will deeply change for that person. Have no doubt.

Beautiful diagonal view of a Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 from the fifties in mint condition.
Leitz Elmar 35 mm f/3.5 f/3.5. This lens was designed by Max Berek in 1930 and produced between 1932 and 1950. It delivers a very beautiful and special vintage image on photographic paper.




Very beautiful screwmount Leitz Elmar 90 mm f/4, property of Mr Mark William Rabiner, LHSA member. Crowne Plaza Hotel lobby. Rochester (New York). October 14th 2007. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.


Beautiful screw mount Summicron Rigid 50 mm f/2, a masterpiece of mechanic engineering, featuring a very sturdy mount and top quality image at full aperture.

The two lectures given by Mr Andreas Kaufmann, CEO of Leica Camera AG, during the recent 39th Leica Historical Society of America Annual Meeting held in Rochester (New York) between October 10th and 14th 2007, evidently invite to high doses of optimism.

Wonderful Leica M3 with Summicron 50 mm f/2, a superelite binomium.In 1994, in order to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of this model virtually unbeatable with a 50 mm standard lens, the legendary Viewfinder Magazine published a great article written by Will Wright (illustrated with pictures depicting Alfred Eisenstaedt, David Douglas Duncan, Tom McAvoy and Julius Huisgen) on this rangefinder camera, whose historical significance was and goes on being very seminal.

Times of Glory for Leica in Midlands (Ontario) in the late fifties. From left to right: Walter Kluck (Department of Marketing), Walter Mandler ( R & D Department and historical Mozart of fabulous Leica M and R lenses, with an incredible ability and brutal optical knowledge which enabled him to get the best feasible quality with the lowest possible costs, establishing new standards of impressive performance with the more than fifty lenses he created, many of which are among the best in the world currently in 2008 ) and Walter Bauer (Manufacturing Department). © Leica Archives

Leica IIIg with Elmar 50 mm f/2.8. The last of a mythical saga of screw mount rangefinder cameras, this jewel is considered the best screw mount camera of all time and was produced between 1957 and 1960, in spite of the fact that the new Leica M3 with M bayonet had been born in 1954. Such was the quality and improvements made in this model compared to its screw mount predecessors, including a special frame finder which couples to the rangefinder providing automatic parallax adjustment.

Stanley Kubrick self portrait with his screwmount Leica.

Currently, Leica Camera AG has got a very good financial situation and has achieved a superb transition from analog to digital professional photography with the formidable Leica M8, a prodigy of very difficult to implement technical solutions that have brought about the birth of this very top-notch rangefinder digital camera, a masterpiece of engineering, expertise and brilliant ideas, which doesn´t mean the breaking with the classical roots and past of the firm, but enhances and strengthens them even more. Something that wasn´t easy to attain at all and obviously preserving the legendary image quality, excellent mechanical construction and that incomparable feeling and aspect that was always the raison d´être of Leica on connecting the M8 to the gorgeous Leica-M series lenses, both the most up-to-date ones and those of yore.

Leica M2 with Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 and Leicameter MR.

Ernst Leitz Wetzlar advertisement of the Leica MP of 25th September 1956, the year in which this coveted camera was launched into market, though production would end in 1957, with a total amount of 311 chromed and 138 black made.

Super Angulon 21 mm f/4 from 1959 for rangefinder Leicas, a clear exponent of the legendary cosmetic appearance of Leica lenses.

Inverted Super Angulon 21 mm from 1959 for rangefinder Leicas. The mechanizing of the metal is simply extraordinary, made under utterly handcrafted parameters always looking for excellence and maximum endurance and performance throughout many years of hard use.

Also impressive the rear element of the lens which protrudes very much inside the chamber of the camera until almost reaching the film plane, because it is a non retrofocus design made without any kind of compromises in search of brutal quality in sharpness, contrast and total lack of distortion.


On the other hand, strong emotions are approaching related to the always fascinating Leica World: Mr Andreas Kauffmann has already announced one of the most important projects in the history of photography, the building of the "LEITZ PARK" , a colossal technological area (117.000 square metres) in Wetzlar (State of Hesse, Germany).

The idea is to create an impressive nexus of facilities bearing the name ´Leica Welt´ with very widespread targets:

- A superb museum where all kind of products, cameras, lenses, accessories, etc, from different historical periods, from the first Leica Ur made by Oskar Barnack to the most up-to-date stuff, will be on display, including the most valuable, exotic and very rare conceivable pieces for collectors, something which undoubtedly will be fairly pleasing for the millions of Leica lovers and connoisseurs all over the world.

- A sales environment in which every attendant will feel like at home and receive all kind of advice and information related to the most various Leica items from expert Leica personnel, always with the chance of buying on the spot.

- The creation of spaces for very high level regional companies of the opto-mechanical industry, such as Weller Feinwerktechnik, presently the provider of lens mounts to Leica.

- The setting up of a world-class epicentre of creativity by means of a localised, highly networked group of very advanced industries making products related to Leica photography, with the immense opportunities arisen from such a direct and personal exchange of information. This would mean an ideal environment to design, develop and manufacture a wide range of innovative products.

- Leica Camera AG, with his enormous experience in optical and mechanical fields would be the driving force for this industrial cluster of different high-end technology firms related to photography.

- This would imply a quantum leap and another very decisive step in Leica History, whose goal is the even further economical and technological growth of the firm, with the main aim at becoming the worldly digital image and mechatronics reference on earth, very strongly rooted in the classical philosophy of the firm and the impressive quality of its lenses in different focal lengths, a very valuable tool and help for obtaining the best possible synergy with first class digital sensors like the M8´s Kodak KAF-10500 CCD sensor featuring 27x18 mm, 1,33x crop, and a resolution of ten megapixels.

This way, the Leica M8 is able
to get a superb image quality without grain up to 1250 ISO and very good at ISO 2500 ( with only a very little quantity of visible noise) in RAW DNG archives. And at low speeds, it is the best digital image quality attained till now with a binomial digital sensor + top-notch lenses, following the track of the most legendary slides of analogue domain like Kodachrome 25 and 64 in terms of aesthetic beauty. Even, the M8 can be used getting very good results at high isos for infrared photography, making shots without being bound to buy expensive infrared films, by simply attaching a 720 nm infrared filter and switching the camera to b & w mode.

E. Leitz New York Wollensak Velostigmat 50 mm f/3.5, a paradigm of the legendary designs made by Leica in United States. Though not an ultraluminous lens, the very little weight and dimensions together with the impressive vintage image it renders, make it a very good performer to a wide range of contexts. Lens with a wonderful appearance and superb mechanizing.

Mint Leica Compur Summicron 50 mm f/2, a marvel of beautiful design, engineering thouroughness and optical performance.

Leica Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 First Version, one of the legendary Leica lenses made by Walter Mandler in Midlands (Ontario), sporting tremendously low levels of distortion, almost undetectable. Produced between 1961 and 1993, it was 29 years reigning supreme in the world in its focal length and aperture until the appearance of the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 aspherical in 1990.

Incredibly, in spite of the many years elapsed since its inception, this lens is currently in 2008 a top performer among the best superluminous 35 mm lenses in the world, only outperformed by the best very modern Solms 35 mm f/1.4 designs using aspherical surfaces, which evidently beat it at full aperture.

However, the special aesthetic beauty of image rendered by the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 from 1961, make it the choice for many discerning photographers wanting to create distinctive images and bokehs, an aspect in which this lens excels, together with the wonderful Summicron 35 mm f/2 pre Asph (made between 1980 and 1998), perhaps the flagship of Leica M line-up of lenses in this respect.


John Hayden, President of the Leica Historical Society of America, posing by his table with Leica products on sale during the October 14th 2007 Trade Fair of the 39th LHSA Annual Meeting in Rochester (New York). October 14th 2007. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.

And always without forgetting one of the most prominent tasks becoming a cinch for Leica rangefinders, both in the analog and digital domains: the choice of attaining very discreet pictures of all kind, taking advantage of its very low noise shutter and the lack of a slapping mirror in the body camera that allows the designing of extraordinary non retrofocus lenses without any quality compromise and the very important option of shooting handheld most times at shutter speeds out of the possibilities of reflex cameras, more often than not saving the production in low and very low light contexts and taking the pictures with all of its glamour and without flash, preserving the original atmosphere of the place at that moment.

