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Monday, December 5, 2016


Regardless of how careful we are, sooner or later our lenses need cleaning.  Opinions differ widely on what the best method to clean a lens is.  Subsequently there are quite a large number of products on the market, and virtually all of them claim that their method is better than anyone else’s.  What to do?

Regardless of which product or which method we use, the two important objectives are that the product and method does clean the lens properly, and that it can be done in a manner that does not harm the lens.  

It is often said that glass scratches easily.  That is correct.  But with modern lenses we actually do not clean the glass surface but rather the anti reflection coating on the lens.  This sometimes brings up some outlandish claims, like the coating is substantially more scratch resistant than just glass, therefore making it unnecessary to be overly careful.  As a matter of fact, at one camera store I overheard a sales clerk claiming that the lens coatings are almost impossible to scratch.  To my horror, he used a pencil with an eraser tip and vigorously rubbed it all over the lens.

One problem is that harmful ways to clean a lens don’t necessarily show up in visible scratches immediately.  These effects are accumulative, and prolonged use will eventually show up.  At that point the harm is done.  It is virtually irreversible.

The best approach is to touch the surface of your lens as little as possible.  If only some dust has settled on the lens, use a rubber blower to remove it.  That often is all that is necessary.  It is advisable, however, not to use so called canned air.  These items emit a rather powerful stream of “air” which inevitably will pick up small dust particles in the air and pound them into the lens surface.  This parallels the principle of sandblasting.  When full, these cans also have the tendency to emit so much of the material inside that it does not gasify before it reaches the lens.  In that case it will settle on the lens in a frozen state.  That obviously will be harmful and should be avoided.

 Typical blower bulb

Any dust that still clings to the lens can be removed with a soft lens cleaning brush.  Here too a lot of cheap, useless products can be found.  High quality lens cleaning brushes, in many cases, use camel hair or other similarly soft materials.  Any good lens cleaning brush should come with a protective casing to prevent the brush from picking up dirt while being stored.  It is also necessary to shake or blow off any accumulated dust and dirt from the brush, otherwise we end up simply moving dirt around on the lens.

 So called lipstick brush. It retracts and is protected by the cap

Unfortunately it will happen that we get a fingerprint or other smudges on the lens.  Blowers and brushes are of no help here, we need something in addition.  Several years ago, on a visit to Leica, I asked them about this.  I expected some complicated, overly technical approach.  To my surprise I was told to use lens cleaning tissue and lens cleaning fluid.  A bit of research on the internet revealed that this still holds true today.

But caution is definitely on order.  There are a lot of cheap products of this kind on the market.  Some of these are often used as promotional items.  Stay away from them.  Instead pay a bit more for a high quality lens cleaning tissue as is sold by Zeiss, for instance.  These should be soft and lint free.  The same goes for the cleaning fluid.  To use this system first remove any loose dirt and dust with a blower or brush,  Then use a sheet of the cleaning tissue and put a drop or two of the cleaning fluid on the tissue.  Never put it directly in the lens.  Most lenses have a front element with a convex surface.  Adding the cleaning fluid will most likely result in the fluid to run to the edge of the front lens element and potentially into the lens.  Moisture inside a lens is never a good thing.

Use the moistened lens tissue and gently rub the surface of the lens in a circular motion for just a few seconds, beginning in the center and working your way outward, removing any marks or smear.  If necessary use a second tissue and repeat.  Some lens cleaning fluid might leave a slight haze after drying.  The Kodak lens cleaning fluid used to do that.  This is not harmful. In such cases simply breathe on the lens and clean off the haze with another, clean piece of lens cleaning tissue.  As a matter of fact, breathing on the lens is often all you need to clean it.  The thin layer of moisture works as a lubricant.  Never use dry tissue on the lens.  This too can cause harm.

Instead of lens cleaning tissue, you can also use a microfiber cloth.  These are relatively new on the market.  They are made of extremely thin fibers that will actually reach underneath smudges and dirt on the lens and lift it off the surface.  Of course here too exist substantial quality differences.  Promotional items, like the ones you get with your eye glasses, are usually too coarse to be of any use.

One of the best microfiber cloths is the one offered by EDDYCAM.  It was especially developed for cleaning high quality lenses.  It offers high moisture absorption.  To achieve the extremely fine fibers used, the regular microfibers are split 16 times to render the extremely fine fibers used in the manufacture of this cloth.  The structure of  the surface is so dense that a square meter of the material weighs 180 grams.  Another advantage over similar microfiber cloths is that the EDDYCAM one comes in white.  This makes it much easier to see when the cloth is dirty to the point that it needs to be washed.   It even comes with an envelope in which you can leave the cloth at the end of its usability at a dealer or send it directly to EDDYCAM and receive a 10 percent discount when buying a new one.

