Next Club Meeting


Our next meeting is on Thursday 19 October 2017 at 19h00.

Set Subject is: Portraiture


Set Subject Video



Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

All articles from Digital Photography Review
Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)
  1. HP reveals the ZBook x2: The 'world's most powerful detachable PC workstation'

    Step aside Microsoft, because HP just released a monstrous 'detachable PC workstation' that can compete with powerful laptops like the Surface Book 2 released yesterday... but in a form factor that looks more like a Surface Pro. Meet the HP ZBook x2: the so-called "world's most powerful and first detachable PC workstation."

    In HP's own words, this computer "was designed to solve the performance and mobility needs of artists, designers and digital imaging professionals who need to push Adobe Creative Cloud and other professional applications to the limit." So what makes this computer more capable than HPs other two-in one solutions: the HP Spectre x2 and HP Elite x2. In a word: performance.

    While previous two-in-one iterations with these kinds of specs put most of the components—the main CPU, GPU, etc—into the base unit, the HP ZBook x2 flips the script. The bluetooth keyboard is basically just that: a bluetooth keyboard; even when the tablet is detached completely it maintains the full performance from its CPU and GPUs. Think of it like a Surface Pro dressed up to star in the next Iron Man movie.

    Spec-wise, the HP ZBook x2 can be configured with 8th Gen Intel Core i7 graphics, a discreet NVIDIA Quadro M620 graphics card with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory, up to 2TB of local PCIe SSD storage, and up to 32GB of RAM. All of this sits behind a 14-inch 4K multi-touch screen with optional 10- bit, one-billion color HP DreamColor display that's been calibrated 100 percent of Adobe RGB.

    The computer can be used in four different modes:

    • Laptop Mode: attached to the bluetooth keyboard.

    • Detached Mode: Use the tablet with the new HP pen, while still having full access to your Bluetooth keyboard shortcuts off to the side.

    • Docked Mode: Using the ZBook Dock, the x2 can power two additional 4K displays or five total displays.

    • Tablet Mode: totally detached and disconnected from the keyboard, the x2 maintains full graphics performance.

    In most modes, you'll want to use the ZBook x2 with the new battery-free HP pen, which is based on Wacom EMR technology and offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity with multi-directional tilt capabilities and a dedicated eraser. And when it's docked and powering two 4K displays, the setup can look pretty ... intense:

    In short, the ZBook x2 is trying to be all things to professional creatives and designers. Instead of using some combination of laptop, iPad, and Wacom tablet, you can replace all of them (ostensibly) with one ZBook x2. And since it was designed in collaboration with Adobe, you can bet Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, Premiere, and other powerful CC apps will work exceptionally well.

    To learn more about the HP ZBook x2, head over to HP's website. The new 'detachable workstation' will go on sale in December and starts at $1,750 for the base model with a dual core 7th generation Intel Core i7 CPU—no word yet on how much more expensive it'll be to fully spec out one of these.

    Press Release

    HP Unveils World’s Most Powerful and First Detachable PC Workstation

    HP ZBook x2 PC Allows Designers to Unleash the Power of Adobe Creative Cloud and Other Professional Applications

    LAS VEGAS, NV – October 18, 2017 — Today at Adobe® MAX, HP will showcase the world’s most powerful detachable PC1 designed to solve the performance and mobility needs of artists, designers and digital imaging professionals who need to push Adobe Creative Cloud® and other professional applications to the limit. The performance of the HP ZBook x2, the world’s first detachable workstation,15 increases productivity and allows digital creators and storytellers the freedom to work when and where inspiration strikes.

    HP’s reinvention of detachable PCs began earlier this year with the introduction of the HP Spectre x2 and the HP Elite x2. Today’s introduction of the HP ZBook x2 completes HP’s trifecta with its most powerful detachable solution targeted for the creative community. With this new offering, HP is extending its PC leadership by pioneering a new era for detachable PCs that offer superb performance, elegance and efficiency.

    “As the world’s most powerful and first detachable PC workstation, there is no device better suited to turn the vision of artists and designers into reality,” said Xavier Garcia, vice president and general manager, HP Z Workstations, HP Inc. “With the HP ZBook x2, we are delivering the perfect tool to accelerate the creative process – with unprecedented power, performance and natural ease-of-use. This device will make it easier than ever for creators to do what they do best – bring inspiring new ideas to life and enrich the world around us.”