Leica M6, for more than a decade the only rangefinder camera in the world, until the beginning of the Renaissance of Rangefinder Cameras in 1998. In May 2000 the great photographic authority and teacher on photography Roger Hicks, wrote in Shutterbug magazine an article titled ´ Return of the King: Rangefinders Make a Comeback´ in which the legendary Kernow - he has written more than thirty books on photography, many of them in partnership with his wife Frances Schultz, without forgetting his famous ´A Matter of Opinion´ section in Amateur Photographer magazine, a lot of articles in PHOTO Techniques magazine, etc - explained this remarkable soaring of RF cameras which goes on currently in 2008.

Rangefinder of a Leica M6. This very complex to make and expensive to produce optical device is the core around which the whole Leica M system spins around.

Diagram showing the configuration of the rangefinder of a Leica M6 linked to the viewfinder on the left of the camera and featuring parallax correction for the shorter distances. This is a very accurate system for quickly focusing under low or very low ambient light and is constituted by 107 pieces assembled in a completely artisan way, apart from the handcrafted horizontal and vertical alignment of the rangefinder which is tuned by a Leica expert.

Japanese advertisement announcing the Leica M6 in 1984, year of its introduction in the market.

And one further thing: unlike reflex cameras, there isn´t a loss of sight during the shots, because of the special viewing system of the rangefinder cameras, a very important trait specially in photojournalism.

Helmut Marx, the great German designer of Leitz Wetzlar and main author of the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1.2 from 1966, the first Leica lens to incorporate aspherical surfaces in its optical formula. © Leica Archives

Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1.2 from 1966. Designed by Helmut Marx and Paul Sindel. It features six elements (two of them being aspherical), exterior of lens mount in black anodised aluminium and internally sporting bronze and stainless steel to ensure a smooth operation, apart from boasting the elegant scallop of the focusing ring typical in older M lenses.

For the first time in Leica History, its optical formula included two aspherical elements which had to be grinded manually, with huge difficulty and needing tremendous knowledge (only Helmut Marx and very probably Walter Mandler -if he would have been in Wetzlar then- were the only persons able to carry out this task), because 42 years ago there weren´t the current machines making the computer controlled polishing and grinding, and they were always on the brink of the impossible, with a high rate of errors and having to throw a lot of quantities of expensive glass until getting the necessary precision.

This way, the Leitz Wetzlar designers of lenses were bound to implement tremendous narrow tolerances and huge accuracy during the making of the aspherical surfaces to grind them perfectly, and the same happened in the phase of assembly where a similar brutal thoroughness and almost zero tolerances were needed to properly mount all the elements and groups inside the lens barrel, apart from trying to accomplish an impeccable centering, which Leica has always deemed to be a key factor (among others) to get the best possible image quality.

All these aspects brought about that each lens had to be manufactured nearly 100% in a completely unit per unit craftsmanship way, investing a very high number of hours and special attention to each sample, so the production cost was rather lofty and very expensive the final price for customers, apart from posing a very hard challenge for the Leitz factory in Wetzlar.

On the other hand, this was the first 50 mm in history with a full aperture f/1.2 not stellar because of pure physical reasons, but usable with good quality and contrast at full aperture, which was an impressive optical feat in that epoch. It was produced until 1975.


Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1, the undisputed then and now monarch of optical performance at f/1 in its focal length and aperture since it was designed almost 40 years ago.

Optical scheme of the Noctilux 50 mm f/1, one of the most incredible lenses made in the history of photography, taking the Double Gauss Design to its scientific limits. Designed by Walter Mandler in Midlands (Ontario) in 1969, this lens, launched into market in 1976, has been the undisputed world emperor regarding image quality at f/1 for 39 years and most pundits are almost unanimous thinking that it will be almost impossible to make a 50 mm f/1 in future beating its image quality at full aperture. On the other hand, this is an absolutely unique lens whose image fingerprint is more related to ´Night Watch´ picture by Rembrandt.

There´s currently nothing in the world comparable to the Noctilux f/1 in terms of image quality and tremendously beautiful and fairly special aesthetic of image. Much better than the excellent Canon USM 50 mm f/1 at full aperture. It features seven elements in six groups and hasn´t got any aspheric surfaces.

This was a tremendous optical exploit by Mandler, who managed to create a 50% more luminous lens (and boasting slightly less distortion) than the previous Noctilux 50 mm f/1.2 made in Wetzlar, improving its quality of image at full aperture and at the same time lowering the production cost through the use of spheric surfaces made with the legendary extremely high refraction index Leitz glass 900403.

This lens has got a great resistance to inner reflections and excels capturing textures and subtle details, rendering a kind of impressionistic image which has no match in any other lens on earth in this respect.

Very good at f/1, which is a great breakthrough, bearing in mind that to get this f stop Walter Mandler had to face a brutal challenge to contain the aspherical aberrations and coma which increase in geometrical proportion when trying to make maximum aperture of a lens more luminous. And in this case, the Noctilux M-50 mm f/1 is 50% more luminous than Noctilux 50 mm f/1.2 made in Germany and double luminous than the Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 of that period which had been introduced in 1961.

The magnitude of the strenuous effort was more than brutal, because it´s already very difficult to go from a maximum aperture of f/2 to a new one of f/1.4 in a top quality optical design, but to make the transition from f/1.4 to f/1 is a quantum leap in difficulty and increase in aberrations with the very important added hindrance of trying to make the lens with the minimum feasible diameter, a traditional hallmark of Leica lenses through its history.

The Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1 in its two versions (1976-1994 and 1994-2008) sharing identical optical formula is unanimously considered the best lens in the world for making photographs under the lowest conceivable ambient light and has got a special ability to capture details in the shadows under the quoted conditions where the rest of lenses can´t reach.

Besides, this lens boasts a very special swirly bokeh because of its pronounced coma, which makes it evoke ethereality and dreaminess in the out of focus areas, in such a way that its highly shallow depth of field guarantees an incredibly soft transition from sharpness to blur, whilst its marvellous picturesque traits allow the creation of unrivalled visual effects. It weighs 630 g.




Leica: An Illustrated History. Cameras, Lenses and Accessories
This famous trilogy of fantastic books by James Lager devoted to Leica make up in my opinion the most comprehensive and in-depth study on the mythical German photographic firm ever made on earth, and most experts coincide that probably it will never be beaten in future, because it stems from an absolutely tremendous knowledge, expertise and brutal hard work during a whole lifetime dedicated to very painstaking study and research delving into the most widespread and conceivable Leica topics.

On the other hand, James Lager was given the keys of the Wetzlar Leica Museum in 1988 to photograph many hundreds of all the historical and very valuable Leitz Wetzlar Archive items (cameras, lenses and all kind of artifacts, some of them unique) inside it before the moving of Leica facilities to Solms, using twenty rolls of b & w 36 exposures Kodak Panatomic-X.


There have been many important Landmarks in the history of Leica Rangefinder Cameras: Oskar Barnack´s first Ur Leica prototype made in 1913; the Leica ´O´ 1923-1924 with fixed Leitz Anastigmat 50 mm f/3.5; the Leica II Model D 1932-1948 and first to incorporate a built-in rangefinder; the Leica 250 1933-1953 with enlarged film chambers enabling a cassette containing 10 m of film and 250 exposures; the wonderful Leica IIIf Red Dial 1952-1957 (one of the most beautiful cameras ever made); the 1957 Leica IIIG 1957-1960 (which was to prove the last of the screw mount models and in some respects was a bridge between LTM39 and M Bayonet mount models); the Leica M3 1954-1966 (the best Leica ever made and probably the best possible combination with a 50 mm lens); the Leica M5 (first one sporting TTL metering powered by a CdS cell); the Leica M4-2 1978-1980 (the model whose production in Midlands, Ontario, fostered by Walter Kluck, saved the M Line at moments in which the pressure of the Japanese reflex cameras was tremendous), the Leica M6 in its different versions (the only rangefinder camera in production in the photographic market from 1984 to 1998, year of the beginning of Rangefinders Rennaissance started by the genius Shin Yasuhara with his T981 in Leica screw mount bayonet -flash synchronization of 1/125, TTL metering, shutter speed of 1/2000 and being able to use Leica, Voigtländer and Canon screwmount lenses attached to it- and followed by Konica Hexar RF in Leica M bayonet mount in 1999 and Mr Kobayashi, CEO of Cosina Voigtländer, with his Voigtländer Bessa R appeared in march of 2000 and the subsequent Bessa R2, Bessa R3, Bessar R4 etc, with different mounts and an impressive arrays of lenses; the Rollei 35RF, the Zeiss Ikon RF, etc), the Leica M7 (electronically controlled shutter and two mechanically controlled shutter speeds of 1/60 s and 1/125 s, aperture priority in automatic mode, manual shutter speed and aperture setting with adjustment using LED light balance); the Leica MP ( a dream machine, purely mechanical and intuitive in operation, which can work without batteries, the quintessential mechanical rangefinder camera always reliable, featuring a rubberised cloth focal plane mechanically controlled shutter with horizontal movement and extremely quiet and ISO 6-6400, a handcrafted tool created for the photographic artist who likes taking all the crucial decisions and settings); the current digital flagship Leica M8 (all metal body of highly stable magnesium alloy for professional use for many years, microprocessor controlled metal blade slot shutter, top panel and bottom cover milled from solid brass, etc, but above all an exceptional technological tour the force through which Leica made the rangefinder professional leap to digital photography solving the big problem posed by the short minimum distance of 16 mm between the last lens element and the sensor unlike the reflex cameras in which the quoted distance is much longer and favourable for the digital sensor, for instance the Leica R8 and R9 with the module in which there´s always at least 40 mm of space behind the last lens element and the digital sensor, which means that the angle of incidence of light rays is much more favourable and not so diagonal as in the case of the M8).

