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.
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
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
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
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,
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
Created on January 01, 2001.