    Liberating Digital Creativity

    The HP ZBook x2 allows designers to effortlessly create with quad-core Intel® CoreTM processors2, twice the memory of any other detachable PC3 and NVIDIA® Quadro® Graphics that deliver 73 percent higher graphics performance compared to the Surface Pro4. A quiet, dual-fan active cooling system is designed to dissipate heat from the powerful graphics card and processor. To better meet the needs of the creative community, including Adobe users, HP also developed customizable, application-aware HP Quick Keys, to provide artists with 18 time-saving shortcuts.

    "At Adobe, our goal is to accelerate creativity. Creative Cloud is the platform that enables us to deliver powerful innovation in our apps and cloud-based services supported by Adobe Sensei with artificial intelligence at the heart of every customer experience,” said Mala Sharma, vice president and general manager, Creative Cloud Product, Marketing and Community. “Adobe is thrilled with our collaboration with HP, which we know will further fuel creativity and give Creative Cloud members more power and freedom to create wherever inspiration strikes.”

    Today, many creative professionals use multiple devices such as a MacBook Pro plus an iPad to accomplish the same tasks that can be done on the HP ZBook x2. Knowing that ultimate mobility is important, HP created a single device that delivers the same performance capabilities from inking to docked mode.

    HP’s most versatile detachable to date, the HP ZBook x2 operates in four modes: laptop, detached, docked and tablet.

    • In laptop mode, the HP ZBook x2 is a powerful mobile workstation with a keyboard leveraged from the HP ZBook Studio.

    • In detached mode, it allows users to create on the tablet with HP’s most accurate and expressive pen while still having full access to all of their shortcut keys with the Bluetooth®-enabled keyboard off to the side.

    • In docked mode, the HP ZBook x2 can power two additional 4K displays or five total displays.

    • In tablet mode, it maintains full graphics performance allowing users to capture ideas with powerful NVIDIA 3D graphics.

    Using HP’s most natural pen with the HP ZBook x2, users can create without interruption as the pen never needs to be charged. The battery-less, HP-designed pen based on Wacom EMR technology, responds instantly to every nuance of the artist’s hand for natural motion. The HP ZBook x2 offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity with multi-directional tilt capabilities and includes a dedicated eraser.

    As a member of the world’s most secure and manageable mobile workstation family10, the HP ZBook x2 features HP Sure Start Gen311 for BIOS protection, TPM 2.0 for hardware-based encryption to secure credentials, secure authentication methods through the Smart Card Reader and HP’s Client Security Suite Gen312 to protect data, device and identity, including facial recognition and fingerprint reader.

    HP ZBook x2 Highlights

    The HP ZBook x2 embodies the intersection of mobility and performance in a fully-machined, aluminum and die-cast magnesium body starting at just 3.64 pounds5 and 14.6 mm thin when in tablet mode, and 4.78 pounds5 and 20.3 mm in laptop mode. The HP ZBook x2 has a stunning 14-inch diagonal, 4K multi-touch display with an optional 10- bit, one-billion color6 HP DreamColor display calibrated to 100 percent of Adobe RGB. The HP ZBook x2 has the world’s most advanced detachable PC display16 and includes an anti-glare touchscreen allowing users to immerse themselves while working in any lighting condition. At the desk, it can power dual 4K displays from the HP ZBook Dock with ThunderboltTM 37.

    This detachable PC has up to 10 hours of battery life13 for maximum productivity and ultra-fast recharge (50 percent in just 30 minutes8). The HP ZBook x2 offers up to 4.2 GHz of Intel®Turbo Boost, 32 GB RAM over dual channels for more responsiveness under heavier workloads like complex layering in Photoshop. The model’s HP Z Turbo Drive storage is up to 6X faster than SATA SSD and up to 21X faster than traditional HDD storage. The HP ZBook x2 offers up to 2 TB9 of local PCIe storage and incorporates a full-sized SD card slot, perfect for professional photographers. Using the dock or Thunderbolt 3 ports on the HP ZBook x2, it can transfer large files from cameras, external storage, phones and other peripherals.