Elcan 66 mm f/2 extra high resolution lens. Made by Walter Mandler for the U.S Navy. This is one of the best 35 mm standard lenses of all time, delivering a brutal quality of image, even at full aperture. A very sought after lens both by collectors and enthusiasts of the highest quality of image. This incredible lens has proved to feature a great synergy with the Leica M8 and the 85 mm finder, producing tremendously sharp pictures. A really ´Bugatti´ lens.

Innards of the Leica M6 and Summilux 50 mm f/1.4. The mechanically controlled rubberised cloth horizontal travel shutter of this camera features an impressive accuracy in spite of being non electronical.

LHSA 2007 Annual Meeting soft release made by the great craftsman and world class Leica expert Tom Abrahamsson and designed by Julie Kitchell using her Adobe Illustrator skills. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.

Summilux-M 75 mm f/1.4, featuring 7 elements in 5 groups and a weight of 560g. The last wonderful masterpiece made by the great Walter Mandler in Midlands (Ontario). One of the best examples of the famous Double Gauss design without aspherical surfaces taken to its limits with this evolutive descendant of it attained by Mandler through great skill, all kind of resources of his own and brutal optical knowledge.

Besides, the aesthetical beauty of image it produces is impressive, together with its bokeh and an unutterable tridimensional effect. Incredibly, 28 years have elapsed since this tremendous lens was introduced in 1980, and currently in 2008 it goes on being the best 75 mm lens for 24 x 36 mm format in the world together with the much more up-to-date Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH, though the maximum aperture of Mandler´s design allow it to get the upper hand in very low available light contexts or when very pronounced selective focus is necessary to make the subjects stand out.

Its performance at f/1.4 is excellent but not superstellar, because of some residual aberrations impossible to avoid at that time without using aspherical surfaces. But anyway, this big lens has no match on earth nowadays and connoisseurs having got the knack of it don´t want to sell this optical jewel in the second hand market, which has greatly increased its value. Lens with an imposing appearance.


And regarding milestones in the history of 35 mm format Leica Manual Focus Lenses for its mythical Rangefinder Cameras (the historical flagships of the brand), Leica got impressive results through XX and XXI Centuries: the screw mount Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 1924-1961 (an original design by Max Berek); the screw mount Elmar 35 mm f/3.5 1930-1950 also by Max Berek; the screw mount Hektor 50 mm f/2.5; the screw mount Summarex 85 mm f/1.5 1943-1960 (one of the most beautiful lenses ever made); the marvellous screw mount Summicron 35 mm f/2 from 1953 (which established very improved levels of quality in 35 mm format photography thanks to the development of rare earth glasses, new lens coating techniques and the help of the first computers optimised for optical design); the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 2nd version (designed by Walter Mandler in 1961 -through a completely new seven elements Gauss scheme optical formula, different to the 1959 first version Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4, improving the performance at full aperture and featuring an optimal correction of chromatic aberration, excellent general correction of the spheric aberration and suppression of coma wide open, along with a very good contrast- unrivalled for approximately 40 years till the improvement of aspherics manufacture, and epitome of the famous fingerprint of Leica M Lenses); the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1.2 designed by Helmut Marx and Paul Sindel in 1964 and presented in 1966 Photokina Köln (featuring two aspherical elements); the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1 designed by Walter Mandler in Midlands Ontario and launched into market in 1976 (improving the quality of the first Noctilux f/1.2 without aspherics at all f stops and lowering the production cost); the Summilux-M 75 mm f/1.4 from 1980 (another of the jewels made by Walter Mandler and rendering a very peculiar three dimensional type of image together with a fairly remarkable charm and aesthetical beauty at full aperture, due to certain coma residue intentionally preserved by the Optical Mozart of Midlands, Ontario); the extra high resolution Elcan 66 mm f/2 produced for the US Navy; the unique Elcan 90 mm f/1; the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 Aspherical in its two versions designed by Walter Watz ( the first one produced between 1990-1994 with 9 elements in five groups and two aspherically ground lenses and the second one produced from 1994 featuring the same optical formula but only one aspherical surface produced by ultra high precision press forming rather than by grinding and polishing, i.e, moulding raw glass blanks for the first time); the Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 Asph designed by Michael Heiden; the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 Asph (the best 50 mm lens for 35 mm format produced in the world till now, an incredible design by Peter Karbe presented on February 22th 2004, featuring an image beating even the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 1994 third version and sporting an outstanding floating system); the Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 Asph (seven elements in five groups, with the ´Leitz glass´ of its third element boasting a unique partial dispersion responsible for this lens very high degree of correction, another element rich in fluorite and a ´floating element´ that on focusing moves independently from the rest of the optical system, so avoiding the problem of spherical aberration at shorter ranges and allowing for a top-notch performance from long to close range and besides, Leica needed to implement a brutally mechanics engineering to place the lens inside the extremely compact mount); the Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 Aspherical ; the Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21 mm f/4 Asph (presented in December 2006, featuring 10 elements in 7 groups, able to get a 107º angle of view on an analogue Leica M camera and equivalent to a 21-28 mm zoom when attached to the digital Leica M8), even suitable for architecture shots because of its incredibly low values of distortion and field curvature, apart from being very good for hyperfocal photography by means of depth of field from a distance of 0.33 m.

Leica M6 with its motordrive.

Aerial view of the Leica MP, a top-notch fully mechanical photographic tool solidly based on classical principles, made with the best available materials and complemented by the best rangefinder lenses on earth.

Back view of the Leica MP with the wheel for choosing sensitivity of film at its center and the viewfinder on top left. The strap lugs on both sides are also first class and able to endure many decades of hard use.

Golden plated gearwheels inside a Leica MP. Things made this way can´t be cheap.

It´s also important to underline the great role performed by Walter Mandler´s state-of-the-art designs, specially during sixties and seventies, who helped to define the work of the photojournalists (when high speed reportage lenses were in great demand), specially with the trio of Summicrons-M 35, 50 and 90 mm f/2 which fulfilled the requests admirably. Incredibly, all of his designs have endured very well the elapse of time and are currently among the highest quality M lenses in the world, only beaten in resolution and contrast by the most up-to-date designs incorporating modern aspherics, though in terms of aesthetical beauty of image Mandler´s designs prevail most times.

Zeiss Hologon 16 mm f/8 for Leica M mount. A masterpiece super great angle, revival of the Hologon 15 mm f/8 designed by Erhard Glatzel in 1966, from which Leica ordered a few hundred in M mount between 1972 and 1976. It is the same ultrawide angle available for Contx G2 rangefinder, but adapted to Leica M mount, featuring 5 elements in 3 groups, a view angle of 106º and weighing only 120 g.

A marvel of optical design, built almost symmetrically reducing the distance from the rear of the lens to the film plane, which improves the contrast. This is another legendary lens boasting an incredible absence of distortion which makes it rectilinear 100% to practical effects, following in this respect the steps of the medium format lenses Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 designed by Dr Hans Sauer for Hasselblad 903 SWC and the 43 mm f/4.5 L for the Mamiya 7 rangefinder.

When the Hologon 15 mm f/8 is attached to any Leica M, the depth of field is tremendous from the minimum focusing distance of 1 meter on. It is a very suitable lens for architecture, fashion, advertising and landscape, needing a special viewfinder attached to the accessory shoe of the camera body and a special 4x gradation filter which is supplied to minimize the effect of light fall off due to a decrease in relative luminance in the corners of the image field.


Inverted Hologon 16 mm f/8 in Leica M mount. We can realize the impressive mechanizing of the lens and the incredibly rounded rear element which protrudes very much inside the body of Leica M cameras in such a way that it remains at a very few milimiters from the film plane. Currently Leica Camera in Solms can attach the ROM contacts for the use of this lens on the digital M8.

