If there’s one enduring stereotype of German manufacturing, it’s precision: an unyielding attention to detail and flawless engineering. And, as the trope goes, it comes at the expense of what the Italians would call brio — what others might call a soul. On first impression, Leica’s factory in Wetzlar seems to vindicate the cliché. In the main warehouse, a robot buzzes up and down countless rows and columns of raw materials, arriving at a box of glass pucks or brass blanks with the efficiently abrupt deceleration you’d expect. Cross the hall into the main lens-assembly room, though, and things take a dramatic shift.
Leica employs skilled human experts rather than robots for more involved tasks like grinding and polishing raw glass. Up through the final assembly, they can make minute, on-the-spot judgment calls that no machine could replicate. This dance between perfect and personal is perhaps most apparent when the lens is being designed, according to Director of Operations Dr. Svetomir Stankovic. “Anyone can make a sharp lens,” Stankovic said. “Leica’s expertise is on things that are less measurable.” The result is certainly precise, and as close to flawless as one can get, but it’s also the sum of micro-variations, caring craftsmen and, certainly, a soul.
As a small testament to Leica’s imaging prowess, this story (along with many others throughout Issue Three) was shot on Leica’s medium-format S (Typ 007) and its absolutely astounding lenses — some of which you’ll see in their elemental components below.
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