Finally there is the LensPen.  It consists of a special cleaning tip and a lens brush that retracts into the pen for safe storage.  The cleaning tip surface is covered with a special invisible carbon compound that removes fingerprints and smudges. This is not “high tech” – this is “old tech”! Many years ago our grandmothers often used newspapers to clean the windows and mirrors in the house. Why did that work so well? Newspapers are covered with printer’s ink, which is about 25% carbon … and the carbon molecule has a unique ability to absorb oils. The invisible carbon compound in LensPen products is unique and it has been specially formulated to handle the fingerprint oils on lenses, filters, eyepieces and screens.

To use it first remove any loose dirt or dust off the lens with the built-in brush.  Then twist off the cap and wipe the lens surface with smooth, circular motion of the cleaning tip.  If some smudges persist, breathe gently on the lens and repeat the process.  At the end, simply twist the cap back on.

I have used all of the above methods over the years and all have served me well.  But most importantly, they have served my lenses well.  Even the oldest ones are clean with no scratches.  Treat your lenses well and they will give you almost unlimited years of good service.

A common sense approach in evaluating items for lens cleaning will always be helpful, but sometimes that is a commodity sorely missing. Years ago when I was working in a camera store, a customer of mine bought what was the most expensive 35mm camera at that time, a Zeiss Contarex electronic.  The gentleman was very busy and did not have a chance to use his camera very often.  For that reason, every time he was planning to do some photography, he came to see me first to get a refresher course on how to use his camera.  On one such an occasion, I noticed that all of his lenses were quire dirty.  They were all covered with a visible hazy smear.  During our conversation I told him that it was not my intention to tell him how to use or treat his expensive camera equipment, that, however, all the extra money he spent for his camera and lenses was lost because they were so dirty.  "No", he answered, "that's okay.  Someone who knows about this told me that for proper cleaning lenses it is best to lick them."


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Sunday, December 4, 2016


I came across a rather interesting publication called “The Brander.”  According to their ‘About us’ information, “A steady flow of new stories about brands and their creators, generated by renowned journalists and high-end photography - that is "The Brander". The independent publication of Zurich’s branding agency Branders portrays big, small and exclusive brands from all over the world. Feedback? Yes, please.”

The article caught my eye and I received authorization to republish it here.  The article was written by Franziska Klün with photographs by Henning Bock, translated by Tessa Pfenninger.  Even though their visit was still to the old location in Solms, it still conveys a very good picture of how Leicas are made.

Mr. Bock's photographs appear at the end of the article.

 Dr. Kaufmann in the lobby of Leica AG in Solms

Once a revolutionary and a Waldorf school teacher, now an entrepreneur and a cowboy: Andreas Kaufmann saved iconic photography brand Leica from going under.Almost ten years ago, Kaufmann, having come into a significant inheritance, jumped in to save the legendary camera manufacturer from bankruptcy after the company failed to make the transition to the digital era. Today, Leica is on expansion course again.

Situated roughly in the middle of the state of Hessen, about an hour away from Frankfurt am Main, lies an unremarkable town called Solms, the seat of the company where the stuff of photographers’ dreams is still being made. One hundred years ago, Leica invented the first small-format 35mm camera, thereby revolutionizing the world of photography. Since the 1980s, the company has been manufacturing its high-tech products in these plain, flat-roofed premises with corrugated facades in Solms. Cameras that Magnum photographer René Burri once described as the most magnificent shooting equipment in the world. Despite delivery periods of up to 12 months for one of these iconic devices "Made in Germany," the waiting list boasts such names as Elizabeth II and Brad Pitt.

To date, however, visitors are still greeted at Leica with the words: "Please don't be alarmed." Conditions inside the building are a lot more primitive than might be expected. The reception area with its over-dimensional silver-colored Leica and shiny showcases lives up to its representative task, but once you pass through, it is like traveling back at least two decades in a time warp. Empty vending machines from a previous era stand about in harshly lit corridors. Through glass sectioning, employees can be seen working in crowded conditions. Wearing white lab coats, they sit bent over lenses and cameras. This is where the famous devices are made, with a single camera potentially costing as much a brand new VW Golf.

Back to the roots

Soon, however, the workforce will be leaving Solm with its cramped conditions and depressing corridors. A new production site is being built in Wetzlar, only ten kilometers away. Next year, one department after the other, a total of 1,500 employees, will be relocated to the large production complex in Wetzlar, back to where it all began. Wetzlar is where, in 1913, Oskar Barnack, the head of development, invented the small-format 35mm camera and helped the company, named Leitz in those days, achieve global fame.