Cutaway of the Tri-Elmar-M 28-35-50 mm f/4 ASPH, a very clever ´three in one´ very compact objective covering the three most often used focal lengths in the Leica M Rangefinder System. It was one of the biggest technological exploits in the history of Leica, full of engineering challenges accomplished and manifold complexities of all kind.

From f/4, this lens is able to compete without problems with the best fixed focal lengths in the world in the 28-35-50 scope.

Featuring 8 elements in 6 groups, with two of the elements being aspheric and a little weight of only 340 g, it is a very good and versatile travel lens, even apt for photojournalism (whenever you don´t need great apertures between f/1 and f/2.8) producing top-notch professional quality images with very low distortion because of an aspherical lens located in the first group of elements, and almost zero typical aberrations in monochromatic images thanks to the other aspherical surface.

You adjust the ring for focal length selection with a click in one of the respective focal lengths, while the focusing and the focal length choosing are made with two independent rings.

Five of the total of eight elements are produced with very special optical glass sporting very high refractive indexes.

The cutaway sample appearing in the photograph reveals the extreme mechanical intricacy of this very high quality lens able to produce superb images.


Chromed Leica M7 with Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 sporting 4 elements in 3 groups, resembling the previous version Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 produced between 1957 and1974, but reformulated in 1994 with better optical glasses to celebrate the launching of the Leica M6J. The formidable M7, launched in 2002, features a very practical automatism of aperture priority, TTL flash exposure, flash synchronization at the second shutter curtain, choice of both manual and automatic iso setting and extremely quite electronically controlled rubberised clothed focal plane shutter with horizontal movement between 32 sec and 1/1000 in automatic mode and two mechanically controlled shutter speeds of 1/60 and 1/125. It weights only 610 g.

And recently, Leica has made an effort to make the top quality of its lenses available to a wider scope of people, through the introduction of the new more economical Summarit-M Family, made up by four top-notch f/2.5 high quality lenses with a very interesting price/performance ratio: the Summarit-M 35 mm f/2.5, the Summarit-M 50 mm f/2.5, the Summarit-M 75 mm f/2.5 and the Summarit-M f/2.5. If greater apertures are not a priority, these lenses are of the highest quality feasible nowadays making use of traditional spheric lens designs, both for analog and digital Leica M cameras, though the four lenses have got built in the 6-bit coding for maximum synergy with the Leica M8. This way, they´re very compact lenses featuring a moderate f/2.5 speed, but keeping the traditional very high standard of image quality that has made Leica famous all over the world, achieving great colours, lavishnesh of details and very good contrast, alongside with the customary power of resolution and sharpness that have always been Leica´s hallmark.

Beautiful diagonal aerial image of an A/B chromed Leica M7 with Elmar 50 mm f/2.8 1994 version.

Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 First Version produced between 1962 and 1980. Another of the great designs made by Walter Mandler in Midlands (Ontario). A great lens even currently, giving a superb image quality and only beaten by the Summicron-M 90 mm Second Version (also designed by Mandler) and the Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH.

Gorgeous diagonal back view of Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 First Version, showing the legendary cosmetic and mechanical beauty of classic Leica M lenses. The finish of the metal is amazing, specially in the scallop of the focusing ring typical in the early M lenses. Once more, the conjunction of the best noble metals available, very narrow tolerances in many different aspects and masterful skilled work steadily improved for many decades pays off.

Leica M8, the biggest technological tour de force made till now on earth to make a world class digital camera. It was much more difficult to design and build the Leica M8 than the rest of high end professional reflex cameras of the other main photographic firms in the world. The world class Leica expert Ed Schwartzreich has proved since he began using a preproduction testing sample in 2006, that the extraordinary image quality delivered by the formidable Leica M8 is comparable to the best medium format analog cameras. In this respect, the fairly impressive degree of detail in center and edges alike achieved by him both in portraits of young people and some pictures of the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra, along with a a very remarkable resolving power excel.

These new f/2.5 Summarit-M lenses are designed and build in Germany, and so as to manufacture them, Leica uses special high refraction index glasses together with other ones featuring low dispersion, based on fluorophosphates and heavy barium flint glass, which brings about a high colour fidelity. Therefore, their construction is on a par with the same hefty standards of optical and mechanic quality sported by the rest of lines of Leica M lenses. And the contained but very useful maximum aperture of f/2.5 (let´s think that professional zooms usually have got a widest aperture of f/2.8) allows to offer an economical alternative without compromising the quality at all, because the absence of aspherical surfaces in the design of these four Summarit f/2.5 lenses reduces considerably the production costs and enables Leica to offer a low price. Besides, they all include the 6-bit coding in their mount to use them with the Leica M8 digital, though they can be also used on any analog Leica M camera produced from 1954, that´s to say, from the Leica M3 to the Leicas M6, M7 and MP.

Kodak KAF-10500 digital sensor of the Leica M8. Featuring 10,3 megapixels, a crop of 1,33x with an active area of 27 x 18 mm and a pixel pitch of 6.8 microns. Because of its indium tin oxide as a basic constituent together with other secrets materials, it delivers the best photographic image attained till now in a professional digital camera in the world, both in the rangefinder and reflex domain, equalling the best medium format films and even beating their capabilities at the highest isos between 800 and 2500 and achieving incredibly low noise and very wide dynamic range, even at the highest sensitivities, as proved by Mr Edward Schwartzreich, who put to test one of the first prototypes of this camera and has made very deep research comparing the image quality given by M8 to top class medium format cameras.

Back view of Leica M8 digital.

Aerial perspective of the Leica M8 digital with Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH.

Aerial perspective of the Leica M8 digital with Elmarit 28 mm f/2.8 ASPH.


On the other hand, Leica always had the obtainment of the best possible optical glasses for its M lenses as one aim of paramount importance, and the examples are manifold: the thorium oxide glass nD= 1,69112 vD= 54, 8 included in four of the lenses of the optical formula of the Leitz Summitar* Summicron 50 mm f/2 Original Project 1950 designed by Gustav Kleinberg and Otto Zimmermann (which also had a flint lead-glass plate to avoid film fogging by radiation); the famous lanthanum crown glass LAK9 n=1.6940, v= 54.71(product of the efforts by the Leitz Glass Lab and Schott and boasting a high refractive index and low dispersion) appeared in 1954, featuring a lack of thorium oxide and subsequently present in the optical formula of a lot of the best Leica lenses of the time, like the out of this world solid mechanics of the mount Summicron Rigid 1956/57 (some of whose elements are made with 1.6940 LAK9); the five optical glasses used for the designing of the 1953 screw mount Summicron 50 mm f/2 (Lak9 1.6940, SF17 1.6547, LF7 1.5783, F5 1.6071 and the cheaper BaF10 1.6734); the new range of ultramodern and very exotic very high refractive and very low dispersion optical glasses that Heinz Broemer and Norbert Meiner developed between 1958 and mid sixties, specially the remarkable ´ Noctilux 900/ 1´ nD= 1,900 -also known as Glass Type 900403 Noctilux-, used firstly in the optical formula of the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1.2 designed by Helmut Marx and Paul Sindel in Wetzlar in 1964 (and presented in the Photokina Köln 1966) and three years later by Walter Mandler when he designed in Midlands (Ontario) the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1 (which would be presented in 1976); the high refractive glasses (between 1,7205 and 1,7919 and vD=47,2) used for Mandler´s Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 2nd version; the LaFN2 1.7479 of the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 first version from 1969-1979 featuring 6 elements in 5 groups and so forth. The list would be immense.

Diagonal view of the Leica M8, whose contours, design and dimensions are very similar to the mythical analog Leicas M.

Chromed Leica M8 with Summicron 35 mm f/2 ASPH.

The new 6-bit coding added to M lenses to optimise their performance when attached to the formidable digital Leica M8, has proved to be a very valuable technical resource available for Leica users already having M lenses all over the world.

Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21 mm f/4 ASPH, another impressive optical tour de force made by Leica, designing a suitable ´three lenses in one objective´ (beginning for the first time in Leica M with a 16 mm focal length) for the 1,3 x factor of the Leica M8. This way, to practical effects, it becomes a 21-24-28 mm f/4, something very useful for reportage and architecture photography, because of the impressive image quality produced by this lens at all apertures and focal lengths, even improving in this respect the already excellent previous Tri-Elmar-R 28-25-50 mm f/4 for analog Leicas M.

It has got an optical formula of 10 elements (two of them aspherical) in seven groups, which in their turn are divided in two vario groups, moving independently one from the other. Besides, the internal focusing of this great lens acts as a floating element to eliminate the typical baias to optical errors in the shortest focusing distances. The minimum focusing distance has been reduced to 50 cm, instead of the customary 70 cm. A very versatile and compact lens boasting spectacular appearance and weighing only 350 g.


