Back from Leica

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by richard_s., Jun 8, 2005.

  1. Hi I&acute;m back from my visit at Leica Solms. <br>
    <br>
    We visited the productions facilities there, watched a slide
    show with photograpy tips from the photographer and lecturer and could
    fondle and try out the new DMR for R8 and R9. <br>
    <br>
    My general impressinon was that Leica is a relativly small company
    (aprox. 500 worker in Solms and 600 in Portugal), not the big company
    some people imagine here, which distorts their view about the firm and
    its posibilities.<br>
    <br>
    Most interesting&nbsp; facility was the lens making.&nbsp; <br>
    <br>
    There is no glass melting by Leica since the late 1980s, so they buy
    their glass from different makers (there were Schott boxes visible).For
    Leicas special glass formulation, they have found a company (French
    Corning?) willing to make it&nbsp; for them. <br>
    The glass doesn&acute;t come in hughe chunks to be cut in fiting
    pieces, but is delivered in preformed pieces of cast glass.<br>
    <br>
    The spherical lens element grinding and polishing is on modified
    machines, grindinding only one piece and side a time, for reasons of
    improved precision. There was nearly as many testing as
    manufactoring&nbsp; gear. One could see the worker testing the
    fresh grund lens elements and we were told that every element is tested
    and reground and repolished until within specs.<br>
    <br>
    Making of aspherical lens elements was very interesting and quite
    different from what I expected. They are made from already polished
    spherical elements, special machinery will grind the aspherical conture
    into the polished perfect looking spherical blanks and repolish it and
    restore the perfect surface in a second turn. <br>
    Leica uses holographic technics to test the special three dimensional
    surface of aspherical lens elements.<br>
    <br>
    Blackening of the elements border and mounting them together iin the
    barrel was followed by final tests and programing the ROM. ( R and M
    lenses were produced side by side).<br>
    All in all, a complicated and labor intensive work, which
    shouldn&acute;t scale very well (Well, depending on available
    founds).<br>
    <br>
    We had not much time left, so passed binocular manufactoring and
    rushed.to the final assembly of R and M camera bodies. They are
    assemled&nbsp; adjusted and tested there as well as customized in
    the "A la Carte" programm. .<br>
    <br>
    General impression and self description of Leica was that of a
    "Manufacory" .<br>
    <br>
    BTW the DMR was cool and worked smooth, build quality of the new R zoom
    lenses was beyond doubt and super solid.<br>
    &nbsp;<br>
    Unfortunatly,
    photographing within the production facility wasn`t allowed.
     
  2. A useful, up-to-date snapshot of their activities, Richard.

    In these days of service companies and big salaried CEOs it is easy to forget that engineering and manufacturing companies work to a different model. And you are right, people should be more accurate when they compare Leica to some big, swaggering globocorp.

    I would love to have seen pictures. Strange they are forbidden. Leica doesn't, to my knowledge, have any great secrets, just plain, old-fashioned hand-crafted manufacture and elbow grease. The big companies have no interest in that.
     
  3. Thanks Richard. I hope to visit Leica myself someday, and it was interesting to learn what is covered in the tour.
    M.V.
     
  4. The description sounds like a standard factory of the 80's, albeit with some modern equipment.

    It would be quite interesting to contrast the Solm's factory with the Nikon or Cosina assembly line. Likely a contrast like a modern car assembly line compared to the Ford Model T line.

    Leica is a small company; it's revenue confirms that. The factory visit confirms it. It is a superb credit to them that they hold the market that they have now.

    I hope they survive.

    Vick
     
  5. I thought aspheric surfaces were made by the blanken press (hot press glass in a mold) and that grinding of aspericals was minimal or no longer done. I think the blank press was limited to smaller elements on second thought. This would be one operation that is secret which they would not want the world to see.
     
  6. Nice story, Richard. Thanks.
     
  7. I still hope that the manufacturing plant at Solms is still open the next time I am in
    Germany because I would like to take the tour to see for myself how things are done.
    Thanks for your interesting description, Richard. It will have to satisfy me until then.
     
  8. Richard,

    Wow, the factory seems to be quite different from the time my girlfriend and I visited E. Leitz in Wetzlar (1957 and 1959). It was
    a proud company then.

    Jerry
     
  9. lmz

    lmz

    Thanks very much for the report. The description fits any number of small optical component factories in the third world. Nothing interesting in terms of equipment. Interference techniques to check surface deviation is rather standard...Other small signs would help you judge the health of the company. I'd be more interested to know how the workers react to your presence? How's the morale there? Is the factory floor clean or dirty, etc...
     
  10. > L Zhou

    I attended the companytour some months ago and I can assure you, the floors were very, very clean.

    And most workers even wore hoods, so that you couldn?t se their hair. Very strange.

    Best regards
     
  11. ""And most workers even wore hoods, so that you couldn?t se their hair. Very strange. ""

    Maybe to keep their hair out of the product?
     
  12. Vick wrote:.
    The description sounds like a standard factory of the 80's, albeit with some modern equipment.

    I doubt, that big Japanese optical factories at that time worked like that, maybe their departments for special order items, for exotic lenses.
    For example, the Nikkor 50mm 1.2 was priced 650,-DM in 1988, their aspherical "Noct" version did cost 2300,-DM, the Leitz 50mm 1.0 Noctilux did cost 3500,-DM in the same price list.