    Designed to go anywhere and handle the toughest workloads, the HP ZBook x2 mobile workstation is designed to pass MIL-STD 810G testing14. The HP ZBook x2 also undergoes dozens of tests for certification and optimized performance with the industry’s leading software providers like Adobe and Autodesk.

    HP ZBook x2 Pricing and Availability

    HP ZBook x2 is scheduled for availability in December starting at $1,749. The datasheet is available here.

  2. Canon hit two milestones today: 90 million cameras and 130 million lenses

    Canon has hit two couple major production milestones today. Specifically, Canon says it has now produced 130 million EF-series interchangeable lenses and 90 million EOS cameras. And in case you're curious, the camera maker revealed that an EOS 5D Mark IV was its 90 millionth EOS camera to go through production, while the 130 millionth interchangeable lens distinction goes to an EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM.

    Both the EOS and EF series made their debut in March 1987, eventually picking up production speed in the early 2000s as DSLRs became more popular.

    The company boasts a 14-year consecutive No. 1 share of the global interchangeable lens digital camera market, as well as the distinction of being first to bring certain features to the market with its EF lenses, including image stabilizer tech and an ultrasonic motor. Canon's EOS Series also has some notable distinctions in its past, including being the first to offer an electronic lens mounting system and fully digitized communication between the lens and camera body.

  3. The ROV Slider promises cinematic phone, GoPro and DSLR shots at the push of a button

    ROV Slider, a new motorized camera slider currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, promises to bring cinematic slider shots to the masses.

    The portable little slider handles any camera that weighs under 5lbs / 2.3kg—including smartphones, GoPro, mirrorless cameras and DSLRs—and comes in two variations: ROV Slider and ROV Pro. Here's a quick video intro to the ROV from Kickstarter:

    As you can see, ROV Slider and ROV Pro are both offered in an 'Everyday' model with 8in / 20cm of travel, as well as a 'Traveler' model with 16in / 40cm of travel. While both are made with unibody CNC milled rails, the Pro version comes in a gunmetal finish, as well.

    Common features between the two models include a cordless motor, 24hr battery life, a centered tripod mount, all-terrain foldable legs, and a low-profile iPhone mount. Meanwhile, the Pro version offers a bit more for professionals, including a 1/4-20 ball head and the ability to capture time-lapses with a DSLR.

    For motion control purposes, ROV works with two different apps: Rhino Storyteller for smartphones, and ROV Motion for GoPro, mirrorless, and DSLR models. Rhino Storyteller features four modes—Night Lapse, Time-Lapse, Slo-mo, and Video. ROV Motion, meanwhile, offers control of ROV's ramp, speed, direction, looping, and time-lapses.

    ROV Slider is being offered to backers at a special price of $230 USD (compared to the anticipated retail price is $300) while the ROV Pro is available for just $300 USD (anticipated retail price $400). Backers are also given some other options, such as a Content Creator Bundle for $380, an Outdoor Bundle for $440, and an Ultimate Bundle for $480.

    To find out more or put down a pledge of your own, head over to the Kickstarter campaign.

  4. Microsoft unveils Surface Book 2 with powerful graphics chips, adds 15-inch model

    Microsoft has announced the next generation of its Surface Book hybrid device, the Surface Book 2, and like its predecessor, the new two-in-one laptops are targeted at creative types and gamers. Microsoft says the Surface Book 2 offers, "the power of a desktop, the versatility of a tablet, and the freedom of a light and thin laptop in one beautifully designed device."

    The new models come with Intel's 8th generation Core processors and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 and 1060 GPUs, making them "up to five times more powerful" than the original model and twice as powerful as the latest MacBook Pro.

    Despite powerful processing components, the hybrid device offers all-day battery life, with up to 17 hours of video playback in laptop mode and 5 hours in tablet mode. The detachable 15" PixelSense multi-touch display comes with a 3240 x 2160 resolution, while the smaller 13" variant still offers a very dense 3000 x 2000 pixel count but is lighter than its larger cousin (3.38lbs vs 4.2lbs).