Refractive index and Abbe Numbers are very important in specifying the glass for the different lens elements and the chemical composition and optical traits of each type of glass is what makes it unique and useful to the Leica lens designer.

Elmarit-M 21 mm f/2.8 ASPH with its top-notch shade. It features 9 elements in 7 groups, exhibiting utterly low distortion not visible in practice, impressive contrast and great lavishness of details, even at full aperture. Huge depth of field from f/4 onwards. This lens enables making very dramatic photographs full of impact. Very good for architecture. There are two versions: the black anodised one weighing 300 g and the 415 g silver chromed. It gives even better quality at f/2.8 than the Elmarit 21 mm f/2.8 non aspheric at f/4.

Front view of the Elmarit-M 21 mm f/2.8 ASPH.

Diagonal view of the Elmarit-M 21 mm f/2.8 ASPH.

Elmarit-M 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH. Featuring 7 elements in 5 groups, this wideangle lens renders incredibly high image quality even at full aperture, producing both a wonderful contrast and a brutal capturing of details, including the most hidden ones in deep shadows or high keys areas. And this happens over the entire image surface. A great lens for photojournalism.

Though sometimes Leica has had to produce critical glasses by its own (in fact there was a glass factory in Wetzlar of yore) usually Leica buys its glasses from various catalogues of the best makers and glass suppliers in the world, according to the properties they require for a particular lens element. Among these Leica partners we must emphasize Schott, Summita, Hikari, Hoya and Corning.

Another perspective of the Elmarit-M 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH, clearly showing the traditional scales of depth of field and diaphragms typical in Leica lenses since the times in which Ernst Leitz II decided to go on with the 35 mm standard rangefinder cameras.

Frontal view of the Elmarit-M 24 mm f/2.8 ASPH. Pay attention to the first class focusing helicoids, an authentic pleasure because of its smooth movements and touch which have a lot to do with the legendary ´Leica Feeling´.

Elmarit-M-28 mm f/2.8 first version, designed by Walter Mandler in Midlands (Ontario) and in production between 1965 and 1972. A complex symmetrical design, featuring 9 elements in 6 groups. Extraordinary from f/4, both in the center and in the edges, and good at full aperture, though in this case the image on the corners drops something. Notwithstanding, now in 2008, this lens goes on being a top class performer. With this lens, Mandler made the feat of getting at f/2.8 a similar quality to the Summaron 28 mm f/5.6 (produced between 1955 and 1963) at f/5.6 and beating the Summaron 35 mm f/3.5 (produced between 1946 and 1960) at full aperture.

Lateral view of the Elmarit-M-28 mm f/2.8 first version, designed by Walter Mandler. As always with Leica M lenses, the mechanizing of the metal is first class. Also top notch the focusing helicoids with the screwing threads visible in the open air.

Leica has always put a lot of emphasis on making use of a smart mixture of different metals to minimize the friction as much as possible apart from allowing no clearances among the mechanical components. The German photographic firm has always excelled in attaining silk-soft focusing mechanics in its lenses by means of optical high performance elements which can be precisely and delicately moved.

This is top-notch science, technique and superb craftsmanship at the same time and all the Leica focusing mount use the ideal metal pairing for their top class helicoids: hard aluminium and brass boasting very good gliding traits. In the same way, Leica uses high speed machines to make the fastenings, and grinds individually the components of the focusing groups for a better fit with one another.

This allows the surface to smoothly glide with a minimal variable resistance, but with a consistently fine feeling motion., which becomes manual focusing a pleasurable experience for many decades under the most different climate conditions, between –20º C and 60º C.


Fairly fruitful for Leica has been working closely with Schott to have special batches of optical glass tailor-made for certain lens elements or to achieve higher consistency in the manufacturing process.

Elmarit-M 28 mm f/2.8 ASPH. It features 8 elements (of which one is aspheric) in 6 groups and a very low weight of 180 g, being the least heavy lens of the whole Leica M system. Connected to a Leica M8, it becomes a fabulous 35 mm f/2 Aspherical. An extraordinary angular lens, sporting impressive reduction of the distortion until leaving it in insignificant levels almost only observable in optical bench.

Elmarit-M 28 mm f/2.8 ASPH diagram, showing the accuracy of the configuration of elements and groups inside the lens barrel. The centering of each lens in the Leica M System is an absolutely important aspect to which the German photographic firm pays top attention.

Front view of Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH. Another world class performer. It features 9 elements (one of them, the most in the rear, being aspheric) in 6 groups. This extraordinary lens gets a brutal image quality, also contributing a spectacular perception of depth. Superb image quality from full aperture f/2, capturing the finest details of the subjects photographed. Also suitable for selective focusing in special circumstances, because of its great luminosity. Its distortion is insignificant. A very compact lens, weighing only 270 g.


Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 ASPH with its high quality metallic shade, whose superb finish and mechanizing have always been a distinctive trait of the firm. This lens is a great optical and mechanical achievement by Leica, because in spite of being one stop more luminous, its very small dimensions are similar to the previous Elmarit-M 28 mm f/2.8, besides very slightly outperforming it when used at full f/2 aperture and clearly beating it at f/2.8.

From mid fifties, there have been four decisive factors in the development and constant improvement of Leica M lenses:

a) The computer aided design. As early as 1953, Leitz was the first photographic firm in the world which made use of a computer to help in the designing of the optical calculum of a lens.

The driving force behind this revolutionary method that allowed the opticians to save thousands of manual calculi through some years to make the best lenses was Professor Helmut Marx, who created the famous COMO ( Correcting, Optimizing and Minimizing by means of Orthogonalizing) program, and another computer with this program was very soon installed in the factory of Leitz in Midlands (Ontario) to be used by Walter Mandler.

This way, from then on, computers would be a very valuable tool for Leica lens designers, accomplishing the starting basic work, which is not the most important one in the most top-notch superspeed designs but would make them save approximately between four and seven years to create a lens, depending on the cases.

Notwithstanding, computers are specially suitable to find feasible design routes, beginning from introduced parameters related to possible types of glass used, production costs, refractive indexes of them, capacity to be grinded or moulded and a huge list of specifications.

But soon was evident that above all with the most high level lenses the personalized touch, knowledge and experience of the designers would go on being with difference the most important factor, because if everything is trusted on computers the lenses finally obtained this way will never be really top-notch, specially in the designs with maximum aperture between f/1 and f/2.

It´s widespred known that Leica always publish very accurate and scientific MTF curves with each of the lenses it produces, but MTF curves, though being evidently important, have never been considered the most decisive factor for Leica when designing a top-notch lens. In fact, Leica discovered a lot of years ago that a lens rendering very good results in MTFs could produce in actual photographic context a worse image than another lens having previously given poorer MTF results.

Leica makes use of the tandem MTF (Modulation Transfer Function) + OTF (Optical Transfer Function) as very valuable and necessary tools for the measurings by the designers, but that isn´t everything at all.

Leica gives tremendous significance to the feedback received from professional photographers with a lot of years of experience who have made hundreds of thousands or millions of photographs to fine tune the optical performance of each new lens it designs before putting it into the market, and frequently designs which have rendered very good outcomes in MTF curves are abandoned.

Id est, Leica has always done its best to reduce the effects of aberrations and to foster the optical performance of its lenses. And designers of lenses have to take into account the aftermaths of the quoted aberrations to properly balance them regarding the image quality and bokeh they want to attain, and approximately 60 different parameters of design must be coordinated to obtain the current most top-notch Leica lenses, a prodigy of technique, use of the best materials available and above all tremendous optical, physics and mathematics knowledge among others.

Evidently, all the data are introduced in the most up-to-date and quick computers, computerized programs and even Leica has created a lot of fantastic softwares optimised for optical design, but the truth is that it´s impossible to make a top-notch lens utterly in an automatic way through the use of computers, however good they can be.

Every correction program has to be personally controlled and guided by optical designers, which must give the very important touches setting the difference. Besides, the optical designer, trusting on his expertise and perception, has to carry out the suitable routes to properly take the program to the best direction for his purposes, something tremendously difficult to achieve, because the different aberrations increase wildly, specially with the very luminous superb lenses sporting maximum apertures between f/1 and f/2.

On the other hand, Leica has always given great importance to the results on photographic papers, both in b & w and colour photographies made with its lenses, because this is the authentic touchstone to confirm or not the actual quality of image a photographic lens can deliver.

