A Week In Wetzlar With Leica

A Week in Wetzlar with Leica

Watchonista was a guest at Leica’s annual special event, the Celebration of Photography, a three-day affair full of events, guest speakers, and tours.

By Liam O'Donnell

Every year, Leica hosts talented creatives and professionals from the photography field at Leitz-Park, their global headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany for a special event known as the Celebration of Photography. Its purpose is to collectively celebrate the medium of photography and the people who make it special. Over the course of three days, Leica’s guests were given exclusive access inside their German factory, an archive tour, hosted at numerous panels and discussions with talented photographers, presented with complimentary refreshments at Café Leitz, and afforded plenty of free time to forge new friendships.

Leica Manufacture Tour

As a photographer and journalist in the watch industry, I think I speak for all of us when I say we sometimes forget how lucky we are that we get to peek behind the curtain as often as we do, whether on manufacture tours or by demonstrations with watchmakers. But to see the Leica camera makers, who operate as much as engineers as they do artisans, create such beautiful cameras from raw materials truly left me in awe.

While there is some overlap between making watches and cameras – clean rooms, automated lathes, and diagnostic tools, for example – seeing a Leica camera built from scratch was something else entirely. Every employee we saw on the tour was diligent in their work, focused on the task they were performing, and incredibly courteous towards each other.

Pictured above is Monica , who is polishing by hand the external circumference of a lens element (one of about eight pieces of glass inside a camera lens). This polishing is done by hand not because it makes for good PR, but because even the most sophisticated machine could not be sufficiently delicate with the materials, nor adjust so easily on the fly as Monica can. She has dedicated 35 years of her life to this one craft, and when you watch her meticulous movements, it shows.

In addition to highly skilled artisans, Leica uses state-of-the-art technology to reach new levels of accuracy and precision for their products. Here, the surface of an individual lens element is depicted with a topographical visual at a microscopic level. This allows Leica’s engineers to further smooth out the surface to a mind-blowing level of accuracy (down to the micron!). With such an uncompromising degree of precision, it’s easy to understand why Leica is known around the world as the ne plus ultra when it comes to optics.

At the very end of our tour, we were delighted with a visit to their prototyping lab, which is exactly what it sounds like – a space where Leica tests new materials and designs. Pictured below is a Leica SL made with a clear resin using a 3D printer, which was used to test button configurations and ergonomics. This is just one of the numerous ways Leica finds ways to accelerate their R&D, make products easier to use, produce better images, and ultimately feel more like an extension of the body.

Live Performance by Musician Till Brönner

In the evening we were treated to a special and intimate performance by famed jazz musician and Leica photographer, Till Brönner. The music was sublime! Aside from being a master musician, Brönner is also an extremely talented photographer.

Photo Walk Around Wetzlar’s Old Town

On the last day of our trip, myself and most of the U.S. contingent went for a photo walk around Wetzlar’s Old Town, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Old Town is a charming part of Wetzlar that has been settled for centuries, with the oldest building having been built in 1356.

Old Town Wetzlar is also where German inventor and photographer Oskar Barnack took the first picture with the first 35mm camera. Barnack would end up working for Leica and this camera would later become known as the Ur-Leica. This important location in photography history is marked with a commemorative plaque.

Farewell Dinner at Bolero Steakhouse

To wrap up not only our afternoon walking around Old Town but also the entire trip, myself and the rest of the U.S. contingent had a fabulous dinner at Steakhaus Bolero, where we recounted our favorite moments from the trip over delicious steak and wine.

While the end of this dinner sadly marked the end of our trip, it also marked the beginning of many new friendships. I left Wetzlar with not only a deeper respect for the craft of photography, but also the profound impact it has on the world around us and its ability to connect people with one another. A massive thank you to Leica for inviting me on such an incredible trip!

For more information, visit the Leica website.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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