    Finally, in one last nod to dissatisfied MacBook Pro users, the new Surface Book 2 comes with a full array of ports, including: two USB-A ports, a USB-C port, and an SD card reader, reducing the need for dongles or other connection accessories.

    You can find the complete Surface Book 2 specifications on the Microsoft website, where you'll also be able to pre-order the new models starting November 9th for $1500 for the lowest power 13-inch model and a whopping $2,500 for the base 15-inch model.

  5. Leica is resurrecting the soft-focus Thambar 90mm F2.2 portrait lens from 1935

    Leica is getting into the lens resurrection game, announcing earlier today that it will bring back the Thambar-M 1:2.2/90: a portrait lens from 1935 that’s famous for exceptional spherical aberration that creates extremely soft images. The Thambar-M will be an accurate reproduction of the original lens, only this time around in the M mount instead of the L screw mount.

    The lens features a 20-bladed iris that produces round, out-of-focus highlights, and only four elements arranged in three groups. Its softness comes about through uncorrected spherical aberrations that are more obvious when the lens is used wide open, and which can be emphasized via the use of an included centre spot filter that prevents axial light passing through the construction.

    With the light from the centre of the lens blocked, the majority of image recording light comes from the edges where the aberration is at its strongest.

    Without the centre spot filter the lens is still soft, but becomes sharper as the aperture is closed and the aberration subsides. The barrel of the Thambar has twin aperture markings that show in white the reduced aperture values when the spot filter is used, as well as the recommended range of apertures that can be used with the filter in place.

    Originally made only in a run of 3,000 in 1935, this new version will be much more widely available starting mid-November, and will cost you £5095/$6495. For more information see the Leica website, or read this article on the Leica blog.

    Press Release

    Leica Camera AG presents a modern renaissance of the classic lens – the Leica Thambar-M 1:2.2/90

    A legend reborn: following the Leica Summaron-M 1:5.6/28, Leica Camera AG has further expanded its lens portfolio with the Thambar-M 1:2.2/90, the modern renaissance of another classic lens. Just like its namesake from 1935, the contemporary incarnation of the lens is distinguished by its characteristic soft-focus effect and unmistakeable bokeh. Its focal length of 90 mm is suitable for photography in a multitude of scenarios and is as good as predestined for capturing portraits with a uniquely aesthetic atmosphere that cannot be reproduced in digital postprocessing. The new Thambar-M is thus an exciting addition to the existing Leica M lens portfolio and brings photographers entirely new possibilities for creative composition.

    The optical design of its ancestor remains almost unchanged in the new Thambar-M 1:2.2/90. It has therefore also inherited the characteristic properties of its predecessor. The only difference is that the four elements in three groups that make up the design have now been single-coated to protect the glass against environmental influences and surface corrosion. The 20 blades of its iris deliver a unique bokeh with perfectly round rendition of point light sources.

    The soft look of the Thambar is the result of intentionally accepted under-correction of spherical aberration. This under-correction increases towards the edges of the optical system with the consequence that not only the depth of focus, but also the degree of softening can be precisely controlled by means of the stepless aperture setting. The effect is more pronounced as apertures increase, and is continually reduced as the lens is stopped down to smaller apertures.

    The design of the original lens has been almost completely preserved in today’s Thambar-M 1:2.2/90. The black paint finish, the proportions of the lens and its aperture engravings in red and white correspond to the appearance of the original. In addition to this, slight modifications have been made that bring the lens into line with the current, minimalist design of modern M-Lenses. These include the knurling, the lettering and scales and the specific use of sharp edges and bevelling that underline the precision of the lens design.

    ‘The name Thambar has always been preceded by the adjective ‘legendary’ – rightly so. It portrays people with a wonderful aura, in a romantic way – but landscapes too are raised to a higher, incomparably aesthetic plane. The addition of a new incarnation of this classic lens to our selection of vintage lenses was one of our greatest wishes – to my great delight, this wish has now been fulfilled.’ emphasises Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, majority shareholder and chairman of the supervisory board of Leica Camera AG.