    Of course, a big photographic company, like Canon, theoretical might be able to produce Leica quality lenses in large numbers at, say a arbitary number, half the prices of Leica. Problem is, general public wouldn´t be willing to spend that (still) much money on a lens, they wouldn´t buy Canon and mount a Tamron on the camera - no sales for Canon. If Canon wants to produce lenses for the masses and profit from economy of scales, they aren´t competing with Leica, but with Sigma and Tamron.

    Ronald wrote:
    I thought aspheric surfaces were made by the blanken press (hot press glass in a mold) and that grinding of aspericals was minimal or no longer done. I think the blank press was limited to smaller elements on second thought. This would be one operation that is secret which they would not want the world to see.

    They still do "blankpressen", but it is limited to small lens element diameters of 25mm and 10 sorts of glass (out of aprox. 300 aivalable). They told us that Leica is at the cuting edge of manufactoring asphericals and also produce such elements for other optical companies.

    L Zhou wrote:
    The description fits any number of small optical component factories in the third world. Nothing interesting in terms of equipment. Interference techniques to check surface deviation is rather standard... Interference techniques to check surface deviation is rather standard...

    They use interferometric technics to test spherical elements. For the more complicated surfaces of aspherical elements the use a holographic technology,

    Are there many opitcal companies in the "third world"?

    I'd be more interested to know how the workers react to your presence?

    Some feelt unconfortable to be watched at through the glass "like monkeys in the zoo", some didn´t bother, all showed patience to the crowd blocking the corridors..

    How's the morale there?

    No oportunity to talk to them, exept for the guides.

    Is the factory floor clean or dirty, etc..

    Clean, how do you imagine a working high tech company looks? Like a Soviet shop in a Hollywood flic?

    Jerry wrote:
    Wow, the factory seems to be quite different from the time my girlfriend and I visited E. Leitz in Wetzlar (1957 and 1959). It was a proud company then.

    At that time Leitz produced high numbers of camaras per year, no competitor produced a general purpose camera as good as the M3 or M2. Leitz hasn`t been split into three parts (the other 2 remaining parts of Leitz, now Leica, do quite well, producing investment goods, I have heard).
    IMHO and I´m aware of the deficits of the M cameras, there has been no better Rangfinder camera than Leicas M cameras, several competitors tried it and failed.
    At the moment, we were told, 90% of the sold Leica cameras are Ms.

    Simplified, before the 50´s, competition copied Leitz cameras and Zeiss lenses. After the 50´s Leitz invested much in Lens design, today they perceive themself as a cuting edge lens maker, at the tour they went so far to declare themself a lens maker, building cameras to mount their lenses on.
    BTW at the begining of the tour they showed us prints from Barnaks negatives, he took with his prototype camera: Not bad for pre WWI minature format photography, most people today would be satisfied with the quality.

    So, yes they are proud of their products, but I had the impression they are a little bit sad that they don`t receive proper attention for producing a large number of the best photographic lenses available.
    Interesting observation to that topic, during the presentation of the DMR, the demonstrator mentioned those Canon digital camera owner who use Leica glass on their EOS 1Ds MkII., will now have an more comfortable alternative with an R9 and DMR.
     
  13. Richard,

    I'm curious: did you hand them any Leica gear for them to examine while you were on the tour? (I've been told that they'll give it the "once over" as a coutesy.)
     
  14. Leica might be a more profitable company if Leica really stuck with the idea of being a top lens manufacturer and produced lenses for other camera bodies, like Nikons and Canons.
     
  15. Jack wrote:
    Richard,
    I'm curious: did you hand them any Leica gear for them to examine while you were on the tour? (I've been told that they'll give it the "once over" as a coutesy.)


    No, I didn´t ask and the Leica representives didn`t made such an offer, but we were a very large group of 50 persons, and Leica had already problems to guide us through the production without creating traffic jams.
    I´m sure they would check your Leica gear for free, if you ask them.
    If you want to visit Leica, Solms is close to Frankfurt/M. Just comunicate with them before, to make sure it´s possible at that day. There is contact information for that purpose on their website. The Leica people made the impresion to be courteous and flexible, their website anouncement for minimum size of groups might not be cast in stone, especialy if one buys some stuff.

    Steve wrote:
    Leica might be a more profitable company if Leica really stuck with the idea of being a top lens manufacturer and produced lenses for other camera bodies, like Nikons and Canons.

    No doubt Nikon and Canon owner would like this option, but not Nikon and Canon.

    You might have notice the trouble Kodak and Fuji had, receiving only second class bodies from Nikon and no camera bodies at all from Canon. I´m not claiming that Canon "blacklist" other makers lenses, it´s only too bad that with every new Canon body there are new "technical dificulties" rendering older non-Canon lenses inoperable,.

    Even if such problems didn´t exist, the example of Angenieux, at non-AF times, isn´t encourageing.
     
  16. Funny that someone would mention Mercedes-Benz pistons, they are made by Mahle, who also made the Leica IIIc body castings and for all I know current Leica body castings. They also made a lot of the expensive bits of my Porsche.
     
  17. Opps, wrong thread.
     

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