Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/10/10

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Subject: [Leica] Zeiss and Leica
From: Erwin Puts <>
Date: Sat, 10 Oct 1998 21:15:06 +0200

Marc makes a number of interesting points (as he usually and habitually
does). The old Contax is indeed a fine example of opto-mechanical
craftmanship. I used one myself before becoming a Leica user.
The true background and drive for building the Contax and Contarex are
still not exposed. Maybe Marc's new book will amnswer these questions. Here
is my view and it has some relevance to the current Leica R8.
The Contarex in particular shows the determination of Zeiss engineers to
build the best 35mm camera that ever existed. Its choice of materials,
engineering tolerance for machining parts and inspection routines for hand
assembling the body are unequalled. The Leica R8 in this tradition would be
a worthy heir.
The engineers and designers of the Contarex however made one mistake. They
assumed that if the user of a 35mm slr would demand Hasselblad type of
image quality, (s)he at the same time would be prepared to accept the same
type of photographic style  as a Hasselblad user would adopt when
conceiving and taking pictures.
It is quite interesting that a 35mm camera can be build to optical specs to
emulate a medium format image quality. The Zeiss engineers have been able
to do it. But they also gave the body some quite un-ergonomical features.
The vision of 35mm photography as Barnack and HCB and others defined it,
could not be supported by the Contarex and to a lesser degree by the Contax.
Nowadays the Leica R8 again redefines 35mm image quality with its apo
lenses of highest optical calibre. But the Leica designers did not
sacrifice the 35mm handling vision. The R8 and the Contarex have one very
important characteristic in common. To understand this one we have to refer
to Edward Weston and his vision of 'true' or 'straight' photography. The
combination of artistic vision and technical potential of the camera define
this type of photography. Weston used the field camera to implement his
ideas. The R8 and Contarex provide us with the best of technical and
optical performance available in its time. (I include the M and the Contax
as they are designed with the same idea). As Weston noted: to use this
potential one needs a meticulous precision and workmanship.
The R8 and the Contarex are both demanding instruments, but there is one
essential difference.
The Contarex is a slow camera: indeed it handles like a miniature version
of a field camera. The R8 (and M) of course ,true to Barnack's spirit, are
an extension of the eye. So here we see the eye and the camera acting in
parallel. The Zeiss approach is a bit different:  taking a picture is a
deliberate decision, made with an instrument that is optically and
mechanically on the highest level. You take one picture and that is it. The
'stream of consciousness' approach of the Leica is completely different.
To sum up: Zeiss designed 35mm cameras with the handling and optical
qualities of a medium format camera and Leica designs 35mm cameras with the
handling of a 35mm camera and the optical quality of a medium format camera.
The style of photography has to be adjusted accordingly.It is also
interesting to note that Zeiss Contarex lenses are famous for its smooth
rendering of subject details. Leica lenses are noted for the clarity and
accurate rendition of very fine subject details.
What kind of pictures do the designers envision when formulating the
parameters of lens designs and body engineering details?
Maybe Marc has the answer.