    As is the case with all Leica lenses, the Leica Thambar-M 1:2.2/90 is also manufactured in strict compliance with the most stringent quality criteria. The use of only the best materials in its construction guarantee the familiar long working life of all Leica lenses. As was the case with the original lens, the lens hood, the ring of the centre-spot filter and both front and rear lens caps are made of metal. Even smallest details, like the felt lining of the lens hood and the front cap, contribute to the exceptional perceived quality of this lens. The design of the rigid lens keeper in ‘Vintage Brown’ leather is identical to that of the original from 80 years ago in almost every respect and, as in the past, the centre-spot filter can be safely and conveniently stowed away in its lid.

    The Leica Thambar-M 1:2.2/90 will be on sale from mid-November 2017.

  6. Surprise! Google hid a custom-built image processor inside the Pixel 2

    Google's Pixel 2 launch event on October 4th put a lot of emphasis on the new smartphone's camera capabilities. However, the presenters at the event left out one very interesting detail: Google Visual Core.

    Visual Core is a custom-built system-on-a-chip (SOC) designed to power and accelerate the Pixel 2 phones' much-lauded HDR+ function that achieves better dynamic range and reduced noise levels through computational imaging. The new Pixel 2 phones already come with the chip built in, but it has not been activated yet. It appears Google ran out of time before the Pixel 2 launch to fully optimize Visual Core implementation in the device.

    The good news is it will be activated at some point "over the coming months", which should make HDR+ processing on the new devices even quicker and smoother than it already is (and it's already far faster than on the original Pixels). According to Google, it will then be 5x faster and use less than 1/10th of the the energy,” a real advantage over the current general purpose processing. In the future the chip could also take over additional image processing tasks.

    The company will also enable Pixel Visual Core as a developer option in its Oreo 8.1 preview, allowing access to HDR+ for the developers of third-party camera apps. All of this is currently limited to Google's Pixel 2 devices, but there's hope other manufacturer will pick up the Visual Core technology and associated software in the future.

  7. Google Pixel 2 sample gallery

    The Google Pixel's camera is among the best we've reviewed, and the Pixel 2 has already been hailed as class-leading by DxOMark. So even though the bar was high when we set out to shoot with it, the Pixel 2 (and the guts-are-the-same Pixel 2 XL) has left a very positive first impression on us. Take a look at our sample images – unless otherwise noted, they've been shot using the stock camera app with auto HDR+.

    See our Google Pixel 2 sample gallery

    Sample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photo
  8. Take a look inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar, Germany

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Leica is one of the oldest names in photography, and has long been one of the most prestigious. Since the 1920s, Leica's high-quality miniature cameras have set a standard for mechanical precision arguably unmatched by any other manufacturer, and for decades, many of the world's best photojournalists used Leica rangefinders to document the defining events of the 20th Century.

    Almost 100 years after the introduction of the original Leica (a name formed by combining Leitz, the name of the parent company, with 'Camera') Leica Camera AG is still going strong, and still based in its original hometown of Wetzlar, Germany.

    Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Wetzlar to see for myself how Leica's lenses are put together. Flip through the images above for a tour of the facility.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Leica was founded in Wetzlar, and has (mostly) been based there ever since. As such, the company has strong links with the town, the bars and cafes of which benefit from a steady stream of Leica fanatics that make the pilgrimage to the company's birthplace.

    I'm not sure what to call this piece - fan art, I suppose? - I found it in the window of an art gallery in Wetzlar's town center. If you hurry, it might still be available for sale.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    The main reception area in Leitz Park is half art gallery space and half showcase. Alongside regularly updated exhibitions, visitors can learn about the history of Leica cameras, and when I was visiting, a temporary exhibition was focusing on some of the many other manufacturers that Leica - let's say - influenced.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    These might look like classic screw-mount Leica rangefinders, but in fact they're products of some of the many brands that after World War II, copied the basic design with varying degrees of success. Some, like Canon and Taylor-Hobson's well-engineered post-war copies, are excellent...

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    ...while others, like this shamelessly inaccurate 'Leica M3', which was definitely not made in Wetzlar, don't have quite the same resale value.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    So many Leica copies (mostly of the ubiquitous L39 screw-mount designs) exist that entire books have been written to catalogue them.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Oskar Barnack, on the other hand, was very much an original. A keen amateur filmmaker, he designed the original Leica 'lilliput camera' around the 35mm cine-film format, originally with the intention of measuring cine-film film sensitivity, which varied widely at the time.

