I never get bored of seeing camera and lens manufacturing tours from the various manufacturers. One of the more unique factories is Leitz Park in Wetzlar, Germany. This is the flagship factory (and much more) for Leica. They also opened the Leica Famalicão facility in Portugal in 2021 which does a lot of the binocular and scope manufacturing as well as parts manufacturing that are sent to Wetzlar for final assembly and testing.

Heinz Richter has posted a tour he was lucky enough to have of the factory in Wetzlar.

The Leica digital photography era story is pretty interesting, this was a company that was basically saved from bankruptcy at the beginning of the century. They have had a lot hits and a lot of misses during the digital era. For every Q, there have been systems like the CL and TL lines, the sensor issues with the M8 and M9 and the missteps with the S series of cameras (the lenses are remarkable). Leica has and will likely always do things their way, for better or worse.

One of the pillars of Leica's production is the tolerances that they demand in lens production. They are a lot tighter than what is known from other manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon and Sony.

Here are some highlights of Leica's tolerance requirements when constructing a camera and camera lenses.

The mechanical tolerances applied by Leica must conform to a minimum of 1/100 mm or 10 micrometres which equals less than 0.00039 inch for the accuracy of the lens mounts of both cameras and lenses, but also for the accuracy of the focusing mount of their lenses and for the rangefinder in the Leica M-type cameras.

https://gmpphoto.blogspot.com/2023/08/making-cameras-and-lenses-leica-way-in.html?fbclid=IwAR2wXzY6qWjwqanF3C_X3qQgZfr8XBkNPNbdanaVCoikQL9iau8HZbX1iLA

Tolerances differ substantially already with the raw glass.  Leica applies a standard of ±0.0002% for the accuracy of the refractive index.  This compares to the international standard of ±0.001% as applied by other lens manufacturers.  The accuracy of the Abbe number, the measure for dispersion, is ±0.2% for Leica compared to ±0.8% internationally.

https://gmpphoto.blogspot.com/2023/08/making-cameras-and-lenses-leica-way-in.html?fbclid=IwAR2wXzY6qWjwqanF3C_X3qQgZfr8XBkNPNbdanaVCoikQL9iau8HZbX1iLA

For the production of aspherical lens elements Leica applies tolerances which cannot exceed 0.01 micrometer or 0.00001mm.  Leica uses computer-controlled (CCP) and magneto-rheological (MRF) precision grinding and polishing to finalize the surface of its aspheric lenses.

https://gmpphoto.blogspot.com/2023/08/making-cameras-and-lenses-leica-way-in.html?fbclid=IwAR2wXzY6qWjwqanF3C_X3qQgZfr8XBkNPNbdanaVCoikQL9iau8HZbX1iLA

There will always be the people that speak of Leica as a “luxury” or “jewellery” brand. Which is likely true with some of their consumers, and pretty much true with any brand that makes expensive things. However, a lot of other consumers just like what they do, as they have a few unique products in the industry such as their M digital rangefinder line (you love it or hate it) and the Q series of full-frame fixed lens cameras. They were also the first to make the whole digital monochrome (Monochrom) cameras a thing.

If you're ever in Germany, a visit to Leitz Park is well worth your time.

All that said, seeing inside optical factories is just cool, you can check out the full tour here.

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3 comments

  1. Many years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Zeiss facility in Jena, Germany. Although Zeiss-branded ILC lenses are primarily made by Cosina in Japan, the founder of the company, Carl Zeiss, started making microscopes in Jena in the mid-1800s. When we discuss things here like the Abbe limit or Schott glass, I am reminded that Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott worked for Zeiss in the late 1800s. Zeiss' research microscopes are still made in Jena, and it was amazing to see the production process up close.
  2. I've toured the Leica facility too, and fully enjoyed it.
    While I tend to hate Leica's price-list, I still love their cameras and lenses, particularly the WA.
    In the eighties, I was 100% Nikon, that is, until my boss sold me his M5 and 4 lenses. After my vacation in Bretagne, I took a look at the Kodachromes. Next day, the entire Nikon equipment went to a Leica dealer to be replaced with M & R Leicas.
    The EOS later on replaced the Leica SLRs, since I needed longer teles and TSE lenses. But the M stayed, as a digital one.
    PS: I still consider the Nikon F2 to be the best SLR ever made!
  3. Many years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Zeiss facility in Jena, Germany. Although Zeiss-branded ILC lenses are primarily made by Cosina in Japan, the founder of the company, Carl Zeiss, started making microscopes in Jena in the mid-1800s. When we discuss things here like the Abbe limit or Schott glass, I am reminded that Ernst Abbe and Otto Schott worked for Zeiss in the late 1800s. Zeiss' research microscopes are still made in Jena, and it was amazing to see the production process up close.
    Abbe was the partner of Zeiss. According to camera wiki, he founded the Zeiss Foundation that was responsible for the photographic optics. He appears to have been a fine man as well as scientist, and was against discrimination: "Ernst Abbe's founding principle from 1896 that world-view or ideological or confessional convictions were not allowed to be considered in hiring employees". Unfortunately, Zeiss threw in its lot with the Nazis in 1933 and used forced labour during the war. http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Carl_Zeiss
    Their official history glosses over the use of forced labour https://www.zeiss.com/content/dam/c...the_companys_history_of_zeiss-at_a_glance.pdf but it appears to have been pretty bad https://ymcinema.com/2019/10/17/the-dark-side-of-zeiss/ as well as other incidents https://slate.com/technology/2014/0...ecuted-inventor-rudolf-straubel-of-zeiss.html

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