That´s to say, Leica´s approach on designing superb lenses goes much beyond to get spectacular sharpness and brilliant colours. In fact, they are always striving to the limit of the scientifically possible to keep a good overall contrast (both in the centre and extreme corners of the image area), brutal sharpness, etc, but at the same time capturing the finest gradations and colour hue separations with superlative detail.

Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. Launched into market in 1994, it is the outcome of new state of the art optical technology applied for photographic objectives, the currently still most advanced in the world, being the first Leica lens which used a large glass element with an aspherical surface produced through ultra high precision press forming rather than by grinding and polishing. It features 9 elements (one of them, the fifth one, aspherical) in 5 groups and is nowadays with difference the best lens in the world in this focal length and aperture, exhibiting a brutal power of resolution, contrast and sharpness, along with a tremendous detail rendition on the whole image area. A full-fledged jewel for photojournalism with ambient light and landscapes. Huge capacity for capturing images indoors in contexts of very low luminosity without needing flash, preserving the genuine atmospheres. A very compact and small lens, weighing only 250 g (415 g the silver chromed model).

It´s very interesting to know that there is a previous version, produced between 1990 and 1994, the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPHERICAL, another world class performer lens which meant to begin from scratch after it was apparent that Walter Mandler had taken the performance of the Double Gauss designs to its physical limits of quality (impressive by the way and reducing incredibly the production costs, which saved the firm in some very important historical moments) and it was virtually impossible to improve them.

This way, with the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 aspheric, Leica came back to a way that had been previously abandoned in 1966 when Helmut Marx and Paul Sindel made the Noctilux 50 mm f/1.2 with two aspherical surfaces, because the production cost was extremely high and at that moment there were only three people on earth able to manually grind them. But in the late eighties, new grinding machines and deeper and more up-to-date knowledge on aspherics allowed to start the generalization of this new method to design and produce the new array of best lenses in the world in different focal lengths, optimising them for performance at their maximum aperture, a quantum leap in the history of photographic lenses, which began in 1990 with the introduction of this Summilux 35 mm f/1.4 ASPHERICAL (featuring 9 elements in 5 groups two of them aspherical and also very compact, with a weight of 275 g) and has gone on till now.

Optical scheme of the Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, the current best standard lens in the world. It was designed by Peter Karbe and features 8 elements (one of them, the fourth, being aspherical) in 5 groups, also using top-notch glass with anomalous partial dispersion, glass with a very high refraction index and a floating element in the most rear group of lenses.

This is currently the new world reference regarding image quality for 35 mm format lenses, and has occupied the throne that until recently was property of the Summicron-M 50 mm f/2. The centering of the optical cell, vital to optimise performance, is superb and finish in semi-matt black, with aperture, metric distance scales and depth of field indices picked out in white.

The focusing ring of this formidable standard lens moves with velvet smoothness. It is essentially a Double Gauss type, and the Gauss function is performed by the three elements in front of the diaphragm, while the design of the elements behind is a development from the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 whose rear element last surface is also atypically concave. The rear group´s surface facing the iris is aspheric. The second element in the front section is in a special low colour dispersion fluorite type glass. The third element is also made in low dispersion glass, which helps to minimize spherical aberrations and drawing errors. And the last group is floating so as to maintain corrections when the focusing distance decreases. The aspheric surface assists in correcting the increase in spherical aberration which near focusing usually provokes with very large aperture lenses, avoiding the need to build one more element to lengthen the optical cell, something that would greatly increase the weight and volume of the lens, together with the diameter of its front group. Fabulous multipurpose lens, very compact in size and weighing only 335 g.

Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, the supermonster of optical performance in terms of tremendous power of resolution, contrast and sharpness, though great mastery of technique is necessary to exploit its full potential which is simply brutal. From its inception, the goal with this lens was to take the technical limits of photography using standard focal lengths into new dimensions, giving practically the same incredible quality of image at f/1.4 than stopping it down, an enormous optical breakthrough attained by Leica.

A wonderful lens for photojournalism, able to adapt to every conceivable context and performing a very wide range of photographic tasks at maximum level, being besides a very high level landscape lens when stopped down. It has got a top-notch ability to make photographs with selective focus at great apertures between f/1.4 and f/2.8, one of the biggest delights for any shutterbug, who will capture the most special situations with ambient light without necessity to use flash, however low may be the luminous conditions of the place, and always with the best optical performance available at full aperture.

With this wonderful 50 mm which has set a new world standard very difficult to beat in future, the professional photographer will get the photograph even in environments under the lowest available light, specially at full aperture f/1.4, achieving excellent sharpness across the whole frame, along with great detail in the shadows and impressive absence of coma in the lights.

Incredibly, the optical quality rendered by this Summilux-M 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH only improves very slightly on stopping it down. Taking into account its very special personality, the falloff is very contained: two stops in the frame corners at f/1.4 and half a stop at f/5.6 apart from the fact that this out of this world lens delivers a full retention of subtle colour hues, incredibly low values of drawing errors and an utterly uncommon ability to retain shapes and colour tones in out of focus areas.


b) The use of new optical media. Leica put a lot of emphasis in substituting the traditional optical formulas of the times of Oskar Barnack, Max Berek, etc, based on silica glasses with lanthanum oxide and other mainly rare earth glasses featuring superior optical qualities of transmission of light.

Until fifties, the common belief was that if the refractive index of an optical glass was high, the dispersion would be also high. But the rare earth glasses were revolutionary in this respect, because they boasted very high refractive indices and at the same time very low dispersion of light.

The list of these legendary rare earth glasses would be immense and some of the most remarkable ones were previously quoted, being perhaps the most famous the Leitz 900 430 used by Walter Mandler when he created the Noctilux 50 mm f/1 in Midlands (Ontario).
Besides, Leica has always paid top attention to the correction of colour aberrations to attain the famous impressive optical performance of its lenses.

And this is one of the hardest tasks a designer must face, because colour errors multiply as focal length is increased. And to minimize this hindrance, optical glasses featuring high refractive power and low dispersion are a highly esteemed help, so currently Leica uses them a lot. In this respect, the three true Apochromatic Lenses of the Leica M assortment of objectives excel outstandingly: the Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH, the Apo-Summicron 90 mm f/2 ASPH and the Apo-Telyt-M 135 mm f/3.4

Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH. Featuring 7 elements in 5 groups, this is a very compact lens contributing a moderate telephoto perspective, very suitable for a wide range of photographic tasks, including portraits and all kind of reportages. With a weight of only 430 g (very low bearing in mind its great aperture and focal length) this stellar performer delivers brutal image quality at f/2, which improves only slightly when stopped down, a common feature in the most up-to-date Leica M lenses using aspherical surfaces.

A lens producing great contrast and boasting an impressive ability to capture the finest structures. Its anti reflection qualities are also superb by means of the customary Leica world class use of the best possible coating techniques. In order to maintain its awesome image quality throughout its entire focusing range, from the minimal focusing distance of 0.7 m to infinity, in the same way as with the Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 ASPH, its optical formula includes a floating element, the sixth one, which on focusing modifies its location with respect to the rest of the optical system.

Thus, this floating element addes to the top level high refractive index glasses, the aspherical surface in the fourth element and the glass with anomalous partial dispersion to configurate an unbeatable best in the world performer in its focal length and maximum aperture, which besides has got an incredibly low distortion of 1%, together with very good values of vignetting of 1 stop at full f/1 aperture and almost disappearing to practical effects from f/2.8.

Wonderful for handheld shots. As is usual with Leica M assortment of lenses, this objective sports a Numantine defense to the loss of contrast because of parasite light, thanks to the very painstaking care put both in the multicoating of the lenses and the inner manufacture of their barrels.


Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH. Featuring 5 elements in 5 groups (the third one being aspheric) this is an absolutely stellar performer and with difference the best lens in the world in its focal length and maximum aperture, exhibiting an incredibly accurate centering.

A very important lens from a historical standpoint, because it was the first time that Leica made simultaneous use of an aspherical surface and apochromatic correction inside one of its optical designs. It renders a simply brutal quality at full aperture f/2, improving only slightly on stopping it down, attaining tremendous values of resolution power, contrast and sharpness on the whole image area, greatly due to the gorgeous optical configuration it boasts, because apart from the quoted aspherical element, it has two composed of anomalous partial dispersion very special glasses and a pair more made with high refractive top-notch glass.

Id est, vast majority of glasses of the optical formula of this optical Rolls-Royce were wisely chosen for the best apochromatic correction attainable in the current state of science. A fairly versatile lens, suitable for professional studio photography, sports, portraits and a wide range of reportage genres. Very compact in size and weighing only 500 g, enabling to comfortably make handheld photographs.