    When he came up with the design in the early years of the 20th Century, Leitz was still a microscope manufacturer. But after he persuaded Mr Leitz to pursue the development of the Leica, everything changed.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    And here it is. The original 'Ur-Leica' of 1914 (actually a replica - the priceless original is in a vault somewhere, possibly under even worse lighting than this one). While obviously a very different device to the commercially produced rangefinders that came later, Barnack's original camera established many of the essential principles that still guide the design of M-series cameras today.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Through a series of doors at one side of the showroom, is the main assembly plant. Here, cakes of Raw glass (mostly Schott glass) are stacked, prior to the grinding, polishing and coating processes that will end with them being assembled into lenses.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Creating a lens is a lengthy, complex process. As they progress through the factory from cakes of raw glass to measured, polished elements, individual glass elements are painted with a protective black varnish, which is rinsed off before each stage. Only when they've undergone final polishing are the components transferred to a temperature and humidity-controlled environment for lacquering and coating.

    This is a different approach to that which we've seen in other factories, (like Canon's Utsunomiya plant for example) where virtually the entire process from raw glass to finished lens takes place in a highly controlled clean-room environment.

    The logic behind Leica's method is pretty simple: At least until final assembly, it's much easier to keep the individual components of a lens clean via multiple cleaning processes as required, than it is to sterilize the entire environment in which they're handled.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Where a more controlled environment is required, workers place protective coverings on their shoes, and don hair protection and lab coats. Cubbyholes for personal items are deliberately positioned at shin-height as a barrier in front of the doors. This serves to remind absent-minded employees that they need to put on protective clothing before entering the controlled area.

    Simple, certainly, but more effective than any signage.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Here, aspherical elements await polishing.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Inside the factory are machines that Oskar Barnack could never have dreamed of. These days, polishing is automated, to ensure a surface accuracy unheard of in his lifetime, of within 0.01 microns. Shaping and polishing processes each take between 30-60 minutes for a single aspherical element.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Here, a ground and polished glass lens element for the CW 85mm cine lens is being measured by laser for surface accuracy.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Results of the measurements are fed in real time to a computer for analysis, to determine if the element requires any further reshaping.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    A finished and coated element is inspected and hand-cleaned.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    After polishing and coating, the elements are ready to be cemented into groups and turned into lenses. This diagram shows instructions for assembling what Leica calls a 'lens head'. This diagram illustrates the lens head for the M-mount 28mm F1.4 Summilux.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    The edges of the glass are then carefully lacquered with black paint to reduce the risk of internal reflections in the finished lens. Again, this is done by hand.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Another schematic, showing another crucial part of every Leica lens - the focusing mechanism. This particular schematic refers to the 35mm F2.4 Summarit. Mating of the main components together is a manual process, even in this 'budget' M-series lens.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    This focusing mechanism should be half-price, because it's been cut in half! Sorry, wrong article.

    This bisected component serves as a reference model for technicians on the assembly line.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Here, finished and fully-circular focusing components of the 35mm F2.4 Summarit await checking and final assembly.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Manual checks are a feature of virtually every stage in the manufacturing process. Here, the mount assembly of an M-mount 90mm F4 is attached to a test camera (a rather sad-looking M6, one of several I spotted at various points on the assembly line) to make sure that the bits which are meant to click, click (and the bits that aren't meant to, don't).

    Once the mount assembly passes this quick 'real world' test it moves on to the next stage in assembly.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    For high-end, high-precision lenses like the 90mm F2 APO, the human touch is essential. Highly experienced technicians manually evaluate the focusing mechanism of each lens, testing for smoothness, and shaving away tiny slivers of brass to make minute adjustments until they're happy that each one feels perfect.

    The final result of this laborious process is a manual focusing experience which feels smooth, luxurious, and exactly like someone spent a long time getting it just right.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    After being checked, adjusted and checked some more, the components of several 90mm 2 APO lenses are placed in trays ahead of final assembly.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Before that can happen, individual components undergo an ultrasonic 'deep clean'.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    And if they're still dirty, there's always the washing machine...

    Just kidding. (I assume).