Leading the way back to this hallowed location is 60-year-old Andreas Kaufmann, who is so busy he doesn't even have an office in Solms. He lives in Salzburg, Austria, and is always on the go, which is why arranging a meeting with him here in Solms can easily take up to six months. Kaufmann is Chairman of the Board of Directors at Leica and currently owns 55% of the company. In 2004, when he bought into the company, it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Asked about this period, Kaufmann says: "I reached a point in life where I asked myself: Do I want to remain a teacher forever, or should I start doing something with the legacy I was entrusted with?"

First revolutionize the world, then save Leica

In his previous life, before Kaufmann rescued this important protagonist of photographic history from ruin, he says his main objective in life was to revolutionize the world. In his student days, Kaufmann studied political science, economics and literature, and wore his hair long. He continued dabbling in politics and was present at the founding of the Grüne Partei (The Greens), a green political party founded in the early 1980s in West Germany. He also taught at a Waldorf school for 15 years.
Kaufmann and his two brothers were left a large inheritance by their aunt. While nobody knows the exact figures, the inheritance was large enough for the brothers to form a holding called ACM with the purpose of becoming stakeholders in undercapitalized German companies, prioritizing those that manufactured in Germany. Leica numbered among those companies.

To be sure, Leica’s problems were entirely self-inflicted. Right until the Kaufmann brothers became stakeholders in 2004, the company managers in Hessen believed that the digitalization of the camera industry was a passing phase they could ride out. Despite having some revolutionary ideas in their portfolio that might have saved them, Leica completely failed to make the transition to digitalization until the year 2006. Under Andreas Kaufmann's aegis, and at a time when cell phones featuring integrated cameras were already quite common, Leica introduced its first digital camera. It took three long years before the turnaround could be declared successful: Since 2009 Leica has been operating in the black. At present, their turnover has achieved almost 300 million euros and some 140,000 cameras leave the manufacturing location in Solms annually. A long and winding road: Apparently Kaufmann’s brothers soon found the road too rocky, and in 2005 they sold their shares. Something Kaufmann doesn't comment on. In retrospect, some say the first phase was sheer madness or a kamikaze mission. Kaufmann himself says: "It was an act of faith."

He believed in Leica, because he believed in the people behind Leica. He says: “What the skeptics didn't see at the time was that we were dealing with highly qualified, extremely committed people who would really be able to achieve something if they were given the opportunity to do so." Kaufmann provided another massive cash injection. At one point he owned 96.5% of the company. Wasn't he ever worried he would end up losing everything?

I'm not afraid to live. Our destiny is in God's hands, so you might as well have a little faith and stop worrying.

And he certainly appears to be very laid-back: Wearing a loosely fitting suit and dark glasses, he exudes high spirits. People who know Kaufmann well say he gives himself no airs and that he is an extremely genuine person. Even under pressure, like on this autumn afternoon, after having traveled long and far by car and plane, with lots of delays, nothing is too much trouble for him. Would you mind answering our questions while you're being photographed, is that okay with you, Mr. Kaufmann? – Sure, no problem, he says, and smiles. He replies in lucid, well-turned phrases and follows the photographer's instructions cheerfully. And despite being pressed for time, he asks some questions about the lenses in use. After all, Kaufmann is a passionate amateur photographer.

When asked about the inheritance his aunt left to him and his brothers, he tells us how they were prepared for it from an early age. "We were raised very frugally. That had a strong impact on how we view money." They received 5 euros pocket money that was all. "People who don't maintain an especially costly standard of living take risks more easily. After all, if things go wrong, you're still alive. So really, money is only a means to an end, a facilitating instrument for my interests." Kaufmann also feels that getting up every morning in order to fight another round to keep Leica on the successful path of the past few years is in part for his aunt.

The capital I inherited was never intended to be spent on consumer goods. It was always clear that it should be invested in business, should be handled in a responsible manner.

Can Kaufmann imagine a life today without Leica, without working? "In our family we say: Cowboys die in their boots." To him, Leica is a long-term project that he will never tire of. In any case, lazing at the Côte d'Azur is not his idea of fun; working makes him much happier. "Retirement is not for me." And then it's time for him to leave again, back to Frankfurt where he has a pressing dinner engagement. With a final cheery smile, he gets into his car and drives off.












I have mentioned on several occasions that one reason for the superior quality of Leica equipment is the fact that it is mostly hand made.  The Leica bench made process is totally without any assembly line work.  This allows for the various assembly steps to be accompanied by immediate checks and rechecks, something that is impossible to do with assembly line work.  The pictures in the Branders article clearly show the total absence of any assembly line, that the equipment is totally hand assembled on individual desks in clean rooms throughout the factory.

From my own visits to the factory I can attest that quality and quality control during each step in the manufacture and assembly of Leica cameras and lenses is paramount at Leica.  No part, assembly or sub assembly will ever go to the next step in the production unless they met the rather high quality standards set by Leica.  That, combined with tolerances much tighter than those applied by other camera and lens manufacturers assure the superior quality of anything with the Leica name.

For the original article go here.

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