This lens is currently one of the most representative epitomes of what Leica wants, regarding extraordinary crispness in fine details and outlines of the subjects, everything being solidly supported by the superb true apochromatic correction of this world class objective. Of course, the level of distortion is negligible in the same way as the vignetting: one diaphragm at full aperture and almost disappearing from f/2.8.

On the other hand, its mechanical complexity is huge, being used to build it the most state-of-the-art technologies and materials to accomplish its great reliability and endurance for many decades of hard use, another very important feature in Leica M (and R) lenses, plainly revealing the legendary Leica lenses wonderful cosmetic aspect together with the selection of the best possible materials and optical glasses, a historical hallmark of the firm which goes on currently, in 2008, utterly present.

The term ´apochromatic´ is sometimes used loosely by some firms in advertisements, but Leica has got a very high standard of true Apochromatic lenses, in such a way that it only defines three of its M lenses as such: the Apo-Summicron-M 75 mm f/2 ASPH, the Apo-Summicron 90 mm f/2 ASPH and the Apo-Tely-M 135 mm f/3.4.


Diagonal view of the Apo-Summicron-M 90 mm f/2 ASPH, plainly revealing the legendary Leica lenses wonderful cosmetic aspect together with the selection of the best possible materials and optical glasses, a historical hallmark of the firm which goes on nowadays, in 2008, utterly present.

c) The constant improvement of antireflection coatings. From the first moments, Leica paid a lot of attention to the discoveries made by the great Zeiss optician and physicist Alexander Smakula, who in 1935 invented an antireflective coating for lenses, which from then on, would mean a very significant improvement in photographic lenses.

These antireflective coatings are applied to the surfaces of lenses to reduce unwanted reflections, and they greatly foster the global optical quality of the photographic system, since less light is lost.

The optical coatings are implemented by placing thin layers of material on a photographic lens, which modifies the way in which it reflects and transmits light.

Therefore, their decisive feature is that they reduce the amount of glass that is reflected from each air-to-glass surface in a lens design, which brings forth a tremendous betterment as to contrast and sharpness.

These coatings are manufactured with very thin layers (usually in the range of the 0.14 micron) and specially making use of Magnesium Fluoride, a metal which is vapor deposited on the lens elements in a vacuum inside the barrel of the objectives.

So, Leica did its best trying to adapt itself to the new discovery, though truth is that during second half of thirties, and the decades of forties and fifties, both Zeiss (with its lenses for Contax RF cameras) and specially Nippon Kogaku (with its wonderful lenses for both Contax RF and Leica RF screw mount cameras) went ahead in the coating domain.

Notwithstanding, from mid fifties with the introduction of the Leica M bayonet (created by Hugo Wehrenfenning) and the Leica M3 camera (designed by Willi Stein) in 1954, Leica worked very much to improve the quality and duration of its lens coatings, beginning to excel in this respect from the second half of this decade, when Walter Mandler started working in Canada in the Leitz Factory of Midlands (Ontario) making extensive use of the second computer optimized for designing photographic lenses, very similar to the one already existing in Wetzlar (Germany) which was being used by Helmut Marx.

Walter Mandler, probably the greatest wizard of all time designing photographic lenses of all times, had a tremendous knowledge and expertise, not only related to Mathematics, Physics, types of glasses and its properties, traits of the metals used in the barrels and so forth, but also in coatings, and from the scratch, he was aware about the absolutely decisive significance that the best possible coatings would have in the designing of top-notch lenses in future.

Indeed, he became a very remarkable pundit in lens coatings, realizing that coating had to be done alongside with the very lens design and spent many hours of his life striving to find the most suitable glasses for them in his lenses, steadily searching for the best available techniques.

Later on, mid seventies brought the second revolution of multi-coating, sporting the use of several layers of coating on a photographic lens, each one being tuned to a particular wavelength of light, which took the level of performance of top-notch great aperture lenses to unheard-of and incredible levels.

In fact, multicoating techniques provide nowadays the greatest efficiency in light transmission in photographic lenses, attaining reduced light loss and fairly improving sharpness and contrast, in such a way that it has become a key factor in the designing of the up-to-date professional large aperture zooms that are as sharp as prime lenses in a high percentage of cases.

Roughly, the current multicoating technique is based on the vapour deposition of one or often some extremely thin layers on each exposed lens surface, in such a way that a percentage of the light is reflected on the individual layer or on each of the multiple layers, whilst another percentage of the light is reflected on the glass surface.

Likewise, multicoating technologies have allowed the designing of incredibly high performance ultraluminous prime lenses in the range of f/1.4, significantly reducing the costs and difficulties of manufacturing compared to other epochs.

Currently, Leica fulfils the coating of its lenses by means of a breakthrough computer guided vapor deposition equipment and the lens elements which have to be coated are introduced (after being cleaned through ultrasounds or sometimes by hand) in special receptacles that hold several lenses for each treatment.

Subsequently, these receptacles are located in the vacuum chambers. And then, electron or resistor beam vaporizers deposit the fluorides and metal oxides (intended for the individual layers of the reflection reducing coating) on the lens surfaces.

After this, Leica carries out the reduction of the absorption of humidity and the strengthening of the abrasion resistant properties of the layers by means of an ion source which increases the density of the vapour deposited layers.

Leica is nowadays in the forefront of multicoating technology applied to top-notch photographic lenses.

It´s very important to underline the fact that each type of optical glass needs its special configuration of coating layers, since they´ve got different refractive indices.

On the other hand, to properly check the vapour deposition technique, Leica uses layer thicknesses which are calculated through either instruments able to measure optical layers thickness or by means of ultramodern quartz frequency devices.

Of paramount importance is the checking computer which steadily relates the measured values with the target value and ends the vapour deposition when that figure is obtained.

Besides, Leica has been successful in checking the vapour deposited layer so as to assure that it satisfies the necessary top-notch quality criteria. Thus, with every run of the vapour deposition chamber they include a test glass featuring identical refractive index than the lenses that must be coated.

Furthermore, vast majority of high quality Leica lenses, irrespective of their maximum aperture or focal length, boast a similar high degree of colour rendition and light transmission. And the breathtaking reflection reducing layers made by Leica have very much to do with this, without forgetting an environment tests of more than seventy hours with 40% of relative humidity and 50º C of temperature.

Regarding the strength and durability of the layers Leica apply, they´re simply superb also in this respect, featuring great protection in case the photographer accidentally touches the external surfaces of the front and rear elements, in such a way that unlike the classical screw mount lenses from thirties and forties, painstaking cleaning doesn´t harm the glass at all.

Leica has also made very deep research in the domain of the range 380-700 nm, which is the most important spectral range for the photographers, doing its best to achieve as even high reduction of reflections in the quoted range as possible, applying through vapour deposition technique some thin layers featuring various thicknesses approximately between 1/10,000 mm and a few micrometers.

But this is a very complex technology, whose main cornerstone is that the layers must be strongly adhered with the highest accuracy in order that the coatings attain the desired fabulous optical qualities and effect on the final image.

To put it as clear as possible, Leica most times only admits a tolerance of the millionth part of a milimeter in its individual layers for multicoating, something really brutal which speaks very much about the thoroughness of the firm, also a world flagship in this respect together with the also impressive Fuji EBC (Electro Beam Coating) of the Fuji Texas Rangefinders Fuji 6 x 4.5 cm, 6 x 7 cm and 6 x 9 cm fixed objectives and the range of Fuji Large Format Lenses.

With all of this, the goal was and goes on being the same: to design the best possible lens in terms of image quality, a concept in which many important factors must coexist: resolving power, colour rendition, lack of distortion and reflections, contrast, sharpness of the contours ( something that Leica always bears very much in mind when designing a photographic lens), etc.

The problem has always been the same: when the light beams project on a glass surface, a reflection is brought about, whose intensity will be related to the refractive index of each type of glass, that will reflect between 4.1 % and 9.7 % of the penetrating light.

It´ll raise manifold reflections inside lenses sporting many lens elements. Undoubtedly, this lessens the amount of light transmitted in any photographic lens ( both with primes and zooms ), which will raise changes regarding their photometric values and will reduce its maximum aperture, apart from provoking a higher degree of haze overlapping with the images and a dropping in contrast, even getting double images of the areas originating light in the most extreme contexts.

These annoying visual effects raised by reflections have been commonplace in the history of photography, but Leica multicoating technologies have enabled to fairly reduce them and have proved to be of paramount importance in the designing of the current line-up of top-notch world class lenses of the firm, both in the manual focusing Leica M and Leica R ranges.

