Leica Akademie Seminar Report


 I participated in the Leica Akademie seminar in English language on the Leica R8 from September 28 till 30, 1998. This report will give you a few impressions. First overview of the program and major events, and then an evaluation.

1. The program and major events

We arrived on Sunday Sept 27 in Wetzlar by train. Most participants were staying at the Hotel Wetzlarer Hof, a three star hotel, conveniently located in the town of Wetzlar (nearby the town center). At 7 p.m. all participants were welcomed by Ms Verena Mueller from the Leica Akademie, and we had dinner together and could get to know each other better.
There were 12 participants: only 4 Europeans (1 Dane, 1 Brit, 1 Hungarian and me, 1 Belgian), 1 Australian and 7 Americans. All but two participants were male.

The course started on Monday Sept 28, and the lessons took place at the Leica factory in Solms. The Leica Akademie is situated in the same building as the factory itself and the Customer Service, which is very convenient. When you enter the building, you arrive in a hall with reception desk, and at the right there are several glass showcases showing selected Leica gear. Also, a complete family tree with real cameras is on display, as are some historic pieces. All around are very nice photographs (enlargements). Very cosy place. The Leica Akademie offices are on the right when you are in the hall, next to a small coffee bar. See some images on the photo page to grasp something of the ambiance.

This was the first time since many long years that Leica has taken up courses in English. After the GI's had left and until now there had only been courses in German. So 1998 marked the first time courses were again held in English. Title of the seminar was "experience Leica live. Seminar for amateurs in English language" and it was focussed on the R8.

On day one (Monday) we were first welcomed by the director of the Leica Akademie and writer of several renown Leica M and R books, Günther Osterloh. The courses were given by Francis Pilet and Verena Mueller. The morning session was on the photographic composition, and the R8 handling and instructions/ light metering. Lunch was taken at the Leica factory restaurant, as on the other days.
In the afternoon we went to Wetzlar for our first practical exercices. These were about focal lenght comparison, perspective comparison and depth of field comparison.

In the evening we had a very interesting social event, a medieval dinner at Greifenstein Castle. There was even a machine to stamp coins, and we all could stamp our own commemmoration coin (1989 - 150 Jahre Photographie - 75 Jahre Leica Photographie).

Day two (Tuesday) started with a factory tour. Impressive! It was extremely interesting to see how lenses and cameras are being made. The amount of hand labor that goes into manufacturing is astounding. No wonder that prices of Leica equipment are high. When seeing the adjustments made on each Leica M6, the comparison to mechanical watch manufacturing came to my mind. Leicas are really pieces of jewellery, and not just ordinary cameras made by robots. Interesting to note is that Leica uses 4 different glass suppliers. Among them are 2 European (Schott and Corning) and 2 Japanese companies (Hoya and Ohara). The special glasses are mostly coming from the European firms. Several of the glass/lenses manufacturing machines are unique to Leica (the manufacturer of the machine has the obligation not to sell them to foreign competion).

Thereafter we looked at our slides made on the afternoon before. Many of them were projected and commented. In the afternoon we went again to Wetzlar for our second practical exercise, this time around the subjects of shape and color, people and architecture photography. As on day one, every participant could choose any R lenses he/she wanted, but, of course, you had to carry them yourself! This way I could testdrive the Summilux-R 35/1.4, the Vario-Elmar-R 28-70/3.3-4.5, the Fisheye-Elmarit-R 16/2.8 and the Vario-Elmar-R 105-280/4.2. See some results on the photo page.

The evening was concluded with a social event, a dinner at a Turkish restaurant in Wetzlar.

Day three (Wednesday) was spent on lectures concerning the presentation of enlargements, information to films and the technical particulars and use of flash guns with the various exposure modes of the R8. In the afternoon we had a look at our slides made the day before, followed by a discussion of their qualities/deficiencies.
At the end of the day all participants were awarded a LA certificate.

2. Evaluation

This was the first English language seminar since many years. It was suggested by many that this experience be continued and even intensified. Indeed, Leica has organized two English and two French
seminars in 1999: one on the R8 and one on the M6. The course in 1998 was on the R8 only. It is difficult for Leica to do much more because of the lack of instructors who are at the same time aware of technicalities and speak those languages fluently enough.

Sadly enough, there were no courses in foreign languages in 2000. 2001 marks the picking up of English courses on the R8 and the M6 system again.

The main issue with the course was its lack of focus. This is somehow natural as it was the first course since years. But on the other hand it was never said beforehand what the program was going to be about in any great detail. Moreover, the participants had a very uneven background. Some of them were quite experienced, both with the R8 and other SLR's, others had no R8, and still others had an R8 but did not really seem to realize the full potential of the camera and were still on a very basic level of photography.
So the seminar had to cater for different tastes and different levels of experience. As you can already grasp from the description of the program above, the courses were a bit too general to my taste.
I am using SLR's for 16 years now, and the R8 since April 1997, so I had personally less need to hear the basic functions of the camera being explained (of course, the situation is different for those who are yet unfamiliar with the R8). Also, the focal length, depth of field and perspective comparisons are not what experienced amateurs would prefer to hear.
This is in no way meant to be criticism of the instructors, well to the contrary. They did an excellent job. It is only to be expected if you have a group of people with different levels of photographic experience.

On the other hand, such basic topics are essential for beginners. So there is clearly a problem that needs further study. The Leica Akademie should either organize different courses geared towards specific users (as they do with the German language courses which are always on specific topics), or they should subdivide the group into two (beginners-experienced users).

I would also suggest to extend the seminar to 5 days in total. The extra two days would really be beneficial, as they could be centered around specific themes like flash photography, people photography, landscapes, portraits, nudes etc.

Otherwise, the seminar was a complete success. It was good to be in Solms, to visit the factory and to see the "Heimat of the Leica". The exchanges with other participants were quite interesting.
All lenses could be tested without exception (what dealer offers such an exquisite opportunity?). I could meet several Leica people I had before only known by name or via email. The exchanges I had with both our instructors were also very enlightening. Verena Mueller took the necessary steps so that the customer service could do a complete routine check of my R8 with motorwinder and my M6 titanium. The equipment was handed over on Monday morning, and was received back on Wednesday afternoon, free of charge (under international guarantee).

All in all, I got a very favorable impression from Leica and its people. Amazing how they still continue to deliver in a world dominated by cut-throat Japanese competition. Part of the explanation will almost certainly be due to Leica's size and the devotion of their customers. As a small (by comparison) camera company there is a very special atmosphere that is immediately noticeable when you are walking around in the factory at Solms. This is a place where everybody knows everybody if you know what I mean. That must have a beneficial effect on the company itself.

I have left Solms and Wetzlar with a sense of regret. This is an exciting company with great products and great people! How nice it must be to work in such an environment.

Created on January 01, 2001.