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    After assembly, each finished lens is checked to make sure that it meets Leica's standards. If it doesn't, it's sent back to be taken apart, adjusted, checked and re-assembled.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Here, a 50mm Noctilux has been sent back down the line for disassembly and cleaning.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    At the heart of each Noctilux is a large, eye-wateringly expensive aspherical element, which requires precise alignment in order to ensure the kind of performance that deep-pocketed photographers expect for $11,000.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    After cleaning and re-assembly of the main internal components, the Noctilux is placed on a test bench so that the position of its large aspherical element can be adjusted.

    Where the M's are made: Inside Leica's factory, in Wetzlar

    The effect of each minute adjustment is checked in real-time on a computer monitor.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    After these adjustments, the lens is tested again, to make sure that its MTF measurements are within design parameters before final reassembly.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Towards the end of the tour, I spied a very unusual looking lens sitting on a desk. It turned out to be a 50mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH destined for one of Leica's 'Jim Marshall' special edition Typ 246 Monochrom camera kits. That would make it one of only 50 such lenses in existence. I like the classic pre-asperical Summilux housing, but I'll take mine in black, please.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    The end of the line - or almost. This is the packing station, where finished lenses are dropped off to be packed up and paired with their paperwork.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Each lens is packed a little differently, with all of the steps and necessary extras detailed in 'the Bible'.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Six 50mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH lenses are delivered, each with four stickers, on which are printed the lens's serial number. The stickers and lenses are bagged together to ensure there are no mixups.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    Once the lens has been nestled into its leather case and packed inside the box, the stickers are transferred to the warrantee documents, and to the exterior packaging. Everything then gets checked one more time by the team in the packing room, and if it all matches up, the inspection document is signed and placed inside the box, ready for shipping.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    This is as close I could get to the M10 assembly line. The chassis of the M10 is machined in Portugal, and a lot of the electronic components arrive in Wetzlar already assembled. Once those parts are mated together, Leica's technicians perform all of the necessary image quality checking and calibration.

    Once Leica has fulfilled the great many backorders for the M10, I have no doubt that special editions (and perhaps a Monochrom?) will start rolling off the production lines.

    While Leica's assembly lines are less automated than most other lens factories I've visited, the scale of manufacturing is correspondingly lower. Leica is, and has always been a Mittelstand - a medium-sized company - employing relatively few people. Compared to the likes of Canon and Nikon, Leica doesn't sell that many cameras and lenses per year, and I get the impression from speaking to senior executives that they're fine with that.

    While the production line for the SL-series lenses is apparently highly advanced (and off-limits for this tour) M-series lenses are still made in much the same way as they have always been. Of course these days, machines do some of the work. The testing instruments are far more precise. There are computers at most of the workstations - there are lasers, guys - but I suspect that a Leica employee who worked at the factory in the 1960s would find much that looked very similar if he or she visited Leitz Park today.

    Notable was the atmosphere within the factory, which compared to other lens factories I've visited might best be described as 'collegiate'. Questions are shouted and answered across the assembly lines, street clothes are the norm, and a large box of Haribo gummy candy sits near the main doors, if case anyone needs a quick sugar fix.

    Inside Leica's factory in Wetzlar

    It was a great privilege to be allowed to visit the Wetzlar facility, and hopefully, if you've ever been tempted to leave a snarky comment on DPReview asking why Leica's cameras and lenses are so expensive, you now have a better idea. The time spent in manufacturing and assembling each lens, and the huge amount of manual labor involved in even relatively simple parts of the process (and even for Leica's lower-cost Summarit M-series lenses) is truly remarkable.

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    factory tours

    On my way out, I visited the on-site outlet store (of course I did) where as I munched on some Haribo, this curious and very expensive camera caught my eye. Notice the mismatch between the description, and the number engraved on the front of the rangefinder housing. This is a prototype M9, disguised as an M8 for off-site real-world testing. 'Erlkönig', by the way, is a codename, taken from the title of a characteristically scary and depressing poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (and later, as a choral work, one of Franz Schubert's greatest hits). I won't spoil it for you but suffice to say things don't end well for the little boy in the forest...

    As for the garish orange covering on a supposedly incognito prototype camera, well - if you were looking for proof of the elusive German sense of humor, I think you just found it.

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