It´s not in vain that since mid nineties, Leica started to work with specially built and best in the world high vacuum facilities applying the technique of ion-aided vapour deposition of antireflection layers, taking advantage of the know-how of recognized experts like Harald Weber and Martin Kasznel, technological spearhead in this scope, being fundamental in the ability of modern top-notch Leica lenses to get great photographs in environments with high contrasts or highly backlit contexts.

Leica does steady further research in multicoating technology to improve the performance of its legendary lenses.

Apo-Telyt-M 135 mm f/3.4, the best 135 mm lens in the world regarding brutal image quality. Featuring 5 elements in 4 groups, this lens renders a tremendous quality of image at full aperture that can´t be improved stopping it down. This is the longest lens in the Leica M System and an authentic stellar performer, able to capture at f/3.4 the finest details of the subjects (and specially their outlines) with superb contrast, and everything on the whole image area, including the extreme corners.

The apochromatic correction of this lens is of the highest conceivable level, excelling also in vignetting: 0.68 diaphragm at full aperture, virtually dispappearing from f/4, which is the optimum diaphragm of this monster of optical performance. A fantastic lens for portraits in contexts when for different reason you need more distance than the average 75 and 90 mm portraiture lenses.

A superstellar performer capturing the most intricate textures of objects and all kind of subjects, delivering colossal power of resolution, sharpness and contrast. It´s a full-fledged masterpiece of mechanical engineering and optical design which defies the knowledge and expertise of many professional photographers. Its focusing range is between 1.5 m and infinite.


New range of non aspherical four Summarit-M lenses range, featuring a very interesting ratio quality/price, superb quality and great bokeh, thanks to their high number of diaphragm blades and traditional but very reliable and top-notch image producer optical formulas using spheric elements.

Summarit-M 35 mm f/2.5. It features 6 elements in 4 groups, 9 diaphragm blades and becomes a 46´55 mm lens when attached to the Leica M8. Weight: 220 g.

d) The use of aspheric surfaces. This has been a very significant factor in the spectacular increase in quality of the Leica M lenses (and R) since mid nineties, though many years had to elapse since the first steps of Leica using aspherics with the Noctilux-M 50 mm f/1.2 from 1966 until the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 aspherical from 1990 was created following a similar method of brutal knowledge and proficiency grinding the surfaces greatly manually though with much better machines and computers than in mid sixties.

However, the authentic revolution and consolidation of aspheric surfaces as working method for Leica when doing world class lenses came in 1992 when Leica managed to create the suitable optical glass blanks which could be polished with aspherical surfaces through pressure moulding even in diameters of 20 mm. This optical and technological feat was a tremendous breakthrough and gave soon rise to the introduction of the Summilux-M-35 mm f/1.4 ASPH, the current best lens in the world in this focal length and aperture, virtually impossible to improve and rendering an incredible quality of image at full aperture.

But things didn´t finish here, and at the end of 1996 Leica had another remarkable success when could create computer guided machines to grind the aspherical surfaces of the new super high quality ASPH lenses, a better method than the pressure moulding, because it brings about more accentuated aspherical surfaces.

It´s very important to understand that the current trend of brutal maximum optical performance in the best Leica lenses through the use of super high quality aspheric surfaces, epitomized by great designers like Lothar Kölsch, Horst Schröder, Peter Karbe, Wolfgang Vollrath, Michael Heiden, Sigrun Kammans, etc, was started by Helmut Marx in the Leitz Factory at Wetzlar with the previously already quoted COMO program (in coexistence but frequently through different routes with the superb designs of the genius Walter Mandler, whose work was unique and very remarkable, also using a computer in Midlands, Ontario from mid fifties, taking the Double Gauss scheme to the boundaries of the impossible and always looking for the lowest possible production cost by means of his incredible knowledge and very wise resources of his own of all conceivable type), developed by him between 1968 and 1975, a very flexible optimisation program for designing the best possible lenses according to the most high end optical knowledge of every moment in future.

This program includes all the existing design parameters: optical glass types and their reflective indices, dispersion and anomalous dispersion they feature, weight and cost of the glasses, thickness, adaptability to aspheric treatment, spacings and radii, kind of out of focus aesthetic of image they deliver, endurance under extreme climate conditions and a myriad of other data.

Obviously, this program saves a lot of time to Leica designers and is a tremendously valuable tool for optimising the optical performance of the lenses.

But it is not enough. Even under this great help by computers and superb programs like COMO (even more developed and updated by Sigrun Kammans, Wolfgang Vollrath and Michael Heiden during eighties and nineties), the ´manual´ work and supervision and above all the last ´personal´ touches of the expert Leica designers based on their experience and tremendous optical, properties of glasses and noble metals and mathematical knowledge prove to be decisive to get a top-notch lens featuring brutal quality of image not only in MTF curves (that sometimes can be deceptive when faced to real situations to which professional photographers must often face).

Therefore, the times in which there was the need of some designers through a five or ten years stint to create a new top-notch lens were left behind, but in any case, with the use of modern computers and special computer programs and softwares, the work goes on being very arduous and tremendously difficult to implement, in such a way that a top-notch Leica lens needs a lot of months of intensive work to be designed.

That was the case with the superb Summicron-M 28 mm f/2 designed by Michael Heiden, which took him a very hard stint of six months.

Anyway, Leica is always strenuously fighting for improving its computerized programs and softwares (an evidence of it is the impressive 01 Analysis Program made by Horst Schröder, the current world optical spearhead regarding its domain and also very important in the development of the most up-to-date ultraluminous f/1.4 and f/2 designs featuring aspheric surfaces).

Summarit 50 mm f/2.5. It features 6 elements in 4 groups, 9 diaphragm blades and becomes a 66´5 mm lens when attached to the Leica M8. Weight: 230 g. An evolutioned derivative of Double Gauss classical design.

Summarit-M 75 mm f/2.5. It features 6 elements in 4 groups, 11 diaphragm blades and becomes a 99´75 mm lens when attached to the Leica M8. Weight: 345 g.

Summarit-M 90 mm f/2.5. It features 5 elements in 4 groups, eleven diaphragm blades and becomes a 119´7 mm lens when attached to the Leica M8. Weight: 360 g.

On the left of the image: Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Management Board of Leica Camera AG with the author of this article.

In any case, the rangefinder Leica M8 is currently strongly established as a fantastic photographic tool for those professional photographers and connoisseurs wanting to achieve impressive levels of quality, specially handheld shots at very low shutter speeds not possible with digital reflex cameras between iso 100 and 400 and therefore using the maximum quality of the digital sensor in a very high percentage of the possible contexts, including those featuring the lowest conceivable levels of light, taking advantage of the tremendous quality of the M lenses and the superb Kodak KAF-10500 CCD sensor even at the highest isos, and it goes without saying the low sensitivity slide resembling DNG images obtainable from 160 to 400 iso if circumnstances allow it.

And everything with the minimum weight, very compact size of camera, silent enough shutter release noise and the best lenses in the world rendering an image quality which is currently the reference.

It couldn´t be other way, because the Leica M System is a comprehensive state-of-the-art invention highly solidly based on impressive manual craftsmanship, tremendous optical designing ability and know-how and a steady searching for the excellence in both the mechanic building and German thoroughness in every important aspect which has endured 54 years the elapse of time and now advances towards a prosperous future.

Andreas Kaufmann has great future plans for Leica Camera AG in the digital domain and the very probable launching during next Photokina Köln 2008 of a Leica full frame superprofessional autofocus SLR camera and a superb range of AF lenses for it has raised great expectation, and perhaps it could be one of the most important and decisive moments in the history of photography.
Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza


Leitz Park, currenly being built in Wetzlar (Germany). A dream begins to come true.

The Photokina Köln 2006 meant a very important turning point in the history of Leica, with the introduction of the M8 (a camera to enjoy for many years), and now under the helm of Mr Andreas Kaufmann and the tremendous expectation raised regarding Leica and the next Photokina Köln 2008 approaching and the very probable announcement of a formidable autofocus Leica R System featuring one (or perhaps two) top-notch purely digital bodies and a superb assortment of lenses ( specially the professional zooms in the approximate range 28-70 mm f/2.8 and 70-200 mm f/2.8 plus even perhaps an autofocus version of the formidable Leica Vario-Elmar-R 21-35 mm f/3.5-4 ASPH, apart from maybe a comprehensive array of fixed focal teleobjectives), everything suggest that this legendary photographic firm is going to perform a bigger role in the international digital photographic market.

Regarding this, the great plans by Mr Andreas Kaufmann for the firm and new top-notch product strategies clearly invite to optimism before the upcoming Photokina Köln 2008, which can mean another historical taking the helm by Leica, this time within the digital professional domain of autofocus reflex cameras.